A Question I Was Asked:

How Could Zechariah and Elizabeth Be 'Blameless Before God' When 'All Have Sinned'?

My question is, how is it that in Luke 1:5-6, Zechariah and Elizabeth (the parents of John the Baptist) were both blameless before God, obeying Him in all the commandments, if there is none perfect before God, no human being that never sins?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Firstly, don't we all use words or expressions in a slightly differing way at times? Why should the Bible writers be any different?

Okay, let us consider this:

5. In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly. (Luke 1:5-6).

Zechariah and Elizabeth were a fine, righteous couple, careful to meticulously obey the laws of Moses which, of course, they lived under; they were good people, that is all this is saying, therefore, "Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly." (verse 6). So they were decent and righteous, that is, as far as the requirements of the law go.

However, the law had not yet been magnified because Christ had not yet come. In the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus makes it plain that simply obeying the requirements of the law in all detail was insufficient. Many of the Pharisees too were pretty good at 'keeping' all the law's requirements, but it wasn't enough. Christ magnified the law, revealing its spiritual heart.

But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:13).

Being an expert on every facet of law, having a comprehensive knowledge of the mosaic sacrificial system, could never save anyone; the trouble is: the Jewish religionists of Jesus' day had made obeying the written law an end in itself. One does not, of course, accuse Zechariah and Elizabeth of this but they lived in this extreme legalistic climate; they were thoroughly decent and righteous as far as law understanding and observance went, but other things they would learn later as the New Covenant was ushered in by Jesus Christ.

Paul the Apostle rejected the idea that Jewish righteousness (because of knowledge of the law) was any better:

9. What shall we conclude then? Do we [that is, physical Israelites: my insert] have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11. there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3: 9-12).

Paul later expands on this a little more:

19. Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3: 19-20).

So Zechariah and Elizabeth were indeed a fine, righteous couple; they indeed manifested this through obedience to the law, a full obedience down to the detail which was required of them as Israelites living under the old covenant, and with Zechariah himself being a priest, of course. However, obeying the laws of Moses could never make a person righteous in the way that God is looking for; greater knowledge brings greater responsibility, God expects more of people who live with the knowledge of Jesus Christ and what He would later teach! Interestingly, Luke 1:5-6 is careful to tie in the 'righteousness' and 'blamelessness' of Zechariah and Elizabeth with obedience to the law. That was wonderful, but later they were to learn that obedience to the law could never be enough.

Robin A. Brace. July 23rd, 2017.