And they kept inquiring by signs of his father what he would have him called.
The account of the restoration of Zechariah’s power of speech (Luke 1:57-66) is one of my favorite biblical passages, because I believe it lends support to the reliability of the Evangelists, that is the Gospel writers. Pay close attention.
We know that Zechariah is unable to speak (Luke 1:20). The gospel narrative says there is nothing wrong with his hearing. Yet his neighbors, wishing to communicate with him, make signing gestures to him, as if he were deaf. This detail is somewhat problematic for certain Bible scholars, who point out that Saint Luke has obviously got it wrong. Perhaps, however, the Syrian physician is wiser than we know.
If Luke’s narrative was a complete fabrication, he would have been quick to edit the sign language out of his story as being logically inconsistent with the rest of the account. Yet the sign language incident is left to stand, despite the apparent inconsistency. Why? Because it happened exactly as Saint Luke says it did.
Upon reflection, the sign language is perfectly compatible with human nature. Zechariah’s neighbors would have had encounters with deaf people, and these individuals would, in most cases, have difficulty speaking. So when the Judean villagers find that Zechariah has difficulty speaking, they naturally assume that he is deaf. This might not be a logical assumption, but it is at least a very human assumption. I am reminded of people who automatically speak louder when they meet someone with a thick foreign accent, as if sheer volume will overcome language barriers. There have even been persons who, upon learning of my poor vision, simply start speaking louder, as they might do if I were hard of hearing rather than blind.
The point is this: The sign language detail in Luke’s narrative makes no logical sense, and anyone who was making up the story out of thin air would probably not include it. The fact that it is included is one argument in favor of Saint Luke’s accuracy. After all, the sign language detail might not be logical, but it fits very well with real-life human nature. The Gospels are reliable!