Christians have long interpreted the life of John the Baptist as a preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ, and the circumstances of his birth, as recorded in the New Testament, are miraculous. John's pivotal place in the gospel is seen in the emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself, both set in prominent parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus.
The sole biblical account of the birth of John the Baptist comes from the Gospel of Luke. John's parents, Zechariah or Zachary — a Jewish priest — and Elizabeth, were without children and both were beyond the age of child-bearing. During Zechariah's rotation to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to offer incense at the Golden Altar in the Holy Place. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that he and his wife would give birth to a child, and that they should name him John, a name which was unfamiliar in Zechariah and Elizabeth's families. Acts 4:6 refers to a "John" (or "Jonathan", a name combining "John" with "Nathan" such that the "n" at the end of "John" is also used as the first "n" in "Nathan") among the high priests who challenged the apostles' preaching after Pentecost, so the name was not unknown within the wider priestly family. However, because Zechariah did not believe the message of Gabriel, he was rendered speechless until the time of John's birth. At that time, his relatives wanted to name the child after his father, and Zechariah wrote, "His name is John", whereupon he recovered his ability to speak (Luke 1:5–25; 1:57–66). Following Zechariah's obedience to the command of God, he was given the gift of prophecy, and foretold the future ministry of Jesus this prophecy forming the text of the Benedictus canticle.