(1) Now in the fifteenth year . . .—The opening of the main narrative is characteristic of St. Luke’s desire to follow in the footsteps of regular historians, and to name the rulers of any regions that were affected, directly or indirectly, by the events which he narrates.
Tiberius Cæsar.—He had succeeded Augustus A.D. 14, so that we get the date A.D. 29 for the commencement of the Baptist’s ministry. The history of his rule lies outside the scope of this Commentary; but the rise of the city Tiberias, and the new name—the sea of Tiberias—given to the lake of Galilee, may be noted as evidence of the desire of the Tetrarch Antipas to court his favour.
Pontius Pilate.—See Note on Matthew 27:2. He had entered on his office of Procurator in A.D. 26.
Herod being tetrarch of Galilee.—The Tetrarch was commonly known as Antipas (a shortened form of Antipater) to distinguish him from his brothers. He had succeeded his father on his death, B.C. 4 or 3. The date of his birth is uncertain, but he must have been over fifty at this time. He was deposed A.D. 39.
Philip tetrarch of Ituræa.—Not the Philip whose wife Antipas had married (see Note on Matthew 14:3), and who was the son of Mariamne, but his half-brother, the son of a Cleopatra of Jerusalem. On the division of Herod’s kingdom he received Batanæa, Trachonitis, Auranitis, and a district near Jamnia, and governed with equity and moderation. The city of Cæsarea Philippi, on the site of Paneas, was built by him (see Note on Matthew 16:13), and he raised the eastern Bethsaida to the rank of a city under the name of Julias. Our Lord’s ministry brought Him into the region under Philip’s rule just before the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1).
Ituræa offers a link between the Old Testament and the New. It. was named after Jetur (pronounced Yetur) a son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:15). Aristobulus conquered it about B.C. 55, and offered its inhabitants the choice of exile or Judaism. Some submitted, others found a refuge in the slopes of Hermon. When conquered by Augustus, B.C. 20, it was given to Herod the Great, and was bequeathed by him to Philip. The region lay between Hermon, Trachonitis, Gaulanitis, and the plain of Damascus, and consisted generally of basaltic rock. The old name appears in the modern Jedur.
Trachonitis.—This, like Ituræa, is mentioned here, and here only, in the Bible. It corresponds with the Argob of Deuteronomy 3:14, and with the modern El Lejah. Both the Hebrew and the Greek names point to the rocky character of the region with its caves and cliffs. It was conquered, like Ituræa, by Augustus, and by him given to Herod. It lay somewhat to the south of that province and to the north of the Hauran.
Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene.—The district so named (probably from Abel, the Hebrew for a “grassy meadow”) lay on the eastern slope of the range of the Anti-Libanus, and was watered by the Barada. The name of Lysanias appears as its ruler from the time of Antony and Cleopatra to that of Claudius, and passed probably, therefore, through two or three generations. An inscription, with his name as tetrarch, was found by Pococke in the seventeenth century. There is no reason for thinking that our Lord’s journeyings ever extended thus far, but St. Luke’s may very probably have done so, and this may account for his mentioning the district and its ruler.
(1) In St. Matthew, Joseph appears as the son of Matthan, the grandson of Jacob; here as the son of Heli, and grandson of Matthat.
(1) The difficulty presented here admits of at least three explanations, (a) Joseph may have been the son of Jacob by birth, and of Heli by adoption, or conversely. (b) Jacob and Heli may have been half brothers—sons of the same mother—by different fathers, Matthan and Matthat, or these two may be different forms of the name of the same person, and one of the two brothers may have died without issue, and the other married his widow to raise up seed unto his brother. On either of these assumptions, both the genealogies give Joseph’s descent. This would be sufficient, as St. Matthew’s record shows, to place the son of Mary in the position of the heir of the house of David. We have, however, on this theory, to account for the fact that two different genealogies were treasured up in the family of Joseph; and the explanation commonly offered is natural enough. St. Matthew, it is said, gives the line of kingly succession, the names of those who were, one after another, the heirs of the royal house; St. Luke that of Joseph’s natural parentage, descending from David as the parent stock, but through the line of Nathan, and taking by adoption its place in the royal line when that had failed. The fact that from David to Salathiel St. Matthew gives us the line of kings, and St. Luke that of those who were outside the line, is so far in favour of this hypothesis. (c) A third and, as it seems to the present writer, more probable view is, that we have here the genealogy, not of Joseph, but of Mary, the words “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph” being a parenthesis, and the first link being Jesus (the heir, and in that sense, son, of Heli). On this hypothesis, the Virgin, as well as Joseph, was of the house and lineage of David; and our Lord was literally, as well as by adoption, “of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3), on the mother’s side through the line of Nathan, on the reputed father’s through that of Solomon. This view has at least the merit of giving a sufficient reason for the appearance of the two different genealogies. Everything too, as we have seen in the Introduction, points to the conclusion that the materials for the first three chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel came to him through the company of devout women who gathered round the mother of Jesus; and if so, what more natural than that they should have preserved and passed on to him the document on which she rested her claim to be of David’s lineage?
Unto John the son of Zacharias.—This description of the Baptist is peculiar to St. Luke.
(2) As we go further back the names are all different till we come to Zerubbabel; and the list in St. Luke from Zerubbabel to Joseph contains twenty names, inclusive, while those in St. Matthew are only thirteen.
(2) The difference in the number of names presents no real difficulty. We have seen (Note on Matthew 1:9) that St. Matthew omits three names in the list of kings in order to adapt it to the memoria technica of fourteen names in each group, and what he did in one case he may well have done in another for the same reason.
The baptism of repentance.—See Notes on Matthew 3:1-11, and Mark 1:4-6. In his description of the Baptism, St. Luke agrees verbally with the latter.
(3) Going upward from Zerubbabel and Salathiel, which are common to both genealogies, we come again across a different succession—St. Luke leading us to Nathan as the son of David, and St. Matthew to Solomon. Here again we have in St. Luke twenty-two generations from Salathiel to David, inclusive, while in St. Matthew we have but sixteen.
(3) There is, in the appearance in St. Matthew’s list of Jeconias (as in 1 Chronicles 3:17), and in St. Luke’s of Neri, as the father of Salathiel, a problem to be solved; but an adequate, though necessarily conjectural, solution is not far to seek. To assume that the Salathiel of the one list is not identical with that in the other, is to cut the knot instead of disentangling it. But it may be noticed that in the earlier registers connected with the name of the historical Salathiel, father of the Zerubbabel who was the leader of the Jews on their return from Babylon, there is an obvious complication. In 1 Chronicles 3:19, Zerubbabel is the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Salathiel. The language in Jeremiah 22:30 at least suggests the thought that Jeconiah died without an heir. What seems probable accordingly is that the royal line descended from Solomon, expired in Jeconiah, and that Salathiel, the son of Neri, the representative of the line of Nathan, took his place in the line of inheritance. It is not without significance that in the contemporary prophecy of Zechariah, the house of Nathan appears, for the first time in the history of Judah, as invested with a special pre-eminence (Zechariah 12:12). The difference in the number of the names admits of the same explanation as before.
(4) From David to Abraham there is a general agreement, the only variation being that, in some MSS., the names of Arni and Admei in St. Luke (Luke 3:33) replace the Aram of St. Matthew.
(4) The comparative slight variation here is such as may easily have arisen in the process of transcription from an Aramaic document into Greek. The received reading, “Aram,” was probably a correction in order to bring the genealogy into agreement with St. Matthew’s.
(5) Here St. Matthew’s record stops, while St. Luke continues to trace the succession back to Adam—his list of names agreeing with those in Genesis 11:10 and 1 Chronicles 1:24-27 as far as Noah, and Genesis 5 and 1 Chronicles 1:1-4 from Noah to Adam, with the exception of the insertion of a Cainan between Arphaxad and Salah in the former section.
Each of these points calls for separate consideration, the first being obviously the most important.
(5) (a) The fact that the genealogy goes back to Adam may have been originally in the document which St. Luke translated, without any special significance; but it at least falls in with the whole character of his Gospel as intended to set forth the universality of the gospel, to prepare the way for the truth of the brotherhood of mankind in Christ. It represented Christ as the second Adam, as St. Matthew’s genealogy represented Him as the heir of Abraham. (b) The insertion of Cainan between Salah and Arphaxad agrees with the text of all known copies of the Greek version of Genesis 11. This may imply an original Hebrew text older than that which we now possess; but, on the other hand, as all existing copies of the LXX. version were made for Christian use, it is possible that the name may have been inserted to bring the genealogy in Genesis 11 into agreement with that given by St. Luke. The name does not appear in this place in the Vulgate, Syriac, or Samaritan versions of the Pentateuch, and in one of the best MSS. of the New Testament (the Codex Bezœ) it is wanting here. Further than this we cannot go in dealing with a question which, after all, is infinitesimally small in itself, and has no direct bearing on any graver issues.
It may be noted, lastly, that genealogies, such as those given by St. Matthew and St. Luke, were common in almost every Jewish family. The books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, compiled after the return from Babylon, show that they existed then. Josephus transcribes his own pedigree, from the time of the Asmonæan, or Maccabean, priest-rulers, from public registers (Life, c. 1), and states (against Apion, i. 7) that not in Judæa only, but in Alexandria and Babylon, and other cities, wherever the Jews were settled, such registers were kept of the births and marriages of all belonging to the priesthood; that copies were sent to Jerusalem; that the registers went back for 2,000 years. The prevalence of the name Cohen (= priest) among modern Jews indicates the same care in the priestly line. The members of the house of David were hardly likely to be less careful in preserving records of their descent than those of the house of Aaron. Hillel the scribe, i.e., was known to be of the lineage of David, and must have had evidence of some kind to prove it. So, at a later time, the Princes of the Captivity who ruled over the Jews of Babylonia, claimed their allegiance as sons of David.
He that hath meat.—The Greek noun is plural, and includes all forms of food.
Do violence to no man.—The Greek word was the exact equivalent of the Latin concutere (whence our “concussion”), and was applied to the violence which was used by irregular troops to extort money or provisions.
Neither accuse any falsely.—The word occurs again in the confession of Zacchæus (Luke 19:8). It is supposed to have been primarily used of those who informed against the export of figs from Attica at a time when that trade was prohibited. They were known, it is said, as “sycophants,” though no actual instance of this use of the word is extant. The word came, in course of time, to be applied to informers generally, and then, in its modern sense, to those who court the favour of princes by informing against others—the delatores, who at this time were so conspicuous in the imperial court, on which that of the Tetrarch’s had been modelled.
Be content with your wages.—Better, pay. The word meant primarily the “rations” of a soldier, and then the money received in lieu of rations. As used in the New Testament, the idea of pay for soldier’s work as distinct from the wages of a labourer, is almost always connected with it. (Comp. Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 9:7.)
For all the evils which Herod had done.—The marriage with Herodias is conspicuous as the Tetrarch’s one great crime; but the sensual, crafty character of the man, with his fox-like nature (Luke 13:32), must have made any preaching of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” as much a personal rebuke to him as it was to Felix (Acts 24:25), and caused him also to tremble.
Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph.—We have here to deal with the many questions which rise out of a comparison of this genealogy with that in Matthew 1. It is a subject on which volumes have been written. Here it will be enough to sum up the results of previous inquiries.