Luke 3 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Luke 3
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,

(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?

Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
(2) Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests.—Strictly speaking, there could be only one high priest, and the office was filled at this time by Caiaphas. Annas had been appointed by the Roman Procurator Quirinus, A.D. 7. In A.D. 14, he had to give way to Ishmael, who was appointed by Gratus successor to Quirinus; then followed Eleazar and Simon, and then, in A.D. 25, Joseph Caiaphas, who had married the daughter of Annas (John 18:13). It was natural that this relationship should involve the restoration, as far as possible, of his old dignity, and either as the Nasi or President of the Sanhedrin, or as the Sagan or deputy of the high priest, he may have acted as a coadjutor, as in our Lord’s trial, and come to be spoken of as still high priest. Five of his sons, it may be noted, filled the Pontifical office in succession. In Acts 4:6, he is named as distinctly the high priest. In St. John, as above, he shares the judicial authority with Caiaphas. St. Matthew and St. Mark do not name him.

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.

And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
(3-9) And he came into all the country . . .—The words paint the mission-work of John somewhat more vividly than those of St. Matthew and St. Mark, who represent the people flocking to Him from Jerusalem and Judæa. The two facts together complete the picture.

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.

As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
(4) The voice of one crying in the wilderness.—See Note on Matthew 3:3.

(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.

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
(5) Every valley shall be filled.—The fuller citation by St. Luke, as compared with the other Gospels, is interesting, and suggests the thought that he was led to see in the manifold aspects of the Baptist’s ministry a fulfilment of this part of the prophecy. The “valley” was filled, when lowly and penitent souls received the assurance of pardon; “mountains and hills” were “brought low” when the pride of Pharisees and Sadducees was rebuked; the “crooked made straight” when Publicans learnt to be honest; the “rough places smooth” when soldiers were taught to do violence to no man. The imagery is, of course, taken from the work of pioneers levelling a road for the march of a great king.

(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.

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
(6) The salvation of God.—The same word is used as in Luke 2:30, where see Note.

Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
(7) Then said he to the multitude.—Better, multitudes. In St. Matthew the words “Generation” (or brood) “of vipers” are related, probably with greater accuracy, as having been addressed specifically to the Pharisees and Sadducees. On the question itself, see Note on Matthew 3:7.

Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
(10) And the people asked him . . .—The questions that follow are peculiar to St. Luke. They are interesting as showing that the work of the Baptist was not that of a mere preacher of repentance. Confession of sins followed naturally on the part of the penitents; that was followed, as naturally, by guidance for the conscience. St. Luke, as a physician of the soul, may well have delighted to place on record this example of true spiritual therapeutics.

He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
(11) He that hath two coats.—The remedy, in this case, was simple and practical. Selfishness was the root of evil. It was to be conquered not by religious emotions only, but by acts of unselfishness.

He that hath meat.—The Greek noun is plural, and includes all forms of food.

Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
(12) Then came also publicans.—The other Gospels do not mention the presence of this class in their narratives of the Baptist’s work, but it is implied in Matthew 21:32.

And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
(13) Exact no more.—Under the “farming” system of taxation adopted by the Roman empire, this was the besetting temptation of all collectors employed in it, and it led naturally to the evil repute which attached, not in Judæa only, to the name of publican. (See Note on Luke 19:2.)

And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
(14) And the soldiers likewise . . .—The Greek word has not the definite article, and is a participle. Better, and soldiers, as they were marching. The words probably point to the troops of Antipas on their way down the valley of the Jordan to attack Aretas (comp. Notes on 2 Corinthians 11:32), the father of the Tetrarch’s divorced wife, who had declared war on account of the wrong thus done to his daughter. Roman soldiers were not likely to have come to the Baptist’s preaching.

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.)

And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
(15) All men mused in their hearts . . .—The surmise which St. Luke thus records is not given by St. Matthew or St. Mark, but it agrees with what we find in St. John (John 1:19), and explains the reference to the “mightier” one which in the other Gospels comes in somewhat abruptly. On the answer itself, see Notes on Matthew 3:11-12. St. Luke’s report includes the chief features of those of St. Matthew and St. Mark, but it omits the characteristically vivid “stooping down” to unloose which we find in the latter.

John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
(17) He will throughly purge . . .—The better MSS. give, throughly to purge, and to gather.

And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
(18) Many other things . . .—This lay, more or less, in the nature of the case; but St. Luke’s is the only record which lays stress on the wider range of the Baptist’s teaching. The sources of information which supplied him with Luke 3:10-14, probably brought to his knowledge much of the same character; but what he records, in common with the other two Evangelists, was, as it were, the text and burden of it all.

But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
(19-20) But Herod the tetrarch.—See Notes on Matthew 14:3-5. St. Luke’s anticipation of the close of the Baptist’s history supplies a curious instance of an arrangement which was obviously deliberate. It seemed to him better to complete the account of the Baptist’s ministry here than to bring in the account of the imprisonment as an episode later on. It coincides in part with St. John’s arrangement (John 3:24).

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.

Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
(21-22) Now when all the people were baptized.—See Notes on Matthew 3:13-17. St. Luke’s account is the shortest of the three first Gospels, but it adds here, as afterwards in his report of the Transfiguration, the fact that our Lord was “praying” at the time of the divine attestation to His Sonship. (See Introduction.)

And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
(22) In a bodily shape.—The words are peculiar to St. Luke, and tend to confirm the traditional symbolism which finds in the dove the emblem of the Holy Spirit. They, at least, fall in naturally with this view; but the other construction, that the Holy Spirit descended, after the manner of a dove, first hovering and then resting, in a bodily form (undefined) of some sort, is, at least, not excluded.

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
(23) Began to be about thirty years of age.—At this age the Levites entered on their full work (Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30; Numbers 4:35), a kind of probationary period beginning at twenty-five (Numbers 8:24) or even, in later times, when their work was lighter, at twenty (1 Chronicles 23:27). No age was fixed for the beginning of the priesthood, nor of the prophet’s work; but it may fairly be inferred that thirty was looked on as the time when manhood reached its completeness, and we may therefore believe that our Lord waited in patient humility till that age had been attained before entering on the work of His public ministry.

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.

Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph,
Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge,
Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,
Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er,
Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi,
Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim,
Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,
Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson,
Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor,
Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala,
Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech,
Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan,
Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
(38) Which was the son of God.—The whole form of the genealogy leads us to apply these words to Adam. Humanity as such, as the result of an immediate creative act, was the offspring of God (Acts 17:28), and the words of the angel (Luke 1:35) imply that it was because the human nature of our Lord originated in a like creative act, that it was entitled, not less than by its union with the Sonship of the Eternal Word, to be called the Son of God. What was true of the second Adam was true also partly, though in different measure, of the first.

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