Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 7:5.For he loveth our nation This was, no doubt, a commendation given him by the Jews on account of his piety: (501) for his love of a nation universally hated could proceed only from zeal for the Law, and from reverence for God. By building a synagogue, he showed plainly that he favored the doctrine of the Law. The Jews had therefore good grounds for saying that, as a devout worshipper of God, he had claims on Christ for receiving such a favor. They discover, at the same time, a marvellous stupidity in admitting, by their own acknowledgment, that a Gentile possesses that grace of God which they despise and reject. If they consider Christ to be the minister and dispenser of the gifts of God, why do they not receive the grace offered to them before bringing foreigners to enjoy it? But hypocrites never fail to manifest such carelessness and presumption, as not to hesitate to look upon God as under some sort of obligations to them, and to dispose of his grace at their pleasure, as if it were in their own power; and then, when they are satisfied with it, or rather because they do not deign to taste it, they treat it as useless, and leave it to others.
Luke 7:11.And it happened, that he went into a city. In all the miracles of Christ, we must attend to the rule which Matthew lays down. We ought to know, therefore, that this young man, whom Christ raised from the dead, is an emblem of the spiritual life which he restores to us. The name of the city contributes to the certainty of the history. The same purpose is served by what Luke says, that a great multitude from every direction followed him: for Christ had many attendants along with him, and many persons accompanied the woman, as a mark of respect, to the interment of her son. The resurrection of the young man was beheld by so many witnesses, that no doubt could be entertained as to its truth. There was the additional circumstance of its being a crowded place: for we know that public assemblies were held at the gates. That the dead man was carried out of the city was in accordance with a very ancient custom among all nations. Jerome says that, in his time, the city of Nain was still in existence, two miles below Mount Tabor, in a southerly direction.
12.The only son of his mother. The reason which induced Christ to restore the young man to life was, that he saw the widow bereft of her only son, and had compassion on her: for he did not withhold his favor till some one requested it, as he did on other occasions; but anticipated the prayers of all, and restored the son to his mother, by whom nothing of this sort was expected. We have here a striking emblem of his freely bestowed compassion in raising us from death to life. By touching the coffin he intended perhaps to show, that he would by no means shrink from death and the grave, in order to obtain life for us. He not only deigns to touch us with his hand, in order to quicken us when we are dead, but, in order that he might raise us to heaven, himself descends into the grave.
14.Young man, I say to thee. By this word Christ proved the truth of the saying of Paul, that God calleth those things which are not, as they were, (Romans 4:17.) He addresses the dead man, and makes himself be heard, so that death is suddenly changed into life. We have here, in the first place, a striking emblem of the future resurrection, as Ezekiel is commanded to say, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord, [Ezekiel 37:4.] Secondly, we are taught in what manner Christ quickens us spiritually by faith. It is when he infuses into his word a secret power, so that it enters into dead souls, as he himself declares,
The hour cometh, when the dead shall hear the voice of
16.And fear seized all A sense of the divine presence must have brought fear along with it: but there is a difference between the kinds of fear Unbelievers either tremble and are dismayed; or, struck with alarm, murmur against God: while devout and godly persons, moved by reverence, willingly humble themselves. Fear, therefore, is here taken in a good sense, because they gave the honor which was due to the power of God which they had beheld, and rendered to God not only homage, but thanksgiving.
God hath visited his people I understand this to refer not to every kind of visitation, but to that which would restore them to their original condition. Not only were the affairs of Judea in a depressed state, but they had sunk under a wretched and frightful slavery, as if God were not looking at them. The only remaining hope was, that God had promised to be their Redeemer, after they had endured very heavy calamities. I have no doubt, therefore, that they were excited by the miracle to expect an approaching restoration to prosperity: only they fall into a mistake as to the nature of the visitation Though they acknowledge and celebrate the unwonted grace of God in this respect, that a great Prophet hath risen up among us, yet this eulogium comes very far short of the dignity and glory of the promised Messiah. Hence it appears that the faith of that people was, at this time, exceedingly confused, and involved in many unfounded imaginations.
Luke 7:29.And all the people hearing. This part is left out by Matthew, though it throws no small light on the connection of the words; for it was this circumstance which gave rise to Christ’s expostulation, when he perceived that the scribes persisted so obstinately in despising God. The substance of this passage is, that the common people and the publicans gave glory to God; while the Scribes, flattering themselves with confidence in their own knowledge, cared little for what Christ said. At first sight, this tends only to obscure, and even to disfigure, the glory of the Gospel, that Christ could not gather disciples to himself, except from the dregs and offscourings of the people; while he was rejected by those who had any reputation for holiness or learning. But the Lord intended, from the beginning, to hold out this example, that neither the men of that age, nor even posterity, might judge of the Gospel by the approbation of men; for we are all by nature inclined to this vice. And yet nothing is more unreasonable than to submit the truth of God to the judgment of men, whose acuteness and sagacity amounts to nothing more than mere vanity. Accordingly, as Paul says, “God hath chosen that part which is weak and foolish in the eyes of the world, that he may cast down from its height whatever appears to be mighty and wise,” (1 Corinthians 1:27.) Our duty is to prefer this foolishness of God, to use Paul’s expression, (1 Corinthians 1:25,) to all the display of human wisdom.
Justified God. This is a very remarkable expression. Those who respectfully embrace the Son of God, and assent to the doctrine which he has brought, are said to ascribe righteousness to God. We need not therefore wonder, if the Holy Spirit everywhere honors faith with remarkable commendations, assigns to it the highest rank in the worship of God, and declares that it is a very acceptable service. For what duty can be deemed more sacred than to vindicate God’s righteousness? The word justify applies generally, no doubt, to every thing connected with the praises of God, and conveys the idea, that God is beheld with approbation, and crowned with glory, by the people who embrace that doctrine of which He is the author. Now, since faith justifies God, it is impossible, on the other hand, but that unbelief must be blasphemy against him, and a disdainful withholding of that praise which is due to his name. This expression also teaches us, that men are never brought into complete subjection to the faith until, disregarding the flesh and sense, they conclude that every thing which comes from God is just and holy, and do not permit themselves to murmur against his word or his works.
Having been baptized with the baptism of John. Luke means that the fruits of the baptism which they had received were then beginning to appear; for it was a useful preparation to them for receiving the doctrine of Christ. It was already an evidence of their piety that they presented themselves to be baptized. Our Lord now leads them forward from that slender instruction to a higher degree of progress, as the scribes, in despising the baptism of John, shut against themselves, through their pride, the gate of faith. If, therefore, we desire to rise to full perfection, let us first guard against despising the very least of God’s invitations, (25) and be prepared in humility to commence with small and elementary instructions. Secondly, let us endeavor that, if our faith shall have a feeble beginning, it may regularly and gradually increase.
30.Despised the counsel of God within themselves. The counsel of God is mentioned by way of respect, as contrasted with the wicked pride of the scribes; for the term counsel carries along with it a dignity, which protects the doctrine of God against the contempt of men. Literally, Luke says, that they despised Against Themselves : and indeed I do not disapprove of the meaning which is preferred by some, that the scribes were rebellious to their own destruction. But as Luke’s narrative is simple, and as the preposition εἰς is often used in the sense of ἐν I have chosen rather to translate it, within themselves; as meaning, that although they did not openly and expressly contradict, yet as they inwardly swelled with hidden pride, they despised within themselves
31.To what shall I compare? He does not include all the men of his age, but speaks particularly of the scribes and their followers. He charges them with this reproach, that while the Lord endeavored, by various methods, to draw them to himself, they repelled his grace with incorrigible obstinacy. He employs a comparison, which was probably taken from a common amusement of children; for there is probability in the conjecture, that the children divided themselves into two bands, and sang in that manner. And, indeed, I think that, in order to abase the pride of the scribes, Christ intentionally borrowed from children the materials of his reproof: thus declaring that, however distinguished they were, nothing more was necessary to condemn them than a song which children were wont to sing in the market-place for their amusement.
33.For John the Baptist came. Leading an austere life, he thundered out repentance and severe reproofs, and sung, as it were, a plaintive song; while the Lord endeavored, by a cheerful and sprightly song, to draw them more gently to the Father. Neither of those methods had any success, and what reason could be assigned except their hardened obstinacy? This passage also shows us, why so wide a difference existed, as to outward life, between Christ and the Baptist, though both had the same object in view. Our Lord intended, by this diversity, and by assuming as it were a variety of characters, to convict unbelievers more fully; since, while he yielded and accommodated himself to their manners, he did not bend them to himself. But if the men of that age are deprived of every excuse for repelling, with inveterate malice, a twofold invitation which God had given them, we too are held guilty in their persons; for God leaves not untried any sort of pleasing melody, or of plaintive and harsh music, to draw us to himself, and yet we remain hard as stones. They called John a demoniac, just as persons of unsound mind, or whose brain is disturbed, are usually called madmen.
34.The Son of man came. To eat and drink means here nothing more than to live in the customary way; as Christ says that John came neither eating nor drinking, because he confined himself to a peculiar diet, and even abstained from ordinary food. This is more fully expressed by the words of Luke, neither eating bread nor drinking wine. Those who think that the highest perfection consists in outward austerity of life, and who pronounce it to be an angelical life when a person is abstemious, (26) or mortifies himself by fasting, ought to attend to this passage. On this principle John would rank higher than the Son of God; but, on the contrary, we ought to maintain, that
bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness
And yet we must not make this a pretense for giving a loose rein to the flesh, by indulging in luxuries and effeminacy: only we must beware of superstition, lest foolish men, imagining that perfection lies in matters of a purely elementary nature, neglect the spiritual worship of God. Besides, while Christ accommodated himself to the usages of ordinary life, he maintained a sobriety truly divine, and did not encourage the excesses of others by his dissimulation or by his example.
35.And Wisdom is justified This passage is variously explained by commentators. Some maintain that Wisdom was acquitted by the Jews, because, conscious of guilt, and judges of their own unbelief, they were compelled to acknowledge, that the doctrine which they rejected was good and holy. By the children of Wisdom they understand the Jews who boasted of that title. Others think that it was spoken in irony: “It is in this manner that you approve of the Wisdom of God, of which you boast that you are the children? ” But as the Greek preposition ἀπό (27) does not properly relate to an agent, some explain it, that Wisdom is acquitted by her children, and is no longer under obligation to them, in the same manner as when an inheritance is transferred to another. Thus Paul says, that Christ was justified ( δεδικαίωται) from sin, ( Romans 6:7,) because the curse of sin had no longer any power over him.
Some interpret it more harshly, and with greater excess of freedom, to mean that Wisdom is estranged from her children But granting that this were the import of the Greek preposition, I look upon the other meaning as more appropriate, that Wisdom, however wickedly she may be slandered by her own sons, loses nothing of her worth or rank, but remains unimpaired. The Jews, and particularly the scribes, gave themselves out as children of the Wisdom of God; and yet, when they trod their mother under their feet, they not only flattered themselves amidst such heinous sacrilege, but desired that Christ should fall by their decision. Christ maintains, on the contrary, that, however wicked and depraved her children may be, Wisdom remains entire, and that the malice of those who wickedly and malignantly slander her takes nothing from her authority.
I have not yet brought forward that meaning which appears to my own mind the most appropriate and natural. First, the words of Christ contain an implied contrast between true children and bastards, who hold but an empty title without the reality; and they amount to this: “Let those who haughtily boast of being the children of Wisdom proceed in their obstinacy: she will, notwithstanding, retain the praise and support of her own children. Accordingly, Luke adds a term of universality, by all her children; which means, that the reluctance of the scribes will not prevent all the elect of God from remaining steadfast in the faith of the Gospel. With respect to the Greek word ἀπό, it undoubtedly has sometimes the same meaning as ὑπό. Not to mention other instances, there is a passage in Luke’s Gospel, ( Luke 17:25,) where Christ says, that he must suffer many things, καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθὢναι ἀπὸ τὢς γενεᾶς ταύτης, and be rejected B y this generation. Everybody will admit, that the form of expression is the same as in the corresponding clause. (28) Besides, Chrysostom, whose native language was Greek, passes over this matter, as if there were no room for debate. Not only is this meaning more appropriate, but it corresponds to a former clause, in which it was said, that God was justified by the people, (v. 29.) Although many apostates may revolt from the Church of God, yet, among all the elect, who truly belong to the flock, the faith of the Gospel will always remain uninjured.
36.And one of the Pharisees requested him. This narrative shows the captious disposition, not only to take, but to seek out, offenses, which was manifested by those who did not know the office of Christ. A Pharisee invites Christ; from which we infer, that he was not one of those who furiously and violently opposed, nor of those who haughtily despised his doctrine. But whatever might be his mildness, he is presently offended when he sees Christ bestow a gracious reception on a woman who, in his opinion, ought not to have been permitted to approach or to converse with him; and, accordingly, disowns him as a prophet, because he does not acknowledge him to be the Mediator, whose peculiar office it was to bring miserable sinners into a state of reconciliation with God. It was something, no doubt, to bestow on Christ the honor due to a prophet; but he ought also to have inquired for what purpose he was sent, what he brought, and what commission he had received from the Father. Overlooking the grace of reconciliation, which was the main feature to be looked for in Christ, the Pharisee concluded that he was not a prophet And, certainly, had it not been that through the grace of Christ this woman had obtained the forgiveness of her sins, and a new righteousness, she ought to have been rejected.
Simon’s mistake lies only in this: Not considering that Christ came to save what was lost, he rashly concludes that Christ does not distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy. That we may not share in this dislike, let us learn, first, that Christ was given as a Deliverer to miserable and lost men, (239) and to restore them from death to life. Secondly, let every man examine himself and his life, and then we will not wonder that others are admitted along with us, for no one will dare to place himself above others. It is hypocrisy alone that leads men to be careless about themselves, (240) and haughtily to despise others.
37.A woman who was a sinner The words stand literally as I have translated them,( ἥτις ἧν ἁμαζτωλὸς.) Erasmus has chosen to take the pluperfect tense, who Had Been a sinner, (241) lest any one should suppose that at that time she still was a sinner But by so doing, he departed from the natural meaning; for Luke intended to express the place which the woman held in society, and the opinion universally entertained respecting her. Though her sudden conversion had rendered her a different person in the sight of God from what she had previously been, yet among men the disgrace attaching to her former life had not yet been effaced. She was, therefore, in the general estimation of men a sinner, that is, a woman of wicked and infamous life; and this led Simon to conclude, though erroneously, that Christ had not the Spirit of discernment, since he was unacquainted with that infamy which was generally known. (242)
40.And Jesus answering said. By this reply Christ shows how egregiously Simon was mistaken. Exposing to public view his silent and concealed thought, he proves himself to possess something more excellent than what belonged to the Prophets; for he does not reply to his words, but refutes the sentiment which he kept hidden within his breast. Nor was it only on Simon’s account that this was done, but in order to assure every one of us, that we have no reason to fear lest any sinner be rejected by him, who not only gives them kind and friendly invitations, but is prepared with equal liberality, and—as we might say—with outstretched arms, to receive them all.
41.A certain creditor had two debtors The scope of this parable is to demonstrate, that Simon is wrong in condemning the woman who is acquitted by the heavenly judge. He proves that she is righteous, not because she pleased God, but because her sins were forgiven; for otherwise her case would not correspond to the parable, in which Christ expressly states, that the creditor freely forgave the debtors who were not able to pay. We cannot avoid wondering, therefore, that the greater part of commentators have fallen into so gross a blunder as to imagine that this woman, by her tears, and her anointing, and her kissing his feet, deserved the pardon of her sins. The argument which Christ employs was taken, not from the cause, but from the effect; for, until a favor has been received, it cannot awaken gratitude, (243) and the cause of reciprocal love is here declared to be a free forgiveness. In a word, Christ argues from the fruits or effects that follow it, that this woman has been reconciled to God.
44.And turning to the woman. The Lord appears to compare Simon with the woman, in such a manner as to make him chargeable with nothing more than light offenses. But this is spoken only in the way of concession. “Suppose now, Simon,” he says, “that the guilt from which God discharges thee was light, (244) and that this woman has been guilty of many and very heinous offenses. Yet you see how she proves by the effect that she has obtained pardon. For what mean those profuse tears, those frequent kisses of the feet, that precious ointment? What mean they but to acknowledge, that she had been weighed down by an enormous burden of condemnation? And now she regards the mercy of God with fervor of love proportioned to her conviction that her necessity had been great.”
From the words of Christ, therefore, we are not at liberty to infer, that Simon had been a debtor to a small amount, or that he was absolved from guilt. (245) It is more probable that, as he was a blind hypocrite, he was still plunged in the filth of his sins. But Christ insists on this single point, that, however wicked the woman may have been, she gave undoubted proofs of her righteousness, by leaving no kind of duty undone to testify her gratitude, and by acknowledging, in every possible way, her vast obligations to God. At the same time, Christ reminds Simon, that he has no right to flatter himself, as if he were free from all blame; for that he too needed mercy; and that if even he does not obtain the favor of God without pardon, he ought to look upon this woman’s gifts, whatever might have been her former sins, as evidences of repentance and gratitude.
We must attend to the points of contrast, in which the woman is preferred to Simon. She moistened his feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head; while he did not even order water to be given, according to custom. She did not cease to kiss his feet, while he did not deign to receive Christ with the kiss of hospitality. (246) She poured preciousointment on his feet, while he did not even anoint his head with oil. But why did our Lord, who was a model of frugality and economy, permit the expense of the ointment? It was because, in this way, the wretched sinner testified that she owed all to him. He had no desire of such luxuries, was not gratified by the sweet odor, and did not approve of gaudy dress. But he looked only at her extraordinary zeal to testify her repentance, which is also held out to us by Luke as an example; for her sorrow, which is the commencement of repentance, was proved by her tears. By placing herself at Christ’s feet behind him, and there lying on the ground, she discovered her modesty and humility. By the ointment, she declared that she offered, as a sacrifice to Christ, herself and all that she possessed. Every one of these things it is our duty to imitate; but the pouring of the ointment was an extraordinary act, which it would be improper to consider as a rule. (247)
47.Her many sins are forgiven Some interpret the verb differently, may her many sins be forgiven, and bring out the following meaning: — “As this woman evinces by remarkable actions, that she is full of ardent love to Christ, it would be improper for the Church to act harshly and severely towards her; but, on the contrary, she ought to be treated with gentleness, whatever may have been the aggravations of her offenses.” But as ἀφέωνται is used, in accordance with the Athic dialect, for ἀφεῖνται , we must dispense with that subtlety of exposition which is disapproved by the context; for a little after, Christ uses the same words in his address to the woman, where the imperative mood would not apply. Here, too is added a corresponding clause, that he to whom less is forgiven loveth less
The verb, which is in the present tense, must, no doubt, be resolved into a preterite. (248) From the eager desire which she had manifested to discharge all the duties of piety, Christ infers that, although this woman might have been guilty of many sins, the mercy of God was so abundant towards her, that she ought no longer to be regarded as a sinner. Again, loving is not here said to be the cause of pardon, (249) but a subsequent manifestation, as I have formerly mentioned; for the meaning of the words is this: — “They who perceive the display of deep piety in the woman form an erroneous judgment, if they do not conclude that God is already reconciled to her;” so that the free pardon of sins comes first in order. Christ does not inquire at what price men may purchase the favor of God, but argues that God has already forgiven this wretched sinner, and that, therefore, a mortal man ought not to treat her with severity.
48.Thy sins are forgiven. It may be asked, why does Christ now promise to her the pardon which she had obtained, and of which she had been assured? Some reply that these words were uttered, not so much on her own account, as for the sake of others. For my own part, I have no doubt that it was chiefly on her own account; and this appears more clearly from the words that follow. Nor ought we to wonder, that the voice of Christ again pronounces an absolution of the woman, who had already tasted his grace, and who was even convinced that he was her only refuge of salvation. Thus, at the present day, faith is previously necessary, when we pray that the Lord would forgive our sins; and yet this is not a useless or superfluous prayer, but the object of it is, that the heavenly Judge may more and more seal his mercy on our hearts, and in this manner may give us peace. Though this woman had brought with her a confident reliance on that grace which she had obtained, yet this promise was not superfluous, but contributed greatly to the confirmation of her faith.
49.And those who sat at table with him began to say within themselves. Hence we again learn, that ignorance of Christ’s office constantly leads men to conceive new grounds of offense. The root of the evil is, that no one examines his own wretched condition, which undoubtedly would arouse every man to seek a remedy. There is no reason to wonder that hypocrites, who slumber amidst their vices, (250) should murmur at it as a thing new and unexpected, when Christ forgives sins.
50.Thy faith hath saved thee. To repress those murmurings, (251) and, at the same time, to confirm the woman, Christ commends her faith. Let others grumble as they may, but do thou adhere steadfastly to that faith which has brought thee an undoubted salvation. (252) At the same time, Christ claims for himself the authority which had been given to him by the Father; for, as he possesses the power of healing, to him faith is properly directed. And this intimates that the woman was not led by rashness or mistake to come to him, but that, through the guidance of the Spirit, she had preserved the straight road of faith. Hence it follows, that we cannot believe in any other than the Son of God, without considering that person to have the disposal of life and death. If the true reason for believing in Christ be, that God hath given him authority to forgive sins, whenever faith is rendered to another, that honor which is due to Christ must of necessity be taken from him. This saying refutes also the error of those who imagine that the forgiveness of sins is purchased by charity; for Christ lays down a quite different method, which is, that we embrace by faith the offered mercy. The last clause, Go in peace, denotes that inestimable fruit of faith which is so frequently commended in Scripture. It brings peace and joy to the consciences, and prevents them from being driven hither and thither by uneasiness and alarm.
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