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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Luke 5



Verse 1

1. ἐπικεῖσθαι αὐτῷ. With this section compare Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20. St Mark (as is his wont) uses stronger words (ἐπιπίπτειν, θλίβειν) to express the physical inconvenience, and adds that sometimes at any rate, the multitude pressed on Jesus with a view to touch Him and be healed (Luke 3:9-10).

καὶ ἀκούειν. The more probable reading is not τοῦ but καἰ, ‘and listened to.’

τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ. “The most sacred sheet of water which this earth contains.” Stanley. St Luke alone, writing for the Greeks, accurately calls it a lake. The Galilaean and Jewish Evangelists unconsciously follow the Hebrew idiom which applies the name yam ‘sea,’ to every piece of water. Gennesareth is probably a corruption of the old Hebrew name Kinnereth, but the Rabbis derive it from ganne sarim, ‘gardens of princes.’ This same inland lake is generally called ‘the Sea of Galilee’ (Matthew 15:29, &c.). In the Old Testament it is called “the Sea of Chinneroth” (Joshua 12:3) from its harplike shape. St John calls it “the Sea of Tiberias;” because by the time he wrote Tiberias—which in our Lord’s time had only just been founded by Herod Antipas—had grown into a flourishing town. Gennesareth is a clear sweet lake about thirteen miles long and seven broad, with the Jordan flowing through it. Its fish produced a valuable revenue to those who lived on its shores. The plain of Gennesareth, which lies 500 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, is now known as El Ghuweir, ‘the little hollow.’ It is so completely a desolation, that the only inhabited places on the western shore of the Lake are the crumbling, dirty, earthquake-shaken town of Tiberias and the mud village of El Mejdel, the ancient Magdala. The burning and enervating heat is no longer tempered by cultivation and by trees. It is still however beautiful in spring, with flowering oleanders, and the soil is fruitful where it is not encumbered with ruins as at Khan Minyeh (Tarichaea) and Tell Hûm (Capernaum). In our Lord’s time it was, as Josephus calls it, “the best part of Galilee” (B. J. III. 10, § 7) containing many villages, of which the least had 15,000 inhabitants. Josephus becomes quite eloquent over the descriptions of its rich fruits nearly all the year, its grateful temperature, and its fertilising stream (Jos. B. J. III. 10, §§ 7, 8), so that, he says, one might call it ‘the ambition of nature.’ It belonged to the tribe of Naphtali (Deuteronomy 33:23) and the Rabbis said that of the “seven seas” of Canaan, it was the only one which God had reserved for Himself. In our Lord’s time it was covered with a gay and numerous fleet of 4000 vessels, from ships of war down to fishing boats; now it is often difficult to find a single crazy boat even at Tiberias, and the Arabs fish mainly by throwing poisoned bread-crumbs into the water near the shore. As four great roads communicated with the Lake it became a meeting-place for men of many nations—Jews, Galilaeans, Syrians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans.

Verses 1-11


Verse 2

2. πλοῖα, ‘boats.’

ἑστῶτα, drawn up close to the shore, or lying at anchor.

ἔπλυνον τὰ δίκτυα. They might have been listening to Christ even while they continued their work. If ἔπλυναν be read, the aor. can only be used in an incorrect sense. If we combine these notices with those in Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 4:18-22, we must suppose that during a discourse of Jesus the four disciples were fishing with a drawnet (ἀμφίβληστρον) not far from the shore, and within hearing of His voice; and that the rest of the incident (here narrated) took place on the morning after. The disciples had spent the night in fruitless labour, and now Peter and Andrew were washing, and James and John mending, their castingnets (δίκτυα), because they felt that it was useless to go on, since night is the best time for fishing.

δίκτυα. ‘Castingnets’ (from δίκω I throw, funda, jaculum) as in Matthew 4:20; John 21:6. In Matthew 4:18 we have the ἀμφίβληστρον or drawnet (from ἀμφὶ and βάλλω, I throw around); and in Matthew 13:47, σαγήνη, seine or haulingnet (from σάττω ‘I load’).

Verse 3

3. ἐπαναγαγεῖν. The technical word for putting out to sea, 2 Maccabees 12:4.

καθίσας. The ordinary attitude (as we have seen, Luke 4:20) for a sermon.

Verse 4

4. ὡς δὲ ἐπαύσατο λαλῶν. The aorist implies that no sooner was His sermon ended than He at once thought, not of His own fatigue, but of His poor disappointed followers.

χαλάσατε, ‘let ye down.’ The first command (ἐπανάγαγε) is in the singular, and is addressed to Peter only as “the pilot of the Galilaean Lake.”

Verse 5

5. ἐπιστάτα. The word is not Rabbi as in the other Evangelists,—a word which Gentiles would not have understood but Ἐπιστάτα (in its occasional classic sense of ‘teacher’) which is peculiar to St Luke (Luke 5:5, Luke 8:24; Luke 8:45, Luke 9:33; Luke 9:49, Luke 17:13), who never uses Rabbi. These are the only places where it occurs.

Verse 6

6. πλῆθος ἰχθύων πολύ. Of this—as of all miracles—we may say with St Gregory Dum facit miraculum prodit mysterium—in other words the miracle was an acted parable, of which the significance is explained in Matthew 13:47. Banks of fish, suddenly congregated, are not uncommon in the Lake of Gennesareth (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, 285) and the miracle consisted in causing this result at this moment.

διερήσσετο, ‘were beginning to break.’ Contrast this with John 21:11, οὐκ ἐσχίσθη. This breaking net is explained by St Augustine as the symbol of the Church which now is: he compares the unrent net to the Church of the future which shall know no schisms.

Verse 7

7. κατένευσαν. It is one of the inimitable touches of truthfulness in the narrative that the instinct of work prevails at first over the sense that a miraculous power has been exerted.

τοῖς μετόχοις, ‘fellow-workers.’

ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ πλοίῳ. St Luke uses ἕτερος for ‘another of two,’ much more frequently and with stricter accuracy than the other Evangelists.

Verse 8

8. ἰδὼν δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος. Apparently it was only when he saw the boats sinking to the gunwale with their load of fish that the tenderness and majesty of the miracle flashed upon his mind.

ἔξελθε ἀπ' ἐμοῦ. The word implies leave my boat and go from me. Here again is the stamp of truthfulness. Any one inventing the scene would have made Peter kneel in thankfulness or adoration, but would have missed the strange psychological truthfulness of the sense of sin painfully educed by the revealed presence of divine holiness. We find the expression of analogous feelings in the case of Manoah (Judges 13:22); the Israelites at Sinai (Exodus 20:19); the men of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:20); David after the death of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:9); the lady of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:18); Job (Job 42:5-6); and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5). The exclamation of St Peter was wrung from a heart touched with a sense of humility, and his words did not express his thoughts. They were the cry of agonised humility, and only emphasized his own utter unworthiness. They were in reality the reverse of the deliberate and calculated request of the swine-feeding Gadarenes. The dead and profane soul dislikes and tries to get rid of the presence of the Divine. The soul awakened only to conviction of sin is terrified. The soul that has found God is conscious of utter unworthiness, but fear is lost in love (1 John 4:18). It is absurd to suppose that Peter was thinking of the danger which Jesus might incur from being on board with a criminal! (Hor. Od. iii. 2. 26).

ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός. The Greek has two words for man—ἄνθρωπος, a general term for ‘human being’ (homo); and ἀνήρ for ‘a man’ (vir). The use of the latter here shews that Peter’s confession is individual, not general. When Barnabas (that may have been the writer’s name, though he could not have been the ‘Apostle’) says that the Twelve before their call were ‘sinners above all sin’ (Ephesians 5), he is guilty of one of the follies which so greatly discredit that early Christian writing. The confessions of holy men are always strongly expressed, and Peter’s sense of sin was that which often fills the heart of those whom the world justly regards as saints.

κύριε. The word often means no more than ‘Sir.’ It must be remembered that this was the second call of Peter and the three Apostles,—the call to Apostleship; they had already received a call to faith. They had received their first call on the banks of Jordan, and had heard the witness of John, and had witnessed the miracle of Cana. They had only returned to their ordinary avocations until the time came for Christ’s full and active ministry.

Verse 9

9. θάμβος περιέσχεν αὐτόν, ‘astonishment seized him.’

Verse 10

10. κοινωνοί, ‘associates’ in profits, &c. comp. Luke 5:7.

μὴ φοβοὺ. Accordingly, on another occasion, when Peter sees Jesus walking on the sea, so far from crying Depart from me, he cries “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28); and when he saw the Risen Lord standing in the misty morning on the shore of the Lake “he cast himself into the sea” to come to Him (John 21:7). These blessed words μὴ φοβοῦ, so characteristic of the Gospel (Matthew 10:26; Matthew 10:31; Matthew 14:27; Matthew 28:5; Mark 5:36; Mark 6:50) seem to be favourite words with St Luke (Luke 1:13; Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10, Luke 8:50, Luke 12:4; Luke 12:7; Luke 12:32, Luke 24:36; Acts 18:9; Acts 27:24).

ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν. Literally, ‘thou shalt be catching alive (ζωός, ἀγρεύω). If the Emperor Julian had attended to the meaning of the verb his sneer that the ‘men’ so ‘caught’ would die, like fishes out of water, would have become pointless. In Jeremiah 16:16 the fishers draw out men to death, and in Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14, “men are made as the fishes of the sea” by way of punishment. Here the word seems to imply the contrast between the fish that lay glittering there in dead heaps, and men who should be captured not for death (James 1:14), but for life. But Satan too captures men alive (2 Timothy 2:26, the only other passage where the verb occurs). From this and the parable of the seine or haulingnet (Matthew 13:47) came the favourite early Christian symbol of the ‘Fish.’ “We little fishes,” says Tertullian, “after our Fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ, i.e. Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ) are born in the water (of baptism).” The prophecy was first fulfilled to Peter, when 3000 were converted by his words at the first Pentecost. In a hymn of St Clement of Alexandria we find “O fisher of mortals who are being saved, Enticing pure fish for sweet life from the hostile wave.” Thus, He who “spread the fisher’s net over the palaces of Tyre and Sidon, gave into the fisher’s hand the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” “He caught orators by fishermen, and made out of fishermen his orators.” We find a similar metaphor used by Socrates, Xen. Mem. II. 6, “Try to be good and to catch the good. I will help you, for I know the art of catching men.”

Verse 11

11. ἀφέντες πάντα. The sacrifice was a willing one, but they were not unconscious of its magnitude; and it was the allusion to it by Peter which called forth the memorable promise of the hundredfold (Luke 18:28-30; Mark 10:29-30). We gather from St Mark that Zebedee (Zabdia) and his two sons had hired servants (Luke 1:20), and therefore they were probably richer than Simon and Andrew, sons of Jona. The miraculous draught of fishes was not the sole cause why these Apostles ‘forsook all and followed Christ.’ We see from St John that they were, so to speak, awaiting their call even now; and further than this the fragmentary indications of the Gospels clearly suggest the inference that the sons of Zebedee were first cousins of our Lord. He had probably known them and others of the Apostles for many years. See my Life of Christ, I. 140–159, 251.

Verse 12

12. ἐν μιᾷ τῶν πόλεων, ‘in one of the cities.’ Probably the village of Hattin, for we learn from St Matthew’s definite notice that this incident took place on descending from the Mount of Beatitudes (Kurn Hattin), see Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45. St Mark seems to imply that it was in a house. Chronologically the call of Matthew, the choosing of the Twelve, and the Sermon on the Mount probably intervene between this incident and the last.

ἐγένετοκαί. See note on Luke 2:15. The paratactic (comp. Luke 5:17) arrangement of the sentence again points to an Aramaic original.

ἀνὴρ πλήρης λέπρας. The hideous and hopeless nature of this disease—which is nothing short of a foul decay, arising from the total corruption of the blood—has been too often described to need further notice. See Leviticus 13, 14. It was a living death, as indicated by bare head, rent clothes, and covered lip. In the middle ages, a man seized with leprosy was “clothed in a shroud, and the masses of the dead sung over him.” In its horrible repulsiveness it is the Gospel type of Sin. The expression “full of” implies the rapid development and horror of the disease; when the man’s whole body was covered with the whiteness, he was allowed to mingle with others as clean (Leviticus 13:13).

πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον. We get the full picture by combining the three Evangelists. We then see that he came with passionate entreaties, flinging himself on his knees, and worshipping, and finally in his agony prostrating himself on his face.

δύνασαί με καθαρίσαι. The faith of this poor leper must have been intense, for hitherto there had been but one instance of a leper cleansed by miracle (Luke 4:27; 2 Kings 5). Comp. however Exodus 4:7; Numbers 12:10.

Verses 12-16


Verse 13

13. ἥψατο αὐτοῦ. This was a distinct violation of the letter, but not of course of the spirit of the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2). In order to prevent the accidental violation of this law, lepers, until the final stage of the disease, were then as now secluded from all living contact with others, “differing in nothing from a dead man” (Jos. Antt. III. 11, § 3), and only appeared in public with the cry Tamê, Tamê—‘Unclean! Unclean!’ But Jesus, “because He is the Lord of the Law, does not obey the Law, but makes the Law” (St Ambrose); or rather, He obeys that divine eternal Law of Compassion, in its sudden impulse (σπλαγχνισθεὶς, Mark 1:40), which is older and grander than the written Law. (So Elijah and Elisha had not scrupled to touch the dead, 1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34.) His touching the leper, yet remaining clean, is a type of His taking our humanity upon Him, remaining undefiled.

θέλω, καθαρίσθητι. ‘I will! Be cleansed!’ Two words—“a prompt echo to the ripe faith of the leper”—which are accurately preserved by all three Evangelists. Our Lord’s first miracles were done with a glad spontaneity in answer to faith. But when men had ceased to believe in Him, then lack of faith rendered His latter miracles more sad and more delayed (Mark 6:5; Matthew 13:58). We never however hear of a moment’s delay in attending to the cry of a leper. When the sinner cries from his heart, “I have sinned against the Lord,” the answer comes instantly, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin” (2 Samuel 12:13).

ἡ λέπρα ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ. St Matthew (Matthew 8:2) says ἐκαθαρίσθη αὐτοῦ ἡ λέπρα. St Mark (Mark 1:42) writes both phrases. St Matthew looks at the result Levitically, St Luke medically. Jesus was not polluted by the touch, but the leper was cleansed. Even so He touched our sinful nature, yet without sin (H. de S. Victore).

Verse 14

14. καὶ αὐτὸς παρήγγειλεν αὐτῷ μηδενὶ εἰπεῖν. He personally charged him to tell it to no one. The use of αὐτὸς for Jesus (He—the Master) is chiefly found in St Luke. Comp. Aristoph. Nub. 218. These injunctions to reticence marked especially the early part of the ministry. See Luke 4:35, Luke 5:14, Luke 8:56. The reasons were probably (i) personal to the healed sufferer, lest his inward thankfulness should be dissipated by the idle and boastful gossip of curiosity (St Chrys.); but far more (ii) because, as St Matthew expressly tells us, He did not wish His ministry to be accompanied by excitement and tumult—in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 42:2 (Matthew 12:15-50; comp. Philippians 2:6-7; Hebrews 5:5; John 18:36); and (iii) because He came, not merely and not mainly, to be a great Physician and Wonder-worker, but to save men’s souls by His Revelation, His Example, and His Death.

It is evident however that there was something very special in this case, for St Mark says (Luke 1:43), “violently enjoining him (ἐμβριμησάμενος αὐτῷ), immediately He thrust him forth, and said to him, See that you say no word to any one” (ὅρα μηδενὶ μηδὲν εἴπῃς) (according to the right reading and translation). Clearly, although the multitudes were following Christ (Matthew 8:1), He was walking before them, and the miracle had been so sudden and instantaneous (ἰδοὺεὐθέως) that they had not observed what had taken place. Probably our Lord desired to avoid the Levitical rites for uncleanness which the unspiritual ceremonialism of the Pharisees might have tried to force upon Him.

On other occasions, when these reasons did not exist, He even enjoined the publication of an act of mercy, Luke 8:39.

ἀλλὰ ἀπελθὼν δεῖξον σεαυτὸν τῷ ἱερεῖ. We find similar instances of transition from indirect to direct narration, in Acts 23:22; Psalms 74:16. See my Brief Greek Syntax, p. 199. The priest alone could legally pronounce him clean.

προσένεγκε περὶ τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ σου. The student should read for himself the intensely interesting and symbolic rites commanded by Moses for the legal pronunciation of a leper clean in Leviticus 14. They occupy fourteen chapters of Negaîm, one of the treatises of the Mishnah.

καθὼς προσέταξεν ΄ωϋσῆς. A reference to Leviticus 14:4-10 will shew how heavy an expense the offering entailed.

εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς, i.e. that the priests may assure themselves that the miracle is real. In Luke 9:5; Mark 6:11 the words mean ‘for a witness against them;’ and although St Luke’s phrase is not very definite, it may imply ‘for an evidence to the priests that I do not neglect the Mosaic Law’ (Matthew 5:17). It is evident from St John that this suspicion had excited hostility against Him from the first. The impetuous phrase of St Mark εὐθέως ἐξέβαλεν αὐτόν perhaps paints the agitation of Jesus as He recalled the suspicion and thwarting hatred which might arise from His having touched this leper, and so broken the letter of the Law, which, in such cases, even when accidentally violated, involved the necessity for a Levitical quarantine.

Verse 15

15. διήρχετο δὲ μᾶλλον ὁ λόγος περὶ αὐτοῦ. ‘But the talk about Him spread the more.’ This is a classical use of διέρχομαι, Soph. Aj. 978; Thuc. VI. 46. It is only used once again by St Luke (Acts 5:34) and once by St Paul (1 Timothy 1:7). It is clear that the leper disobeyed the strict injunction of Jesus, as St Mark 1:45 emphatically records. Such disobedience was natural, and perhaps venial; but certainly not commendable.

συνήρχοντο ὄχλοι πολλοὶθεραπεύεσθαι. Thus in part defeating our Lord’s purpose.

Verse 16

16. αὐτὸς δὲ ἦν ὑποχωρῶν ἐν ταῖς ἐρήμοις. ‘But He Himself was retiring in the wilderness and praying.’ St Mark (Mark 1:45) gives us the clearest view of the fact by telling us that the leper blazoned abroad his cure in every direction, “so that He was no longer able to enter openly into a city, but was without, in desert spots; and they began to come to Him from all directions.” We here see that this retirement was a sort of “Levitical purification,” which however the multitudes disregarded as soon as they discovered where He was.

καὶ προσευχόμενος. St Luke’s is eminently the Gospel of Prayer and Thanksgiving. See note on Luke 3:21.

Verse 17

17. ἐν μιᾷ τῶν ἡμερῶν. ‘On one of those days.’ The vagueness of the phrase shews that no stress is here laid on chronological order. In Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:3-12 the scene is a house in Capernaum, and the time (apparently) after the healing of the Gadarene demoniac on the eastern side of the Lake, and on the day of Matthew’s feast.

καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν διδάσκων. Lit. ‘It came to pass … and He was teaching and there were.’ St Luke is fond of this paratactic arrangement of sentences by means of and. He uses καὶ most frequently in his Gospel, and τε in the Acts. Comp. Luke 7:37. Jesus was not teaching in a synagogue, but probably in Peter’s house. Notice the “He” which is so frequent in St Luke, and marks the later epoch when the title “the Christ” had passed into a name, and when “He” could have but one meaning. See on Luke 4:15.

Φαρισαῖοι καὶ νομοδιδάσκαλοι. The word νομοδιδάσκαλος means the same as νομικὸς in Luke 7:30 &c. See Excursus on the Jewish Sects.

καὶ Ἰουδαίας καὶ Ἱερουσαλήμ. These had probably come out of simple curiosity to hear and see the great Prophet of Nazareth. They were not the spies malignantly sent at the later and sadder epoch of His ministry (Matthew 15:1; Mark 3:2; Mark 7:1) to dog His footsteps, and lie in wait to catch any word on which they could build an accusation.

κυρίου, ‘of Jehovah.’ If Christ were meant the article would be used.

ἦν. The word is here emphatic—‘was present,’ praesto erat. It is probably due to an Aramaic original. It is remarkable that in Mark 2:1-11 the same story is told in widely different phraseology.

εἰς τὸ ἰᾶσθαι αὐτόν. This is the reading of אBL. If the reading be correct the verse means “the Power of the Lord (i.e. of the Almighty Jehovah) was with Him to heal.” If αὐτοὺς be read it refers to the sick among the multitude.

Verses 17-26


Verse 18

18. ἄνδρες. Four bearers, Mark 2:3.

παραλελυμένος. The word used by Matthew (Matthew 9:1-8) and Mark (Mark 2:1-12) is “paralytic,” but as that is not a classic word, St Luke uses “having been paralysed.”

ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν εἰσενεγκεῖν. St Mark explains that the crowd was so great that they could not even get to the door.

Verse 19

19. μὴ εὑρόντες. Comp. Luke 2:45.

ποίας, ‘in what way’ (ὁδοῦ might have been expressed). The διὰ ποίας of Ebr. is a grammatical gloss, as also are the readings πῶς and πόθεν. ποίᾳ is an unsupported conjecture of Bornemann. We have a similar local genitive in ἐκείνης, ‘that way,’ Luke 19:4. It is found in the pronominal adverbs οὖ, ποῦ, and in such phrases as λαιᾶς χειρός, ‘on the left hand,’ Aesch. Prom. 714. Cp. Ag. 1054; Soph. El. 900. See my Brief Greek Syntax, § 46; Winer, p. 739, and § 30, 11.

ἀναβάντες ἐπὶ τὸ δῶμα. A very easy thing to do because there was in most cases an outside staircase to the roof, Matthew 24:17. Eastern houses are often only one storey high, and when they are built on rising ground, the roof is often nearly on a level with the street above. Our Lord may have been teaching in the “upper room” of the house, which was usually the largest and quietest. 2 Kings 4:10; Acts 1:13; Acts 9:37.

διὰ τῶν κεράμων καθῆκαν αὐτόν. St Mark says they uncovered the roof where He was, and digging it up, let down ‘the pallet.’ Clearly then two operations seem to have been necessary: [1] to remove the tiles, and (ii) to dig through some mud partition. But the description is too vague to enable us to understand the details. Sceptical writers have raised difficulties about it in order to discredit the whole narrative, but the making of an aperture in the roof (comp. Cic. Phil. II. 18, “per tegulas demitterere”) is an everyday matter in the East (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 358), and is here alluded to, not because it was strange, but to illustrate the active, and as it were nobly impatient, faith of the man and the bearers.

σὺν τῷ κλινιδίῳ. ‘Little bed,’ probably a mere mat or mattress. It means the same as St Mark’s κράββατος, but that being a semi-Latin word (grabatum) would be more comprehensible to the Roman readers of St Mark than to the Greek readers of St Luke. St Luke not only avoids the vernacular word, but also its repetition (κλίνη, ἐφ' ὅ κατέκειτο).

Verse 20

20. ἄνθρωπε. St Mark has “Son,” and St Matthew “Cheer up, son,” which were probably the exact words used by Christ.

ἀφέωνταί σοι. ‘Have been forgiven thee,’ i.e. now and henceforth. The form ἀφέωνται found in the four Evangelists (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; 1 John 2:12) is according to Suidas a Doric form for the 3rd pers. plur. ἀφεῖνται of the perf. pass. ἀφεῖμαι after the analogy of the perf. ἀφέωκα. The Etym. Magnus calls it an Attic form. Hellenistic Greek has forms which have come to it from various dialects (see Winer, p. 96). In this instance our Lord’s power of reading the heart must have shewn Him that there was a connexion between past sin and present affliction. The Jews held it as an universal rule that suffering was always the immediate consequence of sin. The Book of Job had been directed against that hard, crude, Pharisaic generalisation. Since that time it had been modified by the view that a man might suffer, not for his own sins, but for those of his parents (John 9:3). These views were all the more dangerous because they were the distortion of half-truths. Our Lord, while He always left the individual conscience to read the connexion between its own sins and its sorrows (John 5:14), distinctly repudiated the universal inference (Luke 13:5; John 9:3).

Verse 21

21. τίς ἐστιν οὗτος ὃς λαλεῖ βλασφημίας; This is a perfect iambic line. The word οὖτος is contemptuous. St Matthew puts it still more barely, ‘This fellow blasphemes.’ To indulge such thoughts and feelings was distinctly “to think evil thoughts.”

βλασφημίας. In classical Greek the word means abuse and injurious talk, but the Jews used it specially of curses against God, or claiming His attributes (Matthew 26:65; John 10:36).

τίς δύναται ἁμαρτίας ἀφεῖναι εἰ μὴ μόνος ὁ θέος; The remark in itself was not unnatural, Psalms 32:5; Isaiah 43:25; but they captiously overlooked the possibility of a delegated authority, and the ordinary declaratory idioms of language, which might have shewn them that blasphemy was a thing impossible to Christ, even if they were not yet prepared to admit the Divine Power which He had already exhibited.

Verse 22

22. ἐπιγνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς. ‘Jesus, recognising.’

τοὺς διαλογισμοὺς αὐτῶν. ‘Their reasoning.’

Verse 23

23. τί ἐστιν εὐκοπώτερον; The adj. εὕκοπος is not found in Attic. In the N.T. it is only used in the comparative. Any one might say ‘thy sins have been forgiven’ without any visible sign whether his words had any power or not; no one could by a word make a man ‘rise and walk’ who had not received power from God. But our Lord had purposely used words which while they brought the earthly miracle into less prominence, went to the very root of the evil, and implied a yet loftier prerogative.

Verse 24

24. ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. Ben-Adam has a general sense of any human being (Psalms 8:5; Job 25:6, &c.); in a special sense in the O.T. it is nearly 90 times applied to Ezekiel, though never used by himself of himself. In the N.T. it is 80 times used by Christ, but always by Himself, except in passages which imply His exaltation (Acts 7:56; Revelation 1:13-20). The Title, as distinctively Messianic, is derived from Daniel 7:13, and is there Bar-Enôsh, a word descriptive of man in his humiliation. The inference seems to be that Christ used it to indicate the truth that “God highly exalted Him” because of His self-humiliation in taking our flesh (Philippians 2:5-11). For while ‘Son of Man’ suits His humiliation, ‘the Son of Man’ is a title by which He expresses that He was the federal head of humanity.

ἐξουσίαν ἔχει ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀφιέναι ἁμαρτίας. On earth; and therefore, of course, a fortiori, He hath in heaven.

σοὶ λέγω. ‘To thee I say.’ The position is emphatic.

Verse 25

25. ἐφ' ὃ κατέκειτο. The ἐφ' of the Rec[121] is a less common expression. Ἐφ' is another instance of a prep. of motion with a verb of rest as in ἔστη ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλόν, John 21:4; καθίσεσθε ἐπὶ δώδεκα θρόνους, Matthew 19:28, and the phrase εἶναι ἐπὶ χθόνα. See Winer, p. 508. This circumstance is emphasized in all three narratives to contrast the man’s previous helplessness, “borne of four,” with his present activity. He now carried the bed which had carried him, and “the proof of his sickness became the proof of his cure.” The labour would have been no more than that of carrying a rug or a cloak, yet it was this which excited the fury of the Pharisees in Jerusalem (John 5:9). The ‘Sabbath-breaking’ involved in the act was not specially attacked by the simpler and less Pharisaic Pharisees of Galilee.

Verse 26

26. ἐπλήσθησαν φόβου. See on Luke 5:8.

παράδοξα. ‘Startling things,’ ‘things contrary to expectation.’ It expresses the οὐδέποτε οὔτως εἴδομεν of Mark 2:12 and the ἐθαύμασαν of Matthew 9:8. It occurs nowhere else in the N.T.

Verse 27

27. ἐθεάσατο. ‘He observed.’

ὀνόματι Λευείν. It may be regarded as certain that Levi is the same person as the Evangelist St Matthew. The name Matthew (probably a corruption of Mattithjah) means, like Nathanael, Theodore, Dositheus, Adeodatus, &c., ‘the gift of God,’ and it seems to have been the name which he himself adopted after his call (see Matthew 9:9; Matthew 10:3; Mark 2:14).

ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον. See note on Luke 3:12. It should be rendered as in the R.V[122]at the place of toll,” not as in A.V[123] “at the receipt of custom.” Wyclif rightly renders it tolbooth. Matthew seems to have collected toll (perhaps for Herod Antipas) from cargoes of boats which crossed the lake. Herod Antipas paid a certain annual sum to the Romans, but was allowed to collect the revenue himself. Matthew may have been a tax-gatherer for Herod Antipas—who seems to have been allowed to manage his own taxes—(see Jos. Antt. XIV. 10 § 8) and not for the Romans; but even in that case he would share almost equally with a man like Zacchaeus the odium with which his class was regarded. For the Herods were mere creatures of the Caesars (Jos. Antt. XVII. 11 § 6). Probably the “toll” was connected with the traffic of the Lake, and St Matthew is rightly described in Hebrew as ‘Baal abarah’ ‘lord of the passage.’

ἀκολούθει μοι. In appointing alike a Publican and a Zealot to be His Apostles our Lord shewed His divine independence and large-hearted love for all men. The Apostolate of a Publican would excite religious rancour; that of a Zealot would involve political suspicion. It might, too, have seemed impossible that men who were in such violent opposition to each other should ever work together. But Christ’s controlling power fused all antagonisms into a common zeal, and at His touch each character gave out its peculiar spark of light.

Verses 27-39


Verse 28

28. καταλιπὼν πάντα. It is most probable that St Matthew, like the sons of Jona and of Zebedee, had known something of our Lord before this call. If Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 2:14) be the same as the father of James the Less, and the same as Clopas (John 19:25) the husband of Mary, and if this Mary was the sister of the Virgin, then James and Matthew were cousins of Jesus. The inferences are uncertain, but early Christian tradition points in this direction. It was a rare but not unknown custom to call two sisters by the same names. All such details must be left to conjectural inferences, for ‘the Gospels leave in the shadow all the secondary actors in the great drama.’ The supposition of Heracleon, Clemens Alexandrinus, Ewald, and Keim, that Levi and Matthew were different persons has, however, nothing in its favour.

Verse 29

29. ἐποίησεν δοχὴν μεγάλην. This shews that Matthew had something to sacrifice when he “left all.” Δοχὴ literally means ‘reception.’ It only occurs again in Luke 14:13.

ἦν. ‘Was present.’ Comp. Luke 5:17.

ὄχλος πολὺς τελωνῶν. Comp. Luke 15:1. The tax-gatherers in their deep, and not wholly undeserved unpopularity, would be naturally touched by the countenance and kindness of the Sinless One.

ἦσανκατακείμενοι. ‘Were reclining’ (at table).

Verse 30

30. ἐγόγγυζον. This Ionic onomatopœia is common in Hellenistic Greek.

οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν. ‘The Pharisees and their scribes,’ i.e. those who were the authorised teachers of the company present. The Scribes (Sopherîm from Sepher ‘a book’) were a body which had sprung up after the exile, whose function it was to copy and explain the Law. The ‘words of the scribes’ were the nucleus of the body of tradition known as ‘the oral law.’ The word was a general term, for technically the Sopherim had been succeeded by the Tanaîm or ‘repeaters’ from B.C. 300 to A.D. 220, who drew up the Halachôth or ‘rules;’ and they by the Amoraim. The tyranny of pseudo-orthodoxy which they had established, and the terrorism with which it was enforced, were denounced by our Lord (Luke 11:37-54) in terms of which the burning force can best be understood by seeing from the Talmud how crushing were the ‘secular chains’ in which they had striven to bind the free conscience of the people—chains which it became His compassion to burst (see Gfrörer, Jahrh. d. Heils, I. 140).

πρὸς τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ. They had not yet learnt to break the spell of awe which surrounded the Master, and so they attacked the ‘unlearned and ignorant’ Apostles. The murmurs must have reached the ears of Jesus after the feast, unless we imagine that some of these dignified teachers, who of course could not sit down at the meal, came and looked on out of curiosity. The house of an Oriental is perfectly open, and any one who likes may enter it.

μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν. ‘With the publicans and sinners.’ The article is found in nearly all the uncials.

Verse 31

31. οἱ ὑγιαίνοντες. ‘Those in sound health.’ Our Lord’s words had both an obvious and a deeper meaning. As regards the ordinary duties and respectability of life these provincial scribes and Pharisees were really “whole” as compared with the flagrant “sinfulness” of the tax-gatherers and “sinners.” In another and even a more dangerous sense they were themselves “sinners” who fancied only that they had no need of Jesus (Revelation 3:17-18). They did not yet feel their own sickness, and the day had not yet come when they were to be told of it both in parables (Luke 18:11-13) and in terms of terrible plainness (Matthew 23), “Difficulter ad sanitatem pervenimus, quia nos aegrotare nescimus.” Sen. Ep. 50. 4.

Verse 32

32. οὐκ ἐλήλυθα. ‘I am not come.’

δικαίους. ‘Righteous persons.’ This also was true in two senses. Our Lord came to seek and save the lost. He came not to the elder son but to the prodigal; not to the folded flock but to the straying sheep. In a lower and external sense these Pharisees were really, as they called themselves, ‘the righteous’ (chasidim). In another sense they were only self-righteous and self-deceived (Luke 18:9). St Matthew tells us that He further rebuked their haughty and pitiless exclusiveness by borrowing one of their own formulæ, and bidding them “go and learn” the meaning of Hosea 6:6, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,” i.e. love is better than legal scrupulosity; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7. The invariable tendency of an easy and pride-stimulating externalism when it is made a substitute for heart-religion is the most callous hypocrisy. The Pharisees were condemned not by Christ only but by their own Pharisaic Talmud, and after A.D. 70 the very name fell into such discredit among the Jews themselves as a synonym for greed and hypocrisy that it became a reproach and was dropped as a title (Jost, Gesch. d. Juden. IV. 76; Gfrörer, Jahrh. d. Heils, I. 140; Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. on Matthew 3:7).

Verse 33

33. οἱ δὲ εἶπαν. St Luke here omits the remarkable fact that the disciples of John, who still formed a distinct body, joined the Pharisees in asking this question. It is clear that they were sometimes actuated by a not unnatural human jealousy, from which their great teacher was wholly free (John 3:26), but which Jesus always treated with the utmost tenderness (Luke 7:24-28). The question may very likely have been put on one of the bi-weekly Pharisaic fasts—Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12), and this may explain the ἦσαν νηστεύοντες of Mark 2:18.

οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου νηστεύουσιν πυκνά. They would naturally adopt the ascetic habits of the Baptist.

δεήσεις ποιοῦνται. ‘Make supplications.’ St Paul twice uses the same phrase, Philippians 1:4; 1 Timothy 2:1. Of course the disciples prayed: but perhaps they did not use so “much speaking” nor connect their prayers with fastings. The preservation of these words by St Luke alone, in spite of the emphasis which he lays on prayer, shews his perfect fidelity.

οἱ τῶν Φαρισαίων. Those who in Jewish writings are so often spoken of as the ‘pupils of the wise.’ See on Luke 18:12, “I fast twice in the week.” Our Lord points out how much self-seeking and hypocrisy were mingled with their fasting, Matthew 6:16, and the prophets had forcibly taught the utter uselessness of an abstinence dissociated from goodness and charity (Isaiah 58:3-6; Micah 6:6-8; Amos 5:21-24).

Verses 33-39



It is usually considered a sufficient explanation of this passage to say that the ‘bottles’ of the ancients were skins, and not bottles of glass; and that whereas fermenting wine would burst old, worn, and suncracked skins, it would only distend new skins.

It is exceedingly doubtful whether such an explanation is tenable.

α. It is quite true that the ‘bottles’ of the East were skins, as the Greek word ἀσκὸς implies[430]. They are still made in the East exactly as they used to be made thousands of years ago, by skinning an animal from the neck, cutting off the head and legs, and drawing off the skin without making a slit in the belly. The legs and neck are then tightly tied and sewn up, and the skin with the hair on it is steeped in tannin and pitched at the sutures (Tristram, Nat. Hist. Bib., p. 92).

β. It is also quite true that ‘wine’ must here mean the juice of the grape which has not yet fermented, ‘must,’ as this explanation implies. For ‘still wine’—wine after fermentation—may be put in any bottles whether old or new. It has no tendency to burst the bottles that contain it.

γ. But unfermented wine which was intended to ferment certainly could not be kept in any kind of leather bottle whether old or new. The fermentation would split open the sutures of the leather, however new the bottle was.

δ. It seems, therefore, to be a very probable conclusion that our Lord is not thinking at all of fermented, intoxicating wine, but of ‘must’—the liquid which the Greeks called ἀεὶ γλεῦκος—tuns of which are kept for years in France, and in the East; which (as is here stated) improves by age; which is a rich and refreshing, but non-intoxicating beverage; and which might be kept with perfect safety in new leather bottles.

ε. Why, then, would it be unsafe to put the must in old bottles? Because if the old bottles had contained ‘wine’ in the ordinary sense—i.e. the fermented juice of the grape—or other materials, “minute portions of albuminoid matter would be left adhering to the skin, and receive yeast germs from the air, and keep them in readiness to set up fermentation in the new unfermented contents of the skin.… As soon as the unfermented grape-juice was introduced, the yeast germs would begin to grow in the sugar and to develop carbonic dioxide. If the must contained one-fifth sugar it would develop 47 times its volume of gas, and produce an enormous pressure which no bottle, new or old, could withstand.”

Unless, therefore, some other explanation can be produced, it is at least possible—if not most probable—that our Lord, in speaking of ‘wine,’ here means must.

Thus much is at any rate certain:—the conditions of our Lord’s comparison are not fulfilled either by fermented wine, or by grape-juice intended for fermentation. Fermented wine could be kept as well in old bottles as in new; and grape-juice intended to ferment would burst far stronger receptacles than the newest leathern bottle. See Job 32:19. “The rending force of the pent-up gas would burst even the strongest iron-bound cask.” When fermentation is intended, it goes on in the wine-vat.

Columella, an almost contemporary Latin writer, describing the then common process of preserving grape-juice in the form of unfermented must, lays the same stress on its being put into a new amphora.

Verse 34

34. μή; num?

τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ νυμφῶνος. This is a Hebraism for the friends of the bridegroom—the paranymphs—who accompanied him to meet the bride and her maidens; Judges 14:11. The question would be specially forcible to John’s disciples who had heard him speak of “the joy of the friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29).

νυμφῶνος. Compare the words παρθενών, γυναικών.

ὁ νυμφίος. The term implies a fully-developed Messianic consciousness in the speaker (Hosea 2:19).

νηστεῦσαι. St Matthew (Matthew 9:15) uses the word ‘mourn’ which makes the antithesis more striking (John 16:20).

Verse 35

35. ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι. ‘But there will come days.’

καὶ ὅταν ἀπαρθῆ ἀπ' αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος. ‘And when’ (καὶ ABD). Comp. John 16:16, “A little while and ye shall not see me.” The verb used—ἀπαρθῇ—occurs nowhere else in the N. T., though we have ἐξαρθῇ (1 Corinthians 5:2). It clearly points to a violent end. This is memorable as being the earliest recorded public intimation of His crucifixion, of which a dim hint (“even so shall the Son of man be lifted up”) had been given privately to Nicodemus (John 3:14).

τότε νηστεύσουσιν. As we are told that they did, Acts 13:2-3. Observe that it is not said, ‘then shall ye be able to insist on their fasting.’ The Christian fasts would be voluntary, not compulsory; the result of a felt need, not the observance of a rigid command. Our Lord never entered fully into the subject of fasting, and it is clear that throughout the Bible it is never enjoined as a frequent duty, though it is sanctioned and encouraged as an occasional means of grace. In the Law only one day in the year—the Kippur, or Day of Atonement—was appointed as a fast (Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7). After the exile four annual fasts had arisen, but the prophets do not enjoin them (Zechariah 7:1-12; Zechariah 8:19), nor did our Lord in any way approve (or apparently practise) the two weekly fasts of the Pharisees (Luke 18:12). Probably the reason why fasting has never been commanded as a universal and constant duty is that it produces very different effects on different temperaments, and according to the testimony of some who have tried it most seriously, acts in some cases as a powerful stimulus to temptation. It is remarkable that the words “and fasting” are probably the interpolations of an ascetic bias in Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Corinthians 7:5, though fasting is implied in Matthew 6:16. Fasting is not commanded and is not forbidden. The Christian is free (Romans 14:5), but must, while temperate in all things, do exactly that which he finds most conducive to his spiritual and moral welfare. For now the bridegroom is not taken from us but is with us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5-6; John 14:16; John 16:7).

Verse 36

36. ἔλεγεν δὲ καί. St Luke uses the phrase to introduce some fresh development or illustration of the subject. See Leviticus 13:54; Leviticus 14:12; Leviticus 16:1; Leviticus 18:1. Here our Lord’s remarks bear on the question just discussed, Moses had only appointed one annual fast—the Great Day of Atonement. The two weekly fasts of the Pharisees were mere ceremonial surplusage, belonging to their “hedge around the law.”

οὐδεὶς ἐπίβλημα ἀπὸ ἱματίου καινοῦ σχίσας. ‘No one rending a patch from a new garment putteth it upon an old garment.’ The word σχίσας ‘rending’ though omitted in our version is found in אABDL. Our Lord delighted in using these homely metaphors which brought the truth within the comprehension of His humblest hearers. St Matthew (Matthew 9:16) has ‘a patch of unteazled cloth.’ To tear a piece out of a new garment in order to patch an old one is a folly never committed literally, but a very common religious and theological process.

ἱμάτιον παλαιόν. The Levitic dispensation which was already παλαιούμενον καὶ γηράσκον (Hebrews 8:13). The old garment of externalism could not be patched up by tearing pieces out of the new garment of spiritual service.

εἰ δὲ μήγε. This collocation occurs five times in this Gospel, and in Matthew 6:1; 2 Corinthians 11:16.

καὶ τὸ καινὸν σχίσει. ‘He will both rend the new.’ The inferior readings adopted by the E. V. make us lose sight of the fact that there is a treble mischief implied, namely, [1] the rending of the new to patch the old; [2] the incongruity of the mixture; [3] the increase of the rent of the old. The latter is mentioned only by St Matthew, but is implied by the bursten skins of the next similitude. Our Lord is referring to the proposal to enforce the ascetic leanings of the forerunner, and the Pharisaic regulations which had become a parasitic growth on the old dispensation, upon the glad simplicity of the new dispensation. To act thus, was much the same thing as using the Gospel by way of a mere adjunct to—a mere purple patch upon—the old garment of the Law. The teaching of Christ was a new and seamless robe which would only be spoilt by being rent. It was impossible to tear a few doctrines and precepts from Christianity, and use them as ornaments and improvements of Mosaism. If this were attempted [1] the Gospel would be maimed by the rending from its entirety; [2] the contrast between the new and the old system would be made more glaring; [3] the decay of the evanescent institutions would only be violently accelerated. Notice how distinctly these comparisons imply the ultimate abrogation of the Law.

οὐ συμφωνήσει. ‘Will not agree.’

Verse 37

37. ἀσκούς. ‘Wine-skins.’ Our Lord often illustrates two aspects of the same truth by a pair of parables (e.g. the Hid Treasure and the Pearl; the Sower and the Tares, &c.). The skins used for holding wine were apt to get seamed and cracked, and old wine-skins would tend to set up the process of fermentation. They could contain the motionless, but they could not expand with the fermenting. To explain this passage, see Excursus III.

Verse 38

38. οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς καινούς. ‘New wine into fresh wineskins.’ The new spirit requires fresh forms for its expression and preservation; the vigour of youth cannot be bound in the swaddling-bands of infancy. It is impossible to be both ‘under the Law’ and ‘under grace.’ The Hebraising Christians against whom St Paul had to wage his lifelong battle—those Judaisers who tried to ruin his work in Galatia, Corinth, and Rome—had failed to grasp the meaning of precisely these truths. It is astonishing—if anything in Biblical exegesis could be astonishing—that Wetstein should suppose the new wine to be a metaphor for ‘Pharisaic austerity,’ or that any commentators should suppose that by ‘new wine’ Christ meant austerity at all (comp. Matthew 26:29). The meaning is perfectly clear, the fruit of the Christian Vine is not to be stored in the old, seamy, and corrupted wineskins of an abrogated legalism, any more than the old garment of the Levitic system is to be patched by pieces cut out of the Gospel. The incongruity of the old and the new is illustrated by both suppositions. Godet well points out how our Lord infuses into these few words the essence of the Pauline Gospel which is so elaborately developed in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians.

Verse 39

39. πιὼν παλαιόν. The reading of the Rec[124] gives a complete iambic πιὼν παλαιὸν εὐθέως θέλει νέον as in Luke 5:21, but εὐθέως is a gloss omitted by אBCL, and several Versions, &c. This verse is peculiar to St Luke, and is characteristic of his fondness for all that is most tender and gracious. It is an expression of considerateness towards the inveterate prejudices engendered by custom and system: a kind allowance for the reluctance of the Pharisees and the disciples of John to abandon the old systems to which they had been accustomed. The spirit for which our Lord here (as it were) offers an apology is the deep-rooted human tendency to prefer old habits to new lights, and stereotyped formulae to fresh truths. It is the unprogressive spirit which relies simply on authority, precedent, and tradition, and says, ‘It was good enough for my father, it is good enough for me;’ ‘It will last my time,’ &c. The expression itself seems to have been a Jewish proverb (Nedarim, f. 66. 1).

ὁ παλαιὸς χρηστός ἐστιν. The bigot will not go so far as to admit (which χρηστότερος would imply) that the new is in any way ‘good.’ ‘The old is excellent’ (אBL, &c.). The reading of the E. V., χρηστότερος, is inferior, since the man, having declined to drink the new, can institute no comparison between it and the old. The wine which at the beginning has been set forth to him is good (John 2:10), and he assumes that only ‘that which is worse’ can follow. On the general comparison see Sirach 9:10; John 2:10. Gess has pointed out (Christi Zeugniss) how pregnant with meaning is this brief passage in which Christ indicates the novelty of His Gospel, His dignity as bridegroom, and His violent death. Godet adds that the first of these three parables anticipates the doctrine of St Paul, the second his work among Gentiles, and the third his accommodating method. It is characteristic of the crude dogmatism of Marcion, with his hatred to the Old Testament and the Law, that he omits Luke 5:39 which is also omitted in D.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Luke 5:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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