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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Luke 18

 

 

Verse 1

XVIII.

(1) That men ought always to pray, and not to faint.—The latter of the two verbs is noticeable as being used in the New Testament by St. Luke and St. Paul only (2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13). The whole verse is remarkable as being one of the few instances (Luke 18:9 being another) in which a parable is introduced by a distinct statement as to its drift and aim.


Verse 2

(2) There was in a city a judge.—The words have an interest historically, as testifying to the general disorganisation and corruption of justice which prevailed under the then government of Galilee and Peræa. Under the direct administration of the Roman Procurator, severe as his rule was, there was probably a better state of things.

The case put for the purpose of the parable was obviously an extreme one. Every motive that ordinarily leads men in office to act rightly was absent. Conscience was dead, and there was no love of approbation or fear of blame to supply its place.


Verse 3

(3) There was a widow in that city.—The neglect of the cause of the widow had always been noted by Lawgiver and Prophet—and it was one of the notes of a high ethical standard in both—as the extremest form of oppressive tyranny (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 27:19; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 1:23; Ezekiel 22:7). Comp. also the speech of the widow of Tekoah (2 Samuel 14:2; 2 Samuel 14:5).

She came unto him.—The tense implies continual coming.

Avenge me of mine adversary.—The term is used in its legal sense. She was plaintiff, and he defendant, or, it may be, vice versâ. The judge put off his decision, and the “law’s delay” was worse to her than the original wrong had been.


Verse 4

(4) He would not for a while.—The judge was callous and dead to pity, even for that extremest wretchedness. The pleadings of the widow were simply an annoyance, which at first he bore with indifference.

Though I fear not God, nor regard man.—Here, also, there is a graphic touch of intensity. The man had passed beyond the stage of hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious, and saw himself even as others, even as God, saw him.


Verse 5

(5) Lest by her continual coming she weary me.—The latter verb is again one which takes its place in the vocabulary of unusual words common to St. Luke and St. Paul. It meets us in 1 Corinthians 9:27, and is there rendered “I keep under my body.” Literally, however, it expresses the act of the pugilist when he strikes a blow which leaves a livid bruise on his opponent’s face, and it would seem to have been transferred, in the natural transition of popular metaphor into the forms of colloquial language, from the arena to common life. So we talk of men “hitting hard” or “giving a knock-down blow” in controversy or debate. What is described here is the continuous shower of blows, each of which is short of a “knock-down,” while their accumulative effect is, in the nearest equivalent of modern English, that the man is so “punished” that he is glad to give over at any price.


Verse 6

(6) The unjust judge.—Literally, the judge of injustice, as with the unjust steward in Luke 16:8, the usual adjective giving way to the stronger, more Hebraic idiom of the characterising genitive.


Verse 7

(7) And shall not God avenge his own elect?—There is at first something which jars on us in this choice of an extreme instance of human unrighteousness as a parable from which we are to learn the nature and the power of prayer. It is not as it was with the Unjust Steward, for there, according to the true interpretation of the parable, the unrighteous man stood for those who were relatively, at least, themselves unrighteous. It is a partial explanation that our Lord presses home upon the disciples an a fortiori argument. If reiterated entreaties prevail with men, whose character and wills are set against them, how much more with God, in whom character and will anticipate the prayer? Even so, however, we have the difficulty that the idea of prayer as prevailing, at last, through manifold repetitions, seems at variance with the teaching that condemns vain repetitions, on the ground that our Father knows our necessities before we ask Him. (See Note on Matthew 6:7.) May we not think that here, as elsewhere, there is an intentional assumption by our Lord of a stand-point which was not His own, but that of those whom He sought to teach? Even His disciples were thinking of God, not as their Father, who loved them, but as a far-off King, who needed to be roused to action. They called on Him in their afflictions and persecutions, and their soul fainted within them, and they became weary of their prayers. Might not the parable be meant (1) to teach such as these that from their own point of view their wisdom was to persevere in prayer, and (2) to lead them to reconsider the ground from which they had started? And the one result would in such a case lead on almost necessarily to the other. Prayer hag a marvellous self-purifying power, and the imperfect thoughts of God in which it may have had its beginning become clearer as it continues. It is one of the ever-recurring paradoxes of the spiritual life, that when we are most importunate we feel most strongly how little importunity is needed.

Avenge his own elect.—Literally, work out His vengeance for, the Greek noun having the article. The “vengeance” is not, however, that of retaliation such as human passions seek for, but primarily the “vindication” of God’s elect, the assertion of their rights, and includes retribution upon others only so far as it is involved in this. (Comp. the use of the word in Romans 12:19; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Hebrews 10:30.) This is the first occurrence of the word “elect” in St. Luke’s Gospel, but it begins to be prominent about this time in our Lord’s teaching. (See Notes on Matthew 20:16; Matthew 24:22.) The “elect” are the disciples who being “called” obey the “call” (Romans 8:30). The further question, What leads them to obey? is not here in view.

Which cry day and night unto him.—The words look to the coming trials and afflictions of the elect, which as yet the disciples knew not, or knew only in part. To see the world against them, and its rulers crushing them, to fight against overwhelming odds, this would tempt them to think that God was not with them, that He had deceived them. (Comp. the language of Jeremiah 20:7.) In the prayer of the souls beneath the altar (Revelation 6:10), we have an echo of the question. In St. Peter’s insistence on the “long-suffering” of God (2 Peter 3:9), we have a proof that he had learnt the answer.

Though he bear long with them.—Literally, bearing long with them. The better MSS. give “and bear long with them.” The English, which suggests the thought that God bears with, i.e., tolerates, His elect, is misleading. What is meant is, that He shows Himself slow to anger “over them,” i.e., where they are concerned. They implore that “long-suffering” for themselves. They are tempted to murmur when it is extended to others.


Verse 8

(8) When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith?—The question implies, it is obvious, an answer in the negative. When St. Luke wrote his Gospel, men were witnessing a primary, though partial, fulfilment of the prophecy. Iniquity was abounding, and the love of many was waxing cold. And yet in one sense He was near, even at the doors (James 5:8-9), when men thought that the wheels of His chariot drove slowly. So has it been, and so will it be, in the great “days of the Lord” in the Church’s history, which are preludes of the final Advent; so shall it be in that Advent itself.


Verse 9

(9) Unto certain which trusted in themselves . . .—Here, as above, the purpose of the parable is stated at the outset. It is, perhaps, open for us to think that isolated fragments of our Lord’s teaching, treasured up here and there in the memory of disciples, and written down in answer to St. Luke’s inquiries in the second stage of the growth of the Gospel records, would be likely to have such an introduction.

The “certain which trusted” are not specified as being actually Pharisees, and included, we may believe, disciples in whom the Pharisee temper was gaining the mastery, and who needed to be taught as by a reductio ad absurdum, what it naturally led to.

Despised others.—Literally, the rest—viz., all others. The word for “despise,” literally, count as nothing, is again one of those which St. Luke has, and the other Evangelists have not (that in Mark 9:12 differs in form), but which is frequent in the vocabulary of St. Paul (Romans 14:3; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 16:11, et al.). This universal depreciation of others would seem almost an exaggeration, if experience did not show—e.g., as in the history of Montanism and analogous forms of error—how easily men and women, religious societies and orders, drift into it, and how hard it is to set any limits to the monomania of egotism—above all, of religious egotism. It never uttered itself, perhaps, in a more repulsive form than when the Pharisees came to speak of the great mass of their brother-Israelites as the brute people, the “people of the earth.”


Verse 10

(10) Went up into the temple.—The peculiar form of the verb, “went up,” was strictly justified by the position of the Temple. It stood on what had been Mount Moriah, and rose high above the other buildings of the city.

The one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.—The two words would be more pictorially suggestive to the disciples than they are, at first, to us. They would see the Pharisee with his broad blue zizith, or fringe, and the Tephillin (=prayers), or phylacteries, fastened conspicuously on brow and shoulder; the publican in his common working dress, with no outward badge to testify that he was a child of the Covenant. Here, as in the case of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son (where see Notes), the parable may have stated actual facts. Of one such publican we read not long afterwards. (See Note on Luke 19:8.)


Verse 11

(11) The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.—A false stress has often been laid on the Pharisee’s attitude, as though his standing erect was in itself an indication of his self-righteous pride. But the publican also stood, and although another tense of the same verb is used, it is an over-subtle refinement to see this difference between the two forms. Standing was, indeed, with the Jews, the customary attitude of prayer. The self-same participle is used here of the Pharisee, and in Luke 19:8 of Zacchæus. The order of the words in the Greek is “standing by (or, with) himself, prayed thus (or, as follows);” and it is a question of punctuation whether the words point to the Pharisee’s standing “by himself,” shrinking from contact with others, and so making himself the “observed of all observers,” or, as in the Authorised version, that he “prayed with himself.” The general use of the preposition is all but decisive in favour of the latter view. It does not follow, however, as has been somewhat hastily assumed, that the prayer was a silent one, that even he would not have dared to utter aloud such a boast as that which follows. There was nothing in the character of the typical Pharisee to lead him to any such sense of shame; and silent prayer, never customary among the Jews at any time, would have been at variance with every tradition of the Pharisees. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:7). So far as the phrase has any special point, it indicates that he was not praying to God at all; he was practically praying to himself, congratulating himself, half-consciously, that he had no need to pray, in the sense of asking for pardon, or peace, or righteousness, though it might be right, by way of example, to perform his acts of devotion and to thank God for what he had received. The words remind us—(1) of the title which Marcus Aurelius gave to his Stoic Meditations—“Thoughts (or better, perhaps, communings) with himself”—in which he, too, begins with thanksgiving and self-gratulations on the progress he had made in virtue from his youth onward (Meditt. i. 1); (2) of the more modern theory which recognises the value of prayer as raising the thoughts of man to a higher level, by a kind of self-mesmerising action, but excludes from it altogether the confession of sin, or the supplication for pardon, or the “making our wants known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). The verb for “prayed” is in the tense which implies continuance. He was making a long address, of which this was a sample (Luke 20:47).

God, I thank thee . . .—We cannot say that the formula, as a formula, was wrong. We are bound to thank God that we have been kept from sins. But all devout minds, and all rightly-constructed liturgies, have recognised the truth that confession must come first, and that without it thanksgiving is merely the utterance of a serene self-satisfaction in outward comforts, or, as here, of spiritual pride.

That I am not as other men.—Here, as before, the rest of mankind. This was the first false step. He did not compare his own imperfections with the infinite perfections of the Eternal, but with the imagined greater imperfections of his fellow-men, and so he stood as one who had gained the shore, and looked with pride, but not with pity, on those who were still struggling in the deep waters.

Extortioners, unjust, adulterers, . . .—The first word was aptly chosen, and was obviously suggested by the presence of the other supplicant. “Six publicans and half-a-dozen extortioners” had become a proverb; and the offensive epithet, if not meant to be heard by the publican, was, at any rate, mentally directed at him. In actual life, as our Lord teaches, there was a far worse, because a more hypocritical, “extortion” practised generally by the Pharisees themselves (Matthew 23:25; Luke 11:39). The other words are more generally put, but they were obviously spoken with side glances at this or that bystander. The language of Cromwell in dissolving the Long Parliament, saying to one “Thou art an adulterer,” and to another “Thou art a drunkard and a glutton,” to a third “and thou an extortioner,” offers a curious instance of unconscious parallelism (Hume’s History of England, chap. 60).

Or even as this publican.—This was the climax of all. He saw the man smiting on his breast in anguish, and no touch of pity, no desire to say a word of comfort, rises in his soul. The penitent is only a foil to the lustre of his own virtues, and gives the zest of contrast to his own insatiable vanity. The very pronoun has the ring of scorn in it.


Verse 12

(12) I fast twice in the week.—From the negative side of his self-analysis the Pharisee passes to the positive. The Stoic Emperor is a little less systematic, or rather groups his thanksgiving after a different plan, and, it must be owned, with a higher ethical standard. On the fasts of the Pharisees on the third and fifth days of the week, see Note on Matthew 6:16.

I give tithes of all that I possess.—Better, of all that I acquire, as in Matthew 10:9; Acts 1:18. Tithe was a tax on produce, not on property. The boast of the Pharisee is, that he paid the lesser tithes, as well as the greater—of mint, anise, and cummin (Matthew 23:23), as well as of corn and wine and oil. There is something obviously intended to be significant in the man’s selection of the good deeds on which he plumes himself. He does not think, as Job did in his boasting mood, that he had been “a father to the poor,” and had “made the widow’s heart to sing for joy” (Job 29:13; Job 29:16), nor look back, as Nehemiah looked, upon good deeds done for his country (Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22; Nehemiah 13:31) in the work of reformation. For him fasting and tithes have come to supersede the “weightier matters of the Law” (Matthew 23:23).


Verse 13

(13) The publican, standing afar off.—The words point to a sense of shame which kept the publican away from the crowd of worshippers who pressed forward to the ark-end of the outer court of the Temple—away, above all, from the devout and respectable Pharisee. So might some “forlorn and desperate castaway” crouch, at some solemn service, in the remote corner of the nave of a cathedral. He, too, stood, for that was the received attitude of prayer, and kneeling, at such a time and in that place, would have been ostentatious.

Would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven.—There is a subtle delineation of what one may call the physiognomy of repentance, which should not pass unnoticed. The downcast look stands in contrast with the supercilious expression (taking the adjective in its most literal sense) of the Pharisee.

But smote upon his breast.—The same act meets us as the expression of extremest sorrow in those who stood by the cross (Luke 23:48). Looked at physiologically, it seems to imply a tension of the vessels of the heart, such as we all feel in deep emotion, to which outward impact seems, in some measure, to minister relief. So men strike their chest, when suffering from cold, to quicken the circulation of the blood. As being spontaneous and involuntary, it attested the reality of the emotion, and contrasted with the calm, fixed attitude of the Pharisee.

God be merciful to me a sinner.—Literally, to me the sinner, as though, like St. Paul, he singled out his own guilt as exceptional, and thought of himself as “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).


Verse 14

(14) This man went down to his house, justified rather than the other.—The Greek participle is in the perfect, implying a completed and abiding justification. There is something suggestive in the fact that the “house” is made the test in each case. Home-life is the test of the reality and acceptableness of our worship. The Pharisee, in spite of his self-fratulation, betrayed a conscience ill at ease by irritability, harshness, sitting in judgment upon others. The publican, not in spite of his self-condemnation, but by reason of it, went home with a new sense of peace, showing itself in a new gentleness and cheerfulness.

For every one that exalteth himself.—Comp. Note on Luke 14:11. What had there been said, in its bearing on man’s outward life, and as shown by the judgment of men, is here transferred, the law remaining the same, to the higher regions of the spiritual life and to God’s judgment. In both cases there is a needless variation in the English version, the Greek giving the same verb for both “abased” and “humbleth.”

The lessons of the parable force themselves upon every reader. The spirit of religious egotism, however, is not easily exorcised, and we need, perhaps, to be reminded that the temper of the Pharisee may learn to veil itself in the language of the publican, men confessing that they are “miserable sinners,” and resting, with a secret self-satisfaction in the confession; or that, conversely, the publican—i.e., the openly non-religious man—may cease to smite upon his breast, and may come to give God thanks that he is not as the Pharisee.


Verses 15-17

(15-17) And they brought unto him also infants.—See Notes on Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16. St. Luke, for some reason or other (possibly because he had recorded like teaching in Luke 16:18), omits the previous teaching as to divorce. The use of the specific word for “infants” is peculiar to him. The use of the word in Luke 1:41; Luke 1:44; Luke 2:12; Luke 2:16, where it is rendered “babe,” shows that it includes the very earliest stage of childhood, and so is not without its importance in its bearing on the question of infant baptism, so far as that question is affected by this narrative.


Verse 16

(16) Suffer little children to come unto me.—The close agreement with St. Mark in this and the following verse, makes it probable that this is one of the passages which St. Luke derived from personal communication with him. (See Introduction.)


Verses 18-23

(18-23) And a certain ruler asked him, . . .—See Notes on Matthew 19:16-25; Mark 10:17-22. St. Luke alone describes the inquirer as a “ruler.” As used without any defining genitive, and interpreted by Luke 23:13; Luke 23:35, John 3:1; John 7:26; John 7:48, et al., it seems to imply that he was a member of the Council or Sanhedrin. The term “youth,” in Matthew 19:20, is not at variance with this inference. It is defined by Philo as including the period between twenty-one and twenty-eight—an age at which a place in the Council was probably open to one who was commended both by his wealth and his devotion. St. Paul obviously occupied a position of great influence at a time when he is described as a “young man” (Acts 7:58).


Verse 19

(19) Why callest thou me good?—The agreement with St. Mark is again closer than with St. Matthew.


Verse 20

(20) Thou knowest the commandments.—St. Luke here agrees with St. Matthew in omitting the “defraud not,” which we find in St. Mark.


Verse 21

(21) From my youth up.—The detail may be noted as a point in common with St. Mark, as also is the omission of the question, “What lack I yet?” given in St. Matthew.


Verse 22

(22) Yet lackest thou one thing.—It may be noted that the words almost imply the previous question, which has just been referred to.

And come, follow me.—St. Luke, with St. Matthew, omits the “taking up thy cross,” which is found in many, but not all, MSS. of St. Mark.


Verse 23

(23) He was very sorrowful.—St. Luke’s word stands half-way between St. Matthew’s “sorrowing” and St. Mark’s vivid “lowering” or “frowning.” (See Note on Mark 10:22.)

He was very rich.—St. Luke’s equivalent for he had great possessions. There is, perhaps, something suggestive, especially on the view which has been taken as to the identity of the young ruler, and the purport of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in the use of the very same adjective as had been employed in that parable.


Verses 24-27

(24-27) When Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful.—See Notes on Matthew 19:23-26; Mark 10:23-27. The better MSS. give simply, “When Jesus saw him, He said . . .”

How hardly shall they that have riches . . .—Another verbal agreement with St. Mark.


Verse 25

(25) Through a needle’s eye.—The Greek word for “needle” in the better MSS. differs from that in St. Matthew and St. Mark, and is a more classical word. That which the others use was unknown to Attic writers. The fact, small as it is, takes its place among the signs of St. Luke’s culture.


Verse 26

(26) And they that heard it.—St. Luke’s way of putting the fact suggests the thought either that others may have been present besides the disciples who are named in the other Gospels, or that only some of the disciples heard what had been said.


Verse 27

(27) The things which are impossible with men.—The answer is substantially the same as we find in the other Gospels, but it assumes in St. Luke something more of the form of a generalised axiom.


Verses 28-30

(28-30) Then Peter said, . . .—See Notes on Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:28. The better MSS. have, “We have left our own (possessions).” “All” was probably substituted from a recollection of the words as found in the other reports.


Verse 29

(29) There is no man that hath left . . .—There is possibly something characteristic in the omission of the “lands,” which we find in the other Gospels. To leave a “house” implied the breaking-up of the life of home and its relationships, but the companion of Paul and Barnabas might well have thought so little of parting with a “field,” as a simple possession (comp. Acts 1:18-19; Acts 4:34), that the word hardly dwelt upon his memory as connected with the idea of a special and extraordinary sacrifice.

For the kingdom of God’s sake.—Note the freedom of reporting in the substitution of this phrase in the place of “for My name’s sake,” in St. Matthew, and “for My sake and the gospel’s” in St. Mark.


Verse 30

(30) Who shall not receive manifold more.—Note, as again, perhaps, characteristic, the omission of the essentially Jewish image of the “sitting on twelve thrones” in St. Matthew, of the clause “with persecutions,” in St. Mark, and of the words, “Many that are first shall be last . . .” which we find in both.


Verses 31-34

(31-34) Then he took unto him the twelve.—See Notes on Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34. St. Luke, like St. Mark, passes over the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. The insertion of the reference to the prophecies of the Passion is, on the other hand, peculiar to him, and is, perhaps, connected with the prominence given to those prophecies in Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-45.


Verse 32

(32) He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles.—The words are nearly the same as in the other Gospels, but the “spitefully entreated” is peculiar to St. Luke.


Verse 34

(34) They understood none of these things.—The whole verse is peculiar to St. Luke, and reproduces what had been said before in Luke 9:45, where see Note. It is as though his professional habit of analysis led him to dwell on these psychological phenomena as explaining the subsequent bewilderment of the disciples, and their slowness to believe that their Lord had risen from the dead (Luke 24:11; Luke 24:21; Luke 24:25; Luke 24:38). They heard the words, but, as we say, did not “take in” their meaning. For a like analysis, see Note on Luke 22:45.

This saying was hid from them.—The verb so rendered occurs here only in the New Testament. Its precise meaning is “covered” or “veiled,” rather than hidden. Some such thought of dimmed perception was in St. Paul’s mind when he said of the unbelieving Jews that, as they heard the Law and the Prophets, “the veil was upon their hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:15).


Verse 35

(35) As he was come nigh unto Jericho.—Better, as He was coming nigh. See Notes on Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52. St. Luke, for some reason, passes over the ambitious request of the sons of Zebedee. He agrees with St. Mark, and not with St. Matthew, as to there being one blind man, and as to the miracle being wrought on the approach to Jericho, not on the departure from it.


Verse 36

(36) Hearing the multitude pass by.—Better, a multitude, the Greek having no article, and its absence better expressing the vague impression left on the blind man by the sound of many footsteps and voices.


Verse 39

(39) They which went before—viz., those who were in advance of Jesus; probably, if we suppose Mark 10:32 to represent the usual order, not the disciples, but a portion of the crowd. On “the Son of David,” see Note on Matthew 9:27.


Verse 41

(41) Lord, that I may receive my sight.—As St. Luke uses “Lord” (kyrie) for St. Mark’s “Rabboni,” it may be inferred that he uses it in a somewhat higher sense than either of his two words for Master. (See Notes on Luke 5:5; Luke 8:24.)


Verse 42

(42) Thy faith hath saved thee.—Better, as in St. Mark, Thy faith hath made thee whole, the immediate reference being obviously to the restoration of the man’s sight, and that which was in the immediate future being recognised as already ideally completed. Beyond this, as in the use of the same formula in Luke 7:50, there lies in the word a reference to the salvation, the healthiness of spiritual vision, of which the restoration of bodily sight was at once the type and the earnest.


Verse 43

(43) Glorifying God.—The account of the effect of the miracle on the blind man himself, and on the people, is peculiar to St. Luke, and seems to belong to the class of phenomena which he loved to study (Luke 5:25-26; Luke 7:16; Acts 3:8; Acts 14:10-11).

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 18:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/luke-18.html. 1905.

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