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Bible Commentaries
Luke 23

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-56

XXIII 1-5 Jesus is handed over to Pilate —(Matthew 27:2; Mark 15:1-5; cf.John 18:28-38). Lk omits the long account in Mt and Mk of the evidence brought by the false witnesses. In the remainder of the Passion narrative he shows more signs of having drawn on sources of his own. His omissions are accounted for by the reasons already mentioned: avoidance of details difficult for a non-Jewish reader, e.g. the Aramaic cry from the cross which caused the hearers to think Jesus was calling on Elias; the custom of demanding the release of a prisoner at the Pasch; the mockery concerning the destruction of the temple, about which Lk has been silent during the’ trial. Apart from such details he gives all that Mk contains, and none of Mt’s additions to Mk, such as the fate Judas, Pilate’s wife, the earthquake and resurrection of the dead. His most important additions are: the sending of Jesus to Herod, Pilate’s protest before the Jews, 13-16, the lamentations of the women of Jerusalem, the prayers of Jesus in 34 and 46, the incident of the Good Thief. His insistence on Pilate’s assertions of our Lord’s innocence leads some to conclude that Lk tries as much as possible to exculpate the Roman authorities and thus prepares for his description of their accommodating attitude towards the Church in Ac; but note the callousness of Pilate recorded in 16 and 22. Lk goes to no trouble, however, to spare the Jewish leaders; the accusation they bring against Jesus, 2, after the conclusion of the trial in 22:71 pillories them as men without scruple.

6-16 Jesus before Herod —The Herod in question is Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great by Malthace the Samaritan) tetrarch of Galilee since 4 b.c. As the Herod family passed as Jews, doubtless Antipas was in Jerusalem for the paschal feast. This incident, proper to Lk, agrees with what he alone records of Herod in 9:7; cf. 23:8. We gather the impression here that Pilate, something like Gallio in Acts 18:12ff., merely sees an opportunity of freeing himself from an embarrassing situation; let Herod deal with the man since he belongs to Herod’s jurisdiction.

9. Jesus refuses to answer; ’truth is of no profit to those who are not sincere’ (Lagrange); he had already called Herod a fox; 13:31-32.

11. Herod’s answer is to treat our Lord as a fool of no account: ’with his band of soldiers he set him at nought and mocked him, putting on him a fine garment’; ?aµp??? means rather ’shining’ and ’splendid’ than white (cf. 16:19). It was all part of the effort to show up Jesus’ alleged claim to royalty as something not worth serious consideration, like the similar incident in Pilate’s hall omitted by Lk.

17-25 Release of Barabbas —(Matthew 27:15-23; Mark 15:6-15). It is generally agreed that 17 is a gloss added from Matthew 27:15 to explain the sudden introduction of Barabbas in 18. Lk explains who Barabbas is in 25 with proper comments of his own showing the contrast between Barabbas and Jesus; cf.Acts 3:14-15. Barabbas was probably in prison for the very offence of which our Lord was accused by the Jews in 2, i.e. revolt against Roman authority.

26-32 The Way of the Cross —Omitting all reference to the scourging and mockery by Pilate’s guard, Lk joins Mk and Mt in relating the incident of Simon of Cyrene. Gramrnatically he makes the Jews lead Jesus out for execution, a fact that leads to the suggestion that he seeks to exculpate the Romans in order to render his Gospel more acceptable to Gentile readers; but the suggestion takes no account of 26 and 47. The women of Jerusalem may be those charitable Jewish ladies who undertook the duty of attending to the last needs of condemned criminals, a thing that would naturally appeal to the heart of our Lord. The Talmud (cf. B. Sanhedrin 43a) tells us that one of the cares of these pious women was to provide spiced wine for the dying men; cf.Mark 15:23. In 28-29 there is strong reminiscence of the predictions of 21:23. 30. Here as in 29 the words of our Lord echo the thoughts of the Prophets in whose language he so often spoke; cf.Isaiah 54:1; Os 10:8; 9:14. The perspective is still that of the ruin of Jerusalem, God’s punishment of the city for the crime it is about to commit.

31. A parable Picturing a man so set on kindling a fire that instead of seeking dry sticks he uses green and damp wood; its application is to the present circumstances: seeing that to all appearances divine justice now falls on an innocent person, how will it be when the turn of the guilty comes? Perhaps there is recollection of Ez 20:47. cf.Proverbs 12:31; I Pet 4:17-18.

33-38 The Crucifixion —(Matthew 27:33-38; Mark 15:22-27; cf.John 19:17-27).

33. ’When they were come to the place called Cranium ’ (??a???? skull). Lk omits the Aramaic Golgolta given as G?????? by Mt and Mk. DV has followed Vg which has turned ??a???? into the Latin equivalent Calvarium. The place of public execution was a rocky eminence; such places are still given the name ras or head by the Arabs.

34a. Proper to Lk; its authenticity is disputed on account of omission by many good MSS, but the weight of probability is in its favour; cf.Acts 7:59. Of whom is Jesus thinking? The Romans? The soldiers, who are Gentiles? The Jews? If the Jews, it would seem that the leaders of the people could not be included, in view of 35 where Lk clearly distinguishes ’the people’ and ’the rulers’ (omit ’with them’ after rulers). The people stand beholding; the rulers stand mocking. Lk here omits the detailed insults relative to the temple, having omitted all reference to accusations about the destruction of the temple during the trial. He joins Mt and Mk in recording the mocking invitation to our Lord to save himself ’if he be the Christ, the chosen one of God’; in Mk ’the Christ, the King of Israel’; in Mt ’King of Israel’.

36. The drink offered to our Lord by the soldiers in their rude mockery, vinegar in DV, is ????, the sour wine that was the common drink of the poorer classes; in Mk this is not given until near the end, 15:36, while Mk earlier mentions the offering of spiced wine, 15:23. This is merely another example of Lk’s manner of abbreviating and need create no difficulties for a reasonable exegesis. A further example of his manner is in 38 which he has left till now (before the crucifixion in Mk) where it explains the mocking remark of 37.

39-43 The Two Thieves —(cf.Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32b). Lk alone distinguishes the thieves; according to Mk and Mt both join in insulting Jesus. St Chrysostom reconciles the two accounts by supposing that the Good Thief began by insults and was later converted; Augustine prefers the more likely solution that Mk and Mt are speaking in general terms as Lk does when he says that ’the soldiers’ offered Jesus sour wine to drink.

39b. ’Thou art the Christ, art thou not? (Then) save thyself and us (too)’; not a confession of faith, but a further example of mockery. 40. What does the Good Thief wish to say? According to some, ’Dost thou not even fear God seeing that thou art under the same sentence (as we, i.e. the Good Thief and Christ) and wilt shortly appear before him?’ Or better, ’Thou hast not even the fear of God (in thus allowing thyself to attack him in this fashion) seeing that thou art under the same sentence. But thou and I (suffer) justly, for we are only receiving what we have earned, while this man has done nothing out of place (?t?p??)’. The Good Thief associates himself and his companion with Jesus in the same ’judgement’, ????a. It is possible that the two thieves along with Barabbas had belonged to one of those bands of Jewish brigands (their attitude proves they were Jews) which flourished at this period, and whose real motive was rebellion against Roman domination; cf. Jos., Ant. 17, 10, 8; 18, 1, 1. This was the crime of which our Lord was accused, 23:2; cf. 23:19 for Barabbas and his crime of sedition. Perhaps that is the reason why they are all executed together, the two thieves being hurried to their death through the sudden climax in the plot against Jesus, when they doubtless had hoped for the good fortune Barabbas had met with, Luke 23:42-

43. Far from demanding the miracle of an immediate descent from the Cross, the Good Thief asks no more than that Jesus will not forget him when he comes as Messias in the glory of his kingdom. Jesus rewards his act of faith and hope by the promise that he will that very day make him to be with him in perfect bliss. In the apocryphal gospels the Good Thief is called Dismas. [’Paradise’ (LXX rendering of ’Garden’ in Eden, Genesis 2:18) signified for the Jews the abode of the blessed. Here, if taken literally in its context, it signifies primarily the limbo of the just, to which Christ’s soul was presently to descend.—

44-49 Death of Jesus —(Matthew 27:45-56; Mark 15:33-41). Note the following additions in Lk to the narrative of Mk and Mt which he has abbreviated: the failing of the sun, 45, the prayer with which Jesus gives up the ghost, 46, and the emotion of the crowd, 48. The cry of dereliction from the cross is passed over, also the opening of the tombs (proper to Mt), and the enumeration of the Holy Women given by Mk and Mt. He anticipates the rending of the veil of the temple, but that is characteristic of his fashion of grouping together events of a like nature. His omission of the cry of dereliction may well be due to consideration for the susceptibilities of the Gentile convert, who will not immediately understand that our Lord is praying very fittingly with all the thoughts of Ps 21 and not merely those of the opening words. For this cry Lk substitutes other words from Psalms 30:6; ’Into thy hands I commit my spirit’, which would leave a very different impression on the mind of a raw Gentile convert. pa?at??es?a? (commend) means ’to deposit, give into the care of, bring forward’; cf.John 10:17-18.

47. Lk differs from Mk and Mt in recording the words of the centurion in charge of the execution squad; he makes the centurion call Jesus ’a just man’, not ’a son of God’. Augustine says they both mean the same thing, taking ’son of God’ in its wide sense. Possibly Lk, realizing how equivocal the phrase ’son of God’ could be in the mouth of a pagan, deliberately avoided its use.

48. ’Lk has shown us the crowd first enthusiastic for the death of Jesus, then aghast, 35. Such goodness, such self-forgetfulness in the midst of pain, joined with his readiness to forgive and his piety, nature herself suffering in sympathy with his Passion—the whole spectacle brings about a complete change in the volatile crowd. It is a piece of subtle psychological description’ ( Lagr., S. Luc593).

50-56 Burial of Jesus —(Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; cf.John 19:38-42). Lk’s more lengthy description of Joseph recalls the pious group with which he opens his Gospel: a morally good man, a faithful observer of the Law, one of those who look for the redemption of Israel in the true spirit of the Scriptures. The attention here to topographical detail is surprising until we remember 1:1-4; Mt adds that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin and had voted against the condemnation of Jesus, or at least had absented himself from the session. John 19:38-39 associates him with Nicodemus, another Sanhedrite, John 7:50.

53. Lk insists, with the aid of three negatives in Greek, that the tomb had never been defiled by the presence of another corpse, as though wishing to contrast the reverence of the disciples with the opposite attitude of our Lord’s enemies.

54b. ’The Sabbath began to dawn’,?p?FÁs?e? ’was shining’; a curious phrase because it was still the Parasceve, which did not end until sunset on the Friday when according to Jewish reckoning the Sabbath commenced. It is suggested that Lk is referring to the common Jewish custom, wellknown among their Gentile neighbours, of lighting lamps as soon as the Sabbath began.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Luke 23". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/luke-23.html. 1951.
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