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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 11

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

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Verse 1

It is uncertain whether this form was once only or twice delivered by Christ to his disciples. (429) Some think that the latter is more probable; because Luke says that he was requested to do it, while Matthew represents him as teaching it of his own accord. But as we have said, that Matthew collects all the leading points of doctrine, in order that the whole amount of them may be more clearly perceived by the readers when they are placed in close succession, it is possible that Matthew may have omitted to mention the occasion which is related by Luke. On this subject, however, I am unwilling to debate with any person.

Luke 11:1As John also taught his diciples. John delivered to his disciples a particular form of prayer; and he did so, in my opinion, because the time required it. The state of affairs among the Jews was, at that time, exceedingly corrupted. Every thing connected with religion had so miserably fallen, that we need not be surprised to find few among them, by whom prayer was offered in a proper manner. (430) Besides, it was proper, that the minds of believers should be excited, by prayer, to hope and desire the promised redemption, which was at hand. John might, therefore, have collected, out of various passages of Scripture, a certain prayer adapted to the time, and approaching more nearly to the spiritual kingdom of Christ, which had already begun to be revealed.

(429)Il est incertain si Christ a enseigne ceste formule de prier a ses disciples une fois seulement, ou bien par deux diverses fois.” — “It is uncertain if Christ taught this form of prayer to his disciples once only, or rather at two separate times.”

(430)Il ne se faut pas fort esbahir si la vraye et pure maniere de prier estoit pratiquee par bien peu de gens.” — “We ought not to be greatly surprised, if the true and pure manner of praying was practiced by very few people.”

Verse 5

Luke 11:5.Which of you shall have a friend, Luke adds this comparison, which is not mentioned by Matthew. The general instruction conveyed by it is this: Believers ought not to be discouraged, if they do not immediately obtain their desires, or if they find them difficult to be obtained: for if, among men, importunity of asking extorts what a person would not willingly do, we have no reason to doubt that God will listen to us, if we persevere constantly in prayer, and if our minds do not slacken through difficulty or delay.

Verse 16

Luke 11:16.And others tempting sought from him a sign. Something similar to this is afterwards related by Matthew, (Matthew 16:4,) and by Mark, (Mark 8:11.) Hence it is evident, that Christ repeatedly attacked them on this subject, so that there was no end to the wickedness of those men who had once resolved (163) to oppose the truth. There can be no doubt that they ask a sign, in order to plead, as a plausible pretense for their unbelief, that Christ’s calling has not been duly attested. They do not express such submissiveness as to be prepared to yield to two or three miracles, and still less to be satisfied with a single miracle; but as I hinted a little before, they apologize for not believing the Gospel on this pretense, that Christ shows no sign of it from heaven. (164) He had already performed miracles before their eyes sufficiently numerous and manifest; but as if these were not enough for the confirmation of doctrine, they wish to have something exhibited from heaven, by which God will, as it were, make a visible appearance. They call him Master, according to custom; for such was the appellation given at that time to all scribes and expounders of the law. But they do not acknowledge him to be a prophet of God, till he produce a testimony from heaven. The meaning therefore is: “Since thou professest to be a teacher and Master, if thou desirest that we should be thy disciples, let God declare from heaven that He is the Author of thy teaching, and let Him confirm thy calling by a miracle.”

(163)Qui une fois s’estoyent endurcis;” — “who had once become hardened.”

(164)Que Christ ne leur monstre aucun signe d’enhaut qui soit pour seelet ceste doctrine;” — “that Christ shows them no sign from above that is sufficient to seal this doctrine.”

Verse 27

Luke 11:27.Blessed is the womb. By this eulogium the woman intended to magnify the excellence of Christ; for she had no reference to Mary, (154) whom, perhaps, she had never seen. And yet it tends in a high degree to illustrate the glory of Christ, that she pronounces the womb that bore him to be noble and blessed. Nor was the blessing inappropriate, but in strict accordance with the manner of Scripture; for we know that offspring, and particularly when endued with distinguished virtues, is declared to be a remarkable gift of God, preferable to all others. It cannot even be denied that God conferred the highest honor on Mary, by choosing and appointing her to be the mother of his Son. And yet Christ’s reply is so far from assenting to this female voice, that it contains an indirect reproof.

Nay, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God. We see that Christ treats almost as a matter of indifference that point on which the woman had set a high value. And undoubtedly what she supposed to be Mary’s highest honor was far inferior to the other favors which she had received; for it was of vastly greater importance to be regenerated by the Spirit of God than to conceive Christ, according to the flesh, in her womb; to have Christ living spiritually within her than to suckle him with her breasts. In a word, the highest happiness and glory of the holy Virgin consisted in her being a member of his Son, so that the heavenly Father reckoned her in the number of new creatures.

In my opinion, however, it was for another reason, and with a view to another object, that Christ now corrected the saying of the woman. It was because men are commonly chargeable with neglecting even those gifts of God, on which they gaze with astonishment, and bestow the highest praise. This woman, in applauding Christ, had left out what was of the very highest consequence, that in him salvation is exhibited to all; and, therefore, it was a feeble commendation, that made no mention of his grace and power, which is extended to all. Christ justly claims for himself another kind of praise, not that his mother alone is reckoned blessed, but that he brings to us all perfect and eternal happiness. We never form a just estimate of the excellence of Christ, till we consider for what purpose he was given to us by the Father, and perceive the benefits which he has brought to us, so that we who are wretched in ourselves may become happy in him. But why does he say nothing about himself, and mention only the word of God? It is because in this way he opens to us all his treasures; for without the word he has no intercourse with us, nor we with him. Communicating himself to us by the word, he rightly and properly calls us to hear and keep it, that by faith he may become ours.

We now see the difference between Christ’s reply and the woman’s commendation; for the blessedness, which she had limited to his own relatives, is a favor which he offers freely to all. He shows that we ought to entertain no ordinary esteem for him, because he has all the treasures of life, blessedness, and glory, hidden in him, (Colossians 2:3,) which he dispenses by the word, that they may be communicated to those who embrace the word by faith; for God’s free adoption of us, which we obtain by faith, is the key to the kingdom of heaven. The connection between the two things must also be observed. We must first hear, and then keep; for as faith cometh by hearing, (Romans 10:17,) it is in this way that the spiritual life must be commenced. Now as the simple hearing is like a transitory looking into a mirror, (155) as James says, (1:23,) he likewise adds, the keeping of the word, which means the effectual reception of it, when it strikes its roots deep into our hearts, and yields its fruit. The forgetful hearer, whose ears alone are struck by the outward doctrine, gains no advantage. On the other hand, they who boast that they are satisfied with the secret inspiration, and on this ground disregard the outward preaching, shut themselves out from the heavenly life. What the Son of God hath joined let not men, with wicked rashness, put asunder, (Matthew 19:6.) The Papists discover amazing stupidity by singing, in honor of Mary, those very words by which their superstition is expressly condemned, and who, in giving thanks, detach the woman’s saying, and leave out the correction. (156) But it was proper that such a universal stupefaction should come upon those who intentionally profane, at their pleasure, the sacred word of God.

(154)Il ne faut pas penser qu’elle eust regard a Marie;” — “we must not suppose that she had reference to Mary.”

(155)Autant que l’ouye simple est comme quand on regarde en un mirroir, et que la memoire s’en escoule incontinent;” — “since the simple hearing is as when we look into a mirror, and the remembrance of it immediately passes away.”

(156)Et en leurs graces apres le repas, ils prenent le dire de la femme, laissans la correction qui estoit le principal;” — “and in their thanksgivings after a meal, they employ the woman’s saying leaving out the correction, which was the most important matter,”

Verse 30

Luke 11:30.As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites. He declares that he will be a sign to them, as Jonah was to the inhabitants of Nineveh. But the word sign is not taken in its ordinary sense, as pointing out something, but as denoting what is widely removed from the ordinary course of nature. In this sense Jonah’s mission was miraculous, when he was brought out of the belly of the fish, as if from the grave, to call the Ninevites to repentance. Three days and three nights This is in accordance with a well-known figure of speech. (166) As the night is an appendage to the day, or rather, as the day consists of two parts, light and darkness, he expresses a day by a day and a night, and where there was half a day, he puts down a whole day.

(166)Quant aux trois nuits, il y a ici (cornme on scait bien) une figure que les Grecs et Latins appellent Synecdoche;” — “as to the three nights, there is here (as is well known) a figure which the Greek and Latin writers call Synecdoche.”

Verse 37

This narrative agrees in some respects, but not entirely, with the doctrine laid down by Matthew, (Matthew 10:1,) that Christ, in order to correct the superstition of the people, and particularly of the scribes, intentionally disregarded outward ceremonies of human invention, which the Jews were too solicitous to observe. God had prescribed in his Law certain kinds of washings, that by means of them he might train his people usefully to the consideration of true purity. The Jews, not satisfied with this moderate portion had added many other washings, and more especially, that no person should partake of food till he had been washed with the water of purification, as Mark relates more minutely, (Mark 12:3,) and as is also evident from John, (John 2:6.) This fault was accompanied by wicked confidence; for they cared little about the spiritual worship of God, and thought that they had perfectly discharged their duty, when the figure was substituted in the place of God. Christ is fully aware that his neglect of this ceremony will give offense, but he declines to observe it, in order to show that God sets very little value on outward cleanness, but demands the spiritual righteousness of the heart.

Verse 39

39.Now you Pharisees Christ does not here charge the Pharisees, as in Matthew, (Matthew 15:1,) and Mark, (Mark 12:2,) with serving God in an improper manner by human inventions, and breaking the law of God for the sake of their traditions; but merely glances at their hypocrisy, in having no desire of purity except before the eyes of men, as if they had not to deal with God. Now this reproof applies to all hypocrites, even to those who believe that righteousness consists in ceremonies appointed by God. Christ includes more than if he had said, that it is in vain to serve God by the commandments of men, (Mark 7:7;) for he condemns generally the error of worshipping God by ceremonies, and not spiritually, by faith and a pure affection of the heart.

On this point the prophets had always contended earnestly with the Jews; but, as the minds of men are strongly inclined to hypocrisy, they proudly and obstinately adhered to the conviction, that God is pleased with external worship, even when it is not accompanied by faith. But in the time of Christ, they had sunk to such depth of folly, that they made religion to consist entirely in absolute trifles. Accordingly, he directs his accusation against the Pharisees, for being extremely careful to wash cups, and cherishing within their hearts the most abominable filth of cruelty and wickedness He charges them with folly on this ground, that God, who created that which is within the man, his soul, as truly as the body, cannot be satisfied with a mere external appearance. The chief reason why men are deceived is, that they do not consider that they have to deal with God, or, they transform Him according to the vanity of their senses, as if there were no difference between Him and a mortal man.

Verse 41

41.But out of what you have, give alms. Christ, according to his custom, withdraws the Pharisees from ceremonies to charity, declaring that it is not water, but liberality, (285) that cleanses both men and food. By these words he does not disparage the grace of God, or reject the ceremonies of the Law as vain and useless; but addresses his discourse to those who feel confident that God will be amused by mere signs. “It is the lawful use alone,” he says, “that sanctifies food. But food is rightly and properly used by those who supply from their abundance the necessities of the poor. It would therefore be better to give alms out of what you have, than to be careful about washing hands and cups, and to neglect the poor.”

The inference which the Papists draw from these words, that alms are satisfactions, by which we are cleansed from our sins, is too absurd to require a lengthened refutation. Christ does not here inform us by what price we must purchase the forgiveness of sins, but says that those persons eat their bread with cleanness, who bestow a part of it on the poor. I understand the words, τὰ ἐνόντα, to mean “the present supply,” (286) and not, as Erasmus and the old translator render them, “what remains over.” (287)

The reproofs which immediately follow may be reserved, with greater propriety, for another occasion. I do not think it probable that Christ, while sitting at table, indulged in this continuous strain of invective against scribes and Pharisees, but that Luke has introduced here what was spoken at another time; for the Evangelists, as we have frequently mentioned, paid little attention to the order of dates.

(285)Mais que c’est une prompte affection de faire bien a ceux qui sont en necessite;” — “but that it is an active disposition to do good to those who are in want.”

(286)Les presentes choses, comme aussi ie l’ay traduit au texte;” — “the present things, as also I have translated it in the text.”

(287) It seems quite as natural to suppose, with other interpreters, that τὰ ἐνόντα answers to τὸ ἔσωθεν in Luke 11:39 Πλὴν ( κατὰ) τὰ ἐνόντα will thus be equivalent to πλὴν ( κατὰ) τὸ ἔσωθεν ( τοῦ ποτηρίου) δότε ἐλεημοσύνην , but as to what is within the cup give alms out of it. The next, clause commences with καὶ, followed by an ellipsis of ( κατὰ), τὸ ἔξωθεν ( τοῦ ποτηρίου) μὴ μεριμνήσητε, and give yourselves no concern about what is outside of the cup; for, lo, all things are clean to you.Ed.

Verse 53

Luke 11:53.And while he was saying these things to them. I have formerly mentioned that the preceding sentences were not inserted by Luke in their proper place. For while he was relating that Christ at a dinner reproved the scribes, he introduced also the latest discourses by which, a little before his death, he reproved their wicked courses; and in like manner, the reproof which we have just now examined is inserted by Luke, in connection with a different narrative. If any one prefer to follow the opinion of those who conjecture that Christ repeated the same discourses on various occasions, I have no great objection. After pronouncing the curses which have been now explained, he concludes by saying that all the scribes became more inveterate against Christ, so that they did not cease to entrap him by ensnaring questions; which ought to be referred to the conversation held at the table, rather than to his latest discourse. But I have not thought it a matter of great importance to be very exact about the time — a matter which the Evangelist has disregarded.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Luke 11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/luke-11.html. 1840-57.
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