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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Luke 12

Verses 1-99

Ch. 12:1 12. The Duty of bold Sincerity and Trust in God

1 . when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people ] Rather, when the myriads of the multitude had suddenly assembled . It is evident that the noise of this disgraceful attack on our Lord had been heard. This scene was as it were the watershed of our Lord’s ministry in Galilee. At this period He had excited intense opposition among the religious authorities, but was still beloved and revered by the people. They therefore flocked together for His protection, and their arrival hushed the unseemly and hostile vehemence of the Pharisees.

they trode one upon another ] Literally, “ trod one another down .”

he began to say ] The words seem to imply a specially solemn and important discourse.

unto his disciples first of all, Beware ] Rather, to His disciples, Beware first of all of , &c.

the leaven of the Pharisees ] See for comment Matthew 16:12 ; Mark 8:15 .

2 . For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed ] Rather, But (unless with א we omit the δὲ altogether). This whole discourse, in its vividness and compression, and the apparent abruptness of some of its causal connexions, indicates the tumult of emotion through which our Lord had been passing in the last trying scene. The line of thought is ‘Hypocrisy aims at concealment ; but, &c.’ Hypocrisy is not only sinful but useless .

covered revealed ] Literally, “ veiled over unveiled .” You will be made responsible for any part of my teaching which you conceal or keep back.

3 . whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness ] The application of the similar language in Matthew 10:26 , Mark 4:22 , is different. See 8:17.

in closets ] Literally, “ in the treasuries or storehouses ,” i. e. in closed, secret places.

upon the housetops ] i. e. in the most public places of resort, so as to be heard in the streets below.

4 . my friends ] John 15:14 , John 15:15 , “Henceforth I call you not servants but friends .” The term comes the more naturally and pathetically because Jesus had just been in the thick of enemies.

Be not afraid of ] μὴ φοβηθῆτε ἀπό , i. e. afraid of anything which can come from them. This construction is only found in the LXX. and N. T., and is a Hebraism (v. Schleusner s. v.). For similar thoughts see Jeremiah 1:8 ; Isaiah 51:12 , Isaiah 51:13 .

after that have no more that they can do ] The same truth was an encouragement to the partially illuminated fortitude of Stoicism. Hence it constantly occurs in the Manual of Epictetus.

5 . Fear him, which after he hath killed ] Many commentators have understood this expression of the Devil, and one of the Fathers goes so far as to say that it is the only passage in the Bible in which we cannot be certain whether God or Satan is intended. There can, however, be no doubt that the reference is to God. If “fear” ever meant ‘be on your guard against,’ the other view might be tenable, but there is no instance of such a meaning, and we are bidden to defy and resist the Devil, but never to fear him; nor are we ever told that he has any power to cast into Gehenna.

to cast into hell ] Rather, into Gehenna . It is a deep misfortune that our English Version has made no consistent difference of rendering between ‘the place of the dead,’ ‘the intermediate state between death and resurrection’ ( Hades, Sheol ), and Gehenna, which is sometimes metaphorically used (as here) for a place of punishment after death. Gehenna was a purely Hebrew word, and corresponded primarily to purely Hebrew conceptions. Our Lord (if He spoke Greek) did not attempt to represent it by any analogous, but imperfectly equivalent, Greek term like Tartarus (see 2 Peter 2:4 ), and certainly the Apostles and Evangelists did not. They simply transliterated the Hebrew term ( גי הנם , Gî Hinnom , Valley of Hinnom) into Greek letters. It is surely a plain positive duty to follow so clear an example, and not to render Gehenna by English terms which cannot connote exactly the same conceptions. The Valley of Hinnom, or of the Sons of Hinnom (Joshua 15:8 , Joshua 15:18 :16; Joshua 2:0 K. 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31 ), was a pleasant valley outside Jerusalem, which had first been rendered infamous by Moloch worship; then defiled by Josiah with corpses; and lastly kept from putrefaction by large fires to consume the corpses and prevent pestilence. Milton describes it with his usual learned accuracy:

“First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood

Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears;

Though for the noise of drums and timbrels loud

Their children’s cries unheard that passed through fire

To his grim idol …

and made his grove

The pleasant Valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence

And black Gehenna called, the type of Hell.”

Par. Lost , i. 392.

Tophet is derived from the word Toph ‘a drum’ (compare τύπτω , dub, thump , &c).

6 . Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings ] St Matthew says ‘ two sparrows for one farthing.’ The little birds were sold in the markets strung together, or on skewers. The varying expressions of St Matthew and St Luke lead us to the interesting fact that if five were bought one was thrown in , which still more forcibly proves how insignificant was the value of the sparrows; yet even that unvalued odd one was not “forgotten before God.” The word for “farthings” is assaria ; St Mark uses κοδράντης ( quadrans ), 12:42.

7 . even the very hairs of your head ] See 21:18; Acts 27:34 ; and in the O. T. 1 Samuel 14:45 ; 1 Samuel 1:0 K. 1:52.

8 . before the angels of God ] Compare 9:26. “Before my Father which is in heaven,” Matthew 10:32 .

10 . it shall be forgiven him ] Thus our Lord prayed even for His murderers. This large rich promise is even further amplified in Matthew 12:31 . It is the sign of a dispensation different from that of Moses, Leviticus 24:16 .

unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost ] The other passages in which mention is made of this awful ‘unpardonable sin’ and of the “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” are Matthew 12:31 , Matthew 12:32 ; Mark 3:29 , Mark 3:30 ; 1 John 5:16 . The latter sin is expressly declared to be closely connected with the attributing of Christ’s miracles to Beelzebul. On the exact nature of the ‘unpardonable sin’ theologians have speculated in vain, and all that we can see is that it must be the most flagrant degree of sin against the fullest light and knowledge.

it shall not be forgiven ] St Matthew adds “neither in this age (or ‘this dispensation’), nor in the age to come (the ‘future dispensation,’ i. e. the dispensation of the Messianic kingdom).” The two terms ‘this aeon’ and ‘the future aeon’ are of constant occurrence in Rabbinic literature. The passage if it means more than ‘in either dispensation’ proves, as St Augustine says, that some would be forgiven if not in this life yet in the next ( De Civ. Dei , xxi. 24),

11 . unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers ] The ‘synagogues’ were the small Jewish tribunals of synagogue officials in every town, which had the power of inflicting scourging for minor religious offences. ‘Magistrates’ and ‘powers’ would be the superior authorities Jewish or Gentile.

take ye no thought ] Rather, be not anxiously careful .

how or what thing ] i. e. about either the manner and line, or the phraseology of your defence.

12 . the Holy Ghost shall teach you ] A similar promise had been given to Moses, Exodus 4:12-15 ; see 21:15. For fulfilments of the promise, see Acts 6:8 , Acts 6:10 (St Stephen); 2 Timothy 4:17 (St Paul), &c.

13 21. Egotism rebuked. The Rich Fool

13 . Master, speak to my brother ] This was the most foolish and unwarrantable interpellation ever made to our Lord. The few words at once reveal to us an egotist incapable of caring for anything but his own selfishness.

that he divide the inheritance with me ] Deuteronomy 21:15-17 .

14 . Man ] The word is sternly repressive. Comp. Romans 2:1 .

who made me a judge ] “My kingdom is not of this world,” John 18:36 .

or a divider ] i. e. umpire, arbitrator. There is an evident allusion to Exodus 2:14 .

15 . beware of covetousness ] The better reading is “of all covetousness,” i. e. not only beware of avarice, but also of selfish possession. Both the O. and N. T. abound with repetitions of this warning. Balaam, Achan, Gehazi are awful examples of this sin in the O. T.; Judas Iscariot, the Pharisees and Ananias in the New. See 1 Timothy 6:10-17 .

a man’s life consisteth not ] i. e. a man’s true life his zoē : his earthly natural life his bios , is supported by what he has , but his zoē is what he is . Such phrases as that a man ‘is worth ’ so many thousands a year, revealing the current of worldly thought, shew how much this warning is needed. The order of words in this paragraph is curious. It is literally, “ For not in any man’s abundance is his life ( derived ) from his possessions ,” or (as De Wette takes it) “is his life a part of his possessions.” The English Version well represents the sense. Comp. Sen. ad Helv . ix. 9, “Corporis exigua desideria sunt.… Quicquid extra concupiscitur, vitiis non usibus laboratur.”

16 . The ground ] Rather, The estate . In this parable (peculiar to St Luke) our Lord evidently referred mentally to the story of Nabal, whose name means ‘Fool’ or ‘Churl’ (1 Samuel 25:0 ). Observe that his riches, like those of Nabal, were acquired, not by fraud or oppression, but in the most innocent way. His crime was his greedy and callous selfishness. He cared not for generous use, but for self-admiring acquisition. Being “a fool” his “prosperity destroyed him.” Proverbs 1:32 .

17 . What shall I do ] “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase,” Ecclesiastes 5:10 .

my fruits ] So “ my barns,” “ my fruits and my goods,” and “ my soul.” This touch is evidently intended and is most vividly natural. So Nabal says, “Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers,” &c., 1 Samuel 25:11 . So

“Their child.” “ Our child!” “ Our heiress!” “ Ours !” for still

Like echoes from beyond a hollow, came

Her sicklier iteration.” Aylmer’s Field .

18 . my barns ] Rather, storehouses ( apothēkas not only for corn). He never thought of the admonition of the Son of Sirach, “Shut up alms in thy storehouses,” Ecclus. 29:12.

my fruits ] Not the same word as before. Rather, my produce .

my goods ] Such ‘good things’ as he was alone capable of recognising, 16:25. And “ all my goods ,” with no mention of the poor.

19 . I will say to my soul, Soul ] “What folly! Had thy soul been a sty, what else couldst thou have promised to it? Art thou so bestial, so ignorant of the soul’s goods, that thou pledgest it the foods of the flesh? And dost thou convey to thy soul , the things which the draught receiveth?” St Basil.

for many years ] “Boast not thyself of to morrow,” Proverbs 27:1 .

take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry ] More energetically in the four words of the original, rest, eat, drink, enjoy . His motive is the same as that of the selfish and cynical Epicureans, who say, “Let us eat and drink;” but the reason he assigns is different. They snatch pleasure, “for to morrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32 ); he because he hopes to be “happy” for “many years.” For similar warnings see James 4:13-17 , 5:James 4:1-3 ; Ecclesiastes 11:9 .

20 . Thou fool ] Literally, “ Senseless !” 1 Corinthians 15:36 .

this night ] Compare the death of Nabal, 1 Samuel 25:36 .

thy soul shall be required of thee ] Rather, they demand thy soul of thee . Who are ‘they’? Some say God (Job 27:8 ), or His death-angels (Job 33:22 ), or robbers whom they suppose to attack the rich man on the night that his wealth has flowed in. There is however no definite pronoun, the phrase is impersonal, as often in Hebrew.

then whose shall those things be ] “He heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them,” Psalms 39:6 , 49:16, 17; comp. 52:7 and James 4:13-15 . St James seems to have been deeply impressed with this teaching.

21 . is not rich towards God ] Rather, if he is not . We are often taught elsewhere in Scripture in what way we can be rich toward God. Matthew 6:19-21 ; 1 Timothy 6:17-19 ; James 2:5 . There is a close parallel to this passage in Ecclus. 11:18, 19, “There is that waxeth rich by his wariness and pinching, and this is the portion of his reward. Likewise he saith, I have found rest, and now will eat continually of my goods, and yet he knoweth not what time shall come upon him, and that he must leave those things to others, and die.” This would seem to shew that our Lord was not unfamiliar with some of the Apocryphal writings.

22 53 . Lessons of Trustfulness (22 32), Almsgiving (33, 34), and Faithful Watchfulness (35 48). The searching Effect of Christ’s Work (49 53)

22 . Take no thought ] This rendering is now unfortunate, since it might be abused to encourage an immoral carelessness (1 Timothy 5:8 ). But in the 17th century thought was used for care (1 Samuel 9:5 ). See The Bible Word-Book ; s.v. Rather, Be not anxious about . “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee,” Psalms 55:22 ; 1 Peter 5:7 .

23 . The life is more than meat , &c.] and the spirit is more than either the body, or the natural life.

24 . the ravens ] More specific, and therefore more poetic, than “the fowls” in St Matthew. Perhaps there is a reference to Job 38:41 ; Psalms 145:15 .

25 . to his stature ] Some would here render the word ἡλικία , ‘age’ (comp. Psalms 39:5 ); but ‘stature’ is probably right.

27 . the lilies ] The term is perfectly general. The scarlet anemones ( anemone coronaria ), or the ‘Hulêh lilies’ growing around may have given point to the lesson. (Thomson, Land and Book , p. 256.)

Solomon in all his glory ] 1 K. 3:13, 10:1 29, and for a splendid description of his progresses in the royal chariot Song of Solomon 3:6-11 .

28 . the grass … in the field ] The common Scripture symbol for evanescence, Isaiah 40:6 ; 1 Peter 1:24 ; James 1:10 , James 1:11 .

is cast into the oven ] In the absence of wood this is the usual method of heating ovens in the East.

29 . neither be ye of doubtful mind ] Literally, “Do not toss about like boats in the offing,” a metaphor for suspense . Cicero says, “So I am in suspense ( μετέωρος ) and entangled in great perplexities.” Ad Att. xv. 14.

30 . the nations of the world ] But you have not the same excuse that the heathen have for over-anxiety about transient needs.

32 . little flock ] The address was primarily to disciples, vs. 1. For the metaphor, see Psalms 23:1 ; Isaiah 40:11 ; Matthew 26:31 ; John 10:12-16 .

the kingdom ] How much more shall He give you bread .

33 . Sell that ye have ] This command was taken very literally by the early Church, Acts 2:44 , Acts 2:45 . Comp. 16:9; Matthew 19:21 .

35 . Let your loins be girded ] Without which active service is impossible in the loose flowing dress of the East (Exodus 12:11 ; Exodus 1:0 K. 18:46); and spiritually, for the Christian amid worldly entanglements, 1 Peter 1:13 ; Ephesians 6:14 .

your lights burning ] The germ of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Matthew 25:1 .

36 . when he will return from the wedding ] The word here used ( pote analusei ) is very rare, occurring only in Philippians 1:23 ; 2 Timothy 4:6 . Here there is a variation from the commoner metaphor of going to the wedding feast.

37 . he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to meal ] Doubtless some of the Apostles must have recalled these words when Jesus washed their feet. To Roman readers the words would recall the customs of their Saturnalia when slaves were waited on by their masters.

38 . come in the second watch, or come in the third watch ] It is not clear, nor very important, whether St Luke here alludes to the three watches of the Jews and Greeks (Lamentations 2:19 ; Judges 7:19 ; Exodus 14:24 ) or to the four of the Romans (Jerome, Ep. cxl.). But it is very important to observe that often as our Lord bade His disciples to be ready for His return, He as often indicates that His return might be long delayed, Matthew 25:5-19 . He always implied that He should come suddenly (21:34 36; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6 ; Revelation 3:3 ) but not necessarily soon, vs. 46; 2 Peter 3:8 , 2 Peter 3:9 . “The Parousia does not come so quickly as impatience, nor yet so late as carelessness, supposes.” Van Oosterzee.

39 . this know ] Rather, this ye know .

the goodman of the house ] An archaic expression for the master of the house, the paterfamilias . It is said to be a corruption of the Saxon gumman ‘a man,’ good wife being formed from it by false analogy.

to be broken through ] Literally, “ to be dug through ” the houses being often of mud.

41 . Then Peter said unto him ] Peter’s intercourse with his Lord seems to have been peculiarly frank and fearless, in accordance with his character. In the immaturity of the disciples we may suppose that the blessing on the faithful servants mainly prompted his question. But if so the lesson of our Lord was by no means lost on him, 1 Peter 5:3 , and passim.

42 . Who then is that faithful and wise steward ] Our Lord, in the deeply instructive method which He often adopted, did not answer the question, but taught the only lesson which was needful for the questioner. St Paul perhaps refers to these words of Christ in 1 Corinthians 4:1 , 1 Corinthians 4:2 .

their portion of meat in due season ] “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God ,” Acts 20:28 .

44 . ruler over all that he hath ] See 22:29, 30.

45 . say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming ] Ecclesiastes 8:11 . It was not long before the temptation to use this language arose with fatal results, 2 Peter 3:8 , 2 Peter 3:9 .

46 . will cut him in sunder ] This was literally a punishment prevalent among some ancient nations, 2 Samuel 12:31 ; 1 Chronicles 20:3 ; Daniel 2:5 ; Herod. VII. 39. Comp. Hebrews 11:37 (the legendary martyrdom of Isaiah) and Susannah 55 59. Hence Bengel says “Qui cor divisum habet, dividetur .” But because of the following clause, which evidently refers to a living person, it is thought that dichotomesei must here be used in the sense of “shall scourge ” (compare the next verse), although there is no other instance of such a sense.

with the unbelievers ] Rather, with the faithless . (See vs. 42, and Matthew 24:51 .)

47 . shall be beaten with many stripes ] Exceptional privileges if rejected involve exceptional guilt and punishment, 10:13; James 4:17 ; 2 Peter 2:21 .

48 . that knew not ] i. e. that knew not fully (Jonah 4:11 ; 1 Timothy 1:13 ), for there is no such thing as absolute moral ignorance (Romans 1:20 , Romans 1:2 :14, Romans 1:15 ).

shall be beaten with few stripes ] A most important passage as alone clearly stating that punishment shall be only proportional to sin, and that there shall be a righteous relation between the amount of the two. They who knew not will not of course be punished for any involuntary ignorance, but only for actual misdoing.

49 . I am come to send fire on the earth ] St John had preached “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” and that “He should burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The metaphor is probably to be taken in all its meanings; fire as a spiritual baptism; the refining fire to purge gold from dross, and burn up the chaff of all evil in every imperfect character; and the fire of retributive justice. There is a remarkable ‘unwritten saying’ of Christ, “ He who is near me is near the fire ,” which is preserved in Ignatius, Origen, and Didymus.

what will I, if it be already kindled ?] Rather, how I would that it had been already kindled ! (as in Ecclus. 23:14). It may also be punctuated ‘what will I? O that it were already kindled!’ For the fire is salutary as well as retributive; it warms and purifies as well as consumes.

50 . a baptism to be baptized with ] Matthew 20:22 .

how am I straitened ] i. e. How heavy is the burden that rests upon me; how vast are the obstacles through which I have to press onwards. It is the same spirit that spoke in “What thou doest, do quickly .” The word is found in 2 Corinthians 5:14 ; Philippians 1:23 .

till it be accomplished ] John 19:28 , John 19:30 .

51 . Suppose ye ] as they were far too much inclined to suppose, 19:11.

that I am come to give peace on earth ] It is only in His ultimate kingdom that Christ will be fully the Prince of Peace, as was understood even by Simeon, 2:34, 35; see too John 9:39 .

Nay; but rather division ] “I came not to send peace but a sword ,” Matthew 10:34 . “Near me, near the sword” (unwritten saying of Christ). “There was a division among the people because of him,” John 7:43 .

53 . The father shall be divided against the son ] The verse seems to be a distinct allusion to Micah 7:6 . There is in the Greek a delicate change of phrase which can hardly be reproduced in English. It is ‘father against son ’ ( ἐφʼ υἱῷ ), where the preposition takes the dative ; but in ‘mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law’ ( ἐπὶ τὴν νύμφην αὐτῆς ) the preposition takes the accusative ; perhaps to indicate the difference in the relationships, the one natural, the other legal.

54 59. The Signs of the Times, and resultant Duty

54 . to the people ] Rather, to the multitudes , whom He now addresses, having finished the lessons which were most necessary for His timid and discouraged disciples.

a cloud ] Rather, the cloud , comp. Matthew 16:2 , Matthew 16:3 .

rise out of the west ] In Hebrew the same word is used for ‘west’ and ‘sea.’ A cloud rising from the Mediterranean indicated heavy rain, 1 K. 18:44, 45.

55 . heat ] Rather, a Simoom or scorching wind, because ‘the South wind’ in Palestine would blow from the desert.

56 . Ye hypocrites ] The insincerity consisted in the fact that though the signs of the Kingdom were equally plain they would not see them, and pretended not to see them. The Prophets had long ago pointed them out. Among them were, miracles (Isaiah 35:4-6 ); the political condition (Genesis 49:10 ); the preaching of the Baptist (Matthew 3:0 ).

discern ] Rather, test or prove .

57 . even of yourselves ] i. e. without the necessity for my thus pointing out to you facts which are so plain.

what is right ] what is your duty to do under circumstances so imminent.

58 . When thou goest ] Rather, For as thou goest . Our translators omitted the “for” probably because they could not see the connexion. It seems however to be this. ‘For this is your clear duty, to reconcile yourselves with God, as you would with one whom you had alienated, before the otherwise inevitable consequences ensue.’

with thine adversary ] This is a parable. If you had wronged a man it would be obviously wise to avert the consequences of your wrongdoing before it became too late. Even so must you act towards God. To press the details is obviously false theology. “Theologia parabolica non est argumentative.” Here again St Matthew quotes the parable in a slightly different connexion (v. 25, 26) to teach that love and forgiveness to man are an indispensable condition of forgiveness from God.

give diligence ] A curious Latinism, da operam .

to the officer ] i. e. the jailor, literally the exactor ( πράκτορι ). “God is here shadowed forth as at once the adversary, the judge, and the officer; the first by His holiness, the second by His justice, the third by His power.” Godet.

59 . till thou host paid the very last mite ] Mite is lepton ( minutum ), the smallest of all coins, Mark 12:42 . If it be asked, ‘can this ever be paid?’ the answer of course is, as far as the parable is concerned, ‘it depends entirely on whether the debt be great or small.’ As far as the application of the parable is concerned, the answer lies out of the contemplated horizon of the illustration, nor is there any formal answer to it. But if it be asserted that no man’s debt to God, which he has incurred by his sins, however ‘common to man,’ can ever be paid by him, we are at least permitted to find hope in the thought that Christ has paid our debt for us (Matthew 20:28 ; 1 Timothy 2:6 ). The general lesson is that of which Scripture is full, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found,” Isaiah 55:6 ; Psalms 32:6 ; Hebrews 4:7 .

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"Commentary on Luke 12". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.