Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Luke 17

Verse 1

1. ἀνένδεκτόν ἐστιν. In the present condition of the world it is morally impossible. The οὐχ ἐνδέχεται of the Rec[306] is a more common phrase. The nearest approach to the word is ἔνδεκτον in Apollonius.

τοῦ μὴ ἐλθεῖν. Some MSS. omit the τοῦ. If genuine it seems to depend on the notion of distance or exclusion involved in ἀνένδεκτον. Comp. κατεῖχον αὐτὸν τοῦ μὴ πορεύεσθαι, Luke 4:42, Luke 24:16; Acts 14:18.

σκάνδαλα. See on Luke 7:23. While the world remains what it is, some will always set snares and stumblingblocks in the path of their brethren, and some will always fall over them, and some will make them for themselves (1 Corinthians 11:19; 1 Peter 2:8).

οὐαὶ δὲ δι' οὗ ἔρχεται. No moral necessity, no predestined certainty, removes the responsibility for individual guilt.

Verses 1-37

CHAPS. Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:31

This section forms a great episode in St Luke, which may be called the departure for the final conflict, and is identical with the journey (probably to the Feast of the Dedication, John 10:22) which is partially touched upon in Matthew 18:1 to Matthew 20:16 and Mark 10:1-31. It contains many incidents recorded by this Evangelist alone, and though the recorded identifications of time and place are vague, yet they all point (Luke 9:51, Luke 13:22, Luke 17:11, Luke 10:38) to a slow, solemn, and public progress from Galilee to Jerusalem, of which the events themselves are often grouped by subjective considerations. So little certain is the order of the separate incidents, that one writer (Rev. W. Stewart) has made an ingenious attempt to shew that it is determined by the alphabetic arrangement of the leading Greek verbs (ἀγαπᾶν, Luke 10:25-42; αἰτεῖν, Luke 11:1-5; Luke 11:8-13, &c.). Canon Westcott arranges the order thus: The Rejection of the Jews foreshewn; Preparation, Luke 9:43 to Luke 11:13; Lessons of Warning, Luke 11:14 to Luke 13:9; Lessons of Progress, Luke 13:10 to Luke 14:24; Lessons of Discipleship, Luke 14:25 to Luke 17:10; the Coming End, Luke 17:10 to Luke 18:30.

The order of events after ‘the Galilaean spring’ of our Lord’s ministry on the plain of Gennesareth seems to have been this: After the period of flight among the heathen or in countries which were only semi-Jewish, of which almost the sole recorded incident is the healing of the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:21-28) He returned to Peraea and fed the four thousand. He then sailed back to Gennesareth, but left it in deep sorrow on being met by the Pharisees with insolent demands for a sign from heaven. Turning His back once more on Galilee, He again travelled northwards; healed a blind man at Bethsaida Julias; received St Peter’s great confession on the way to Caesarea Philippi; was transfigured; healed the demoniac boy; rebuked the ambition of the disciples by the example of the little child; returned for a brief rest in Capernaum, during which occurred the incident of the Temple Tax; then journeyed to the Feast of Tabernacles, in the course of which journey occurred the incidents so fully narrated by St John (John 7:1 to John 10:21). The events and teachings in this great section of St Luke seem to belong mainly, if not entirely, to the two months between the hasty return of Jesus to Galilee and His arrival in Jerusalem, two months afterwards, at the Feast of Dedication;—a period respecting which St Luke must have had access to special sources of information.

For fuller discussion of the question I must refer to my Life of Christ, II. 89–150.

Verse 2

2. λυσιτελεῖ αὐτῷ εἰ κ.τ.λ. The literal rendering of the verse is ‘It is for his advantage if a millstone is hanging round his neck, and he has been flung into the sea, rather than that, &c.’ In other words, the fate of a man who is lying drowned at the bottom of the sea is better than if his continuance in life would have led to causing “one of these little ones” to stumble. The general thought is like that of Queen Blanche, who used to say of her son St Louis when he was a boy, that she would rather see him dead at her feet than know that he had fallen into a deadly sin. Marcion and Clemens Romanus seem to have read εἰ οὐκ ἐγενήθη ἢ λίθος κ.τ.λ.

λίθος μυλικός. The true reading here is not μύλος ὀνικός, a millstone so large as to require an ass to work it. This is introduced from Matthew 18:6.

περίκειταιἔρριπται. ‘It were better for him if with the stone round his neck he has been cast into the sea and is now lying there.’ The tenses are very forcible.

. On the construction λυσιτελεῖ see the note on Luke 15:7. The ἵνα (as often) has lost its proper force, and resembles some uses of the Latin ut. See a similar construction in 1 Corinthians 9:15.

τῶν μικρῶν τούτων ἕνα. ‘Of these little ones even one.’ The position of the ἕνα is emphatic. Better for the man to have been drowned, than so to live as to lead Christ’s little ones astray. St Mark adds “that believe in me” (Luke 9:42). The reference is not to children, or the young, though of course the warning applies no less to their case; but primarily to publicans and weak believers. Christ calls even the Apostles “children,” John 13:33 (cf. 1 John 2:12-13).

Verse 3

3. προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς. The following lesson of forgiveness is added because the hard repellent spirit of aggressive Pharisaism and spiritual pride was of all others the most likely to cause offences. It broke up the bruised reed, and stamped on the smoking flax.

ἐὰν ἁμάρτῃ. ‘If he sin,’ omitting “against thee.” Comp. Matthew 18:15-17; Matthew 18:21-22.

ἐπιτίμησονἄφες. The former duty had been fully recognised in the old dispensation (Leviticus 19:17; Proverbs 17:10); the latter far more distinctly and emphatically in the new (Matthew 18:15). The former is only intended as a help to the latter, 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

Verse 4

4. ἑπτάκις. A purely general expression, which as little involves the quantitative limitation of forgiveness upon repentance as the “seventy times seven” of Matthew 18:22. Some of the Rabbis had limited the duty of forgiveness to a thrice-repeated offence; but

“Who with repentance is not satisfied,

Is not of heaven or earth.”

Verse 5

5. οἱ ἀπόστολοι τῷ κυρίῳ. The high title given, and the spontaneous united request, shew how deeply they had felt the previous lessons.

πρόσθες ἡμῖν πίστιν. Literally ‘Add to us faith,’ i.e. give us more faith, without which we can never fulfil these great moral requirements.

Verses 5-10


Verse 6

6. ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, “which is the least of all seeds,” Matthew 13:32.

τῇ συκαμίνῳ ταύτῃ. The “this” is interesting because it shews that our Lord was teaching in the open air, and pointed to the tree as He spoke. The sycamine (Hebr. shikmah, 1 Chronicles 27:28) seems to be a generic name for various kinds of mulberries (e.g. the Morus alba and nigra), which were freely cultivated in the East. The black mulberry is still called συκαμινέα in Greece (see Luke 19:4). In Matthew 17:20 we have a similar passage with the variation of “this mountain,” which our Lord doubtless spoke pointing to Mount Hermon. The Jews gave to a great Rabbi the title of ‘uprooter of mountains,’ in the sense of ‘remover of difficulties;’ and our Lord here most appropriately expresses the truth that Faith can remove all difficulties and obstacles, Mark 9:23; Mark 11:23. Perhaps the warning against spiritual elation springs from the magnificence of this promise.

ἐκριζώθητι. Literally, ‘Be instantly uprooted’; and yet it is a tree with very deep roots.

Verse 7

7. δοῦλον ἔχων ἀροτριῶντα. The Parable of the Ploughing Slave is simply an illustration from daily life. The slave is working in the fields, at ploughing or pasturing, and when he comes back the master orders him to prepare his dinner, nor does he give him any special daily thanks for his ordinary daily duties, even if they be duly performed. So even the best of us do not do more than our commonest and barest duty, even if we attain to that. Perhaps the “which of you,” as addressed to the poor Apostles, may be surprising; but the sons of Zebedee at least had once had hired servants, Mark 1:20.

ποιμαίνοντα. ‘Tending sheep.’ So that here we have two great branches of pastoral work.

ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Εὐθέως παρελθὼν ἀνάπεσε. ‘Will say to him, when he enters from the field, Come forward immediately, and recline at table.’ There is none of the harshness which some have imagined. The master merely says, Get me my dinner, and then take your own. The “by and by” of the A.V[307] is an archaism for ‘immediately,’ but the εὐθέως should be joined with the participle, not with the preceding verb.

Verse 8

8. ἑτοίμασον τί δειπνήσω. Here the τί becomes equivalent to a relative, para quod comedam. Comp. Matthew 10:19, δοθήσεται ὑμῖντί λαλήσετε, quod dicatis. Winer, p. 210.

ἕως φάγω. ‘Till I have eaten’ (which I am going certainly to do; hence no ἂν is needed).

φάγεσαι. The Hellenistic Greek φάγομαι is used as a future, as Greek authors use ἔδομαι, James 5:3; Revelation 17:16.

Verse 9

9. μὴ ἔχει χάριν …; ‘He does not thank that slave, does he?’ i.e. does he feel or express any special gratitude to him (ἔχει χάριν, 1 Timothy 1:12). As a matter of fact, men are not in the habit of acknowledging the daily service of their dependents. Our Lord draws from this common circumstance of life a rebuke of the spirit which would spin out to eternity a selfish desire for personal rewards (Matthew 19:27; Matthew 20:21).

[οὐ δοκῶ.] The words are probably genuine, though omitted in אBL, &c. There is a touch of irony in them, and doubtless they express a passing shade of disapproval at the thanklessness and discourtesy with which dependents are too often treated. The other side of the picture—God’s approval of our efforts—is given in Luke 12:37; Revelation 3:20.

Verse 10

10. ὅταν ποιήσητε πάντα. And this can never be, Psalms 143:2. Even if it could “non est beneficium sed officium facere quod debetis.” Sen. Controv.

ἀχρεῖοι. The same word for unprofitable occurs in Matthew 25:30; Romans 3:12. This verse, like many others (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:27), cuts at the root of the whole Romish notion as to the possibility of ‘works of supererogation,’ see Article 14. “Servi inutiles sunt, insufficientes quia nemo tantum timet, tantum diligit Deum, tantum credit Deo quantum oportuit,” Augsb. Conf. “We sleep half our lives; we give God a tenth of our time; and yet we think that with our good works we can merit Heaven. What have I been doing to-day? I have talked for two hours. I have been at meals three hours. I have been idle four hours. Ah! enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord!” Luther. Yet in a lower sense—though ‘insufficient,’ though ‘unmeritorious’—it is possible for us to be “good and faithful servants,” Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23. We must be unprofitable in the realm of bare obligation and external service, and yet we may be faithful and honoured in the sphere of love.

Verse 11

11. ἐν τῷ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἱερουσαλήμ. ‘As they were on their way.’ The most natural place chronologically, for this incident would have been after Luke 9:57. St Luke places it here to contrast man’s thanklessness to God with the sort of claim to thanks from God which is asserted by spiritual pride.

διὰ μέσον Σαμαρίας καὶ Γαλιλαίας. The most natural meaning of these words is that our Lord, when rejected at the frontier village of En Gannim (see on Luke 9:52; Luke 9:56), altered His route, and determined to pass towards Jerusalem through Peraea. In order to reach Peraea He would have to pass down the Wady of Bethshean,—which lies between the borders of Galilee and Samaria,—and there to cross the bridge over Jordan.

Verses 11-19


Verse 12

12. δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες. So in 2 Kings 7:3 we find four lepers together. The one Samaritan would not have been allowed to associate with the nine Jews had not leprosy obliterated religious distinctions, as it still sadly does in the leper-houses (Biut el Masakin, ‘Abodes of the Unfortunate’) at Jerusalem, where alone Jews and Mahometans will live together.

πόρρωθεν. As the Law required, Leviticus 13:45-46. See on Luke 5:12. Usually they stood at the roadside, as they still do, clamorously demanding alms, but they had heard the fame of Jesus, and asked from Him a vaster benefit. The leper of Luke 5:12 was exceptionally bold.

Verse 14

14. ἰδών. Jesus always listened instantly to the appeal of the leper, whose disease was the type of that worse moral leprosy which He specially came to cleanse. See on Luke 5:13.

εἶπεν. Apparently He called out this answer to them while they were still at the required legal distance of 100 paces.

τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν. See on Luke 5:14.

Verse 15

15. ἰδὼν ὅτι ἰάθη. The healing took place when they had shewn, by starting on their way to fulfil the command of Jesus, that they had faith. The Samaritan was on his way to his own priests at Gerizim.

μετὰ φωνῆς μεγάλης. Some see in this an implied contrast to the harsh, husky voice of his leprous condition; but this is unlikely.

Verse 16

16. ἦν Σαμαρίτης. See on Luke 10:33.

Verse 17

17. οὐχὶ οἱ δέκαοἱ δὲ ἐννέα ποῦ; Literally, ‘Were not the ten cleansed? but the nine—where?’ What worse leprosy of superstition, ignorance, eager selfishness, or more glaring ingratitude had kept back the others? We do not know.

Verse 18

18. οὐχ εὑρέθησαν. Ingratitude is one of the most universal and deeply seated of human vices, and our Lord was perfectly familiar with it. But in this instance He was moved by the depth of this thanklessness in so many recipients of so blessed a favour. Hence His sorrowful amazement. He felt as if all His benefits “were falling into a deep silent grave.”

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind;

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude.”

ἀλλογενής. ‘Alien,’ 2 Kings 17:24. See on Luke 10:33. The word is from the LXX[308] (Leviticus 22:10). The classic equivalents are ἀλλοεθνής, ἀλλόφυλος. Josephus says that the Samaritans eagerly called themselves ἀλλοεθνεῖς when they wanted to disclaim a consanguinity which might be perilous (Antt. IX. 14, § 3): but it is almost impossible to suppose that Samaria was swept clean of every inhabitant, and the ethnographical and other affinities of the Samaritans to the Jews seem to shew some mixture of blood, which they themselves claimed at other times (Jos. Antt. XI. 8, § 6; John 4:12).

Verse 19

19. σέσωκέν σε. ‘Hath saved thee.’

Verse 20

20. ἐπερωτηθεὶς δέ. ‘But being further questioned by the Pharisees.’

ἔρχεται. Literally, ‘is coming.’ They seem to have asked with impatient irony, ‘When is all this preparation and preaching to end, and the New Kingdom to begin?’

μετὰ παρατηρήσεως. I.e. by narrow, curious watching. See Luke 14:1. He implies that their entire point of view is mistaken; they were peering about for great external signs, and overlooking the slow and spiritual processes which were at work before their eyes.

Verses 20-37


Verse 21

21. ἐντὸς ὑμῶν. Intra vos est, Vulg[309], i.e. in animis vestris. As far as the Greek is concerned, this rendering of ἐντὸς is defensible (comp. Matthew 23:26), and the spiritual truth expressed by such a rendering—which implies that “the Kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17)—is most important. See Deuteronomy 30:14. So that Meyer is hardly justified in saying that the conception of the Kingdom of God as an ethical condition of the soul is modern not historico-biblical. But ἐντὸς ὑμῶν may also undoubtedly mean among you (marg.), ‘in the midst of your ranks,’ as in Xen. Anab. I. 10, § 3; and this rendering is more in accordance (i) with the context—as to the sudden coming of the Son of Man; and (ii) with the fact,—for it certainly could not be said that the Kingdom of God was in the hearts of the Pharisees. The meaning then is the same as in John 1:26; Matthew 12:28. But in either case our Lord implied that His Kingdom had already come while they were straining their eyes forward in curious observation, Luke 7:16, Luke 11:20 (ἔφθασεν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς).

Verse 22

22. ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι κ.τ.λ. Comp. Matthew 9:15, “The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” See too John 12:35; John 13:33; John 17:12. They were looking forwards with no realization of that rich present blessedness for which they would one day yearn. Revelation 6:10.

Verse 23

23. ἰδοὺ ἐκεῖ. A vivid description of the perpetual Messianic excitements which finally ceased in the days of Barcochba and the Rabbi Akibha. We find a similar warning in Luke 21:8. See Jos. Antt. XX. 8; B. J. II. 13, VI. 5; Tac. Hist. Luke 17:13. With the whole passage compare Matthew 24:23-41.

Verse 24

24. ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἀστραπή. Bright, swift, sudden, universal, irresistible.

ἐκ τῆςεἰς τήν. Understand χώρας, χώραν. Comp. ἐξ ἐναντίας, Mark 15:39.

Verse 25

25. δεῖ αὐτὸν πολλὰ παθεῖν. It was essential to our Lord’s training of the Twelve at this period of His ministry, that He should again and again—as in solemn refrain to all His teaching—warn them of this coming end. See Luke 18:31.

Verse 26

26. καθώς. Once in Herodotus, but never in Attic for καθάπερ.

ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Νῶε. As described in Genesis 7:11-23. The Second Advent should flame upon a sensual and unexpectant world.

Verse 27

27. ἤσθιον, ἔπινον κ.τ.λ. ‘They were eating, they were drinking’—retaining the imperfects of the original, as well as the vivid asyndeton. Comp. Luke 12:19.

Verse 28

28. Λώτ. See Genesis 19:15-25; Judges 1:7; Ezekiel 16:46-56; Amos 4:11; Isaiah 13:19.

Verse 30

30. κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ ἔσται. St Paul, no less than St Luke, had caught the echo of these solemn warnings. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.

ἀποκαλύπτεται. As the veil is gradually drawn He shall be seen standing there. Revelation 1:1.

Verse 31

31. ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος. The common Oriental place for cool and quiet resort. See on Luke 12:3, Luke 5:19.

τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ. Vulg[310] vasa. I.e. his furniture or goods:

“Therefore away to get our stuff aboard.”

SHAKSP. Com. of Errors.

The A.V[311] took “stuff” from Tyndale.

μὴ καταβάτω. Let him escape at once by the outer steps, Matthew 24:16-18. It is clear that in these warnings, as in Matthew 24, our Lord has distinctly in view the Destruction of Jerusalem, and the awful troubles and judgments which it brought, as being the first fulfilment of the Prophecy of His Advent.

Verse 32

32. τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ. Genesis 19:26; Wisdom of Solomon 10:7, “and a standing pillar of salt is a monument of an unbelieving soul.” The warning is the same as in Luke 9:62. Turn no regretful gaze on a guilty and forsaken world.

Verse 33

33. ὃς ἐὰν ζητήσῃ κ.τ.λ. See the same utterance, with slight verbal alterations, in Luke 9:24; John 12:25. St Paul’s high confidence as to the issue of his own apparently ruined and defeated life, furnishes us with a beautiful comment, 2 Timothy 4:6-8. For “to save” (σῶσαι) some MSS. read to ‘make his own,’ ‘to purchase’ (περιποιήσασθαι).

ζωογονήσει αὐτήν. ‘Shall bring it to new birth.’ In the N.T. this verb only occurs here and at Acts 7:19; 1 Timothy 6:13(?).

Verse 34

34. ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτί. Lit. ‘in this night,’ i.e. in the night of horror and judgment which I now conceive as present.

δύο. Not necessarily men; but human beings, e.g. man and wife. The numerals are of course masculine, because the man might be either the one “taken” or the one “left.”

Verse 35

35. ἀλήθουσαι ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό. As to this day in the use of the common handmills of the East.

Verse 36

36. [δύο ἔσονται ἐν τῷ ἀγρῷ κ.τ.λ.] This verse is of more than doubtful authenticity in this place, being omitted by nearly all the important MSS. It is probably interpolated from Matthew 24:40.

Verse 37

37. ποῦ, κύριε; This question also our Lord declines to answer. The Coming of God’s Kingdom is not to be limited either by chronological or by geographical conditions.

τὸ σῶμα. ‘The carcass,’ although here the specific word for carcass (πτῶμα) is not used as in Matthew 24:28. Comp. Luke 23:52.

οἱ ἀετοί. ‘The vultures.’ The same generic word is indeed used for both genera of birds, but the eagle does not feed on carcasses. Some commentators both ancient and modern have interpreted “the body” to mean Christ, and “the eagles” His gathering Saints. Scriptural usage seems to make such an interpretation impossible, especially as there is probably a direct allusion to Job 39:30, “Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.” See too Habakkuk 1:8; Hosea 8:1; Revelation 19:17-21. Sometimes a reference is supposed to the eagle-standards of Rome. (Comp. Deuteronomy 28:49-52; John 11:48.) This is very possible, especially as the Jews were very familiar with the Roman eagle, and so strongly detested it that the mere erection of the symbol in Jerusalem was sufficient to lash them into insurrection (Jos. Antt. XVII. 6, § 3). But the proverb has a far wider significance, and is illustrated by the rush of avenging forces whenever the life of a nation has fallen into dissolution and decay. See the vision of the eagle in 2 Esdras 11:45, “And therefore appear no more, O eagle, nor thy horrible wings, nor thy wicked feathers, nor thy malicious heads, nor thy hurtful claws, nor all thy vain body.”

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Luke 17". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.