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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

Luke 17

Verses 1-99

Ch. 17:1 4. The Peril of causing Men to Stumble

1 . It is impossible ] i. e. in the present condition of the world it is morally impossible.

offences ] See on 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 ).

woe unto him, through whom they come ] No moral necessity, no predestined certainty, removes the responsibility for individual guilt.

2 . It were better for him , &c.] 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.

a millstone ] The true reading here is lithos mulikos , not mulos onikos , a millstone so large as to require an ass to work it. This is introduced from Matthew 18:6 .

one of these little ones ] St Mark adds “that believe in me” (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 , 1 John 2:13 ).

3 . Take heed to yourselves ] 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.

If thy brother trespass against thee ] Rather, If he sin , omitting “ against thee .” Comp. Matthew 18:15-17 , Matthew 18:21 , Matthew 18:22 .

rebuke him … forgive him ] 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 .

4 . seven times in a day ] 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.”

5 10. The Power of Faith. The Insufficiency of Works

5 . the apostles said unto the Lord ] The high title given, and the spontaneous united request, shew how deeply they had felt the previous lessons.

Increase our faith ] Literally “ Add to us faith ,” without which we can never fulfil these great moral requirements.

6. as a grain of mustard seed ] “which is the least of all seeds,” Matthew 13:32 .

unto this sycamine tree ] 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 sycamenea in Greece (see 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 never to be spiritually elated springs from the magnificence of this promise.

Be thou plucked up by the root ] Literally, “ Be instantly uprooted ;” and yet it is a tree with very deep roots. See p. 384.

7 . having a servant plowing ] 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 .

feeding cattle ] Rather, tending sheep . So that here we have two great branches of pastoral work.

will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat ] ‘By and by’ is an old English phrase for ‘immediately,’ and the verse should be punctuated ‘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.

9 . Doth he thank that servant …?] i. e. does he feel or express any special gratitude to him ( ἔχει χάριν ). As a matter of fact, men are not in the habit of acknowledging the daily services 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 ).

I trow not ] The words are probably genuine, though omitted in א , B, L, &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 12:37; Revelation 3:20 .

10 . when ye shall have done all ] and this can never be, Psalms 143:2 . Even if it could “non est beneficium sed officium facere quod debetis,” Sen. Controv .

We are unprofitable servants ] 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 xiv. “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 .

11 19. The Cleansed Ten; the Thankless Nine

11 . as he went to Jerusalem ] Rather, as they were on their way . The most natural place chronologically, for this incident would have been after 9:56. 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.

he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee ] The most natural meaning of these words is that our Lord, when rejected at the frontier village of En Gannim (see on 9:52, 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.

12 . ten men that were lepers ] So in 2 K. 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.

which stood afar off ] as the Law required, Leviticus 13:45 , Leviticus 13:46 . See on 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.

14 . when he saw them ] 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 5:13.

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

unto the priests ] See on 5:14.

15 . one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back ] 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.

with a loud voice ] Some see in this an implied contrast to the harsh, husky voice of his leprous condition; but this is unlikely.

16 . he was a Samaritan ] See on 10:33.

17 . Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine ?] 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.

18 . There are not found ] 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.”

save this stranger ] Rather, alien , 2 K. 17:24. See on 10:33. Josephus says that the Samaritans eagerly called themselves ἀλλοεθνεῖς when they wanted to disclaim a consanguinity which might be perilous ( Antt. ix. 14, § 3, xi. 8, § 6): 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 ).

19 . hath made thee whole ] Rather, hath saved thee .

20 37. The ‘When?’ and ‘Where?’ of the Kingdom of God

20 . And when he was demanded of the Pharisees ] Literally, “ But being further questioned by the Pharisees .”

should come ] 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?’

with observation ] i. e. by narrow, curious watching. See 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.

21 . for behold, the kingdom of God is within you ] intra vos est , Vulg. As far as the Greek is concerned, this rendering of entos 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 entos humōn may also undoubtedly mean among you (marg.), ‘in the midst of your ranks,’ as in Xen. Anab . 1. 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, 7:16, 11:20.

22 . The days will come, when ye shall desire , &c.] Compare 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 .

23 . See here; or, see there ] 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 21:8. See Jos. Antt. xx. 8; B. J. ii. 13, vi. 5; Tac. Hist. v. 13. With the whole passage compare Matthew 24:23-41 .

24 . as the lightning, that lighteneth ] bright, swift, sudden, universal, irresistible.

25 . But first must he suffer many things ] 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 18:31.

26 . as it was in the days of Noe ] as described in Genesis 7:11-23 . The Second Advent should flame upon a sensual and unexpectant world.

27 . They did eat, they drank ] Rather, They were eating, they were drinking retaining the imperfects of the original.

28 . in the days of Lot ] See Genesis 19:15-25 ; Jude 1:7 ; Ezekiel 16:46-56 ; Amos 4:11 ; Isaiah 13:19 .

30 . Even thus shall it be ] St Paul, no less than St Luke, had caught the echo of these solemn warnings. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 .

31 . upon the housetop ] the common Oriental place for cool and quiet resort. See on 12:3, 5:19.

his stuff ] i. e. his furniture or goods:

“Therefore away to get our stuff aboard.”

Shaksp. Com. of Errors .

let him not come down to take it away ] let him escape at once by the outer steps, Matthew 24:16-18 . It is clear that in these warnings, as in Matt. 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.

32 . Remember Lot’s wife ] Genesis 19:26 ; Wisd. 10:7, “and a standing pillar of salt is a monument of an unbelieving soul.” The warning is the same as in 9:62. Turn no regretful gaze on a guilty and forsaken world.

33 . Whosoever shall seek to save his life ] See the same utterance, with slight verbal alterations, in 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’ ( sosai ) some MSS. read to ‘make his own,’ ‘to purchase’ ( peri-poiesasthai ).

34 . two men in one bed ] 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.’

35 . grinding together ] as to this day in the use of the common hand-mills of the East.

36 . Two men shall be in the field ] 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 .

37 . Where, Lord ?] 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.

Wheresoever the body is ] Rather, the carcass , although here the specific word for carcass ( ptoma ) is not used as in Matthew 24:28 .

thither will the eagles be gathered together ] Rather, 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.