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Ch. 3:1 9. Baptism and Preaching of John the Baptist
1 . in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cesar ] If the accession of Tiberius be dated from the death of Augustus, Aug. 19, a.u.c. 767, this would make our Lord thirty-two at His baptism. St Luke, however, follows a common practice in dating the reign of Tiberius from the period of his association with Augustus as joint Emperor a.u.c. 765. (Tac. Ann. i. 3; Suet. Aug. 97; Vell. Paterc. 103.) Our Lord’s baptism thus took place in a.u.c. 780.
Tiberius Cesar ] The stepson and successor of Augustus. At this period of his reign he retired to the island of Capreae (Tac. Ann. iv. 74), where he plunged into horrible private excesses, while his public administration was most oppressive and sanguinary. The recent attempts to defend his character break down under the accumulated and unanimous weight of ancient testimony.
Pontius Pilate ] He was Procurator for ten years, a. d. 25 36. His predecessors had been Coponius (a. d. 6 10), M. Ambivius, Annius Rufus, and Valerius Gratus (a. d. 14 25). He was succeeded by Marcellus, Fadus, Tiberius Alexander, Cumanus, Felix, Festus, Albinus and Florus. For an account of him see on 23:1.
governor ] His strict title was epitropos or Procurator (Jos. Antt . xx. 6, § 2), which does not however occur in the N. T. except in the sense of ‘steward’ (Luke 8:3 ). Hegemon was a more general term. (Matthew 10:18 ; 1 Peter 2:14 .) His relation to the Herods was much the same as that of the Viceroy of India to the subject Maharajahs.
Herod ] Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and the Samaritan lady Malthace. He retained his kingdom for more than 40 years, at the end of which he was banished (a. d. 39) to Lugdunum (probably St Bertrand de Comminges), chiefly through the machinations of his nephew Herod Agrippa I. (the Herod of Acts 12:1 ). See the Stemma Herodum on p. 39, and for further particulars of his character see on 13:32.
tetrarch ] The word properly means a ruler of a fourth part of a country, but afterwards was used for any tributary prince or ethnarch. At this time Judaea, Samaria and Galilee were the provinces of Judaea. Antipas, Philip and Lysanias are the only three to whom the term ‘tetrarch’ is applied in the N. T. Antipas also had the courtesy-title of ‘king’ (Mark 6:14 , &c.), and it was in the attempt to get this title officially confirmed to him that he paid the visit to Rome which ended in his banishment. He was tetrarch for more than 40 years, from b. c. 4 to a. d. 39.
of Galilee ] This province is about 25 miles from North to South, and 27 from East to West, about the size of Bedfordshire. Lower Galilee included the district from the plain of Akka to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and was mainly composed of the rich plain of Esdraelon (or Jezreel). Upper Galilee included the mountain range between the Upper Jordan and Phoenicia. Galilee was thus the main scene of our Lord’s ministry. It was surpassingly rich and fertile (Jos. B. J. i. 15. 5, iii. 10, §§ 7, 8). See on 1:26. Herod’s dominions included the larger though less populous district of Peraea; but the flourishing towns of Decapolis (Gerasa, Gadara, Damascus, Hippos, Pella, &c.) were independent.
his brother Philip ] Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra, who afterwards married his niece Salome, daughter of the other Herod Philip (who lived in a private capacity at Rome) and of his half-sister and sister-in-law Herodias. This tetrarch seems to have been the best of the Herods (Jos. Antt . xvii. 2. § 4), and the town of Caesarea Philippi which he beautified was named from him.
of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis ] His tetrarchate also included Batanaea (Bashan), Auranitis (the Hauran), Gaulanitis (Golân), and some parts about Jamnia (Jos. B. J. ii. 6, § 3). Ituraea (now Jedûr) was at the foot of Mount Hermon, and was named from Jetur, son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:15 , Genesis 25:16 ). The Ituraeans were marauders, famous for the use of the bow, and protected by their mountain fastnesses. (Strabo, xvi. 2; Lucan, Phars. vii. 230.) Trachonitis, also a country of robbers (Jos. Antt. xvi. 9 §§ 1, 2), is the Greek rendering of the Aramaic Argob (a region about 22 miles from N. to S. by 14 from W. to E.), and means ‘a rough or stony tract.’ It is the modern province of el-Lejâh, and the ancient kingdom of Og “an ocean of basaltic rocks and boulders, tossed about in the wildest confusion, and intermingled with fissures and crevices in every direction.” Herod Philip received this tetrarchate by bequest from his father (Jos. B. J . ii. 6, § 3).
Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene ] The mention of this minute particular is somewhat singular, but shews St Luke’s desire for at least one rigid chronological datum . It used to be asserted that St Luke had here fallen into another chronological error, but his probable accuracy has, in this point also, been completely vindicated. There was a Lysanias king of Chalcis under Mount Lebanon, and therefore in all probability tetrarch of Abilene, in the days of Antony and Cleopatra, 60 years before this period (Jos. B. J. i. 13, § i); and there was another Lysanias, probably a grandson of the former, in the reigns of Caligula and Claudius, 20 years after this period (Jos. Antt. xv. 4, § i). No intermediate Lysanias is recorded in history, but there is not a shadow of proof that the Lysanias here mentioned may not be the second of these two, or more probably some Lysanias who came between them, perhaps the son of the first and the father of the second. Even M. Renan admits that after reading at Baalbek the inscription of Zenodorus (Boeckh, Corp. Inscr. Graec. no. 4521) he infers the correctness of the Evangelist ( Vie de Jésus , p. xiii.; Les Évangiles , p. 263). It is indeed, on the lowest grounds, inconceivable that so careful a writer as St Luke should have deliberately gone out of his way to introduce so apparently superfluous an allusion at the risk of falling into a needless error. Lysanias is perhaps mentioned because he had Jewish connexions (Jos. Antt. xiv. 7, § 4).
of Abilene ] Abila was a town 18 miles from Damascus and 38 from Baalbek. The district of which it was the capital is probably here mentioned because it subsequently formed part of the Jewish territory, having been assigned by Caligula to his favourite Herod Agrippa I. in a. d. 36. The name is derived from Abel ‘a meadow.’
Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests ] Rather, in the high-priesthood of Annas and of Caiaphas , for the true reading is undoubtedly ἀρχιερέως ( א , A, B, C, D, E, &c.), and a similar expression occurs in Acts 4:6 . But here St Luke is charged (on grounds as untenable as in the former instances) with yet another mistake. Annas or Hanan the son of Seth had been High Priest from a. d. 7 14, and had therefore, by this time, been deposed for at least 15 years; and his son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas, the fourth High Priest since his deposition, had been appointed in a. d. 24. The order had been as follows:
Annas or Ananus (Hanan), a. d. 7.
Ishmael Ben Phabi, a. d. 15.
Eleazar son of Annas, a. d. 15.
Simon son of Kamhith, a. d. 16.
Joseph Caiaphas, a. d. 17.
How then can Annas be called High Priest in a. d. 27? The answer is (i.) that by the Mosaic Law the High priesthood was held for life (Numbers 35:25 ), and since Annas had only been deposed by the arbitrary caprice of the Roman Procurator Valerius Gratus he would still be legally and religiously regarded as High Priest by the Jews (Numbers 35:25 ); (ii.) that he held in all probability the high office of Sagan haccohanim ‘deputy’ or ‘chief’ of the Priests (2 K. 25:18), or of Nasi ‘President of the Sanhedrin,’ and at least of the Ab Beth Dîn , who was second in the Sanhedrin; (iii.) that the nominal, official, High Priests of this time were mere puppets of the civil power, which appointed and deposed them at will in rapid succession, so that the title was used in a looser sense than in earlier days. The High Priest-hood was in fact at this time in the hands of a clique of some half-dozen Herodian, Sadducaean and alien families, whose ambition it was to bear the title for a time without facing the burden of the necessary duties. Hence any one who was unusually prominent among them would naturally bear the title of ‘High Priest’ in a popular way, especially in such a case as that of Hanan, who, besides having been High Priest, was a man of vast wealth and influence, so that five also of his sons, as well as his son-in-law, became High Priests after him. The language of St Luke and the Evangelists (John 11:49 ) is therefore in strict accordance with the facts of the case in attributing the High Priesthood at this epoch rather to a caste than to a person. Josephus ( B. J. ii. 20, § 4) who talks of “ one of the High Priests” and the Talmud which speaks of “the sons of the High Priests” use the same sort of language. There had been no less than 28 of these phantom High Priests in 107 years (Jos. Antt. xx. 10, § i), and there must have been at least five living High Priests and ex-High Priests at the Council that condemned our Lord. The Jews, even in the days of David, had been familiar with the sort of co-ordinate High Priesthood of Zadok and Abiathar. For the greed, rapacity and luxury of this degenerate hierarchy, see my Life of Christ , ii. 329, 330, 342.
in the wilderness ] Mainly, as appears from the next verse, the Arabah, the sunken valley north of the Dead Sea el Ghôr “the deepest and hottest chasm in the world” (Humboldt, Cosmos , 1.150), where the sirocco blows almost without intermission. “A more frightful desert it had hardly been our lot to behold” (Robinson, Researches , ii. 121). See it described by Mr Grove in Smith’s Bibl. Dict. s. v. Arabah . The stern aspect and terrible associations of the spot had doubtless exercised their influence on the mind of John. See on 1:80.
3 . he came ] St Luke alone mentions the mission journeys of John the Baptist; the other Evangelists, whose narratives (Matthew 3:1-12 ; Mark 1:1-8 ; John 1:15 , John 1:28 ) should be carefully compared with that of St Luke, describe how the multitudes “came streaming forth” to him.
all the country about Jordan ] The Arabah is some 150 miles in extent; the actual river-valley, specified in the O. T. by the curious words Kikkar and Geliloth (see Stanley, Sin. and Pal. p. 284), is not so extensive.
the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins ] Comp. Acts 2:38 , Acts 2:3 :15, Acts 2:5 :31, Acts 2:22 :16; where the two expressions are also united. The baptism of John was “a baptism of repentance,” not yet “a laver of regeneration” (Titus 3:5 ). It was intended first as a symbol of purification “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean,” Ezekiel 36:25 ; (comp. Isaiah 1:16 ; Zechariah 13:1 ); and then as an initiation into the kingdom which was at hand. The Jews had been familiar with the symbolism of baptism from the earliest days, as a consecration (Exodus 29:4 ), and a purification (Leviticus 14:8 ). It was one of the forms by which proselytes were admitted into Judaism. John’s adoption of this rite proved (i) his authority (John 1:25 ); and (ii) his opinion that even Jews needed to be thus washed from sins.
4 . Esaias the prophet ] Isaiah 40:3 .
saying ] This word should be omitted with א , B, D, L, &c.
The voice ] Rather, A voice . The Hebrew original may be rendered “Hark one crieth.”
of one crying in the wilderness ] Hence comes the common expression for hopeless warnings, vox clamantis in deserto . Probably, however, the “in the wilderness” should be attached to the words uttered by the voice , as is required by the parallelism of Hebrew poetry:
“Prepare ye in the wilderness a way for Jehovah,
Lay even in the desert a highway for our God.”
The wilderness is metaphorically the barren waste of the Jewish life in that day (Isaiah 35:1 ).
the way of the Lord ] Comp. Isaiah 35:8-10 , “And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness : the unclean shall not pass over it … And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion.”
5 . Every valley , &c.] The metaphor is derived from pioneers who go before the march of a king. There is a remarkable parallel in Josephus ( B. J. iii. 6, § 2), where he is describing the march of Vespasian, and says that among his vanguard were “such as were to make the road even and straight, and if it were anywhere rough and hard to be passed over, to plane it , and to cut down the woods that hindered their march (comp. prokoptein = ‘to advance’ in 2:52), that the army might not be tired.” The Jews fabled that the Pillar of Cloud and Fire in the desert smoothed the mountains and filled the valleys before them. Tanchuma , f. 70, 3 on Numbers 20:22 .
Every valley shall be filled , &c.] i. e. the humble and meek shall be exalted, and the mighty put down. Compare Isaiah 2:12-15 , “The day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty , and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.… And upon all the high mountains , &c.” Zechariah 4:7 , “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain .”
the crooked shall be made straight ] The words in the original recall the names Jacob and Jeshurun ; as though it were “then the Supplanter shall be turned into Prince with God” or “the beloved” (Isaiah 44:2 , Isaiah 11:4 ). The general meaning of the prophecy is that no obstacles, whether they arose from depression, or power, or pride, or cunning perversity, or menacing difficulties, should be able to resist the labours of the Pioneers and Heralds of the Kingdom of God. The feeble instrumentality of Galilaeans should be strengthened; the power of the Romans and Herods should be shattered; the duplicity and plots of Pharisees and worldlings should be defeated; the apparently insuperable opposition of Judaism and Heathenism be swept away.
6 . all flesh shall see the salvation of God ] St Luke alone adds these words to the quotation, and his doing so is characteristic of his object, which was to bring out the blessedness and universality of the Gospel. See 2:10, 24:47, and Introd. p. 25. “The salvation” is τὸ σωτήριον , as in 2:30. When the mountains of earthly tyranny and spiritual pride are levelled, the view of God’s saving power becomes clear to all flesh.
7 . to the multitude ] Rather, multitudes . Different crowds came from different directions, Matthew 3:5 ; Mark 1:5 .
O generation of vipers ] Rather, broods of vipers . They were like “serpents born of serpents.” The comparison was familiar to Hebrew poetry (Psalms 68:4 ; Isaiah 14:9 ), and we learn from Matthew 3:7 that it was specially pointed at the Pharisees and Sadducees, to whom it was addressed no less sternly by our Lord (Matthew 23:33 ). It described the venomous hypocrisy which turned religion itself into a vice, and hid a deadly malice under the glittering semblance of a zeal for orthodoxy. But let it be borne in mind that only teachers of transcendent holiness, and immediately inspired by God with fervency and insight, may dare to use such language. The metaphor was one of those desert symbols which would be suggested to St John both by the scene of his preaching and by the language of Isaiah with which he shews special familiarity.
from the wrath to come ] The Jews had been taught by Prophecy that the Advent of their Deliverer should be preceded by a time of anguish which they called “the Woes of the Messiah;” comp. Malachi 3:2 , “Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap.” Id . 4: 1 “Behold I send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord .” Such prophecies received their primary fulfilment at the Destruction of Jerusalem (see Matthew 24:28 ; Mark 13:19 , Mark 13:20 ); and await their final fulfilment hereafter. Revelation 6:16 .
8 . Bring forth ] The verb implies instant effort. “Produce at once .”
begin not to say ] He cuts off even all attempt at self-excuse.
We have Abraham to our father ] Rather, as our father . The Jews had so exalted a conception of this privilege (John 8:39 ) that they could scarcely believe it possible that any son of Abraham should ever be lost. This is seen in many passages of the Talmud, which maintain that a “single Israelite is of more worth in God’s sight than all the nations of the world.” “Thou madest the world for our sakes. As for the other people … Thou hast said … that they are nothing but be like unto spittle, and hast likened the abundance of them unto a drop that falleth from a vessel.… But we Thy people (whom Thou hast called Thy firstborn, Thy only begotten, and Thy fervent lover), &c.” 2 Esdr. 6:56 58. The Prophets had long ago warned them that privileges without duties were no protection (Jeremiah 7:3 , Jeremiah 7:4 ; Micah 3:11 ; Isaiah 48:2 , &c.). Christ taught them that Abraham’s seed had no exclusive offer of salvation (Matthew 8:11 , Matthew 8:12 ), and it was a special part of the mission of St Paul to bring home to them that “they are not all Israel which are of Israel” Romans 9:6 , Romans 9:7 ; Galatians 3:29 , Galatians 6:15 .
of these stones ] He pointed to the rocky boulders, or the flints on the strand of Jordan, around him. He who had made Adam from the clay could make sons of Abraham from those stones (Bengel). St John’s imagery is that of the wilderness, the rock, the serpent, the barren tree.
9 . is laid ] Literally, “ lies .” The notion is that of a woodman touching a tree with the edge of his axe to measure his blow before he lifts his arm for the sweep which fells it.
is hewn down and cast into the fire ] Literally, “ is being hewn down, and being cast .” It is almost impossible to reproduce in English the force of this use of the present. It is called the ‘ praesens futurascens ,’ and is used in cases when the doom has been long uttered, and is, by the evolution of the natural laws of God’s dealings, in course of inevitable accomplishment. But we see from prophetic imagery that even when the tree has been felled and burned “the watchers and holy ones” may still have charge to leave the stump of it in the tender grass of the field that it may grow again, Daniel 4:25 : and we see from the express language of St Paul that the olive tree of Jewish life was not to be cut down and burned for ever (Romans 9:10 .). A barren fig tree was also our Lord’s symbol of the Jewish nation. Luke 13:6 .
10 14. Answer of the Baptist to the Multitude
10 . What shall we do then ?] Rather, What then are we to do ? Compare the question of the multitude to Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37 ) and that of the Philippian jailor (16:30).
11 . He that hath two coats ] St Luke alone preserves for us the details in this interesting section. Beyond the single upper garment ( chiton, cetoneth ), and garment ( himation ) and girdle, no other article of dress was necessary. A second ‘tunic’ or cetoneth was a mere luxury, so long as thousands were too poor to own even one.
let him impart to him that hath none ] St Paul gave similar advice (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 ), and St James (2:15 17), and St John (1 John 3:17 ), because they had learnt this spirit from Christ. A literal fulfilment of it has often been represented by Christian Art in the “Charity of St Martin.”
meat ] Rather, food . The word has now acquired the specific sense of ‘flesh,’ which it never has in our E. V. For instance the “meat-offering” was generally an offering of flour and oil.
We may notice the following particulars respecting the preaching of the Baptist:
(1) It was stern , as was natural to an ascetic whose very aspect and mission were modelled on the example of Elijah. The particulars of his life, and dress, and food the leathern girdle, the mantle of camel’s hair, the living on locusts and wild honey are preserved for us by the other Evangelists, and they gave him that power of mastery over others which always springs from perfect self-control, and absolute self-abnegation. Hence “in his manifestation and agency he was like a burning torch; his whole life was a very earthquake; the whole man was a sermon.”
(2) It was absolutely dauntless . The unlettered Prophet of the Desert has not a particle of respect for the powerful Sadducees and long-robed luxurious Rabbis, and disdains to be flattered by their coming to listen to his teaching. Having nothing to hope from man’s favour, he has nothing to fear from man’s dislike.
(3) It shews remarkable insight into human nature , and into the needs and temptations of every class which came to him, shewing that his ascetic seclusion did not arise from any contempt of, or aversion to, his fellowmen.
(4) It was intensely practical . Not only does it exclude all abstract and theological terms such as ‘justification,’ &c., but it says nothing directly of even faith, or love. In this respect it recalls the Old Testament, and might be summed up in the words of Balaam preserved in the prophet Micah, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8 .
(5) Yet though it still belongs to the dispensation of the shadow it prophesies of the dawn . His first message was “Repent;” his second was “The kingdom of heaven is at hand:” and this message culminated in the words “Behold the Lamb of God,” which shewed that the Olam habba or ‘future age’ had already begun. These two great utterances “contain the two capital revelations to which all the preparation of the Gospel has been tending.” “Law and Prophecy; denunciation of sin and promise of pardon; the flame which consumes and the light which consoles is not this the whole of the covenant?” Lange.
(6) It does not claim the credentials of a single miracle . The glory and greatness of John the Baptist, combined with the fact that not a single wonder is attributed to him, is the strongest argument for the truth of the Gospels against the ‘mythical theory’ of Strauss, who reduces the Gospel miracles to a circle of imaginative legends devised to glorify the Founder of Christianity. At the same time this acknowledged absence of miraculous powers enhances our conception of the enormous moral force which sufficed, without a sign, to stir to its very depths the heart of a sign-demanding age.
(7) It had only a partial and temporary popularity . Rejected by the Pharisees who said that “he had a devil,” the Baptist failed to produce a permanent influence on more than a chosen few (John 5:35 ; Luke 7:30 ; Matthew 11:18 , 21:Matthew 11:23-27 ; Acts 18:25 , Acts 18:19 :3, Acts 18:4 ). After his imprisonment he seems to have fallen into neglect, and he himself felt from the first that his main mission was to prepare the way for another, and to decrease before him. He was “the lamp kindled and shining” (John 5:35 ) which becomes needless and ceases to be noticed when the sun has dawned.
12 . the publicans ] Rather, tax-gatherers (without the article). The word is a corruption of the Latin publicani ‘farmers of the taxes.’ The Roman government did not collect its own taxes, but leased them out to speculators of the equestrian order, who were called publicani , and who made their own profit out of the transaction. These knights appointed subordinates, who from the unpleasant character of the task could only be secured from the lowest of the people. These officials were not only detested as the agents of an odious system, but also for their notorious malpractices. A strict Jew could hardly force himself even to pay taxes, and therefore naturally looked with scorn and hatred on any Jew who could sink so low as to collect them. Hence in our Lord’s time the word “publican” had become proverbial, as expressive of the worst opprobrium (Matthew 18:17 ). The Jews were not however peculiar in their dislike of publicans. The Greeks too regarded the word as a synonym of ‘plunderer,’ and an ‘innocent publican’ was regarded as a marvellous phenomenon (Suet. Vesp . i). Suidas defines the life of a publican as “unrestrained plunder, unblushing greed, unreasonable pettifogging, shameless business.” The relation of the publicans to John is referred to in Matthew 21:32 .
Master ] Rather, Teacher . The word is not Epistata (as in 8:24) but Didaskale . See 7:29.
what shall we do ?] We have the same question, but with the answer which was only possible after the Resurrection, in Acts 2:37 ; Acts 16:30 ; Acts 22:10 .
13 . Exact no more ] This was their habitual sin, and later historians often allude to the immodestia (i. e. the extravagant greed) of the publicans and their cruel exactions (Caes. Bell. Civ. iii. 32). The cheating and meddling for which Zacchaeus promised fourfold restoration (19:8) were universal among them.
14 . the soldiers ] Rather, soldiers on the march . On what expedition these soldiers were engaged it is impossible to say. They cannot have been Roman soldiers, and were certainly not any detachment of the army of Antipas marching against his injured father-in-law Hareth (Aretas), ethnarch of Arabia, for their quarrel was long subsequent to this.
demanded of him ] Rather, asked him . The imperfect tense however (as before in vs. 10) implies that such questions were put to him by bodies of soldiers in succession.
Do violence to no man ] Rather, Extort money by threats from no one . Diaseio , like the Latin concutio , is a technical word. It implies robbery and violence.
accuse any falsely ] Rather, cheat by false accusation . The Greek implies pettifogging charges on trivial grounds, and is the word from which sycophant is derived. The temptation of soldiers, strong in their solidarity, was to terrify the poor by violence, and undermine the rich by acting as informers. The best comment on the Baptist’s advice to them is the xvi th Satire of Juvenal, which is aimed at their brutality and threats.
be content with your wages ] Rather, pay . This is a late meaning of the word opsonia (Romans 6:23 ), which means in the first instance ‘boiled fish eaten as a relish with meat.’ It is remarkable that the Baptist does not bid even soldiers to abandon their profession, but to serve God in it. This is important as shewing that he did not hold up the life of the hermit or the ascetic as a model or ideal for all. He evidently held, like the good St Hugo of Avalon, that “God meant us to be good men, not monks and hermits.” Josephus, when ( Antt. xviii. v. 2) he sums up the teaching of the Baptist by saying that “he commanded the Jews to practise virtue both in righteousness to one another and piety to God,” rightly estimates the practical , but omits the prophetic side of his teaching.
15 20. The Messianic Announcement. Imprisonment of John
15 . were in expectation ] The Messianic expectations of the day had even reached the Gentiles, many of whom even at Rome and in high society were proselytes, or half proselytes, to Judaism.
mused ] Rather, reasoned .
whether he were the Christ ] Rather, whether haply he were himself the Christ .
16 . John answered ] The answer, as we find from John 1:19-28 , was given in its most definite form to a Pharisaic deputation of Priests and Levites, who were despatched by the Sanhedrin expressly to ask him to define his claims.
one mightier ] Rather, the stronger than I .
the latchet ] i. e. the thong. The word, now obsolete in this sense, is from the same root perhaps as the Latin laqueus (Ital. laccio , Portug. lazzo , old French lacs , Fr. lacet , Engl. lace ).
shoes ] Rather, sandals .
to unloose ] In Matthew 3:11 it is ‘to carry his sandals;’ i. e. I am not adequate to be his humblest slave.
baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire ] Rather, in the Holy Ghost and fire . The preposition en distinguishes between the mere instrumentality of the water, and the spiritual element whereby and wherein the child of the kingdom is baptized. This baptism by the Spirit had been foretold in Isaiah 44:3 ; Joel 2:28 . Its first obvious fulfilment was at Pentecost (Acts 1:5 , Acts 2:3 ) and subsequent outpourings after baptism (Acts 11:15 , Acts 11:16 ). But it is fulfilled without visible supernatural signs to all Christians (1 Corinthians 6:11 ; “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,” 1 Corinthians 12:13 ).
and with fire ] In its first and most literal sense the allusion is to the fiery tongues of Pentecost (Acts 2:3 ); but the secondary and metaphoric allusion is to the burning zeal and illuminating light of the Spirit. St Jerome sees a further allusion to fiery trials (12:49; Mark 9:49 ; 1 Peter 4:12 ) and to the fire of judgment (1 Corinthians 3:13 ); but these allusions cannot be regarded as certain.
17 . fan ] Rather, winnowing-fan . The Latin vannus , a great shovel with which corn was thrown up against the wind to separate it from the chaff.
his floor ] Rather, threshing-floor . The word is the same as that from which our halo is derived, since the threshing-floors of the ancients were circular.
the chaff ] The word includes straw and stubble. We find similar metaphors in Psalms 1:4 , “the ungodly … are like the chaff;” Malachi 4:1 , “all that do wickedly shall be stubble;” Jeremiah 15:7 , “I will fan them with a fan in the gates of the land.” So far as the allusion is to the separation of good from evil elements in the Church we find similar passages in Matthew 13:30 ; 1 John 2:19 , &c. But it may refer also to the destruction of the evil elements in a mixed character , as in 22:31, “Simon … Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat .”
into his garner ] Comp. Matthew 13:30 , “gather the wheat into my barn.”
burn ] Rather, burn up .
18 . many other things ] Of which some are recorded by St John alone (1:29, 34, 3:27 36).
preached he ] εὐηγγελίζετο , literally, “ he was preaching the Good Tidings .”
19 . But Herod the tetrarch ] The incident which follows is here introduced by anticipation, that the subsequent narrative may not be disturbed. It should be compared with the fuller notice in Mark 6:17-20 ; Matthew 14:3-5 . From these passages we learn that John had reproved Antipas for many crimes, and that Antipas was so convinced of his holiness and justice as habitually to listen to him with pleasure ( ἡδέως αὐτοῦ ἤκουεν ), and after paying earnest heed to him was greatly at a loss about him. We learn further that he resisted the constant urgency of Herodias to put him to death.
being reproved ] The reproof was of course based on Leviticus 18:16 , Leviticus 20:21 , and was perfectly uncompromising (Matthew 14:4 ). In this respect the dauntless courage of John, under circumstances of far greater peril, contrasts most favourably with the timid and disgraceful concessions of the Reformers in the matter of the marriage of Philip of Hesse.
his brother Philip’s ] The two first words are omitted by some of the best uncials, and “Philip’s” by nearly all of them. On this Herod Philip who was not the tetrarch of that name see on 3:1.
20 . added yet this above all ] The Jews as well as St Luke regarded the treatment of the Baptist by Antipas as the worst of his crimes, and the cause of his subsequent defeat and disgrace (Jos. Antt. xviii. 5.1 4).
in prison ] This prison, as we learn from Josephus ( Antt. xviii. 5, § 2), was the stern and gloomy fortress of Makor or Machaerus, on the borders of Arabia to the north of the Dead Sea. It is situated among black basaltic rocks and was believed to be haunted by evil demons. Its ruins have been visited in recent years by Canon Tristram ( Land of Moab , p. 259) and other travellers, and dungeons are still visible of which one may have witnessed the great Prophet’s tragic end.
21 38. The Baptism of Jesus. The Genealogy
21 . Now when all the people were baptized ] The expression (which is peculiar to St Luke) seems to imply that on this day Jesus was baptized last ; and from the absence of any allusion to the multitude in this and the other narratives we are almost forced to conjecture that His baptism was in a measure private. St Luke’s narrative must be supplemented by particulars derived from St Matthew (3:13 17), who alone narrates the unwillingness of the Baptist, and the memorable conversation between him and Jesus; and St Mark (1:9 11) mentions that Jesus went into the river, and that it was He who first saw the cleaving heavens, and the Spirit descending.
Jesus also being baptized ] Our Lord Himself, in reply to the objection of the Baptist, stated it as a reason for His Baptism that “thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness;” i. e. that it was His will to observe all the requirements of the Mosaic law, which He came “not to destroy but to fulfil.” Other reasons have also been suggested, as (i) that He baptized (as it were) the water “to sanctify water to the mystical washing away of sin” (Ignat. ad Eph. 18; Maxim. Serm. 7, de Epiphan. ; Ps.-Aug. Serm. 135. 4); or (ii) that He was baptized as it were vicariously , as Head of His body, the Church (Just. Mart. c. Tryph. 88); or (iii) as a consecration of Himself to His work, followed by the special consecration from the Father; or (iv) as a great act of humility (St Bernard, Serm. 47, in Cant. ). See my Life of Christ , i. 117 n.
and praying ] This deeply interesting touch is peculiar to St Luke, who similarly on eight other occasions calls attention to the Prayers of Jesus after severe labours (5:16); before the choosing of the Apostles (6:12); before Peter’s great Confession (9:18); at His transfiguration (9:28, 29); for Peter (22:32); in Gethsemane (22:41); for His murderers (23:34); and at the moment of death (23:46). He also represents the duty and blessing of urgent prayer in two peculiar parables the Importunate Friend (11:5 13) and the Unjust Judge (18:2). See Introd. p. 24.
22 . in a bodily shape ] This addition is peculiar to St Luke, and is probably added to shew the distinctness and reality of what Theodoret calls the ‘spiritual vision’ ( πνευματικὴ θεωρία ).
like a dove ] The expression ὡς or ὡσεὶ used by each of the Evangelists, and St John’s “and it abode upon Him” (John 1:32 ), sufficiently prove that no actual dove is intended. The Holy Spirit is symbolised by a dove from early times. The Talmudic comment on Genesis 1:2 is that “the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters like a dove ”
“And with mighty wings outspread
Dovelike sat’st brooding on the vast abyss.”
Milton ( Par. Lost , i. 20).
Comp. 2 Esdr. 5:26, “of all the fowls that are created thou hast named thee one dove.” Matthew 10:16 . A mystical reason was assigned for this in some fathers, because the numerical value of the letters of the Greek word peristera , ‘a dove,’ amounts to 801, which is also the value of Alpha Omega. We are probably intended to understand a dovelike, hovering, lambent flame descending on the head of Jesus; and this may account for the unanimous early legend that a fire or light was kindled in Jordan (Just. Mart. c. Tryph. 88, and the Apocryphal Gospels).
a voice came from heaven, which said ] Rather, out of heaven . The last words should be omitted with the best MSS. This Bath Kôl or Voice from heaven also occurred at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5 ) and in the closing week of Christ’s life (John 12:28-30 ). This is one of the passages which so distinctly imply the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.
I am well pleased ] Rather, I was well pleased .
23 . began to be about thirty years of age ] Rather, was about thirty years of age on beginning ( His work ). So it was understood by Tyndale, but the E. V. followed Cranmer, and the Geneva. The translation of our E.V. is, however, ungrammatical, and a strange expression to which no parallel can be adduced. The word archomenos , standing absolutely for ‘when he began his ministry,’ is explained by the extreme prominency of this beginning in the thought of St Luke (see Acts 1:1 , Acts 1:22 ), and his desire to fix it with accuracy. The age of 30 was that at which a Levite might enter on his full services (Numbers 4:3 , Numbers 4:47 ), and the age at which Joseph had stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46 ), and at which David had begun to reign (2 Samuel 5:4 ), and at which scribes were allowed to teach.
as was supposed ] “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Matthew 13:55 ; John 6:42 .
On the genealogy which follows, and its relations to that in the Gospel of St Matthew, many volumes have been written, but in the Excursus I have endeavoured to condense all that is most important on the subject, and to give those conclusions which are now being accepted by the most careful scholars. See Excursus II., The genealogies of Jesus in St Matthew and St Luke.
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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29