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Saturday, December 2nd, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 11

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) As he was praying in a certain place.—The facts of the case as here narrated, the common practice of the Jews, and the analogy of the prayers in John 11:41, Matthew 26:39, and, we may add, of the thanksgiving in Luke 10:21, Matthew 11:25, all lead to the conclusion that our Lord prayed aloud, and that some, at least, of the disciples heard Him. They listened, unable to follow, or to record what they had heard, and they wished to be able to enter into His spirit and pray as He prayed.

Teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.—It seems, at first sight, to follow from this that the disciple who asked this had not been present when the Sermon on the Mount was spoken. It is conceivable, however, that, knowing the pattern prayer which had then been given, he had thought it adapted for the multitude, and not for the special scholars and disciples—too short and simple as compared, on the one hand, with the devotions which John had prescribed to his disciples, as he prescribed also fasting and alms-giving (Matthew 9:14; Luke 3:11), and with the fuller utterances, as of rapt communion with God, of his Master. The prayers of John’s disciples were probably, like those of the Pharisees, offered three times a day, at the third, the sixth, and the ninth hours, and after the pattern of the well-known “Eighteen Prayers,” which made up the Jewish manual of private devotion.

Verse 2

(2) When ye pray, say, . . .—The reproduction, with only a verbal variation here and there, which may well have been the work of the reporter, of what had been given in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-11), is every way significant. That which had been given to the multitude was enough for them. If they wanted to be taught to pray at all, if earnest desires did not spontaneously clothe themselves in words, then this simplest and shortest of all prayers expressed all that they should seek to ask. To utter each of those petitions from the heart, entering into its depth and fulness, was better than to indulge in any amplitude of rhetoric.

Verses 2-4

(2-4) Our Father which art in heaven.—See Notes on Matthew 6:9-11. The following variations may be noticed. (1) The better MSS. omit “our” and “which art in heaven,” and begin with the simple “Father.” It was, of course, natural enough that it should be, in course of time, adapted by transcribers to the form which was in common use. (2) Many of the best MSS., again, omit the whole clause, “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth,” which may have been inserted with the same purpose. (3) St. Luke substitutes “day by day” for “this day,” and so implies that the word ἐπιούσιος (epiousios), translated “daily,” must have some other meaning. (See Excursus II. on Notes to St. Matthew.) (4) St. Luke uses the word “sins” instead of “debts,” as being, perhaps, more adapted to the minds of his Gentile readers, while he retains the primary idea of St. Matthew’s term in the words, “every one that is indebted to us.” The familiar “Forgive us our trespasses,” of the Prayer Book, it may be noted, is not found in the Authorised version at all, and comes to us from Tyndale’s. (5) Many of the better MSS. omit the clause, “But deliver us from evil,” this too, probably, being an addition made for the sake of conformity. (6) St. Luke (all the MSS. here agreeing) omits the final doxology found in some, but not in the best, MSS. of St. Matthew.

Verse 5

(5) Which of you shall have a friend . . .?—The illustration, we can hardly call it a parable, is peculiar to St. Luke, and, as setting forth the power of prayer, is specially characteristic of him. (See Introduction.) The familiar tone, as of one appealing to each man’s natural good-will, and the dramatic vividness of the dialogue, make it almost unique in our Lord’s teaching. “Midnight” is chosen as being the time at which, above all others, men expect to be left to their repose. The unexpected visitor asks for “three loaves,” one for himself, one for the guest, one as a reserve; and he so far trusts his friend as to hope that he will recognise the claims of his friendship for another. So, the implied lesson is, should the man who prays think that God will care for those for whom he pleads, and will give them also their “daily bread” in both the higher and the lower senses of the word.

Verse 7

(7) Trouble me not.—As afterwards in the parable of the Unjust Judge, so here, the illustrative matter cannot be pressed into an interpretation. It seems, indeed, to have been purposely so stated that it could only suggest an à fortiori argument. Thus man might answer, but so does not God. If prayer prevails over apathy and impatience, how much more will it prevail when we pray to One who knows our necessities before we ask Him? The picture drawn is obviously from a poor man’s house, children and parents sleeping in the same room, the younger children (the Greek word is a diminutive) in the same bed. The word here, however, differs from the other two commonly translated “bed” (e.g., Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:4; Mark 2:9), and probably means the divan or raised platform, which often filled nearly half a room in a Jewish or Eastern house.

Verse 8

(8) Because of his importunity.—Literally, because of his shamelessness. The word is not used elsewhere in the New Testament, and exactly expresses the pertinacity that knows no restraint.

Verses 9-13

(9-13) Ask, and it shall be given you.—See Notes on Matthew 7:7-11; but note (1) the greater impressiveness of the opening words, “And I say unto you, . . . “as connected with the previous illustration; and (2) the addition of the “scorpion” to the “serpent,” as though the recent combination of the two words in Luke 10:19 had so associated them that the one was naturally followed by the other.

Verse 13

(13) How much more shall your heavenly Father . . .?—We note a change here also, the one highest gift of the “Holy Spirit” taking the place of the wider and less definite “good things” in Matthew 7:11. The variation is significant, as belonging to a later stage of our Lord’s teaching, and especially as spoken probably to some of the Seventy, who were thus taught to ask boldly for the Spirit which was to make them in very deed a company of prophets. (See Note on Luke 10:1.)

Verses 14-15

(14, 15) He was casting out a devil.—See Notes on Matthew 9:32-34.

Verses 17-23

(17-23) But he, knowing their thoughts.—St. Luke seems here to bring together into one narrative two incidents which in St. Matt. (Matthew 9:32; Matthew 12:22) appear as separated. The points of resemblance, the dumbness in both cases, both followed by the whisper that Jesus cast out devils by Beelzebub, may have easily led one who collected the facts some years after they occurred to regard the two as identical. On the general tenor of the passage, see Notes on Matthew 12:24-30.

Verse 20

(20) If I with the finger of God . . .—Note the substitution of this language for “by the Spirit of God,” in Matthew 12:28, and its connection with the use by the older prophets of “the hand of the Lord,” to indicate the state which issued in prophetic inspiration (Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 37:1), and with “the finger of God” as writing the Commandments on the tables of stone (Exodus 31:18), and Pharaoh’s confession that “the finger of God” was with Moses and Aaron in the wonders which they wrought (Exodus 8:19). The meaning of this boldly anthropomorphic language is sufficiently obvious. As the “hand” denotes power generally, so the “finger” symbolises power in its concentrated and specially-directed energy.

Verses 21-23

(21-23) When a strong man armed keepeth his palace.—See Notes on Matthew 12:29-30. The only noticeable variations are the use of “palace” for “house;” of the strong man being “armed;” of the “armour” or “panoply” (the same word as in Ephesians 6:13) in which he trusted; of the “division of the spoils.” It is throughout a fuller and more vivid report, but apparently of the same sayings.

Verses 24-26

(24-26) When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man.—See Notes on Matthew 12:43-45. Here the only variations are (1) the omission of the house being “empty,” and (2) of the application of the parable to “this wicked generation.”

Verse 27

(27) A certain woman of the company.—The incident is peculiar to St. Luke, and, like many other of the facts recorded by him, seems to have been derived from the company of devout women (Luke 8:1; see Introduction) with whom he came into contact. It is interesting as being the first direct fulfilment of the words of the Magnificat, “All generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48), and as showing how the Son of Mary in this instance, as in Matthew 12:46-50, extended the beatitude. There is at once a singular agreement in the manner in which each incident, embodying substantially the same lesson, follows on the parable of the Unclean Spirit, and a singular difference in the forms which the incident takes in the two narratives. A possible solution of the problem thus presented may be found in supposing the exclamation which St. Luke records to have been uttered by one of the women who was present when, as St. Matthew relates (Matthew 12:47), one said unto Him, “Behold Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without . . .”

Verse 28

(28) Blessed are they that hear the word of God.—The term thus used clearly designates here the message of the Kingdom spoken by our Lord Himself, as in the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:20). In its wider application, it of course includes, though it must not be confined to it, the record of that spoken Word, or of subsequent revelations of the Truth in what we know as Scripture.

Verses 29-32

(29-32) This is an evil generation: they seek a sign.—See Notes on Matthew 12:38-42. The words here spoken are clearly an answer to the demand for a sign in Luke 11:16. In St. Matthew the demand and the answer appear in close sequence.

The variations in St. Luke are (1) the omission of the explanation of the manner in which the sign of the prophet Jonah was to be fulfilled by the three days and three nights in the heart of the earth; (2) the position of the reference to the queen of the south, as coming between the sign of Jonah and the rising of the men of Nineveh. In other respects the agreement is more than usually complete.

Verses 33-34

(33, 34) No man, when he hath lighted a candle, . . .—See Note on Matthew 5:15. Here also it seems, on the whole, more probable that we have a portion of our Lord’s previous teaching repeated by Him in almost identical terms, than that a fragment of that teaching has either been torn from its proper context by St. Luke, or artificially woven into a discourse to which it did not belong by St. Matthew. Better, as in St. Matthew, lighted a lamp . . . under the bushel. . . on the lampstand.

Verse 34

(34) The light of the body is the eye.—See Note on Matthew 6:22. In some respects the sequence of thought in St. Luke differs from that in St. Matthew, and seems somewhat closer. In the Sermon on the Mount, the company of Christ’s disciples are the light, and each of them is as the lamp on its proper stand, and the teaching as to the “light of the body,” and the corresponding “‘eye” of the soul, is separated from that illustration by our Lord’s comment on the corrupt traditional interpretations of the scribes. Here the two thoughts are brought into close proximity. The moral sense, the “vision and the faculty divine” that has its intuitions of eternal truths, this is the light which is so set that those who “are entering in” (this feature, as in Luke 8:16, is peculiar to St. Luke)—the seekers and inquirers who are drawn to look in, as it were, upon the house of Christ’s Church, the “unlearned” or “unbelievers” of 1 Corinthians 14:23—may see the light and turn to it.

Verse 35

(35) Take heed therefore that the light . . .—Better, See to it whether the light that is in thee be darkness. This takes the place in St. Luke’s report of St. Matthew’s (Luke 6:23) “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” The warning is one which calls men to self-scrutiny. They need to examine their primary beliefs, their very intuitions of right and wrong, lest all they do should be vitiated at its very source. The call to do this implies that they must have a Light by which to judge their light, a Standard by which to test their standard, and that Light and Standard are found in the teaching of the Light that lighteth every man, in the recorded words and acts of the Son of Man.

Verse 36

(36) If thy whole body therefore be full of light.—The statement reads at first like an identical proposition. “If thy whole body be full of light, it shall be full of light all over.” The apparent truism is, however, the most expressive utterance of a truth. If the “whole body”—life in all its various manifestations—is illumined by the divine light; if the character is in its measure perfect, as that of the Father is perfect, who is Light, and in whom is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5); if passion, prejudice, ignorance are no longer there—then that character is . . .” We expect to hear something else as a climax of praise, but there is no higher word possible; the whole character is “full of light,” illumined, flooded by the eternal Light.

Verse 37

(37) A certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him.—On the act, and the feeling which it implied, see Note on Luke 7:36. The word translated “dine” implies a morning or noon-tide meal, as distinct from the supper of the evening.

Verse 38

(38) He marvelled that he had not first washed.—See Notes on Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:3. Here the word “washed” (literally, though of course not in the technical sense, baptized) implies actual immersion, or, at least, a process that took in the whole body. Mark 7:4 shows that this was the Pharisaic standard of ceremonial purity.

Verse 39

(39) Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup.—See Note on Matthew 23:25. The verses that follow stand in the relation to the great discourse against the Pharisees in that chapter, as the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:0) does to the Sermon on the Mount. Here, too, we recognise another instance, not of a narrative misplaced, but of words actually repeated. All past experiences, all faults previously noted, were gathered at last into one great and terrible invective. We note, as an instance of independence, St. Luke’s use of a different Greek word for “platter,” viz., that which is elsewhere (Matthew 14:8; Matthew 14:11) better translated charger, the large central dish, as distinguished from the smaller “platter” or side-dish. For the “excess” of St. Matthew, St. Luke has the more generic “wickedness.” From one point of view the words are more startling here than in their context in St. Matthew. There they are spoken as in open conflict with a class, here they are addressed to an individual member of the class, and by One whom he had invited as a guest. It must be remembered, however, that there was a touch of supercilious scorn in all these invitations, still more, perhaps, in the looks and whispers in which the wonder in this instance showed itself; and the words point to secret sins which the Searcher of hearts knew, and which it was necessary to reprove.

Verse 40

(40) Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without . .?—The question is peculiar to St. Luke, and implies a latent parabolic application of the previous words. Outward, positive ceremonial law, ordering the cleansing of the outside of the cup and of the platter, the eternal moral law requiring truth in the inward parts,—these had, to say the least, the same Maker, and one was not to be neglected for the other.

Verse 41

(41) But rather give alms of such things as ye have.—This, too, is peculiar to St. Luke. In the underlying principle of its teaching it sweeps away the whole fabric of the law of ceremonial purity, as the words of St. Matthew 15:10-20 had, on different grounds, done before. The distinction between the two phases of the truth is that here greater stress is laid on the active purifying power of the love of which alms, if not given for the sake of man’s praise, is the natural expression. That which defiles is selfishness; that which purifies is the unselfishness of love.

Verse 42

(42) Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint.—See Note on Matthew 23:23. Here, again, we note minor variations—“rue and all manner of herbs,” for St. Matthew’s “anise and cummin;” “judgment and the love of God,” for “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith”—sufficient to show independence.

Verse 43

(43) Ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues.—See Notes on Matthew 23:6-7.

Verse 44

(44) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!—The better MSS. give simply, Woe unto you, Pharisees, (See Note on Matthew 23:27.)

Ye are as graves which appear not.—The comparison, though drawn from the same object, presents a different phase of it. In St. Matthew the contrast is between the whitened surface and the decaying bones within. Here the whitewash is worn out, and there is nothing to distinguish the graves, and men walk over them without knowing what lies below the surface.

Verse 45

(45) Then answered one of the lawyers.—See Note on Matthew 22:35 for the term “lawyer.” We note here the sense at once of distinctness and of class fellowship. Though something more than a scribe, he feels that he stands or falls with them.

Verse 46

(46) Ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne.—See Note on Matthew 23:4.

Verse 47

(47) Ye build the sepulchres of the prophets.—See Note on Matthew 23:29. St. Luke omits the reference, which we find in St. Matthew, to the “sepulchres of the righteous.”

Verse 48

(48) Truly ye bear witness that ye allow.—The better MSS. give, Truly are ye witnesses, and ye allow. The word “allow” has, as always in the English Bible, the meaning of “approving of,” “consenting to,” “having pleasure in.” The last phrase is the rendering of the same Greek word in Romans 1:32, and would express the meaning here. The derivation of “allow” from the French allouer and the Latin adlaudare, shows this to be the true sense. On the rest of the verse, see Note on Matthew 23:31.

Verses 49-51

(49-51) Therefore also said the wisdom of God.—The words that follow are in the main the same as those of Matthew 23:34-36, where see Notes. There are, however, some remarkable variations, each of which suggests some questions of interest. (1) The words here appear at first sight as if they were a quotation from a book recognised as of divine authority, and not a few critics have supposed that there was such a book, bearing the title of “The Wisdom of God,” either when our Lord spoke, or when St. Luke wrote. On the other hand there is no trace of the existence of a book with that name; and if it had been prominent enough to be quoted, as it seems to be quoted here, it could scarcely have failed to have left its impress elsewhere. On the whole, then, it seems best to look on the words as a solemn utterance which our Lord’s human soul had received as an oracle from God, and which was therefore proclaimed by Him as coming from His Wisdom. His words that “Wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:19), present, it is obvious, another example of the same way of speaking of the divine purpose. (2) For “the prophets, and wise men, and scribes” of St. Matthew, we have here “prophets and apostles.” The combination points to a Christian, not a pre-Christian, terminology, and is the first example of the union of the two terms that afterwards became normal. (See Note on Luke 10:1.) It goes some way, it may be remarked, to confirm the view suggested in that Note, that two distinct bodies, known respectively as “Prophets” and “Apostles,” had already been appointed, and that as the Twelve answered to the latter, so did the Seventy to the former.

Some of them shall they slay and persecute.—Note, as perhaps characteristic of St. Luke, the absence of the specific forms of persecution, “crucifying” and “scourging in the synagogues.”

Verse 50

(50) The blood of all the prophets.—Here again we note a variation from “all the righteous blood” of Matthew 23:35.

Verse 51

(51) From the blood of Abel. . . .—See Note on Matthew 23:35. We note the absence here of the description “Zacharias, son of Barachias,” which causes so much perplexity in St. Matthew’s report. So far as it goes, the omission favours the view that the additional words were inserted by the reporter of our Lord’s discourse there, or by some early transcriber.

Verse 52

(52) Woe unto you, lawyers!—The “woe” in this case is uttered against those who were, by their very calling, the professed interpreters of the Law. Its form rests on the fact that each scribe or “doctor of the law,” in the full sense of the term, was symbolically admitted to his office by the delivery of a key. His work was to enter with that key into the treasure-chambers of the house of the interpreter, and to bring forth thence “things new and old” (Matthew 13:52). The sin of the “lawyers” of that time, the “divines” as we should call them, was that they claimed a monopoly of the power to interpret, and yet did not exercise the power. Wearisome minuteness, a dishonest and demoralising casuistry, fantastic legends, these took the place of a free and reverential study of the meaning of the sacred Books. Those who “were entering in,” answer to the souls not far from the kingdom of God, waiting for the consolation of Israel, pressing as with eagerness to the spiritual meaning of Law and Prophet. Such, at one stage of his life, must have been the Evangelist himself. This, it will be noted, is the third occurrence of the word in St. Luke’s Gospel. (See Notes on Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33.) It is obvious that the passage, as a whole, throws light on the promise of the “keys” of the kingdom made to Peter. (See Note on Matthew 16:19.)

Verse 53

(53) And as he said these things unto them.—The better MSS. give, “When He had gone forth from thence . . . ,” as though Jesus had left the house after uttering the “woe” of Luke 11:52, and was followed by the crowd of angry and embittered disputants.

To provoke him to speak.—The Greek verb has literally the sense of “causing to speak impromptu, without thought,” and is happily enough rendered by the English text.

Verse 54

(54) Laying wait for him.—The better MSS. give the verse in a somewhat simpler form, laying wait to catch something out of His mouth. The words throw light on the subsequent question about paying tribute to Cæsar (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17), and show it to have been the acting out of a pre-concerted policy.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 11". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/luke-11.html. 1905.
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