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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 12

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) In the mean time.—More literally, When the myriads of the multitude were gathered together. The words must be taken in immediate sequence with the close of the previous chapter. The dispute that had begun in the Pharisee’s house, and had been carried on by the lawyers and scribes as they followed Jesus from it, attracted notice. As on the occasion of the “unwashed hands” (Matthew 15:10), He appeals from the scribes to the people, or rather to His own disciples, scattered among the people. The scene may be compared, in the vividness of its description, with the picture of the crowd at Capernaum (Mark 2:1-2).

Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees.—This again was obviously an expression that had become almost proverbial in our Lord’s lips (Matthew 16:6). Here, however, the leaven is more definitely specified as “hypocrisy”—i.e., unreality, the simulation, conscious or unconscious, of a holiness which we do not possess. It does not follow that the Pharisees were deliberate impostors of the Tartuffe type. With them, as with other forms of religionism, it was doubtless true that the worst hypocrisy was that which did not know itself to be hypocritical. (See Note on Matthew 6:2.)

Verse 2

(2) For there is nothing covered.—More accurately, but there is nothing . . . The Greek conjunction cannot possibly have the meaning of “for,” and the latter word suggests a logical connection which is different from that of the original. What our Lord seems to say is, “Beware ye of . . . hypocrisy . . .; but, whether ye beware or not, know that all that is now secret will one day be manifested.” On the verse itself, see Note on Matthew 11:25. The connection in the two passages is, however, very different. There the underlying thought of a future day of revelation (see 1 Corinthians 4:5) is made a motive to courage in proclaiming truths that had been received in secret; here as a motive to caution, lest we should be trusting in the counterfeits of truth and holiness. The force of the two Greek words would, perhaps, be better expressed by, There is nothing veiled that shall not be unveiled.

Verse 3

(3) Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness.—See Note on Matthew 10:27. There is, it will be noted, a difference of the same character as in the last verse. As recorded in St. Matthew, it is “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light.” The disciples were warned of their responsibility and duty as hearers, bound to teach publicly what had been heard in secret. Here they are told of their responsibility as teachers. Every word, however secret, spoken in darkness, in the closet or cabinet, which was the symbol of secresy (see Note on Matthew 6:6); every whisper of false security or groundless fear, spoken in the ear of sinner or of penitent, would one day be made manifest, as in the presence of men and angels.

Verses 4-9

(4-9) I say unto you my friends.—See Notes on Matthew 10:28-32. The opening words, however, in their tender sympathy, anticipating the language of John 15:14-15, may be noted as peculiar to St. Luke.

Verse 6

(6) Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings?—The variation from St. Matthew’s “two sparrows sold for a farthing,” seems to reproduce the very bargains of the market-place. The sparrow was of so little value that the odd bird was thrown in to tempt the purchasers. Both this difference, and that between “not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father,” in St. Matthew, and “not one of them is forgotten before God,” in St. Luke, are proofs, again, of the independence of the two Gospels.

Verse 8

(8) Also I say unto you.—Again we note another like variation between St. Matthew’s “before My Father which is in Heaven,” and St. Luke’s “before the angels of God.”

Verse 10

(10) And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man.—See Note on Matthew 12:32. Here the words which had first been uttered in connection with the special charge of “casting out devils by Beelzebub,” seem to be repeated in their more general bearing.

Verse 11

(11) And when they bring you unto the synagogues.—See Note on Matthew 10:18-19. What had been a special promise to the Twelve is now extended to all whom the Lord calls His friends. Note, as characteristic of St. Luke’s phraseology, the combination “magistrates” (better, principalities, or authorities) and “powers,” the same combination of the two words meeting us again in Luke 20:20, and 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 3:10; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:15; Titus 3:1. It would seem to be one of the many phrases which had passed from the Evangelist to the Apostle, or conversely.

Verse 13

(13) And one of the company.—Better, one of the multitude. The request implied a recognition of our Lord’s character as a scribe or Rabbi, but it was for the purpose of asking Him to assume that office in its purely secular aspect. As interpreters of the Law, the scribes were appealed to as advocates and arbitrators in questions of property or marriage. The precise nature of the case is not stated here, but the words of the petitioner suggest that he was a younger son, who, on his father’s death, claimed from his elder brother more than the share which, according to the usual practice of a double portion for the first-born (2 Kings 2:9), of right belonged to him, and expected apparently a full moiety.

Verse 14

(14) Man, who made me a judge . . .?—This is the only instance of our Lord’s so addressing one who had come to Him as a questioner. As in Romans 2:1; Romans 2:3, the form, “O man,” was one which expressed grave censure and indignation. Was it for this that men came to Him instead of seeking for the kingdom of God? He accordingly distinctly repudiates any but the purely spiritual aspect of a scribe’s work, and will neither act publicly as judge nor privately as arbitrator. (Comp. John 8:11.)

Verse 15

(15) Take heed, and beware of covetousness.—The better MSS. give, “of all (i.e., every form of) -covetousness.” Our Lord’s words show that He had read the secret of the man’s heart. Greed was there, with all its subtle temptations, leading the man to think that “life” was not worth living unless he had a superfluity of goods. The general truth is illustrated by a parable, obviously selected by St. Luke, as specially enforcing the truth which he held to be of primary importance. (See Introduction.)

Verse 17

(17) And he thought within himself.—The parable, like that of the Good Samaritan, is more than a similitude, and reads like an actual history. There is an almost dramatic vividness in the rich man’s soliloquy. It was the very “superfluity” of the man’s goods that became a new cause of anxiety. In such a case half was more than the whole. So far as life depended on property, it would have been better had the property been less.

Verse 18

(18) I will pull down my barns.—The Greek noun (apothekè, whence our “apothecary,”) has a somewhat wider meaning, and includes storehouses or warehouses of all kinds.

All my fruits.—Here, too, the Greek word is somewhat wider. Literally, producei.e., crops of every kind.

Verse 19

(19) Eat, drink, and be merry.—The words remind us of St. Paul’s “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32), and may possibly have suggested them. There is, however, a suggestive difference in the context. Extremes meet, and the life of self-indulgence may spring either from an undue expectation of a lengthened life, or from unduly dwelling on the fact of its shortness, without taking into account the judgment that comes after it. The latter, as in the “carpe diem” of Horace (Odes, i. 11, 8), was the current language of popular Epicureanism; the former seems to have been more characteristic of a corrupt Judaism. (Comp. James 4:13.) In acting on it the Jew with his far outlook, as he dreamt, into the future, was sinking to the level of the dissolute heathen, who was content to live in and for the present only.

Verse 20

(20) But God said unto him.—The bold anthropomorphic language seems intended to suggest the thought not only that death came suddenly, but that the man felt that it came from God as the chastisement of his folly.

Thy soul shall be required.—Literally, they require thy soul of thee. The idiom, as in Luke 12:48, and Luke 14:35, is impersonal, and does not require us to supply any definite nominative. We may compare “that when ye fail, they may receive you . . .” (Luke 16:9) as a possibly analogous instance; but see Note there.

Then whose shall those things be?—The words indicate one of the disturbing thoughts that vex the souls of the wealthy, “He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Psalms 39:6).

Verse 21

(21) So is he that layeth up treasure for himself.—See Note on Matthew 6:19. To be “rich towards God” finds its explanation in the language, probably suggested by it, which bids us to be “rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18).

Verse 22

(22) And he said unto his disciples.—The previous words had been spoken generally to all who needed their warning against greed. What follows is addressed to those who had already been called to the consciousness of a higher life.

Take no thought for your life.—Another reproduction, in a distinct context, and as drawn forth by a special occasion, of the general teaching of Matthew 6:25.

Verses 24-25

(24, 25) Consider the ravens.—See Notes on Matthew 6:26-27. Here, however, we have the more specific “ravens” instead of the wider “fowls of the air,” as another example of independence. The choice of the special illustration was possibly determined by the language of the Psalmist, “He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry” (Psalms 147:9).

Verse 26

(26) If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least.—The words are peculiar to St. Luke’s report. If no amount of anxious care can add one cubit to our stature or the measure of our days (see Notes on Matthew 6:27), how much less can we control all the myriad contingencies upon which the happiness of the future may depend!

Verses 27-31

(27-31) Consider the lilies how they grow.—See Notes on Matthew 6:28-33. There are, however, some noticeable variations, as (1) in Luke 12:27, in the better MSS., they spin not, they weave not; (2) the use in Luke 12:29 of a new verb, “Neither be ye of doubtful mind.” The word is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, and is so far characteristic of St. Luke’s special culture. But its etymology and its classical use make it equivalent to “Be not tossed to and fro like a ship out on the open sea;” and so taken, it presents a parallel to St. James’s description of the “man that wavereth,” as “like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6).

Verse 32

(32) Fear not, little flock.—The words continue to be spoken to the inner circle of the disciples. They are “the little flock” (the Greek has the article) to whom the Father was pleased to give the kingdom which is “righteousness and peace and joy.” There is an implied recognition of the fact, that the “flock” had passed beyond the stage of seeking for the kingdom. In its essence it was theirs already.

It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.—Literally, Your Father was well-pleased to give. As resting upon an object, the Greek verb appears in Luke 3:22; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 12:18; Matthew 17:5; Mark 1:11. As followed by a verb of action, it is used, in the New Testament, only by St. Luke and St. Paul, and so forms another link in the chain of coincidences connecting them. (Comp. Romans 15:26; Galatians 1:15; Colossians 1:19, and elsewhere.)

Verse 33

(33) Sell that ye have.—In its generalised form the precept is peculiar to St. Luke, but it has its parallel in the command given to the young ruler. (See Note on Matthew 19:21.) It was clearly one of the precepts which his own characteristic tendencies led him to record (see Introduction), and which found its fulfilment in the overflowing love that showed itself in the first days of the Church of the Apostles (Acts 2:45). Subsequent experience may have modified the duty of literal obedience, but the principle implied in it, that it is wise to sit loose to earthly possessions, possessing them as though we possessed not (1 Corinthians 7:30), is one which has not lost its force.

Provide yourselves bags . . .—The Greek word for bags (elsewhere “purse,” Luke 22:35), may be noticed as peculiar to St. Luke. Of the three words used in the New Testament for “purse” or “bag” it was the most classical.

Where no thief approacheth.—See Note on Matthew 6:20. The form is in some respects briefer here, but “the treasure that faileth not” is a touch peculiar to St. Luke. The adjective which he uses is a rare one, and not found elsewhere in the New Testament; but one from the same root, in Wis. 7:14; Wis. 8:18, describes wisdom as “a treasure that never faileth.”

Verse 34

(34) For where your treasure is.—See Note on Matthew 6:21.

Verse 35

(35) Let your loins be girded . . .—To “gird up the loins” was, in Eastern habits and with Eastern garments, the received symbol of readiness for active service (Luke 12:37; Luke 17:8; 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 1:8; John 13:4; 1 Peter 1:13). The “lights” are the lamps (as in Matthew 5:15) which the watchful hold in their hands. What follows has the interest of presenting the germ of the thought which was afterwards developed into the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. (See Notes on Matthew 25:1-13.)

Verse 37

(37) He shall gird himself.—The words give a new significance to the act of our Lord in John 13:4. Their real fulfilment is to be found, it need hardly be said, in the far-off completion of the Kingdom, or in the ever-recurring experiences which are the foretastes of that Kingdom; but the office which He then assumed must have reminded the disciples of the words which are recorded here, and may well have been intended to be at once a symbol and an earnest of what should be hereafter. In the promise of Revelation 3:20 (“I will sup with him and he with Me”) we have a recurrence to the same imagery. The passage should be borne in mind as balancing the seeming harshness of the Master in Luke 17:8.

To sit down.—Literally, to lie down, or recline.

Will come forth . . .—Better, and as He passes on will minister unto them. The Greek verb expresses, not the “coming out” as from another chamber, but the passing from one to another, as when He washed the disciples’ feet, in John 13:5.

Verse 38

(38) And if he shall come in the second watch.—In Mark 13:35 we have the Roman four-fold division of the night. (See Note there.) Here we find the older Jewish division into three watches. (Judges 7:19, 1 Samuel 11:11.)

Verses 39-40

(39, 40) And this know, that if the goodman of the house . . .—Better, “if the master of the house.” See Notes on Matthew 24:43-44, where the words are almost identical.

Verse 41

(41) Then Peter said unto him.—The motive of Peter’s question is not given. Interpreted by the like question in Matthew 19:27 (where see Note), it is natural to suppose that he dwelt, not so much on the last words of warning, as on the greatness of the promise which is held out in Luke 12:37. Was that to be the common blessing of all believers, or the special reward of those who had forsaken all?

Verses 42-46

(42-46) Who then is that faithful and wise steward?—See Notes on Matthew 24:45-51. Here the words come as an answer to Peter’s question. The promise was spoken, not for the Twelve only, but for every faithful and wise steward. The words are as the germ of the parable which sets forth the wisdom, though not the faithfulness, of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:8-10). If wisdom and prudence alone deserved the praise there bestowed on it, what would be due to wisdom and faithfulness united? In St. Paul’s words, “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2), we may, perhaps, recognise one of the many traces left on his Epistles by the companionship of St. Luke. (See Introduction.)

Verse 45

(45) To beat the menservants.—Literally, the boys, but in the sense which the word had acquired, like the French garçon, as used generally for servants of any age. Note the more specific terms as compared with the “fellow-servants” of St. Matthew.

Verse 46

(46) With the unbelievers.—Better, perhaps, in a less technical sense, the unfaithful, the word affording sharp contrast with the “faithful and wise steward” of Luke 12:42.

Verse 47

(47) And that servant, which knew his lord’s will.—The verses that follow (Luke 12:47-50) are peculiar to St. Luke, and every word is full of profoundest interest. First there comes a warning to the disciples who knew their Lord’s will, who had been told to watch for His coming, to prepare themselves and others for it. That “will” included the use of all gifts and opportunities, as in the parables of the Pounds and the Talents, with faithfulness and activity in using them. On those who, with their eyes open, were sinning against light and knowledge (our Lord’s words had, we can scarcely doubt, a latent reference to Judas) there should come, in this world or in the world to come, a penalty proportionably severe.

Verse 48

(48) He that knew not.—The words manifest the tenderness of a considerate equity, like that which uttered itself in our Lord’s words as to Sodom and Tyre and Sidon, in Luke 10:12-13. Man’s knowledge is the measure of his responsibilities; and in the absence of knowledge, more or less complete, though stripes may be inflicted as the only effective discipline for teaching men what things are or are not worthy of stripes, yet they shall be “few.” The words throw a gleam of hope on the darkness that lies behind the veil. We know not whether the “few stripes” imply limited duration, or suffering less acute, the tolerabilior damnatio of Augustine, and need not care to know. We may well be content to leave that question to Him who spake the words, and in so doing gave the most convincing proof that the Judge of all the earth will assuredly do right (Genesis 18:25).

Unto whomsoever much is given.—The two clauses differ slightly, though they are parallel in meaning; the first referring to “gifts” which involve what we speak of as a general moral responsibility, the second to that which has been solemnly “committed to men as a trust or deposit.” (Comp. 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:14.)

Verse 49

(49) I am come to send fire on the earth.—There is a strange unique abruptness in the utterance. We are compelled to assume a pause, a moment’s thought, as in one whose gaze looks out into the future, and who at once feels its terrors and yet accepts them. The fire which He came to send is the fire of judgment which shall burn up the chaff (see Note on Matthew 3:12), the baptism of fire which shall purify and cleanse as well as destroy. The Son of Man knew that this, with all its terrors, was what He came to work. If the fire was already kindled, if judgment was already passed upon the unfaithful stewards and the servants who knew their Lord’s will and did it not, why should He wish to check it? What other wish or will was right for Him than that it should complete what it had begun, even though it brought not peace, but a sword—not union, but division?

Verse 50

(50) I have a baptism to be baptized with.—Here we have a point of contact with the words spoken to the sons of Zebedee. (See Notes on Matthew 20:22, and Mark 10:38.) The baptism of which the Lord now speaks is that of one who is come into deep waters, so that the floods pass over him, over whose head have passed and are passing the waves and billows of many and great sorrows. Yet here, too, the Son of Man does not shrink or draw back. What He felt most keenly, in His human nature, was the pain, the constraint of expectation. He was, in that perfect humanity of His, harassed and oppressed, as other sufferers have been, by the thought of what was coming, more than by the actual suffering when it came.

Verses 51-53

(51-53) Suppose ye that I am come to give peace?—See Notes on Matthew 10:34-35. The chief variations are “division” for “sword,” and, in Luke 12:53, the doubled statement of reciprocated enmity in each relationship.

Verses 54-56

(54-56) When ye see a cloud rise out of the west.—See Notes on Matthew 16:2. The differences in form are, however, noticeable enough to suggest the impression here also of like teaching at a different time. In St. Matthew the words come as an answer to the demand for a sign, here without any such demand; there the signs are the morning and the evening redness of the sky, here the cloud in the west and the south wind blowing. It is, however, probable enough that the like answer was called forth by a like occasion.

Verse 55

(55) There will be heat.—See Note on Matthew 20:12. The word rendered “heat” is probably used here as signifying the “burning wind,” the simoom, which, blowing over the desert, scorched and withered all that was green and fresh. (Comp. James 1:11, where it is rightly rendered “burning heat.”)

Verse 56

(56) How is it that ye do not discern this time?—What had been said before to Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:3) is here repeated with a wider application. It was true of the people, as of their teachers, that they did not discern the true import of the time, the season, the crisis in which they found themselves. It was “the time of their visitation” (see Note on Luke 19:44), and yet they knew it not.

Verse 57

(57) Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?—Better, judge that which is just. The meaning of the words is not that they did not know what was right, but that they did not act upon their knowledge. They were passing an unrighteous judgment on the preachers of repentance, on the Baptist and on the Christ, because they came to tell them of the time of their visitation, when their action ought to have been as true and spontaneous as their daily judgment about the weather. It is possible, though not, I think, probable, that the question “Why even of yourselves . . .” may have some reference to the request of the disciple, in Luke 12:13, that our Lord would act as judge.

Verse 58

(58) When thou goest with thine adversary. . . .—Better, with all the MSS., For as thou goest. . . . The conjunction would seem to have been omitted by the translators because they did not see the sequence of thought implied in it. There is, indeed, something at first strangely abrupt in this reproduction of what had appeared in the Sermon on the Mount as part of our Lord’s teaching as to the true meaning of the command “Thou shalt not kill.” (See Note on Matthew 5:25.) There the words are spoken at once of earthly adversaries and magistrates and of the great Judge of all. Is it so in this place also? Is this the “just judgment” to which Luke 12:57 referred, in contrast with the prevailing bitterness and hardness of men in the quarrels brought on chiefly by their greed of gain? The answer to the question is found in accepting, as before, both the literal meaning and that of which it becomes a parable, with, perhaps, a greater stress than before on the spiritual aspect of the words. Our Lord is speaking to the people; there has been no immediate reference, as before, to the Sixth Commandment. His teaching has taken a wider range, and the old words, as it were, come back, with every point of the parable brought into full clearness. The “adversary” is the Law that accuses them (John 5:45); the judge is none other than the Judge of all the earth; and then all follows in due order as before.

Verse 59

(59) I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence . . .—See Note on Matthew 5:26. St. Luke substitutes the yet smaller coin, the “mite,” or half-quadrans (see Note on Mark 12:42), for the “farthing” of St. Matthew.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 12". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/luke-12.html. 1905.
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