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Bible Commentaries
Luke 3

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

(1) The difficulty presented here admits of at least three explanations, (a) Joseph may have been the son of Jacob by birth, and of Heli by adoption, or conversely. (b) Jacob and Heli may have been half brothers—sons of the same mother—by different fathers, Matthan and Matthat, or these two may be different forms of the name of the same person, and one of the two brothers may have died without issue, and the other married his widow to raise up seed unto his brother. On either of these assumptions, both the genealogies give Joseph’s descent. This would be sufficient, as St. Matthew’s record shows, to place the son of Mary in the position of the heir of the house of David. We have, however, on this theory, to account for the fact that two different genealogies were treasured up in the family of Joseph; and the explanation commonly offered is natural enough. St. Matthew, it is said, gives the line of kingly succession, the names of those who were, one after another, the heirs of the royal house; St. Luke that of Joseph’s natural parentage, descending from David as the parent stock, but through the line of Nathan, and taking by adoption its place in the royal line when that had failed. The fact that from David to Salathiel St. Matthew gives us the line of kings, and St. Luke that of those who were outside the line, is so far in favour of this hypothesis. (c) A third and, as it seems to the present writer, more probable view is, that we have here the genealogy, not of Joseph, but of Mary, the words “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph” being a parenthesis, and the first link being Jesus (the heir, and in that sense, son, of Heli). On this hypothesis, the Virgin, as well as Joseph, was of the house and lineage of David; and our Lord was literally, as well as by adoption, “of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3), on the mother’s side through the line of Nathan, on the reputed father’s through that of Solomon. This view has at least the merit of giving a sufficient reason for the appearance of the two different genealogies. Everything too, as we have seen in the Introduction, points to the conclusion that the materials for the first three chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel came to him through the company of devout women who gathered round the mother of Jesus; and if so, what more natural than that they should have preserved and passed on to him the document on which she rested her claim to be of David’s lineage?

Verse 2

(2) The difference in the number of names presents no real difficulty. We have seen (Note on Matthew 1:9) that St. Matthew omits three names in the list of kings in order to adapt it to the memoria technica of fourteen names in each group, and what he did in one case he may well have done in another for the same reason.

Verse 3

(3) There is, in the appearance in St. Matthew’s list of Jeconias (as in 1 Chronicles 3:17), and in St. Luke’s of Neri, as the father of Salathiel, a problem to be solved; but an adequate, though necessarily conjectural, solution is not far to seek. To assume that the Salathiel of the one list is not identical with that in the other, is to cut the knot instead of disentangling it. But it may be noticed that in the earlier registers connected with the name of the historical Salathiel, father of the Zerubbabel who was the leader of the Jews on their return from Babylon, there is an obvious complication. In 1 Chronicles 3:19, Zerubbabel is the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Salathiel. The language in Jeremiah 22:30 at least suggests the thought that Jeconiah died without an heir. What seems probable accordingly is that the royal line descended from Solomon, expired in Jeconiah, and that Salathiel, the son of Neri, the representative of the line of Nathan, took his place in the line of inheritance. It is not without significance that in the contemporary prophecy of Zechariah, the house of Nathan appears, for the first time in the history of Judah, as invested with a special pre-eminence (Zechariah 12:12). The difference in the number of the names admits of the same explanation as before.

Verses 3-9

(3-9) And he came into all the country . . .—The words paint the mission-work of John somewhat more vividly than those of St. Matthew and St. Mark, who represent the people flocking to Him from Jerusalem and Judæa. The two facts together complete the picture.

The baptism of repentance.—See Notes on Matthew 3:1-11, and Mark 1:4-6. In his description of the Baptism, St. Luke agrees verbally with the latter.

Verse 4

(4) The comparative slight variation here is such as may easily have arisen in the process of transcription from an Aramaic document into Greek. The received reading, “Aram,” was probably a correction in order to bring the genealogy into agreement with St. Matthew’s.

Verse 5

(5) (a) The fact that the genealogy goes back to Adam may have been originally in the document which St. Luke translated, without any special significance; but it at least falls in with the whole character of his Gospel as intended to set forth the universality of the gospel, to prepare the way for the truth of the brotherhood of mankind in Christ. It represented Christ as the second Adam, as St. Matthew’s genealogy represented Him as the heir of Abraham. (b) The insertion of Cainan between Salah and Arphaxad agrees with the text of all known copies of the Greek version of Genesis 11:0. This may imply an original Hebrew text older than that which we now possess; but, on the other hand, as all existing copies of the LXX. version were made for Christian use, it is possible that the name may have been inserted to bring the genealogy in Genesis 11:0 into agreement with that given by St. Luke. The name does not appear in this place in the Vulgate, Syriac, or Samaritan versions of the Pentateuch, and in one of the best MSS. of the New Testament (the Codex Bezœ) it is wanting here. Further than this we cannot go in dealing with a question which, after all, is infinitesimally small in itself, and has no direct bearing on any graver issues.

It may be noted, lastly, that genealogies, such as those given by St. Matthew and St. Luke, were common in almost every Jewish family. The books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, compiled after the return from Babylon, show that they existed then. Josephus transcribes his own pedigree, from the time of the Asmonæan, or Maccabean, priest-rulers, from public registers (Life, c. 1), and states (against Apion, i. 7) that not in Judæa only, but in Alexandria and Babylon, and other cities, wherever the Jews were settled, such registers were kept of the births and marriages of all belonging to the priesthood; that copies were sent to Jerusalem; that the registers went back for 2,000 years. The prevalence of the name Cohen (= priest) among modern Jews indicates the same care in the priestly line. The members of the house of David were hardly likely to be less careful in preserving records of their descent than those of the house of Aaron. Hillel the scribe, i.e., was known to be of the lineage of David, and must have had evidence of some kind to prove it. So, at a later time, the Princes of the Captivity who ruled over the Jews of Babylonia, claimed their allegiance as sons of David.

Verse 6

(6) The salvation of God.—The same word is used as in Luke 2:30, where see Note.

Verse 7

(7) Then said he to the multitude.—Better, multitudes. In St. Matthew the words “Generation” (or brood) “of vipers” are related, probably with greater accuracy, as having been addressed specifically to the Pharisees and Sadducees. On the question itself, see Note on Matthew 3:7.

Verse 10

(10) And the people asked him . . .—The questions that follow are peculiar to St. Luke. They are interesting as showing that the work of the Baptist was not that of a mere preacher of repentance. Confession of sins followed naturally on the part of the penitents; that was followed, as naturally, by guidance for the conscience. St. Luke, as a physician of the soul, may well have delighted to place on record this example of true spiritual therapeutics.

Verse 11

(11) He that hath two coats.—The remedy, in this case, was simple and practical. Selfishness was the root of evil. It was to be conquered not by religious emotions only, but by acts of unselfishness.

He that hath meat.—The Greek noun is plural, and includes all forms of food.

Verse 12

(12) Then came also publicans.—The other Gospels do not mention the presence of this class in their narratives of the Baptist’s work, but it is implied in Matthew 21:32.

Verse 13

(13) Exact no more.—Under the “farming” system of taxation adopted by the Roman empire, this was the besetting temptation of all collectors employed in it, and it led naturally to the evil repute which attached, not in Judæa only, to the name of publican. (See Note on Luke 19:2.)

Verse 14

(14) And the soldiers likewise . . .—The Greek word has not the definite article, and is a participle. Better, and soldiers, as they were marching. The words probably point to the troops of Antipas on their way down the valley of the Jordan to attack Aretas (comp. Notes on 2 Corinthians 11:32), the father of the Tetrarch’s divorced wife, who had declared war on account of the wrong thus done to his daughter. Roman soldiers were not likely to have come to the Baptist’s preaching.

Do violence to no man.—The Greek word was the exact equivalent of the Latin concutere (whence our “concussion”), and was applied to the violence which was used by irregular troops to extort money or provisions.

Neither accuse any falsely.—The word occurs again in the confession of Zacchæus (Luke 19:8). It is supposed to have been primarily used of those who informed against the export of figs from Attica at a time when that trade was prohibited. They were known, it is said, as “sycophants,” though no actual instance of this use of the word is extant. The word came, in course of time, to be applied to informers generally, and then, in its modern sense, to those who court the favour of princes by informing against others—the delatores, who at this time were so conspicuous in the imperial court, on which that of the Tetrarch’s had been modelled.

Be content with your wages.—Better, pay. The word meant primarily the “rations” of a soldier, and then the money received in lieu of rations. As used in the New Testament, the idea of pay for soldier’s work as distinct from the wages of a labourer, is almost always connected with it. (Comp. Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 9:7.)

Verse 15

(15) All men mused in their hearts . . .—The surmise which St. Luke thus records is not given by St. Matthew or St. Mark, but it agrees with what we find in St. John (John 1:19), and explains the reference to the “mightier” one which in the other Gospels comes in somewhat abruptly. On the answer itself, see Notes on Matthew 3:11-12. St. Luke’s report includes the chief features of those of St. Matthew and St. Mark, but it omits the characteristically vivid “stooping down” to unloose which we find in the latter.

Verse 17

(17) He will throughly purge . . .—The better MSS. give, throughly to purge, and to gather.

Verse 18

(18) Many other things . . .—This lay, more or less, in the nature of the case; but St. Luke’s is the only record which lays stress on the wider range of the Baptist’s teaching. The sources of information which supplied him with Luke 3:10-14, probably brought to his knowledge much of the same character; but what he records, in common with the other two Evangelists, was, as it were, the text and burden of it all.

Verses 19-20

(19-20) But Herod the tetrarch.—See Notes on Matthew 14:3-5. St. Luke’s anticipation of the close of the Baptist’s history supplies a curious instance of an arrangement which was obviously deliberate. It seemed to him better to complete the account of the Baptist’s ministry here than to bring in the account of the imprisonment as an episode later on. It coincides in part with St. John’s arrangement (John 3:24).

For all the evils which Herod had done.—The marriage with Herodias is conspicuous as the Tetrarch’s one great crime; but the sensual, crafty character of the man, with his fox-like nature (Luke 13:32), must have made any preaching of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” as much a personal rebuke to him as it was to Felix (Acts 24:25), and caused him also to tremble.

Verses 21-22

(21-22) Now when all the people were baptized.—See Notes on Matthew 3:13-17. St. Luke’s account is the shortest of the three first Gospels, but it adds here, as afterwards in his report of the Transfiguration, the fact that our Lord was “praying” at the time of the divine attestation to His Sonship. (See Introduction.)

Verse 22

(22) In a bodily shape.—The words are peculiar to St. Luke, and tend to confirm the traditional symbolism which finds in the dove the emblem of the Holy Spirit. They, at least, fall in naturally with this view; but the other construction, that the Holy Spirit descended, after the manner of a dove, first hovering and then resting, in a bodily form (undefined) of some sort, is, at least, not excluded.

Verse 23

(23) Began to be about thirty years of age.—At this age the Levites entered on their full work (Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30; Numbers 4:35), a kind of probationary period beginning at twenty-five (Numbers 8:24) or even, in later times, when their work was lighter, at twenty (1 Chronicles 23:27). No age was fixed for the beginning of the priesthood, nor of the prophet’s work; but it may fairly be inferred that thirty was looked on as the time when manhood reached its completeness, and we may therefore believe that our Lord waited in patient humility till that age had been attained before entering on the work of His public ministry.

Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph.—We have here to deal with the many questions which rise out of a comparison of this genealogy with that in Matthew 1:0. It is a subject on which volumes have been written. Here it will be enough to sum up the results of previous inquiries.

Verse 38

(38) Which was the son of God.—The whole form of the genealogy leads us to apply these words to Adam. Humanity as such, as the result of an immediate creative act, was the offspring of God (Acts 17:28), and the words of the angel (Luke 1:35) imply that it was because the human nature of our Lord originated in a like creative act, that it was entitled, not less than by its union with the Sonship of the Eternal Word, to be called the Son of God. What was true of the second Adam was true also partly, though in different measure, of the first.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 3". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/luke-3.html. 1905.
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