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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Luke 5

Verses 1-11


(1-11) And it came to pass . . .—See Notes on Matthew 4:18-22. The narrative here has so many points in common with that in St. Matthew and St. Mark (Mark 1:16-20) that it has been supposed by most commentators to be a different report of the same facts. It is supposed to be all but incredible that the call to the four disciples, the promise that they should be “fishers of men,” their leaving all and following their Master, could have been repeated after comparatively so short an interval. On the other hand, St. Luke places it after the healing of Simon’s wife’s mother; St. Mark and St. Matthew place what they relate before, and the miraculous draught of fishes and Peter’s confession are singularly distinctive features. Their narrative, again, is unconnected with our Lord’s preaching to the people, with which this opens. On the whole we cannot go farther than saying that there is a slight presumption against the hypothesis of identity. On the assumption of difference we may infer that while our Lord went by Himself to preach the gospel of the kingdom to “the other cities,” the disciples returned, as they did after the Resurrection, to their old manner of life, and were now called again to their higher work.

The lake of Gennesaret.—St. Luke is the only Evangelist who thus describes the Sea of Galilee. On the land of Gennesaret, see Note on Matthew 14:34.

Verse 2

(2) Two ships.—Better, boats, or little ships, the Greek word being a diminutive, as in John 6:23. The narrative implies that they were the boats respectively of Jonas, the father of Peter and Andrew, and of Zebedee.

Washing their nets.—There is a slight, but noticeable variation here, from the “mending their nets” in St. Matthew and St. Mark. The process implied that having fished fruitlessly during the night, they were now giving up the work, and cleaning their nets from weeds, etc., before laying them up. On the assumption that the two narratives refer to the same event, some have seen in the mending,” a confirmation of the statement in St. Luke that the “nets brake.” The Note on Luke 5:6 will, however, show that is precisely what he does not say.

Verse 3

(3) He entered into one of the ships.—Our Lord would seem to have chosen this mode of teaching not unfrequently.

Verse 4

(4) Let down your nets.—It is, perhaps, a slight indication that the narrative of St. Luke does not give the same event as the other Gospels, that they use a different word for “net,” and one that has, technically, quite a distinct meaning. St. Luke’s word, however, is generic, and may therefore include the other; and the other two use it when they speak of the disciples leaving their “nets.”

Verse 5

(5) Master, we have toiled all the night.—The word translated Master (epistates) is not the same as that (didaskalos, teacher) in the other Gospels, and often in this also, and is peculiar to St. Luke. It implies a less distinct recognition of our Lord’s character as a teacher or Rabbi, and was more the language of general respect, such as workmen might use of their master. Here, however, St. Peter’s language implies the previous discipleship which we learn from John 1:35-43.

Verse 6

(6) Their net brake.—Better, their nets were breaking, the tense being the imperfect.

Verse 7

(7) Their partners, which were in the other ship.—These are named in Luke 5:10 as “James, and John, the sons of Zebedee.”

Verse 8

(8) Depart from me; for I am a sinful man.—We must remember that both before and on that very day Peter had listened to our Lord’s teaching in all its deep and piercing power, and that thus what we have learnt to call “conviction of sin” may well have been begun in him. Then came the miracle, with the proof it gave of superhuman power and knowledge, and with that the consciousness, such as ever accompanies man’s recognition of contact with the divine, of his own exceeding sinfulness. So Isaiah cried, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). So Job cried, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

Verse 9

(9) For he was astonished.—More literally, for astonishment seized him.

Verse 10

(10) Which were partners with Simon.—The Greek word is not the same as that in Luke 5:7; that expressing that they were sharers in the work, this a more general partnership in business, as in Philemon 1:17.

Thou shalt catch men.—This is St. Luke’s equivalent for the “I will make you fishers of men” in St. Matthew and St. Mark. The word implies that what is caught is taken alive. The only other passage in which it occurs in the New Testament is 2 Timothy 2:26.

Verse 11

(11) They forsook all . . .—This is obviously the strong point in favour of the identity of the facts related by the three Evangelists, but it admits of being explained, as above, by supposing a temporary return (such as we find after the Resurrection in John 21:1) to their former calling.

Verses 12-16

(12-16) A man full of leprosy.—See Notes on Matthew 8:2-4. The precise description is peculiar to, and characteristic of, St. Luke, as is also the man’s “falling on his face.” The latter is interesting as explaining the more general “worshipping” of St. Mark.

Verse 15

(15) So much the more.—The statement agrees with St. Mark, St. Matthew closing his account with the command given to the leper. Both the verbs, “went” and “came together,” are in the tense that implies continuous action.

Verse 16

(16) He withdrew himself into the wilderness.—Literally, into the wildernesses, agreeing with St. Mark’s “in desert places,” now in one part, now in another, of the unenclosed, uncultivated country. The addition that he “was praying” there is peculiar to St. Luke, who, throughout his Gospel, lays stress on this feature in our Lord’s life. (See Introduction.)

Verses 17-26

(17-26) It came to pass . . .—See Notes on Matthew 9:1-8.

Pharisees and doctors of the law.—The description of the crowd of listeners is peculiar to St. Luke. The fact that many of the doctors of the law had come from Jerusalem is obviously important in its connection with St. John’s account (John 2:5) of our Lord’s previous work in that city, and as explaining the part now taken by them.

Was present to heal them.—If we retain the plural pronoun, it must be taken generally as meaning those who sought healing. The better MSS., however, give the singular, and then it must be taken, “the power of the Lord (i.e., of God) was present for His (work of) healing.”

Verse 18

(18) Which was taken with a palsy.—Literally paralysed, or palsy-stricken, a somewhat more technical, and therefore characteristic word than the “sick of the palsy” in the other Gospels.

Verse 19

(19) With his couch.—The Greek word is the diminutive of the word translated “bed” in Luke 5:18, and is used, apparently, as St. Mark uses the Latin grabatum, to show how it was that the process described was possible.

Verse 22

(22) When Jesus perceived their thoughts.—Better, their reasonings, the Greek noun being formed from the verb used in Luke 5:21.

Verse 25

(25) Glorifying God.—The fact that the man himself did this as well as the by-standers is peculiar to St. Luke.

Verse 26

(26) They glorified God.—Noticeable as common to all the three reports. The precise expression, We have seen strange things to-day” (literally, things beyond expectation), is peculiar to St. Luke.

Verses 27-32

(27-32) A publican, named Levi.—See Notes on Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:14-17. St. Luke’s agreement with St. Mark is again a noticeable fact.

Verse 28

(28) And followed him.—Not then only, but continually, the verb being in the imperfect tense.

Verse 29

(29) A great feast.—The fact stated agrees with St. Mark, but the precise phrase is peculiar to St. Luke. The noun means literally a reception, and agrees, curiously enough, with the most modern use of that word.

Of publicans and of others.—It is, perhaps, characteristic of St. Luke as a Gentile that he will not use the word “sinners” as St. Matthew and St. Mark appear to have used it, as popularly including heathen as such, and substitutes the vaguer word “others.”

Verse 30

(30) Murmured.—Better, were murmuring. In reporting what was said by others, St. Luke naturally gives the word “sinners” as it was actually spoken.

Verse 31

(31) They that are whole.—Better, they that are in health. Note, as once more characteristic of the “physician,” the use of this term instead of “they that are strong,” the strict meaning of the Greek word used in the other two Gospels. (See Introduction.)

Verse 32

(32) I came not.—Strictly, I have not come.

But sinners to repentance.—In the best MSS. the last word is added by St. Luke only. One MS. (the Sinaitic) has the remarkable various-reading “the ungodly” for “sinners,” as if from a recollection of Romans 5:6-7.

Verses 33-39

(33-39) Why do the disciples of John fast?—See Notes on Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22. St. Luke is less definite than the other two in stating who the questioners were. It is only from St. Mark that we learn that they included the two classes to whom the question referred.

Verse 34

(34) Can ye make . . .?—The question is somewhat stronger in form than the simple, “Can the children of the bride-chamber fast?” in the other reports.

Verse 36

(36) And he spake also a parable unto them.—The illustration that follows is common to all three reports, but St. Luke only describes it as a parable, the others apparently confining that term to something that took the form of an actual narrative.

No man putteth.—The better MSS. give, No man having rent a piece from a new garment putteth it upon an old. The form which the illustration thus assumes gives it obviously a greater vividness. What folly could be greater than the act described?

Both the new maketh a rent.—Better, as agreeing with the reading just given, he will both rend the new, and the patch from the new will not agree with the old.

Verse 37

(37) Else.—Better, as before, if otherwise.

The bottles shall perish.—Better, will perish, there being no reason for any difference between the two verbs.

Verse 39

(39) No man also having drunk old wine.—This addition is peculiar to St. Luke, and calls accordingly for distinct notice. The interpretation of the imagery is not far to seek. The old wine is the principle—in spiritual things, the religion—that animated the man’s former life. In relation to those immediately addressed, it represented the motive-power of the Law in its rigid and Pharisaic form. The new wine, as in the Notes on the previous parables, is the freer, nobler, life-power of the gospel. It was not to be wondered at that men accustomed to the older system should be unwilling to embrace the new, as thinking it stronger and more potent than they could bear. The words are spoken in a tone of something like a tolerant pity for the prejudices of age and custom.

The old is better.—The better MSS. give simply “the old is good,” the adjective partly implying the sense of “mild.” It is not the same as the “good wine” of the miracle at Cana (John 2:10). It is doubtful, indeed, whether the Jews attached the same value that we do to the mellowed flavour given to wine by age. New or sweet wine, drunk within a year or so of fermentation, would seem to have been the favourite delicacy (Nehemiah 10:39; Proverbs 3:10; Hosea 4:11; Haggai 1:11, et al.), though men of weak constitutions might shrink from its effects, as the Pharisees were shrinking from the freedom of which our Lord set the example. Not altogether without significance, as bearing on this passage, is the fact recorded by St. Luke (Acts 2:13), that the first workings of the Pentecostal gift led men to speak of the disciples as “full of new wine.”

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.