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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

Luke 17

Verses 1-2

Vers. 1 and 2. Offences. Then said He unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences (scandals) will come: but woe unto him through whom they come! 2. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves.

The formula εἶπε δέ , then said He (aor.), has not the same weight as the ἔλεγε δέ , He was saying to them, the significance of which in Luke we have often remarked. It is the simple historical fact. ᾿Ανεκδεκτόν , inadmissible. The absence of offences is a supposition which cannot be admitted in the sinful state in which the world is plunged. The determining particle τοῦ is authentic.

The form, ( the) offences ( τά ), denotes the entire category of facts of this kind. The reading μύλος ὀνικός , a millstone moved by an ass, is undoubtedly borrowed from Matthew; we must adopt, with the Alex., λίθος μυλικός , a millstone of smaller dimensions, moved by the hand ( Luk 17:35 ).

The punishment to which Luk 17:2 alludes was usual among many ancient peoples, and is so still in the East. The reading of several copies of the Itala, which is also found in Marcion, “It were better for him that he had never been born, or that a stone...,” arises, no doubt, from an ancient gloss taken from Matthew 26:24. This is confirmed by the fact that Clemens Romanus combines in his 1 Cor. 46 the two passages, Matthew 18:6-7 (parallel to ours) and Matthew 26:24.

The little ones are beginners in the faith.

The final warning, Take heed..., is occasioned, on the one hand, by the extreme facility of causing offence ( Luk 17:1 ); on the other, by the terrible danger to which it exposes him who causes it ( Luk 17:2 ). The lost soul, like an eternal burden, is bound to him who has dragged it into evil, and in turn drags him into the abyss.

The same warning is found Mat 18:6 and Mark 9:42. The offence which gave rise to it may be in this context, either that which the disciples had given one another in the strife which had taken place between them, or that which they had caused to the man in whom faith had just dawned ( one of these little ones), and who was manifesting it by curing the possessed. Luke evidently did not know this connection; for he would not have failed to indicate it, he who seeks out historical situations with so much care. Had he not, besides, himself mentioned those two facts ( Luk 9:46-50 ), and might he not have connected this admonition with them as Mark does? Luke, therefore, did not possess this original Mark, which Holtzmann regards as one of his principal sources; otherwise he would not have detached this saying from the fact which gave rise to it. But the account given by Matthew and Mark proves the truth of Luke's introduction, “He said unto the disciples,” and the accuracy of the document from which he derived this precept.

Verses 1-10

7. Various Sayings: Luke 17:1-10. This piece contains four brief lessons, placed here without introduction, and between which it is impossible to establish a connection. Olshausen and Meyer have attempted to connect them with one another and with what precedes. The offence, Luke 17:1-2, according to them, is either that which the rich man gave to his brethren, or that which the Pharisees gave to weak believers, by preventing them from declaring themselves for Christ. But how is the expression, one of these little ones ( Luk 17:2 ), applicable to the rich man's brethren? And in the second sense, should not the warning be addressed to the adversaries rather than unto the disciples ( Luk 17:1 )?

The teaching regarding pardon ( Luk 17:3-4 ) is taken to refer to the arrogant harshness of the Pharisees, who did not allow the publicans to appropriate the pardon of sins (the offence, Luk 17:1-2 ); or rancour is regarded as one of those offences of which we must beware; or, finally, a climax is supposed: it is not enough not to do evil to others ( Luk 17:1-2 ); we should also pardon the evil which they do to us ( Luk 17:3-4 ). These connections, more or less ingenious, are artificial; they are like those by which one succeeds in tagging together given rhymes.

The petition of the apostles ( Luk 17:5-6 ) is held to find its occasion in the feeling of their powerlessness to pardon. But in this sense, Jesus should have spoken in His reply, not of the faith which works external miracles, but of that which works by love. Lastly, the doctrine taught of the non-meritoriousness of works ( Luk 17:7-10 ) is alleged to be introduced by this idea, that the greatest miracles wrought by faith confer no merit on man. But how could miracles of faith be described as διαταχθέντα , things commanded?

De Wette is therefore right in declining to find a connection between those different sayings. Let us add that several of them are placed by Matthew and Mark in historical circumstances, where they have their entire appropriateness. We shall be able to state the critical result when we come to sum up.

Verses 1-37


A great contrast marks the synoptical narrative: that between the ministry in Galilee, and the passion week at Jerusalem. According to Matthew ( Mat 19:1 to Mat 20:34 ) and Mark (chap. 10), the short journey from Capernaum to Judea through Perea forms the rapid transition between those two parts of the ministry of Jesus. Nothing, either in the distance between the places, or in the number of the facts related, would lead us to suppose that this journey lasted more than a few days. This will appear from the following table:

The fourth part of the Gospel of Luke, which begins at Luke 9:51, gives us a very different idea of what transpired at that period. Here we find the description of a slow and lengthened journey across the southern regions of Galilee, which border on Samaria. Jerusalem is, and remains, the fixed goal of the journey (Luke 9:51, Luke 13:22, Luke 17:11, etc.). But Jesus proceeds only by short stages, stopping at each locality to preach the gospel. Luke does not say what direction He followed. But we may gather it from the first fact related by him. At the first step which He ventures to take with His followers on the Samaritan territory, He is stopped short by the ill-will excited against Him by national prejudice; so that even if His intention had been to repair directly to Jerusalem through Samaria (which we do not believe to have been the case), He would have been obliged to give up that intention, and turn eastward, in order to take the other route, that of Perea. Jesus therefore slowly approached the Jordan, with the view of crossing that river to the south of the lake Gennesaret, and of continuing His journey thereafter through Perea. The inference thus drawn from the narrative of Luke is positively confirmed by Matthew ( Mat 19:1 ) and Mark ( Mar 10:1 ), both of whom indicate the Perean route as that which Jesus followed after His departure from Galilee. In this way the three synoptics coincide anew from Luk 18:15 onwards; and from the moment at which the narrative of Luke rejoins the two others, we have to regard the facts related by him as having passed in Perea. This slow journeying, first from west to east across southern Galilee, then from north to south through Perea, the description of which fills ten whole chapters, that is to say, more than a third of Luke's narrative, forms in this Gospel a real section intermediate between the two others (the description of the Galilean ministry and that of the passion week); it is a third group of narratives corresponding in importance to the two others so abruptly brought into juxtaposition in Mark and Matthew, and which softens the contrast between them.

But can we admit with certainty the historical reality of this evangelistic journey in southern Galilee, which forms one of the characteristic features of the third Gospel? Many modern critics refuse to regard it as historical. They allege:

1. The entire absence of any analogous account in Matthew and Mark. Matthew, indeed, relates only two solitary facts ( Mat 8:19 et seq. and Luk 12:21 et seq.) of all those which Luke describes in the ten chapters of which this section consists, up to the moment when the three narratives again become parallel ( Luk 18:14 ); Mark, not a single one.

2. The visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary, which Luke puts in this journey ( Luk 10:38-42 ), can have taken place only in Judea, at Bethany; likewise the saying, Luke 13:34-35, cannot well have been uttered by Jesus elsewhere than at Jerusalem in the temple ( Mat 23:37-39 ). Do not these errors of time and place cast a more than suspicious light on the narrative of the entire journey? M. Sabatier himself, who thoroughly appreciates the important bearing of this narrative in Luke on the harmony of the four Gospels, nevertheless goes the length of saying: “We see with how many contradictions and material impossibilities this narrative abounds.”

It has been attempted to defend Luke, by alleging that he did not mean to relate a journey, and that this section was only a collection of doctrinal utterances arranged in the order of their subjects, and intended to show the marvellous wisdom of Jesus. It is impossible for us to admit this explanation, with Luke's own words before us, which express and recall from time to time his intention of describing a consecutive journey: Luke 9:51, “He stedfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem;Luke 13:22, “He was going through the cities and villages... journeying toward Jerusalem;Luke 17:11 (lit. trans.), “And it came to pass, as He went to Jerusalem, that He traversed the country between Samaria and Galilee.”

Wieseler, taking up an entirely opposite point of view, finds in those three passages the indications of as many individual journeys, which he connects with three journeys to Jerusalem placed by John almost at the same epoch. It is hoped in this way to find the point of support for Luke's narrative in the fourth Gospel, which is wanting to it in the two first. The departure mentioned Luk 9:51 would correspond with the journey of Jesus, Joh 7:1 to John 10:39 (feast of Tabernacles and of Dedication), a journey which terminates in a sojourn in Perea ( Joh 10:40 et seq.). The mention of a journey Luk 13:22 would refer to the journey from Perea to Bethany for the raising of Lazarus, John 11:0, after which Jesus repairs to Ephraim. Finally, the passage Luk 17:11 would correspond with the journey from Ephraim to Jerusalem for the last Passover ( Joh 11:55 ). It would be necessary to admit that Jesus, after His Ephraim sojourn, made a last visit to Galilee, proceeding thither through Samaria (Wieseler translates Luk 17:11 as in E. V., “through the midst of Samaria and Galilee”), then that He returned to Judea through Perea (Matthew 19:0; Mark 10:0).

We cannot allow that this view has the least probability. 1. Those three passages in Luke plainly do not indicate, in his mind at least, three different departures and journeys. They are way-marks set up by the author on the route of Jesus, in the account of this unique journey, by which he recalls from time to time the general situation described Luke 9:51, on account of the slowness and length of the progress. 2. The departure ( Luk 9:51 ) took place, as the sending of the seventy disciples proves, with the greatest publicity; it is not therefore identical with the departure ( Joh 7:1 et seq.), which took place, as it were, in secret; Jesus undoubtedly did not then take with Him more than one or two of His most intimate disciples. 3. The interpretation which Wieseler gives of Luk 17:11 appears to us inadmissible (see the passage).

It must therefore be acknowledged, not only that Luke meant in those ten chapters to relate a journey, but that he meant to relate one, and only one.

Others think that he intended to produce in the minds of his readers the idea of a continuous journey, but that this is a framework of fiction which has no corresponding reality. De Wette and Bleek suppose that, after having finished his account of the Galilean ministry, Luke still possessed a host of important materials, without any determinate localities or dates, and that, rather than lose them, he thought good to insert them here, between the description of the Galilean ministry and that of the passion, while grouping them in the form of a recorded journey. Holtzmann takes for granted that those materials were nothing else than the contents of his second principal source, the Logia of Matthew, which Luke has placed here, after employing up till this point his first source, the original Mark. Weizsäcker, who thinks, on the contrary, that the Logia of Matthew are almost exactly reproduced in the great groups of discourses which the first contains, sees in this fourth part of Luke a collection of sayings derived by him from those great discourses of Matthew, and arranged systematically with regard to the principal questions which were agitated in the apostolic churches (the account of the feast, Luke 14:1-35, alluding to the Agapae; the discourses, Luk 15:1 to Luke 17:10, to questions relative to the admission of Gentiles, etc.).

Of course, according to those three points of view, the historical introductions with which Luke prefaces each of those teachings would be more or less his own invention. He deduces them himself from those teachings, as we might do at the present day. As to the rest, Bleek expressly remarks that this view leaves entirely intact the historical truth of the sayings of Jesus in themselves. We shall gather up in the course of our exegesis the data which can enlighten us on the value of those hypotheses; but at the outset we must offer the following observations: 1. In thus inventing an entire phase of the ministry of Jesus, Luke would put himself in contradiction to the programme marked out ( Luk 1:1-4 ), where he affirms that he has endeavoured to reproduce historical truth exactly. 2. What purpose would it serve knowingly to enrich the ministry of Jesus with a fictitious phase? Would it not have been much simpler to distribute those different pieces along the course of the Galilean ministry? 3. Does a conscientious historian play thus with the matter of which he treats, especially when that matter forms the object of his religious faith?

If Luke had really acted in this way, we should require, with Baur, to take a step further, and ascribe to this fiction a more serious intention that of establishing, by those prolonged relations of Jesus to the Samaritans, the Pauline universalism? Thus it is that criticism, logically carried out in questions relating to the Gospels, always lands us in this dilemma historical truth or deliberate imposture.

The historical truth of this journey, as Luke describes it, appears to us evident from the following facts: 1. Long or short, a journey from Galilee to Judea through Perea must have taken place; so much is established by the narratives of Matthew and Mark, and indirectly confirmed by that of John, when he mentions a sojourn in Perea precisely at the same epoch ( Luk 10:40-42 ). 2. The duration of this journey must have been much more considerable than appears from a hasty glance at the first two synoptics. How, in reality, are we to fill the six or seven months which separated the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:0, month of October) from that of the Passover, at which Jesus died? The few accounts, Matthew 19:20 (Mark 10:0), cannot cover such a gap. Scarcely is there wherewith to fill up the space of a week. Where, then, did Jesus pass all that time? And what did He do? It is usually answered, that from the feast of Tabernacles to that of the Dedication (December) He remained in Judea. That is not possible. He must have gone to Jerusalem in a sort of incognito and by way of surprise, in order to appear unexpectedly in that city, and to prevent the police measures which a more lengthened sojourn in Judea would have allowed His enemies to take against Him. And after the violent scenes related Joh 7:1 to John 10:21, He must have remained peacefully there for more than two whole months! Such an idea is irreconcilable with the situation described John 6:1; John 7:1-13.

Jesus therefore, immediately after rapidly executing that journey, returned to Galilee. This return, no doubt, is not mentioned; but no more is that which followed John 5:0. It is understood, as a matter of course, that so long as a new scene of action is not indicated in the narrative, the old one continues. After the stay at Jerusalem at the feast of Dedication ( Joh 10:22 et seq.), it is expressly said that Jesus sojourned in Perea ( Luk 9:40-42 ): there we have the first indication apprising us that the long sojourn in Galilee had come to an end. Immediately, therefore, after the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus returned to Galilee, and it was then that He definitely bade adieu to that province, and set out, as we read Luke 9:51, to approach Jerusalem slowly and while preaching the gospel. Not only is such a journey possible, but it is in a manner forced on us by the necessity of providing contents for that blank interval in the ministry of Jesus. 3. The indications which Luke supplies respecting the scene of this journey have nothing in them but what is exceedingly probable. After His first visit to Nazareth, Jesus settled at Capernaum; He made it His own city ( Mat 9:1 ), and the centre of His excursions ( Luk 4:31 et seq.). Very soon He considerably extended the radius of His journeys on the side of western Galilee (Nain, Luk 7:11 ). Then He quitted His Capernaum residence, and commenced a ministry purely itinerant ( Luk 8:1 et seq.). To this period belong His first visit to Decapolis, to the east of the lake of Gennesaret, and the multiplication of the loaves, to the north-east of that sea. Finally, we learn from Matthew and Mark that Jesus made two other great excursions into the northern regions, the one to the north-west toward Phoenicia (Luke's great lacuna), the other toward the north-east, to the sources of the Jordan (Caesarea Philippi, and the transfiguration). To accomplish His mission toward Galilee there thus remained to be visited only the southern parts of this province on the side of Samaria. What more natural, consequently, than the direction which He followed in this journey, slowly passing over that southern part of Galilee from west to east which He had not before visited, and from which He could make some excursions among that Samaritan people at whose hands He had found so eager a welcome at the beginning of His ministry?

Regarding the visit to Martha and Mary, and the saying Luke 13:34-35, we refer to the explanation of the passages. Perhaps the first is a trace (unconscious on the part of Luke) of Jesus' short sojourn at Jerusalem at the feast of Dedication. In any case, the narrative of Luke is thus found to form the natural transition between the synoptical accounts and that of John. And if we do not find in Luke that multiplicity of journeys to Jerusalem which forms the distinctive feature of John's Gospel, we shall at least meet with the intermediate type of a ministry, a great part of which (the Galilean work once finished) assumes the form of a prolonged pilgrimage in the direction of Jerusalem.

As to the contents of the ten chapters embraced in this part of Luke, they are perfectly in keeping with the situation. Jesus carries along with Him to Judea all the following of devoted believers which He has found in Galilee, the nucleus of His future Church. From this band will go forth the army of evangelists which, with the apostles at its head, will shortly enter upon the conquest of the world in His name. To prepare them as they travel along for this task, such is His constant aim. He prosecutes it directly in two ways: by sending them on a mission before Him, as formerly He had sent the twelve, and making them serve, as these had done, a first apprenticeship to their future work; then, by bringing to bear on them the chief part of His instructions respecting that emancipation from the world and its goods which was to be the distinctive character of the life of His servants, and thus gaining them wholly for the great task which He allots to them.

What are the sources of Luke in this part which is peculiar to him? According to Holtzmann, Luke here gives us the contents of Matthew's Logia, excepting the introductions, which he adds or amplifies. We shall examine this whole hypothesis hereafter. According to Schleiermacher, this narrative is the result of the combination of two accounts derived from the journals of two companions of Jesus, the one of whom took part in the journey at the feast of Dedication, the other in that of the last Passover. Thus he explains the exactness of the details, and at the same time the apparent inexactness with which a visit to Bethany is found recorded in the midst of a series of scenes in Galilee. According to this view, the short introductions placed as headings to the discourses are worthy of special confidence.

But how has this fusion of the two writings which has merged the two journeys into one been brought about? Luke cannot have produced it consciously; it must have existed in his sources. The difficulty is only removed a stage. How was it possible for the two accounts of different journeys to be fused into a unique whole? As far as we are concerned, all that we believe it possible to say regarding the source from which Luke drew is, that the document must have been either Aramaic, or translated from Aramaic. To be convinced of this, we need only read the verse, Luke 9:51, which forms the heading of the narrative.

If we were proceeding on the relation of Luke to the two other synoptics, we should divide this part into two cycles, that in which Luke moves alone ( Luk 9:51 to Luk 18:14 ), and that in which he moves parallel to them ( Luk 18:15 to Luk 19:27 ). But that division has nothing corresponding to it in the mind of the author, who probably knows neither of the two other canonical accounts. He himself divides his narrative into three cycles by the three observations with which he marks it off: 1 st. Luk 9:51 to Luke 13:21 (Luke 9:51, the resolution to depart); 2 d. Luk 13:22 to Luke 17:10 (Luke 13:22, the direction of the journey); 3 d. Luk 17:11 to Luke 19:27 (Luke 17:11, the scene of the journey). Such, then, will be our division.

Verses 3-4

Vers. 3 and 4. The Pardon of Trespasses. If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him.

Holiness and love meet together in this precept: holiness begins with rebuking; then, when the rebuke has once been taken, love pardons. The pardon to be granted to our brethren has no other limit than their repenting, and the confession by which it is expressed.

Matthew ( Mat 18:15-22 ) places this precept in the same discourse as the preceding; it probably referred also to the altercation which had taken place between the disciples on that occasion. But there what gives rise to it is a characteristic question of Peter, which Luke did not know; otherwise he would not have omitted it; comp. Luke 12:41, where he carefully mentions a similar question put by the same apostle. Mark omits this precept about pardon; but at the end of the same discourse we find this remarkable exhortation ( Mar 9:50 ): “ Have salt in yourselves (use severity toward yourselves; comp. Luk 12:43-48 ), and have peace with one another,” a saying which has substantially the same meaning as our precept on the subject of pardon. What a proof both of the radical authenticity of the sayings of Jesus and of the fragmentary manner in which tradition had preserved them, as well as of the diversity of the sources from which our evangelists derived them!

Verses 5-6

Vers. 5 and 6. Faith. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 6. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

This request of the disciples must have been called forth by some manifestation of the extraordinary power of Jesus, with which Luke was unacquainted.

The literal force of the word which the disciples use, “ Add to our faith,” assumes that they think they have some. Jesus does not deny it; but He reduces this having to the feeblest imaginable quantity, since the smallest organic body is too large as an emblem of it.

The only real power in the universe is the divine will. The human will, which has discovered the secret of blending with this force of forces, is raised, in virtue of this union, to omnipotence; and from the time it becomes conscious of this privilege, it acts without obstruction, even in the domain of nature, if the kingdom of God so requires. Perhaps the sycamine to which Jesus points is, in His view, the emblem of the kingdom of God, and the sea (here the shore, the pure sand) that of the heathen world, that, till now, barren soil in which, by the faith and the prayers of the disciples, the divine work is henceforth to be planted and to prosper.

Matthew twice presents a saying similar to that of Luke 17:6, and both times in a definite situation; first, after the healing of the lunatic son, and in contrast to the apostles' lack of faith ( Luk 17:20-21 ). Only in the two cases it is a mountain which is to be cast into the sea. Mark, who in narrating the cursing of the fig-tree shows himself the most accurately informed, there reproduces this parable almost in the same way as Matthew; only he prefaces it with the words, “ Have faith in God,” and connects with it an exhortation to pardon as the condition of prayer being heard. No doubt, owing to the proverbial character of this saying, it may have been frequently repeated. But there is a very remarkable dovetailing between Luke and the two others, Mark especially. Do not the words of Jesus in Mark, Have faith in God and..., perfectly explain the prayer of the apostles in Luke, Increase our faith? Here, as at Luke 12:41 (comp. with Mar 13:37 ), the one evangelist has preserved one part of the conversation, the other another. With a common written source, is that intelligible? As to the admonition regarding pardon, which in Mark follows this exhortation to faith ( Luk 11:24-25 ), it sustains to the question of Peter ( Mat 18:21 ), and the exhortation in Luke ( Luk 17:3-4 ), a relation similar to that which we have just observed between Luk 12:41 and Mark 13:37. They are fragments of one whole, the grouping of which it is not difficult to restore.

Verses 7-10

Vers. 7-10. The Non-meritoriousness of Works. But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? 8. And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? 9. Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. 10. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

This saying, which has no connection with what immediately precedes, does not the less admirably close this series of exhortations given by Jesus, which almost all relate to pharisaism; it is peculiar to Luke. A slave returns in the evening, after having laboured all day in the fields. Does the master give himself up to extraordinary demonstrations of pleasure? No; everything goes on in the house according to the established order. From the work of the day, the servant simply passes to that of the evening; he dresses the viands, and serves at table as long ( ἕως , or better still, ἕως ἄν ) as his master pleases to eat and drink. And only then may he himself take his meal. So the most irreproachable of men must say to himself that he has done nothing but pay his debt to God; does not God on His side provide for all his wants? From the standpoint of right, they are quits on both sides. The word ἀχρεῖος , unprofitable, here signifies: one who has rendered no service (beyond what was due). This estimation of human work is true in the sphere of right where pharisaism plants itself, and it crushes this system in the dust by denying, along with all human merit, all obligation on God's part to recompense man; and this estimate should remain that of every man when he values his work in the presence of God. But there is a sphere higher than that of right, that of love; and in this latter another labour on man's part, that of joyful devotion, and another estimate on God's part, that of the love which is rejoiced by love. Jesus has described this other point of view, Luke 12:36-37. Holtzmann thinks it impossible that this exhortation should have been addressed to the disciples ( Luk 17:1 ). But is not the pharisaic tendency ever ready to spring up again in the hearts of believers? and does it not cling like a gnawing worm to fidelity itself? The words: I trow not, are mistakenly rejected by the Alex. Perhaps the οὐ δοκῶ has been confounded with the οὕτω which follows.

How are we to explain the position of those four exhortations in our Gospel, and their juxtaposition, without any logical bond? According to Holtzmann, Luke is about to return to his great historical source, the proto-Mark, which he had left since Luk 9:51 to work the collection of discourses, the Logia (comp. Luke 18:15, where the narrative of Luke begins again to move parallel to that of the two others); and hence he inserts here by anticipation the two exhortations, Luke 17:1-4, which he borrows from this document (A); then he relates further ( Luk 17:5-10 ) two sayings which he had forgotten, and which he takes from the Logia ( Λ ), which he is about to quit. But, 1. Why in this case should he not have put these last in the first place (which was the natural order, since all the preceding was taken from Λ ), and the two first afterwards (which was not less natural, since Luke is about to return to A)? Besides, 2. Has not the exegesis convinced us at every word that Luke certainly did not take all those sayings from the same written source as Mark and Matthew? The only explanation which can be given of the fragmentary character of this piece appears to us to be the following: Luke had up to this point related a series of exhortations given by Jesus, the occasion of which he was able to a certain extent to indicate; but he found some in his sources which were mentioned without any historical indication. It is this remnant scrap at the bottom of the portfolio, if I may so speak, which he delivers to us as it was, and without any introduction. Hence follow two consequences: 1. Luke's introductions in this part are not of his inventing. For why could not his ingenious mind have provided for these last exhortations as well as for all the preceding? A historical case like those of Luke 11:1; Luke 11:45, Luke 12:13; Luke 12:41, etc., was not difficult to imagine. 2. There is no better proof of the historical reality of the sayings of Jesus quoted in our Syn., than this fragmentary character which surprises us. Discourses which the disciples had put into the mouth of their Master would not have presented this broken appearance.

Verses 11-19

1. The Ten Lepers: Luke 17:11-19.

Vers. 11-19. Luke 17:11, even in its construction, reminds us of Luke 9:51. The καὶ αὐτός has here, as well as there, peculiar force. The caravans of Galilee took either the Samaritan route or the Peraean. Jesus follows neither; He makes one for Himself, the result of His deliberate wish, which is intermediate between the two, a fact which seems to be expressed by the so marked resuming of the subject ( καὶ αὐτός ).

The phrase διὰ μεσοῦ may signify in Greek: while travelling through both of those provinces, or while passing between them. Olshausen takes the first sense: he alleges that from Ephraim, whither Jesus retired after the resurrection of Lazarus ( Joh 11:54 ), He visited Galilee once more, thus traversing from south to north, first Samaria, and then Galilee. Gess (p. 74) also regards this return from Ephraim to Capernaum as probable. But the governed clause to Jerusalem would in this sense be real irony. The second sense is therefore the only possible one: Jesus was passing along the confines of the two provinces. This meaning is confirmed by the absence of the article before the two proper names: Samaria and Galilee. He directed His steps from west to east, toward the Jordan, which He must cross to enter Peraea, a fact which harmonizes, as we have seen, with Matthew 19:1, Mark 10:1, and even John 10:40-42.

Luke probably recalls here this general situation in view of the following narrative, in which we find a Samaritan leper mingling with Jewish lepers. Community of suffering had, in their case, broken down the national barrier.

Less bold than the leper of chap. 6, those unhappy men kept at a distance, according to the law, Leviticus 13:46. The space which a leper was bound to keep between him and every other person is estimated by some at 4, by others at 100 cubits. The cry which they uttered with one voice on perceiving Jesus, draws His attention to the pitiable sight. Without even telling them of their cure, He bids them go and give thanks for it. There is a dash, as it were, of triumphant joy in this unexpected order. As they go ( ἐν τῷ ὑπάγειν ), they observe the first symptoms of the cure which has been wrought. Immediately one of them, seized with an irresistible emotion of gratitude, turns back, uttering aloud cries of joy and adoration; and arrived in the presence of Jesus, he prostrates himself at His feet in thanksgiving. The difference is to be observed between δοξάζειν , glorifying, applied to God, and εὐχαριστεῖν , giving thanks, applied to Jesus. As He recognises him to be a Samaritan, Jesus feels to the quick the difference between those simple hearts, within which there yet vibrates the natural feeling of gratitude, and Jewish hearts, encrusted all over with pharisaic pride and ingratitude; and immediately, no doubt, the lot of His gospel in the world is presented to His mind. But He contents Himself with bringing into view the present contrast. Εὑρέθησαν has not for its subject the participle ὑποστρέψαντες , taken substantively, but ἄλλοι understood. Bleek refers the last words: thy faith hath saved thee, to the physical cure which Jesus would confirm to the sufferer by leading him to develope that disposition of faith which has procured it for him. But have we not here rather a new blessing, of which Jesus gives special assurance to this leper? The faith of which Jesus speaks is not merely that which brought him at the first, but more still that which has brought him back. By this return he has sealed for ever the previous transitory connection which his cure had formed between Jesus and him; he recognises His word as the instrument of the miracle; he unites himself closely to the entire person of Him whose power only he had sought at the first. And thereby his physical cure is transformed into a moral cure, into salvation.

Criticism suspects this narrative on account of its universalistic tendency. But if it had been invented with a didactic aim, would the lesson to be drawn from it have been so completely passed over in silence? We must in this case also suspect the healing of the Gentile centurion's servant in Matthew; and that with more reason still, because Jesus insists on the general lesson to be derived from the event.

Verses 11-37

Third Cycle: The Last Scenes of the Journey, Luk 17:11 to Luke 19:27 .

This third section brings us to Bethany, to the gates of Jerusalem, and to the morning of Palm Day. It seems to me evident that Luke, in Luke 17:11, intends simply to indicate the continuation of the journey begun Luke 9:51, and not, as Wieseler will have it, the beginning of a different journey. In consequence of the multiplicity of events related, Luke reminds us from time to time of the general situation. It is in the course of this third section that his narrative rejoins that of the two other Syn. ( Luk 18:15 et seq.), at the time when children are brought to Jesus that He may bless them. This event being expressly placed in Peraea by Matthew and Mark, it is clear that the following events must have taken place at the time when Jesus was about to cross the Jordan, or had just passed it.

Verses 20-21

1 st. Luke 17:20-21. The Spirituality of the Kingdom. And when He was demanded of the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them, and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. 21. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

It is known with what impatience the Pharisees waited for the manifestations of the Messianic kingdom. It is natural that they should desire to know the opinion of Jesus on the subject. Besides, they would have been glad to embarrass Him in the matter, or to drag from Him some heresy. Their question rested on a purely external view of this divine kingdom; His advent appeared to their mind as a great and sudden dramatic act. In the gospel point of view, this expectation is certainly not altogether false; but humanity must be prepared for the new external and divine state of things by a spiritual work wrought in the depths of the heart; and it is this internal advent which Jesus thinks good to put first in relief before such interlocutors. The side of the truth which He thinks proper to set forth is, as usual, that which is mistaken by the parties addressing Him. To the Pharisee Nicodemus, who came to Him with a question analogous to that which His confrères are now putting, Jesus replies exactly in the same way. The expression: μετὰ παρατηρήσεως , in such a way as to be observed, relates to the observation of objects falling under the senses. The present ἔρχεται , cometh, is that of the idea. Now, since the kingdom is not established in a visible manner, it might happen that it should be present without men suspecting it ( Luk 11:20 ). And this is exactly the case (Luke 11:20: has surprised you).

Lo here, lo there, these words express the impression of those who think they see it coming; Jesus puts in opposition to them His own behold. This last relates to the surprise which should be felt by His hearers on learning that the kingdom is already present. The words ἐντὸς ὑμῶν are explained by almost all modern interpreters in the sense of, in the midst of you. Philologically this meaning is possible; it may be harmonized with the γάρ . But the verb ἐστιν would in this case necessarily require to be put before the regimen; for this verb is would have the emphasis, “ it is really present. ” The idea among you would be secondary. If the regimen ἐντὸς ὑμῶν has the emphasis (and its place proves that it has), it can only be because these words contain the reason introduced by for. They should therefore serve to prove that the kingdom of God may have come without its coming being remarked; and this is what follows from its internal, spiritual nature. The meaning of this regimen is therefore, within you. Besides, the prep. ἐντός , within, always includes a contrast to the idea without. If, therefore, we give to it here the meaning of among, we must still suppose an understood contrast, that between the Jews as people within, and the Gentiles as people without. There is nothing in the context giving rise to such an antithesis. In giving to ἐντός the meaning within, we are led back to the idea expressed in the answer of Jesus to Nicodemus: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” which confirms our explanation. ᾿Εστί is, like ἔρχεται , the present of essence.

Verses 20-37

2. The Messiah's Coming: Luk 17:20 to Luke 18:8.

This piece embraces: 1 st. A question put by the Pharisees respecting the time of the appearance of the kingdom of God, and the answer of Jesus ( Luk 17:20-21 ); 2 d. A discourse addressed by Jesus to His disciples on the same subject ( Luk 17:22-37 ); 3 d. The parable of the unjust judge, which applies the subject treated practically to believers ( Luk 18:1-8 ).

Verses 22-25

Vers. 22-25. “ And He said unto the disciples, The days will come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. 23. And they shall say to you, See here! or, see there! go not after them, nor follow them. 24. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in His day. 25. But first must He suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.

The course of thought is this: The kingdom, in the sense understood by the Pharisees, will not come immediately ( Luk 17:22 ); and when it shall come, no uncertainty will be felt about His appearing ( Luk 17:23-24 ). Luk 17:25 returns to the idea of Luke 17:22.

Ημέραι ( Luk 17:22 ), days, long days, during which there will be time to sigh for the visible presence of the Master. Comp. Luke 5:35. The desire to see one of the days of the Son of man may refer either to the painful regret of the Church when she recalls the happiness enjoyed by her while He was present on the earth, or to her impatient waiting for some manifestation from on high announcing that the day is at length near. Substantially, the first meaning leads to the second, as regret does to desire; but the second idea is the dominant one, according to the context. When the apostles or their successors shall have passed a long time on the earth in the absence of their Lord, when they shall be at the end of their preaching and their apologetic demonstrations, and when around them scepticism, materialism, pantheism, and deism shall more and more gain the ascendency, then there shall be formed in their souls an ardent longing for that Lord who keeps silence and remains hid; they will call for some divine manifestation, a single one ( μίαν ), like that of the old days, to refresh their hearts and sustain the fainting Church. But to the end, the task will be to walk by faith ( οὐκ ὄψεσθε , ye shall not see). Need we be astonished if in such circumstances the faith of the great majority verges to extinction ( Luk 18:8 )?

With this heightening of expectation among believers there will correspond the seducing appeals of falsehood ( Luk 17:23 ). Literally taken, this verse is in contradiction to Luke 17:21. But Luk 17:21 related to the spiritual kingdom, whose coming cannot be observed or proclaimed, while the subject now in question is the visible kingdom, the appearing of which shall be falsely announced. Why shall those announcements be necessarily false? Luk 17:24 gives the explanation.

Gess exhibits the application of this teaching, on the one hand, to the folly of the Romanists who will have no Church without a visible head, and, on the other, to that of Protestant sectaries who expect the appearing of the kingdom of God to-day in Palestine, tomorrow in Russia, etc.

Ver. 24. The Lord's coming will be universal and instantaneous. Men do not run here or there to see a flash of lightning: it shines simultaneously on all points of the horizon. So the Lord will appear at the same moment to the view of all living. His appearances as the Risen One in the upper room, when closed, are the prelude of this last advent. But if He is to return, He must go away, go away persecuted. This is the subject of Luke 17:25.

This generation can designate no other than the Jewish contemporaries of the Messiah. A separation is about to supervene between Israel and its now present Messiah. And this rejection of the Messiah by His own people will be the signal for the invisibility of His kingdom. Comp. the antithesis Luke 13:35 (the faith of Israel bringing back the Messiah from heaven). How long will this abnormal state last? Jesus Himself knows not.

But He declares that this epoch of His invisibility will terminate in an entirely materialistic state of things, Luke 17:26-30, which will be brought to an end suddenly by His advent.

Verses 22-37

2 d. Luke 17:22-37. The Coming of the Kingdom.

To the Pharisees Jesus declared what they did not know, the spiritual essence of the kingdom. But Jesus did not mean to deny the external and final appearing of a divine state of things. To develope this other side of the truth, He turns to His disciples, because it is only to those who possess something of His spiritual life that He can speak profitably of His future return. Thus it is that the treatment of the same subject is modified, according to the character of those whom Jesus addresses. Besides, the abstract idea of the coming of the kingdom is now presented as the reappearing of Jesus Himself. The truth could only be expounded in this aspect to believers. We may see with what justice the Revue de Théologie alleges: “The first two verses ( Luk 17:20-21 ) are in contradiction to the rest, and have no connection with what follows!” (1867, p. 386.)

The discourse of Jesus bears on three points: 1 st. When and how will Jesus reappear ( Luk 17:22-25 )? 2 d. What will be the state of the world then ( Luk 17:26-30 )? 3 d. What will be the moral condition of salvation in that last crisis ( Luk 17:31-37 )?

Verses 26-30

Vers. 26-30. “ And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27. They did eat, they drank, they married, and were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark; and the flood came, and destroyed them all. 28. Likewise also, as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29. But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. 30. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

While believers sigh with growing ardour for the return of their Lord, carnal security more or less complete takes possession of the race. It is an epoch like those which have preceded all the great catastrophes of history. The business of earthly life is carried through with regularity; but religious feeling gradually disappears from the heart of men who have become secularized. The days of Noe denote the 120 years during which the ark was a-building. ᾿Εξεγαμίζοντο strictly means, were given in marriage, that is to say, young daughters by their parents. The finite verbs ἤσθιον , ἔπινον ( Luk 17:28 ), ἔβρεξε ( Luk 17:29 ), are in apposition to ἐγένετο , and, as such, are still dependent on ὡς . The apodosis does not occur till Luke 17:30. This form is analogous to the Hebrew construction which we have so often observed in Luke ( ἐγένετο , with a finite verb for its subject). ῎Εβρεξε is generally regarded as active: God caused it to rain. Comp. Genesis 19:24, καὶ κύριος ἔβρεξεν ( Mat 5:45 ). But as in this case the ἀπ᾿ οὐρανοῦ would be pleonastic, and as βρέχω is found in Polybius and the later Greek authors in a neuter sense, it is more natural to adopt this sense here, by which we at the same time preserve the parallelism between ἀπώλεσεν (subject, πῦρ καὶ θεῖον ) and the ἀπώλεσεν , Luke 17:27 (subject, κατακλυσμός ).

The word ἀποκαλύπτεται supposes that Jesus is present, but that a veil conceals His person from the view of the world. All at once the veil is lifted, and the glorified Lord is visible to all. This term occurs again in the same sense, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7; and perhaps 1 Corinthians 3:13. The point of comparison between this event and the examples quoted is the surprise caused in the bosom of security.

Mat 24:37-39 contains a passage parallel to Luke 17:26-27 (the example of Noe). The idea is the same; but the terms are so different, that they forbid us to assume that the two editions proceed from the same text.

Verses 31-37

Vers. 31-37. “ In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. 32. Remember Lot's wife. 33. Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life, shall preserve it. 34. I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 36, 37. And they answered and said unto Him, Where, Lord? And He said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

Here is the practical conclusion of the discourse. Jesus describes that disposition of mind which, in this last crisis, shall be the condition of salvation. The Lord passes with His heavenly retinue. He attracts all the inhabitants of the earth who are willing and ready to join Him; but it transpires in the twinkling of an eye. Whoever is not already loosened from earthly things, so as to haste away without hesitation, taking flight toward Him freely and joyously, remains behind. Thus precisely had Lot's wife perished with the goods, from which she could not part. Agreeably to His habitual method, Jesus characterizes this disposition of mind by a series of external acts, in which it is concretely realized. The Revue de Théologie (passage quoted, p. 337) condemns Luke for here applying to the Parousia the counsel to flee, which has no meaning, except as applied to the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:0). This accusation is false, for there is no mention of fleeing from one part of the earth to another, but of rising from the earth to the Lord, as He passes and disappears: “ Let him not come down (from the roof); but, forgetting all that is in the house, let him be ready to follow the Lord!” So he who is in the fields is not to attempt to return home to carry upwards with him some object of value. The Lord is there; if any one belongs to Him, let him leave everything at once to accompany Him (Matthew 24:18: the labourer should not even return to seek his dress, which he laid aside to work). This saying, especially in the form of Matthew, evidently referred to the Parousia, which shall come suddenly, and not to the destruction of Jerusalem, which will be preceded by an armed invasion and a long war. Luke's context is therefore preferable to Matthew's.

Ver. 33. To save one's life, by riveting it to some object with which it is identified, is the means of losing it, of being left behind with this perishing world; to give one's life, by quitting everything at once, is the only means of saving it, by laying hold of the Lord who is passing. See on Luke 9:24. Jesus here substitutes for the phrase to save his life, the word ζωογονεῖν , literally, to give it birth alive. The word is that by which the LXX. express the Piel and Hiphil of חָיָה , H2649, to live. Here it is having the natural life born again, that it may be reproduced in the form of spiritual, glorified, eternal life. The absolute sacrifice of the natural life is the means of this transformation. Here is a word of unfathomable depth and of daily application.

At this time a selection will take place ( Luk 17:34 ), a selection which will instantaneously break all earthly relations, even the most intimate, and from which there will arise a new grouping of humanity in two new families or societies, the taken and the left. Λέγω ὑμῖν , I tell you, announces something weighty. Bleek thinks, that as the subject under discussion is the return of the Lord as judge, to be taken is to perish, to be left is to escape. But the middle παραλαμβάνεσθαι , to take to one's self, to welcome as one's own, can only have a favourable meaning ( Joh 14:3 ). And St. Paul certainly understood the word in this sense; for it is probably not without relation to this saying that he teaches, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the taking up into the air of the believers who are alive at the return of Christ; it is the ascension of the disciples, as the complement of their Master's. ᾿Αφιέναι , to forsake, to leave behind, as Luke 13:35. The image of Luk 17:34 supposes that the Parousia takes place at night. Luke 17:35, on the contrary, supposes it happening during the day. It matters little. For one hemisphere it will be in the day; for the other, at night. The idea remains the same: whether he is sleeping, or whether he is working, man ought to be sufficiently disengaged to give himself over without delay to the Lord who draws him.

Handmills were used among the ancients. When the millstone was large, two persons turned it together.

Ver. 36, which is wanting in almost all the Mjj., is taken from the parallel passage in Matthew.

Thus the beings who shall have been most closely connected here below, shall, in the twinkling of an eye, be parted for ever.

The apostle's question ( Luk 17:37 ) is one of curiosity. Although Jesus had already answered it in Luke 17:24, He takes advantage of it to close the conversation by a declaration which applies it to the whole world. The natural phenomenon, described by Job 39:30, is used by Jesus to symbolize the universality of the judgment proclaimed. The carcase is humanity entirely secular, and destitute of the life of God (Luke 17:26-30; comp. Luke 9:60, Let the dead...). The eagles represent punishment alighting on such a society. There is no allusion in this figure to the Roman standards, for there is no reference in the preceding discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem. Comp. also Matthew 24:28, where this saying applies exclusively to the Parousia. The eagle, properly so called, does not live in flocks, it is true, and does not feed on carrion. But ἀετός , as well as ‡ ֶנשֶׁר , H5979, Proverbs 30:17, may (as Furrer shows, Bedeut. der Bibl. Geogr. p. 13) denote the great vulture ( gyps fulvus), equal to the eagle in size and strength, which is seen in hundreds on the plain of Gennesareth. Some Fathers have applied the image of the body to Jesus glorified, and that of the eagles to the saints who shall accompany Him at His advent!

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Luke 17". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books".