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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Luke 3

Verse 1

Now in the fifteenth year (εν ετει δε πεντεκαιδεκατωιen etei de pentekaidekatōi). Tiberius Caesar was ruler in the provinces two years before Augustus Caesar died. Luke makes a six-fold attempt here to indicate the time when John the Baptist began his ministry. John revived the function of the prophet (Ecce Homo, p. 2) and it was a momentous event after centuries of prophetic silence. Luke begins with the Roman Emperor, then mentions Pontius Pilate Procurator of Judea, Herod Antipas Tetrarch of Galilee (and Perea), Philip, Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene (all with the genitive absolute construction) and concludes with the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (son-in-law and successor of Annas). The ancients did not have our modern system of chronology, the names of rulers as here being the common way. Objection has been made to the mention of Lysanias here because Josephus (Ant. XXVII. I) tells of a Lysanias who was King of Abila up to b.c. 36 as the one referred to by Luke with the wrong date. But an inscription has been found on the site of Abilene with mention of “Lysanias the tetrarch” and at the time to which Luke refers (see my Luke the Historian in the Light of Research, pp. 167f.). So Luke is vindicated again by the rocks.

Verse 2

The Word of God came unto John (εγενετο ρημα τεου επι Ιωανηνegeneto rhēma theou epi Iōanēn). The great epoch marked by εγενετοegeneto rather than ηνēn ημα τεουRhēma theou is some particular utterance of God (Plummer), common in lxx, here alone in the N.T. Then John is introduced as the son of Zacharias according to Chapter 1. Matthew describes him as the Baptist, Mark as the Baptizer. No other Gospel mentions Zacharias. Mark begins his Gospel here, but Matthew and Luke have two Infancy Chapters before. Luke alone tells of the coming of the word to John. All three Synoptics locate him “in the wilderness” (εν τηι ερημωιen tēi erēmōi) as here, Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:1 (adding “of Judea”).

Verse 3

All the region round about Jordan (πασαν περιχωρον του Ιορδανουpāsan perichōron tou Iordanou). The wilderness was John‘s abode (Luke 1:80) so that he began preaching where he was. It was the plain (Genesis 13:10.) or valley of the Jordan, El Ghor, as far north as Succoth (2 Chronicles 4:17). Sometimes he was on the eastern bank of the Jordan (John 10:40), though usually on the west side. His baptizing kept him near the river.

The baptism of repentance unto remission of sins (βαπτισμα μετανοιας εις απεσιν αμαρτιωνbaptisma metanoias eis aphesin hamartiōn). The same phrase as in Mark 1:4, which see note for discussion of these important words. The word remission (απεσιςaphesis) “occurs in Luke more frequently than in all the other New Testament writers combined” (Vincent). In medical writers it is used for the relaxing of disease.

Verse 4

As it is written (ως γεγραπταιhōs gegraptai). The regular formula for quotation, perfect passive indicative of γραπωgraphō the prophet (Εσαιου του προπητουEsaiou tou prophētou). The same phrase in Mark 1:2 (correct text) and Matthew 3:3. Mark, as we have seen, adds a quotation from Malachi 3:1 and Luke gives Isaiah 40:4 and Isaiah 40:5 of Isa. 40 not in Matthew or Mark (Luke 3:5, Luke 3:6). See note on Matthew 3:2; note on Mark 1:3 for discussion of Luke 3:4.

Verse 5

Valley (παραγχpharagx). Here only in the N.T., though in the lxx and ancient Greek. It is a ravine or valley hedged in by precipices.

Shall be filled (πληρωτησεταιplērōthēsetai). Future passive indicative of πληροωplēroō In 1845 when the Sultan visited Brusa the inhabitants were called out to clear the roads of rocks and to fill up the hollows. Oriental monarchs often did this very thing. A royal courier would go ahead to issue the call. So the Messiah sends his herald (John) before him to prepare the way for him. Isaiah described the preparation for the Lord‘s triumphal march and John used it with great force.

Hill (βουνοςbounos). Called a Cyrenaic word by Herodotus, but later Greek writers use it as does the lxx.

Brought low (ταπεινωτησεταιtapeinōthēsetai). Future passive indicative of ταπεινοωtapeinoō Literal meaning here of a verb common in the metaphorical sense.

Crooked (σκολιαskolia). Common word, curved, opposite of ορτοςorthos or ευτυςeuthus straight.

Verse 6

All flesh (πασα σαρχpāsa sarx). Used in the N.T. of the human race alone, though in the lxx brutes are included.

The salvation of God (το σοτηριον του τεουto sotērion tou theou). The saving act of God. This phrase aptly describes Luke‘s Gospel which has in mind the message of Christ for all men. It is the universal Gospel.

Verse 7

To the multitude that went out (τοις εχπορευομενοις οχλοιςtois exporeuomenois ochlois). Plural, Multitudes. The present participle also notes the repetition of the crowds as does ελεγενelegen (imperfect), he used to say. Matthew 3:7-10 singles out the message of John to the Pharisees and Sadducees, which see notes for discussion of details. Luke gives a summary of his preaching to the crowds with special replies to these inquiries: the multitudes, Luke 3:10, the publicans Luke 3:12, the soldiers Luke 3:14.

To be baptized of him (βαπτιστηναι υπ αυτουbaptisthēnai hup' autou). This is the purpose of their coming. Matthew 3:7 has simply “to his baptism.” John‘s metaphors are from the wilderness (vipers, fruits, axe, slave boy loosing sandals, fire, fan, thrashing-floor, garner, chaff, stones).

Who warned you? (τις επεδειχεν υμινtis hepedeixen humiṉ). The verb is like our “suggest” by proof to eye, ear, or brain (Luke 6:47; Luke 12:5; Acts 9:16; Acts 20:35; Matthew 3:7). Nowhere else in the N.T. though common ancient word (υποδεικνυμιhupodeiknumi show under, point out, give a tip or private hint).

Verse 10

Asked (επηρωτωνepērōtōn). Imperfect tense, repeatedly asked.

What then must we do? (τι ουν ποιησωμενti oun poiēsōmeṉ). Deliberative aorist subjunctive. More exactly, What then are we to do, What then shall we do? Same construction in verses Luke 3:12. The ουνoun refers to the severe things already said by John (Luke 3:7-9).

Verse 11

Coats (χιτωναςchitōnas). The inner and less necessary undergarment. The outer indispensable ιματιονhimation is not mentioned. Note the specific and different message to each class. John puts his finger on the weaknesses of the people right before him.

Verse 12

Also publicans (και τελωναιkai telōnai). We have had the word already in Matthew (Matthew 5:46; Matthew 9:10; Matthew 11:19; Matthew 18:17; Matthew 21:31.) and Mark (Mark 11:15.). It is sometimes coupled with harlots and other sinners, the outcasts of society. The word is made up from τελοςtelos tax, and ωνεομαιōneomai to buy, and is an old one. The renter or collector of taxes was not popular anywhere, but least of all when a Jew collected taxes for the Romans and did it by terrible graft and extortions.

Extort (πρασσετεprassete). The verb means only to do or practice, but early the tax-collectors learned how to “do” the public as regular “blood-suckers.” Lucian links them with crows and sycophants.

Verse 14

Soldiers also (και στρατευομενοιkai strateuomenoi). Men on service, militantes rather than milites (Plummer). So Paul in 2 Timothy 2:4. An old word like στρατιωτηςstratiōtēs soldier. Some of these soldiers acted as police to help the publicans. But they were often rough and cruel.

Do violence to no man (μηδενα διασεισητεmēdena diaseisēte). Here only in the N.T., but in the lxx and common in ancient Greek. It means to shake (seismic disturbance, earthquake) thoroughly (διαdia) and so thoroughly to terrify, to extort money or property by intimidating (3 Maccabees 7:21). The Latin employs concutere, so. It was a process of blackmail to which Socrates refers (Xenophon, Memorabilia, ii. 9, 1). This was a constant temptation to soldiers. Might does not make right with Jesus.

Neither exact anything wrongfully (μηδε συκοπαντησητεmēde sukophantēsēte). In Athens those whose business it was to inform against any one whom they might find exporting figs out of Attica were called fig-showers or sycophants (συκοπανταιsukophantai). From συκονsukon fig, and παινωphainō show. Some modern scholars reject this explanation since no actual examples of the word meaning merely a fig-shower have been found. But without this view it is all conjectural. From the time of Aristophanes on it was used for any malignant informer or calumniator. These soldiers were tempted to obtain money by informing against the rich, blackmail again. So the word comes to mean to accuse falsely. The sycophants came to be a regular class of informers or slanderers in Athens. Socrates is quoted by Xenophon as actually advising Crito to employ one in self-defence, like the modern way of using one gunman against another. Demosthenes pictures a sycophant as one who “glides about the market like a scorpion, with his venomous sting all ready, spying out whom he may surprise with misfortune and ruin and from whom he can most easily extort money, by threatening him with an action dangerous in its consequences” (quoted by Vincent). The word occurs only in Luke in the N.T., here and in Luke 19:8 in the confession of Zaccheus. It occurs in the lxx and often in the old Greek.

Be content with your wages (αρκειστε τοις οπσωνιοις υμωνarkeisthe tois opsōniois humōn). Discontent with wages was a complaint of mercenary soldiers. This word for wages was originally anything cooked (οπσονopson cooked food), and bought (from ωνεομαιōneomai to buy). Hence, “rations,” “pay,” wages. ΟπσαριονOpsarion diminutive of οπσονopson was anything eaten with bread like broiled fish. So οπσωνιονopsōnion comes to mean whatever is bought to be eaten with bread and then a soldier‘s pay or allowance (Polybius, and other late Greek writers) as in 1 Corinthians 9:7. Paul uses the singular of a preacher‘s pay (2 Corinthians 11:8) and the plural of the wages of sin (Romans 6:23) = death (death is the diet of sin).

Verse 15

Were in expectation (προσδοκωντοςprosdokōntos). Genitive absolute of this striking verb already seen in Luke 1:21.

Reasoned (διαλογιζομενωνdialogizomenōn). Genitive absolute again. John‘s preaching about the Messiah and the kingdom of God stirred the people deeply and set them to wondering.

Whether haply he were the Christ (μηποτε αυτος ειη ο Χριστοςmēpote autos eiē ho Christos). Optative ειηeiē in indirect question changed from the indicative in the direct (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1031). John wrought no miracles and was not in David‘s line and yet he moved people so mightily that they began to suspect that he himself (αυτοςautos) was the Messiah. The Sanhedrin will one day send a formal committee to ask him this direct question (John 1:19).

Verse 16

He that is mightier than I (ο ισχυροτερος μουho ischuroteros mou). Like Mark 1:7, “the one mightier than I.” Ablative case (μουmou) of comparison. John would not turn aside for the flattery of the crowd. He was able to take his own measure in comparison with the Messiah and was loyal to him (see my John the Loyal). Compare Luke 3:16 with Mark 1:7. and Matthew 3:11. for discussion of details. Luke has “fire” here after “baptize with the Holy Ghost” as Matthew 3:11, which see note. This bold Messianic picture in the Synoptic Gospels shows that John saw the Messiah‘s coming as a judgment upon the world like fire and the fan of the thrashing-floor, and with unquenchable fire for the chaff (Luke 3:17; Matthew 3:12). But he had the spiritual conception also, the baptism in the Holy Spirit which will characterize the Messiah‘s Mission and so will far transcend the water baptism which marked the ministry of John.

Verse 18

Many other exhortations (πολλα μεν ουν και ετεραpolla men oun kai hetera). Literally, many and different things did John εςανγελιζεevangelize ευαγγελιζετοeuaggelizeto to the people. Luke has given a bare sample of the wonderful messages of the Baptist. Few as his words preserved are they give a definite and powerful conception of his preaching.

Verse 19

Reproved (ελεγχομενοςelegchomenos). Present passive participle of ελεγχωelegchō an old verb meaning in Homer to treat with contempt, then to convict (Matthew 18:15), to expose (Ephesians 5:11), to reprove as here. The substantive ελεγχοςelegchos means proof (Hebrews 11:1) and ελεγμοςelegmos censure (2 Timothy 3:16). Josephus (Ant. XVIII. V.4) shows how repulsive this marriage was to Jewish feeling. Evil things (πονηρωνponērōn). Incorporated into the relative sentence. The word is from πονοσ πονεωponosclass="normal greek">οπταλμος πονηρος poneō toil, work, and gives the active side of evil, possibly with the notion of work itself as evil or at least an annoyance. The “evil eye” (εποιησενophthalmos ponēros in Mark 7:22) was a “mischief working eye” (Vincent). In Matthew 6:23 it is a diseased eye. So Satan is “the evil one” (Matthew 5:37; Matthew 6:13, etc.). It is a very common adjective in the N.T. as in the older Greek.

Had done (epoiēsen). Aorist active indicative, not past perfect, merely a summary constative aorist, he did.

Verse 20

Added (προσετηκενprosethēken). First aorist active indicative (kappa aorist). Common verb (προστιτημιprostithēmi) in all Greek. In N.T. chiefly in Luke and Acts. Hippocrates used it of applying wet sponges to the head and Galen of applying a decoction of acorns. There is no evidence that Luke has a medical turn to the word here. The absence of the conjunction οτιhoti (that) before the next verb κατεκλεισενkatekleisen (shut up) is asyndeton. This verb literally means shut down, possibly with a reference to closing down the door of the dungeon, though it makes sense as a perfective use of the preposition, like our “shut up” without a strict regard to the idea of “down.” It is an old and common verb, though here and Acts 26:10 only in the N.T. See note on Matthew 14:3 for further statement about the prison.

Verse 21

When all the people were baptised (εν τωι βαπτιστηναι απαντα τον λαονen tōi baptisthēnai hapanta ton laon). The use of the articular aorist infinitive here with ενen bothers some grammarians and commentators. There is no element of time in the aorist infinitive. It is simply punctiliar action, literally “in the being baptized as to all the people.” Luke does not say that all the people were baptized before Jesus came or were baptized at the same time. It is merely a general statement that Jesus was baptized in connexion with or at the time of the baptizing of the people as a whole.

Jesus also having been baptized (και Ιησου βαπτιστεντοςkai Iēsou baptisthentos). Genitive absolute construction, first aorist passive participle. In Luke‘s sentence the baptism of Jesus is merely introductory to the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father. For the narrative of the baptism see note on Mark 1:9; notes on Matthew 3:13-16.

And praying (και προσευχομενουkai proseuchomenou). Alone in Luke who so often mentions the praying of Jesus. Present participle and so naturally meaning that the heaven was opened while Jesus was praying though not necessarily in answer to his prayer.

The heaven was opened (ανεωιχτηναι τον ουρανονaneōichthēnai ton ouranon). First aorist passive infinitive with double augment, whereas the infinitive is not supposed to have any augment. The regular form would be ανοιχτηναιanoichthēnai as in D (Codex Bezae). So the augment appears in the future indicative κατεαχειkateaxei (Matthew 12:20) and the second aorist passive subjunctive κατεαγωσινkateagōsin (John 19:31). Such unusual forms appear in the Koiné. This infinitive here with the accusative of general reference is the subject of εγενετοegeneto (it came to pass). Matthew 3:16 uses the same verb, but Mark 1:10 has σχιζομενουςschizomenous rent asunder.

Verse 22

Descended (καταβηναιkatabēnai). Same construction as the preceding infinitive.

The Holy Ghost (το πνευμα το αγιονto pneuma to hagion). The Holy Spirit. Mark 1:10 has merely the Spirit (το πνευμαto pneuma) while Matthew 3:16 has the Spirit of God (πνευμα τεουpneuma theou).

In a bodily form (σωματικωι ειδειsōmatikōi eidei). Alone in Luke who has also “as a dove” (ως περιστερανhōs peristeran) like Matthew and Mark. This probably means that the Baptist saw the vision that looked like a dove. Nothing is gained by denying the fact or possibility of the vision that looked like a dove. God manifests his power as he will. The symbolism of the dove for the Holy Spirit is intelligible. We are not to understand that this was the beginning of the Incarnation of Christ as the Cerinthian Gnostics held. But this fresh influx of the Holy Spirit may have deepened the Messianic consciousness of Jesus and certainly revealed him to the Baptist as God‘s Son.

And a voice came out of heaven (και πωνην εχ ουρανου γενεσταιkai phōnēn ex ouranou genesthai). Same construction of infinitive with accusative of general reference. The voice of the Father to the Son is given here as in Mark 1:11, which see, and Matthew 3:17 for discussion of the variation there. The Trinity here manifest themselves at the baptism of Jesus which constitutes the formal entrance of Jesus upon his Messianic ministry. He enters upon it with the Father‘s blessing and approval and with the power of the Holy Spirit upon him. The deity of Christ here appears in plain form in the Synoptic Gospels. The consciousness of Christ is as clear on this point here as in the Gospel of John where the Baptist describes him after his baptism as the Son of God (John 1:34).

Verse 23

Jesus Himself (αυτος Ιησουςautos Iēsous). Emphatic intensive pronoun calling attention to the personality of Jesus at this juncture. When he entered upon his Messianic work.

When he began to teach (αρχομενοςarchomenos). The words “to teach” are not in the Greek text. The Authorized Version “began to be about thirty years of age,” is an impossible translation. The Revised Version rightly supplies “to teach” (διδασκεινdidaskein) after the present participle αρχομενοςarchomenos Either the infinitive or the participle can follow αρχομαιarchomai usually the infinitive in the Koiné. It is not necessary to supply anything (Acts 1:22).

Was about thirty years of age (ην ωσει ετων τριακονταēn hōsei etōn triakonta). Tyndale has it right “Jesus was about thirty yere of age when he beganne.” Luke does not commit himself definitely to precisely thirty years as the age of Christ. The Levites entered upon full service at that age, but that proves nothing about Jesus. God‘s prophets enter upon their task when the word of God comes to them. Jesus may have been a few months under or over thirty or a year or two less or more.

Being Son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli (ων υιος ως ενομιζετο Ιωσηπ του ελειōn huios hōs enomizeto Iōsēph tou Helei). For the discussion of the genealogy of Jesus, see notes on Matthew 1:1-17. The two genealogies differ very widely and many theories have been proposed about them. At once one notices that Luke begins with Jesus and goes back to Adam, the Son of God, while Matthew begins with Abraham and comes to “Joseph the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16). Matthew employs the word “begot” each time, while Luke has the article τουtou repeating υιουhuiou (Son) except before Joseph. They agree in the mention of Joseph, but Matthew says that “Jacob begat Joseph” while Luke calls “Joseph the son of Heli.” There are other differences, but this one makes one pause. Joseph, of course, did not have two fathers. If we understand Luke to be giving the real genealogy of Jesus through Mary, the matter is simple enough. The two genealogies differ from Joseph to David except in the cases of Zorobabel and Salathiel. Luke evidently means to suggest something unusual in his genealogy by the use of the phrase “as was supposed” (ως ενομιζετοhōs enomizeto). His own narrative in Luke 1:26-38 has shown that Joseph was not the actual father of Jesus. Plummer objects that, if Luke is giving the genealogy of Jesus through Mary, υιοςhuios must be used in two senses here (son as was supposed of Joseph, and grandson through Mary of Heli). But that is not an unheard of thing. In neither list does Matthew or Luke give a complete genealogy. Just as Matthew uses “begat” for descent, so does Luke employ “son” in the same way for descendant. It was natural for Matthew, writing for Jews, to give the legal genealogy through Joseph, though he took pains to show in Matthew 1:16, Matthew 1:18-25 that Joseph was not the actual father of Jesus. It was equally natural for Luke, a Greek himself and writing for the whole world, to give the actual genealogy of Jesus through Mary. It is in harmony with Pauline universality (Plummer) that Luke carries the genealogy back to Adam and does not stop with Abraham. It is not clear why Luke adds “the Son of God” after Adam (Luke 3:38). Certainly he does not mean that Jesus is the Son of God only in the sense that Adam is. Possibly he wishes to dispose of the heathen myths about the origin of man and to show that God is the Creator of the whole human race, Father of all men in that sense. No mere animal origin of man is in harmony with this conception.

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The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Luke 3". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.