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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

- Luke

by Daniel Whedon


Intended for Popular Use








The great favour with which the first volume of this Commentary was received by the public is a decisive encouragement to the author to give assurance of his full purpose, if life and health he spared, to complete an entire exposition of the New Testament in the same style and proportional extent. The present expectation is to embrace it in four volumes; but that must in some degree be left to what shall appear to be the possibilities of compression. Even if the present writer should fail of his purpose, some competent hand will be selected to complete the work. And, we may add, there is a fair prospect that a Commentary on the Old Testament will be furnished, before a very long period shall close, in uniform size and style with these two volumes; so that the present work may be considered as the commencement of a complete commentary on the whole Bible, to be issued from the Book Rooms of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Such a work, embracing the result of modern scholarship, yet popular in its style and compressed in form, will, it is believed, be accepted by the Church and public as fulfilling in its measure the blessed mission of diffusing God’s word and “spreading scriptural holiness.”


“THE WORD, the artificer of all things, who sits upon the [four] Cherubim, holding together all things, being manifested to men, gave to us the FOUR -formed Gospel, actuated by one spirit.” So said Irenaeus in the middle of century second, reckoning from the Lord’s ascension. Earlier than he, Tatian had formed a Harmony, titled the DIATES-SARON, or Through-the-FOUR. And still earlier than he, Justin Martyr, Tatian’s own teacher, tells us what “the apostles in the memoirs by them which are called GOSPELS,” said. And those Gospels, he tells us, were in his day publicly read as of sole and unique authority in the churches, as the Old Testament was in the synagogues. So that it is beyond rational question, from these and other proofs, that between the death of St. John and the time that Justin wrote, the FOUR GOSPELS had by silent and spontaneous consent of the holy martyr Church arisen to a universal, unquestioned, unrivalled authority. It was not by decrees of councils or any arbitrary authority, but by unanimous catholic concurrence that the evangelic Canon was adopted.

But there was a Gospel, that is, a Gospel-matter, a Gospel-history, before there were the four written Gospel-books.* Our Saviour’s deeds, words, death, and resurrection, being the very essence and substance of the gospels, existed in the minds and memory, in the heart and soul of the living Church with great fulness and completeness before the four evangelists wrote. The twelve apostles had been by Jesus chosen as his eye and ear witnesses; and after his death they were the official rehearsers of the narratives. “Beginning at Jerusalem,” where the works and words of Jesus were well known, endued with power from on high, they repeated the story of Jesus and him crucified. This oral gospel the Church accepted from these first eyewitnesses; and it formed the complete body of the Christian faith. Hearers and spectators would sometimes commit to parchment memoranda of particular sayings, discourses, or doings of Jesus. And these would be of various authenticity, arrangement, and extent. In time more extended and completer, yet imperfect narratives would be composed and come into the possession of many private Christians and most of the Churches. Thus there existed an oral and documentary gospel-matter before the four gospel-books.[* Consult our Notes on Luke 1:1-4.] This living oral gospel had a peculiar power to it during the time when its utterances came from the original inspired apostolic lips, and, though in a less degree, from the reports of those who had heard the apostles. Even after the written gospels had come into existence, and until late toward the close of the second century, a feeling of interest in behalf of the oral tradition over the recorded letter pervaded many hearts. “I do not think,” says Papias, soon after the close of the first century, “that I derived so much benefit from books as from the living voice of those who are still surviving.” His preference was this: “If I met with any one who has been a follower of the elders,” (the apostles and their contemporaries,) “I made it a point to inquire what, were the declarations of the elders; what was said by Andrew, Peter, or Philip; what by Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or any other of the disciples of our Lord; what Aristion (=Luke?) and the presbyter John, disciples of our Lord, relate.” In an age where reading and writing little prevail, such oral traditions are conveyed, by memory, with great accuracy of form. The Jewish succession of Rabbies claimed to transmit by tradition an entire unwritten law without addition or subtraction. Repetition of the same narratives by the same apostolic narrators, often in each others’ hearing, would result in great sameness of expression; and the narrative would finally assume something of a stereotype form. The wonderful deeds and holy words of Jesus, had no writing existed, might have been mentally preserved with great accuracy for more than one generation.

But as the authoritative written letter alone could preserve above suspicion a gospel intended for ages, so the great Head of the Church took providential care that the record should come from responsible hands. Two books from original apostles, and two from apostolic contemporaries under apostolic sanction, and with general sanction of the apostolic Church, have come down to these and future ages. Of these the three first (which, from their strong likeness, are commonly called The Synoptic Gospels) contain the authentic transcript of the oral gospel, as it existed in varied stereotype forms in the apostles’ preaching; while the fourth contains the independent personal narration of the apostle who was nearest and deepest in the heart of Jesus. As these gospels took their place in the archives of the Churches of the widespread Christendom already existing in different quarters of the globe, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and were read to the congregation (as the oral had been delivered) from Sabbath to Sabbath, the oral gospel was gradually superseded until scarce a trace of it remains to our day.* Of the nature of the verbal identities and variations between the three Synoptic Gospels, the following comparative passages, as specimens, will convey some idea:

[* See note on Luke 6:4.]


Matthew 3:13-17. Mark 1:9-11. Luke 3:21-23. 13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 9 And it came to pass in those days. that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him. 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. THE HEALING OF PETER’S WIFE’S MOTHER.

Matthew 8:14-17. Mark 1:29-31. Luke 4:38-41. 14 And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. 15 And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. 29 And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever; and anon they tell him of her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand. and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. 38 And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. 39 And he stooped over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them. THE DEMONIAC SWINE.

Matthew 8:30-32. Mark 5:11-13. Luke 8:32-33. 30 And there was a good way off from them a herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. 32 And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the the swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand,) and were choked in the sea. 11 Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12 And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. 13 And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into lake, and were choked. 32 And there was an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. 33 Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. The verbal relations between the three gospels are thus well described by Alford: “First, perhaps, we shall have three, five, or more words identical, then as many wholly distinct; then two clauses or more, expressed in the same words, but differing in order; then a clause contained in one or two, and not in the third; then several words identical; then a clause not wholly distinct, but apparently inconsistent; and so forth, with recurrence of the same arbitrary and anomalous alterations, coincidences, and transpositions.”

These agreements and variations cannot be explained on the theory held by some writers that one evangelist copied from another. Neither can they be explained on the assumption that the Gospels are translations from a common original document. Nor would they appear in the style of several perfectly separate and independent narrators of the same transactions. The only solution, as the best biblical scholars now agree, is to be found in the statement given above. Our Gospels are the record of the oral narratives and written memoranda of the apostolic eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses, naturally falling into these mingled uniformities and varieties.

Of the general comparison of the Gospels, the following are a very few of the interesting results:

I. Two, Matthew and Luke, have a proper beginning, middle, and end, namely: 1. The early Life of Jesus to his ministry; 2. His Ministry; and, 3. His Suffering, Resurrection, and Ascension. The other two, Mark and John, with the beginning nearly omitted, have only the middle and the end.

All are full toward the end, as if the Redeemer’s sufferings were by all held as the supreme point of interest.

II. There are but about twenty-five verses in Mark which have no parallel in either Matthew or Luke; yet Mark is often more full and fresh in his narrative than either of his parallels. And it is curious to note that Matthew and Luke never both present a passage but Mark presents it also. Matthew and Luke never alone coincide without Mark intermediately coinciding with both.

III. Matthew and Mark furnish, as their peculiar contributions, (not found in either Luke or John,) a most important mass of the Lord’s Galilean history, Matthew 14:22 to Matthew 16:12; Mark 6:45 to Mark 8:26. On the other hand, Luke’s peculiar contributions are particulars of John’s and Jesus’s birth, Luke 1:0, and a full but apparently unchronological account of the Lord’s ministry in Perea and eastern Judea, Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:14. This last Lukean contribution contains some of the most brilliant gems of the Lord’s teachings.

IV. Let the entire contents of the Gospels be estimated as 100, and the following table will give an idea of their various peculiarities and agreements:

Peculiarities. Agreements. Mark 7 93 Matthew 42 58 Luke 59 41 John 92 8

V. There is a great difference between these parts which recite discourses or utterances of the Lord, or other person, and those which narrate facts. In the former there is a prevailing unity, in the latter diversity. Thus:

a Narrative. b Recital. Coincidences in a. Coincidences in b. Matthew 25 75 2.08 14.56 Mark 50 50 3.33 13.33 Luke 84 66 .50 9.50 * [* Consult Wescott’s introduction to the Gospels, chap. 3.]

VI. Each Gospel, notwithstanding, presents the most explicit marks of a single authorship running through its single whole. How much soever of document, quotation, or compilation there is, the author’s individual peculiarities of mind and style are unquestionably traceable throughout. Favourite words, texture of style, peculiar general plan and purpose, are obvious to a very slight observation. Hence of each gospel-book there is a single responsible author. The phrase, “The Gospel according to Matthew,” means, The common gospel-matter as embodied in a book by the inspired official eye-witnessing Apostle Matthew.

The question what language was spoken in Palestine in the time of our Saviour, has been, and still is, a matter of interesting discussion among scholars. The Jews of Palestine were, no doubt, bilingual; that is, they spoke two languages, the Aramaic and the Greek. During the Babylonish captivity the Jews lost the use of their primitive Hebrew, and learned to speak the vernacular of Babylon, which was the Chaldee or Aramaic, a sister dialect to the Hebrew. Yet, so unintelligible had their ancestral tongue become, that when, upon their return, their old Hebrew law was read in their hearing, it revealed, alas! no meaning to their ears. In consequence of this their doctors prepared for them certain Aramaic or Chaldee paraphrases, or versions, which they called TARGUMS, that is, Interpretations. It was through these that the returned Jews popularly learned in their own tongue the Mosaic law.

Yet, meantime, the conquests of Alexander, and the brilliancy of Grecian genius, had spread the Greek language over the civilized world. In Alexandria, the splendid metropolis of Egypt, the Jews had risen to eminence in Greek composition. Under the patronage of the royal Ptolemies the Old Testament was translated into Greek. This Greek translation, from its Being supposed to have been made by seventy translators, is called Septuaginta, the SEPTUAGINT; that is, the Seventy. A large number of the quotations from the Old Testament in the New are unquestionably made from the Septuagint translation. Both the Greek of the Septuagint and the Greek of the New Testament could, doubtless, be read by the people, especially of the cities of Palestine, better than the Aramaic; otherwise, the New Testament would have been written in Aramaic. But the Greek of the New Testament, as scholars agree, is strongly tinged with a Hebrew influence. It is, therefore, not what is called pure classic Greek. And this was providentially right. Under the guidance of God, the Greeks had been prepared to furnish the most wonderfully flexible and beautiful of all human languages, and to spread it over the earth; and he had also trained the Hebrew race to furnish the religious truth and spirit. These blended together furnished a Hebraised Greek, a style most perfect for expressing a divine revelation, and for conveying to the world a universal religion.

It is very important, in appreciating the truth of the Gospels, to remember that a large share of the epistles of Paul were written earlier than the Gospels. The Epistle to the Romans was written before the Gospel of Luke. And two points are here important. First, the entire epistles of Paul presuppose the same story of Jesus’s birth, miracles, ministry, death, and ascension as the Gospels. Every ordinary Christian reader very well knows that St. Paul and St. Luke held forth, not a different, but the same Christ.

Second, scepticism itself is obliged for very shame to admit the authenticity of several of Paul’s epistles. The Epistle to the Romans contains the undoubted Christ of Luke, and the Epistle to the Romans is by all pronounced authentic. So that in Paul we have a fifth gospel of the strongest kind corroborating the other four.

The following list will present the dates of the New Testament books, mostly according to the reckoning of Ebrard:

33 . Ascension of Jesus.

45 . Publication of Matthew’s Gospel in the Aramaic dialect.

Dispersion of the Apostles from Jerusalem.

51-54 . Publication of Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians.

55-57 . Paul’s Epistles to Galatians, to Timothy, Titus, Corinthians.

58 . To Romans.

58-60 . Paul imprisoned at Caesarea.

Gospel of Luke published.

61-64 . Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

Epistles to Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians.

64 . Death of Paul. Death of Peter.

John goes to Ephesus.

Gospel of Mark published. Matthew (Greek) before 70.

95, 96 . Banishment of John to Patmos. Gospel of John, his Epistles and Apocalypse.

100 . Death of John.


THE Greek name of the author of the third Gospel, Λουκας , Loukas, is a familiar contraction of a fuller form, either Lucilius or Lucanus. So Demas was a contraction of Demetrius, Theudas of Theodorus, Apollos of Apollodorus, Cleopas of Cleopatros, Antipas of Antipater. Luke is recorded by the best ecclesiastical historians to have been a Syrian, born at Antioch, a city at the time of his birth the third among the most renowned of the civilized world, and afterwards remarkable as the second centre of Christian organization after Jerusalem, and the first locality to give name to the new religion. In our notes upon the passage (Luke 24:18) we have given our reasons for our full confidence that the unnamed disciple from Emmaus, to whom the risen Jesus appeared, was the modest Luke himself.

By profession Luke was a physician. And as it was customary in his times, both for slaves of talent to be educated to the medical art, and for that class to be called by abbreviated names, the concurrence of both facts in the case of Luke has produced with some the inference that he was an emancipate or freedman. This is, however, a precarious conclusion; for Antipas was the name of a prince, and the medical profession was often filled by men of honourable social rank. His style of writing, as Grotius remarks, exhibits both a Syrian and Roman tinge; and hence that eminent scholar believed that, like many Syrian slaves, he was emancipated at Rome, and that then he returned to the East. The celebrated dramatic poet, Terence, was originally an African slave, by the name of Afer; but being emancipated on account of his great genius, he took according to custom the name of his noble patron, Terentius. In the same way Grotius holds that Luke took in briefer form the name of his patron, Lucilius. The Lucilian family was one of the noblest in Rome.

The literary character of Luke is evinced not only by his profession, but by his style of composition, which, when entirely his own, presents the purest Greek in the whole New Testament. He was a Gentile by race, and, unless we except the book of Job, he is the only Gentile who has been permitted to contribute a book to the Bible. He was also the faithful companion in travel and trial of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. “Luke, the beloved physician,” is the affectionate epithet which that apostle applies to our Evangelist. We trace their course together from Alexandria Troas, through Samothrace to Philippi; then back again to Troas, down the coast of Asia Minor to Tyre, Cesarea, and Jerusalem. When Paul, appealing to Cesar, departed to Rome, through voyage, shipwreck, and journey, Luke was his companion. And when the Apostle, just before his martyrdom, writes from his Roman prison to Timothy, “only Luke is with me,” is his touching testimony to our faithful evangelist. After the death of Paul we lose all sight of Luke. The most authentic tradition, which is, however, of no decisive value, declares that he preached the gospel mostly in Gaul, and attained the crown of martyrdom.


LUKE’S two books, his Gospel and the Acts, are properly two successive parts of one Christian history; and as the latter terminates at the point where Paul has lived two years at Rome in the year 64, so the Gospel must have been written before that period, namely, during the twenty-seven years after Christ’s death. For as Luke terminates his Acts abruptly with the close of Paul’s two years’ imprisonment, without adding a syllable of that Apostle’s later history, it is very certain that the Acts was published at that time. And as the Gospel preceded the Acts, the opinion is held by some that this period of two years was the time and Rome the place of the publication of Luke’s Gospel. But Luke’s reference to his Gospel (Acts 1:1) as “the former treatise,” seems to imply some longer interval of time between the two. His material must have been collected, and so the publication probably made in Palestine. Supposing the Perean part of the Gospel was collected while about Jerusalem, we agree with those who suppose the Galilean part was gathered during his two years’ sojourn with Paul in Cesarea, (Acts 24:27;) and the publication to have been there made about the year 58-60.

While Matthew and Mark narrate with the authority of original witnesses their own collection of traditional evangelic facts, and John furnishes his own individual reminiscences, Luke, as his preface shows, is the critical historian, who, having examined original witnesses and documents, discriminates, selects, and arranges them in historic form.

While at Jerusalem he had ample opportunity of acquaintance with James, the Lord’s half brother, son of Joseph and Mary, resident bishop of Jerusalem, and with other “pillars” and apostles of the Church, from whom much of the material of his gospel could have been derived. In the work, however, of obtaining his matter, great must have been the aid derived from St. Paul himself. That apostle was, doubtless, a student of the law in Jerusalem when Jesus there lived and preached, and was the man who would after his conversion learn the truest and fullest account of the Lord’s deeds and words. St. Irenaeus, one of the earliest Christian fathers, expressly says, “Luke, a companion of Paul, deposited the gospel by him preached in a book.” From this, although we must not infer that Luke was not an independent historian but a mere amanuensis of Paul, we may conclude that Paul furnished to Luke the main amount of the Lord’s history by him possessed. And though when Paul uses the words “my gospel,” we are not to infer, as some do, that he designates by that name Luke’s gospel; yet we may conclude that Paul would have endorsed, and probably did endorse, every word of Luke’s gospel as true, and as in a proper sense his own. As Paul was the apostle, so in a faint degree Gentile Luke was the evangelist of the Gentiles. He traces the genealogy up, not merely to Abraham, but to Adam, the son of God. He makes Christ’s first teachings, at Nazareth, commemorate the extension of God’s mercy beyond the limits of Israel, Luke 4:16-30. He shows how the sinner is forgiven upon condition of faith, Luke 7:36-50. The publican is, in Paul’s favourite term, justified. Evidently their narrative of the Lord’s supper is the same tradition, Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5.

Although the entire body of the Gospels has been divided in our HISTORICAL SYNOPSIS in Volume First of this Commentary into SIX PERIODS, yet each Gospel in contributing its part to this natural historic series has a method in some degree its own. Luke has a complete beginning, middle, and end; a prelude, a ministry, and a consummation. The beginning, Luke 4:13; Luke 4:13. The middle, Luke 4:13 to Luke 22:1. The end, Luke 22:1 to Luke 24:53.

I. The BEGINNING embraces the prelude to the ministry.

1. The birth of the forerunner, and of the Messiah. The Messiah’s childhood and growth.

2. The forerunner’s announcement and ministry until his imprisonment.

3. The Messiah’s baptism, genealogy, and temptation.

II. The MIDDLE embraces the Messiah’s ministry.

1. His Galilean ministry ( mainly) Luke 4:14 - Luke 9:51.

2. His Perean ministry, Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:30.

3. His last journey to Jerusalem and closing ministry there, Luke 18:31 to Luke 21:38.

III. The END embraces the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Luke 22:1 to Luke 24:53.

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