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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
Luke 3



Verse 1

Pontius Pilate

Wyc., Pilat of Pounce.


See on Matthew 14:1.

Verse 2

Came ( ἐγένετο )

Lit., arose, or came to pass.


The Synoptists introduce him under different titles. Here, the son of Zacharias; Matthew, the Baptist; Mark, the Baptizer.

Verse 3

The country about Jordan

Which both Matthew and Mark call the wilderness. See on Matthew 3:1.

Baptism of repentance

Wyc., penaunce.

For ( εἰς )

Better as Rev., unto, denoting the destination of the rite.

Remission ( ἄφεσιν )

See on James 5:15. The word occurs in Luke more frequently than in all the other New Testament writers combined. Used in medical language of the relaxation of disease. Both Luke and John use the kindred verb ἀφίημι , in the same sense. Luke 4:39; John 4:52.

Verse 4


In this prophetic citation Mark adds to Isaiah Malachi 3:1, which does not appear in either Matthew or Luke. Luke adds Isaiah 11:4, Isaiah 11:5 of Isaiah 11, which do not appear in the others.

Paths ( τρίβους )

From τρίβω ,to rub or wear. Hence beaten tracks.

Verse 5

Valley ( φάραγξ )

Strictly, of a chasm or ravine in a mountain-side.

Shall be filled - brought low

In allusion to the practice of Eastern monarchs. On occasions of their progress, heralds were sent out to call on the people to clear and improve the old roads or to make new ones. “When Ibrahim Pacha proposed to visit certain places in Lebanon, the emirs and sheiks sent forth a general proclamation, somewhat in the style of Isaiah's exhortation, to all the inhabitants to assemble along the proposed route and prepare the way before him. The same was done in 1845, on a grand scale, when the Sultan visited Brusa. The stones were gathered out, the crooked places straightened, and rough ones made level and smooth. I had the benefit of these labors a few days after his majesty's visit. The exhortation 'to gather out the stones' (Isaiah 62:10) is peculiarly appropriate. These farmers do the exact reverse - gather up the stones from their fields and cast them into the highway; and it is this barbarous custom which, in many places, renders the paths uncomfortable and even dangerous” (Thomson, “Land and Book”).

Verse 7

He said ( ἔλεγεν ) to the multitudes that came forth ( ἐκπορευομένοις )

The use of the tenses is graphic. He said, the imperfect, and came forth, the present participle; both denoting action in progress, or customary action; so that the sense is, he kept saying, or he used to say to those who were coming out, to the crowds of people which kept pouring out successively. Compare ἐξεπορεύετο ,went out, also imperfect, Matthew 3:5. Luke gives the substance of the Baptist's preaching summarily.

Generation ( γεννήμεατα )

Lit., births. Rev., better, offspring. It has been observed that John's figurative language is altogether the language of the desert. Notice the succession of images: Brood of vipers; fruits (of repentance); the axe at the root of the tree; the slave-boy loosing or bearing the sandals; the baptism of fire; the winnowing-fan, the threshing-floor, the garner, and the burning of the chaff.

Warned ( ὑπέδειξεν )

From ὕπο , under, and δείκνυμι ,to shew. Hence, literally, to shew secretly. The word implies a private or confidential hint or reminder. Compare Luke 12:5; Acts 9:16; Acts 20:35.

Verse 8

Fruits ( καρποὺς )

Matthew has the singular number, καρπὸν ,fruit.

Repentance ( τῆς μετανοίας )

Note the article: the repentance which you profess in coming to my baptism. Rev., in margin, “your repentance.” See on Matthew 3:2.


With the first accusing of your conscience. “He anticipates even attempt at excuse” (Bengel). Matthew has think not, indicating a delusive fancy.


The word stands first in the sentence, “We have Abraham to our father,” and is therefore emphatic, and with reason; for it was on their descent that the answer of these Jews to John's rebuke turned: “Our father is Abraham.”

These stones

See on Matthew 3:9.

Verse 9

See on Matthew 3:10.

Verse 10

Asked ( ἐπηρώτων )

Imperfect tense, indicating the frequent repetition of these questions.

Verse 11

Coats ( χιτῶνας )

See on Matthew 5:40.

Verse 12

Publicans ( τελῶναι )

From τέλος ,a tax, and ὠνέομαι ,to buy. The collectors of Roman imposts. The Romans farmed out the direct taxes and customs-duties to capitalists, on their payment of a certain sum in publicum, into the public treasury, whence they were called publicani, publicans. Sometimes this sum, being greater than any one person could pay, was paid by a company. Under these were the submagistri, living in the provinces; and under these again the portitores, or actual custom-house officers, who are referred to by the term τελῶναι in the New Testament. They were often chosen from the dregs of the people, and were so notorious for their extortions that they were habitually included in the same category with harlots and sinners. “If a Jew could scarcely persuade himself that it was right to pay taxes, how much more heinous a crime must it have been in his eyes to become the questionably honest instrument for collecting them. If a publican was hated, how still more intense must have been the disgust entertained against a publican who was also a Jew” (Farrar, “Life of Christ”). The word “publican,” as a popular term of reproach, was used even by our Lord (Matthew 18:17). Even the Gentiles despised them. Farrar cites a Greek saying, “All publicans are robbers.”

Verse 13

Exact ( πράσσετε )

The change of the Rev. to extort is unfortunate. The word is used of the exaction of legal tribute, and excessive exaction is expressed by the following words' John would hardly have commanded them to extort in any case.

Verse 14

Soldiers ( στρατευόμενοι )

Strictly, soldiers on service: hence the participle, serving as soldiers, instead of the more comprehensive term στρατιῶται ,soldiers by profession. Some explain it of soldiers engaged in police inspection in connection with the customs, and hence naturally associated with the publicans.

What shall we do?

The we in the Greek is emphatic, closing the question. Hence Rev., very aptly, and we, what must we do?

Do violence ( διασείσητε )

Only here in New Testament. Lit., to shake violently; hence to agitate or terrify; and so to extort money from one by terrifying him. The corresponding Latin word concutere is used by later writers in the same sense. Xenophon says of Socrates' “I know of his once having heard from Crito that life at Athens was a hard thing for a man who desired to mind his own business. 'For,' said he, 'they bring actions against me, not because they are wronged by me, but because they think I would rather pay money than have any trouble'” (“Memorabilia,” ii., 9,1). For this process of blackmail, σείω , to shake, was used. Thus Aristophanes (“Knights,” 840):

“Thou shalt make much money by falsely accusing and frightening ( σείων τε καῖ ταράττων )again (“Peace,” 639):

“And of their allies they falsely accused ( ἔσειον ) the substantial and rich.”

The word in this passage of Luke has the later, secondary meaning, to extort; and therefore the American Revisers rightly insist on, extort from no man by violence. It is used by medical writers, as, for instance, by Hippocrates, of shaking the palsied or benumbed limbs of a patient; or of a shaking by which the liver was relieved of an obstruction. Luke also uses two other compounds of the verb σείω : κατασείω ,to beckon, Acts 12:17 (peculiar to Luke); and ἀνασέιω , to stir up, which occurs also in Mark 15:11. Both these are also used by medical writers.

Accuse any falsely ( συκοφαντήσητε )

The common explanation of this word is based on the derivation from σῦκον ,a fig, and φαίνω , to make known; hence of informing against persons who exported figs from Attica, contrary to the law, or who plundered sacred fig-trees. As informers were tempted to accuse innocent persons by the reward paid for pointing out violators of the law, the verb acquired the meaning to accuse falsely. Such is the old explanation, which is now rejected by scholars, though the real explanation is merely conjectural. The fig-tree was the pride of Attica, ranking with honey and olives as one of the principal products, and there is no authority for the statement that there was a time when figs were scarce, and required legal protection against export. Neither is it proven that there was a sacred kind of fig. Rettig, in an interesting paper in the “Studten und Kritiken” (1838), explains that, as tribute in Attica was paid in kind as well as in money, and as figs represented a great deal of property, there was a temptation to make false returns of the amount of figs to the assessors; and that thus a class of informers arose who detected and reported these false returns, and received a percentage of the fine which was imposed. These were known asfig shewers. Another writer has suggested that the reference is to one who brings figs to light by shaking the tree; and so, metaphorically, to one who makes rich men yield up the fruits of their labor or rascality by false accusation. Whatever explanation we may accept, it is evident that the word had some original connection with figs, and that it came to mean to slander or accuse falsely. From it comes our word sycophant. The sycophants as a class were encouraged at Athens, and their services were rewarded. Socrates is said by Xenophon to have advised Crito to take a sycophant into his pay, in order to thwart another who was annoying him; and this person, says Xenophon, “quickly discovered on the part of Crito's accusers many illegal acts, and many persons who were enemies to those accusers; one of whom he summoned to a public trial, in which it would be settled what he should suffer or pay, and he would not let him off until he ceased to molest Crito and paid a sum of money besides.” Demosthenes thus describes one: “He 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 … .It is the bane of our city that it protects and cherishes this poisonous brood, and uses them as informers, so that even the honest man must flatter and court them, in order to be safe from their machinations.” The word occurs only here and Luke 19:8, of Zacchaeus, the publican. The American Revisers hold to the A. V., and render neither accuse any one wrongfully, extortion being described by the previous word. Wyc., neither make ye false challenge. In the Sept. it is used in the sense of to oppress or deceive.

Wages ( ὀψωνίοις )

From ὄψον ,cooked meat, and later, generallyprovisions. At Athens, especially, fish. Compare ὀψάριον ,fish, John 21:9, John 21:10, John 21:13. Hence ὀψώνιον is primarily provision-money, and so used of supplies and pay for an army. With this understanding the use of the word at Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin,” becomes highly suggestive.

Verse 15

Mused ( διαλογιζομένων )

Better as Rev., reasoned. Compare Luke 1:29; and see on James 2:4.

Verse 16

One mightier ( ὁ ἰσχυρότερος )

The definite article points to an expected personage. Hence better as Rev., he that is mightier.

Unloose ( λῦσαι )

So also Mark; but Matthew βαστάσαι ,to bear. See on Matthew 3:11.

Verse 17

Fan - floor - purge

See on Matthew 3:12.

Verse 18

Other ( ἕτερα )

Rather, various, different.

Preached ( εὐηγγελίζετο )

Rev. preserves the fuller meaning of the word according to its etymology: preached good tidings. See on Gospel, Superscription of Matthew.


Verse 19

Being reproved ( ἐλεγχόμενος )

See on James 2:9.

Evils ( πονηρῶν )

Of several words in the New Testament denoting evil, this emphasizes evil in its activity. Hence Satan is ὁ πονηρός ,the evil one. An evil eye (Mark 7:22) is a mischief-working eye. See on Mark 7:22.

Added ( προσέθηκεν )

Used by Luke twice as often as in all the rest of the New Testament. A very common medical word, used of the application of remedies to the body, as our apply, administer. So Hippocrates, “apply wet sponges to the head;” and Galen, “apply a decoction of acorns,” etc.

In prison

See on Matthew 14:3.


Verse 21

Was opened ( ἀνεωχθῆναι )

So Matthew, but Mark σχιζομένους ,rent.

Verse 22

The Holy Ghost

Better, Spirit. Matthew has the Spirit of God: Mark, the Spirit.

In a bodily shape

Peculiar to Luke.

Thou art my beloved son

Lit., Thou art my son, the beloved. So Mark. But Matthew, This is my son, the beloved.


Verse 23

Began to be about thirty years of age ( ἦν ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα )

Peculiar to Luke. A. V. is wrong. It should be as Rev., when he began (to teach) was about thirty years of age.


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Luke 3:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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