corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 3



Verse 1

1. Now—As in his preface, Luke 1:1-3, so here, Luke exhibits the true historical spirit. Christianity is a religion of facts. It stands in its place in history. It is neither theory, nor legend, nor myth. Here are its dates, and during the rule of these princes, and in the localities here designated, the commencing events of our religion transpired in open historic day. The challenge is thus boldly given to learned criticism to invalidate the record. Learned criticism has tried its best, and it has totally and signally failed. Luke’s chronology is triumphant over every assault, and is in every point TRUE.

Reign of Tiberius Cesar—He was the cruel and sensual successor of Augustus in the empire of Rome. Reckoning the fifteen years from the death of Augustus, when Jesus was seventeen years of age, Jesus would be thirty-two years of age. But as in fact he was but about thirty, it is beyond doubt that Luke reckons in this fifteen years the two years in which Tiberius reigned in connection with Augustus.

Pontius Pilate—See note on Matthew 27:2.

Herod being tetrarch—See note on Matthew 14:1-12.

Philip tetrarch—See note on Matthew 14:1.

Iturea—The name of the modern province of Jedur, in the Old Testament Jetur, was prolonged in pronunciation by the Greeks, in the day of their predominance, into the euphonius Iturea. Our reader will find it on the map, a tract about thirty miles long and twenty-five broad, lying between the Damascus region on the north, Batanea on the south, the Hermon range of mountains on the west, and the rough Trachonitis on the east. Jetur (1 Chronicles 1:31; 1 Chronicles 5:9) was the name of one of the sons of Ishmael, and thence of his Ishmaelitish tribe who settled this locality. Though this tract in the course of centuries was conquered by different occupants, much of the old stock remained. Aristobulus, king of Judea, about B.C. 100, subdued and compelled them to accept the Jewish faith. Herod the Great, in dividing his kingdom, left Iturea as part of a tetrarchy to his son Philip.

Trachonitis—Lay on the east of Iturea.

Abilene—The tract bordering on the anti-Lebanon ridge, and extending indefinitely eastward, so as to include Abila as its capital, from which the territorial name is derived. Of this Abilene history mentions no Lysanias as ruler, but one who was slain by Mark Antony about sixty years before the point of time here designated by Luke. Hence Strauss, assuming that Luke has this Lysanias in mind, makes a very abortive charge to convict him of chronological mistake. But 1. There is not a word in any history of this point of time to contradict Luke’s statement that a later Lysanias (probably grandson of the historical Lysanias) was tretrach of Abilene; for history leaves the matter perfectly blank; there being no history of that period extant. 2. Josephus, describing the transfer of Abilene to Agrippa, styles it the “Abilene of Lysanias,” which could hardly refer to a Lysanias no later than the Lysanias of seventy years before. 3. Traces of Luke’s Lysanias are found outside of history. A coin has been found, belonging to a period later than Herod’s death, bearing the inscription, “Lysanias, tetrarch and high priest.” A Doric temple in Abila bears the inscription, “Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene.” This must have been Luke’s Lysanias, for the first Lysanias was not tetrarch, that title having been first adopted after Herod’s death. And we may here note an admonitory warning against drawing arguments against the truth of Scripture history from the nonexistence of confirmatory secular history. No Abilenean history was extant, and so, forsooth, no second Lysanias could have existed. Such was the sceptical argument until an accidental medal authenticated the man named.

Verses 1-18

§ 15. JOHN THE BAPTIST’S MINISTRY, Luke 3:1-18; Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8.

From his visit to Jerusalem and the temple, the boy Jesus returned to his mountain home of Nazareth, and probably wrought at his father’s trade as a carpenter. About five years after the return, when Jesus was seventeen years of age, the news came doubtless to Nazareth from Rome, the conquering capital of the world, that Augustus Cesar, emperor of Rome, and acknowledged master of the nations, after a reign of forty years, had gone to the grave. In his young days Augustus had been an unscrupulous and bloody man, for the sake of winning the empire. But when it was attained he became a just and a beneficent ruler, and brought the nations of the world to peace. Thus he, like John the Baptist, though in a different manner, prepared the way for the Prince of Peace. Little knew the proud emperor that he was but the preparer for the boy of Nazareth.

Verse 2

2. Annas and Caiaphas being high priests—There could, by the Mosaic law, be but one high priest at a time. See our note on Matthew 26:3, in regard to the high priesthood and Caiaphas. In regard to Annas, see our note on John 18:13.

Verses 3-9

3-9. In regard to John’s baptism, consult notes on Matthew 3:1-12.

Verse 7

7. Baptized of him—Baptism proper, doubtless, was inaugurated by John the Baptist. It was an appropriation and concentration into a single rite of all the lustrations and washings of the Old Testament dispensation. Thereby it became the emblem of the out-poured spirit, of regeneration, and so of induction from the world into the kingdom of God. And thence being the rite of initiation into the Christian Church, it becomes the successor of circumcision.

John’s baptism proclaimed to the Jew that he needed yet to be introduced into the kingdom of God. That baptism by faith was the transition process by which the nation was to pass from the old Church to the new. Rejecting it, Israel would miss his way, and finally find himself outside the kingdom of God.

Generation of vipers—No apology must be made (as by Van Oosterzee) for the denunciatory preaching of John; no more than for the thunder and smoke of Sinai, or for the fire and brimstone of Gehenna. Neither commentator nor preacher should effeminately shrink at the “mention of hell to ears polite.” Doubtless John applied precisely the right epithet, and threatened precisely the true destiny, to these future murderers of the Messiah he crone to announce.

The multitude hero embraced, according to Matthew 3:7, the Pharisees and Sadducees, for whom the rebukes of John, however general, had a special application.

Verses 10-14

10-14. We have here a most interesting fragmentary passage, furnished by Luke alone, of the manner in which John strikes at the sins of the times for the purpose of setting things in order for Messiah by reformation. He had bidden the multitude, in Luke 3:8, to bring forth fruits meet for repentance under penalties prescribed in Luke 3:9. In Luke 3:10 they ask him, What shall we do then? that is, as works meet for repentance in order to avoid the threatened wrath. John replies to each question by pointing them to their besetting sins, and enjoining reformation to test the sincerity of their repentance. There is nothing so purely legal in all this as Olshausen represents. There is law in all gospel, and there is gospel in the law. Though the atonement had not been made in the Old Testament times, yet sin was forgiven through the forbearance of God, in view of the atonement. Hence the faith in the Messiah to come as the remitter of sin was mingled with the repentance of John’s dispensation, and it had power to save, when genuine, in its time and kind. The genuineness was to be tested by the bringing forth works meet; that is, by the reformation of sins as prescribed in John’s preaching.

John’s preaching is here given as addressed to three classes: the people, the publicans, the soldiers.

Verse 11

11. He that hath two coats—For coat see note on Matthew 5:40. As selfishness, rapine, and robbery were the order of the day, the Baptist prescribes, even to a mortification, the reverse work: let the recklessness of might be checked by the example of divine magnanimity; let the surplus of the rich, both in food and clothing, be given in charity to the poor.

Verse 13

13. Exact no more—The publicans, in regard to whom see our life of St. Matthew, (prefixed to his Gospel,) were not only unpopular from being the officers of a foreign dominion, but as being plunderers of the public. By extorting more than the appointed government rates of taxes and pocketing the surplus, they made dishonest gains. That the proper dues of government should be collected was right; but there was needed an immense reformation on the part of this class of persons to bring the public morality to its proper tone, and repair the general apostacy of the times.

Verse 14

14. Soldiers—The word soldiers here is a participle, signifying those who were in actual performance of war duties, and hence it has been supposed that the soldiers specified were those engaged in the war of Herod against Aretas. See note on Matthew 14:1. But the participle perhaps is used because war was so frequent that the soldier was always considered as warring.

Do violence to no man—John does not forbid the forcible execution of military duties as ordered by the government, but that illegal violence which transforms the soldier into a private ruffian.

Content with your wages—Without adding pillage thereto. And this very injunction implies their continuance in the military service for which the wages were received. That is, war, as an act of government, is allowed by the divine law.

Verses 16-18

16-18. See notes on Matthew 3:11-12.

Verses 19-23

§ 60. DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST, Luke 3:19-20; Mark 6:17-20; Matthew 14:3-5.

§ 16. BAPTISM OF JESUS, Luke 3:21-23; Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11.

We may remark on this passage that Luke’s account is much more concise than, and wholly independent of, the others. We have here, however, three additional particulars: First, that all the people were being baptized before the Lord’s baptism; second, that he was praying at the time of the descent of the Spirit; third, that the Spirit appeared in a bodily representation.

Verse 21

21. Jesus also being baptized—But how, it is asked, could the sinless Jesus confess any sins as by John required? But where, we ask in reply, is it said that such a confession was required of Jesus? The people, the multitude, were indeed so required, for they were sinners. But John, instead of requiring confession of Jesus, really confessed to Jesus, acknowledging his need of baptism by him. On the relation of Christ’s baptism to sin, see note on Matthew 3:15.

Verse 22

22. The Holy Ghost descended—Were these supernatural phenomena, it is asked, a mere vision, made up of conceptions like a dream, wrought in the mind of John, or were they an external reality? Beyond all question, we reply, an external reality. The Apocalypse is a series of visions produced by inspiring power within the seer’s mind without any external object; but this movement of the Spirit upon Jesus was, externally, as real as John or Jesus himself. But how can God’s Spirit move from place to place? God’s Spirit, we reply, is not a pantheistic, move-less vapor—a universal, fixed, and stagnant essence—but a living, personal, powerful Being, omnipotent to operate according to His own will. And if angelic spirits, like Gabriel, can invest themselves with visible embodiments, or if even a human spirit can be clothed with a material body, so beyond all question can the Divine Spirit. And we must firmly repudiate that utter falsification of Luke’s words of which many, even orthodox commentators of the present day, are guilty. Every evangelist mentions the dove; and Luke declares there was bodily shape like a dove. To make this (with Olshausen, Van Oosterzee, and others) a ray of light, a shapeless something “with a quivering motion as of a dove,” is not to interpret Luke’s language, but to substitute words of one’s own.

There is nothing in the narrative to show that it was a private transaction, and equally nothing to show that it was in the presence of and seen by numbers.

A dove—As the lamb is the gentle and tender image of Jesus, so the dove is the symbol of the pure and gentle Spirit. “Harmless as doves” is the Saviour’s simile for his followers in the Spirit. To the simplicity of antiquity such symbols were permanent, impressive lessons, shaping the crude mind to high and holy conceptions. Olshausen well says, “According to biblical symbolism certain mental characters appear expressed in several animals, as the lion, the lamb, the eagle, the ox.” And so he might have inferred, that as it is the form of the animal that expresses the symbol, so the shape of the dove must have been present in that most signal of all instances of the exhibited symbol.

Voice from heaven—As true a voice, with as true an articulation, as ever came from human or superhuman organs of utterance. It was no dream or conception of John’s, but a reality to his perception. And such a voice and articulation are no more difficult to divine power than the inarticulate thunder through the medium of electric fluid, and no more incredible when properly authenticated.

From heaven—The voice came audibly from heaven; the dove came visibly from “the heaven opened.” Heaven, as we have elsewhere shown, (note on Mark 16:19,) is, both in conception and reality, up, above us. Hence, both in conception and in reality, a shape or a voice from heaven must come down to us. It comes down through space and atmosphere. If it be a reality it cuts through both. It comes through the open air, ether, and firmament. Let the retina of the eye be duly quickened, and the very opening of air and firmament becomes visible. Even then there is not conception but perception.

The ancient Greek Church celebrated the baptism of Jesus upon the sixth day of January, under the title of EPIPHANY, or Manifestation. The reason of this Chrysostom thus concisely asks and answers: “Why is not the day on which he was born called Epiphany, but the day on which he was baptized? Because he was not manifested to all when he was born, but when he was baptized. For to the day of his baptism he was generally unknown, as appears from those words of John the Baptist, ‘There standeth one among you whom ye know not.’ And what wonder that others should not know him when the Baptist himself knew him not before that day?”

But Augustine furnishes several additional reasons combined together for celebrating the Epiphany: “On this day we celebrate the mystery of God manifesting himself by his miracles in human nature; either because on this day the star in heaven gave notice of his birth; or because he turned water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee; or because he consecrated water for the reparation of mankind by his baptism in the river Jordan; or because with the five loaves he fed five thousand men. For in either of these are contained the mysteries and joys of our salvation.” From all this it is clear that the celebration by the Church of a Scripture event, on a certain day, is no very conclusive proof that the day is the authentic anniversary of the event. For the three first centuries in the Greek Church Christmas and the Epiphany were on the same day, namely, the sixth of January. Matthew 1:1-17.

Verse 23

23. About thirty years of age—Thirty years was the legal age for entering on the priesthood. It was also the age at which the scribes entered upon professional duty as teachers. The word about here simply implies that Jesus may have been some months younger or older.

As was supposed Being his apparent and legal son.

Of the different theories of reconciliation between the genealogies of Jesus given respectively by Matthew and by Luke, we may discuss but two:—

I. Matthew gives the line of Joseph; Luke, of Mary. Mary’s name does not indeed appear in Luke’s list; but that agrees with the Jewish rule of genealogy, that the female is not reckoned in any genealogical line. Luke’s genealogy is really that of Heli; and it is adduced here by Luke to show that Jesus, son of Mary, is in that line, and so in the natural line of David. Joseph rightfully and legally takes his place in the recorded descent from Heli, because he is his son-in-law. And it is remarkable that the Jews in their Talmud call Mary the daughter of Heli, showing that either that is their own tradition, or that so they originally understood the genealogy as recorded.

II. The theory of Lord Arthur Hervey, lately published in England, founded in a good degree on the theory of Grotius, seems likely to be ultimately universally adopted. This theory in its details solves so many of the facts as not only to remove difficulties, but to furnish a sort of proof of the genuineness of the record.

By this theory Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph (including in fact that of Mary) in the line of royal inheritance; Luke gives that of natural descent. This is made clear by the following table:


From David Matthew traces the royal line through Solomon to Jechonias, whereas Luke gives the private line through Nathan to Salathiel. But Jechonias was childless, (Jeremiah 22:30,) so that with him the Solomonic line ended. Consequently Salathiel, of the Nathanic line, came into the royal heirship. By this transfer Salathiel stands in both: namely, the line of natural descent from David through Nathan, and the line of political succession to the crown. From Zorobabel’s son, Abiud, Matthew furnishes a series of heirs; from his other son, Rhesa, Luke gives the natural line of Joseph down to Matthat. But this Matthat is the same as Matthew’s Matthan. Of this Matthat Jacob and Heli are two sons; the former, being the elder, is crown-heir; the second stands in the private line. Heli’s son is JOSEPH Jacob, the crown-heir, has only a daughter, MARY. The royal line thus failing of a direct male heir, Joseph marries Mary and is thus transferred to the royal line both by kin and by marriage.

Both these views secure the true Davidic descent of Mary; which is indeed absolutely necessary to the fulfilment of that most explicit divine promise (2 Samuel 7:12,) “I will set up thy seed after thee which shall proceed out of thy bowels.” So Peter affirms (Acts 2:30) that God sware to David, “that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ.” Words like these cannot be fulfilled by any adoptive or marriage paternity.

Verse 36

36. Which was the son of Cainan—The name of this Cainan does not appear in the Old Testament catalogues. It has been inserted, both in the Septuagint and in this place, by means unknown. There seems to be some reason to suppose that it was first inserted in the Septuagint for the purpose of lengthening the chronology. It may thence have been inserted by early transcribers into Luke’s genealogy in order to make it agree with the Septuagint.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 5th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology