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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 7

 

 

Verses 1-10

§ 37. SERVANT OF THE CENTURION’S HEALED, Luke 7:1-10.

Matthew 8:5-13.

From the mount of Hattin to the valley of Capernaum; from the sermon to the miracle. The doctrines of the sermon assert their own intuitive truth; but it is the miracles of the Preacher that attest that it is with a true divine mission that he utters them.

The following narrative is a striking instance of variation in word where there is no contradictions in purpose or thought. In Matthew’s account the centurion came unto him, saying. In the present account he sent the elders of Israel. Matthew makes our Lord say, I will come. Luke says, Jesus went with them. Now these variations are, we think, fairly reconciled, on the principle “that what a man does by another he does by himself.” The act of an agent is the act of the principal. So in Exodus 18:6, Jethro being himself not present, as appears by the following verse, is made to say, by his messenger, “I, thy father-in-law, Jethro, am come,” etc. In Matthew 11:2-3, John sent to Jesus and said. That is, John said by a messenger. In John 4:1, Jesus is said to have baptized, though he did it only by disciples. Comparing Mark 10:35, with Matthew 20:20, we have it that Zebedee’s children spoke to Jesus, but spoke by their mother. We have no hesitation to say that the king conquers a country, or that Solomon built the temple, though both were done entirely through their subjects. Matthew then gives the briefer substance; Luke gives the details. But Matthew, reading Luke, would not for a moment have supposed himself to be contradicted. He would only have seen the story more explicitly given and some interesting points added.


Verse 2

2. Servant—Luke says doulos, servant; but Matthew has it pais, boy. There are three words in the Greek language expressive of the condition of rendering service to a superior or employer, namely, μισθιος or μισθωτος, misthios or misthotos, a hired person; ανδραποδον, andrapodon, a slave owned by a proprietor; and δουλος, doulos, a servant, generically including either of the former two, designating any person performing a subordinate service for any reason whatever; as for hire, for love, from civil office, from religious duty, or from ownership.

The first of these three words occurs in Luke 15 :l7-19; Mark 1:20; John 10:12-13. The second never occurs in the New Testament. But its derivative, ανδραποδιστης, andrapodistes, is used in 1 Timothy 1:10, and signifies an enslaver, whether by stealing a man or capturing him in war, or any other means. In all other cases in the New Testament where the English word servant occurs, the Greek word is doulos.

The word boy here denotes the same relation as when an English speaker would call his waiter by the terms my boy or my man. The precise nature of the servitude must be learned from other circumstances than the term used. Very probably the boy in the present case was a slave. If so, he was held in absolute Roman slavery, his life being at the perfect disposal of his master. Of course the law of Christ allowed him to exercise no such right. Whether Christ uttered the word or not, (and we do not know that he did not,) the moment the centurion became a Christian he held his boy as a brother, (Philemon 1:16,) entitled to all the rights conferred by the golden rule.

Under the Mosaic law all persons were set free by the jubilee every fiftieth year; so that permanent slavery proper had no legal existence, and even involuntary servitude had a precarious footing. Those who wonder why Jesus did not prohibit slavery, must show some reason for supposing that a Jewish slavery existed at all in Palestine. The reverse was probably the fact.

Sick—Of a paralysis. This is not contradicted by the fact that he is said to have been grievously tormented; for paralysis or palsy, with the contraction of the joints, is accompanied with severe pain. United with tetanus, as it sometimes is in eastern countries, extreme suffering and rapid dissolution are often the result.


Verse 3

3. The elders of the JewsPresbyters. The word literally signifies the older men. But as it became an official epithet, it acquired the official sense. The elders of Israel were anciently the heads of the tribes, chosen for their age and wisdom. In latter times, subsequent to the restoration from the captivity, a part of the Sanhedrim consisted, with the chief priests and the scribes, also of the elders. Similarly the courts of the individual towns, consisting of seven judges, were composed of the elders of Israel. In the present case the elders were of this last class. The centurion, feeling that as a Gentile and a sinner he might have little hope of a favourable reception from the holy and divine prophet of the Jews, the wonderful Jesus, sends the most weighty men and magistrates of Jewish Capernaum.

Beseeching—The Greek word for beseeching, here, is a participle, agreeing with the centurion. So that even according to Luke’s language, the words were those of the centurion.


Verse 4

4. Instantly—Earnestly, pressingly.

Worthy—They thought him worthy, though he in his humility did not.

Should do—That is, the centurion was worthy to have this favour done him.


Verse 5

5. He loveth our nation—The Romans were tolerant, from motives of policy, of the religions of the nations they conquered. But this man did more. There were many even at Rome to whom the pure theism of the religion of Jehovah seemed true, and far superior to their own idolatry. This man loved the God of Israel and his worship so well that he built a house for his worshippers. This was a proof of both piety and wealth. It sometimes occurs though not frequently, even in a Christian land, that a wealthy Christian man, with a liberality equal to that of this pagan convert, munificently builds a Christian church.

The Jews divided converts into two classes, I. Proselytes of the gate, who had not entered into the complete adoption of the ritual of Moses. These stood on the patriarchal basis, aiming to keep the seven precepts of Noah’s dispensation. By these they were to abstain from 1, idolatry; 2, murder; 3, incest; 4, robbery; 5, profanity; 6, eating blood and strangled animal food, 7, rebellion. Those keeping these ethical principles would, according to Jewish opinion, be saved. These were commonly styled, Those worshipping God, in distinction from those worshipping gods. II.

Proselytes of righteousness—Those who became circumcised, and accepted the whole law as complete naturalized Jews.

Whether the present centurion had progressed so far as complete Judaism or not, he seems to have progressed farther, even into the righteousness of Christ by faith.


Verse 7

7. Say in a word—Order it with a single word. It requires neither machinery, nor process, nor effort, but the briefest, slightest forth-putting of thy will. He speaks like one accustomed to martial law.


Verse 8

8. My servant—The singular does not indicate (as Lange) that he had but one servant. The one servant corresponds with the one and another of the soldiers, to whom order is individually given. For aught the text shows, he might have had as many servants as soldiers.


Verse 9

9. So great faith—Great because he had to ascend from paganism to attain it; great, because not purely physical, but spiritual, realizing his own unworthiness and the superiority of Jesus as a holy one; great, because it realized the divine mission of Jesus from Jehovah, and expressed a sense of profound submission to his absolute word. It was a faith enabling him to accept all that Jesus should teach, and obey all that he should command. Apostolic faith did not surpass it.


Verses 11-17

§ 38.THE RAISING FROM THE DEAD, THE SON OF THE WIDOW OF NAIN, Luke 7:11-17.

(Given by Luke alone.)

The next day after the healing of the centurion’s servant, Jesus, with a number of his disciples, took an excursion to the village of Nain, situated in the great plain of Esdraelon, about five miles northward from the Lesser Hermon. As this was a distance of about twenty-five miles from Capernaum, the company of Jesus must either have, according to eastern custom, set out very early, or have arrived as eve was approaching.

Our Lord enters on the eastern side of the town, attended by his retinue of followers, attracted by his ministry and his miracles. As he approaches, his company is met by a procession with bearers sustaining a bier, carrying a corpse through the gate of the city of the living to the city of the dead. There was no close coffin; but the body of a young man lay stretched upon the bier, with his face, feet, and hands probably bare, wrapped in the habiliments of burial. The much people of the city indicated the respect entertained for the dead. There seems to be but a single mourner, and she had but a single son to mourn for.

“On the northern slope of the rugged and barren ridge of Little Hermon,” says Stanley, “immediately west of Endor, which lies in a farther recess of the same range, is the ruined village of Nain. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. But under these circumstances the name is sufficient to guarantee its authenticity. One entrance alone could it have had—that which opens on the rough hillside in its downward slope to the plain. It must have been in this descent, as, according to Eastern custom, they ‘carried out the dead man,’ that ‘nigh to the gate’ of the village the bier was stopped, and the long procession of mourners stayed, and the young man delivered back to his mother. It is a spot which has no peculiarity of feature to fix it on the memory; its situation is like that of all villages on this plain; but, in the authenticity of its claims, and the narrow compass within which we have to look for the touching incident, it may rank among the most interesting points of the scenery of the Gospel narrative.”—Palestine, p. 349.


Verse 13

13. Compassion on her—”Here was no solicitor,” says Bishop Hall, “but his own compassion. The centurion came to him for a servant, the ruler for a son, Jairus for a daughter, the neighbours for a paralytic; here he seeks up the patient, and offers the cure unrequested. While we have to do with the Father of mercies, our afflictions are the most powerful suitors.” Compassion for her is the suggesting motive, but doubtless other reasons favoured the result. There was a temper of faith and tenderness in both his followers and the funeral assembly, that stood in perfect contrast to the faithlessness of the Nazarenes, from whose hands he had so lately walked forth, rejected and rejecting.

Weep not—The large attendance came to weep with her; this stranger met them to arrest her tears. They came to deposit her son in the tomb; he came to give him back to life. Like John, in Revelation 5:5, she was bidden to weep not, because the Lion of the tribe of Judah had prevailed to unseal the enclosures of death.


Verse 14

14. They that bare him stood still—Jesus, at the head of his attendants, was not unknown to them. The bearers of the bier obeyed the touch of his arresting hand. They trusted that this stoppage by the great prophet meant something.

I say—The Lord speaks as if the case of life and death was controlled by the will of this I.

Arise—And this utterance to the body is heard by the departed soul. In the land of spirits, the spirit receives the sudden message to return. For to call the dead to life requires the Lord of both worlds, who holds the keys of death and of Hades.


Verse 15

15. Dead sat up… began to speak—As the soul is again enshrined in the bodily frame, then the bodily action recommences. The raised corpse is about to speak. What will this man from the dead say? Whatever he would say; whether he would express his astonishment at the scene around him, or would commence disclosing the secrets of the spirit-land, his speech is cut short. Jesus silences his lips by handing him over to his mother. Such a benefactor can say weep not with a value in his words.


Verse 16

16. They glorified God—Truly the miracle has not been in vain, if it has awakened dead souls to life. Who knows how many true Christian converts remained faithful in this sweet Nain, (the name in Hebrew signifies pleasant,) and who knows what numbers now sleep in the many tombs that, at the present day, stand thick upon the eastern side of the slope, who in eternity shall rejoice over the mighty work of that day?

A great prophet—Greater than Elijah, who indeed raised the dead, but with what pains and multiplied efforts! Jesus speaks the resurrection word, and it is done. And yet the evangelist narrates it in the simplest style, without any purpose of displaying the superiority of Jesus by the comparison.

Fearglorified—This is a remarkable blending of awe at the display of divine power, and joy at the divine mercy. So God is truly said to be “fearful in praises.” Exodus 15:11.


Verse 17

17. Rumour—How many times Jesus may have raised the dead we know not; we have record of but three cases. And these three cases form a striking climax. The daughter of Jairus was raised upon her bed; the son of this widow was raised from his bier; and Lazarus was raised from his tomb. Yet this is no contrived climax, but appears spontaneously, from a comparison of three evangelists, each of whom contributes his part without being aware what his fellow-evangelist reports, or conscious of the effect of the whole. Did not a divine inspiration, unrealized by them, comprehend and bring out the composite result?

There is one striking peculiarity in this resurrection-miracle at Nain that no commentator seems to have noticed. Jesus appears to have gone twenty-five miles in a single day with a competent, ικανοι, number of disciples, (to witness it, doubtless,) to perform the deed, so timing his arrival as to meet the corpse at the proper instant. And then, as not a syllable intimates any further doing or staying at Nain, it would seem that his whole object was accomplished. Was it that he beheld in spirit from Capernaum that there was a subject at Nain upon whom, according to the laws of his action, a resurrection could most wisely be wrought? Perhaps he saw that the wonderful work might there be performed with least of turbulent commotion; meeting a spirit of most candid and tender faith, under attestation of a competent body of witnesses, in a spot best adapted to bear the record to future ages.


Verses 18-23

§ 39.JESUS’S ANSWER TO THE MESSAGE FROM JOHN THE BAPTIST, Luke 7:18-23.

(See notes on Matthew 11:2-19.)


Verses 24-36

§ 40.JESUS’S REFLECTIONS ON THIS APPEAL TO HIS MIGHTY WORKS, Luke 7:24-36.

(See notes on Matthew 11:20-30.)


Verses 36-50

§ 41. THE WOMAN, vv. A SINNER, vv. PUBLICLY ASSURED BY JESUS AT MEAT IN THE PHARISEE’S HOUSE, Luke 7:36-50.

(Given by Luke alone.)

This beautiful narrative is given by Luke without any assignment of place or time, so that harmonists are at liberty to exercise their discretion to assign it the most probable position. As Magdala is not far from Nain, some old commentators, and the Romanist writers generally, identify this female sinner with Mary Magdalene. But, first, there is no proof that Mary Magdalene was ever so a sinner as to render her company ritually unclean. Second, the first naming of her by Luke, a few verses ahead, indicates her not to have been hitherto mentioned. The identity of the two was certainly unsuspected by Luke. Third, she is so named, in company so honourable in rank, and with such evident priority to them, as to indicate her superiority over them. Fourth, the expulsion from her of demons does not prove either wickedness, degraded character, or low rank; and the noble females mentioned in company with her seem all to be connected with Jesus by gratitude for similar miracles of mercy. Lange and Van Oosterzee incline to revive the old identification. The English editor of Lange’s Life of Jesus says that “to deny this is one of the present fashions of interpreters.” But no plausible grounds are furnished by either for the revival of the obsolete contrary “fashion.”


Verse 37

37. A woman in the city… a sinner—It is not said that her character was notorious through town, or that she was “a woman of the town;” but that, being in town, she heard of the Lord’s also being there, and where he was. Dr. Clarke holds, correctly we think, that the word sinner, here and often elsewhere, signifies heathen or Gentile. The decisive proof-text for this then customary meaning of the word is Galatians 2:15, where it was held ritually unclean to eat with sinners, namely, of the Gentiles. The phrase publicans and sinners requires this meaning; otherwise the phrase is a solecism; for the publicans themselves were a class of sinners in the common sense of that term. See Mark 2:15-17; Mark 14:41; Luke 15:1-2; Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10; Luke 19:7; John 9:31.

To this woman there evidently belongs a previous history, which Luke presupposes, but does not give. It is plain that the entire argument of Jesus assumes that her love to him was preceded by forgiveness and was caused by it. She must, therefore, at some previous time, have heard with faith the Gospel from his lips; must have felt her condition of sin and ruin; must have repented and experienced the joy and gratitude of conversion. That justification, however, she had felt only by his spirit in her heart; never by announcement from his lips. Hence, when she learns the place of his stay, she hastens, provided with the fragrant token of gratitude, the ointment, to pour forth upon him.

Brought—In the East, the warm climate produces tents and open doors, destroying much of that exclusiveness which reigns in the close houses of more northern latitudes. The meals are often taken in the court, with one side perfectly open. And even in the house, while the company are at table, persons will come in, and, uninvited and unchallenged, take their seat upon the divan or long sofa that lines the walls, and enter freely into conversation with the host and guests at table.

Alabaster box—See note on Matthew 26:7.


Verse 38

38. Stood at his feet—Reclining at table, after the oriental fashion; his sandals, according to custom, having been taken off upon entering the house. The feet of Jesus would be extended, so that the woman could stand behind and wash them. The word βρεχειν in the Greek signifies not to wash, but to moisten by the natural dripping of the tears as she profusely shed them. As they dropped, with her loosened hair she wiped his feet and then anointed them. This custom of cleansing and anointing the feet prevails not only in the Oriental sections, but is the subject of many allusions in the classics, as taking place among the Greeks and Romans. Thus Aristophanes, the Greek dramatic poet, makes an Athenian say that upon going home at night “My daughter shall grasp me, anoint my two feet, and, stooping down, kiss them.”


Verse 39

39. If he were a prophet—The discerning of spirits was, according to the opinion of the Jews, one of the characteristics of the Messiah. (Isaiah 9:3-4.) But it was hasty reasoning for Simon to conclude that every prophet must know the secret character of every person who approaches him.

Perhaps the character of this Simon is treated more severely by commentators than he is by the Saviour or by the evangelist. He evidently invited Jesus for the purpose of forming a correct judgment as to his true prophetic mission. He was respectful, but not affectionate; he is candid in his replies, and, at the close, he does not join with the cavillers at the claim of Jesus to forgive sins. In his parable our Lord seems to hold that he was a forgiven man. We see, then, no reason forbidding us to classify him with Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, whom we hold to have been true disciples of Christ; or his justification was, perhaps, like that of Zacharias and Elisabeth, complete under the old dispensation.


Verse 41

41. A certain creditor—The creditor is God; the two debtors stand for the woman and Simon. The two sums due represent the different moral characters of the two as they stand before the conscience of the world, and as they stand in view of their own moral judgment. One is, in the estimation probably of both, ten times better than the other.


Verse 42

42. Which… will love him most—No doubt each ought to love to the utmost of his power. The ruin of the least guilty is so utter, and forgiveness so great, that all the gratitude that his heart can hold is due. But as human nature is, which will feel the most intense emotions of gratitude for salvation?


Verse 43

43. I suppose—This is the modest expression of Simon’s opinion. To which our Lord, supplying him a more authoritative term, replies, “Thou hast rightly judged.” Our Lord’s illustration, like Nathan’s parable to David, makes the auditor decide the actual case before he hears it.


Verse 44

44. Turned to the woman—Half inclining his face, as he reclines upon the couch, towards her, while he speaks from the couch to Simon.

I entered into thy house—Our Lord knew the honour that entrance conferred upon the house, but the host did not. Very touching is the reminder to the Pharisee of his want, not of courtesy to him as a guest, but of the tokens of love to him as a Saviour. Had Jesus come from a journey, the offices he named would have been matters of obligatory hospitality; and Jesus was evidently invited from the town. Beautiful indeed is the threefold contrast. Simon withheld water; she gave tears. Simon kissed not his face; she kissed his feet. Simon furnished no customary oil; she poured forth the costly ointment.


Verse 47

47. Wherefore—Our Lord now furnishes his reply to the silent query of Simon, whether this professed prophet discerns spirits, by showing him that he did most truly discern both her spirit and his. And so he also settled Simon’s other query as to the rightness of allowing this female sinner to approach and touch him. Penitence and sanctification have made her pure, and gratitude, moreover, by her feeling of the greatness of her sin, her ruin, and her salvation, have wrought this paroxysm of love, and these acts of humility.

Her sins are forgiven—Jesus does not here address the woman and now pardon her sins; he addresses Simon, and informs him that the reason of her much love is that she is one much forgiven; and forgiven before he has announced the fact to her, and even before the rich display of her love. Her gratitude is in effect a consequence, a manifestation and proof that her sins are forgiven.


Verse 48

48. He said unto her—She was before justified before God. The Lord has said this, and proved it from her deeds of love. He has justified her now before men. He has before this Pharisaic company, at once vindicated himself and her, by declaring what God had done, namely, forgiven her. But the climax of mercy needs to be completed. Dearer than all to her soul is the blessed music of that voice, pronouncing to her very heart of hearts that her previous joy and love were no self-deception, but that forgiveness of sin, even of sin like hers, is truly hers. Her previous faith had attained the prize; her present act of love had won its declaration. Justified before God, before man, and to her own heart, her bliss was perfect.


Verse 49

49. They that sat at meat—A murmur of disapprobation passes around; but Simon is silent. Never was denunciation more terrible than that which is recorded from Jesus’s lips against the sect of which this Pharisee is one, but not such is his discourse towards Simon. He speaks of him as a man forgiven of God. We would believe that Simon is silent, while others condemn, because he has his serious thoughts that he is conversing with a searcher of hearts, who has power to forgive as well as to try.


Verse 50

50. Thy faith—Our Lord rebukes not the insolent murmurers; but the more they murmur the more persistently does he assure the penitent. But it is her faith, not her love, that hath saved her. Our Lord here is beforehand with St. Paul in preaching justification by faith, and faith alone. It is faith which brings pardon, and pardon brings that Holy Spirit which inspires love. So that it is a faith which works by love and purifies the heart.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 7:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/luke-7.html. 1874-1909.

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