Luke 3
Expositor's Greek Testament


Having related the beginnings of the lives of the two prophets of the new time (chapters 1 and 2), the evangelist now introduces us to the beginnings of their prophetic ministries, or rather to the ministry of John as the prelude to the evangelic drama. In regard to the ministry of Jesus he gives us merely the date of its beginning (Luke 3:23), attaching thereto a genealogy of Jesus. Bengel has well expressed the significance of this chapter by the words: Hic quasi scena N. T. panditur.

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
Luke 3:1-2. General historic setting of the beginnings. For Mt.’s vague “in those days” (Luke 3:1), which leaves us entirely in the dark at what date and age Jesus entered on His prophetic career, Lk. gives a group of dates connecting his theme with the general history of the world and of Palestine; the universalistic spirit here, as in Luke 2:1-2, apparent. This spirit constitutes the permanent ethical interest of what may seem otherwise dry details: for ordinary readers of the Gospel little more than a collection of names, personal and geographical. Worthy of note also, as against those who think Lk. was to a large extent a free inventor, is the indication here given of the historical spirit, the desire to know the real facts (Luke 1:3). The historic data, six in all, define the date of John’s ministry with reference to the reigning Roman emperor, and the civil and ecclesiastical rulers of Palestine.

Luke 3:1. ἐν ἔτει, etc., in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius as Caesar. This seems a very definite date, rendering all the other particulars, so far as fixing time is concerned, comparatively superfluous. But uncertainty comes in in connection with the question: is the fifteenth year to be reckoned from the death of Augustus (19 Aug., 767 A.U.C.), when Tiberius became sole emperor, or from the beginning of the regency of Tiberius, two years earlier? The former mode of calculation would give us 28 or 29 A.D. as the date of John’s ministry and Christ’s baptism, making Jesus then thirty-two years old; the latter, 26 A.D., making Jesus then thirty years old, agreeing with Luke 3:23. The former mode of dating would be more in accordance with the practice of Roman historians and Josephus; the latter lends itself to apologetic and harmonistic interests, and therefore is preferred by many (e.g., Farrar and Hahn).—Ποντίου Πιλάτου. Pilate was governor of the Roman province of Judaea from 26 A.D. to 36 A.D., the fifth in the series of governors. His proper title was ἐπίτροπος (hence the reading of [38]: ἐπιτροπευοντος π. π.); usually ἡγεμὼν in Gospels. He owes his place here in the historic framework to the part he played in the last scenes of our Lord’s life. Along with him are named next two joint rulers of other parts of Palestine, belonging to the Herod family; brought in, though of no great importance for dating purposes, because they, too, figure occasionally in the Gospel story.—τετραρχοῦντος, acting as tetrarch. The verb means primarily: ruling over a fourth part, then by an easy transition acting as a tributary prince.—Γαλιλαίας: about twenty-five miles long and broad, divided into lower (southern) Galilee and upper (northern). With Galilee was joined for purposes of government Peraea.—Ἡρώδου, Herod Antipas, murderer of the Baptist, and having secular authority over Jesus as his subject.—Φιλίππου, Herod Philip, brother of Antipas, whose name reappears in the new name of Paneas, rebuilt or adorned by him, Caesarea Philippi.—τῆς Ἰτουραίας καὶ Τραχωνίτιδος χώρας: so Lk. designates the territory ruled over by Philip. The words might be rendered: the Ituraean and Trachonitic territory, implying the identity of Ituraea and Trachonitis (as in Eusebius. For a defence of this view, vide article by Professor Ramsay in Expositor, February, 1894); or, as in A. V[39], of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis. The former was a mountainous region to the south of Mount Hermon, inhabited by a hardy race, skilled in the use of the bow; the latter (the rough country) = the modern El-Lejah, the kingdom of Og in ancient times, was a basaltic region south of Damascus, and east of Golan. It is probable that only a fragment of Ituraea belonged to Philip, the region around Paneas. On the other hand, according to Josephus, his territories embraced more than the regions named by Lk.: Batanaea, Auranitis, Gaulonitis, and some parts about Jamnia (various places in Ant. and B. J.).—Λυσανίου, etc. This last item in Lk.’s dating apparatus is the most perplexing, whether regard be had to relevancy or to accuracy. To what end this reference to a non-Jewish prince, and this outlying territory between the Lebanon ranges? What concern has it with the evangelic history, or of what use is it for indicating the place of the latter in the world’s history? By way of answer to this question, Farrar (C. G. T.) suggests that the district of Abilene (Abila the capital) is probably mentioned here “because it subsequently formed part of the Jewish territory, having been assigned by Caligula to his favourite, Herod Agrippa I., in A.D. 36”. As to the accuracy: it so happens that there was a Lysanias, who ruled over Chalchis and Abilene sixty years before the time of which Lk. writes, who probably bore the title tetrarch. Does Lk., misled by the title, think of that Lysanias as a contemporary of Herod Antipas and Herod Philip, or was there another of the name really their contemporary, whom the evangelist has in his view? Certain inscriptions cited by historical experts make the latter hypothesis probable. Schürer (The Jewish People, Div. I., vol. ii., appendix 1, on the History of Chalchis, Ituraea, and Abilene, p. 338) has no doubt on the point, and says: “the evangelist, Lk., is thoroughly correct when he assumes that in the fifteenth year of Tiberias there was a Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene”.

[38] Codex Bezae

[39] Authorised Version.

Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
Luke 3:2. ἐπὶ ἀρχιερέως Ἄννα καὶ Καιάφα, under the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. The use of the singular ἀρχιερέως in connection with two names is peculiar, whence doubtless the correction into the easier ἀρχιερέων (T. R.); and the combination of two men as holding the office at the same time, is likewise somewhat puzzling. As Caiaphas was the actual high priest at the time, one would have expected his name to have stood, if not alone, at least first = under Caiaphas, the actual high priest, and the ex-high priest, Annas, still an influential senior. One can only suppose that among the caste of high priests past and present (there had been three between Annas and Caiaphas) Annas was so outstanding that it came natural to name him first. Annas had been deposed arbitrarily by the Roman governor, and this may have increased his influence among his own people. His period of office was A.D. 7–14, that of Caiaphas A.D. 17–35.—ἐγένετο ῥῆμα, etc., came the word of God to John; this the great spiritual event, so carefully dated, after the manner of the O. T. in narrating the beginning of the career of a Hebrew prophet (vide, e.g., Jeremiah 1:1). But the date is common to the ministry of John and that of Jesus, who is supposed to have begun His work shortly after the Baptist.—ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ. From next verse it may be gathered that the desert here means the whole valley of the Jordan, El-Ghor.

And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
Luke 3:3-6. John’s ministry.

Luke 3:3. ἦλθεν. In Mt. and Mk. the people come from all quarters to John. Here John goes to the people in an itinerant ministry. The latter may apply to the early stage of his ministry. He might move about till he had attracted attention, then settle at a place convenient for baptism, and trust to the impression produced to draw the people to him.—κηρύσσων, etc.: here Lk. follows Mk. verbatim, and like him, as distinct from Mt., connects John’s baptism with the forgiveness of sins, so making it in effect Christian.

As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Luke 3:4. βίβλῳ λόγων: Lk. has his own way of introducing the prophetic citation (“in the book of the words”), as he also follows his own course as to the words quoted. Whereas Mt. and Mk. are content to cite just so much as suffices to set forth the general idea of preparing the way of the Lord, Lk. quotes in continuation the words which describe pictorially the process of preparation (Luke 3:5), also those which describe the grand result: all mankind experiencing the saving grace of God (Luke 3:6). The universalistic bias appears here again.

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
Luke 3:5. φάραγξ, a ravine, here only in N. T.—εἰς εὐθείας, the crooked places shall be (become) straight (ways, ὁδοὺς, understood)—αἱ τραχεῖαι (ὁδοὶ), the rough ways shall become smooth.

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Luke 3:7-9. John’s preaching (cf. Matthew 3:7-10).—Lk. gives no account of John’s aspect and mode of life, leaving that to be inferred from Luke 1:80. On the other hand he enters into more detail in regard to the drift of his preaching. These verses contain Lk.’s version of the Baptist’s censure of his time.

Luke 3:7. ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις: what Mt. represents as addressed specially to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Lk. less appropriately gives as spoken to the general crowd. Note that here, as in the other synoptists, the crowd comes to John, though in Luke 3 :3 John goes to them.—γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν: on this figure vide Mt. Lk.’s report of the Baptist’s severe words corresponds closely to Mt.’s, suggesting the use of a common source, if not of Mt. himself. The points of variation are unimportant.

Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Luke 3:8. καρποὺς: instead of καρπὸν, perhaps to answer to the various types of reform specified in the sequel.—ἄρξησθε instead of δόξητε (vide on Mt.), on which Bengel’s comment is: “omnem excusationis etiam conatum praecidit”. While the words they are forbidden to say are the same in both accounts, perhaps the raising up children to Abraham has a wider range of meaning for the Pauline Lk. than for Mt.: sons from even the Pagan world.

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
Luke 3:10-14. Class counsels, peculiar to Lk. Two samples of John’s counsels to classes are here given, prefaced by a counsel applicable to all classes. The classes selected to illustrate the Baptist’s social preaching are the much tempted ones: publicans and soldiers.

Luke 3:10. ἐπηρώτων, imperfect. Such questions would be frequent, naturally suggested by the general exhortations to repentance. The preacher would probably give special illustrative counsels without being asked. Those here reported are meant to be characteristic.—ποιήσωμεν: subj. delib.

He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
Luke 3:11. δύο χ.: two, one to spare, not necessarily two on the person, one enough; severely simple ideas of life. The χιτὼν was the under garment, vide on Matthew 5:40.—βρώματα: the plural should perhaps not be emphasised as if implying variety and abundance (τὰ περισσεύοντα, Grotius). The counsel is: let him that hath food give to him that hath none, so inculcating a generous, humane spirit. Here the teaching of John, as reported by Lk., touches that of Jesus, and is evangelical not legal in spirit.

Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
Luke 3:13. μηδὲν πλέον παρὰ: this mode of expressing comparison (usual in mod. Grk.) is common to Lk. and the Ep. to Heb. (Luke 1:4, etc.), and has been used in support of the view that Lk. wrote Heb. “Non improbabilis videtur mihi eorum opinio qui Lucae eam Ep. adjudicant,” Pricaeus.—πράσσετε, make, in a sinister sense, exact, exigite, Beza. Kypke quotes Julius Pollux on the vices of the publicans, one being παρεισπράττων, nimium exigens, and remarks that this word could not be better explained than by the phrase in Lk., πράττων π. π. τὸ διατ.

And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
Luke 3:14. στρατευόμενοι, “soldiers on service”. R. V[40] margin. So also Farrar. But Field disputes this rendering. “The advice seems rather to point to soldiers at home, mixing among their fellow-citizens, than to those who were on the march in an enemy’s country” (Ot. Nor.). Schürer, whom J. Weiss follows, thinks they would be heathen.—διασείσητε: the verb (here only) means literally to shake much, here = to extort money by intimidation = concertio in law Latin. This military vice would be practised on the poor.—συκοφαντήσητε: literally to inform on those who exported figs from Athens; here = to obtain money by acting as informers (against the rich).—ὀψωνίοις (ὄψον, ὠνέομαι): a late Greek word, primarily anything eaten with bread, specially fish, “kitchen”; salary paid in kind; then generally wages. Vide Romans 6:23, where the idea is, the “kitchen,” the best thing sin has to give is death.

[40] Revised Version.

And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
Luke 3:15-17. Art thou the Christ? (Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:7-8).

Luke 3:15. προσδοκῶντος: in Mt. and Mk. John introduces the subject of the Messiah of his own accord: in Lk. in answer to popular expectation and conjecture; an intrinsically probable account, vide on Mt.—μήποτε, etc., whether perhaps he might not himself be the Christ; expresses very happily the popular state of mind.

John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
Luke 3:16. ἅπασι: might suggest frequent replies to various parties, uniform in tenor; but against this is the aorist ἀπεκρίνατο, which suggests a single answer given once for all, to a full assembly, a formal solemn public declaration. On the Baptist’s statement in this and the following verse, vide on Mt.—ἐν Πνεύματι Ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί: against the idea of many commentators that the Holy Spirit and fire represent opposite effects on opposite classes—saving and punitive—Godet and Hahn press the omission of ἐν before πυρί, and take Πνεῦμα and πῦρ to be kindred = fire the emblem of the Spirit as a purifier. They are right as to the affinity but not as to the function. The function in both cases is judicial. John refers to the Holy Wind and Fire of Judgment It is, however, not impossible that Lk. read an evangelic sense into John’s words.

Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
Luke 3:18-20. Close of the Baptist’s ministry and life. Lk. gives here all he means to say about John, condensing into a single sentence the full narratives of Mt. and Mk. as to his end.

Luke 3:18. πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα, “many things, too, different from these” (Farrar, who refers to John 1:29; John 1:34; John 3:27-36, as illustrating the kind of utterances meant). The εὐηγγελίζετο following seems to justify emphasising ἕτερα, as pointing to a more evangelic type of utterance than those about the axe and the fan, and the wrath to come. But it may be questioned whether by such a representation the real John of history is not to a certain extent unconsciously idealised and Christianised.—μὲν οὖν: the οὖν may be taken as summarising and concluding the narrative about John and μὲν as answering to δὲ in Luke 3:19 = John was carrying on a useful evangelic ministry, out it was cut short; or μενοῦν may be taken as one word, emphasising πολλὰ καὶ ἕτερα, and preparing for transition to what follows (Hahn).

But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
Luke 3:19. Ἡρώδης: the tetrarch named in Luke 3:1.—περὶ πάντων, implying that John’s rebuke was not confined to the sin with Herodias. Probably not, but it was what John said on that score that cost him his head.

Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
Luke 3:20. ἐπὶ πᾶσι, added this also to all his misdeeds, and above all the crowning iniquity, and yet Lk. forbears to mention the damning sin of Herod, the beheading of the Baptist, contenting himself with noting the imprisonment. He either assumes knowledge of the horrid tale, or shrinks from it as too gruesome.—κατέκλεισε: instead of the infinitive; the paratactic style savours of Hebrew, and suggests a Hebrew source (Godet).

Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
Luke 3:21-22. The baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11).—ἐν τῷ βαπτισθῆναι: the aorist ought to imply that the bulk of the people had already been baptised before Jesus appeared on the scene, i.e., that John’s ministry was drawing to its close (so De Wette; but vide Burton, M. and T., p. 51, § 109, on the effect ἐν).—καὶ Ἰ. βαπτισθέντος: so Lk. refers to the baptism of Jesus, in a participial clause, his aim not to report the fact, but what happened after it. On the different ways in which the synoptists deal with this incident, vide on Mt.—προσευχομένου: peculiar to Lk., who makes Jesus pray at all crises of His career; here specially noteworthy in connection with the theophany following: Jesus in a state of mind answering to the preternatural phenomena; subjective and objective corresponding.—σωματικῷ εἴδει, in bodily form, peculiar to Lk., and transforming a vision into an external event.—Σὺ εἶ: the voice, as in Mk., addressed to Jesus, and in the same terms.

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.
And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
Luke 3:23-38. The age of Jesus when He began His ministry, and His genealogy.

Luke 3:23. καὶ αὐτὸς, etc., and He, Jesus, was about thirty years of age when He began. The evangelist’s aim obviously is to state the age at which Jesus commenced His public career.—ἀρχόμενος is used in a pregnant sense, beginning = making His beginning in that which is to be the theme of the history. There is a mental reference to ἀπ ἀρχῆς in the preface, Luke 1:1; cf. Acts 1:1; “all that Jesus began (ἤρξατο) both to do and to teach”.—ὡσεὶ, about, nearly, implying that the date is only approximate. It cannot be used as a fixed datum for chronological purposes, nor should any importance be attached to the number thirty as the proper age at which such a career should begin. That at that age the Levites began full service, Joseph stood before Pharaoh, and David began to reign are facts, but of no significance (vide Farrar in C. G. T.). God’s prophets appear when they get the inward call, and that may come at any time, at twenty, thirty, or forty. Inspiration is not bound by rule, custom, or tradition.

Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph,
Luke 3:24-38. The genealogy. One is surprised to find in Lk. a genealogy at all, until we reflect on his preface with its professed desire for accuracy and thoroughness, and observe the careful manner in which he dates the beginning of John’s ministry. One is further surprised to find here a genealogy so utterly different from that of Mt. Did Lk. not know it, or was he dissatisfied with it? Leaving these questions on one side, we can only suppose that the evangelist in the course of his inquiries came upon this genealogy of the Saviour and resolved to give it as a contribution towards defining the fleshly relationships of Jesus, supplying here and there an editorial touch. Whether this genealogy be of Jewish-Christian, or of Pauline-Christian origin is a question on which opinion differs.

Luke 3:24-31. From Joseph back to David. Compared with the corresponding section of Mt.’s genealogy these differences are apparent: (1) in both sub-divisions of the section (David to captivity, captivity to Christ) there are considerably more names (Luke 3:20; Luke 3:14), a fact intelligible enough in genealogies through different lines; (2) they start from different sons of David (Nathan, Solomon); (3) they come together at the captivity in Shealtiel and Zerubbabel; (4) after running in separate streams from that point onwards they meet again in Joseph, who in the one is the son of Eli, in the other the son of Jacob. The puzzle is to understand how two genealogical streams so distinct in their entire course should meet at these two points. The earlier coincidence is accounted for by harmonists by the hypothesis of adoption (Jeconiah adopts Shealtiel, Shealtiel adopts Zerubbabel), the later by the hypothesis of a Levirate marriage. vide Excursus ii. in Farrar’s work on Luke (C. G. T.). These solutions satisfy some. Others maintain that they do not meet the difficulties, and that we must be content to see in the two catalogues genealogical attempts which cannot be harmonised, or at least have not yet been.

Luke 3:24. ὢν, being, introducing the genealogical list, which ascends from son to father, instead of, as in Mt., descending from father to son, therefore beginning at the end and going backwards.—ὡς ἐνομίζετο: presumably an editorial note to guard the virgin birth. Some regard this expression with Ἰωσήφ following, as a parenthesis, making the genealogy in its original form run being son of Eli, etc., so that the sense, when the parenthesis is inserted, becomes: being son (as was supposed of Joseph but really) of Eli, etc., Eli being the father of Mary, and the genealogy being that of the mother of Jesus (Godet and others). This is ingenious but not satisfactory. As has been remarked by Hahn, if that had been Lk.’s meaning it would have been very easy for him to have made it clear by inserting ὄντως δὲ before τοῦ Ἠλί. We must therefore rest in the view that this genealogy, like that of Mt., is Joseph’s, not Mary’s, as it could not fail to be if Jews were concerned in its compilation.

Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge,
Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,
Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er,
Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi,
Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim,
Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,
Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson,
Luke 3:32-34 a. From David back to Abraham. The lists of Mt. and Lk. in this part correspond, both being taken, as far as Pharez, from Ruth 4:18-22.

Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda,
Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor,
Luke 3:34-38. From Abraham to Adam. Peculiar to Lk., taken from Genesis 11:12-26; Genesis 5:7-32, as given in the Sept[41], whence Canaan in Luke 3:36 (instead of חלַשָׁ in Genesis 11:12, in Heb.). It is probable that this part of the genealogy has been added by Lk., and that his interest in it is twofold: (1) universalistic: revealed by running back the genealogy of Jesus to Adam, the father of the human race; (2) the desire to give emphasis to the Divine origin of Jesus, revealed by the final link in the chain: Adam (son) of God. Adam’s sonship is conceived of as something unique, inasmuch as, like Jesus, he owed his being, not to a human parent, but to the immediate causality of God. By this extension of the genealogy beyond Abraham, and even beyond Adam up to God, the evangelist has deprived it of all vital significance for the original purpose of such tables: to vindicate the Messianic claims of Jesus by showing Him to be the son of David. The Davidic sonship, it is true, remains, but it cannot be vital to the Messiahship of One who is, in the sense of the Gospel, Son of God. It becomes like the moon when the sun is shining. Lk. was probably aware of this.

[41] Septuagint.

This genealogy contains none of those features (references to women, etc. which lend ethical interest to Mt.’s.

Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala,
Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech,
Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan,
Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
The Expositor's Greek Testament - Nicoll

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