Luke 3:14
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.
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(14) And the soldiers likewise . . .—The Greek word has not the definite article, and is a participle. Better, and soldiers, as they were marching. The words probably point to the troops of Antipas on their way down the valley of the Jordan to attack Aretas (comp. Notes on 2Corinthians 11:32), the father of the Tetrarch’s divorced wife, who had declared war on account of the wrong thus done to his daughter. Roman soldiers were not likely to have come to the Baptist’s preaching.

Do violence to no man.—The Greek word was the exact equivalent of the Latin concutere (whence our “concussion”), and was applied to the violence which was used by irregular troops to extort money or provisions.

Neither accuse any falsely.—The word occurs again in the confession of Zacchæus (Luke 19:8). It is supposed to have been primarily used of those who informed against the export of figs from Attica at a time when that trade was prohibited. They were known, it is said, as “sycophants,” though no actual instance of this use of the word is extant. The word came, in course of time, to be applied to informers generally, and then, in its modern sense, to those who court the favour of princes by informing against others—the delatores, who at this time were so conspicuous in the imperial court, on which that of the Tetrarch’s had been modelled.

Be content with your wages.—Better, pay. The word meant primarily the “rations” of a soldier, and then the money received in lieu of rations. As used in the New Testament, the idea of pay for soldier’s work as distinct from the wages of a labourer, is almost always connected with it. (Comp. Romans 6:23; 1Corinthians 9:7.)

3:1-14 The scope and design of John's ministry were, to bring the people from their sins, and to their Saviour. He came preaching, not a sect, or party, but a profession; the sign or ceremony was washing with water. By the words here used John preached the necessity of repentance, in order to the remission of sins, and that the baptism of water was an outward sign of that inward cleansing and renewal of heart, which attend, or are the effects of true repentance, as well as a profession of it. Here is the fulfilling of the Scriptures, Isa 40:3, in the ministry of John. When way is made for the gospel into the heart, by taking down high thoughts, and bringing them into obedience to Christ, by levelling the soul, and removing all that hinders us in the way of Christ and his grace, then preparation is made to welcome the salvation of God. Here are general warnings and exhortations which John gave. The guilty, corrupted race of mankind is become a generation of vipers; hateful to God, and hating one another. There is no way of fleeing from the wrath to come, but by repentance; and by the change of our way the change of our mind must be shown. If we are not really holy, both in heart and life, our profession of religion and relation to God and his church, will stand us in no stead at all; the sorer will our destruction be, if we do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance. John the Baptist gave instructions to several sorts of persons. Those that profess and promise repentance, must show it by reformation, according to their places and conditions. The gospel requires mercy, not sacrifice; and its design is, to engage us to do all the good we can, and to be just to all men. And the same principle which leads men to forego unjust gain, leads to restore that which is gained by wrong. John tells the soldiers their duty. Men should be cautioned against the temptations of their employments. These answers declared the present duty of the inquirers, and at once formed a test of their sincerity. As none can or will accept Christ's salvation without true repentance, so the evidence and effects of this repentance are here marked out.The soldiers likewise - It seems that "they," also came to his baptism. Whether these were Jews or Romans cannot be ascertained. It is not improbable that, as Judea was a Roman province, they were Jews or Jewish proselytes in the service of Herod Antipas or Philip, and so were really in the Roman service.

Do violence ... - Do not take the property of any by unlawful force, or do not use unjust force against the person or property of any individual. it is probable that many of them were oppressive, or prone to violence, rapine, or theft, and burdensome even in times of peace to the inhabitants.

Neither accuse any falsely - It is probable that when they wished the property of others and could not obtain it by violence, or when there was no pretext for violence, they often attempted the same thing in another way, and falsely accused the persons of crime. The word rendered "falsely accused" is the one from which our word "sycophant" is derived. The proper meaning of the word "sycophant" was this: There was a law in Athens which prohibited the importation of "figs." The "sycophant" (literally "the man who made figs to appear," or who showed them) was one who made complaint to the magistrate of persons who had imported figs contrary to law, or who was an "informer;" and then the word came to be used in a general sense to denote "any" complainer - a calumniator - an accuser - an informer. As such persons were usually cringing and fawning, and looked for a reward, the word came to be used also to denote a fawner or flatterer. It is always used in a bad sense. It is correctly rendered here, "do not accuse any falsely."

Be content ... - Do not murmur or complain, or take unlawful means to increase your wages.

Wages - This word means not only the "money" which was paid them, but also their "rations" or daily allowance of food. By this they were to show that their repentance was genuine; that it had a practical influence; that it produced a real reformation of life; and it is clear that "no other" repentance would be genuine. Every profession of repentance which is not attended with a change of life is mere hypocrisy. It may farther be remarked that John did not condemn their profession, or say that it was unlawful to be a soldier, or that they must abandon the business in order to be true penitents. It was possible to be a good man and yet a soldier. What was required was that in their profession they should show that they were really upright, and did not commit the crimes which were often practiced in that calling. It is lawful to defend oneself, one's family, or one's country, and hence, it is lawful to be a soldier. Man everywhere, in all professions, should be a Christian, and then he will do honor to his profession, and his profession, if it is not a direct violation of the law of God, will be honorable.

14. soldiers … Do violence to none—The word signifies to "shake thoroughly," and so to "intimidate," probably in order to extort money or other property. (Also see on [1554]Mt 3:10.)

accuse … falsely—acting as informers vexatiously, on frivolous or false grounds.

content with your wages—"rations." We may take this as a warning against mutiny, which the officers attempted to suppress by largesses and donations [Webster and Wilkinson]. And thus the "fruits" which would evidence their repentance were just resistance to the reigning sins, particularly of the class to which the penitent belonged, and the manifestation of an opposite spirit.

A good and faithful minister of Christ should be one able to bring out of his storehouse things new and old, to give every one their portion in their season, and so courageous and faithful as not to be afraid to do it, nor for any reason decline the doing of it. Such was John the Baptist. These were the Roman soldiers, kept by them to maintain their conquest of Judea. Some of these also come to hear John the Baptist preach: hearing him press repentance, and bringing forth fruits that might testify the truth of it, they ask what they should do. John saith to them,

Do violence to no man, &c. Experience hath taught all people, that soldiers (especially employed to keep garrisons amongst a conquered people) are often very insolent, and for their own gain prone to accuse innocent persons, and the jealousy of conquerors often allows them too easy an ear; as also how apt they are by oppression to mend their short commons, or to exact upon others that they may spend luxuriously. All these are acts or species of injustice, which the Baptist lets them know must be left, if they would bring forth fruits fit for repentance. He doth not blame the employment of a soldier, but only regulates their behaviour in that employment. Wars in just causes are undoubtedly lawful under the gospel, and consequently so is the employment of a soldier; we read of several good centurions or captains of hundreds. But the soldier stands highly concerned to look:

1. That the cause be good in which he draweth his sword.

2. That he behaveth himself in it lawfully, not using any needless violence, not accusing any wrongfully, not endeavouring to mend his pay by any, rapine, or unjustly taking away what is another’s, either to spend in luxury, or to uphold himself in his station.

From this instruction of John the Baptist, we may learn several things concerning the nature of repentance.

1. That where there is a true root of repentance, it will bring forth fruits worthy of it.

2. That acts of mercy and justice are true and proper fruits of a true repentance, without which there can be nothing of it in truth.

3. That true repentance is best discovered by our abhorrence of and declining such sinful courses as we have formerly been addicted to, and have daily temptations to from the circumstances of our lives, and those callings, and places, and courses of life wherein the providence of God had fixed us.

4. That these things, repentance and faith, are such proper effects of both, as discover the truth of those gracious habits in the soul, and without which there can be no true evidence of them.

And the soldiers likewise demanded of him,.... Or "asked him": why our translators have rendered it, "demanded of him", I know not, unless they thought that such language best suited persons of a military character. Some think these were Gentile soldiers, since it does not look so likely that the Romans would employ Jews as soldiers in their own country; though it is more probable that they were Jews, in the pay of the Romans, who belonged to Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, or to Philip of Ituraea, whose dominions lay near the place where John was: since it is certain, that there were many of the Jews that betook themselves to a military life; and seeing John instructed them in no part of natural or revealed religion, but what was suitable to their character and employment: for upon these men saying,

what shall we do? to avoid the threatened ruin, and to prove the truth of our repentance, that so we may be admitted to the holy ordinance of baptism; John replied,

do violence to no man; or "shake" him, or put him, into bodily fear, by threatening, hectoring, and bullying him, and drawing the sword upon him, which is usual, upon the least offence, for such persons to do;

neither accuse any falsely, or play the sycophant; who, in order to flatter some, bring malicious accusations against others; and which was a vice that too much prevailed among the Jewish soldiery; who either to curry favour with the Roman officers and governors, would wrongfully accuse their fellow soldiers, or country men, to them; or in order to extort sums of money from them, that they might live in a more luxurious manner than their common pay would admit of: wherefore, it follows,

and be content with your wages; allowed by the government, and do not seek to increase them by any unlawful methods, as by mutiny and sedition, by rebelling against your officers, or by ill usage of the people. The Jewish Rabbins have adopted this word, into their language in the Misnic and Talmudic writings (w): and their gloss explains it by the money, for the soldiers, and the hire of soldiers, as here; and it includes every thing which by the Romans were given to their soldiers for pay, and which was food as well as money.

(w) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 2. sect. 4. T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 18. 2. & 21. 2.

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 {c} wages.

(c) Which was paid to them partly in money and partly in food.

Luke 3:14. Στρατευόμενοι] those who were engaged in military service, an idea less extensive than στρατιῶται. See the passages in Wetstein. Historically, it is not to be more precisely defined. See references in regard to Jewish military service in Grotius. According to Michaelis, there were Thracians, Germans, and Galatians in the service of Herod in his war against Aretas; but this war was later, and certainly Jewish soldiers are meant. According to Ewald: soldiers who were chiefly engaged in police inspection, e.g. in connection with the customs.

καὶ ἡμεῖς] we also. They expect an injunction similar (καί) to that which the publicans received.

διασείειν] to do violence to, is used by later writers of exactions by threats and other kinds of annoyance (to lay under contribution), as concutere. Comp. 3Ma 7:21; see Wetstein, and Schneider, ad Xen. Mem. ii. 9. 1.

συκοφαντεῖν, in its primitive meaning, although no longer occurring in this sense, is to be a fig-shower. According to the usual view (yet see in general, Ast, ad Plat. Rep. p. 362; Westermann, ad Plut. Sol. 24), it was applied to one who denounced for punishment those who transgressed the prohibition of the export of figs from Attica. According to the actual usage, it means to denounce falsely, to traduce, and, as in this place, to be guilty of chicane. It is often thus used also in the Greek writers. See Rettig in the Stud. u. Krit. 1838, p. 775 ff.; Becker, Char. I. p. 289 ff. Πονηρὸν, πονηρὸν ὁ συκοφάντης ἀεὶ καὶ βάσκανον, Dem. 307. 23; Herbst, ad Xen. Symp. iv. 30, p. 79 f.

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.

14. the soldiers] Rather, soldiers on the march. On what expedition these soldiers were engaged it is impossible to say. They cannot have been Roman soldiers, and were certainly not any detachment of the army of Antipas marching against his injured father-in-law Hareth (Aretas), ethnarch of Arabia, for their quarrel was long subsequent to this.

demanded of him] Rather, asked him. The imperfect tense however (as before in Luke 3:10) implies that such questions were put to him by bodies of soldiers in succession.

Do violence to no man] Rather, Extort money by threats from no one. Diaseio, like the Latin concutio, is a technical word. It implies robbery and violence.

accuse any falsely] Rather, cheat by false accusation. The Greek implies pettifogging charges on trivial grounds, and is the word from which sycophant is derived. The temptation of soldiers, strong in their solidarity, was to terrify the poor by violence, and undermine the rich by acting as informers. The best comment on the Baptist’s advice to them is the xvith Satire of Juvenal, which is aimed at their brutality and threats.

be content with your wages] Rather, pay. This is a late meaning of the word opsonia (Romans 6:23), which means in the first instance ‘boiled fish eaten as a relish with meat.’ It is remarkable that the Baptist does not bid even soldiers to abandon their profession, but to serve God in it. This is important as shewing that he did not hold up the life of the hermit or the ascetic as a model or ideal for all. He evidently held, like the good St Hugo of Avalon, that “God meant us to be good men, not monks and hermits.” Josephus, when (Antt. xviii. v. 2) he sums up the teaching of the Baptist by saying that “he commanded the Jews to practise virtue both in righteousness to one another and piety to God,” rightly estimates the practical, but omits the prophetic side of his teaching.

Luke 3:14. Στρατευόμενοι) Those serving as soldiers; we come to these after the publicans in successive gradation.—μηδένα διασείσητε) shake no one violently [Do violence to no man].—μηδὲ συκοφαντήσητε) with calumnies, as though proceeding by right of law: Genesis 43:18 [LXX. εἰσαγόμεθα τοῦ συκοφαντήσαι ἡμᾶς, “we are brought in that he may falsely accuse us.” Hebr. “that he may roll himself upon us.” Engl. “that he may seek occasion against us.”]

Verse 14. - And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? Commentators generally discuss here who these soldiers were. The question is of little moment whether they were legionaries of Rome, or mercenaries in the pay of one of the tetrarchs or neighboring princes. The lesson is clear. As above to the publicans, so here to the soldiers, John says, "Remain in that profession of arms; you may. if you will, serve God in it, for it is never the work which ennobles, but the way in which the work is done." Luke 3:14Soldiers (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).

And 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 as fig 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, generally, provisions. 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.

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