corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Luke 7



Verse 1

1. ἐπειδή. Where. This is the best reading. Luke 11:6 is the only place where it occurs (undisputedly) in the Gospels. Elsewhere it is only used once or twice in the Acts and by St Paul.

ἐπλήρωσεν. ‘Quum absolvisset.’ The words shew the solemnity attached to the previous discourse.

εἰς τὰς ἀκοάς. Mark 7:35; Acts 17:20. See Matthew 8:5-13. Capernaum was now His temporary home. The incident occurred as He was entering the town.

Verses 1-10


Verse 2

2. ἑκατοντάρχου δέ τινος δοῦλος. Literally ‘slave.’ The word used by St Matthew (παῖς) might mean son, but is clearly also used for servant (like the Latin puer). A centurion is a captain; under him is a sergeant (δεκάδαρχος), and above him a colonel (χιλίαρχος), and general (ἡγεμών). Jos. B. J. Luke 7:12, § 2. All the centurions in the N.T. are favourably mentioned (Luke 23:47; Acts 27:43).

ἔντιμος. ‘Precious.’ 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:6. The love of the captain for his servant was a good example for the Jews themselves, who in the Talmud forbade mourning for slaves.

κακῶς ἔχων. St Matthew says, ‘stricken with paralysis, and in terrible pain’ (Luke 8:6). St Luke, as a physician, may have omitted this specification because the description applies rather to tetanus than to “paralysis.”

ἤμελλεν τελευτᾶν. ‘Was on the point of death.’

Verse 3

3. ἀκούσας περὶ Ἰησοῦ. ‘Having heard about Jesus.’

πρεσβυτέρους. ‘Elders’ (Zekânim), with no article. These ‘elders’ were doubtless some of the ten functionaries, whom the Jews also called parnasim, ‘shepherds.’ Their functions were not in any respect sacerdotal, and they were of lower rank than the ἀρχισυνάγωγοι.

διασώσῃ. ‘Would save from death’ (not heal as in A.V[156]).

Verse 4

4. σπουδαίως. ‘Instantly,’ i.e. urgently, as in the phrase “continuing instant in prayer.”

παρέξῃ. See critical note. As the παρέξει of the Rec[157] can only be a 3rd pers. singular, it would thus represent the remarks of the elders among themselves. Meyer.

Verse 5

5. ἀγαπᾷ γὰρ τὸ ἔθνος ἡμῶν. A most unusual thing for a Gentile to do. It shews that the centurion was a Gentile,—probably a proselyte of the gate (though the term was invented later), i.e. one of those who embraced Judaism on the whole, but without becoming a ‘proselyte of righteousness’ by accepting circumcision. It is not impossible that he may have been a Roman, though there is no direct proof that Romans ever held such offices under Herod Antipas. More probably he was some Greek or Syrian, holding a commission under the tetrarch.

τὴν συναγωγὴν αὐτὸς ᾠκοδόμησεν ἡμῖν. ‘Our synagogue he himself built for us.’ The expression, ‘the synagogue,’ does not necessarily imply that there was only one synagogue in Capernaum, but only that he had built the one from which this deputation came, which was probably the chief synagogue of Capernaum. If Capernaum be Tel Hum (as I became convinced on the spot itself), then the ruins of it shew that it probably possessed two synagogues; and this we should have conjectured beforehand, seeing that Jerusalem is said to have had 400. The walls of one of these, built of white marble, are of the age of the Herods, and stand just above the lake. It may be the very building here referred to. This liberality on the part of the Gentiles was by no means unfrequent. Wealthy Gentile proselytes not seldom sent splendid gifts to the Temple itself. The Ptolemies, Jos. Antt. XII. 2, § 5; Sosius, id. XIV. 16, § 4; Fulvia, id. XVIII. 3, § 5, &c. See on Luke 21:5. The αὐτὸς means that the munificent centurion, who must have been very wealthy, had built the synagogue at his own expense.

Verse 6

6. ἔπεμψενφίλους. These ‘friends’ were perhaps brother-officers, not Jews. Here the narrative of St Luke is much more detailed, and therefore probably more exact, than that of St Matthew, who represents the conversation as taking place between our Lord and the centurion himself. we see from St Luke that he had been prevented from coming in person by deep humility, and the belief that the elders would be more likely to win the boon for him. Meanwhile, he probably stayed by the bedside of his dying slave. St Matthew’s narrative is framed on the simple and common principle, qui facit per alium facit per se.

κύριε. The word in itself may mean no more than ‘Sir,’ as in John 4:19; John 12:21; Acts 16:30, &c. It was, in fact, like the Latin dominus, an ordinary mode of address to persons whose names were unknown (Sen. Ephesians 3); but the centurion’s entire conduct shews that on his lips the word had a more exalted significance. In a special sense Κύριος is a name for God (Adonai) and Jehovah (1 Thessalonians 5:2, &c.).

μὴ σκύλλου. ‘Bother not,’ or ‘worry not thyself.’ But in Hellenistic Greek, both slang words (ὑπωπιάζω, Luke 18:5; καταναρκάω, 2 Corinthians 12:13) and purely poetic words (see Luke 2:35) had become current in ordinary senses. Σκύλλω only occurs as a var. lect. (‘worried sheep’) in Matthew 9:36, in Luke 8:49, and in the parallel (Mark 5:35). Its first meaning is to flay.

ἱκανός. Lit. sufficient.

ὑπὸ τὴν στέγην μου. “I am not worthy”—Dicendo se indignum praestitit dignum non in cujus parietes sed in cujus cor Christus intraret. Aug.

ἐμαυτόν. ‘I did not even think myself worthy to come; I sent my friends to represent me.’

Verse 7

7. εἰπὲ λόγῳ. The centurion had clearly heard how Jesus, by His mere fiat, had healed the son of the ‘courtier’ at Capernaum (John 4:46-54). The attempt to make these two miracles identical is most arbitrary and untenable.

ὁ παῖς μου. The centurion here uses the more tender word, παῖς, ‘son.’

ἰαθήτω. ‘Let him be healed.’ The faith of the centurion was “an invisible highway for the saving eagles of the great Imperator.” Lange.

Verse 8

8. καὶ γὰρ ἐγώ. ‘For indeed I.’ This assigns the reason why he made the request. He was but a subordinate himself, “under authority” of his chiliarch and other officers, and yet he had soldiers under him as well as a servant, who at a word executed his orders. He inferred that Jesus, who had the power of healing at a distance, had at His command thousands of the “Heavenly Army” (Luke 2:13; Matthew 26:53) who would

“at His bidding speed,

And post o’er land and ocean without rest.”

ἄνθρωπος. ‘A person.’ The humility of this centurion is very remarkable in a Gentile officer. He does not even call himself ἀνήρ. Ὑπὸ ἐξουσίας τασσόμενος means literally ‘who is being ranked under authority.’ The centurion was under the tribunus militum (χιλίαρχος, Acts 21:32). The present τασσόμενος (which is not to be taken with εἰμί, but is a separate epithet) represents the constant, daily submission to duty, and is far more graphic than τεταγμένος would have been. That would have expressed the permanent position.

Verse 9

9. ἐθαύμασεν αὐτόν. The only other place where the astonishment of Jesus is recorded mentions His astonishment at unbelief. Mark 6:6.

οὐδὲ ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ τοσαύτην πίστιν εὖρον. ‘Not even in Israel found I so great faith.’ These words are preserved with similar exactness in St Matthew. “He had found,” says St Augustine, “in the oleaster what He had not found in the olive.” Nothing can be more clear than that neither Evangelist had seen the narrative of the other, and, since St Matthew is the less exact, we infer that both Evangelists in this instance drew from some cycle of oral or written apostolic teaching. The words added by St Matthew (Matthew 8:11-12) are given by St Luke in another connexion (Luke 13:28 sq.).

Verse 10

10. ὑγιαίνοντα. A medical word which is found also in Luke 15:27 (and in a metaphorical sense in Titus 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 4:3).

ἀσθενοῦντα. This word should probably be omitted. It has a certain picturesqueness, for it implies that the friends of the centurion found the slave sound whom they regarded as sick. On the one hand, it may be regarded as an explanatory gloss; on the other hand, it may have been omitted as involving a contradiction.

Verse 11

11. ἐν τῇ ἑξῆς. If the reading τῇ be right we must understand ἡμέρᾳ, ‘day.’ Some MSS. (ABL, &c.) read τῷ, which would give a wider limit of time. In Luke 8:1 we have ἐν τῷ καθεξῆς, and it must be admitted that if ἐν τῇ ἑξῆς be the right reading it is unique. For in Luke 9:37, ἡμέρᾳ is supplied; and in Acts 21:1; Acts 25:17; Acts 27:18, ἐν is omitted. There is no chronological difficulty about the event taking place the ‘next day,’ as I have shewn in my Life of Christ, I. 285. St Luke alone, with his characteristic tenderness, preserves for us this narrative.

εἰς πόλιν καλουμένην Ναΐν. In the tribe of Issachar. The name means ‘lovely,’ and it deserves the name from its site on the northwest slope of Jebel el Duhy, or Little Hermon, not far from Endor, and full in view of Tabor and the hills of Zebulon. It is twenty-five miles from Capernaum, and our Lord, starting in the cool of the very early morning, as Orientals always do, would reach it before noon. It is now a squalid and wretched village, still bearing the name of Nein.

οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἱκανοὶ καὶ ὄχλος πολύς. ‘There were accompanying Him His disciples, in considerable numbers, and a large multitude.’ In this first year of His ministry, before the deadly opposition to Him had gathered head, while as yet the Pharisees and leaders had not come to an open rupture with Him, and He had not sifted His followers by ‘hard sayings,’ our Lord was usually accompanied by adoring crowds.

Verses 11-17


Verse 12

12. ἤγγισεν τῇ πύλῃ. All ordinary Jewish funerals are extramural. Nain is approached by a narrow rocky path, and it must have been at this spot that the two processions met. They were perhaps going to bury the dead youth in one of the rock-hewn sepulchres which are still visible on the hill side. The rocky path is one of the few definite spots in Palestine on which we know that our Lord had stood.

καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐξεκομίζετο. For the use of καὶ compare Luke 2:21. The uses of καὶ in the Gospels are modified by Aramaic idioms. Ἐκκομίζειν is used for the classical ἐκφέρειν, efferre.

μονογενὴς υἱὸς τῇ μητρί. The dative is here expressive of more tender feeling than the ordinary genitive would have been. It is the dative of advantage, and expresses the preciousness of the son to the mother. Comp. μονογενὴς τῷ πατρί, Tobit 3:15. See Winer, p. 264. It is found also in classic Greek—μονογενὲς τέκνον πατρί, Aesch. Ag. 872. ἐόντα οἱ μουνογενέα, Hdt. VII. 221. See on Luke 8:42, Luke 9:38.

ὄχλος τῆς πόλεως ἱκανός. Compare the public sympathy for the family of Bethany (John 11:19); and on the bitterness of mourning for an only child, see Jeremiah 6:26; Zechariah 12:10; Amos 8:10.

Verse 13

13. ὁ κύριος. “The Lord” is far more frequent as a title of Jesus in St Luke (Luke 10:1, Luke 11:39, Luke 12:42, Luke 17:5-6, Luke 19:8, Luke 22:61) than in the other Evangelists except St John. The fact is a sign of the spread of Christian faith. Even though St Luke’s Gospel may not have been published more than a year or two after St Matthew’s, yet St Luke belongs, so to speak, to a later generation of disciples.

ἐσπλαγχνίσθη. Jesus, who was always touched by the sight of human agony (Mark 7:34; Mark 8:12), seems to have felt a peculiar compassion for the anguish of bereavement (John 11:33-37). The fact that this youth was “the only son of his mother, and she a widow” would convey to Jewish notions a deeper sorrow than it even does to ours, for they regarded childlessness as a special calamity, and the loss of offspring as a direct punishment for sin (Jeremiah 6:26; Zechariah 12:10; Amos 8:10).

μὴ κλαῖε. ‘Be not weeping,’ i.e. ‘dry thy tears.’ The consolation, as Bengel says, involved the promise of the miracle. The hypothesis that this was a case of suspended animation might have served to explain a single instance. It becomes utterly absurd when applied to five or six similar miracles in the New Testament. The only choice lies between belief in a fact and repudiation of a deliberately invented falsehood. Comp. Luke 7:22; Matthew 11:5.

Verse 14

14. τῆς σόρου. ‘The coffin.’ Here again, as in the case of the leper (Luke 5:12), our Lord sacrificed the mere Levitical ceremonialism, with its rules about uncleanness, to a higher law. Jewish coffins were open, so that the form of the dead was visible.

σοὶ λέγω. ‘To thee (dead though thou art) I say.’

ἐγέρθητι. Probably the single monosyllable Kûm! Compare Luke 8:54; John 11:43; Acts 9:40. How unlike the passionate tentative struggles of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:35)!

Verse 15

15. ἔδωκεν. ‘He gave him.’ It was a gift from the grave. The A. V[158] (delivered) misses the force of this tender word.

Verse 16

16. προφήτης μέγας. The expectation of the return of Elijah, Jeremiah, or “one of the Prophets” was at that time widely spread. See on Luke 9:8; Luke 9:19.

ἐπεσκέψατο. Compare Luke 1:68; Luke 1:78; John 3:2.

Verse 17

17. ὁ λόγος οὗτος. This account or story, rather than rumour.

ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ. The notion that St Luke supposed Nain to be in Judaea is quite groundless. He means that the story of the incident at Nain spread even into Judaea.

Verses 18-35


Verse 19

19. ὁ Ἰωάννης. The Baptist was now in prison (Matthew 11:2-6), but was not precluded from intercourse with his friends.

πρὸς τὸν κύριον. The reading of B and some other uncials. St Luke and St John use this title frequently to describe Jesus. The other two Synoptists do not; perhaps because to Jewish ears ὁ Κύριος was the recognised synonym of Jehovah.

σὺ εἶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, ἢ ἂλλον προσδοκῶμεν; ‘Art thou the coming [Messiah], or are we to expect another?’ “The Coming (One)” is a technical Hebrew term for the Messiah (Habba). The title occurs in Luke 13:35, Luke 19:38; John 1:15; John 3:31; Revelation 1:8, and is derived from Malachi 3:1. This brief, remarkable message is identical with that in St Matthew, except that St Luke uses ἄλλον (‘another’), and St Matthew ἔτερον (‘a second,’ or ‘different one’). Probably, however, there is no significance in this variation, since the accurate classical meaning of ἔτερος was partly obliterated. Probably too the messengers spoke in Aramaic. “The Coming” is clearer in St Matthew, because he has just told us that John heard in prison the works of “the Christ,” i.e. of the Messiah. Those who are shocked with the notion that the faith of the Baptist should even for a moment have wavered, suppose that [1] St John merely meant to suggest that surely the time had now come for the Messiah to reveal himself as the Messiah, and that his question was one rather of ‘increasing impatience’ than of ‘secret unbelief;’ or [2] that the message was sent solely to reassure John’s own disciples; or [3] that, as St Matthew here uses the phrase ‘the works of the Messiah’ and not “of Jesus,” the Baptist only meant to ask ‘Art thou the same person as the Jesus to whom I bore testimony?’ These suppositions are excluded, not only by the tenor of the narrative but directly by Luke 7:23 (Matthew 11:6). Scripture never presents the saints as ideally faultless, and therefore with holy truthfulness never conceals any sign of their imperfection or weakness. Nothing is more natural than that the Great Baptist—to whom had been granted but a partial revelation—should have felt deep anguish at the calm and noiseless advance of a Kingdom for which, in his theocratic and Messianic hopes, he had imagined a very different proclamation. Doubtless too his faith like that of Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), of Job in his trials (Job 3:1), and of Jeremiah in prison (Jeremiah 20:7), might be for a moment drowned by the tragic briefness, and disastrous eclipse of his own career; and he might hope to alleviate by this message the anguish which he felt when he contrasted the joyous brightness of our Lord’s Galilean ministry with the unalleviated gloom of his own fortress-prison among the black rocks at Makor. ‘If Jesus be indeed the promised Messiah,’ he may have thought, ‘why am I, His Forerunner, suffered to languish undelivered,—the victim of a wicked tyrant?’ The Baptist was but one of those many glorious saints whose careers God, in His mysterious Providence, has suffered to end in disaster and eclipse that He may shew us how small is the importance which we must attach to the judgment of men, or the rewards of earth. “We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour: how is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!” Wisdom of Solomon 5:20. We may be quite sure that “in the fiery furnace God walked with His servant so that his spirit was not harmed, and having thus annealed his nature to the utmost that this earth can do, He took him hastily away and placed him among the glorified in Heaven.” Irving.

Verse 20

20. ὁ βαπτιστής. ‘The Baptist.’

Verse 21

21. μαστίγων. ‘Scourges.’ It is used here only by St Luke of diseases, and elsewhere only by St Mark (Mark 3:10; Mark 5:29; Mark 5:34).

καὶ τυφλοῖς πολλοῖς ἐχαρίσατο βλέπειν. ‘And to many blind He granted the boon of seeing. The καὶ indicates the greatness of the miracle, and the ἐχαρίσατο (which Bengel calls magnificum verbum) the graciousness of it, and the preciousness of the result. The Rec[159] reads τὸ βλέπειν, but the τὸ is not essential and probably rose from homoeoteleuton. χαρίζεσθαι in the N. T. is only used by St Luke and St Paul.

Verse 22

22. ἃ εἴδετε. Our Lord wished His answer to be the announcement of facts, not the explanation of difficulties. His enumeration of the miracles involves an obvious reference to Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:4-6; Isaiah 60:1-3 (see Luke 4:17-19), which would be instantly caught by one so familiar with the language of “the Evangelical Prophet” as the Baptist had shewn himself to be.

πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται. With this construction compare πεπίστευμαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, Galatians 2:7. When a verb governing the dative is used in the passive, the noun denoting the person becomes the nominative. See Winer, p. 326. Thus the spiritual miracle is placed as the most convincing climax. The arrogant ignorance and hard theology of the Rabbis treated all the poor as mere peasants and nobodies. The Talmud is full of the two contemptuous names applied to them—‘people of the earth’ and ‘laics.’ One of the charges brought against the Pharisees by our Lord was their attempt to secure the monopoly of knowledge, Luke 11:52.

ὃς ἐὰν for ὅστις ἄν. In late writers and in Hellenistic Greek ἐὰν is used in exactly the same sense as ἂν after relative pronouns and conjunctions. The peculiarity may have been derived from popular usage.

Verse 23

23. σκανδαλισθῇ. ‘Caused to stumble.’ For instances of the stumbling-block which some made for themselves of incidents in our Lord’s career, see Matthew 13:55-57; Matthew 22:42; John 6:60; John 6:66; and compare Isaiah 8:14-15; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:7-8. The word σκάνδαλον (Latin, offendiculum, Hebr. mokesh, ‘snare,’ and mikshol, ‘stumbling-block’) means anything over which a person falls (e.g. a stone in the road) or on which he treads and is thrown.

Verse 24

24. ἀπελθόντων. We notice here the exquisite tenderness of our Lord. He would not suffer the multitudes who had heard the question of John to cherish one depreciatory thought of the Baptist; and yet he suffers the messengers to depart, lest, while hearing the grand eulogy of their Master, they should be pained by His concluding words. It is natural to suppose that the two disciples carried back to John some private message of peace and consolation.

ἤρξατο. The word introduces solemn and important remarks, as in Luke 4:21. The word is specially common in St Mark and St Luke; less so in St Matthew; St John does not use it in this phrase at all.

θεάσασθαι, ‘to gaze upon.’

κάλαμον. John was not like the reeds which they had seen waving in the wind on the banks of Jordan, but rather, as Lange says, ‘a cedar half uprooted by the storm.’

Verse 25

25. ἄνθρωπον ἐν μαλακοῖς ἱματίοις ἠμφιεσμένον. A contrast to the camel’s hair mantle and leathern girdle of the Baptist; Matthew 3:4.

οἱ ἐν ἱματισμῷ ἐνδόξῳ καὶ τρυφῇ. St Luke’s classical dislike to repetition makes him substitute ἱμ. ἐνδ. for ἐν μαλακοῖς ἱματίοις (Matthew 11:8). ‘They are in glorious apparel and luxury.’ The Herods were specially given both to ostentation in dress (Acts 13:21) and to luxury, Mark 6:21; Jos. B. J. I. 20, § 2; Antt. XIX. 8, § 2; 18, § 7. τρυφῇ occurs in the N.T. only here and in 2 Peter 2:13.

ἐν τοῖς βασιλείοις. ‘In the palaces.’ Such as the palaces of the Herods which His hearers had seen at Tiberias, Caesarea Philippi, and Jerusalem. We might almost fancy an allusion to Manaen the Essene, who is said in the Talmud to have openly adopted gorgeous robes to shew his allegiance to Herod. To the Herodians generally, and to all whose Judaism was a mere matter of gain and court favour, might have been applied the sneering nickname of the Talmud ‘Proselytes of the royal table’ (Gere Shulchan Melachim. Kiddushin, f. 65. 2; Grätz, III. 308), which may be compared with the sneering Hindoo phrase “rice-Christians.” John had been in palaces, but only to counsel and reprove. Our Lord on the only two occasions on which He entered palaces—on the last day of His life—was mocked by being robed in “bright apparel” (Luke 23:11), and a purple or scarlet robe (Matthew 27:28).

Verse 26

26. προφήτην. “All accounted John as a prophet,” Matthew 21:26.

περισσότερον προφήτου. Namely, an actual personal herald and forerunner; the Angel or Messenger of Malachi, Luke 3:1, and so the only Prophet who had himself been announced by Prophecy. περισσότερον = πλέον.

Verse 27

27. ἰδού, ἀποστέλλω κ.τ.λ. Compare Luke 1:76; Mark 1:2. In the parallel passage of St Matthew our Lord adds that the Baptist is the promised Elias, Matthew 11:11; Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:10-13; Luke 1:17 (Malachi 4:5). The quotation is from Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me.” The words are varied because, in the original, God is speaking in His own person, and here the words are applied to Christ.

Verse 28

28. μείζων. ‘He was the lamp, kindled and burning,’ John 5:35. “Major Prophetâ quia finis Prophetarum,” S. Ambr. He closed the former Aeon and announced the new, Matthew 11:11-12. Our Lord is alluding to his office not to his moral greatness.

ὁ δὲ μικρότερος. This cannot mean quite the same thing as if the superlative had been used. It may be qualitative, as in our R.V[160] “he that is but little.” Meyer supposes it to mean ‘he that is less than John.’ We find a similar comparative in Luke 9:48 and in Matthew 13:32; Matthew 18:1. The superlative of μικρός is not used in the N.T.

μείζων αὐτοῦ. See by way of comment Matthew 13:16-17; Colossians 1:25-27, and compare Hebrews 11:13. The simple meaning of these words seems to be that in blessings and privileges, in knowledge, in revealed hope, in conscious admission into fellowship with God, the humblest child of the new kingdom is superior to the greatest prophet of the old; seeing that, as the old legal maxim says, “the least of the greatest is greater than the greatest of the least.” The smallest diamond is made of more precious substance than the largest flint. In the old dispensation “the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified,” John 7:39. Of those “born of women” there was no greater prophet than John the Baptist, but the members of Christ’s Church are “born of water and of the Spirit.” This saying of our Lord respecting the privileges of the humblest children of His kingdom has seemed so strange that attempts have been made to give another tone to the meaning by interpreting “he that is least” to mean ‘the younger,’ and by explaining it to mean our Lord Himself as “coming after” the Baptist.

Verse 29

29. ἐδικαίωσαν τὸν θεόν. They bore witness that God was just; see Luke 7:35. Comp. Psalms 51:4, “that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou art judged,” and Romans 3:26. St Luke has already made prominent mention of the publicans at the baptism of John, Luke 3:12.

Verse 30

30. ἠθέτησαν εἰς ἑαυτούς. ‘Nullified (Galatians 2:21; Proverbs 1:24) the purpose of God, to their own ruin,’ or better, ‘with reference to themselves.’ The “purpose of God” (Acts 20:27) had been their salvation (1 Timothy 2:4). They could not nullify this purpose towards others, but they did so as far as it referred to themselves. Had the meaning been they rejected it ‘to the best of their own power’ we should have τὸ εἰς ἑαυτούς.

μὴ βαπτισθέντες. They seem to have gone to the ministry of John partly out of curiosity, partly as spies (Matthew 3:7); and they consistently refused to recognize him as a Prophet, although they were prevented from shewing open hostility by fear of the people (Mark 11:32).

Verse 31

31. [εἶπε δὲ ὁ κύριος]. These words are almost certainly spurious, being omitted by all the best uncials.

τίνι οὖν ὁμοιώσω …; Our Lord seems more than once to have used this formula to arrest attention for His parables. Mark 4:30.

Verse 32

32. παιδίοις τοῖς ἐν ἀγορᾷ. Lit. ‘little boys, those in the marketplace.’ Our Lord constantly drew His deepest instruction from the commonest phenomena of nature, and the everyday incidents of life. Such a method gave far greater force to the delivery of His Gospel “to the poor,” and it was wholly unlike the arid, scholastic, technical, and second-hand methods of the Rabbis.

προσφωνοῦσιν ἀλλήλοις. This interesting comparison was doubtless drawn from the games which Jesus had witnessed, and in which perhaps He as a child had taken part, in Nazareth. Eastern children are fond of playing in groups at games of a very simple kind in the open air. Some have supposed that the game here alluded to was a sort of guessing game like that sometimes played by English children, and called ‘Dumb Show.’ This is not very probable. The point of the comparison is the peevish sullenness of the group of children who refuse to take part in, or approve of, any game played by their fellows, whether it be the merry acting of a marriage, or the imitated sadness of a funeral. So the men of that generation condemned the Baptist for his asceticism which they attributed to demoniacal possession; and condemned Christ for His genial tenderness by calling Him a man fond of good living. The difficulties and differences of explanation found in this simple parable are only due to a needless literalism. If indeed we take the language quite literally, “this generation” is compared with the dancing and mourning children who complain of the sullenness of their fellows; and if this be insisted on, the meaning must be that the Jews complained of John for holding aloof from their mirth, and of Jesus for discountenancing their austerities. But it is the children who are looking on who are blamed, not the playing children, as is clearly shewn by the “and ye say” of Luke 7:33-34. In the explanation here preferred our Lord and the Baptist are included in this generation, and the comparison (just as in the Homeric similes) is taken as a whole to illustrate the mutual relations between them and their contemporaries. So in Matthew 13:24, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a sower, &c.,” where the comparison is more to the reception of the seed.

Verse 33

33. ἐλήλυθεν. ‘Is come,’ not “came” as in the A.V[161], which would require ἦλθεν.

μήτε ἐσθίων ἄρτον κ.τ.λ. The subjective negative μήτε is used (not οὔτε) to indicate the thoughts suggested in the minds of the observers, and not the mere fact. See note on Luke 4:35. Winer, p. 607. “His meat was locusts and wild honey,” Matthew 3:4. Being a Nazarite he drank no wine, Luke 1:15; see 2 Esdras 9:24.

δαιμόνιον ἔχει. They sneered at him for a moody or melancholy temperament, which they attributed to an evil spirit. This in fact was their coarse way of describing any peculiarity or exaltation which struck them as strange. At a later period they said the same of Christ, John 7:20; John 10:20.

Verse 34

34. ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων. The title explains the reason of our Lord’s practice. He came as the Son of man, and therefore He came to shew that the common life of all men could be lived with perfect holiness, and that seclusion and asceticism were not necessary as universal conditions.

φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης. ‘An eater, and a drinker of wine.’ φάγος does not occur in the LXX[162] or N.T.; οἰνοπότης only in Proverbs 23:20.

φίλος τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν. Thus His divinest mercy was turned into His worst reproach.

Verse 35

35. καί. ‘And yet.καὶ is often thus emphatic.

ἡ σοφία. The personification of God’s wisdom was common in the later Jewish literature, as in the Book of Wisdom. It is also found in the Old Testament (Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 1:9, &c.).

ἐδικαιώθη ἀπό. ‘Is justified’ (the aorist being gnomic), or ‘was justified by,’ or ‘on the part of,’ i.e. has from the first been acquitted of all wrong and error, receives the witness of being just, at the hands of all her children. The “children of wisdom” generally (Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 3:1, &c.) are those who obey God, and here are those of that generation who accepted the baptism of John and the ministry of Jesus, without making a stumbling-block of their different methods. The Jews, like the petulant children, refuse to sympathize either with John or Jesus—the one they condemned for exaggerated strictness, the other for dangerous laxity: yet the Wise,—Wisdom’s true children—once for all declare that she is righteous, and free from blame: for they know that wisdom is πολυποίκιλος, ‘richly-variegated,’ ‘of many colours,’ Ephesians 3:10. The world’s wisdom was foolishness; those whom the world called fools were divinely wise, John 3:33. Wisdom is thus justified by her children both actively and passively; they declare her to be just and holy, and the world ultimately sees that her guidance as exemplified by their lives is the best guidance (Wisdom of Solomon 5:4-5; Psalms 51:4; Romans 3:4). The reading ἔργων ‘works’ for τέκνων “children” in א may be derived from the variant reading in Matthew 11:19.

πάντων. The position adds emphasis to the word—‘by her children—all of them,’ even publicans and sinners, who embraced truth when it reached them, whether from John or from the Lord, and “justified (ἐδικαίωσαν) God.” Hence the following narrative is, as Godet points out, a special illustration of the general principle.

Verse 36

36. τιςτῶν φαρισαίων. This exquisite narrative is peculiar to St Luke, and well illustrates that conception of the universality and free gift of grace which predominates in his Gospel as in St Paul. To identify this Simon with Simon the Leper in Mark 14:3 is quite arbitrary. Simon was one of the commonest Jewish names. There were two Simons among the Twelve, and there are nine Simons mentioned in the New Testament alone, and twenty in Josephus. There must therefore have been thousands of Simons in Palestine, where names were few. The incident itself was one which might have happened frequently, being in close accordance with the customs of the time and country. With the uncritical attempt to identify Simon the Pharisee with Simon the Leper, there also falls to the ground the utterly improbable identification of the woman who was a sinner with Mary of Bethany. The time, the place, the circumstances, the character, the words uttered, and the results of the incident recorded in Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3, John 12:3 are all entirely different.

ἵνα φάγῃ μετ' αὐτοῦ. Comp. Luke 16:27, ἐρωτῶἵνα πέμψῃς. In Modern Greek νὰ (= ἵννα) with the subjunctive has almost displaced the infinitive. The invitation was clearly due to a patronising curiosity, if not to a worse and hostile motive. The whole manner of the Pharisee to Jesus was like his invitation, ungracious. But it was part of our Lord’s mission freely to accept the proffered hospitality of all, that He might reach every class.

κατεκλίθη. ‘Reclined at table.’ This 1st aor. pass. was used in a middle sense even by classic writers. See Veitch p. 327. The old method of the Jews had been that of the East in general, to sit at table (ἀναπίπτειν, Luke 11:37; ἀνακεῖσθαι, Luke 7:37; ἀνακλίνεσθαι, Luke 12:37) generally cross-legged on the floor, or on divans (Genesis 27:19; 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:18; Psalms 128:3; Song of Solomon 1:12, &c.). They had borrowed the custom of reclining on couches (triclinia, comp. ἀρχιτρίκλινος, John 2:8) from the Persians (Esther 1:6; Esther 7:8), the Greeks and Romans, after the Exile (Tobit 2:1; 1 Esdras 4:10; Judith 12:15). The influence of the Greeks had been felt in the nation for three hundred years, and that of the Romans for nearly a hundred years, since the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey, B.C. 63.

Verses 36-39


Verse 37

37. ἥτις ἦν ἐν τῇ πόλει ἁμαρτωλός. ‘Who was a sinner in the city.’ No city is named, but if the Christian church is right in identifying this woman with Mary Magdalene, we may assume that the city implied is Magdala, which appears at that time to have been a flourishing place, though now it is only a mud village—El Mejdel. It cannot of course be regarded as indisputable that this woman was the Magdalene, but it is, to say the least, possible; and there is no sufficient reason to disturb the current Christian belief which has been consecrated in so many glorious works of art. See further on Luke 8:2.

ἁμαρτωλός. It was the Jewish term for a harlot, and such had come even to John’s baptism, Matthew 21:32. “Accessit ad Dominum immunda ut redeat munda.” St Aug.

ἐπιγνοῦσα. ‘Getting to know.’ She had not of course received permission to enter, but the prominence of hospitality as the chief of Eastern virtues led to all houses being left open, so that during a meal any one who wished could enter and look on. “To sit down to eat with common people” was one of the six things which no Rabbi or Pupil of the Wise might do; another was “to speak with a woman.” Our Lord freely did both.

ἀλάβαστρον. A vase or phial of alabaster, such as were used for perfumes and unguents (unguenta optime servantur in alabastris, Plin. XIII. 3); but afterwards the word came to mean any phial used for a similar purpose (just as our box originally meant a receptacle made of box-wood). The classical form is ἀλάβαστρος, but its heteroclite plural ἀλάβαστρα led to a change in the nom. sing.

μύρου. This was doubtless one of the implements of her guilty condition (Proverbs 7:17; Isaiah 3:24), and her willingness to sacrifice it was a sign of her sincere repentance (comp. Song of Solomon 4:10).

Verse 38

38. ὀπίσω παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ. This is explained by the arrangement of the triclinia. The guests reposed on their elbows at the table, with their unsandalled feet outstretched on the couch. Each guest left his sandals beside the door on entering. Literally the verse is, ‘And standing behind beside His feet weeping, with her tears she began to bedew His feet, and with the hairs of her head she wiped them off, and was eagerly kissing His feet, and anointing them with the perfume.’ As she bent over His feet her tears began to fall on them, perhaps accidentally at first, and she wiped them off with the long dishevelled hair (1 Corinthians 11:15) which shewed her shame and anguish; then in her joy and gratitude at finding herself unrepulsed, she poured the unguent over them. The scene and its moral are beautifully expressed in the sonnet of Hartley Coleridge.

“She sat and wept beside His feet. The weight

Of sin oppressed her heart; for all the blame

And the poor malice, of the worldly shame

To her were past, extinct, and out of date:

Only the sin remained—the leprous state.

She would be melted by the heat of love,

By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove

And purge the silver ore adulterate.

She sat and wept, and with her untressed hair

Still wiped the feet she was so blest to touch;

And He wiped off the soiling of despair

From her sweet soul, because she loved so much.”

No one but a woman in the very depths of anguish would have violated all custom by appearing in public with uncovered head (1 Corinthians 11:10).

κλαίουσα. Doubtless at the contrast of His sinlessness and her own stained life. She could not have done thus to the Pharisee, who would have repelled her with execration as bringing pollution by her touch. The deepest sympathy is caused by the most perfect sinlessness. It is not impossible that on that very day she may have heard the “Come unto me” of Matthew 11:28.

βρέχειν τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ. To sprinkle or bedew (rather than “to wash,” which is derived by the A. V[163] from Tyndale). The Vulg[164] has rigare, and Wiclif, to moist (comp. Matthew 5:45, βρέχει, ‘He sends His rain’).

κατεφίλει. ‘Was earnestly’ or ‘tenderly kissing,’ as in Acts 20:37.

Verse 39

39. οὗτος. ‘This person.’ The word expresses the supercilious scorn which is discernible throughout in the bearing of the speaker.

τίς καὶ ποταπή. ‘Who, and what kind of character’—viz. one personally known, and of a shameful class. “Who,” because the particular offender was notorious for her beauty and her shame. This rather strengthens the inference that the woman was Mary of Magdala, for the legends of the Jewish Talmud respecting her shew that she was well known.

ἥτις ἅπτεται αὐτοῦ. ‘Who is clinging to him.’ Simon makes a double assumption—first that a prophet would have known the character of the woman, and next that he would certainly have repelled her. The bearing and tone of the Rabbis towards women closely resembled that of some mediaeval monks. They said that no one should stand nearer them than four cubits. But Jesus knew more of the woman than Simon did, and was glad that she should shed on His feet the tears of penitence. A great prophet had declared long before that those which say, “Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou,” were “a smoke in my nose.” Isaiah 65:5.

ὅτι ἁμαρτωλός ἐστιν. (He would have recognised) ‘that she is a sinner.’

Verse 40

40. ἀποκριθείς. “He heard the Pharisee thinking.” St Aug.

σοί. The emphasis is on these words, You have been thinking evil of me: ‘I have something to say to thee.’

Διδάσκαλε. ‘Teacher,’ or ‘Rabbi.’

Verse 41

41. δανιστῇ τινί. ‘Money-lender.’ Vulg[165] foeneratori, and so Wiclif and Tyndale. The A.V[166] took “creditor” from the Rhemish.

δηνάρια πεντακόσια. A denarius was the day’s wages of a labourer and is usually reckoned at 7½d., but really represents much more. Hence 500 denarii would certainly represent as much as £50 in these days. The frequency of our Lord’s illustrations from debtors and creditors shews the disturbed and unprosperous condition of the country under Roman and Herodian oppression.

Verse 42

42. μὴ ἐχόντων αὐτῶν ἀποδοῦναι. Not, as in A. V[167] “when they had nothing to pay,” but ‘when they were unable (had it not in their power) to pay.’ Vulg[168] non habentibus illis, unde redderent. The μὴ represents the thought of the creditor.

ἐχαρίσατο. ‘He remitted,’ involving the idea of that free grace and favour (χάρις) on which St Luke, like St Paul, is always glad to dwell. See Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Ephesians 4:32.

Verse 43

43. ὑπολαμβάνω. ‘I imagine;’ ‘I presume.’ The word has a shade of supercilious irony (comp. Acts 2:15), as though Simon thought the question very trivial, and never dreamt that it could have any bearing on himself.

ὀρθῶς ἔκρινας. There is a touch of grave yet gentle sarcasm in the use of this adverb, which involves Simon’s self-condemnation. It is the word so often adopted by Socrates as one of his implements of dialectic irony. But on our Lord’s lips it has none of the tone of personal satisfaction in the entrapment of an adversary which is so perceptible in the Platonic dialogues.

Verse 44

44. βλέπεις; ‘Dost thou mark?’ Hitherto the Pharisee, in accordance with his customs and traditions, had hardly deigned to throw upon her one disdainful glance. Now Jesus bids him look full upon her to shew him that she had really done the honours of his house. Her love had more than atoned for his coldness.

We notice in the language here that rhythmic parallelism, which is often traceable in the words of our Lord, at periods of special emotion.

Into thine house I entered:

Water upon my feet thou gavest not,

But she with her tears bedewed my feet,

And with her tresses wiped them.

A kiss thou gavest me not:

But she, since I entered, ceased not earnestly kissing my feet.

My head with oil thou anointedst not,

But she anointed my feet with perfume.

Wherefore I say to thee, Her sins, her many sins, have been forgiven, because she loved much.

But he to whom little is being forgiven loveth little.

“As oft as I think over this event,” says Gregory the Great, “I am more disposed to weep over it than to preach upon it.”

ὕδωρ μου ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας. Thus Simon had treated his guest with such careless indifference as to have neglected the commonest courtesies and comforts. To sandalled travellers on those burning, rocky, dusty paths, water for the feet was a necessity; John 13:4-5. “Wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree,” Genesis 18:4. “Tarry all night, and wash your feet,” Genesis 19:2. “He brought them into his house, and they washed their feet,” Judges 19:21. “If she have washed the saints’ feet,” 1 Timothy 5:10.

ἔβρεξεν. ‘Bedewed’ or ‘wetted.’

δάκρυσιν. “The most priceless of waters.” Bengel. “She poured forth tears, the blood of the heart.” St Aug.

Verse 45

45. καταφιλοῦσα. ‘Tenderly’ or ‘repeatedly kissing,’ Luke 15:20. Acts 20:37; Matthew 26:49.

Verse 46

46. ἐλαίῳ τὴν κεφαλήν μου οὐκ ἤλειψας. This would have been an exceptional mark of honour, though not uncommon. “Let thy head lack no ointment,” Ecclesiastes 9:8; Amos 6:6; Psalms 23:5. Here it is only mentioned to contrast it with the still higher honour of which the sinful woman had thought Him worthy. To anoint the feet was regarded as an extreme luxury (Pliny, H. N. XIII. 4), but the love of the sinner thought no honour too great for her Saviour.

Verse 47

47. ὅτι ἠγάπησεν πολύ. ‘Because.’ No doubt, theologically, faith, not love, is the means of pardon (Luke 7:50); hence, some (with Calvin) interpret the ‘because’ a posteriori, and make it mean ‘she is forgiven,’ as you may conclude from the fact that she loved much (so Bengel). It is more than doubtful whether this was intended. Her love and her forgiveness were mingled with each other in mutual interchange. She loved because she was forgiven; she was forgiven because she loved. Her faith and her love were one; it was “faith working by love” (Galatians 5:6), and the love proved the faith. Spiritual things do not admit of the clear sequences of earthly things. There is with God no before or after, but only an eternal now.

ᾦ δὲ ὀλίγον ἀφίεται. The life of conventional respectability excludes flagrant and open transgressions; cold selfishness does not take itself to be sinful. Simon imagined that he had little to be forgiven, and therefore he loved little. Had he been a true saint he would have recognised his debt. The confessions of the holiest are the most heartrending, because they most fully recognise the true nature of sin. What is wanted to awaken ‘much love’ is not ‘much sin’—for we all have that qualification—but deep sense of sin. “Ce qui manque au meilleur pour aimer beaucoup, ce n’est pas le péché; c’est la connaissance du péché.” Godet.

Verse 48

48. ἀφέωνται. ‘Have been forgiven.’ See note on Luke 5:20. The is forgiven of the previous verse is in the present, ‘is being forgiven.’ Both in the Old and New Testaments the readiness of God to forgive the deepest and most numerous sins is dwelt upon (Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 55:7), and also the absoluteness of the forgiveness (Romans 5:20; 1 John 4:10; 1 John 4:19). There is an obvious analogy between this little parable of the debtors and that of the uncompassionate servant (Matthew 18:23-27).

Verse 49

49. ἤρξαντολέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς. His words caused a shock of surprised silence which did not as yet dare to vent itself in open murmurs.

ὃς καὶ. The καί expresses their indignant thoughts.

Verse 50

50. εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα. The πρὸς implies that He turned from the guests to her. Our Lord would not on this, as on the previous occasion, rebuke them for their thoughts, because the miracle which He had worked was the purely spiritual one of winning back a guilty soul,—a miracle which they could not comprehend. Further, He compassionately desired to set the woman free from a notice which must now have become deeply painful to her shrinking penitence.

ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε. The same phrase as in Luke 8:48; Luke 17:19; Luke 18:42. It is found twice in St Mark, once in St Matthew. “Fides non amor; fides ad nos spectat, amore convincuntur alii.” Bengel. The faith of the recipient was the necessary condition of a miracle, whether physical or spiritual, Mark 5:34; Mark 9:23; Matthew 9:2; Matthew 13:58; Matthew 15:28; John 4:50; Acts 3:16; Acts 14:8.

εἰς εἰρήνην. ‘To’ or ‘into peace’ (Luke 8:48)—a translation of the Hebrew leshalôm, “for peace,” 1 Samuel 1:17. ‘Peace’ (shalom) was the Hebrew, as ‘grace’ (χαίρειν) was the Hellenic salutation. See on Luke 2:29, and Excursus VII. It should be noticed as a matter for imitation that our Lord declines to enter into any controversy on the subject. Controversy is always undesirable, except when it becomes indispensable.

Notice that St Luke omits the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany from a deliberate “economy of method,” which leads him to exclude all second or similar incidents to those which he has already related. Thus he omits a second feeding of the multitude, and healings of blind, dumb, and demoniac, of which he severally gives a single specimen. The events of Mark 7:24 to Mark 8:26 and Mark 9:12-14 are probably excluded by St Luke on this principle—to avoid repetition. It is a sign of what German writers call his Sparsamkeit. Nor must we forget that the records of all the manifold activity which at times left the Lord no leisure even to eat, are confined to a few incidents, and only dwell on the details of a few special days.


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

Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Luke 7:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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