Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes
The Gospel According to St.
Notes on Chapter 3
Verse 1. Fifteenth year— This was the fifteenth of his principality and thirteenth of his monarchy: for he was two years joint emperor, previously to the death of Augustus.
Tiberius Caesar— This emperor succeeded Augustus, in whose reign Christ was born. He began his reign August 19, A.D. 14, reigned twenty-three years, and died March 16, A.D. 37, aged seventy eight years. He was a most infamous character. During the latter part of his reign especially, he did all the mischief he possibly could; and that his tyranny might not end with his life, he chose Caius Caligula for his successor, merely on account of his bad qualities; and of whom he was accustomed to say, This young prince will be a SERPENT to the Roman people, and a PHAETHON to the rest of mankind.
Herod— This was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who murdered the innocents. It was the same Herod who beheaded John Baptist, and to whom our Lord was sent by Pilate. See the account of the Herod family in the notes on Matthew 2:1.
Iturea and Trachonitis— Two provinces of Syria, on the confines of Judea.
Abilene— Another province of Syria, which had its name from Abila, its chief city.
These estates were left to Herod Antipas and his brother Philip by the will of their father, Herod the Great; and were confirmed to them by the decree of Augustus.
That Philip was tetrarch of Trachonitis, in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, we are assured by Josephus, who says that Philip the brother of Herod died in the twentieth year of Tiberius, after he had governed Trachonitis, Batanea, and Gaulonitis thirty-seven years. Antiq. b. xviii. c. 5, s. 6. And Herod continued tetrarch of Galilee till he was removed by Caligula, the successor of Tiberius. Antiq. b. xviii. c. 8, s. 2.
That Lysanius was tetrarch of Abilene is also evident from Josephus. He continued in this government till the Emperor Claudius took it from him, A.D. 42, and made a present of it to Agrippa. See Antiq. b. xix. c. 5, s. 1.
Tetrarch signifies the ruler of the fourth part of a country. See the note on Matthew 14:1.
Verse 2. Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests— Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas or Ananias, and it is supposed that they exercised the high priest’s office by turns. It is likely that Annas only was considered as high priest; and that Caiaphas was what the Hebrews termed hnçm hk cohen mishneh, or µynhk go sagan cohanim, the high priest’s deputy, or ruler of the temple. See the note on Matthew 2:4, and on John 18:13.
The facts which St. Luke mentions here tend much to confirm the truth of the evangelical history. Christianity differs widely from philosophic system; it is founded in the goodness and authority of God; and attested by historic facts. It differs also from popular tradition, which either has had no pure origin, or which is lost in unknown or fabulous antiquity. It differs also from pagan and Mohammedan revelations, which were fabricated in a corner, and had no witnesses. In the above verses we find the persons, the places, and the times marked with the utmost exactness. It was under the first Caesars that the preaching of the Gospel took place; and in their time, the facts on which the whole of Christianity is founded made their appearance: an age the most enlightened, and best known from the multitude of its historic records. It was in Judea, where every thing that professed to come from God was scrutinized with the most exact and unmerciful criticism. In writing the history of Christianity, the evangelists appeal to certain facts which were publicly transacted in such places, under the government and inspection of such and such persons, and in such particular times. A thousand persons could have confronted the falsehood, had it been one! These appeals are made-a challenge is offered to the Roman government, and to the Jewish rulers and people-a new religion has been introduced in such a place, at such a time-this has been accompanied with such and such facts and miracles! Who can disprove this? All are silent. None appears to offer even an objection. The cause of infidelity and irreligion is at stake! If these facts cannot be disproved, the religion of Christ must triumph. None appears because none could appear. Now let it be observed, that the persons of that time, only, could confute these things had they been false; they never attempted it; therefore these facts are absolute and incontrovertible truths: this conclusion is necessary. Shall a man then give up his faith in such attested facts as these, because, more than a thousand years after, an infidel creeps out, and ventures publicly to sneer at what his iniquitous soul hopes is not true!
The word of God came unto John— That is, the Holy Spirit that revealed to him this doctrine of salvation. This came upon him in the desert, where he was living in such a state of austerity as gave him full right to preach all the rigours of penitence to others. Thus we find that the first preachers, historians, and followers of the doctrines of the Gospel were men eminent for the austerity of their lives, the simplicity of their manners, and the sanctity of their conduct; they were authorized by God, and filled with the most precious gifts of his Spirit. And what are the apostles which the new philosophy sends us? Philosophers full of themselves, not guided by the love of truth or wisdom, but ever seeking their own glory; in constant hostility among themselves, because of their separate pretensions to particular discoveries, of the honor of which they would almost as soon lose life as be deprived. Who are they? Men of a mortified life and unblamable conversation? No-they are poets and poetasters; composers of romances, novels, intrigues, farces, comedies, etc., full of extravagance and impurity. They are pretended moralists that preach up pleasure and sensual gratification, and dissolve, as far as they can, the sacred and civil ties that unite and support society. They are men whose guilt is heightened by their assuming the sacred name of philosophers, and dignifying their impure system with a name at which Philosophy herself blushes and bleeds.
Verse 3. The baptism of repentance— See on Matthew 3:4-6, and Mark 1:1, etc., and Mark 16 at the end.
Verse 4. Prepare ye the way— It was customary for the Hindoo kings, when on journeys, to send a certain class of the people two or three days before them, to command the inhabitants to clear the ways. A very necessary precaution where there are no public roads.-WARD.
Verse 5. Every they shall be filled— All hinderances shall be taken out of the way: a quotation from the Greek version of Isaiah 40:4, containing an allusion to the preparations made in rough countries to facilitate the march of mighty kings and conquerors. See the instance produced on Matthew 3:3.
Verse 7.-9. On this account of the Baptist’s mode of preaching, see the notes on Matthew 3:7-11.
Verse 10. What shall we do then?— The preaching of the Baptist had been accompanied with an uncommon effusion of that Spirit which convinces of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The people who heard him now earnestly begin to inquire what they must do to be saved? They are conscious that they are exposed to the judgments of the Lord, and they wish to escape from the coming wrath.
Verse 11. He that hath two coats, etc.— He first teaches the great mass of the people their duty to each other. They were uncharitable and oppressive, and he taught them not to expect any mercy from the hand of God, while they acted towards others in opposition to its dictates. If men be unkind and uncharitable towards each other, how can they expect the mercy of the Lord to be extended towards themselves?
Verse 12. Then came also publicans— He next instructs the tax-gatherers in the proper discharge of their duty: though it was an office detested by the Jews at large, yet the Baptist does not condemn it. It is only the abuse of it that he speaks against. If taxes be necessary for the support of a state, there must be collectors of them; and the collector, if he properly discharge his duty, is not only a useful, but also a respectable officer. But it seems the Jewish tax-gatherers exacted much more from the people than government authorized them to do, Luke 3:13, and the surplus they pocketed. See the conduct of many of our surveyors and assessors. They are oppressors of the people, and enrich themselves by unjust surcharges. This, I am inclined to think, is too common an evil; and the executive government is often the people’s scape-goat, to bear the crimes of its officers, crimes in which it has no concern. For an account of the publicans, see the note on Matthew 5:46.
Verse 14. The soldiers likewise demanded of him— He, thirdly, instructs those among the military. They were either Roman soldiers, or the soldiers of Herod or Philip. Use no violence to any, mhdena diaseishte, do not extort money or goods by force or violence from any. This is the import of the words neminein concutite, used here by the Vulgate, and points out a crime of which the Roman soldiers were notoriously guilty, their own writers being witnesses. Concussio has the above meaning in the Roman law. See RAPHELIUS in loco.
Neither accuse any falsely— Or, on a frivolous pretense-mhde sukofanthshte, be not sycophants, like those who are base flatterers of their masters, who to ingratiate themselves into their esteem, malign, accuse, and impeach the innocent. Bishop PEARCE observes that, when the concussio above referred to did not produce the effect they wished, they often falsely accused the persons, which is the reason why this advice is added. See the note on Luke 19:7.
Be content with your wages.— oywnioiv. The word signifies not only the money which was allotted to a Roman soldier, which was tico oboli, about three halfpence per day, but also the necessary supply of wheat, barley, etc. See Raphelius.
Verse 15. Whether he were the Christ— So general was the reformation which was produced by the Baptist’s preaching that the people were ready to consider him as the promised Messiah. Thus John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, and reformed all things; showed the people, the tax-gatherers, and the soldiers, their respective duties, and persuaded them to put away the evil of their doings. See the note on Matthew 17:11.
Verse 16.-17. On these verses see Matthew 3:11, 12, and Mark 1:7, 8, and particularly the note on John 3:5.
Verse 19. Herod the tetrarch— See this subject explained at large, Matthew 14:1, etc., and Mark 6:21, 23.
Verse 21. Jesus-being baptized— See on Matthew 3:16, 17.
Verse 23. Thirty years of age— This was the age required by the law, to which the priests must arrive before they could be installed in their office: see Numbers 4:3.
Being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph— This same phrase is used by Herodotus to signify one who was only reputed to be the son of a particular person: touton paiv nomizetai he was SUPPOSED to be this man’s son. Much learned labor has been used to reconcile this genealogy with that in St. Matthew, Matthew 1:1-17, and there are several ways of doing it; the following, which appears to me to be the best, is also the most simple and easy. For a more elaborate discussion of the subject, the reader is referred to the additional observations at the end of the chapter. MATTHEW, in descending from Abraham to Joseph, the spouse of the blessed virgin, speaks of SONS properly such, by way of natural generation: Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, etc. But Luke, in ascending from the Savior of the world to GOD himself, speaks of sons either properly or improperly such: on this account he uses an indeterminate mode of expression, which may be applied to sons either putatively or really such. And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being, as was SUPPOSED the son of Joseph-of Heli-of Matthat, etc. This receives considerable support from Raphelius’s method of reading the original wn (wv enomizeto uiov iwshf) tou /hli, being (when reputed the son of Joseph) the son of Heli, etc. That St. Luke does not always speak of sons properly such, is evident from the first and last person which he names: Jesus Christ was only the supposed son of Joseph, because Joseph was the husband of his mother Mary: and Adam, who is said to be the son of God, was such only by creation. After this observation it is next necessary to consider, that, in the genealogy described by St. Luke, there are two sons improperly such: i.e. two sons-in-law, instead of two sons. As the Hebrews never permitted women to enter into their genealogical tables, whenever a family happened to end with a daughter, instead of naming her in the genealogy, they inserted her husband, as the son of him who was, in reality, but his father-in-law. This import, bishop Pearce has fully shown, nomizesqai bears, in a variety of places-Jesus was considered according to law, or allowed custom, to be the son of Joseph, as he was of Heli. The two sons-in-law who are to be noticed in this genealogy are Joseph the son-in-law of Heli, whose own father was Jacob, Matthew 1:16; and Salathiel, the son-in-law of Neri, whose own father was Jechonias: 1 Chronicles 3:17, and Matthew 1:12. This remark alone is sufficient to remove every difficulty. Thus it appears that Joseph, son of Jacob, according to St. Matthew, was son-in-law of Heli, according to St. Luke. And Salathiel, son of Jechonias, according to the former, was son-in-law of Neri, according to the latter. Mary therefore appears to have been the daughter of Heli; so called by abbreviation for Heliachim, which is the same in Hebrew with Joachim. Joseph, son of Jacob, and Mary; daughter of Heli, were of the same family: both came from Zerubbabel; Joseph from Abiud, his eldest son, Matthew 1:13, and Mary by Rhesa, the youngest. See Luke 3:27. Salathiel and Zorobabel, from whom St. Matthew and St. Luke cause Christ to proceed, were themselves descended from Solomon in a direct line: and though St. Luke says that Salathiel was son of Neri, who was descended from Nathan, Solomon’s eldest brother, 1 Chronicles 3:5, this is only to be understood of his having espoused Nathan’s daughter, and that Neri dying, probably, without male issues the two branches of the family of David, that of Nathan and that of Solomon, were both united in the person of Zerubbabel, by the marriage of Salathiel, chief of the regal family of Solomon, with the daughter of Neri, chief and heretrix of the family of Nathan. Thus it appears that Jesus, son of Mary, reunited in himself all the blood, privileges, and rights of the whole family of David; in consequence of which he is emphatically called, The son of David. It is worthy of being remarked that St. Matthew, who wrote principally for the Jews, extends his genealogy to Abraham through whom the promise of the Messiah was given to the Jews; but St. Luke, who wrote his history for the instruction of the Gentiles, extends his genealogy to Adam, to whom the promise of the Redeemer was given in behalf of himself and of all his posterity. See the notes on Matthew 1:1, etc.
Verse 36. Of Cainan— This Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, and father of Sala, is not found in any other Scripture genealogy. See Genesis 10:24; 11:12; 1 Chronicles 1:18, 24, where Arphaxad is made the father of Sala, and no mention at all made of Cainan. Some suppose that Cainan was a surname of Sala, and that the names should be read together thus, The son of Heber, the son of Salacainan, the son of Arphaxad, etc. If this does not untie the knot, it certainly cuts it; and the reader may pass on without any great scruple or embarrassment. There are many sensible observations on this genealogy in the notes at the end of Bishop Newcome’s Harmony.