Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,Ch. Luke 5:1-11. The Draught of Fishes. The Calling of four Disciples
1. pressed upon him] St Mark (as is his wont) uses a stronger word to express the physical inconvenience, and adds that sometimes at any rate, it was with a view to touch Him and be healed (Luke 3:9-10).
to hear] The more probable reading is not tou but kai, ‘and listened to.’
the lake of Gennesaret] “The most sacred sheet of water which this earth contains.” Stanley. St Luke alone, writing for the Greeks, accurately calls it a lake. The Galilaean and Jewish Evangelists unconsciously follow the Hebrew idiom which applies the name yam ‘sea,’ to every piece of water. Gennesareth is probably a corruption of the old Hebrew name Kinnereth, but the Rabbis derive it from ganne sarim ‘gardens of princes.’ This same inland lake is generally called ‘the Sea of Galilee’ (Matthew 15:29, &c.). In the Old Testament it is called “the Sea of Chinneroth” (Joshua 12:3) from its harplike shape. St John calls it “the Sea of Tiberias;” because by the time he wrote Tiberias, which in our Lord’s time had only just been founded by Herod Antipas, had grown into a flourishing town. Gennesareth is a clear sweet lake about five miles long and twelve broad, with the Jordan flowing through it. Its fish produced a valuable revenue to those who lived on its shores. The plain of Gennesareth, which lies 500 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, is now known as El Ghuweir, ‘the little hollow.’ It is so completely a desolation, that the only inhabited places on the western shore of the Lake are the crumbling, dirty earthquake-shaken town of Tiberias and the mud village of El Mejdel the ancient Magdala. The burning and enervating heat is no longer tempered by cultivation and by trees. It is still however beautiful in spring, with flowering oleanders, and the soil is fruitful where it is not encumbered with ruins as at Khan Minyeh (Tarichaea) and Tell Hûm (Capernaum). In our Lord’s time it was, as Josephus calls it, “the best part of Galilee” (B. J. iii. 10, § 7) containing many villages, of which the least had 15000 inhabitants. Josephus becomes quite eloquent over the descriptions of its rich fruits nearly all the year, its grateful temperature, and its fertilising stream (Jos. B. J. iii. 10, §§ 7, 8), so that, he says, one might call it ‘the ambition of nature.’ It belonged to the tribe of Naphtali (Deuteronomy 33:23) and the Rabbis said that of the “seven seas” of Canaan, it was the only one which God had reserved for Himself. In our Lord’s time it was covered with a gay and numerous fleet of 4000 vessels, from ships of war down to fishing boats; now it is often difficult to find a single crazy boat even at Tiberias, and the Arabs fish mainly by throwing poisoned breadcrumbs into the water near the shore. As four great roads communicated with the Lake it became a meeting-place for men of many nations—Jews, Galilaeans, Syrians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans.
And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.2. ships] Rather, boats (ploiaria).
standing] i. e. lying at anchor.
were washing their nets] If we combine these notices with those in Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 4:18-22, we must suppose that during a discourse of Jesus the four disciples were fishing with a drawnet (amphiblestron) not far from the shore, and within hearing of His voice; and that the rest of the incident (here narrated) took place on the morning after. The disciples had spent the night in fruitless labour, and now Peter and Andrew were washing, and James and John mending, their castingnets (diktua), because they felt that it was useless to go on, since night is the best time for fishing.
nets] Here diktua or castingnets (from dikô I throw, funda, jaculum) as in Matthew 4:20; John 21:6. In Matthew 4:18 we have the amphiblestron or drawnet (from amphi and ballo, I throw around); and in Matthew 13:47, sagênê, seine or haulingnet (from sattô ‘I load’).
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.3. he sat down] The ordinary attitude (as we have seen, Luke 4:20) for a sermon.
Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.4. when he had left speaking] The aorist implies that no sooner was His sermon ended than He at once thought, not of His own fatigue, but of His poor disappointed followers.
And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.5. let down] Rather, let ye down. The first command is in the singular, and is addressed to Peter only as “the pilot of the Galilaean Lake.”
Master] The word is not Rabbi as in the other Evangelists,—a word which Gentiles would not have understood but Epistata (in its occasional classic sense of ‘teacher’) which is peculiar to St Luke 5:5; Luke 8:24; Luke 8:45; Luke 9:33; Luke 9:49; Luke 17:13. These are the only places where it occurs.
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.6. a great multitude of fishes] Of this—as of all miracles—we may say with St Gregory Dum facit miraculum prodit mysterium—in other words the miracle was an acted parable, of which the significance is explained in Matthew 13:47.
brake] Rather, were beginning to break (dierregnuto). Contrast this with John 21:11, οὐκ ἐσχίσθη. This breaking net is explained by St Augustine as the symbol of the Church which now is: he compares the unrent net to the Church of the future which shall know no schisms.
And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.7. they beckoned] It is one of the inimitable touches of truthfulness in the narrative that the instinct of work prevails at first over the sense that a miraculous power has been exerted.
unto their partners] The word used is metochois, meaning fellow-workers.
in the other ship] St Luke uses the Greek word heteros for ‘another of two,’ much more frequently and with stricter accuracy than the other Evangelists.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.8. When Simon Peter saw it] Apparently it was only when he saw the boats sinking to the gunwale with their load of fish that the tenderness and majesty of the miracle flashed upon his mind.
Depart from me] The words imply leave my boat (exelthe) and go from me. Here again is the stamp of truthfulness. Any one inventing the scene would have made Peter kneel in thankfulness or adoration, but would have missed the strange psychological truthfulness of the sense of sin painfully educed by the revealed presence of divine holiness. We find the expression of analogous feelings in the case of Manoah (Jdg 13:22); the Israelites at Sinai (Exodus 20:19); the men of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:20); David after the death of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:9); the lady of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:18); Job (Job 42:5-6); and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5). The exclamation of St Peter was wrung from a heart touched with a sense of humility, and his words did not express his thoughts. They were the cry of agonised humility, and only emphasized his own utter unworthiness. They were in reality the reverse of the deliberate and calculated request of the swine-feeding Gadarenes. The dead and profane soul dislikes and tries to get rid of the presence of the Divine. The soul awakened only to conviction of sin is terrified. The soul that has found God is conscious of utter unworthiness, but fear is lost in love (1 John 4:18).
a sinful man] The Greek has two words for man—anthropos, a general term for ‘human being’ (homo); and anêr for ‘a man’ (vir). The use of the latter here shews that Peter’s confession is individual, not general.
O Lord] It must be remembered that this was the second call of Peter and the three Apostles,—the call to Apostleship; they had already received a call to faith. They had received their first call on the banks of Jordan, and had heard the witness of John, and had witnessed the miracle of Cana. They had only returned to their ordinary avocations until the time came for Christ’s full and active ministry.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:9. he was astonished] Rather, astonishment seized him.
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.10. partners] Here koinonoi, ‘associates’ in profits, &c.
Fear not] Accordingly, on another occasion, when Peter sees Jesus walking on the sea, so far from crying Depart from me, he cries “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28); and when he saw the Risen Lord standing in the misty morning on the shore of the Lake “he cast himself into the sea” to come to Him (John 21:7).
10. thou shalt catch] Literally, ‘thou shalt be catching alive.’ In Jeremiah 16:16 the fishers draw out men to death, and in Amos 4:2, Habakkuk 1:14, men are “made as the fishes of the sea” by way of punishment. Here the word seems to imply the contrast between the fish that lay glittering there in dead heaps, and men who should be captured not for death (James 1:14), but for life. But Satan too captures men alive (2 Timothy 2:26, the only other passage where the verb occurs). From this and the parable of the seine or haulingnet (Matthew 13:47) came the favorite early Christian symbol of the ‘Fish.’ “We little fishes,” says Tertullian, “after our Fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ, i. e. Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ) are born in the water (of baptism).” The prophecy was first fulfilled to Peter, when 3000 were converted by his words at the first Pentecost. In a hymn of St Clement of Alexandria we find “O fisher of mortals who are being saved, Enticing pure fish for sweet life from the hostile wave.” Thus, He who “spread the fisher’s net over the palaces of Tyre and Sidon, gave into the fisher’s hand the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” “He caught orators by fishermen, and made out of fishermen his orators.” We find a similar metaphor used by Socrates, Xen. Mem. ii. 6, “Try to be good and to catch the good. I will help you, for I know the art of catching men.”
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.11. they forsook all] The sacrifice was a willing one, but they were not unconscious of its magnitude; and it was the allusion to it by Peter which called forth the memorable promise of the hundredfold (Luke 18:28-30; Mark 10:29-30). We gather from St Mark that Zebedee (Zabdia) and his two sons had hired servants (Mark 1:20), and therefore they were probably richer than Simon and Andrew, sons of Jona.
And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.12–16. The Healing of a Leper
12. a certain city] Probably the village of Hattîn, for we learn from St Matthew’s definite notice that this incident took place on descending from the Mount of Beatitudes (Kurn Hattîn), see Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45. Hence chronologically the call of Matthew, the choosing of the Twelve, and the Sermon on the Mount probably intervene between this incident and the last.
a man full of leprosy] The hideous and hopeless nature of this disease—which is nothing short of a foul decay, arising from the total corruption of the blood—has been too often described to need further notice. See Leviticus 13, 14. It was a living death, as indicated by bare head, rent clothes, and covered lip. In the middle ages, a man seized with leprosy was “clothed in a shroud, and the masses of the dead sung over him.” In its horrible repulsiveness it is the Gospel type of Sin. The expression “full of” implies the rapid development and horror of the disease; when the man’s whole body was covered with the whiteness, he was allowed to mingle with others as clean (Leviticus 13:13).
fell on his face] We get the full picture by combining the three Evangelists. We then see that he came with passionate entreaties, flinging himself on his knees, and worshipping, and finally in his agony prostrating himself on his face.
thou canst make me clean] The faith of this poor leper must have been intense, for hitherto there had been but one instance of a leper cleansed by miracle (Luke 4:27; 2 Kings 5).
And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him.13. and touched him] This was a distinct violation of the letter, but not of course of the spirit of the Mosaic law (Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2). In order to prevent the accidental violation of this law, lepers, until the final stage of the disease, were then as now secluded from all living contact with others, “differing in nothing from a dead man” (Jos. Ant. iii. 11 § 3), and only appeared in public with the cry Tamê, Tamê—‘Unclean! Unclean!’ But Jesus, “because He is the Lord of the Law, does not obey the Law, but makes the Law” (St Ambrose); or rather, he obeys that divine eternal Law of Compassion, in its sudden impulse (σπλαγχνισθεὶς, Mark 1:40), which is older and grander than the written Law. (So Elijah and Elisha had not scrupled to touch the dead, 1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34.) His touching the leper, yet remaining clean, is a type of His taking our humanity upon Him, remaining undefiled.
I will: be thou clean] Two words in the original—“a prompt echo to the ripe faith of the leper”—which are accurately preserved by all three Evangelists. Our Lord’s first miracles were done with a glad spontaneity in answer to faith. But when men had ceased to believe in Him, then lack of faith rendered His later miracles more sad and more delayed (Mark 6:5; Matthew 13:58). We never however hear of a moment s delay in attending to the cry of a leper. When the sinner cries from his heart, “I have sinned against the Lord,” the answer comes instantly, “The Lord also hath put away thy sin” (2 Samuel 12:13).
the leprosy departed] Jesus was not polluted by the touch, but the leper was cleansed. Even so he touched our sinful nature, yet without sin (H. de St Victore).
And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.14. he charged him to tell no man] These injunctions to reticence marked especially the early part of the ministry. See Luke 4:35, Luke 5:14, Luke 8:56. The reasons were probably (i) personal to the healed sufferer, lest his inward thankfulness should be dissipated by the idle and boastful gossip of curiosity (St Chrys.), but far more (ii) because, as St Matthew expressly tells us, He did not wish His ministry to be accompanied by excitement and tumult, in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 42:2 (Matthew 12:15-50, comp. Php 2:6-7; Hebrews 5:5; John 18:36); and (iii) because He came, not merely and not mainly, to be a great Physician and Wonder-worker, but to save men’s souls by His Revelation, His Example, and His Death.
It is evident however that there was something very special in this case, for St Mark says (Luke 1:43), “violently enjoining him, immediately He thrust him forth, and said to him, See that you say no more to any one” (according to the right reading and translation). Clearly, although the multitudes were following Christ (Matthew 8:1), He was walking before them, and the miracle had been so sudden and instantaneous (ἰδοὺ … εὐθέως) that they had not observed what had taken place. Probably our Lord desired to avoid the Levitical rites for uncleanness which the unspiritual ceremonialism of the Pharisees might have tried to force upon Him.
On other occasions, when these reasons did not exist, He even enjoined the publication of an act of mercy, Luke 8:39.
but go, and shew thyself to the priest] We find similar instances of transition from indirect to direct narration, in Acts 23:22; Psalm 74:16. See my Brief Greek Syntax, p. 196. The priest alone could legally pronounce him clean.
offer for thy cleansing] The student should read for himself the intensely interesting and symbolic rites commanded by Moses for the legal pronunciation of a leper clean in Leviticus 14. They occupy fourteen chapters of Negaîm, one of the treatises of the Mishnah.
according as Moses commanded] A reference to Leviticus 14:4-10 will shew how heavy an expense the offering entailed.
for a testimony unto them] i. e. that the priests may assure themselves that the miracle is real. In Luke 9:5; Mark 6:11 the words mean ‘for a witness against them.’
But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.15. so much the more went there a fame abroad] It is clear therefore that the leper disobeyed his strict injunction. Such disobedience was natural, and perhaps venial; but certainly not commendable.
great multitudes came together … to be healed] Thus in part defeating our Lord’s purpose.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.16. he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed] Rather, But He Himself was retiring in the wilderness and praying. St Mark (Mark 1:45) gives us the clearest view of the fact by telling us that the leper blazoned abroad his cure in every direction, “so that He was no longer able to enter openly into a city, but was without, in desert spots; and they began to come to Him from all directions.” We here see that this retirement was a sort of “Levitical quarantine,” which however the multitudes disregarded as soon as they discovered where He was.
and prayed] St Luke’s is eminently the Gospel of Prayer and Thanksgiving. See on Luke 3:21.
And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.17–26. The Healing of the Paralytic
17. on a certain day] The vagueness of the phrase shews that no stress is here laid on chronological order. In Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:3-12 the scene is in a house in Capernaum, and the time (apparently) after the healing of the Gadarene demoniac on the Eastern side of the Lake, and on the day of Matthew’s feast.
as he was teaching] not in a synagogue, but probably in Peter’s house. Notice the “He” which is so frequent in St Luke, and marks the later epoch when the title “the Christ” had passed into a name, and when “He” could have but one meaning. See on Luke 4:15.
Pharisees and doctors of the law] See Excursus on the Jewish Sects.
and Judea and Jerusalem] These had probably come out of simple curiosity to hear and see the great Prophet of Nazareth. They were not the spies malignantly sent at the later and sadder epoch of His ministry (Matthew 15:1; Mark 3:2; Mark 7:1) to dog his footsteps, and lie in wait to catch any word on which they could build an accusation.
to heal them] Some MSS. (א, B, L,) read “him.” If the reading be correct the verse means “the Power of the Lord (i. e. of the Almighty Jehovah) was with Him to heal.”
And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him.18. men] four bearers, Mark 2:3.
taken with a palsy] The word used by Matthew (Matthew 9:1-8) and Mark (Mark 2:1-12) is “paralytic,” but as that is not a classic word, St Luke uses “having been paralysed” (paralelumenos).
they sought means to bring him in] St Mark explains that the crowd was so great that they could not even get to the door.
And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.19. they went upon the housetop] A very easy thing to do because there was in most houses an outside staircase to the roof, Matthew 24:17. Eastern houses are often only one storey high, and when they are built on rising ground, the roof is often nearly on a level with the street above. Our Lord may have been teaching in the “upper room” of the house, which was usually the largest and quietest. 2 Kings 4:10; Acts 1:13; Acts 9:37.
let him down through the tiling] St Mark says they uncovered the roof where he was, and digging it up, let down ‘the pallet.’ Clearly then two operations seem to have been necessary: (i) to remove the tiles, and (ii) to dig through some mud partition. But the description is too vague to enable us to understand the details. Sceptical writers have raised difficulties about it in order to discredit the whole narrative (comp. Cic. Php 2:18, “per tegulas demitterere”), but the making of an aperture in the roof is an everyday matter in the East (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 358), and is here alluded to, not because it was strange, but to illustrate the active, and as it were nobly impatient, faith of the man and the bearers.
with his couch] klinidion, ‘little bed,’ probably a mere mat or mattress. It means the same as St Mark’s krabbaton, but that being a semi-Latin word (grabatum) would be more comprehensible to the Roman readers of St Mark than to the Greek readers of St Luke.
And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.20. Man] St Mark has “Son,” and St Matthew “Cheer up, son,” which were probably the exact words used by Christ.
are forgiven thee] Rather, have been forgiven thee, i. e. now and henceforth. In this instance our Lord’s power of reading the heart must have shewn Him that there was a connexion between past sin and present affliction. The Jews held it as an universal rule that suffering was always the immediate consequence of sin. The Book of Job had been directed against that hard, crude, Pharisaic generalisation. Since that time it had been modified by the view that a man might suffer, not for his own sins, but for those of his parents (John 9:3). These views were all the more dangerous because they were the distortion of half-truths. Our Lord, while he always left the individual conscience to read the connexion between its own sins and its sorrows (John 5:14), distinctly repudiated the universal inference (Luke 13:5; John 9:3).
And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?21. Who is this] The word used for ‘this person’ is contemptuous. St Matthew puts it still more barely, ‘This fellow blasphemes,’ and to indulge such thoughts and feelings was distinctly “to think evil thoughts.”
blasphemies] In classical Greek the word means abuse and injurious talk, but the Jews used it specially of curses against God, or claiming His attributes (Matthew 26:65; John 10:36).
Who can forgive sins, but God alone] The remark in itself was not unnatural, Psalm 32:5; Isaiah 43:25; but they captiously overlooked the possibility of a delegated authority, and the ordinary declaratory idioms of language, which might have shewn them that blasphemy was a thing impossible to Christ, even if they were not yet prepared to admit the Divine Power which He had already exhibited.
But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?22. when Jesus perceived] Rather, Jesus, recognising.
their thoughts] Rather, their reasonings.
Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?23. Whether is easier, to say] An impostor might say ‘thy sins have been forgiven’ without any visible sign whether his words had any power or not; no one could by a word make a man ‘rise and walk’ who had not received power from God. But our Lord had purposely used words which while they brought the earthly miracle into less prominence, went to the very root of the evil, and implied a yet loftier prerogative.
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.24. the Son of man] Ben-Adam has a general sense of any human being (Job 25:6, &c.); in a special sense in the O. T. it is nearly 90 times applied to Ezekiel, though never used by himself of himself. In the N. T. it is 80 times used by Christ, but always by Himself, except in passages which imply His exaltation (Acts 7:56; Revelation 1:13-20). The Title, as distinctively Messianic, is derived from Daniel 7:13, and is there Bar-Enôsh, a word descriptive of man in his humiliation. The inference seems to be that Christ used it to indicate the truth that “God highly exalted Him” because of his self-humiliation in taking our flesh (Php 2:5-11).
hath power upon earth to forgive sins] and therefore of course, a fortiori, hath power in heaven.
I say unto thee] Rather, to keep the emphatic order, To thee I say.
And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.25. took up that whereon he lay] This circumstance is emphasized in all three narratives to contrast his previous helplessness, “borne of four,” with his present activity. He now carried the bed which had carried him, and “the proof of his sickness became the proof of his cure.” The labour would have been no more than that of carrying a rug or a cloak, yet it was this which excited the fury of the Pharisees in Jerusalem (John 5:9). It was not specially attacked by the simpler and less Pharisaic Pharisees of Galilee.
And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.26. were filled with fear] See on Luke 5:8.
And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.27–39. The Call and Feast of Levi. On Fasting. The New and the Old
27. and saw] Rather, He observed.
named Levi] It may be regarded as certain that Levi is the same person as the Evangelist St Matthew. The name Matthew (probably a corruption of Mattihijah) means, like Nathanael, Theodore, Doritheus, Adeodatus, &c., ‘the gift of God,’ and it seems to have been the name which he himself adopted after his call (see Matthew 9:9; Matthew 10:3; Mark 2:14).
at the receipt of custom] Matthew may have been a tax-gatherer for Herod Antipas—who seems to have been allowed to manage his own taxes—and not for the Romans; but even in that case he would share almost equally with a man like Zacchaeus the odium with which his class was regarded. For the Herods were mere creatures of the Caesars (Jos. Antt. xvii. 11 § 6). Probably the ‘custom’ was connected with the traffic of the Lake, and in the Hebrew Gospel of St Matthew ‘publican’ is rendered ‘Baal abarah’ ‘lord of the passage.’
And he left all, rose up, and followed him.28. he left all] It is most probable that St Matthew, like the sons of Jona and of Zebedee, had known something of our Lord before this call. If Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 2:14) be the same as the father of James the Less, and the same as Clopas (John 19:25) the husband of Mary, and if this Mary was the sister of the Virgin, then James and Matthew were cousins of Jesus. The inferences are uncertain, but early Christian tradition points in this direction. It was a rare but not unknown custom to call two sisters by the same names.
And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.29. made him a great feast] This shews that Matthew had something to sacrifice when he “left all.” The word rendered ‘feast’ literally means ‘reception.’
a great company of publicans] Comp. Luke 15:1. The tax-gatherers in their deep, and not wholly undeserved unpopularity, would be naturally touched by the countenance and kindness of the Sinless One.
sat down] Rather, were reclining (at table).
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?30. their scribes and Pharisees] Some MSS. read ‘the Pharisees and their scribes,’ i. e. those who were the authorised teachers of the company present. The scribes (Sopherîm from Sepher ‘a book’) were a body which had sprung up after the exile, whose function it was to copy and explain the Law. The ‘words of the scribes’ were the nucleus of the body of tradition known as ‘the oral law.’ The word was a general term, for technically the Sopherîm were succeeded by the Tanaîm or ‘repeaters’ from b. c. 300 to a. d. 220, who drew up the Halachôth or ‘precedents;’ and they by the Amoraim. The tyranny of pseudo-orthodoxy which they had established, and the insolent terrorism with which it was enforced, were denounced by our Lord (Luke 11:37-54) in terms of which the burning force can best be understood by seeing from the Talmud how crushing were the ‘secular chains’ in which they had striven to bind the free conscience of the people—chains which it became His compassion to burst (see Gfrörer, Jahrh. d. Heils, i. 140).
murmured against his disciples] They had not yet learnt to break the spell of awe which surrounded the Master, and so they attacked the ‘unlearned and ignorant’ Apostles. The murmurs must have reached the ears of Jesus after the feast, unless we imagine that some of these dignified teachers, who of course could not sit down at the meal, came and looked on out of curiosity. The house of an Oriental is perfectly open, and any one who likes may enter it.
with publicans and sinners] Rather, “with the publicans and sinners”. The article is found in nearly all the uncials.
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.31. They that are whole] Our Lord’s words had both an obvious and a deeper meaning. As regards the ordinary duties and respectability of life these provincial scribes and Pharisees were really “whole” as compared with the flagrant “sinfulness” of the tax-gatherers and “sinners.” In another and even a more dangerous sense they were themselves “sinners” who fancied only that they had no need of Jesus (Revelation 3:17-18). They did not yet feel their own sickness, and the day had not yet come when they were to be told of it both in parables (Luke 18:11-13) and in terms of terrible plainness (Matthew 23), “Difficulter ad sanitatem pervenimus, quia nos aegrotare nescimus.” Sen. Ep. 50. 4.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.32. I came not to call] Rather, I have not come.
the righteous] This also was true in two senses. Our Lord came to seek and save the lost. He came not to the elder son but to the prodigal; not to the folded flock but to the straying sheep. In a lower and external sense these Pharisees were really, as they called themselves, ‘the righteous’ (chasidim). In another sense they were only self-righteous and self-deceived (Luke 18:9). St Matthew tells us that He further rebuked their haughty and pitiless exclusiveness by borrowing one of their own formulae, and bidding them “go and learn” the meaning of Hosea 6:6, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,” i. e. love is better than legal scrupulosity; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7. The invariable tendency of an easy and pride-stimulating externalism when it is made a substitute for heart-religion is the most callous hypocrisy. The Pharisees were condemned not by Christ only but by their own Pharisaic Talmud, and after b. c. 70 the very name fell into such discredit among the Jews themselves as a synonym for greed and hypocrisy that it became a reproach and was dropped as a title (Jost, Gesch. d. Juden. iv. 76; Gfrörer, Jahrh. d. Heils, i. 140; Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. on Matthew 3:7).
And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?33. And they said] St Luke here omits the remarkable fact that the disciples of John, who still formed a distinct body, joined the Pharisees in asking this question. It is clear that they were sometimes actuated by a not unnatural human jealousy, from which their great teacher was wholly free (John 3:26), but which Jesus always treated with the utmost tenderness (Luke 7:24-28).
the disciples of John fast often] They would naturally adopt the ascetic habits of the Baptist.
and make prayers] Rather, supplications. Of course the disciples prayed, but perhaps they did not use so ‘much speaking’ and connect their prayers with fastings. The preservation of these words by St Luke alone, in spite of the emphasis which he lays on prayer, shews his perfect fidelity.
the disciples of the Pharisees] Those who in Jewish writings are so often spoken of as the ‘pupils of the wise.’ See on Luke 18:12, “I fast twice in the week.” Our Lord points out how much self-seeking and hypocrisy were mingled with their fasting, Matthew 6:16, and the prophets had forcibly taught the utter uselessness of an abstinence dissociated from goodness and charity (Isaiah 58:3-6; Micah 6:6-8; Amos 5:21-24).
And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?34. the children of the bridechamber] The friends of the bridegroom—the paranymphs—who accompanied him to meet the bride and her maidens; Jdg 14:11. The question would be specially forcible to John’s disciples who had heard him speak of “the joy of the friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29).
fast] St Matthew (Matthew 9:15) uses the word ‘mourn’ which makes the antithesis more striking (John 16:20).
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.35. the days will come] Rather, but there will come days.
when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them] Rather, and when (καὶ A, B, D). Comp. John 16:16, “A little while and ye shall not see me.” The verb used—aparthê—occurs nowhere else in the N. T., and clearly hints at a violent end. This is memorable as being the earliest recorded public intimation of His crucifixion, of which a dim hint (“even so shall the Son of man be lifted up”) had been given privately to Nicodemus (John 3:14).
then shall they fast] As we are told that they did, Acts 13:2-3. Observe that is not said, ‘then shall ye be able to insist on their fasting.’ The Christian fasts would be voluntary, not compulsory; the result of a felt need, not the observance of a rigid command. Our Lord never entered fully into the subject of fasting, and it is clear that throughout the Bible it is never enjoined as a frequent duty, though it is sanctioned and encouraged as an occasional means of grace. In the Law only one day in the year—the Kippur, or Day of Atonement—was appointed as a fast (Leviticus 16:29; Numbers 29:7). After the exile four annual fasts had arisen, but the prophets do not enjoin them (Zechariah 7:1-12; Zechariah 8:19), nor did our Lord in any way approve (or apparently practise) the two weekly fasts of the Pharisees (Luke 18:12). Probably the reason why fasting has never been commanded as a universal and constant duty is that it acts very differently on different temperaments, and according to the testimony of some who have tried it most seriously, acts in some cases as a powerful stimulus to temptation. It is remarkable that the words “and fasting” are probably the interpolations of an ascetic bias in Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Corinthians 7:5, though fasting is implied in Matthew 6:16. Fasting is not commanded and is not forbidden. The Christian is free (Romans 14:5), but must, while temperate in all things, do exactly that which he finds most conducive to his spiritual and moral welfare. For now the bridegroom is not taken from us but is with us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5-6; John 14:16; John 16:7).
And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.36. a piece of a new garment upon an old] Rather, no one rending a patch from a new garment putteth it upon an old garment. The word σχίσας ‘rending’ though omitted in our version is found in א, A, B, D, L. Our Lord delighted in using these homely metaphors which brought the truth within the comprehension of his humblest hearers. St Matthew (Matthew 9:16) has ‘a patch of unteazled cloth.’
both the new maketh a rent] Rather, with the best uncials, he will both rend the new. The inferior readings adopted by the E. V. make us lose sight of the fact that there is a treble mischief implied, namely, (1) the rending of the new to patch the old; (2) the incongruity of the mixture; (3) the increase of the rent of the old. The latter is mentioned only by St Matthew, but is implied by the bursten skins of the next similitude. Our Lord is referring to the proposal to enforce the ascetic leanings of the forerunner, and the Pharisaic regulations which had become a parasitic growth on the old dispensation, upon the glad simplicity of the new dispensation. To act thus, was much the same thing as using the Gospel by way of a mere adjunct to—a mere purple patch upon—the old garment of the Law. The teaching of Christ was a new and seamless robe which would only be spoilt by being rent. It was impossible to tear a few doctrines and precepts from Christianity, and use them as ornaments and improvements of Mosaism. If this were attempted (1) the Gospel would be maimed by the rending from its entirety; (2) the contrast between the new and the old system would be made more glaring; (3) the decay of the evanescent institutions would only be violently accelerated. Notice how distinctly these comparisons imply the ultimate abrogation of the Law.
agreeth not] Rather, will not agree (sumphonesei).
And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.37. new wine into old bottles] Rather, wine-skins. The skins used for holding wine were apt to get seamed and cracked, and old wineskins would tend to set up the process of fermentation. They could contain the motionless, not expand with the fermenting. To explain this passage, see Excursus III.
But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.38. new wine … into new bottles] Rather, new (νέος) wine into fresh (καινοὺς) wine-skins. The new spirit requires fresh forms for its expression and preservation; the vigour of youth cannot be bound in the swaddling-bands of infancy. It is impossible to be both ‘under the Law’ and ‘under grace.’ The Hebraising Christians against whom St Paul had to wage his lifelong battle—those Judaisers who tried to ruin his work in Galatia, Corinth, and Rome—had precisely failed to grasp the meaning of these truths.
No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.39. having drunk old] This verse is peculiar to St Luke, and is a characteristic of his fondness for all that is most tender and gracious. It is an expression of considerateness towards the inveterate prejudices engendered by custom and system: a kind allowance for the reluctance of the Pharisees and the disciples of John to abandon the old systems to which they had been accustomed. The spirit for which our Lord here (as it were) offers an apology is the deep-rooted human tendency to prefer old habits to new lights, and stereotyped formulae to fresh truths. It is the unprogressive spirit which relies simply on authority, precedent, and tradition, and says, ‘It was good enough for my father, it is good enough for me;’ ‘It will last my time,’ &c. The expression itself seems to have been a Jewish proverb (Nedarim, f. 66. 1).
The old is better] Rather, The old is excellent (chrestos א, B, L, &c.). The reading of the E. V., chrestoteros, is inferior, since the man, having declined to taste the new, can institute no comparison between it and the old. The wine which at the beginning has been set forth to him is good (John 2:10), and he assumes that only ‘that which is worse’ can follow.