Luke 3:12
Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said to him, Master, what shall we do?
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(12) Then came also publicans.—The other Gospels do not mention the presence of this class in their narratives of the Baptist’s work, but it is implied in Matthew 21:32.

3:1-14 The scope and design of John's ministry were, to bring the people from their sins, and to their Saviour. He came preaching, not a sect, or party, but a profession; the sign or ceremony was washing with water. By the words here used John preached the necessity of repentance, in order to the remission of sins, and that the baptism of water was an outward sign of that inward cleansing and renewal of heart, which attend, or are the effects of true repentance, as well as a profession of it. Here is the fulfilling of the Scriptures, Isa 40:3, in the ministry of John. When way is made for the gospel into the heart, by taking down high thoughts, and bringing them into obedience to Christ, by levelling the soul, and removing all that hinders us in the way of Christ and his grace, then preparation is made to welcome the salvation of God. Here are general warnings and exhortations which John gave. The guilty, corrupted race of mankind is become a generation of vipers; hateful to God, and hating one another. There is no way of fleeing from the wrath to come, but by repentance; and by the change of our way the change of our mind must be shown. If we are not really holy, both in heart and life, our profession of religion and relation to God and his church, will stand us in no stead at all; the sorer will our destruction be, if we do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance. John the Baptist gave instructions to several sorts of persons. Those that profess and promise repentance, must show it by reformation, according to their places and conditions. The gospel requires mercy, not sacrifice; and its design is, to engage us to do all the good we can, and to be just to all men. And the same principle which leads men to forego unjust gain, leads to restore that which is gained by wrong. John tells the soldiers their duty. Men should be cautioned against the temptations of their employments. These answers declared the present duty of the inquirers, and at once formed a test of their sincerity. As none can or will accept Christ's salvation without true repentance, so the evidence and effects of this repentance are here marked out.The publicans - See the notes at Matthew 5:47. There is reason to think that the "publicans" or "tax-gatherers" were especially oppressive and hard in their dealings with the people; and that, as they had every opportunity of exacting more than they ought, so they often did it, and thus enriched themselves. The evidence of repentance in them would be to break off their sins in this respect, and to deal justly. 12. publicans, &c. (Also see on [1550]Mt 3:10.)Ver. 12,13. We have showed often before that the publicans were men that collected the public revenue. In all times that sort of men have been charged with exactions of what was more than their due. The Baptist, as a fruit or indication of the truth of their repentance, cautions them against exaction, thereby declaring, that acts of justice as well as mercy are true fruits of repentance, and that repentance is vainly pretended while men go on in the same sinful courses wherein they have formerly walked. Our Lord here doth not disapprove of the office of publicans, nor certainly was that to be condemned: if magistrates may impose taxes and payments, which without question they may, for the support of the government for our protection, there is no question but they may appoint officers under what titles they please to collect it. But both those that impose and those that collect such payments are obliged to the rule of justice; the former, to impose no more than is necessary for the end, and in a just proportion; the others, to exact no more than what is appointed them. Then came also publicans to be baptized,.... Being convinced under John's ministry of the evils of their past life, and desirous of being admitted to baptism, to which they understood repentance, and fruits meet for the same, were pre-requisite: these came nearer to John,

and said unto him, master, what shall we do? we have been very wicked persons, what shall we do to escape divine vengeance? or what are the particular duties we are to perform? or the fruits meet for repentance, we are to bring forth; that so we may be admitted to the ordinance of baptism, which requires, as previous to it, a true and hearty repentance? of these men,

See Gill on Matthew 5:46, Matthew 9:9, Matthew 9:10, Matthew 9:11

Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
Luke 3:12-13. Τελῶναι] See on Matthew 5:46.

παρὰ τὸ διατεταγμ. ὑμῖν] over and above what is prescribed to you (to demand in payment). See Winer, p. 215 [E. T. 300 f.]. The unrighteousness and the exactions of those who farmed the taxes are well known. See Paulus, Exeget. Handb. I. p. 353 f. On πράσσειν, to demand payment, to exact, see Blomfield, Gloss. ad Aesch. Pers. 482; Krüger, ad Xen. Anab. vii. 6. 17.12. the publicans] Rather, tax-gatherers (without the article). The word is a corruption of the Latin publicani ‘farmers of the taxes.’ The Roman government did not collect its own taxes, but leased them out to speculators of the equestrian order, who were called publicani, and who made their own profit out of the transaction. These knights appointed subordinates, who from the unpleasant character of the task could only be secured from the lowest of the people. These officials were not only detested as the agents of an odious system, but also for their notorious malpractices. A strict Jew could hardly force himself even to pay taxes, and therefore naturally looked with scorn and hatred on any Jew who could sink so low as to collect them. Hence in our Lord’s time the word “publican” had become proverbial, as expressive of the worst opprobrium (Matthew 18:17). The Jews were not however peculiar in their dislike of publicans. The Greeks too regarded the word as a synonym of ‘plunderer,’ and an ‘innocent publican’ was regarded as a marvellous phenomenon (Suet. Vesp. i). Suidas defines the life of a publican as “unrestrained plunder, unblushing greed, unreasonable pettifogging, shameless business.” The relation of the publicans to John is referred to in Matthew 21:32.

Master] Rather, Teacher. The word is not Epistata (as in Luke 8:24) but Didaskale. See Luke 7:29.

what shall we do?] We have the same question, but with the answer which was only possible after the Resurrection, in Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30; Acts 22:10.Luke 3:12. Διδάσκαλε, master) The publicans treat Him with greater reverence than any of the others.Verse 12. - Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? This is the first time this class of men, who on several occasions come before us in the gospel story, is mentioned. The English rendering is most unhappy, for to many of our people it either suggests nothing, or else supplies a wrong chain of reasoning. The τελῶναι, the Latin publicani (whence our rendering), were men who collected the Roman taxes or imposts. These imperial taxes, the most painful and everpresent reminder to the Jew of his subject and dependent position, were in the first instance leased out to jobbers and speculators of the equestrian order; these were properly the publicani. Beneath them and in their employ were a numerous staff who performed for these farmers of the imperial revenue the various disagreeable duties connected with the collection of the taxes. Then, as now in the East, bribery, corruption, oppression, and unfair dealing, were too common among all ranks of officials First, then, the duty itself, the being concerned in the collection of a tribute - for that is what these taxes really were - for Gentile Rome, and, secondly, the various iniquities connected with the gathering of this tribute, made the tax or tribute collectors of all ranks odious among the Jews dwelling in Palestine. Many of the posts, especially the subordinate ones, in this department of tribute and taxes, were held by Jews, in all ages singularly gifted in matters which have to do with finance. The Jew, however in the days of John the Baptist, who could stoop to such an employment, lucrative though it might be, was looked upon by his stricter fellow-countrymen with feelings of intense scorn. Yet even these men are not bidden by this inspired prophet of the Highest to change their way of life, but only its manner. "Would you," he says to these men who belonged to the hated calling, "indeed wash and be clean in the eyes of the All-Seeing? then in that profession of yours, remember, be scrupulous, be honest." Publicans (τελῶναι)

From τέλος, a tax, and ὠνέομαι, to buy. The collectors of Roman imposts. The Romans farmed out the direct taxes and customs-duties to capitalists, on their payment of a certain sum in publicum, into the public treasury, whence they were called publicani, publicans. Sometimes this sum, being greater than any one person could pay, was paid by a company. Under these were the submagistri, living in the provinces; and under these again the portitores, or actual custom-house officers, who are referred to by the term τελῶναι in the New Testament. They were often chosen from the dregs of the people, and were so notorious for their extortions that they were habitually included in the same category with harlots and sinners. "If a Jew could scarcely persuade himself that it was right to pay taxes, how much more heinous a crime must it have been in his eyes to become the questionably honest instrument for collecting them. If a publican was hated, how still more intense must have been the disgust entertained against a publican who was also a Jew" (Farrar, "Life of Christ"). The word "publican," as a popular term of reproach, was used even by our Lord (Matthew 18:17). Even the Gentiles despised them. Farrar cites a Greek saying, "All publicans are robbers."

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