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The Gospel according to Luke

The message of the book is summarised by the angelic announcement to Mary in Luke 2:10–11: Jesus is the saviour of all people. This Gospel has traditionally been associated with an ox (one of the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1:4–28 and Revelation chapters 4–6) which represents "Jesus' concern especially for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, even to the point of being sacrificed for them" [50 p.7].

Luke is probably the only Gentile author of any part of the Bible. He wrote very stylish Greek and clearly knew the LXX well, and there are signs that he understood the concept of haggeda, the scribes' approach to theology, though his use of scripture is less subtle than Matthew's. Unlike Mark and Matthew, who make points by complex inter-weaving of allusions, Luke tends to make only one point at once by putting it in the mouth of one of the actors, as if he were writing an opera. This is seen as more primitive theology, but perhaps better history. He may have seen his role as medieval theologians saw theirs; writing history of a sort, but extrapolating a little in line with one's own interpretation. For example, medieval theologians decided that a reference to an ox and ass in Isaiah 1 must indicate that they were present in the stable at the birth of Jesus, and that a reference to "night half spent" in Wisdom must mean the birth occurred at midnight (hence Midnight Communion). Luke likes to tell stories with an unexpected twist that reveals a new truth.

Luke and Matthew seem to have used Mark plus much additional material. The common material has been called "Q" (from the German word Quelle for source) mostly consisting of a tradition of the sayings of Jesus[1 p.521]. It is possible that "Q" was writen during Jesus's earthly ministry[53 p.142]. Many British theologians accept that there must have been many written and oral sources circulating a the time Luke wrote his Gospel, and that Luke may have had Matthew's gospel too, though his theological slant is very different so he made many changes. Paul's writings probably pre-date even Mark's Gospel, but though they were current in Luke's time (and he was probably present when some were dictated) they were not immediately regarded as scripture. (But those who say that Paul's letters were not regarded as scripture until about a century after they were written need an argument against the suggestion that 2 Peter 3:16 implies otherwise.) Luke was almost certainly a person converted by Paul who then accompanied him for much of his ministry. Luke can be expected to share Paul's theology which was opposed to "Judaisers" such as Matthew. By including the account of the birth of John the Baptist, including Luke 1:5 which indicates that John was born into a priestly family, Luke indicates that John was a priest who told the people to transfer their attention to Jesus who was greater than he (though he was not a priest), so emphasizing that the New Covenant supersedes the old.

Luke is clearly knowledgeable about Roman administration and about medicine; he uses correct technical terms throughout. But he is said to be less precise than others about the geography of Galilee; this would not be surprising because he lacked the local knowledge of the other contributors to the New Testament. On the other hand, he was widely travelled and unlike the other Gospel-writers he always calls the Sea of Galilee a Lake.[3]

Luke seems to have been fascinated by certain themes:

Luke sees Elijah as a pattern which Jesus is following; therefore he has to remove all the details that Matthew included to show that John the Baptist was following in the footsteps of Elijah: the coat of camel's hair, the wild food, the death under a weak king manipulated by women. Most significantly, the division of Luke's work into two books (Luke and Acts) which divide where one hero ascends visibly into heaven and the power of the Spirit descends on others to continue the work (including similar miracles) parallels the join between 1–2 Kings where Elijah's mantle is taken up by Elisha. Examples of parallel miracles include the son of the Widow of Zarephath with Jairus's Daughter. Jesus himself drew attention to this parallel at the start of his ministry; at the synagogue in Nazareth he said the Isaiah passage was being fulfilled in their presence and continued by saying that there were plenty of lepers in Israel at the time of Elijah but only a gentile was healed. Note also that Zarephath was not in Israel, as Jesus points out in Luke 4:26. The implication that Jesus intended to minister to the Gentiles infuriated the Jews but fits in with Luke's outlook as Paul's fellow-missionary.

In various ways Luke 1 and perhaps 2 fits oddly with the rest of the Gospel and it has been argued that it was written by somebody else. Firstly it shows signs of haggeda composition as opposed to a Greek style; secondly it contains a reference to Elijah with does not fit with the rest of the treatment. But another analysis regards Luke 1 and 2 as a link in Luke's mind between the pre-Jesus era and His earthly ministry, and Acts 1 and 2 as a link between His earthly ministry and the present era.

Luke wrote at a late date when the return of Jesus seemed less imminent than at first. He is careful about how he phrases the sayings of Jesus that had led many people to expect an early return, in order to convey meanings that have not been proved wrong by subsequent experience. Typically the new meaning makes the remark relate to ordinary life; this is called "realised eschatology" because it takes phrases sometimes interpreted as being about future "end-times" and interprets them as applying to the here-and-now. An example is Luke 17:21 "the kingdom is within you" where he uses an ambiguous Greek word that can mean within or among so that the teaching can be applied individually or corporately. Luke even includes some stories which he says are told against those who expect the end soon—​the Parable of the Talents, and the explanation of the significance of the Importunate Widow (Luke 18:8).

The concern of Luke to teach for the here-and-now also shows in his emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Compare Luke 11:13 with Matthew 7:11.

Luke sees the Christian life as a long-term thing; where Mark quotes Jesus saying "take up your cross..." (Mark 8:34) it might sound like a call to martyrdom; but Luke adds "...every day" (Luke 9:23) to emphasize that we are to be living sacrifices.

Matthew seems to have given Joseph's account of Jesus's early life while Luke gives Mary's side of the story.[5 Ch5 Endnote1] Some commentators say that Luke has arranged his Gospel in a way that emphasises the involvement of both men and women. Firstly, he credits Mary with involvement in the ceremonial duties when Jesus was born (Luke 2:29 "when Joseph and Mary had done what was required by the Law ...") where other contemporary authors might have attributed this to Joseph alone. Secondly, he arranges some of the events in pairs, with a man as the subject of one and a woman as the subject of the other. Examples are:

Luke  2:25: Prophecy of Simeon
Luke  2:36: Prophecy of Anna

Luke  7:2 : Raising the Centurion's servant
Luke  7:11: Raising the widow's son

Luke 15:3 : Shepherd seeking lost sheep
Luke  7:5 : Woman seeking lost coin

Luke 18:1 : Persistent widow
Luke 18:9 : Penitent tax collector

Items underlined below are unique to Luke
Chapters 1–3: Nativity
Chapter 1:Prophecy to Zechariah; annunciation to Mary; Mary visits; birth of John the Baptist
Chapter 2:Nativity and Presentation at the Temple; visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve
Chapter 3:John the Baptist's ministry; Jesus's baptism and genealogy
Chapters 4–18: Travelling ministry
Chapter 4:Temptation in the wilderness, rejected at Nazareth; at Capernaum; healings
Chapter 5:Miraculous catch of fish; calling the disciples; healings; teaching (beatitudes, woes, etc.)
Chapter 6choosing the twelve, Sermon on the Plain; parables; teaching "love your enemies"
Chapter 7:Centurion's faith; healings (widow's son, etc.); John's disciples ask "are you the one?"
Chapter 8:parable of the seed; storm calmed; healings (Gerasene demoniac, etc.); family visit
Chapter 9:teaching; mission of the 12; feeding 5,000; Peter's "great confession"; transfiguration
Chapter 10:mission of the seventy; way to eternal life; Good Samaritan; Mary and Martha
Chapter 11:Lord's Prayer, healing, parables (friend at midnight, etc.), teaching "woe to you..."
Chapter 12:teaching "do not worry"; parables of the rich fool, wedding banquet, lazy servants
Chapter 13:unfruitful fig tree; healing on the Sabbath; teaching (narrow gate, mustard seed, etc.)
Chapter 14:teaching; another wedding parable; dinner guests' excuses; another healing on a Sabbath
Chapter 15:parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son
Chapter 16:wicked manager; teaching on serving two masters, divorce, etc.; Lazarus
Chapter 17:mustard tree; healings; don't believe if they say "here he is"; forgive your enemy 70 x 7
Chapter 18:importunate widow; tax collector prays; children blessed; rich young man; eye of needle
Chapters 19–21: Final journey to Jerusalem
Chapter 19:at Jericho; Zacchaeus; parable of the ten pounds; entry into Jerusalem; temple cleansed
Chapter 20:parable of the vineyard; taxes to Caesar; teaching about tax, resurrection and authority
Chapter 21:widow's two copper coins in the collection; prophesies of the end; parable of the fig tree
Chapters 22–23: Passover and Crucifixion
Chapter 22:Passover meal; teaching "this is my body"; betrayal; Gethsemane; High Priest's house
Chapter 21:before Pilate and Herod; flogging, crucifixion, repentant criminal forgiven; death; burial
Chapter 24: Resurrection
Chapter 24:stone rolled away; on the road to Emmaus; in the upper room; mission; ascension



These words mean that Luke was deliberately writing history rather than myth.[5 p.74] The reference to fulfilment means that one of his purposes was to show that the Gospel was foretold in the Old Testament.


The reference to Herod indicates Herod the Great, father of Herod Antipas and grand-father of Herod Agrippa. See Appendix 2 Essenes concerning prophecy of Herod's rule. According to Roman records he died in 4 BCE.

It is said that the reference to the priestly order of Abijah indicates that these events took place around harvest time, which was the season when they were on duty. If so, it is possible that the shepherds were tending the sacrificial lambs, but left them to see the one sufficient sacrifice.

Since John was born into a priestly family, he was a priest, so his words about Jesus being "greater than he" show the superiority of Jesus's new covenant to Moses' old one.


The assertion that Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless yet righteous is a bold rejection of the traditional Jewish teaching that childlessness was a sign of God's displeasure and hence of sin.


Lack of children was seen as a disgrace, a sign of God's punishment (see verse 25), perhaps implying that Zechariah was sinful and unworthy of God's blessing with children, so this verse following verse 6 would very much challenge the original hearers of Luke's Gospel.

The statement that Zechariah's wife was barren suggests a change in social norms over the previous millennium. David had two wives (1 Samuel 25) but Zechariah had only one, despite her barrnness.


There are interesting parallels between Gabriel's visits to Zechariah and Mary (verse 26): it was the same angel; the person was afraid; he said do not be afraid; he foretold a birth; and he said what the child's name was to be. The angelic visit to the shepherds (Luke 2:9) also has many of these features.

John Donne marvelled at Mary's calling to be "Thy maker's maker, and thy Father's mother...".


John was not called to be a "Nazirite" (Numbers 6:1–21) which would require that he did not cut his hair, but to be a priest in the Lord's presence (Leviticus 10:9) from birth.


See comments on Matthew 17:10–12 and Luke 9:52.


Zechariah's incredulity parallels that of Sarai in Genesis 18:12 when God promised the start of a new nation.


See comment on verse 7.


The reference to the sixth month relates to Elizabeth's pregnancy. Gabriel spoke in the future tense because Mary was not yet pregnant (2:21). The greeting may have alarmed her because of its similarity to the greeting to Gideon in Judges 6:12; or perhaps the appearance of the angel was itself frightening. See comment on verse 11. Comparing the Gideon visitation with this sheds light on both. The angel's greeting was prophetic: it described the person as they could be, but were not yet. These were moments of calling to a new vocation, and the recipients both accepted the call, leading to great blessing.


People sometimes wonder whether the Virgin Birth is important. It was a new start for humanity, breaking the chains of human history.[6] The Jews were expecting a Messiah who fulfilled Isaiah 7:14 "A maid shall conceive..." but the Jews of Jesus's time knew it best in the Greek version (Septuagint) which translates the Hebrew word "maid" as "virgin".

The virgin birth means that Jesus was the product of God and a human being. His dual nature, fully God and fully man, would otherwise be incredible.

"Howard Marshall, a well-known evangelical New Testament scholar, expresses himself this way about the miraculous conception of Jesus: 'In the end, it is a question of whether we are prepared to believe in the creative power od the Spirit of God...' ".[7 p.116]


cf. Judges 6:12. Revd Austin Farrer wrote that Luke's Greek version of Gabriel's message, which was presumably spoken in Hebrew or Aramaic, makes a pun between the words that become "Greeting" and "favoured" in English. Probably Luke constructed this Greek pun because he understood that there was a pun in the original greeting which seemed important. Farrer conjectures in a footnote that the original greeting might have been "Peace, Daughter of Peace" (that is, "Shalom, Bat Shalom" or the Aramaic equivalent).


The name Jesus (meaning "God is salvation") is another form of the name Joshua; Joshua led the people into the promised land, which Moses only saw from afar. The naming of Jesus before his birth was foretold in Isaiah 49:1.


The angel promises that Jesus will fulfil God's promise to King David in 2 Samuel 7:12–13.


The Holy Spirit would "overshadow" Mary, with creative results, just as he hovered over the waters in Genesis 1:2. Mary was called to carry God physically; we are all called to carry him to a needy world. He also uses the word "overshadow" in Acts 5:15.


"This always seems to me pure miracle: that a little Jewish nobody, barely into puberty (or she would have been married already), should be faced by God with such a question, and give such an answer."[9] Mary compares well with Moses, who raised all sorts of questions and objections at his call in Exodus 3. In verse 45 Elizabeth salutes Mary for believing God's promise, cf. Genesis 15:6.


As a pregnant unmarried teenager in a highly structured society Mary had limited options. Going to Elizabeth was ideal because she was equipped in every way to understand and help. The unborn John the Baptist's leap signifies two things: firstly, the coming of Jesus is a reason to leap for joy; and secondly, it is a reason to leap into action.

The reference to hilly country suggests a parallel with Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:1.

There is insufficient detail in the account to explain people's behaviour. Did Elizabeth know that Mary was coming? There is no indication that she did. How did Elizabeth know that Mary would be the Messiah's mother? We are not told. Perhaps the unborn John's reaction to Mary's arrival was interpreted by the Holy Spirit (verse 41). But is seems clear that the relationship between the two was the reverse of what would be expected in a culture where the young normally deferred to the old.

"And Mary stands with all called 'too young'
 Elizabeth with all called 'past their prime'"[48]


"believed": Elizabeth seems impressed that Mary believed God's message while her husband did not; see comments on verse 38.


These verses are traditionally know as the Magnificat which is the first word in the Latin translation, or The Song of Mary. The situation is comparable with the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1–10), which Mary probably knew. The ideas, often considered politically left-wing, also resemble those of psalms such as Psalm 146, plus snatches of Psalm 22. McKnight[7 Appendix 1] adds others including Ps 34:3 and 35:9; Is 61:10, Hab 3:18, 1 Sam 1:11 and 9:16, Gen 29:32 and 30:13, Mal 3:12, Deut 10:21, Ps 111:9, Ps 103:11 and 17, Ps 100:5, Ps 89:10, Prov 3:34, Ezek 21:26, Ps 107:9, Is 41:8–9, Ps 98:3, Mic 7:20, 2 Sam 22:51. Clearly it captures many common Old Testament thoughts. The text does not say (though many assume) that Mary composed the Magnificat there and then. According to Brooke p163, it has been suggested that the Magnificat was adapted from Jewish hymn. Its unexpected changes of tense are unusual in Greek but common in the Psalms.

Mary rejoiced (v.1) because God has responded to her situation (v.2) by historic public blessing (v.3). God has exalted her to some extent (v.4) though there is no sign of pride. God's blessing is linked to faithfulness to him (v.5). Verses 6, 7 and 8 speak of God helping the hungry and oppressed (which may refer to the physical or spiritual state of the Jewish nation) in a way that recalls God's promises to Abraham, implying that the oppressors were not descendents of Abraham. In other words, she was exalted by being given a role in the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham.

Maybe the omission of the visit of the Magi from Luke's Gospel (the early parts of which must have been based on Mary's recollections) is another example of a bias toward the poor in Mary. These themes are evident in the Old Testament, for example, Isaiah 61:1–3, and were repeated by Jesus in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3f and Luke 6:20f).


Mary praises God as "saviour" which is an unusual response to being given a taxing task to perform. Perhaps it relates to the angel telling her in verse 31 to name her son "Jesus" which means "God is salvation". Mary's task contributed to God's salvation.


The "low estate" of Mary is an indication that Mary was poor. Another is found in Luke 2:24 where the sacrifice of two birds rather than a lamb is an indication that the priests accepted that Mary and Joseph were poor.


cf. Psalm 94:23. Mary realises that what is happening to her is a highly unusual Act of God, indicating that something historic is developing. This verse introduces a series of reflections on God's activity in the past, revealing his character and likely actions in the future.[46 p.104] She notes that God brings down the proud by allowing them freedom to make unwise choices, or to succumb to their fears as in Judges 7:22.


cf. Psalm 18:27, Psalm 75:7. Mary is looking back over the ways God has acted in history; but which events does she have in mind? See those listed in 1:46–55 above.

Jesus's teaching in Luke 6:20–25, 16:23, 14:8f and 18:10–14 resembles the thoughts of verses 52–55.


cf. Luke 16:19f.


Abraham received many promises. Perhaps the Jews regarded the promise of the land as "the" promise, as in Psalm 105:9–11, because Moses expanded it in Deuteronomy 7:12f to promise a broad range of blessings that would be experienced within the land, as well as possession of the land itself. cf. verse 72. In 1:74 Zechariah refers to the promise of security from enemies. Promises of land and security are brought together in Leviticus 25:19.

It is a tragedy that the help that is celebrated in this verse was refused by so many.


This very brief statement covers several months; see Matthew 1:18f for more details. Gabriel visited Mary when Elisabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy (1:26, 1:56). Mary stayed with Elisabeth for about three months; so Mary returned home when Elisabeth was soon to give birth. As a guest with no experience of childbirth, she would be in the way once John was born.


Elizabeth means The Lord remembers; Zechariah means The oath of God, and in verses 72–73 God does remember his oath.


Luke the physician faithfully records the embarrassing mistakes people tend to make when dealing with the disabled; because Zechariah could not speak but communicated in sign language (verse 22) people tried communicating with him in the same way, not realizing that there was nothing wrong with his hearing.


His name was John, rather than a name the family already knew. This child would be different.


In the Old Testament the giving of a special name signified a special task, which was a sign of a special work of God. They were afraid because their comfortable lives were about to be disturbed by "interesting times".


Zechariah and Elizabeth, representatives of the Old Testament priesthood, saluted the coming of Jesus.


These verses are traditionally known as the Benedictus which is the first word in the Latin translation. The general idea is similar to Isaiah 9 and 62. The Holy Spirit leads Zechariah to God-centred rather than self-centred thoughts, and his vision of what God is about to do includes a call to make a personal contribution, as in Isaiah 6.

"It is important to observe that the promised 'salvation' from 'our enemies' is understood in terms of holiness and righteousness' and ... of 'the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God'...[The New Testament]...portrays Christ's church as the society of the saved, who are called to a life of sacrificial service and witness in the world." [3 p.13]


Talking of God having come indicates that he seemed to have been away. But that is to focus on only one of the two meanings of this verse; not only was God visiting mankind, but also Mary's unborn child was visiting Zechariah and Elizabeth.


The word horn might symbolise strength (as in Psalm 132:17) or the horns of the altar on which redeeming blood was spread (as in Exodus 29:12). The traditional interpretation is strength; the Benedictus translates it "a mighty saviour".


The prophecies referred to here relate to the house of David (verse 69). He may be referring to 2 Samuel 7:11 and Jeremiah 33:17.


Zechariah means The oath of God, and Zechariah refers to the covenants with Abraham, described in Genesis 12:7, Genesis 17:4, Genesis 22:16 and Genesis 26:3, and perhaps also Exodus 34:10–14. They all related to his offspring and conquest of the promised land, as confirmed by Psalm 105:9–11 which Zechariah quotes almost word for word. Zechariah seems to think these covenants indicate that the Romans would be thrown out of the land so that the Jews could possess it again. cf. verse 55.


See comment on 1:55.


This verse is based on the angel's words in verse 17. The prophesied fore-runner was Elijah (Malachi 4:5); the verse that follows it, the last verse of the Old Testament, indicates the curse if the people fail to heed the New Testament message. It is odd that John denied that he was Elijah when asked (John 1:21), though Jesus said he was Matthew 11:14).


This prophecy was fulfilled in Luke 3:3.


cf. John 1:5.


cf. Isaiah 9:2, Isaiah 49:9, Malachi 4:2, and John 1:4. See also Appendix 2: Peace.


In adopting a human body God accepted its restrictions. Now he says that we are his body. In the beginning God showed his glory and said how he wanted us to live; then Jesus showed us how to share in his ministry; finally we shall be in heaven reigning with him.


Bosch[1 p.26] highlights the association between Jesus's birth and the Roman census, a prelude to gentile taxation, which the Jews regarded as a betrayal of the Old Testament promises. Some rebelled against it, and it would be natural to see the birth of the Messiah at that time as an indication that God thought that the Romans had gone too far.

Caesar Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar.[7 p.27–8] After Julius's death there was a civil war, and Augustus emerged as victor. Julius was declared a god, so Augustus was their victorious son of god. He ushered in a new era, replacing the city republic with the imperial principate. This ushered in a new tax regime in the provinces. Quirinius made a census not of people but of taxable property.[2 p.88] Apologists can only support Luke's version by assuming that the type of census known to have been conducted in Egypt was conducted in Palestine also, for which there is no supporting evidence[42].


Soon after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE the emperor ordered Quirinius to make a census of taxable property.[2 p.88] Therefore the Herod who slew the infants at Bethlehem was not Herod the Great but his son, who was seen as a collaborator with the Romans. The Jews regarded him as an impostor so he felt insecure. Acts 5:37 confirms that this was a violent time.

Perhaps the census of property made it necessary for Joseph to go to Bethlehem to register ownership of something. The consequence was that though Jesus's birth was registered in Jerusalem according to Jewish custom (v.22f) it may have been registered in Bethlehem as far as the Roman authorities were concerned.


In 1 Samuel 16:11 David was called to be King from the fields near Bethlehem, so the mention of the city here implies that Jesus is a new King succeeding David[34]. Micah 5:2 prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.


Matthew 1:18 tells us that Mary and Joseph were living apart, but does not say where. It is possible that while Mary was living at Nazareth (with her parents, one assumes) Joseph was living in Bethlehem. That would explain his absence from Luke chapter 1. If so, Mary could not tell him in person about her pregnancy, so she went to Elizabeth instead. But Joseph must have heard about it from somebody, because in Matthew 1:19 he considered what to do about it, and decided to divorce her. So in Matthew 1:20f an angel was sent to tell him to marry her, so he went to Nazareth and did so. It may be that he would have stayed in Nazareth, avoiding the suspicion of his close relations in Bethlehem, had not the census forced him to take her to Bethlehem (verse 2). On arriving there his fears were confirmed: nobody wanted to offer them accommodation (verse 7).[38]

This speculation makes sense of many loose ends but introduces a new one: if Joseph had been living in Bethlehem and had property there that he needed to register, why had he no lodgings there, where Jesus could be born? Perhaps he was working in Bethlehem temporarily, staying with relatives, but his hosts refused to admit his pregnant wife.


The Greek word καταλυμα (kat-al'-oo-mah) meaning literally "upper room", perhaps a lodging place or a dining room, is traditionally translated "inn" here; but it is translated "guest room" in Luke 22:11. (It is translated correctly as "guest room" in the New International Version of the Bible.) The word for "inn" is πανδοχειον (pandocheion), as found in Luke 10:34[57 p.224]. It is unlikely that Bethlehem would contain any inns at all; they were found between towns, where travellers might need to stop for the night before reaching their destination.[34] There were refreshment places in cities, like street-corner cafes today, which offered food to eat in or take away; these were called popinae which is sometimes translated tavern[43].

Perhaps there was "no room" in the living room, because it was not a suitable place for giving birth, or because an extra-marital teenage pregnancy was unwelcome. In some cultures pregnant women are never admitted to inns[40]. The unusual accommodation had an unexpected advantage: the holy family was able to welcome the Magi, who were gentiles, which Jewish rules at the time would have forbidden if they had been in the house. Such rules are not to be found within the Pentateuch.

One can imagine Joseph knocking on many doors in Bethlehem, cf. "I stand at the door and knock" (Revelation 3:20).

Bishop Ussher[7] calculated in 1658 that Jesus was born in 4 BCE.

The repeated references here and in verses 12 and 16 to a manger imply that Joseph, Mary and Jesus were in a place where animals were kept. Medieval artists usually depicted a stable. We are not told which kinds of animals were present, but some compared this passage with Isaiah 1:3 where an ox and an ass are mentioned. See also the comments on Habbakuk 3:2.

Jesus started his life in a feeding-trough, hinting at his coming role as "the bread of life". Also the mention of wrapping at the start of Jesus's earthly life gives traditional Jewish symmetry to the account because he was also wrapped in the grave (Luke 23:53). Wrapping a baby in swaddling cloths seems odd to many today, but it is a safer way of keeping a baby quiet than turning it onto its stomach, which can lead to cot death[11].

This is a very strange start to a very strange mission—​the King of the Universe joining us in our sufferings and eventually dying for us. In accepting this discomfort Jesus began to "take up his cross". In this case being "born in a barn" didn't mean draughts, it meant opening the door of heaven.

In Revelation 20:11 the tables are turned; the world is excluded while Christ reigns supreme.


The place where the shepherds were is traditionally identified as Bayt Sahur. This verse implies that Jesus was born at night. Also, ordinary flocks had to be pastured in the wilderness, so these must have been flocks set aside for the temple sacrifices, and the shepherds were charged with watching over the sacrificial victims.[12]

The announcement to the Shepherds starts the trend of including the marginalised; shepherds were unable to leave their flocks to participate in worship or social events. The Magi (Matthew 2:8) were also excluded from Judaism, because they were gentiles. "The last shall be first" (Matthew 19:30). However, we should not take this idea too far. Western shepherds tend to be poor, and dirty from handling their animals, but cultures that value sheep highly also respect their shepherds[40].

People sometimes wonder why only the shepherds and the magi were aware of Jesus's birth. However, the Bible does not say that was the case, rather that the magi and the shepherds responded to God's invitation. Other people may have been prompted but failed to respond. cf. the parable of the great feast in Luke 14:16f.

Mary and Joseph must have wondered why God was allowing Jesus's birth to be so troubled and disrupted; had His plan been derailed? The arrival of the shepherds with their strange account of angels must have been reassuring.

The consequence was that the chief shepherd was lauded by other shepherds, as he would be later by kings (Matthew 2).


The great light fulfilled Isaiah 9:2, cf. Mark 9:2.


The message of this book is shown by the angelic announcement to Mary: Jesus is the saviour of all people.


The shepherds, being in the farming business, should be particularly capable of finding a manger in the middle of the night—​not an easy task. Manger: see comment on verse 7

The divine Word, the agent of creation (John 1), was lying in the mnger, unable to move (due to the swaddling clothes) or speak (due to infancy).


Why the haste? Did the shepherds feel duty bound to get back to their sheep as soon as possible? Did they want to get back before their employer realised they were not at their posts? Did they not want to miss what the angels had described? Or were they simply excited?

Manger: see comment on verse 7.


The word "before" clarifies the timing of Mary's movements — see Luke 1:26.


Why did the Mary and Joseph take Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to redeem him? Exodus 13:13 does not say where people should go to redeem the first born, and nor does Leviticus 5:7, but at that time the mobile tabernacle was the only possible place. The answer may lie in geography: Jerusalem is on the way from Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, back to the family home in Nazareth.

The journey to Jerusalem is celebrated by some churches with a candle-lit procession, so the Feast of the Dedication is traditionally called Candlemas. See also Luke 2:29–32 below.


See Exodus 13:12–13. Luke makes it sound as if they were giving Jesus to God, but Exodus actually requires them to redeem Jesus back from God. Leviticus 27:6 indicates that Jesus, as a baby a little over a month old, would be valued at 5 shekels; and Joseph, in order to redeem him, would have to pay that amount plus a fifth (Leviticus 27:13), that is, six shekels.


See Leviticus 12:1–8; Joseph and Mary were apparently too poor to provide a lamb to mark the end of her confinement after childbirth. Perhaps this detail should remind us that we are unable to provide our own salvation. See also the comment on Luke 1:48.


The Holy Spirit affected Simeon in four ways:

  1. he knew he would see the Messiah before he died;
  2. he was led to be in the Temple at the right time;
  3. he knew Jesus to be the Messiah when he saw him, and
  4. he was given prophecy.

These verses are traditionally known as the Nunc Dimittis from the opening words in the Latin translation. They are recited frequently in traditional Anglican worship. The Light to lighten the Gentiles (that is, the Light of the World) is particularly celebrated once a year at "Candlemas" when the theme of "light" is emphasized using candles. See also Luke 2:22 above.

Verse 32 is similar to Isaiah 49:5–6. I reckon Simeon got it wrong, or is misquoted; the prophecy doesn't say Jesus is the glory of Israel, but that God will be glorified in Jesus despite the way Israel rejected him.


This verse was apparently inspired by Isaiah 42:6–7.


Simeon's words gave Mary and Joseph a first hint that Jesus's life and work would not be as pleasant as they might have expected (as suggested in the Magnificat) but the precise meaning must have seemed obscure. Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3:16–19 that people's thoughts are revealed by their reaction to the Gospel. Some who seem holy turn out to reject God's grace, while other dubious characters accept it.

The phrase "rising again" hints at resurrection, though nobody seems to have noticed at the time.


Simeon foresaw that it was Mary who would suffer heart­felt pain. See verse 48 concerning the probability that Joseph died before Jesus's ministry. Thus Mary suffered bereavement firstly at Joseph's death and then in witnessing Jesus's.


The mention of the tribe of Asher must be significant or it would have been omitted. Asher was a rather insignificant tribe of the northern (Samaritan) kingdom, adding racial tension to Anna's social insignificance as a widow. According to Genesis 30:12, Asher was the second son borne by the servant Zilpah in proxy for her mistress Leah, who had become Jacob's wife by deceit (Genesis 29:23); Leah was not the wife Jacob wanted. Nevertheless his name means "Happy". The arrival of Jesus made an insignificant and unhappy woman happy.

Luke's particularly inclusive Gospel records both a high-status man from the southern kingdom (Simeon) and a low-status woman from the northern kingdom (Anna) rejoicing at seeing Jesus.


Luke's Gospel omits the flight to Egypt, recorded in Matthew 2:13–14.


Jesus is described as a child, but the next verse says he was twelve years of age, the onset of manhood. Perhaps in St Luke's eyes Jesus was still a child, though in Jewish culture he was not.


Twelve years of age was around Jesus's Bar Mitzvah, from when he was officially regarded as an adult and expected to preach periodically in the synagogue.

The Passover celebrations, recalling the release from bondage in Egypt, might have prompted Jesus to think deeply about freedom.[7 p.53] He would also have seen the Temple as a building site because Herod's Temple took 46 years to complete (John 2:20).


Whether Jesus had told his parents where he was going, we'll never know. Whether his parents were right to worry, given that at the age of twelve he counted as an adult, we'll never know.


The reference to three days suggests that a parallel is being drawn with the three days in the tomb (Luke 24:46). We are told that during these three days Jesus was "in his father's house". However that we cannot infer from this that when Jesus died on the cross he ascended quickly to heaven, because this would be inconsistent with his command to Mary not to touch him (John 20:17) because he had not yet ascended to his father.


This is the last reference to Joseph; people wonder what became of him. Researches by the Museum of London into life in Roman London indicate that 33% of children were fatherless by the age of 10[13] and presumably Israel was similar. No wonder Joseph's death at such a stage in Jesus's life was not thought worthy of comment in the Gospels.


These are Jesus's first recorded words, and they point to his identity. Jesus was now twelve years old, as we are told in verse 42. He was therefore at the age for his Bar Mitzvah (coming of age) which literally means "Son of Commandment" which seems to be used interchangeably with Bar Torah meaning "Son of the Law". If the Law was becoming his Father, the reference to "my Father's house" may indicate the house where the Law was kept and taught. Perhaps this rite of passage prompted him to seek a deeper understanding of the Law, and he sat with the experts at the Temple to achieve that.


Jesus "was subject to" Mary and Joseph; in other words, he showed God's loving character by not upsetting them, rather than asserting his status.


Luke's account of John the Baptist is very similar to that in Matthew 3, but he emphasizes soldiers and tax-collectors coming to John, while Matthew emphasizes Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees. There are several parallels with Isaiah chapter 40.

Herod: see Appendix 1 Herod.


cf. Isaiah 40:3.


This verse fulfils Luke 1:77 and perhaps many Old Testament verses such as Psalm 85:13. In Luke 16:16 Jesus says that the start of John's ministry marked the start of the New testament era.


cf. Isaiah 40:3 and Isaiah 49:11.


cf. Luke 13:6.


The mention of baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire may refer to Pentecost (Acts 2:3–4). See comment on Luke 1:5 regarding the significance of John's words about Jesus.


John's alarming description of Jesus's ministry seems at odds with Jesus's humility in coming for baptism, the dove, and God's gentle words. Perhaps his expectation was based on passages like Jeremiah 33:15.


Herod: see Appendix 1 Herod.


Luke's account of Jesus's baptism is quite different from those in Matthew 3:13f, Mark 1:9f and John 1:29f. Mark places the baptism at the start of his Gospel, making it the start of Jesus's ministry, and Matthew adds a conversation between John the Baptist and Jesus about why it was necessary in Jesus's case. Luke on the other hand tells us that the voice was not heard while Jesus was being baptised but while he was praying, and does not mention that Jesus was actually baptised by John personally.[15 p.49] (Luke always likes to link significant events with Jesus being in prayer.[15 p.50]) I suggest that by inserting verse 20 first Luke implies that John was not there at all.


= Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, cf. Isaiah 42:1. The spirit descended on Jesus after his baptism, and empowered him for his ministry; likewise the spirit descended on the disciples after Jesus' death and ascension, and empowered the church for its ministry (Luke 24:39, Acts 2).


See comment on Matthew 1:2–16 and genealogy. While Matthew starts at Abraham, the origin of the semitic peoples, Luke starts with Jesus and works backwards. Like Matthew he gives Joseph's descent rather than Mary's, presenting Jesus as having been adopted by Joseph. Thus Jesus was adopted into a human family, to enable us to be adopted into God's family.


Jesus was descended from David, the King who was promised an eternal dynasty (2 Samuel 7:16).


This passage shows Jesus identifying his own duty to God with that expected of the Jewish people, thus making himself the fulfilment of the Jew's vocation.[14 p.28]

Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So being tempted is not sinful, nor even a sign of sin within. Therefore temptations, which are sinful and somehow get into our heads, arise from elsewhere. This raises a huge theological problem for those who are too "rational" to believe in Satan and demons. Where else could such thoughts come from?

The temptations all start with the word "if"; they are not in themselves true or definite, but depend on somethign else. But Jesus's replies are absolute and firm.


cf. Isaiah 11:2.


See comment on Mark 1:13, and cf. 1 Kings 19:8.


= Matthew 4:3–4. cf. Deuteronomy 8:3.


Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13.


Satan quoted Psalm 91:11, showing that the Bible can be quoted in such a way as to lead a person towards sin. Jesus set things straight by moving away from the Psalm quotation, which does not say in what context it applies, and responding with a quotation from the Pentateuch which was undoubtedly applicable to him as a Jew.


Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16.


cf. Isaiah 11:2. Luke makes it clear that he is not describing Jesus's early ministry in detail.


This appears to describe Jesus' first trip home after starting his public ministry. Jesus sets us a good example by attending worship every week.


It seems that Jesus was seen as an honoured guest, and asked to preach from anywhere in Isaiah. So he stood up to read the passage he had chosen.


The passages Jesus chose are a "mission statement" bringing out the themes that his mother emphasized in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55); he read some of Isaiah 61:1–2 and some of Isaiah 58:6, cf. Isaiah 11:2. (He would have passed his Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13 or thereabouts so he could read it in Hebrew.)

It is useful to look at the context because the Jews knew the scriptures well. A couple of verses before this reading is a verse saying that God's righteous people can possess the land forever; this is a passage about the great times that the Jews have been looking forward to.

The word anointed is important because The Anointed One was the Messiah (our word "Christ" comes from the Greek equivalent); these are verses describing what the Messiah will be like. Jesus received his anointing when he was baptised by John the Baptist in Luke 3:30; John's baptism was about repentance from selfishness (see Luke 3:11–14). Luke is telling us here that Jesus claimed to be the Christ or Messiah. The Messiah would bring freedom and sight and release, the things the Jews were looking forward to.

Luke does not report Jesus reading the second half of Isaiah 61:2 which speaks of God's vengeance on people who disobey him (in other words, who will not accept him as their God). Instead he speaks of letting the oppressed go free, which is a phrase from Isaiah 58:6 that makes it clear that the oppressed are those who work for ruthless tycoons. This is the Gospel—​the good news.

Jesus omitted the part of Isaiah 61:2 that refers to God's vengeance. The Jews wanted to hear about the Messiah dealing with their enemies in other nations, but Jesus is blending two quotations to imply that he intended to deal with selfishness among the Jews first, which was an unpopular message in Israel.


This would be a time when God is smiling on righteous people.


The people looked at Jesus because this was the time in the service when he was to preach. Apparently it was traditional to stand to read God's word and sit to preach, showing whose word had greater importance.


Perhaps when they first heard this amazing claim they thought he was simply announcing that the good times had now arrived.


They liked preachers who brought such good news. But then they got distracted by Jesus's family connections; perhaps they thought some of his glory was rubbing off on them—​an opportunity for some "name dropping". In the events that followed Jesus was hindered by the people's low expectations, a curious contrast with the high expectations of the disciples, who thought he was the kind of Messiah who would drive out the Romans.


Jesus put them right at once. He challenged them that their interest was impure; they didn't really care about the disabled, they simply wanted to gawp at amazing miracles. Perhaps they had heard of Jesus healing the paralytic who was lowered through the roof of the house at Capernaum, which is described in Mark 2. Even at Capernaum, when Jesus said "your sins are forgiven" they asked what authority he had to say that, until he showed his power by making the man walk.


= Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4, John 4:44. Jesus seems deliberately rude; he alleged that they could accept him for who he is, due to their family connections. Presumably they were dangerously complacent (cf. Luke 3:8). In Mark 6 we find some more details of this incident: they were offended at him, and he did not do the miracles they hoped to see. The people were angry because they counted on being blessed by God but it was denied. The prophecy was fulfilled (:21) inasmuch as he proclaimed the good news (:18), but unfortunately the hearers did not react as they should.


Jesus cites 1 Kings 17:10.


Jesus drew attention to the fact that Elijah was sent to the Gentiles, implying that he was similarly going to minister to non-Jews, which infuriated his audience.


cf. Psalm 31:1–5. Jesus's time to sacrifice his life had not yet come (Ecclesiastes 3).


Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath.


The Jews waited until sunset, the end of the Sabbath, before coming to the Rabbi for healing.


See comment on Matthew 16:16.


Jesus clearly had a strong sense of calling.


cf. Exodus 24:9 where God was seen across a blue surface by many people.


cf. John 21:6.


cf. John 21:6 and see comment on John 21:7.


cf. Isaiah 6:5.


It is ironic that perhaps the best catch of Peter's fishing career prompted him to walk away from the business.


The man had two key problems: he was sick, and he was an outcast as a result. (It seems strange therefore that he was in a city at all.) So Jesus not only healed him physically, but also told him to take the steps that would restore him to membership of society.


Though Jesus often prayed alone he also taught communal prayer ("Our Father..." in Matthew 6:9) so we should pray both communally and alone.


See comment on Mark 2:5. Luke says Jesus called the man "man" implying equality (though several modern translations show it as "friend") unlike Mark who puts "child" (often translated as "my son") implying that Jesus was identifying himself with the Father.


See comment on Mark 2:5.


William Barclay[39] identifies this Disciple with the author of Matthew's Gospel; cf. Matthew 9:9, and see comment on Matthew "Author".


cf. Ecclesiasticus 9:16.


cf. Mark 2:17.


= Matthew 9:14–15, Mark 2:18–20 and cf. Ecclesiastes 3:1–8. In each Synoptic Gospel this short parable is followed by the one about new wine.[57 p.164]


Jesus demonstrated that he is our advocate. The Law was being used to bind people, the opposite of the freedom offered to the Israelites on leaving Egypt.


See comment on the parallel verse Mark 2:25.


The Twelve: see 12.


Philip: see Appendix 1.


It is not clear whether Judas was zealous for holiness or political ideals.


Jesus stood, implying that he was not teaching in a formal sense (in a synagogue he sat to preach) but addressing a crowd in a less formal context.

People often contrast Luke's "level place" with Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5:1), but you do get level places on mountains, so the two are not mutually exclusive. Matthew, who we assume to have been a Jew, wants to emphasize the similarity with Moses receiving the Law up the mountain, while Luke, a gentile, wants to emphasize that this was a convenient place where many people could hear Jesus.


This passage develops the theology of Luke 4:18. Jesus described four blessings, to be contrasted with four woes that follow. See comments on Matthew 5:3, but bear in mind that Luke puts these words in the present tense—​something that happens here and now—​rather than Matthew's future hope; yet the contrasting woes in Luke 6:24–26 are in the present tense, so perhaps we should not read too much into this.

Luke also emphasizes that the Beatitudes are addressed to you "who are poor", unlike Matthew who presents them as a warning to the rich, and unlike Psalm 1 which is superficially similar. cf. Luke 1:53, 12:20–21. "Jesus us speaking to followers who know material poverty, hunger, and sorrow, and is preparing them to be hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on his account. In the midst of these humiliations and hardships, he declares that—​through faith in him and participation in the coming Kingdom—​they are the truly blessed ones." [44]


cf. Luke 18:9 where a man who knows his need is blessed, but the self-satisfied one does not.

It seems to me that weeping fits three scenarios.
Firstly, someone weeping because of hard times of some sort, cf. Matthew 5:4 where those who mourn now "will be comforted". We are offered support in hard times (Psalm 23) rather than a route that avoids hard times. We should find support from:

  1. our faith, which puts along-term perspective on our short-term problems. Paul spoke of the hardships "not being worth comparing" with the prospects of heaven (not to mention the seriousness of the spiritual battle).
  2. the Holy Spirit, whose title is often translated "comforter". Perhaps his role includes enabling us to perceive the ways God is working around and through us, which in times of trouble will include helping us.
  3. other Christians, who we are to love. We have to be ready to help our brothers and sisters sacrificially, and to be humble enough to accept help when we need it.

Secondly, someone weeping because of repentance, e.g. David in 2 Samuel 12 being challenged by Nathan after his affair in the previous chapter with Bathsheba, leading to repentance in 2 Samuel 12:13 and Psalm 51. Jesus spoke of a tax collector beating his breast at the temple and going home justified, unlike an arrogant religious type of person. Our sins are "covered" through Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Repentance is an open door leading to salvation and purification and, if you look at Peter being restored after his triple denial, a role in the kingdom.

Thirdly, we are told to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh. Since this is what we are commanded to do, obedience should bring a blessing. Perhaps the corollary of this is that if we are supported by someone weeping with us in hard times, we have a duty to share with them the eventual joy at the solution to the problems also.

The changed situation that Jesus promises could mean a new era on earth, or wrongs righted in heaven. Perhaps godly people are expected to make changes on earth which are a foretaste of heaven. But there may be exceptions to this verse: I see no prospect of comfort for those who weep over the destructions in Revelation 13.


The question of reward for Christian service is complex. Here, Jesus affirms that service will be rewarded, but Matthew 20:1–16 warns us that God rewards using his own criteria, which may surprise us.


Here are four woes, to be contrasted with the four blessings that preceded them. cf. Luke 12:30 and Luke 18:25 and Appendix 2 First.


"Traditionally we have seen this text as a sort of 'eat dirt' instruction. There are two ways of hitting someone on the right cheek; one is with the left hand but in the Middle East no one touches another with the left hand because it is associated with cleaning after toilet so the other way of hitting is with the back of the right hand. Such a gesture is dismissive and demeaning. Jesus, while not inviting the Christian to retaliate, nevertheless suggests a gesture that comes close to the risk of retaliation. 'Offer the other cheek,' he advises. This means that the assailant is being offered the risk of a fight, but also the demand from his potential victim that he, or she, be treated as an equal."[16 p.36]


// Lamentations 3:30, Matthew 5:39.


cf. Sirach 8:12b.


There should be a clear family likeness; children of God should be living signs of God's mercy. However, we tend to ration our goodness and generosity. We look in our wallets and we see limited resources; we look in our hearts and we see limited reserves. Also, mercy may hurt our pockets, our pride, or our sense of justice. But justice demands that we should be merciful, because God is merciful to us.


The command not to judge follows examples of showing mercy, and is followed by three reasons: (1) we will be judged by the measure we use; (2) we don't know the full facts; and (3) our own faults blind us to a balanced view. The parallel passage in Matthew 7:1–5 lacks (2).[57 p.214]

Forgive: cf. the Lord's Prayer: Matthew 6:12 (=Luke 11:4), and Matthew 6:14–15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25, John 20:23. I don't think it means that those who can't forgive go to hell; I think it means that when we face our maker our failures will be stains on our records. Jesus illustrates this point with a parable in verses 41–42.


How can we read this verse without being grasping and materialistic, and without puffing up ourselves in a way that fails to give the glory to God? The phrase "the measure you give will be the measure you receive" responds to the the possible sense of injustice when we are merciful (verse 36) rather than legalistic.

God measures something back to us; what is the measure we get back? If I give a beggar a pound, does God give me a pound, or do I get "treasure in heaven" (Luke 12:33)? See comments on the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. Jesus gave up everything, and died for us.


Here is a clear indication that Christians should become Christ-like; cf. Romans 13:14.


Having taught in verse 37 that we should not judge, Jesus now presses the point home with a parable.


Inner faith will show itself outwardly, as James 2:14–26 teaches.


The parable of the house in a storm ends Luke's "Sermon on the Plain" just as it does Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 7:21–22). See also comment on Mark 14:45.


Noah's Flood meant death for almost everybody. Is death the test that reveals our strength or weakness?


It is said that the Jews in Jesus's time regarded the Gentiles as hopelessly debauched, particularly in terms of the reputation of the Greek and Roman armies for homosexuality. Some modern readers think that ancient readers, seeing this reference to a centurion and his "very dear" servant, would read into these words a homosexual relationship. Even if this was the case, it does not show whether Jesus was comfortable with homosexuality, only that he did not see it as the immediate problem to be tackled. All the people he healed were sinners in various ways (as we are), but he generally healed their diseases without commenting on their conduct. The healing ministry of Jesus is closely related to his work in creation; the one who made us with eyes and ears and feet and hands is able to put these right if they go wrong, so the healings point to Jesus having the power of the creator. See on Luke 7:36–50 below and John 4:46.


The centurion, being sympathetic and knowledgeable about Jewish matters, realised that Jesus would make himself unclean by entering his house and suggested an alternative to save fuss and embarrassment. Or perhaps he wanted to avoid being shunned as a gentile and a representative of the occupying forces, as many Jews would.


The words of a similarly destitute widow in 1 Kings 17:12 show the gravity of the situation. Jesus saw, and cared, and acted. That is a model of the sort of compassion that we are expected to show.


For a list of verses describing the qualities of great people, see Index G, Greatest Person.


The last sentence (:35) contains the meaning that Jesus was drawing out of his observations: true wisdom recognises where God is at work—​prompted by the Holy Spirit, perhaps.


cf. Ecclesiasticus 9:16. Pagans viewed eating in their temples, "in the presence of the god", as a form of worship; see comments on 1 Corinthians 10:14–22.


See comment on Mark 14:3. The Pharisees knew only one response to sin: disapproval. Jesus showed a new way. He contrasted his host's lukewarm hospitality with God's forgiving nature.


=John 12:3, and see John 11:2. It is said that the anointing of a corpse traditionally began with the feet.

It was disgraceful for a woman to let her hair down in public; it was seen as a sign of loose morals, as a prostitute might advertise herself. A comparable degree of indecency today might be revealing a part of the body that would be covered by a bathing costume. cf. Exodus 40:34, 1 Kings 8:10.


Presumably the host was offended because the woman's behaviour made his house look like a brothel.


Luke faithfully reports this typical Hellenist view of the Temple as a side-issue, though Luke's own view of the Temple is less dismissive (Luke 24:53). See comment on Mark 2:5.


"The Parable of the Sower"; see commentary on Matthew 13:18–23.


cf. Luke 8:18.


cf. Matthew 5:14–16 and Mark 4:21–25.


cf. Luke 8:5, Luke 19:24–26. Jesus used the same words in another context, which might shed more light on what he meant, in Matthew 25:29.


Jesus had suggested the trip across the lake, yet the disciples found their lives were in danger; the disciples knew the 23rd psalm, but could not achieve Psalm 23:4.


This incident shows that Jesus has the awesome degree of power described in Psalm 29. He is the subject of Psalm 89:9 and Psalm 95:5; cf Mark 4:39.


The inability of the disciples to understand Jesus's statement about his future suffering is followed by the healing of a blind man; perhaps we are supposed to realize that Jesus can heal both types of blindness.


The death of the pigs seems an unfortunate result of Jesus's ministry. Isaiah 65 prophesies about people who worship strange gods on the mountains, and keep pigs, making God angry. The pigs were a symptom of impurity (Leviticus 11:7), and their destruction showed that Jesus cleansed the town as well as healing the man. Bridget Nicholls35 comments that the death of the pigs demonstrated to the man that his troubles were ended. I would add that the townspeople needed the same assurance, in order to receive him back into society.


The people of Gergesa were afraid of Jesus, perhaps because he had show the power to change lives; or was it that no livelihood seemed safe with him around?


Not only was the man uniquely able to witness in his locality, but also his healing was incomplete until he was re-integrated into it.


Luke presents a nested pericope comprising two stories about sick women being healed, one an outcast, the other a member of a family at the centre of the community. Jesus gave them equal priority despite the differences in their social status (Jairus's daughter, being 12 years old, had just reached technical adulthood).


cf. Leviticus 15:25. See comment on Mark 5:27-32.


cf. Isaiah 6:1; merely touching the hem (actually the fringe of tassels prescribed in Numbers 15:38–39 [41]) of the Jesus's cloak (with faith) was enough to obtain blessing.


Jesus made the woman confess her embarrassing history, because otherwise she could not be re-integrated with the community after being permanently unclean for so many years.


This verse parallels Matthew 14:1.


The feeding of the 5,000, found in:
Matthew 14:14–21, Mark 8:1–9, Luke 9:12–17, John 6:1–14
cf. the feeding of the 4,000 in
Matthew 15:32–38, Mark 6:35–44

cf. 1 Samuel 17:40, 1 Samuel 21:3.


The feeding of the 5,000 is also found in Matthew 14:14f, Mark 6:41 and John 6:1–14; see also 2 Kings 4:44, Psalm 145:15 and the feeding of the 4,000 in Matthew 15. Jesus is likely to have used the traditional words "Blessed are you, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth".


The "Great Confession": Peter apparently based these words on what he heard and saw in his own home in Luke 4:41.


See comments on Matthew 16:21.


cf. Luke 14:27. We should deny our selfish desires in order to please God.


= Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 17:33 and John 12:25. The teaching is also comparable with Luke 6:20.


See comments on Appendix 2 Judgement.


This is an intriguing statement, which implies that some of his hearers would experience something godly that they had not experienced up to that time. The structure of the chapter suggests that he was referring to the three disciples who were chosen to experience the Transfiguration in verse 29f.


Transfiguration: cf. Exodus 34:29, Psalm 80:3, 7, 19, Matthew 17:2f, Mark 9:2f (my main commentary on this event), John 1:14, 2 Peter 1:17–18 and 2 Peter 1:19.


We are told that the transfiguration happened while Jesus was praying, presumably to convey the idea that prayer reaches beyond the visible universe. In the Old Testament the priests wore special robes to denote their sins being covered by God's goodness (Exodus 28:38f, 29:21f); here, Jesus's clothes becoming dazzling white is a confirmation of his purity.


cf. Luke 24:4. It may be hard to concentrate while praying but if we do there is a chance that we may experience something we would otherwise miss.


The word translated "departure" is literally exodon (from exodus) which is means exit and was slang for death. Moses had led the Hebrews' exodus from Egypt and Elijah had been taken up to heaven by God. The word "accomplish" sits well with the idea that Moses and Elijah were present to affirm that Jesus would fulfil the Law and the Prophets.


See comment on Mark 9:6.


It is curious how the disciples were sleepy, as they were at Gethsemane (Luke 22:45, though Luke says this was due to grief). Perhaps we are to learn from this that God is trying to show us wonderful things, but we are weighed down by the cares of the world, or just not willing to pay attention.


The disciples who failed to cast out the demon were presumably the ones who had not been invited up the mountain to witness the transfiguration. It is interesting that they could not use the power of Jesus, but without knowing why they were not chosen it is dangerous to speculate further. Also we do not know whether Peter, John and James could have done any better. However, it may be that they were focussed on themselves rather than on Jesus, as demonstrated by the argument about who was greatest (verse 46).


For a list of verses describing the qualities of great people, see Index G, Greatest Person.


cf. Mark 9:39 where Jesus says the same, and Luke 11:23 where he says the opposite. Perhaps taken together they show that from heaven's perspective every being is either on God's side or not.


cf. Ezekiel 21:2.


cf. Luke 1:17. Jesus's birth was announced mysteriously by prophets and stars; his ministry was announced by John the Baptist; his arrival was announced by Christians. There is a trend of increasing clarity and breadth of announcement, and an increasing role for ordinary believers.


Jesus met in Samaria the racist attitude "anyone going to Jerusalem must be a friend of the Jews, and no friend of ours." Repentance from this enmity is evident in Acts 8:14–17.


Jesus's disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who did not welcome them...


...but Jesus told them off: calling down fire on people was the wrong thing to do, for three reasons.

  1. Although Jesus had by this time given them authority to heal diseases and cast out demons, they did not have God's authority to call down fire on anyone.
  2. They were letting their anger lead to destructive thoughts, as terrorists do. The God who "sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45) does not zap people.
  3. They had lost sight of the fact that they were sinners, and they too deserved God's wrath. Most importantly, they had apparently not understood that Jesus was motivated by God's love, so that sinners like us should not be destroyed, but forgiven through his sacrifice on the cross, and made acceptable to God through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus and his followers moved on to a more welcoming place, as he had told them to do in Luke 9:5.


These examples show us how Jesus responded to three types of disciple (cf. comment above on Luke 9:28): the madly enthusiastic (needing to think more soberly, facing the cost), the procrastinator (assuming that the father was not even ill, let alone ready for burial, otherwise the traditions of mourning would have prevented the person going out to talk to Jesus in the first place) and the indecisive (needing to be challenged).

In some translations Jesus's responses sound harsh, as if he was rejecting the people because of half-heartedness; but perhaps we should imagine him accepting them, while warning them of the potential pitfalls of their choices.

Some of the disciples had a "mountain-top experience", while the rest were in despair; there is a wide variety of Christian experience, but the true identity of Jesus is the same for all.


cf. 1 Kings 19:20. Some say that Jesus is showing that the Gospel is a more urgent mission than that of Elisha.


This verse is a warning against apostasy. Jesus may be referring to the way Lot's wife looked back in Genesis 19:26.


We're not told who these seventy were; perhaps it was the entire entourage that accompanied Jesus on his travels. It was an extension of the mission of the twelve (Matthew 10:5f).

The number of delegates echoes Exodus 24:1 and Numbers 11:14–17. cf. John 4:38.

This mission has been summarized as: pay attention to where your attention is drawn; find a friendly looking stranger; listen to each other.33

For their safety, they were not to travel alone.47


Prayer for help was the first step; unexpectedly, the prayer seems to seek human rather than divine help.


For their safety, they were not to carry valuables.[47]

The command not to greet people on the road is said to mean that they should not stop walking (as western people usually do when saying "hello" in passing) as opposed to the middle-eastern custom of stopping to enquire about the health of all their relatives. They must not lose sight of the urgency of their business, cf. 2 Kings 4:29.


They were to pray unobtrusively and inoffensively for the people they met.


They might find themselves in a place that seemed less than ideal, with screaming children, hard beds, or dodgy food, for example. But missionaries shouldn't pick and choose, cf. Matthew 10:10, Philippians 4:11. "Judge not that ye may not be judged." cf. Leviticus 19:13, Romans 4:4, and Sirach 29:24, 31:16.


The sequence for evangelism seems to be: (i) establish a relationship, (ii) demonstrate the Gospel's power, and only then (iii) give the message. The message should discourage complacency: people were near God's kingdom but not in it. However, an American church growth specialist is reported as saying that only about church member in ten has the gift of evangelism.[17]

The kingdom has come near: people have the opportunity to enter the kingdom, but shouldn't just assume they are OK unless they act on the invitation.

"Eat whatever is set before you": see 1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1.


The kingdom of heaven was near; people could choose whether to look into it or ignore it, as Moses did when he was intrigued at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1–6).


The fact that some would reject the message was no reason not to preach it. If people would not listen, the missionaries should move on and try somewhere else.


See comment on Matthew 10:14.


Though the passage does not say so, it seems that Jesus sent the missionaries out for a set time; then they reported back. Verse 24 is a reminder that the things they had seen Jesus do and heard him say gave them an example to follow and faith that it would be effective; that is why they wielded such authority.


cf. Isaiah 14:12, Revelation 12:9.


Jesus tried to focus the disciples not on transient blessings on earth but permanent blessings in heaven.


God's kingdom is available not by effort, which would favour the strong and self-sufficient, but as a free gift, equally available to all.


The eyes are a route for God's blessing.


See comment on verse 17.


In an evangelistic context people may ask peculiar questions in order to satisfy themselves that what is offered is not an illusion that a puff of wind could blow away but something solid that can be relied on.


The lawyer takes Deuteronomy 6:4–5 ("all your heart...soul...strength") and adds "mind" to the list as well; see comment on "The Summary of the Law" in Matthew 22:36. This fits in with the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Matthew 5:27) where Jesus said that sins in our thought life are as serious as sinful actions.


Since the lawyer is already alive, the reference to "you will live" must refer to a fulfilled life, or eternal life, or both.


Jesus urged the lawyer to go beyond Leviticus 19:18 and 19:34. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, wealthy westerners identify with the Good Samaritan, who had power and used it well (cf. James 2:17–26 concerning faith and works) while Christians from poor countries together with the under-privileged everywhere identify with the man who was robbed and rescued.[2]

"Christians found that the definition of 'neighbour' could rarely, if ever, be restricted to their fellow believers alone".[18 p.11]

"The moral lessons were these: first, a capacity to assist a neighbour creates a duty to do so; second, a person in need is no longer a stranger—​he or she has become a neighbour".[19] However, that may be an over-simplification: the fact was, the priest was torn between two duties (temple service and helping the victim) illustrating how we tend to find ourselves faced with choices not between good and evil but between two less distinct options. The priest chose to obey Leviticus 21:1. Keeping the Law's requirement for purity does not lead to practical goodness.

Jesus himself was to be stripped, and beaten, but was found to be completely dead when the Romans came to break the victims' legs (John 19:33).

Jerusalem to Jericho is too long a long journey to undertake on a sabbath, so Jesus's hearers would have assumed that the incident did not take place on the Sabbath.


Preachers often suggest that the priest thought the man might be dead, so if he touched him he would become unable to conduct his ministry in obedience to Leviticus 22:4. However, verse 30 makes it clear that the priest was going down from Jerusalem, so his ministry was completed for the time being. It ismore likely that the priest and the levite were afraid to linger in an area where bandits were operating. The Samaritan is particularly praiseworthy for overcoming his fear in order to help the needy man.[57 p.227f]


Perhaps the lawyer who asked the questions in verses 27 and 29 was a levite, so the parable is directly challenging him to do better.


The word translated "inn" is πανδοχειον, pan-dok-i'-on, meaning "all welcome"[57 p.224], indicating a public house for the reception of strangers. This is a very different word from that used in Luke 2:7 and Luke 22:11. The Samaritan would not have been welcome in Jewish homes so he had to use a pandocheion.


In saying "do likewise" Jesus indicates that loving one's neighbour is a matter of actions rather than feelings[57 p.225].

This verse concludes the parable about the duty to love one's neighbour, but the incident that follows balances it with a duty to sit at the feet of Jesus. Both these activities are core aspects of the Christian life.


cf. Isaiah 55:1–2 and see Appendix 1 : Mary Martha and Lazarus. The ridiculous thing about Martha's complaint to Jesus is that the hospitality had been her idea. It seems that Martha was trying to achieve high standards of hospitality, perhaps trying to emulate Abram in Genesis 18.

Jesus's visit offered a rare opportunity to hear him. Mary was not being lazy but using her judgment, deciding that hearing Jesus took priority over meeting the needs of Jesus and his disciples, and fulfilling the social norms for hospitality.

Jesus said Mary's choice was better; better than what, and better in what respect? Jesus certainly did not teach idleness as better than work; in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29f) the men were judged by their actions, not their piety or theological correctness. The significant factor seems to be that Mary was focussed on Jesus, while Martha was focussed on tasks and their effect on herself. Mary departed from soical norms by sitting with the men; Martha was trying to meet social expectations of hospitality.

Martha's comment to Jesus seems driven by fear, fear of failure for example, which is not of God. She was a slave to something that took her away from the presence of Jesus. Some people become workaholics to avoid symptoms of some inner problem, which therefore never gets addressed. It is much better to bring our distressing feelings and memories to Jesus and have them dealt with. Her attitude led her to ask Jesus to send Mary away from his presence so that she could be like her. But Jesus has not come into the world to send people out of his presence. Instead he affirms Mary; the woman's place is not necessarily in the kitchen. Perhaps his over-riding aim is to show how he acts as Advocate, as in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 2:25.


The Lord's Prayer—​see Matthew 6:9–13 and comments on it there.


The theme of needing bread is developed in verse 5.


The theme of needing bread is developed from verse 3. This parable is not about persisting in prayer (Luke 18:1–8 does that) but about being bold in prayer even to the point of embarrassment[57 p.203].


The man is bound to respond by the demands of hospitality, despite the inconvenience. His honour, his perceived character, are at stake. Likewise God's character shows in his honourable and generous acts. However, the idea that someone might have bread in store at midnight seems unlikely in a society which started the day by baking sufficient bread for the day[57 p.203].


Verse 13 indicates that these sayings are, in Luke's opinion, about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, prophesied by Joel 2:28 and fulfilled in Acts 2:38. The Old Testament covenants offered blessing in terms of security in a fertile land, but the New Covenant offers blessing in terms of incorporation into God's family.


God wants us to seek him.


cf. Matthew 7:10, Luke 18:1–8.


This can be seen as an invitation to pray for more in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, without being afraid that God will give us something nasty. The results may be unexpected, but they will be good. cf. Matthew 7:11.


Good deeds can be misunderstood or misrepresented, partly because people judge others by themselves. These people knew the stories of God's power shown long ago, but could not apply that idea to their own situation.


This is one of several inappropriate responses to the Good News. Some people demand proof but we are told to live by faith—​see verse 29.


cf. Matthew 10:34. Jesus concludes his discussion about Satan and his hordes with a different metaphor, which might be shepherding or harvesting, but the meaning is clearly that either you attribute ultimate power to God or to Satan; you cannot do both. His conclusion parallels Matthew 12:30, but is the opposite of that in Luke 9:50.


Revd John Thewlis suggests that this passage is a warning against falling away after becoming a Christian. CS Lewis saw it as recognition that a good person who turns bad becomes worse than someone who was always bad[45 p.32].


This is another of several inappropriate responses to the Good News. The woman is dreaming, or perhaps theorising, but Jesus wants to actually do something.


Jesus calls Jonah a prophet because he heard the voice of God and was called to proclaim it (cf. Jonah 1:17). Jesus responds to verse 16.


The reference to Jonah must be to the three days in the fish (Jonah 1:17), like Jesus's forthcoming three days in the tomb.


The reference to the queen of the south must be to the queen of Sheba (modern Yemen) in 1 Kings 10, indicating that Jesus is greater than Solomon.


Jesus's teaching sheds metaphorical light in dark places, yet some of his hearers attribute what he is doing to satan as opposed to God; what's wrong with them? Their blindness threatens to lead their whole bodies in the wrong direction; see comment on Matthew 24:43.


Jesus turns a critical remark about hygene rituals into an opportunity for teaching about godliness. He bounces the criticism back to is source, by indicating that ritual external cleanliness ought to be a sign of inner cleanliness.


See comments on Matthew 23:25–26.


cf. Mark 12:30–31.


The lawyers thought they were good people who, unlike their ancestors, recognize and honour prophets, but Jesus says that the way they treat him shows otherwise.


See comments on the parallel passage Matthew 23:35. Jesus presents an A to Z of prophets, both alphabetically and in terms of time sequence—​but Abel (see Genesis 4:10) is not usually thought of as a prophet!


The teachers were worse than useless, having interpreted the law in ways that made it more complicated to remember and obey, without giving the allegorical meaning.


Luke 12 is about worry, starting with what we typically worry about (verses 1–30), and moving on to what we ought to worry about.


cf. books being opened in Revelation 20:12: every secret will be known in heaven. This is not a nice thought; perhaps that is why many will prefer the darkness to heaven (John 3:19).


cf. the Lamb's Book of Life in Revelation 20:12: a book in which all those who Jesus "knew" (Matthew 7:23) are listed.


See comment on the parallel passage Matthew 12:31.


Every Christian has the potential to be a prophet.


Wealth and money don't make a person happy; "money's impact on happiness suffers from diminishing returns: once you have enough for food and shelter, more cash doesn't bring much extra joy.[20]


cf. Ecclesiasticus 11:19. The farmer was not originally poor but already rich.[21] He worried about his own wealth and security, rather than the poor or his relationship with God. He failed to apply Jesus's "Summary of the Law" (Matthew 22:36): love God and love your neighbour.[57 p.185f]


Jesus's audience might remember how Joseph saved many by storing a very large amount of Egyptian grain, so they would expect the farmer's decision to be applauded.[36]


cf. Luke 6:20, and Luke 9:24 and parallels.


Worry is failure to trust God.


cf. Matthew 6:26 and Matthew 12:12. An eternal being is worth more than a civilisation that lasts say 1,000 years, because 1,000 years is just a moment compared to eternity.[22 p.70]


cf. Luke 6:24.


See comment on the parable of the talents in Luke 19:12.


Jesus gives an example of how to store up treasures in heaven in Luke 14:13–14.


The parable of watchful slaves while their master is at a wedding feast, cf. the parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1–13. Jesus follows it up with another parable about being caught unawares in verses 39–40, and explains the meaning in verses 40–43.

Jesus told so many parables about masters leaving slaves or servants in charge of their property that it must have been a common occurrence, and it follows that the details (such as servants continuing to work until the master returns, in order to be found doing so) must be realistic.[46 p.132]


cf. Luke 22:37.


See comment on Matthew 24:43, and cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10.


cf. the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30. Try reading this passage replacing the word "slave" or "servant" with "Christian".


cf. the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31f). This is one of the few places in the Gospels where God's holiness seems to outweigh his mercy. The fire is apparently a purifying fire, continuing the judgment theme of chapter 11. He started to drive out evil in Luke 19:45.


cf. Micah 7:6, Matthew 10:34–36. Notice that husband and wife are unaffected ("what God as united, let no man divide"), and business relationships are also unaffected.


cf. Luke 19:42. Perhaps the hypocrites were the people who claimed to follow the prophets but did not (11:47–50).


This chapter is principally about God's timing and the fact that we must not respond too late, though other truths emerge on the way. Jesus chooses everyday parallels which are dynamic; they change with time, as living things do.

As so often happens, suffering, even the suffering of others, makes people more aware of their needs and inclined to ask fundamental questions. Jesus's reply apparently means that dying early just hastens the inevitable, and everyone falls short God's standards, though it could be a reference to the violence of the Romans in 60CE. In fact the suffering of these people (and their relatives and friends in their loss) gave Jesus the opportunity to urge others to return to God. Perhaps all suffering serves to remind us of our frailty and need, as Paul discovered in 2 Corinthians 12:7.

The question about those who died sudden and violent deaths is a reasonable one given the Old Testament theology demonstrated in Psalm 106:18.


cf. Luke 3:9, Matthew 21:18–27 and Mark 11:12–24 though this incident shows hope of a second chance. The parable shows that "trees (and people) may endure suffering and barrenness in their lives, but ... this is not necessarily the end of fruitfulness" [49]. See Appendix 2 Vineyard.


As in Mark 2:23, Jesus "refuses to let laws that were designed to be a blessing become, instead, a burden." [58] God's timing might surprise us. As a result, we might fall into the trap of criticizing others who are doing what is right.


=Matthew 13:31–32 and Mark 4:30–32. The Kingdom grows by two mechanisms. Firstly it spreads physically—​even on the sabbath!—​by evangelism one assumes ...


... and secondly the Kingdom also grows by transforming where it takes hold. See also comments on Matthew 13:33.


According to Mark 10:46, Jesus took the route through Jericho, in other words, through Samaria.


The parable of the narrow way also appears, with some differences, in Matthew 7:13. One difference is the word "gate" in Matthew and "door" in Luke; see Appendix 2 Door.

Jesus avoids answering the question in verse 23 directly with a "yes", which might give the impression that God only wants a few people to be saved; instead he emphasizes the difficulty, as in Matthew 19:24 and Mark 10:25.

The subsequent verses bring a number of Gospel themes together: the last shall be first (13:30), the persistent widow (18:1–8), the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:32), Jesus eating with sinners (7:34).


The last shall be first: cf. Genesis 25:22–28, Matthew 19:30, Mark 10:31. See Appendix 2: First.


This exchange raises some questions: why would Herod want to kill Jesus? and why would the Pharisees warn him? Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist (3:19–20), because he didn’t like being told that his marriage to his brother’s wife was wrong; and Jesus's message was similar, if less targetted. These pharisees might have urged Jesus to go with his safety in mind; or perhaps they saw a way to get Jesus to go away, leaving them as the principal teachers of the people.


"Fox" indicates the enemy of God's people, who threatens and scatters them, in contrast to the mother hen who gathers chicks under her wings—​see verse 34. Finished: cf. John 19:30.


cf. Isaiah 28:14–16.


cf. Psalm 91:4.


Jesus walked into the lions' den: the house of a leading pharisee. He could expect opposition there.

This passage should lead us to consider what is the right way to use the Sabbath; cf. Mark 2:27–28. It has been suggested that inviting a man with dropsy to a sabbath banquet seems odd, so perhaps Jesus had been deliberately put on the spot, to see whether he would heal on the sabbath.


cf. Luke 1:52. This story invites the question, where did Jesus sit? He might instinctively gravitate towards the humbler people, but he was often the honoured guest who was expected to eat in a prominent position. The warning against pushing oneself forward is applicable in many situations, including those that invite religious arrogance.


Jesus is expanding Proverbs 25:7, which is about behaviour in the royal court, to make it applicable to more common situations...


...and then he develops it further into a heavenly principle. The lowly are invited to enjoy better things; cf. Luke 14:21–23. See Appendix 2: First.


This is an example of the general case described in Luke 12:33. It seems odd that Jesus appears to promote the idea of doing good deeds in order to build up credit in heaven; perhaps he spoke this way because this is how the Pharisees thought.


Swete compares this statement with Isaiah 25:6[30 p.66] and suggests that Jesus sees himself as the Servant in the parable that follows, that is, the one who invites people to God's banquet[30 p.68].

Luke has assembled the chapter so that verses 15–24 illustrate lack of commitment to the Gospel while verses 25–35 show the commitment that Jesus seeks.


The parable of the great feast is like the replacement of the old covenant with the new. The original deal involved keeping the law, which represented righteousness, to make one acceptable to God. It demonstrably did not work. Therefore God resorts to searching for guests among those who were not his people. cf. Mark 2:17.

There is no room for complacency. Some people missed the party because they declined to come; one who was invited to replace them missed the party because he was not correctly dressed. Nobody is immune to being ejected if they are lazy or behave dishonourably.[57 p.177]

Jesus identified the kinds of obstacles that still separate us from God today. People give higher priority to work, possessions, power and family than to being with God and receiving his blessings. The result was that the unemployed, the poor, the weak and the outcasts (whose situations make them immune to these distractions) receive the blessings instead, thus revoking[57 p.174] Leviticus 21:16–20.

The word "compel" in verse 23 is unexpected. It certainly does not mean that anyone can be compelled to become a Christian, though children should be brought up to participate fully in their context, untl they are old enough to decide for themselves. Given Swete's idea that Jesus is the servant (see verse 15 above), if anyone does any compelling, it is Jesus, not his followers. Nevertheless his followers should have a clear focus on bringing people to repentance and faith—​see the "great commission" in Matthew 28:19.

It is interesting to compare the excuses for missing the party with those for military service in Deuteronomy 20:5–7.


Swete suggests that Jesus did not think the Jews would repent and regain their heavenly inheritance (see Romans 11:23).[30 p.71]


To fit in with the rest of the chapter (see comment on verse 15), the message of these verses must be that one cannot be a Christian half-heartedly; we have to be prepared to sacrifice everything, even life itself, for God's cause. The word "hate" does not mean emotion but choice. Matthew 22:37f tells us that we are to love (choose) God with all our being, and our neighbour as ourself; and that choice will often conflict with our own desires and those of our families.

This does not mean that Christians have to be poor, but that rich ones must be ready to echo Job's words "the Lord gave and the Lord took away; blessed be the Lord's name" (Job 1:21); see also comment on Luke 16:23.


"Hate" is an unexpected word in this context, and difficult to understand because it seems to conflict with all the commands about loving people. It can be understood as the opposite not of "love" but of "prefer", as Abraham showed when he was willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22:17).

The point is, no-one can serve two masters equally (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13); in practice, one or other must take precedence. See also Hebrews 11:17.


cf. Luke 9:23.

14:28, 31

"Sit down": this is not a quick, casual decision.


We must beware of becoming ineffective with time.


The warning against losing effectiveness continues with a brief parable, cf. Matthew 5:13.


Jesus issues an open invitation to any who have come to listen: see comment on Luke 15:1–2.


This chapter contains three parables about seeking the lost, showing God's desire that everybody should turn to him. They all end in celebration when the lost thing is found, especially the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The chapter makes a neat unit, because Jesus's response to the criticism of the Pharisees in the first two verses is summed up in the last two verses. The purpose of these parables is to justify Jesus eating with sinners.

The reference to those who listen echoes the preceding verse, Luke 14:35. Apparently some of the listeners are humble enough to listen, while others arrogantly sit in judgment on Jesus. Clearly Jesus was preaching a strongly counter-cultural message, revealing a God who welcomes sinners rather than sitting in judgment on them, and many were not ready to receive it.


cf. Ecclesiasticus 9:16.


1) The Parable of the Lost Sheep: cf. Jesus the Good Shepherd saying that he had come to save the lost (Luke 15:11f, Luke 19:10), and "compel them to come in" (Luke 14:23).

For the interpretation of this parable, see the interpretation of Luke 15:8–10 below. The meaning differs from that of the similar parable in Matthew 18:12.


2) The Parable of the Lost Coin: the coin was a Drachma, a Greek coin approximately equal in value to the Roman Denarius, which was the pay for a harvester for a day.[57 p.100]

The parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin are similar, and told consecutively, so it seems likely that they convey the same meaning. In both cases, a person focussed on sorting out the one thing that was wrong, ignoring the many that were right. Putting right what had been wrong led to a feeling of joy. The context of the teaching was Jesus with a crowd of ordinary people, scorned by those who considered themselves religious. Jesus was focussed on those who needed repentance, ignoring the religious people. The secular people might respond by putting right what was wrong, and could expect joy if they did. So these parables justify the desire to seek the lost, but they do not justify going so far as to neglect the saved.


3) The Parable of the "Prodigal Son"

(The material in this section was largely contributed by Catherine Sheen, who in turn drew on [25] and [26].)

The parable of the Prodigal Son mentions pigs, an unclean animal. Jewish hearers would immediately think that uncleanness represented a significant part of the message. Clearly it implies that the son was living among gentiles (hence the debauchery; the Jews regarded the gentiles as hopelessly debauched) but it may also suggest an interpretation that the jealous elder son represents Israel being jealous of the gentiles being suddenly accepted by God, as if the Jews' millennia under the Old Covenant counted for nothing.

On the other hand (assuming that Simeon was prompted by the Holy Spirit when he used the words "the Glory of your people Israel" in Luke 2:32) if the Jews eventually turn to Christ in large numbers, Christians may then find it hard to accept that those who rejected the Gospel for so long are now being admitted with full rights.

While the Prodigal Son's father shows some weaknesses, the parable shows us Father God's characteristics:

  • he releases us to control our own lives;
  • he watches for our return every day—​he hopes every day that we will spend time with him;
  • he is filled with compassion for us;
  • he lays aside his dignity to run and meet his children;
  • he forgives us completely;
  • he dresses us in garments to symbolise that we are much loved children;
  • he says to the oldest son, and therefore to us: "Everything I have is yours";
  • he loves us with an unconditional love;
  • he celebrates extravagantly when we come back to him.

The word 'prodigal' means wasteful, reckless and uncontrolled, and yet the father's love is unconditional, and costly. In Zephaniah 3:17 we read "The Lord your God will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love and will rejoice over you with singing."

For many people today, the concept of 'Father' isn't a very good one. Their experience may have been of a violent or abusive father, or perhaps one that just was never there for them, emotionally or physically. Their fathers may have been caught up working long hours, or going down the pub, or maybe they just didn't take any real interest in them.

The problem is that we're told to call God our 'Father' in the bible, but how can we if we don't understand the concept of an all-loving father. Throughout the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament, we read that the awesome creator of heaven and earth, and the most powerful force in the universe wants us to call him Dad.

Teresa of Avila in The Interior Castle applies this parable to our relationship with our heavenly Father. We are continually tempted to turn away to attractions elsewhere, but that is the road that leads to destruction. And perhaps we should consider whether we seek our inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:4) before it is due. In making such a request it can be argued that the younger son was breaking the 5th commandment "honour your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12).

The parable speaks to the rights language of contemporary culture; the prodigal claimed rights, but his attitudes spoiled them, and he discovered that what he needed was not rights but grace.

We should all be able to identify with both sons. It is only human to think "what if...?". Some of us leave it at that, and may later regret missed opportunities; others go and see, and may regret that! There are opportunities to discover God's love whichever option we choose.

See also Justin Welby re reconciliation.


The father divides his property, at the younger son's request, not at the father's instigation. At this time, it was custom that the division of the father's estate should either be carried out at the father's death, or before, if the father chose to retire early. Ecclesiasticus 33:20–22 recognises that sons sometimes request early division of their father's estate, and advises the father to refuse[57 p.122]. The division would be complete; when the younger sone received his inheritance, the elder son would automatically receive the remainder[54].

For the audience of the day, the younger son's request is outrageous and shows arrogant disregard for his father's authority as head of the family, and his duty to look after his parents in old age.

So why does this father, who seems to be an example of the perfect father, let the son have his way? Perhaps he knows that some people have to learn the hard way.


The original audience might have reacted more than modern audiences to the idea of the son going to a far country. The Jews regarded highly the covenants to Abraham, including the one about the Promised Land. A Jew who walked away from their God-given inheritance was walking away from their relationship with God (cf. Leviticus 25:18).

According to the Law of Moses, pigs were unclean animals so they could not be eaten or used for sacrifices. Jews would not even touch pigs and for a Jew to feed pigs was a great humiliation. Here not only is this Jewish son feeding the pigs, he is even stooping to eat their food, which they had touched. This was terribly degrading and the son could not possibly have stooped lower in the audiences' eyes.

When we turn away from God's way we will be driven deeper into sin and further from our Father. Compared with the riches our Father has for us, the world can offer us nothing if we live by our own path.


The prodigal's boss apparently valued him less than the pigs that the Jews despised[12 p.264].


The phrase "no-one gave him anything" speaks of desperation and loneliness. He had apparently wandered into a land where the people lived by profiting by their wits, and saw no ethical requirement to look after destitute foreigners. You made money or died destitute, like some societies today.


The Son now realises that even being a servant in his father's household would be better than his current situation. We may have to hit rock bottom before we come to our senses and actually realise and appreciate what we had before we went our own way. It can take a great tragedy and sorrow before people will look to the Father.


The words of the Prodigal Son resemble those of the repentant wife (representing Israel) in Hosea 2:7. It is not clear whether this was heartfelt repentance or intelligent bargaining, but the father accepted it nonetheless, as Jesus says God does in Luke 18:13–14.


Jesus tells us that the father was filled with compassion for his son. The original Greek text describes this as an intense passion for his child. When we come home to the father, he cannot help hugging and kissing us because he loves us with such an intense, passionate love!

The father runs! At the time, no respectable Jewish man would have run anywhere, let alone to reach a son who rejected his fatherhood. Here we yet see again God's love for us ignoring any etiquette. The father is so excited at his son's return that he runs to great him, not caring about what others may think of him. He might also sense a need to protect him from those who were angry at the shame he had brought on the village[54].

This also suggests that God will forgo his dignity in the hope of getting close to one of his children. Jesus was turning traditionally held views of God upside-down. He challenged people to think carefully about the order of things in their lives and forced people to look again at the boxes in which they had placed God.

We may stray a long way from God but the journey back is never too far because he comes out to meet us.

We too should go out and seek the lost who interest in returning. God is watching and waiting for sinners to return. He does not enjoy the thought of us suffering and wants to be able to support us. God's love is constant and patient and welcoming. He searches for us and gives us opportunities to respond, but he does not force us to come in. Like the father in this story, God waits patiently for us to come to our senses.


God's love compels us to come in and be with him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14).

The son probably imagined the father would speak some harsh words, but eventually agree to have the son as a servant in the house. The father would hear none of it and does more for the son than he can imagine. Whatever we do against God, our inheritance of the kingdom of God will not change, and he will still love us just as much as before. Romans 8:35 says "For there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God."

Many people think that by leading good lives they can earn themselves credit and get into heaven, but Jesus' story makes it clear that life is not like that. Father God loves us before we start to do good things for him. He loves us when we're bad as well, and he loves us when we break the rules and when we keep them. Father God loves us because we are his beloved children so it's in his nature to do so and he cannot help himself.

The father orders the finest robe, a ring and sandals for his son, because these were signs of son-ship and tokens that told everyone you were a valued and much loved son. Each one of these items also has specific symbolism:

  • The son is given a robe, representing righteousness. If we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness then we are made right with God. The father gives his son the finest robe showing that he does not reluctantly forgive and accept his son, but keenly welcomes him back into his arms of love.
  • The ring symbolises God's authority. By acknowledging our wrong doing we are accepting God's authority over us, basically saying "God, I cannot make it on my own and I can only live a pleasing life with your help"
  • The sandals: after we have been made righteous, and have accepted God's authority, he sends us out to proclaim the gospel and carry out his ministry.

God celebrates in style when any of us turn back to him; in Matthew 18:13 Jesus tells us there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don't need to repent. The way the son came back to his father can be the same for us coming back to God.


The phrase about the dead living and the lost being found has similarities with the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:11) and could have been said by Jacob (surnamed Israel) on seeing Joseph, his youngest son, in Egypt.


In Jesus' story, the older brother could be taken as representing the Pharisees, who were angry and resentful that sinners were being welcomed into God's kingdom. It is easy to resent God's gracious forgiveness of people we consider to be far worse sinners than ourselves. Perhaps the pharisees didn't understand parties, and didn't see why anyone else should have them.

However, the elder son had every right to be angry. The estate was divided, so the father now owned none of it, and had no right to kill an animal and announce a party without the elder son's consent[54].

The eldest son was working. There had been two sons (verse 11), so the elder probably thought that he alone would inherit the proceeds of his efforts, assuming that the other son was lost for ever.[12 p.264]

The father's response contrasts greatly with the older brother's. The father was able to forgive because he was filled with love; the son refused to forgive, as he was bitter at the injustice of it all. His resentment made him just as far from the father's love as the younger son had been. Don't let anything stop you from forgiving others as this can keep you from the joy of the father.

God wants us to "enter into our master's joy" (Matthew 25:21f) but the eldest son's selfish attitude prevented him from doing so.It is possible that in gaining one son this particular father, being less wise than God, lost the other[57 p.119].


The father's response implies that his generosity was not apparent previously. And he addresses the elder son as "child" (teknon) as if he is tryign to turn the clock back to before his estate was divided. Perhaps the sons viewed their father as a hard task-master, which prompted the younger son to run away. It is possible that the father had indeed been a hard task-master, and if he had instead been more generous with his sons none of this need have happened; but it is more likely that the sons took their father's love for granted. It was not until "no-one gave him anything" that the younger son realised what he had walked away from.


The father repeats the phrase from verse 24 about living and finding, suggesting that it contains important meaning.

There are three sons in this story:

  • the younger one who went away and returned;
  • the older one who was always there, but distant in his heart;
  • and the son who tells the story: Jesus. He knew what it meant to be loved by the Father and he knew what it meant to be accepted and cared for. He wants us to follow his lead and sign up for the same kind of relationship with the Father that he has.

See comment on Luke 15:1–2.


The parable of the Unjust Steward connects chapter 15's theme of finding and losing with chapter 16's theme of money; the rich man was losing money, and the manager lost his job.

This parable is problematic; “There is no straightforward interpretation.” Consequently it challenges the way we read all Jesus’s parables. It is curious that there are no poor people in it, yet the poor are a key theme in Luke. The background is that honour and shame were the main drivers of social life in those days. Rich people liked to live in Jerusalem, living off lands in Galilee. They seldom visited their lands and employed managers to run everything. The debts in the parable are substantial; the existence of such large debts raises the possibility that the manager had not been doing his job properly.[54]

We, too, will be called to account. But as in any parable, it is worthwhile considering it not only from the point of view of the sacked steward but also from that of the rich employer and his creditors. The ony person who was wronged in this parable was the master, and parables the master is usually assumed to represent God[56]; cf. Psalm 51:4. The steward used the master's resources to benefit others; perhaps the parable tells us that Jesus applauds using God's resources for the good of others.

The steward seems to be swindling his boss, but it is suggested that the steward's action was laudable because he was forgoing the commission due to him as manager, and the amount due to the master was the debt less his commission; since he would receive no commission after he was sacked, he might as well cancel the part of the debt that would pay his commission.[28]

Alternatively the steward might have been slack in collecting debts, so he covered his tracks by cancelling some[57 p.149].

Alternatively the steward might be praised for using money in a way that was based on where his eternal home was, so we should use our worldly wealth to make friends in heaven.[29],[76 p.150]

Another way to look at it is to say: the steward was being treated as unjust, whether he had been or not. In that predicament, he might as well do some unjust deals to save himself; his reputation was already tarnished and his fate sealed. We could draw a parallel with our life on earth: it is a waste to strive for holiness in one's own strength, which is doomed to fail. We have the choice of accepting God's free gift through Jesus, or accept that we are doomed sinners and live accordingly.

I put forward yet another possibility: the law concerning remission of debts (Deuteronomy 15:1), though seldom followed, might justify the remission of these debts.

My preferred interpretation is that the Jews got around the prohibition of charging interest (Exodus 22:25) by recording an inflated amount when something was supplied on loan; the borrower was then obliged to pay back an inflated amount, but it was very difficult to prove wrong-doing. A rich man might employ a manager to do the dirty work for him.[12 p268f] So the manager invites his master's creditors one at a time (secretly) to alter the documents so that the illegal interest it is now omitted. The creditors feel indebted to the manager, and he will in future be able to get some benefit from this (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:1). The owner cannot complain without incriminating himself, and admires the manager's shrewdness. Jesus calls us to be as shrewd in understanding cause and effect as the wiliest crook or politician, but without doing any wrong; cf. Matthew 10:16. A rich man spoke with approval of usury (that is, lending at interest) in Jesus's Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:27.

The steward had a key role in a web of murky dealings, and was employed in such a way that if things came out into the open he would be the one in court. He was the fall guy, the one who would be sacrificed to protect the others. One can imagine Jesus identifying with that role; he was called to be sacrificed to protect us.

There may be a connection between this parable and 1 Timothy 6:18–19.


See comment on Matthew 6:24. No-one can be the slave of two masters[57 p157]. See also the comment on Luke 20:22; faced with competing demands for taxes and loyalty, one will either obey one and ignore the other, or pay both what they demand, one happily and the other unhappily.


These verses seems odd: verse 17 seems to support the Law while verse 16 says it is superseded. I prefer the marginal reading in NRSV saying not that people enter the Kingdom by force but that people are pressed to enter the Kingdom. It then makes sense that their unwillingness to put their lives right is very unfortunate, and the story of Lazarus and the rich man (emphasizing that selfishness and sin prevent one from entering, and unwillingness to accept this message makes their case hopeless) follows naturally.

These verses clearly describe John the Baptist as a transition; the question is, from what to what? To fit the context where the Law is conserved, the transition must be from prophets saying that the Messiah will come, to John announcing the present age where he has come. The law of the King of Kings will certainly be upheld in his presence.


See comment on Matthew 19:9.


This passage is often called the parable of Lazarus and Dives, though the text does not name the rich man (perhaps as a device to encourage each hearer to consider whether they are themselves the rich man). Dives is simply the Latin word for rich[76 p.191].

cf. Luke 1:53. The refusal to send more warnings to those who are perishing may illustrate the meaning of "pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6).

This passage not about wealth; in Jesus's day wealth was seen as a sign of God's favour[76 p.192], and the rich man is not criticised for being wealthy (Abraham was very rich, and is now in heaven) but for failing to notice the poor.[27] The Law (Deuteronomy 22:4) demands that the rich man should do more for a donkey than he did for Lazarus. The rich man's character is shown by his words; he continually tells others what he wants them to do, so that he and his family may have more comfort. There is no sign of real repentance.


Perhaps the mention of feasting every day means the man did not fast, and so neglected his duty toward God, just as he neglected his duty toward others.


The rich man did not invite the beggar in, but excluded him.


Dogs were regarded as unclean animals, so their licking made Lazarus ceremonially unclean; the message of the story is that treatment of the poor is more important to our relationship with God than ceremonial purity. The food that fell from the rich man's table was poor quality bread which was used by diners to wipe their hands, instead of napkins.[76 p.191]


Revd John Thewlis points out that the rich man went to hell not because he was rich, but because he had done nothing to help the poor man at his gate. The dreadful situation of the rich man contrasts with the comforting of Lazarus, echoing Mary's comment in the Magnificat about the rich being brought low and the lowly exalted (Luke 1:52).[76 p.194]


Flame: see Appendix 2 Hell.


The Jews regarded their scriptures as comprising the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings (see Old Testament). Jesus says the Law and the Prophets are sufficient for salvation.[76 p.195]


The refusal to send more warnings to those who are perishing may illustrate the meaning of "pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6).


cf. Matthew18:21–22.


Did the disciples think that they would forgive better if they had bigger faith, or were they changing the subject to their favourite theme of power and status? The fact that they express themselves as a command to Jesus rather than a request, and that his response (verse 7f) contrasts servants with those they serve, suggests the latter.


Jesus's response suggests that he thinks the disciples are barking up the wrong tree. They aren't called to be heroes, wielding colossal faith that can move mountains, but humble servants of God, who will usually do mundane things in the service of others. They should humbly obey his teaching, including that about forgiving. The quantity of faith required is just enough to believe in a God so great that he must be obeyed, and that Jesus is God incarnate. If that obedience involves miracles, it is God's power that will make them happen.


The principle that the Lord comes first echoes the presentation of the first-fruits in Deuteronomy 26:10f.


The border between the community of God's people and the outside community is a fruitful place for ministry.


Lepers were obliged to keep a distance between themselves and healthy people, under the hygiene laws.


It appears that all ten lepers were made clean as they obeyed Jesus's command. See comment on verse 19.


Apparently the division between Jews and Samaritans was broken down in the case of lepers; they were united in their suffering. Perhaps the other nine were not Samaritans but Jews, and so focussed on fulfilling the Law of Moses (and whatever other details the scribes and pharisees had added) that they forgot common decency.

cf. Naaman, a foreigner, healed from leprosy in 2 Kings 5.


It is easier to remember to pray when we are in trouble than to give thanks afterwards cf. Psalm 66:13. This incident demonstrates that people often receive God's blessings, even healing, without becoming the sort of person God wants them to be, and that we fail to recognise much that God does for us.


Although faith made the lepers well, that faith showed itself in obedience to Jesus (verse 14), cf. 1 Kings 17:5.


The pharisees' question is misconceived for two reasons: firstly, they were imagining the Kingdom of God to be something tangible like an earthly kingdom, and secondly because humans are not allowed to know the future. Perhaps they hoped to be exalted, as in Luke 18:11.

Jesus's reply seems to emphasize that the coming of the kingdom of God is completely different from the end of the world. The kingdom of God is something that grows invisibly in people's hearts; the Second Coming is a cosmic cataclysm that nobody will see coming, but nobody can ignore when it does.


"The Kingdom is within you" uses an ambiguous Greek word that can mean within or among so that the teaching can be applied individually or corporately. Firstly, God is God, ruler of all, and present everywhere, though he permits disobedience for the time being. Secondly, Jesus was physically standing among them. Thirdly, those who yield to God's rule have consciously established the Kingdom of God in their hearts and lives.


The Pharisees asked in verse 20 when the Kingdom of God would come; he replied, the kingdom of God is already among you. And Jesus foresaw that his followers might yearn for the final judgment; he warned them that the judgment is not something to look forward to. It will be shocking, unexpected, brutal, and final.


Jesus may be referring to the final judgment here, as in the preceding verses[46 p.633] but the reference to eagles points to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans[51 p.232]. Perhaps verse 25 marks a division between the two: before the final judgment there will be various calamities, including the destruction of Jerusalem (See Mark 13:26–27).

These verses have a structure:

© David Billin 2002–2024