Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Pilate being governor of Judea, literally, procurator; i.e. with a subordination to the president of Syria. (Witham) — This was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the great, mentioned in Chap. i, ver. 5.
Ver. 2. Under the high priests, Annas and Caiphas. There was properly but one high priest at a time; and Caiphas had this office and title all the ten years that Pilate governed Judea. See Josephus, lib. xviii. Antiq. chap. iii. — In these short notes I shall not pretend to examine the chronological difficulties, as to Christ’s birth, death, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 3. To all who read, it is plain, that St. John [the Baptist] not only preached baptism, but likewise conferred it upon many; yet, he could not give baptism to the remission of sins. (St. Gregory, hom. xx.) — When the victim was not yet immolated, how could they obtain remission of sins? How could St. Luke say, preaching the baptism of penance, for the remission of sins? The ignorant Jews not considering the greatness of their transgressions, St. John came exhorting them to acknowledge their sins, and do penance for them; that being converted, and truly contrite, they might seek after their Redeemer, and thus obtain remission of their offences. (St. Chrysostom, hom. x. in Matt.) — From these words originated an opinion, that the baptism of John remitted sins. Thus Prudentius, in his hymn on St. John:
Hortatur ille primus, et Doctor novę
Fuit salutis, nam sancto in flumine
Veterum pictas lavit errorum notas.
The fallacy of this sentiment, now universally exploded, may be detected from two passages of Scripture: 1. Where John himself declares that he does not baptize with the Holy Ghost; and secondly, in the Acts, (Chap. xix) where St. Paul orders those who had only been baptized by John, and had not heard of the Holy Ghost, to be rebaptized. We must then conclude, that St. John’s baptism was only a ceremony or initiation, by which they enrolled themselves as his disciples, to do penance, as a preparation for the remission of sins by means of the second baptism, viz. of Jesus Christ. (Jansenius, Evan. Conc.)
Ver. 5. Every valley, &c. If these words, in one sense, were a prediction of the deliverance of the Israelites from their captivity, (Isaias xl. 3.) and an admonition to level the roads for those that were to return, they also signified the redemption of mankind from the slavery of sin; and that all obstacles, which retarded this benefit, should be removed, and also that the proud should be depressed, and the humble receive graces. (Witham)
Ver. 6. This text is given according to the Septuagint.
Ver. 7. This saint of the desert, seeing all the inhabitants of Palestine surrounding and admiring him, was not elated with the honour, but openly and severely rebuked them. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xi. on S. Matt) — According to St. Matthew, the Baptist addressed these words principally to the Pharisees and Sadducees, there and then present.
Ver. 8. It is one thing to bring forth fruits of penance, and another to bring forth worthy fruits. We should know that the man who has committed nothing unlawful, may have a right to use the lawful things of the world, and can perform works of piety, without forsaking innocent enjoyments, unless he pleases. But, if he has fallen into great crimes, let him abstain from what is lawful, as much as he has transgressed, by yielding to guilt. Nor is equal penance required of him who has sinned little, and of him who has fallen into many crimes. And let those, whose consciences convict them, labour to lay up a treasure of good works, proportioned to the injury they have done themselves by their sins. (St. Gregory, hom. xx. in Evang.) — It is not sufficient for penitents to forsake their sins, they must also bring forth worthy fruits, according to that of the psalmist, decline from evil, and do good. (Psalm xxxvi.) As it is not enough to extract the dart; and external application is also necessary. He says not fruit, but fruits, to shew the abundance of good works we ought to perform. (St. Chrysostom, hom. x. on S. Matt.) — He does not mean to say that they did not descend from Abraham, but that their descending from Abraham would avail them nothing, unless they kept up the succession of his virtues. (St. Chrysostom, hom. xi. and xii. on S. Matt.) — What can those be thought but stones, who have given themselves to the adoration of stones; to which, says the psalmist, they are assimilated, who place their trust in them? By this the Baptist prophesies, that faith shall be infused into the stony hearts of the Gentiles, who by faith shall become the children of Abraham. (St. Ambrose) — Consider, says St. Chrysostom, how St. John draws them from boasting of their pedigree, and trusting to their descent from Abraham, to place their hope of salvation in the practice of penance and a holy life. (hom. xi.) — A lesson this for Catholics, not to expect to find mercy at the last day, for being members of the true religion, unless they live up to the maxims which it prescribes. If I should have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians xiii. 2.)
Ver. 9. By this example is meant that anger of God, which the Jews raised against themselves by their impiety towards their Messias. The axe is laid to the root of the tree, for the branches are already lopt off; but the tree was not rooted up, for a remnant of Israel shall be saved. (St. Cyril, lib. 3. on Isai. xl.)
Ver. 11. He that hath two coats, &c. St. John exhorts them to works of charity towards the poor, by giving what is superfluous. (Witham) — Here we are taught that whatever we have more than our own wants require, must be bestowed on those who are in need; for the love of that God, of whom we have received all. (St. Basil, in Avar.) — Charity to the poor is frequently recommended in Scripture, as a powerful method of redeeming sin, and reconciling us to divine mercy. This was Daniel’s advice to king Nabuchodonosor: “May my counsel please thee, O king, and do thou redeem thy sins with alms and mercy to the poor.” (Daniel iv.) Hence St. Chrysostom says: “The poor are physicians, and their hands are an ointment for your wounds.” (hom. xiv. in ep. 1. ad Tim.) — See the unbounded love of God; he offers us his mercy, provided we will relieve our indigent brethren! (Haydock)
Ver. 12. The Baptist exhorts worldlings to abstain from every species of fraud, that by first restraining all desires of the goods of others, they may at length come to communicate some of their own to their neighbours. (Ven. Bede)
Ver. 13. Do nothing more. You who are military men, exact no more of the people than what is allowed and appointed you. (Witham)
Ver. 14. The Baptist knew that such as engage in war, are not murderers, but ministers of the law; not avengers of injuries, but defenders of the public weal. Had he thought otherwise, he would have said: “cast away your arms, abandon the service, never strike, maim, or destroy any one:” these are not the things which are blameable in the military, but their cruelty, their revenge, their implacable dispositions, and lust of power. (St. Augustine, lib. 22. cont. Faust.)
Ver. 15. Many reasons might have induced the people to think that John was the Christ: 1. The wonders that took place at his birth and conception, his mother being very old, and without any prospect of offspring: 2. the excellence of his preaching, his mortified life, and the novelty of his baptism; and thirdly, the report which then generally prevailed among the Jews, that the Messias was already come; on account of the coming of the magi, and the murder of the infants by Herod: both which circumstances were probably fresh in their memory; and several perhaps, who witnessed them, were still living. (Denis the Carthusian)
Ver. 16. See Matthew iii. 11. That baptism cannot be valid, in which the name of the Holy Ghost only is invoked. For, the tradition concerning life-giving grace, must be preserved entire. To add or to omit any thing, may exclude from life everlasting. For, as we believe, so also are we baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (St. Basil, lib. de Spirit. Sanc. chap. xxii.) — Fire. This is a metaphor, to signify the Holy Ghost and his gifts, particularly the fire of divine love to the expiation of sins, and is very common in Scripture. Sometimes also he is represented by water, as in St. John iv. 10, et dein. and vii. 38.-39; Isaias xliv. &c. &c. Hence, in the hymn to the Holy Ghost, the Church uses both figures.
Thou who art call’d the Paraclete,
Best gift of God above,
The living Spring, the living Fire,
Sweet unction and love.
Ver. 17. By the barn-floor is here prefigured the Church of Christ, in which many are called, but few are chosen. This perfect cleansing of the floor, as it is in the Greek, is performed both here when the wicked, on account of their open crimes, are excluded from the communion of the faithful by the Church; or, on account of their hidden sins, are after death by infinite justice chastised; but most especially at the end of the world, when the Son of man shall send his angels to gather from his kingdom all scandals. (Ven. Bede)
Ver. 19. See in St. Mark vi. 17. The wife of his brother (Philip.) The Greek adds the name, and he is also named in St. Mark; but he is a different person from the tetrarch, mentioned in chap. iii. ver. 1. (Bible de Vence) — It was not at this time that John [the Baptist] was cast into prison; but, as St. John [the evangelist] relates, after our Saviour had begun to work miracles, and after his baptism. St. Luke anticipates this event, in order to describe more strongly the malice of Herod; who, whilst he saw multitudes flocking to hear the words of John, his own soldiers believing, and all the people receiving baptism, still could despise the Baptist, could imprison him, and put him to death. (Ven. Bede)
Ver. 21. The motive of his baptism, as he himself informs us, was, that he himself might fulfil all justice. What is here meant by justice, but that obligation of doing first ourselves what we wish others to do? — Let no one then refuse the laver of grace, since Christ did not refuse the laver of penance. (St. Ambrose) — Although all our sins are forgiven in baptism, still the frailty of the flesh is not yet perfectly strengthened. For, after passing this red sea, we rejoice at the destruction of the Egyptians, but still we must fight with assurance of the grace of Christ, against the enemies we shall undoubtedly meet with in the desert of this world, till at length we arrive at our true country. (Ven. Bede) — It is said the heavens were opened, because they had been hitherto shut. The sheepfolds of heaven and earth are now united under the one Shepherd of the sheep: heaven is opened, and man, though formed of the earth, is admitted to the company of angels. (St. Chrysostom)
Ver. 22. The reason why the Holy Ghost shewed himself in the shape of a dove, was because he could not be seen in the substance of his divinity. But why a dove? To express that simplicity acquired in the sacrament of baptism. Be ye simple as doves; to signify that peace bestowed by baptism, and prefigured by the olive branch which the dove carried back to the ark, a true figure of the Church, and which was the only security from the destructive deluge. (St. Ambrose) — You will object: Christ, though he was God, would not be baptized till the age of 30, and do you order baptism to be received sooner? When you say, though he was God, you solve the difficulty. For, he stood not in need of being purified at all; of course, there could be no danger in deferring his baptism. But you will have much to answer for, if, being born in corruption, you pass out of this world without the garment of incorruption. (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, orat. 40.)
Remarks on the two Genealogies of Jesus Christ.
To make some attempt at an elucidation of the present very difficult subject of inquiry, we must carry in our minds, 1. That in the Scripture language the word begat, applies to the remote, as well as the immediate, descendant of the ancestor; so that if Marcus were the son, Titus the grandson, and Caius the great-grandson of Sempronius, it might, in the language of Scripture, be said, that Sempronius begat Caius. This accounts for the omission of several descents in St. Matthew. 2. The word begat, applies not only to the natural offspring, but to the offspring assigned to the ancestor by law. 3. If a man married the daughter and only child of another, he became in the view of the Hebrew law the son of that person, and thus was a son assigned to him by law. The two last positions shew in what sense Zorobabel was the son both of Neri and Salathiel, and Joseph the son both of Jacob and of Heli, or Joachim. — “St. Matthew, in descending from Abraham to Joseph, the spouse of the blessed Virgin, speaks of a son properly so called, and by way of generation, Abraham begot Isaac, &c. But St. Luke in ascending from Jesus to God himself, speaks of a son properly or improperly so called. On this account he make use of an indeterminate expression, in saying, the son of Joseph, who was of Heli. That St. Luke does not always speak of a son properly called, and by way of generation, appears from the first and last he names; for Jesus was only the putative son of Joseph, because Joseph was the spouse of Mary, the mother of Christ; and Adam was only the son of God by creation. This being observed, we must acknowledge in the genealogy in St. Luke, two sons improperly so called, that is, two sons-in-law, instead of sons. As among the Hebrews, the women entered not into the genealogy, when a house finished by a daughter, instead of naming the daughter in the genealogy, they named the son-in-law, who had for father-in-law the father of his wife. The two sons-in-law mentioned in St. Luke are Joseph, the son-in-law of Heli, and Salathiel, the son-in-law of Neri. This remarks clears up the difficulty. Joseph, the son of Jacob, in St. Matthew, was the son-in-law of Heli, in St. Luke; and Salathiel, the son of Jechonias, in St. Matthew, was the son-in-law of Neri, in St. Luke. Mary was the daughter of Heli, Eliacim, or Joacim, or Joachim. Joseph, the son of Jacob, and Mary, the daughter of Heli, had a common origin; both descending from Zorobabel, Joseph by Abiud the eldest, and Mary by Resa, the younger brother. Joseph descended from the royal branch of David, of which Solomon was the chief; and Mary from the other branch, of which Nathan was the chief. by Salathiel, the father of Zorobabel, and son of Jechonias, Joseph and Mary descended from Solomon, the son and heir of David. And by the wife of Salathiel, the mother of Zorobabel, and daughter of Neri, of which Neri Salathiel was the son-in-law, Joseph and Mary descended from Nathan, the other son of David, so that Joseph and Mary re-united in themselves all the blood of David. St. Matthew carries up the genealogy of Jesus to Abraham; this was the promise of the Messias, made to the Jews; St. Luke carries it up to Adam, the promise of the Messias, made to all men.”
Whatever the difficulties attending the genealogies may be, it is evident that they arise from our imperfect knowledge of the laws, usages, and idiom of the Jews, from our ignorance of the true method of reconciling the seeming inconsistencies, or from some corruptions that in process of time may possibly have crept into the text. The silence of the enemies of the gospel, both heathen and Jewish, during even the first century, is itself a sufficient proof, that neither inconsistency nor corruption could be then alleged against this part of the evangelical history. If the lineal descent of Jesus from David were not indisputable, he could not possess the character essential to the Messias, nor any right to the Jewish throne. We may confidently then assert, that his regular lineal descent from David could not be disproved, since it was not even disputed at a time when alone it could have been done so successfully; and by those persons who were so deeply interested in falsifying the first Christian authorities.
Ver. 36. Who was of Cainan. Notwithstanding the veneration due to the Latin Vulgate, which is to be esteemed authentic, Cornelius a Lapide calls it a chronological problem, whether the word Cainan be the true reading, or whether it hath slipt into the text. It is true Cainan is found in the Septuagint Genesis x. 24., Genesis xi. 44., and 1 Paralipomenon i. 18; though, in this last place, Cornelius a Lapide says, it is wanting in one edition of the Septuagint by Sixtus V.; at least it is not read in all those places, neither in the Hebrew, nor Latin Vulgate. Some say that here in St. Luke’s text, is found Cainan, because his citations are conformable to the Septuagint. Others conjecture that Cainan and Sale were only different names of one and the same person, so that the sense may be, who was of Sale, who is also Cainan. Qui fuit Sale, qui & Cainan. (Witham)
Ver. 38. What could be more beautiful, than that this holy race should begin from the Son of God, and be continued up to the Son of God; that the creature might go before in figure, and the Son of God might follow after in reality; that he who was made after the image of God, might first appear, that the true image of his eternal Father may descend from his glory. Thus did St. Luke mean to refer the origin of Christ to God, of whom he was the true and eternal Son. To shew this still more evidently, the evangelist had before introduced the Almighty speaking from heaven: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (St. Ambrose)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
John’s mission and preaching. Christ is baptized by him.
1 Now in the fifteenth year* of the reign of Tiberius Cęsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip, his brother, tetrarch of Iturea, and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilina,
2 *Under the high priests, Annas and Caiphas: The word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zachary, in the desert.
3 *And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins,
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaias, the prophet: *A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord: make his paths straight:
5 Every valley shall be filled: and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain:
6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
7 He said, therefore, to the multitudes that came forth to be baptized by him: *Ye offspring of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of penance, and do not begin to say: We have Abraham for our father. For I say to you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
9 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire.
10 And the people asked him, saying: What then shall we do?
11 And he answering, said to them: *He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none: and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner.
12 And the publicans also came to be baptized, and said to him: Master, what shall we do?
13 But he said to them: Do nothing more than that which is appointed you.
14 And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man: neither calumniate any man: and be content with your pay.
15 And as the people were of opinion, and all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ:
16 John answered, saying to them all: *I indeed baptize you with water: but there shall come one mightier that I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: **he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
18 And many other things, exhorting, did he preach to the people.
19 *But Herod, the tetrarch, when he was reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
20 He added this also above all, and shut up John in prison.
21 *Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, heaven was opened:
22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him: and a voice came from heaven: *Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.
23 And Jesus himself was beginning about the age of thirty years: being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was of Heli, who was of Mathat,
24 Who was of Levi, who was of Melchi, who was of Janne, who was of Joseph,
25 Who was of Mathathias, who was of Amos, who was of Nahum, who was of Hesli, who was of Nagge,
26 Who was of Mahath, who was of Mathathias, who was of Semei, who was of Joseph, who was of Juda,
27 Who was of Joanna, who was of Reza, who was of Zorobabel, who was of Salathiel, who was of Neri,
28 Who was of Melchi, who was of Addi, who was of Cosan, who was of Elmadan, who was of Her,
29 Who was of Jesus, who was of Eliezer, who was of Jorim, who was of Mathat, who was of Levi,
30 Who was of Simeon, who was of Judas, who was of Joseph, who was of Jona, who was of Eliakim,
31 Who was of Melea, who was of Menna, who was of Mathatha, who was of Nathan, who was of David,
32 Who was of Jesse, who was of Obed, who was of Booz, who was of Salmon, who was of Naasson,
33 Who was of Aminadab, who was of Aram, who was of Esron, who was of Phares, who was of Judas,
34 Who was of Jacob, who was of Isaac, who was of Abraham, who was of Thare, who was of Nachor,
35 Who was of Sarug, who was of Ragau, who was of Phaleg, who was of Heber, who was of Sale,
36 Who was of Cainan, who was of Arphaxad, who was of Sem, who was of Noe, who was of Lamech,
37 Who was of Mathusale, who was of Henoch, who was of Jared, who was of Malaleel, who was of Cainan,
38 Who was of Henos, who was of Seth, who was of Adam, who was of God.
1: about the year A.D. 28, according to the Vulgate.
2: Acts iv. 6.
3: Matthew iii. 1.; Mark i. 4.
4: Isaias xl. 3.; John i. 23.
7: Matthew iii. 7. and xxiii. 33.
11: James ii. 15.; 1 John iii. 17.
16: Matthew iii. 11.; Mark i. 8.; John i. 26. — ** Matthew iii. 11.; Acts i. 5. and xi. 16. and xix. 4.
19: Matthew xiv. 4.; Mark vi. 17.
21: Matthew iii. 16.; Mark i. 10.; John i. 32.
22: Matthew iii. 17. and xvii. 5.; Luke ix. 35.; 2 Peter i. 17.