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Go to Bible: Luke 3
 
Luk 3:1

“Pontius Pilate.” Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. [For more on Pilate, see commentary on Matt. 27:2].

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Luk 3:2

“the word of God came to John.” Luke 3:1-2 could be taken as a simple chronological reference, that John started to minister when Tiberius was emperor, Pontius Pilate was governor, Herod Antipas, Philip, and Lysanias were tetrarchs, and Annas and Caiaphas were sharing the power of the High Priesthood. However, there is quite likely a deeper meaning as well. The above-mentioned men were the world’s power structure over the people of God in the tribal area of Israel that God gave to Israel in Joshua’s time. As we know from history, those top men were interested in themselves and their own power and prestige, and knew or cared little about God and the things of God. That, however, did not keep God from working powerfully. God works in spite of the world’s unhelpfulness. God’s word came to John, who began to rock the Jewish world from the inside out, and only months later it would come to the Messiah himself, who would change the world.

Too often Christians are daunted or stymied by the fact that there does not seem to be enough power, money, influence, or “press,” to get the work of the Lord done. But that is an illusion and a lie. Jesus showed us the power of weakness by dying on the cross, which seemed like such a huge defeat but was the world’s greatest victory. Then, some years later, Jesus had to remind Paul that his strength was made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). God’s victory is not over territory or over unwilling souls, but is won person by person, bit by bit, as people turn to Him and love, worship, and obey Him. God has an army of people on earth who are His fellow-workers. That army needs to see through God’s eyes, that the little things that win the hearts and souls of people and turn them from darkness to light are what really matters to God. Little things that often don’t seem to make a big impact, like being faithful in prayer, faithful to stand up and speak up for what is right and righteous, and faithful to be witnesses of what God has done in one’s life; these things are huge to God, and still rock the world in spite of the evil power structure that is in place.

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Luk 3:3

“baptism.” See commentary on Mark 1:4.

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Luk 3:4

“A voice of one calling out in the desert, ‘Make ready the road of the Lord! Make his paths straight!’” [For more on the custom of making a road ready by clearing and leveling it, see commentary on Mark 1:3.]. This quotation in Luke, which comes from Isaiah 40:3-5 (and the quotation in Matthew 3:3 and Mark 1:3) is from the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. The vast majority of scholars believe that the New Testament was written in Greek, and there are many reasons for that. A primary one is textual.

There are simply no extant manuscripts of the NT in Hebrew, and the manuscripts in Aramaic (Syriac) do not seem to be the autographs from which the Greek texts came. Similarly, however, the Greek of the New Testament is so markedly stylistically different from book to book that it does not seem possible that there is an underlying Aramaic text. Although there are some stylistic differences in Aramaic writings, the Aramaic texts we have today would not have led to the stylistic differences that we see in the different books of the Greek New Testament.

There is research that indicates that Hebrew was spoken in the first century more than was believed in the past, and this has led a few scholars to conclude that the original texts of the New Testament were written in Hebrew or Aramaic. The argument is that the texts were written by Jews for Jews, and thus would have not been written in Greek but in a native Jewish tongue. However, that misses the point. The focus of the New Testament documents was the Christian Church. They were not written in Israel and they were not written exclusively to the Jews.

There were many Jews, especially in the diaspora, who spoke Greek. When Stephen addressed the Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 7 (likely less than ten years after the death of Christ), he was speaking Greek and quoting from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Stephen’s dispute had begun with, among others, Jews from Alexandria Egypt, which is where the Septuagint was written (Acts 6:9). When he was brought before the Sanhedrin, he quoted from the Septuagint, not the Hebrew Bible. One way we know that is while the Hebrew Bible says Jacob’s family who went to Egypt was 70 people, the Septuagint text says 75, and Stephen said 75 (Acts 7:14).

By the time much of the NT was written, God had already moved away from the Jews and was ministering to the Gentiles. It was not so much that God wanted to abandon the Jews and minister to the Gentiles, but when He began to include the Gentiles, and wanted His People to do the same, they resisted. Many Jews resisted God’s Messiah (Rom. 10:1-4), but it seems even the majority of the Jews who believed in the Messiah wanted to bring them under the Law, rather than accept that God had a new program of grace for all people and had moved away from “the yoke of bondage.” We know from the New Testament that Paul was continuously persecuted by Christian Jews.

So the claim that the NT was written by Jews for Jews is not correct. In fact, it seems that the only book of the New Testament that was written in Israel was James. Even Peter wrote from Babylon (or Rome). By the time Paul visited Jerusalem the year he was arrested, none of the original apostles were listed as being there (Acts 21:17ff). Although we do not know the reason the original Apostles likely left Jerusalem, they may have left with the persecution of Acts 12, and not come back, perhaps in part because the Christian Jews in Jerusalem were rejecting the revelation of the New Testament.

James, who was leading the church at Jerusalem at that time, was not the Apostle James, but James the brother of Jesus. It is worth noting that James did not believe that his half-brother Jesus was the Messiah until sometime after the resurrection. He did not believe by the Feast of Tabernacles, less than a year before Jesus’ death (John 7:5), and the evidence is that he still did not believe when Jesus was dying on the cross, which is why Jesus told John to take care of Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:27). It seems that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his family and convinced them he was alive, because “his brothers” were with the disciples in Acts 1:14. However, there is no mention of James until Acts 12:17, during the persecution of Herod Agrippa, when the Apostles apparently were forced to leave Jerusalem. Apparently in their absence, James took over as an elder in the church and by Acts 15 seems to be the leader of the congregation in Jerusalem.

As we can see from Acts (and Galatians), the Christian Jews in Jerusalem completely ignored the revelation that Paul got that was codified in the books of Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians (see commentary on Galatians 2:2). The fact that Paul was ministering to Jews and Gentiles living outside of Israel, is good evidence that he would have written in Greek. Similarly, by the time the Four Gospels were written the majority of the Church was centered outside of Israel, and that goes for the writing of Hebrews, Peter, Jude, and the writings of John as well. Thus it makes sense that the original texts were in Greek, and that is also perhaps why many of the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament are from the Septuagint, as we see here in Luke 3:4.

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Luk 3:5(top)
Luk 3:6(top)
Luk 3:7

“wrath.” This is the wrath associated with the Day of the Lord (see commentary on Matthew 3:7 and Revelation 6:17).

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Luk 3:8

“Come now.” For this translation compare Anchor Bible Commentary (Joseph Fitzmyer). NASB, HCSB, and KJV translate the oun (#3767 οὖν) as “therefore.” But “therefore” normally indicates the practical application of that which came before, which makes no sense in this context; rather, this is a continuation of narrative, a logical connection, not properly the practical application. “Come now” captures this sense well.

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Luk 3:9

“trees” is the figure of speech hypocatastasis (E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible), and in this context “trees” are people, and in fact the word “trees” is often used for the powerful people in the society (Judges 9:8-15; Song of Solomon 2:3; 7:8; Isa. 56:3; Ezek. 17:22-24; Dan. 4:10, 22; Zech. 4:3-14; 11:1-3; Rom. 11:16-24). There are times when a tree is used for a nation (Ezek. 31:2-9), but that is not the case in this context, because nations are judged by God by what happens in and to them, but only people are judged in the future Judgment. [For an explanation of the figure of speech hypocatastasis, see commentary on Revelation 20:2].

“will be cut down.” The Greek is the present perfect form of the verb ekkopto (#1581 ἐκκόπτω), and “is cut down” is a very literal translation in this context, which involves “trees.” This verse can be confusing because the present tense of the verb “is cut down,” makes it seem like the cutting is being done now, when in fact the cutting is actually future, at God’s Judgment. This is clear even from the first part of the verse which notes that the cutting has not begun, but the axe has been placed down near the root of the trees in preparation for the cutting.

Translators recognize the confusion that the “is” can cause, and thus some versions actually transpose the present tense to a future tense in their translations, using “will be cut down” (HCSB; NIV; NJB; Moffatt; REV). Although the present tense verb is used, the cutting will be done in the future. This is the idiom some scholars refer to as the “prophetic present,” and it takes an event that is future but certain to happen and coming soon, and treats it as if it is present. The present tense verb being used for an event that is future is also referred to as the futuristic present (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 535-36). Writing in the prophetic present typically emphasizes either the certainty and inevitability of something happening in the future, or the fact that the event will occur very soon. Other examples of the prophetic present include Matthew 3:10; 17:11; Mark 9:31; 1 Corinthians 15:26; 16:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 11. The prophetic present idiom is closely related to the prophetic perfect idiom (see commentary on Eph. 2:6, “prophetic perfect”).

“and thrown into the fire.” John is giving these leaders a very serious warning. God expects people to have faith in Him, obey Him and do good works, and those who do not are in danger of being thrown into Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, which is the “second death” and is everlasting death (Rev. 20:14-15). [For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire”].

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Luk 3:10(top)
Luk 3:11(top)
Luk 3:12(top)
Luk 3:13(top)
Luk 3:14

“extort money from anyone by threats.” The Greek is diaseiō (#1286 διασείω). Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament) writes: “Here only in the N.T., but [it is] in the LXX [the Septuagint] and is common in ancient Greek. It means to shake (seismic disturbance, earthquake) thoroughly (dia) and so thoroughly to terrify, to extort money or property by intimidating... It was a process of blackmail to which Socrates refers (Xenophon, Memorabilia, ii. 9, 1).” This was a constant temptation to soldiers. Might does not make right with God, as we see throughout the Bible.

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Luk 3:15(top)
Luk 3:16

“holy spirit or with fire.” In this context, “holy spirit or with fire” is a better way to translate the text than “holy spirit and fire,” because, as we will see, in this context the “fire” is the fire of God’s judgment.

There has been a long debate among theologians about what the “fire” in the phrase “holy spirit and fire” refers to. Some say it refers to God’s judgment. Those theologians point out that each person will either be saved and be baptized in holy spirit or they will remain unsaved and be “baptized” in fire—thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:12-15). Other theologians assert that the “fire” refers to the fire of God’s presence and spiritual cleansing. Those theologians say that in the same way that Peter speaks of the “fiery ordeal” (or “trial by fire”) that believers go through (1 Pet. 4:12), so it is that every believer goes through a fire of spiritual cleansing as they mature in the Lord.

In Scripture, “fire” can refer to something good or to something bad; either the presence and acceptance of God, or the judgment of God. For example, in Exodus 3:2, when God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, the fire represented the presence of God, and we find that meaning throughout the Bible (cp. Gen 15:17; Exod. 13:21; 19:18; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chron. 21:26; 2 Chron. 7:1; Acts 2:3). But we also see fire being used as the fire of God’s judgment throughout the Bible (Gen. 19:24; Exod. 9:23; Lev. 10:2; Num. 11:1; 16:35; 2 Kings 1:14; Rev. 11:5; 20:9, 14). The point is that when we see fire in Scripture, we have to learn from the context whether it represents the presence and acceptance or God or the judgment of God.

In the context of what John the Baptist was saying, the “fire” that the Messiah will baptize some people with is the fire of judgment. To understand what John the Baptist said, we need to examine all three of the Gospels records in which John says the Messiah will baptize in holy spirit (Matt. 3:1-12; Mark 1:4-8; Luke 3:2-18).

Matthew records that John the Baptist was speaking to a group of Sadducees and Pharisees, and they almost always opposed God and Jesus. John knew that at least a large part of their group was unsaved and headed for destruction in the Lake of Fire, so he spoke very directly and sternly to them to warn them of their fate. In Matthew 3:7, he called them “offspring of vipers,” and asked them, “who warned you to flee from the wrath that is about to come?” John was directly warning those religious leaders about the wrath that would come upon them on the Day of Judgment. He instructed them to produce fruit—godly actions—to demonstrate repentance (Matt. 3:8).

John also warned those Sadducees and Pharisees not to think of themselves as saved just because their ancestor was Abraham; which may seem strange to us today but was a common belief among the Jews (Matt. 3:9). Like many people in their culture, they may have thought that they did not need to repent since they were Jews and were elected by God to be in the covenant. However, John addressed that point and said that they should not remain stubborn and unrepentant, thinking that simply because they are children of Abraham that God will accept them. So the “take home message” of Matthew 3:7-9 from John to the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they were the offspring of vipers and needed to repent.

John intensified his message to the Pharisees and Sadducees in the next three verses, Matthew 3:10-12. In all three of those verses John spoke about fire, and the content of the verses shows that the “fire” is the fire of Judgment, which for those Jews would be the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:12-15). In Matthew 3:10, John made a statement that might be unclear to us, but was crystal clear to the religious leaders standing in front of him. He said, “Indeed, the axe is already laid down at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that does not bring forth good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” In the biblical culture, a “tree” was often used to represent people, especially leaders. By the figure of speech hypocatastasis, John called the religious leaders “trees,” and said if they did not bring forth good fruit they would be burned! It is not likely that the religious leaders misunderstood what John was saying.

The Old Testament has many references in which people are called trees or compared to trees or plants (cp. Ps. 37:35; 52:8; 92:12; Song of Sol. 7:8; Isa. 56:3; Jer. 11:19; Ezek. 17:5, 24; 20:47; 31:3, 9). A very well-known example is in Daniel 4:7-22 where Nebuchadnezzar is represented as a huge tree that provides shelter and shade for birds and animals, but then is cut down. Also, Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, told a story about how the trees wanted to set a king over themselves and asked the olive tree and fig tree to reign over them (Judges 9:7-13). Jesus referred to people as plants when he said, “Every plant my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13).

Matthew 3:11 continues John’s warning to the stubborn religious leaders. He told them that he baptized with water and thus gave people a chance to repent, but the one coming after him—the Messiah—would baptize with either holy spirit or fire. Although in most English translations John the Baptist is recorded as saying that the coming Messiah would baptize “you” (the Sadducees and Pharisees) with “holy spirit and fire,” that does not make sense in this context. The Messiah was not going to baptize those unsaved “offspring of vipers” with holy spirit. The word “and” in the phrase, “holy spirit and fire,” is the Greek word kai, and it can be quite flexible in its usage. It usually means “and,” but in different contexts it can mean “and yet,” “but,” “neither,” “and then,” “then,” “and so,” “so,” “indeed,” “nevertheless,” “also,” “likewise,” and it can also, in some circumstances mean “or.”

Examples of kai meaning “or” in the Bible include: “whether short or long” (Acts 26:29 ESV); “a woman who is no longer married or has never been married” (1 Cor. 7:34 NLT); “two or three witnesses” (2 Cor. 13:1 ESV); “no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female” (Gal. 3:28 HCSB); and “the mark on their foreheads or their hands” (Rev. 20:4 ESV). We should also remember that John the Baptist would have almost certainly been speaking Hebrew or Aramaic to the religious leaders, and in both those languages the word for “and,” “but,” and “or” can be the same word, with the meaning coming from the context. Thus, what the Greek records as a kai, usually “and,” could have been more clearly an “or” when spoken by John the Baptist.

It is possible, but does not make as clear a translation in English, is that because the “you” in the phrase “baptize you with holy spirit and fire” is plural, that it could refer to the whole group, not an individual (although it is common for a group of individuals to be addressed in the plural). In that case the meaning would be that the Messiah would baptize the group with holy spirit and fire, with some of them getting the holy spirit and some getting the fire. But given that the kai can be “or,” and wanting the English translation to communicate the truth of the situation as clearly as possible, the translation, “holy spirit or fire” is to be preferred because in the end, each individual in the group will either be baptized in holy spirit or fire.

As we study the context of “baptize you with the holy spirit or fire” we see that John is pointing out to the religious leaders the two possible ends of their behavior: they would either be saved and get to enter the Kingdom and be baptized with holy spirit, “or” they would remain unsaved, and on Judgment Day they would be cast into the flames of Gehenna and be “baptized in fire,” and be burned up.

In Matthew 3:12, John continued his warning to the Sadducees and Pharisees that they were in danger of dying in the Lake of Fire. He portrayed the Messiah as a farmer landowner who had just harvested his crop of grain. He stands with his winnowing fork is in his hand, ready to sift all the grain (people) into two basic categories: wheat (saved) and chaff (unsaved). The wheat will be cared for (gathered into the barn), while the chaff will be burned up.

So Matthew 3:10 and 3:12 are very similar. Fruitful trees and good grain are valued and cared for, while fruitless trees and chaff are burned up. Thus Matthew 3:10-12 are three back-to-back illustrations of the two possible ends for the religious leaders (indeed, for all people): get saved, which will result in entering the Kingdom and being baptized with holy spirit, or remain unsaved and be destroyed in the fire.

The Gospel of Luke is like Matthew in that it records John saying that the Messiah will baptize in holy spirit or fire. Luke adds some information that is not in Matthew or Mark and also omits some of the information given in those other Gospels. By comparing Luke with Matthew, we can tell that Luke includes the Sadducees and Pharisees in the crowd John the Baptist was speaking to. For example, like Matthew, Luke 3:7 records John saying, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Luke also records John warning the people not to think they will be saved because they have Abraham as their ancestor (Luke 3:8). However, Luke also specifically mentions tax collectors and soldiers, and both groups were notorious sinners. So it is appropriate for Luke, like Matthew, to speak specifically about the fire of judgment.

In Luke, John the Baptist gives the same three examples of God’s fire of judgment that the Gospel of Matthew records: fruitless trees being cut down and burned (Luke 3:9); the Messiah baptizing with holy spirit or with fire (Luke 3:16); and the “wheat” (righteous people) being gathered into barns while the “chaff” (unrighteous people) is burned (Luke 3:9).

The third Gospel we need to study, the Gospel of Mark, is conspicuously different from Matthew and Luke because in the Gospel of Mark, John the Baptist never says the Messiah will baptize in “holy spirit or fire.” Mark only records John saying that the Messiah will baptize in holy spirit; he omits the part about fire. In Mark, John the Baptist says, “I baptized you in water, but he [the Messiah] will baptize you in holy spirit.” In fact, the Gospel of Mark omits all three verses that mention fire. It never records John speaking about the fruitless trees being burned in the fire, the chaff being burned in the fire, or the Messiah baptizing in fire.

Why would Mark leave out the three verses about fire and only record John saying the Messiah would baptize in holy spirit? While Matthew focused on the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Gospel of Luke focused on sinners such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, tax collectors and soldiers, the Gospel of Mark has a different focus; it focuses on the humble and righteous people in the crowd—those people who come out to John, confess their sins, and get baptized. In Mark there are no Pharisees or Sadducees mentioned—the “offspring of vipers” are absent. Thus, in contrast to Matthew and Luke, which focus on the God rejecters and people known for their sinful behavior, Mark focuses on the people who are genuinely repentant, and therefore righteous in the sight of God. In Mark, John the Baptist speaks to those people about the Messiah and says to them, “he will baptize you in holy spirit.” Mark does not record John saying the Messiah would baptize people in fire because the kind of people Mark is focusing on will not burn in the Lake of Fire, they are righteous in the sight of God.

That Mark does not say that the Messiah will baptize people “with holy spirit and with fire” is very solid evidence that the fire in the phrase “holy spirit and fire” is the fire of God’s judgment and not the fire of spiritual cleansing. If the Messiah’s baptism with fire refers to the fire of spiritual cleansing, then it ought to be in Mark as well as in Matthew and Luke because everyone needs spiritual cleansing, the best of us and the worst of us. The repentant people in Mark would need it as much as the religious leaders in Matthew. The best explanation for the Messiah’s baptism in fire to be omitted from Mark is that it is the fire of judgment. That being the case, the best way to translate what John said in Matthew and Luke is that the Messiah would baptize “with holy spirit or fire.”

Another valuable point to keep in mind before we conclude this study is that the word “baptism” can refer to having something unpleasant happen. In the New Testament, “baptism” was used of what people experienced, i.e., what they were “immersed in.” For example, speaking of his own death, in Mark 10:38, Jesus said to James and John, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” The “baptism” that Jesus referred to was his suffering and death. Similarly, when John the Baptist mentioned the Messiah baptizing people in fire, it could easily refer to the baptism of their death in the Lake of Fire.

In conclusion, let us realize that the words of John the Baptist are absolutely true. John did come and offer repentance to anyone who wanted it. And Jesus will baptize everyone in either holy spirit or fire. Repentance and salvation are still available today because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus Christ paid for everyone to be saved, so salvation is a free gift from God to mankind—all a person has to do is take it. If you want to be saved, simply do what Romans 10:9 says: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” For those who are saved, Jesus baptizes with holy spirit. Those people who refuse salvation will be baptized in the Lake of Fire until they are consumed. But there is no need for that. Life is precious and everyone can have everlasting life in paradise through Christ instead of extinction in the flames. If you have not already gotten saved, reach out and take it—you will be glad you did.

[For more on annihilation in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire. For more on the figure of speech hypocatastasis, see commentary on Revelation 20:2. For more information on the uses of “holy spirit”, see Appendix 6: “Usages of ‘Spirit’”].

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Luk 3:17(top)
Luk 3:18

“exhorting.” The Greek is parakaleō (#3870 παρακαλέω), and can mean exhort, encourage, etc. It is a verb (participle present active nominative masculine singular) and as such should not be translated as “exhortations” in the sense of a noun. John preached the good news, and one of the ways he did so was by speaking up about many (polus) and various (heteros) subjects, just as he had done in verses 10-14. To say “many others” rather than “many” and “varied” takes some of the emphasis away from the number and variety of subjects that John must have covered in his teaching. Bible teachers should make note of John’s teaching. The Good News is not always proclaimed by teaching about the death of Jesus. We also have to tell people how to live righteously before God. For a similar translated structure to the REV, cp. Lenski.

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Luk 3:19(top)
Luk 3:20(top)
Luk 3:21

“Now it came to pass.” The record of Jesus’ baptism is in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; and is mentioned in John 1:31-34.

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Luk 3:22

“the holy spirit.” The Greek text has no article “the.” This holy spirit was the gift of God that He gave to some believers before Pentecost. [For more information on the holy spirit and uses of “holy spirit,” see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit,” and also see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit’”].

“descended onto him in a bodily form.” This event was visible to those who were there, for example, John the baptist saw it (John 1:32)

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Luk 3:23

“about thirty.” According to the Law of Moses, no one could enter Priestly Service as a Levite until 30 years old, and then they served from 30 to 50 years old (Num. 4:3, 23, 30, etc.). King David changed the age a Levite or priest could serve from thirty years to twenty years old (1 Chron. 23:24-27). However, it is important to note that the Word of God does not say that David spoke by revelation when he made the change. In fact, it is noteworthy that the Bible says that the Levites were counted from 20 years old and older “by the last words of David,” as if this were a decree David made, and thus “his words,” not “God’s word.” Jesus started his ministry when he was “about 30” (Luke 3:23), but would have turned 30 before he carried out his duties as both priest and sacrifice, dying for our sins and interceding for us before God. Jesus began his ministry when he received holy spirit when he was baptized by John (Matt. 3:13-17; John 1:32-34). In the spring of his 29th year he went to Passover at Jerusalem (John 2:23). That fall, we believe Tishri 1, he would have turned 30 years old [For a Tishri 1 birth, see: Wierwille, Jesus Christ Our Promised Seed; Ernest Martin, The Star that Astonished the World]. The next Passover he would have been crucified, when he was 30 years old.

So what happened to the years of Jesus’ childhood and adolescence, and his life as a young adult? Where are the records that fill in the gap in his life from age 12 (Luke 2:42) to adulthood? The Gospels give us little information about Jesus before he started his ministry. Edersheim writes: “We feel that the scantiness of particulars here supplied by the Gospels was intended to prevent the human interest from overshadowing the grand central Fact, to which alone attention was to be directed. For the design of the Gospels was manifestly not to furnish a biography of Jesus the Messiah, but, in organic connection with the Old Testament, to tell the history of the long-promised establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth” (Edersheim, Life and Times, book II, p. 145). What we do know is that Jesus was the son of a carpenter, and as the custom of the time was, was trained as a carpenter and became one himself (cp. Mark 6:3).

All the stories about Jesus going to India and studying to become a yogi, or going to some other place to study ancient mystic ways, are erroneous assumptions. In fact, the people of his own hometown Nazareth had witnessed him growing up and quietly doing his work, learning as he went. The prophecy was that Jesus would be quiet and orderly: “He will not cry out or shout or make his voice heard in the streets” (Isa. 42:2 HCSB). He lived the way the New Testament tells us to live: “Now we…command and exhort such people to be busy working in a quiet fashion, and to eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:12). Jesus never flaunted his knowledge and led a quiet and obedient lifestyle, growing up in the builders’ trade of his father, which is why he is called both “the carpenter’s son” (Matt. 13:55) and “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3). Jesus’ quiet and unassuming early years is why the people of his hometown were so surprised when he suddenly showed up with great knowledge and power. According to Matthew 13:54 they exclaimed: “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these mighty works?” Had Jesus been gone for some 20 years, and studied mystic ways in some far off place, they would have not been surprised at his knowledge. In fact, Jesus had been studying all along, learning the Word, being obedient to it, and preparing his heart for his ministry.

“the son (as it was assumed) of Joseph.” Luke contains the genealogy of Joseph, tracing his ancestry through David via David’s son Nathan. In contrast, Matthew contains the genealogy of Mary and traces her ancestry through David via David’s son Solomon. Nathan and Solomon were full brothers, both being the sons of David and Bathsheba (1 Chron. 3:5; cp. 2 Sam. 5:14; 1 Chron. 14:4). The Gospel of Luke never mentions Mary for the simple reason that it is not her genealogy. Similarly, Matthew never mentions Joseph, the husband of Mary, because it is not his genealogy (the Joseph in Matthew 1:16 is the father of Mary, see commentary on Matthew 1:16).

Once we realize that Matthew has Mary’s genealogy and does not mention Joseph at all, and Luke has Joseph’s genealogy and does not mention Mary at all, two things happen: the genealogies makes sense (one genealogy for Mary and one for Joseph), and also many fanciful explanations for the two genealogies is eliminated. For example, some commentators have concluded that both genealogies belong to Joseph, saying that by custom Joseph had two different fathers, a real father, Jacob, and a levirate father, Heli. But that is clearly an assumption to solve a problem that does not actually exist, and it creates another and larger problem: it would mean that Joseph has two genealogies while Mary has none.

Most of the commentators who say that Matthew is Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is Mary’s genealogy realize that each parent should have a genealogy. However, they anchor their argument in their belief that Matthew 1:16 is referring to Joseph the husband of Mary (but it is not!), and based on that they say Matthew’s genealogy has to be about Joseph and Luke’s about Mary, even though Luke does not mention Mary. They answer the objection that Luke’s genealogy does not mention Mary by saying it does not have to since Luke chapter 1 made it clear that Mary was the mother of Jesus. Our rebuttal is that both Matthew and Luke make it clear that Mary is the mother of Jesus, but in the actual genealogical list, Matthew mentions only Mary while Luke mentions only Joseph.

Defenders of the position that Luke has Mary’s genealogy point out that the Talmud says Heli was the father of Mary, not Joseph, and therefore Luke must contain Mary’s genealogy. Our rebuttal to that line of reasoning is that the Talmud was written centuries after Christ, and the animosity between the Jews and Christians had been going on for years. It is well known that in the centuries after Christ the Jews did many things to try to prove that Jesus was not the Christ. As late as when the Gospel of Luke was written (likely 50-65 AD; more than 20 years after Jesus was crucified) the Jews were still aggressively promoting that Jesus was not the Christ, which is why Luke says that it was “assumed” he was the son of Joseph. The Jews did not believe he was the Son of God. The Jews also promoted that Jesus’ body was stolen from the grave by his disciples (Matt. 28:15-17). They also discounted many of the Messianic prophecies so that Jesus could not be said to have fulfilled those prophecies. For the Jews, whether accidentally or on purpose, misunderstanding the genealogy in Luke would be just one more way to show the New Testament was confusing and erroneous. It should be recognized that believers such as Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 230), who predates the Talmud, wrote that Luke gave Joseph’s genealogy, and so did a number of the Church Fathers.

Despite all the rhetoric (some of it quite ungodly, even involving name-calling) about the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, the solution is quite simple. God gave us a mathematical key in Matthew that, along with the Aramaic text, makes it clear that Matthew has Mary’s genealogy, which is why Matthew mentions Mary and not Joseph. Luke, on the other hand, mentions Joseph and not Mary because it is Joseph’s genealogy.

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Luk 3:24(top)
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Luk 3:36

“the son of Cainan.” The name Cainan does not appear in any Hebrew manuscript, but appears in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew. The Septuagint added to the Old Testament in other places, and this is very likely an addition, for no one earlier than Augustine mentions Cainan. Also, some early Greek manuscripts omit the name in Luke, while others have a different form of it. It is almost certainly an addition to the Septuagint, which then was brought into some early manuscripts of Luke.

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Luk 3:37(top)
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