1. “Many,” cannot refer to St. Matthew or St. Mark, who were not “many.” Moreover, Matthew was himself an “eye-witness,” and did not, therefore, derive his information from, “eye-witnesses.” Nor is it likely Matthew and Mark are referred to with others who with them might constitute “many,” as St. Luke would hardly class inspired with uninspired writers of the Gospel. Neither is it likely that reference is made to the writers of Apocryphal Gospels, under the names of Matthias, Thomas, Twelve Apostles, &c., as there is no evidence that these were in existence at the time. To whom, then, does St. Luke refer? Probably, to some incompetent, but well-meaning compilers of incomplete and confused histories of the actions and sayings of our Divine Lord, according as they ascertained them from the traditions, which existed at the time, whose motive in undertaking a Gospel History St. Luke neither praises nor censures.
“Have taken in hand” (επεχειρησαν). These words of themselves imply neither success nor failure, though generally taken in the latter sense, and very probably they mean it here, as the failure of those referred to in giving a full narrative of the Gospel incidents, and the uncertainty which their confused histories might create in the minds of the faithful, would seem to be put forward by St. Luke as his motive for undertaking a well-arranged, authentic narrative of the doings and sayings of our Blessed Lord.
“To set forth in order.” The Greek compound—αναταξασθαὶ—would seem to signify to re-arrange, and is so understood by Patrizzi, as if St. Luke referred to men who would fain give a more accurate and orderly account than that of Matthew and Mark. However, it more probably signifies here to give a well-arranged narrative of the events of Gospel History without implying reference to any already existing written records requiring to be put in order.
“Of the things,” events, embracing doctrinal teachings and external actions.
“Accomplished.” The Greek word, πεπληροφορημένῶν, sometimes signifies to fulfil, or accomplish (2 Tim. 4:5; Col. 2:2; Heb. 6:11), in which sense the Vulgate translator understands it, as if reference were made to the accomplishment of the ancient prophecies and types in the words and actions of our Lord recorded in the Gospel. Sometimes, the word means, fully credited, producing a most unhesitating conviction. (Rom. 4:21; 14:5, &c.) This latter would seem to be its meaning here, as appears from the following words, as it was meant, that they had the firmest persuasion, &c., owing to the testimony of “eye-witnesses,” &c.
“Among us,” in our time, if “accomplished” be taken in the first sense above given; to our knowledge, if taken in the second meaning.
2. “According as they have delivered them,” &c. There is a diversity of opinion as to the connexion of these with the foregoing words. By some, they are connected with “accomplished,” or firmly believed, as if in them was assigned a reason for that firm belief, because of the tradition which transmitted them with undoubted truthfulness from sources above all suspicion, viz., the “eye-witnesses,” among whom we may reckon primarily the Blessed Virgin, the shepherds of Bethlehem, in regard to the earliest incidents, the Apostles from the time of their vocation. The latter were also “ministers of the Word,” having been divinely engaged in divulging to the world the sacred truths of which it is meant to transmit a well-digested record. Others connect them with the words, “have taken in hand,” as if it were meant to convey, that the writers in question meant, perhaps, unsuccessfully, to transmit a history of the teachings and actions of our Lord in accordance with the traditions received from “eye-witnesses,” &c. Others connect them with the words of v. 3, “in order,” as if St. Luke meant to convey that he undertook to give an orderly account in accordance with the accurate traditions of “eye-witnesses,” &c. These place a full stop after v. 1.
“From the beginning.” The origin of the Christian dispensation, the commencement of the events and incidents recorded in the Holy Gospel, viz., the birth and infancy of the Precursor, the birth and infancy of our Lord, &c.
“Of the Word,” although sometimes referring to the Increated Word or Eternal Son of God, here most likely refers to the Gospel incidents, embracing our Lord’s discourses and actions.
3. “It seemed good to me also,” &c., under the impulse and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which we reverently believe to have guided the hand and pen of St. Luke, preserving him from error in his narrative. To such inspiration, however, St. Luke here lays no claim, when referring to the sources from which, humanly speaking, he derives the incidents of an authentic history, so as to satisfy all reasonable men, even on human grounds, in regard to his claims to be believed.
“Good,” in the sense in which “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us,” Apostles (Acts 15:28).
“Having diligently attained to.” Accurately investigated and traced out with the greatest diligence and exactness.
“All things from the beginning.” All the things that appertained to the Gospel history from the commencement to the end (see v. 2).
“In order.” Avoiding all confusion in narrating the series and succession of events in the general complexion of the history. Hence, he puts the account of the conception and birth of the Baptist before that of Christ; the conception and birth of Christ before His baptism; His baptism before His preaching; His preaching and miracles before His death; His death before His Resurrection and Ascension. As our Lord often delivered His instructions repeatedly, and on various occasions, the order in which they were repeated is not strictly adhered to in regard to them, nor in regard to certain minute circumstances. “Order,” may refer to subjects rather than dates, to the grouping of events and incidents in cases of similarity rather than to time, regarding which he is less definite than the two other Synoptists, especially in his loose and fragmentary narrative from chap. 9:51 to 18:14, which is exclusively his own, save v. 18, chap. 16.
“Most excellent Theophilus”—literally, a friend of God, a lover of God, or beloved of God—is not a common name, belonging to the representative of a class, as held by some, or, to a particular Church, as held by others; but a proper name, undoubtedly referring to a particular man. Who he was cannot be fully ascertained. Most likely he was one of St. Luke’s converts, distinguished for great moral worth; hence, styled “most excellent.” It is, however, more probable still, that this title which the Greeks were wont to bestow on governors, and men occupying high official station, was addressed to Theophilus on account of his exalted rank and high official position. In this latter sense, the same title—κρατίστος—is applied to Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:3) and to Festus (Acts 26:25). He was very likely a Gentile convert of high station, and also an inhabitant of Rome. For, while St. Luke is very particular in topological details, both in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, when treating of Asia Minor, Palestine, and Greece, he is silent on such matters when he treats of Italy. From this it is inferred that Theophilus was a Roman, in regard to whom it would be superfluous to treat of Italian topography, with which, on this assumption, he must have been thoroughly conversant. But although addressed to Theophilus, we are not to suppose that the Gospel was written for him alone, but for the entire Christian world, to the end of time, of whom Theophilus may be regarded as the representative. Even in our own day, we frequently see writings meant for the public, addressed and dedicated to individuals.
4. “That thou mayest know,” become thoroughly convinced of, “the verity,” the secure ground of your belief (ασφαλειαν, security) in.
“Of those words.” In those things. “Word” is a term commonly used by the Hebrews to denote any event or thing.
“Instructed”—κατηχηθης—catechised, instructed orally, or by word of mouth. It was by means of oral, catechetical instruction Theophilus was first brought to embrace the faith. St. Luke deems it right to leave a written record, under the influence of inspiration, of the Gospel History, in order to confirm the faith of Christians during all succeeding ages.
14. “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” He “returned” to Galilee, whence He had come, to the part of the Jordan where He was baptized by John; “in the power of the Spirit,” under the strong impulse and influence of the Holy Ghost. He now displays and externally manifests in His preaching and wondrous works, the power of the Holy Ghost, with which He was filled from His Incarnation, which He possessed without measure, and with which He was anointed in the unction of the hypostatic union. The Evangelist now wishes to have us to understand, that in all the words and actions of our Lord about to be narrated, He was always guided by, and always acted under the influence and power of, the Holy Ghost. This was the second return of our Lord into Galilee, since His fast and baptism. John (1:43), records His first return. Hence, the Evangelist passes over several events in the life of our Lord, which occurred before the return referred to here, viz., His coming to John (John 1:29), who speaks of Him in the most exalted terms; the marriage feast of Cana; the wonders performed at Capharnaum (v. 23, here); His going up to Jerusalem at the Pasch (John 2:13); the time spent by Him in Judea, baptizing (John 3:22); the intimation He received that John was imprisoned, which occasioned His going to Galilee, as recorded here (see Matthew 4:12, Commentary on).
“And the fame of Him,” on account of the wonderful things He did and said, “went out through the whole country,” viz., Galilee and the adjacent districts, Samaria, Phœnicia, Syria, &c.
15. “And,” is interpreted by some to mean, “for,” “He taught in their synagogues.” This was the chief cause of His being so celebrated among them. “And was magnified (extolled) by all,” on account of what He taught, and His authoritative mode of teaching. “He was teaching them, as one having authority, and not as their Scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 7:29).
(For meaning of “synagogue,” see Matthew 4:23, Commentary on).
16. “And He came to Nazareth,” which He passed by on a former occasion (Matthew 4:13), “where He was brought up.”
“Nazareth” was His native place, where He spent the period of boyhood and youth.
“He went into the synagogue according to His custom,” &c. It was usual with the Jews to assemble on Sabbath and festival days in their synagogues for devotional exercises, such as, reading and hearing the Word of God, as also, prayer. “His custom,” may signify the custom He observed from infancy, of frequenting the places of devotion on Sabbath days; or, His custom of frequenting the synagogues since He commenced His mission, for the purpose of expounding the SS. Scriptures. Our Lord taught everywhere, all those who came to Him for instruction; and He availed Himself of every befitting occasion, especially when He wrought miracles, to expound His heavenly doctrines. But, on Sabbath days, He availed himself of the religious meetings in the synagogues to instruct the assembled people.
“He rose up to read,” and expound the SS. Scriptures. It was usual with the Jews to have a certain portion of the Pentateuch read for the people in the synagogue on Sabbath days, to which was subjoined a section from the prophetical books bearing in sense on the passage read from the Pentateuch. Any one learned in the law, might be invited to read and expound such passages. See Acts (13:15), where “the reading of the law and the prophets” is referred to, also Acts (15:21). Our Lord “rose up to read,” thereby intimating, that He had “an exhortation to make to the people” (Acts 13:15). He read the SS. Scriptures in a standing posture, not only to be better heard, but chiefly out of reverence for the Word of God.
17. The Book of the Prophet Isaias was delivered to Him by “the minister” of the synagogue (v. 20). This, although humanly speaking, apparently accidental, was arranged by God’s providence, to afford Him an opportunity of showing His Divinity and Divine mission, from the writings of their own prophets.
“Unfolded the book.” Unlike our modern form of books, the parchment was folded round a roller, in the form of a map—whence the term, Volume—and on unfolding it off the roller, “He found the place where it was written.” He lighted, doubtlessly, by the deliberato guidance of God’s providence, on the following passage (Isaias 41:1). This passage is quoted by St. Luke, according to the Septuagint version, save that Luke himself adds to the passage, according to that version, the words, “to set at liberty them that are bruised,” probably taken from Isaias (58:6), where these words are used in the Septuagint, in the imperative mood.
18. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” In Isaias (61:1, 2), the Lord promises the Jewish people a Redeemer; some say, the Prophet primarily refers to the deliverance of the Jewish people from the Babylonish captivity, under Cyrus, which mystically and principally signifies their spiritual deliverance through Christ—“He shall come like a violent stream which the Spirit of the Lord driveth on” (59:19). In the passage quoted hero by St. Luke (Isaias 61:1), the Prophet represents the Deliverer or Redeemer as having already come, and saying, “the (promised) Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” or as is said elsewhere (Isaias 11:2), “rests upon Him.” I am filled with His gifts, which are bestowed upon me without stint or measure. This Spirit our Lord received at His Incarnation and from the hypostatic union. This Spirit guided and influenced all His actions.
“Wherefore He”—the Hebrew has, “the Lord, hath anointed me.” “Anointed” is allusive to the rite employed in consecrating Kings, Prophets, and Priests. Here Christ is the Messiah or Anointed. It is because He had the fulness of all Divine gifts given Him without measure, at His Incarnation, therefore did the Lord anoint Him with the oil of gladness at His baptism; by this unction consecrating and preparing Him for the great office of preaching the Gospel. The words, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” have reference to His Incarnation; and the words, “wherefore He hath anointed me,” to His baptism. The former is the cause of the latter. Some Commentators connect the words, “He hath anointed me” with, “to preach to the poor,” this being the office for which He was anointed and consecrated, to fit Him for it. “He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor,” and these connect the words, “sent me,” with “to heal the contrite,” &c., “He sent me to heal the contrite of heart.”
“The poor.” This is the Septuagint rendering. The Hebrew has, “to the meek” (see Matthew 11:4). “To heal the contrite of heart,” whose hearts are heavily bruised with the heavy load of sin. These words are wanting in some Greek copies.
19. “To preach deliverance to the captives,” captive in the bonds of sin. “Deliverance,” from their chains, and also the providing of means for effectively accomplishing such deliverance.
“And sight to the blind,” To bestow the light of faith and truth on those who are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and open the eyes of their understanding to the light of faith, against which they have been hitherto shut.
“To set at liberty them that are bruised.” These words would seem to signify the same as the words, “to heal the contrite of heart.” Hence, some Expositors regard one or the other as redundant; and as the words, “to set at liberty, &c.,” are not found either in the Hebrew, or Chaldaic, or Greek, it is, most likely, the redundant phrase. A similar sentence is found in Isaias (58:6), “let them that are broken go free.” Probably, St. Luke inserted these words in the quotation here, taken from chap. 61:1 of Isaias, as illustrating the benefits conferred by our Redeemer, and more fully explaining the sense of the passage.
The Hebrew phrase, Laasurim Peqach, signifies, Laasurim, “those bound,” and Reqach, “an opening.” St. Jerome then rendered the words, “clausis apertionem,” “deliverance to them that are shut up.” But the Septuagint rendered them, τυφλοις αναβλεψιν, “sight to the blind.” For, assurim signifies, those bound. This is true of the blind, whose eyes are bound, and Peqach signifies, an opening. The blind, when restored to sight, have their eyes opened; hence, the Septuagint rendering of the words.
“To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” “Year,” is put for time. There is manifest allusion here to the year of Jubilee, which occurred every fiftieth year among the Jews, when slaves were set at liberty, and the possessions that were sold, reverted to their original owners. This Jubilee year among the Jews, and the blessings it brought with it, were a type of the entire period of the Christian dispensation, a period of time productive of the greatest blessings to mankind, when they are rescued from the slavery of Satan and sin; the greatest gifts of grace are conferred on them, and they are restored to their lost inheritance of heaven. Our Lord proclaimed this as present, “appropinquavit regnum, &c.” (Matthew 4:17.) This is the period of benevolence on the part of God; of His good-will towards man. This shall continue now to the end of the world. Hence, the Apostle says, “Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile; ecce nunc, dies salutis” (2 Cor. 6:2). Our Lord was sent to announce these glad tidings of a year of jubilee and perpetual reconcilation of God with man. “Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus” (1 Cor. 5:7.)
“And the day of reward.” St. Jerome renders the Hebrew, Jom naquam, “diem ultionis,” “the day of vengeance,” which some understand of the last day of general judgment, when the Lord, while rewarding the good, shall take vengeance on His enemies. Others, seeing that the entire prophetic quotation regards the benefits to be conferred by Christ on the children of the New Law, understand “vengeance,” of the evil spirits, the enemies of men’s souls, on whom our Lord will take signal vengeance, by publicly exposing them, to public view, to grace His triumph (Coloss. 2:15); judging the Prince of this world and casting him out. To this, reference is made in Isaias (35), “Behold your God shall bring the revenge of recompense; God Himself will come and will save you” (35:4). It is the same as the acceptable year. “Acceptable,” as regards God’s servants; “the day of vengeance,” as regards His and their enemies.
20. “And when He had folded the book,” on the roller round which it was folded, “He returned it to the minister,” the person who was in attendance on the chief officer of the synagogue, and had charge of the sacred books. “He sat down,” as was usually done in such cases before delivering a discourse on the subjects read previously in a standing posture by the speaker.
“And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.” Probably, on seeing Him read who had not learned letters. It may be also that a Divine effulgence shone from His countenance; and as the Jews knew, that the prayer read had reference to the Messiah, they were anxious to know, if He might not Himself be the Messiah, considering the wonders wrought by Him elsewhere (v. 23), and the fame that went abroad regarding Him.
21. “This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears.” “In your ears.” A Hebrew phrase for, in your hearing. This oracle of the prophet, which, as you know, regards your expected Messiah, is now fulfilled in me, whom you see preaching to the poor, and of whom you heard it stated, that He performed elsewhere the works described by the prophets, as the distinguishing characteristics of the Messiah. He thereby, without expressly stating it, insinuated that He Himself was the Messiah spoken of by Isaias.
22. “Gave testimony to Him;” not exactly that He was the Messiah, as appears from their calling Him “the son of Joseph,” and their attempt at precipitating Him down the hill; but, they testified to the superior way in which He acquitted Himself, as expressed in the following words, “and wondered at the words of grace, &c.,” the graceful, eloquent words that were uttered by Him, full of persuasiveness, so calculated to move and convince. “He spoke like one having authority, not as their Scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 7:29).
“Is not this the son of Joseph?” (Matthew 13:55). The son of a poor carpenter, Himself a carpenter, brought up in our midst, without influence or consideration or education of any kind. Hence, their wonder. Likely with this, at least in some of them, were mixed up feelings of scorn at His low extraction and humble occupation. “They were scandalized in His regard” (Matthew 13:57).
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