Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Christ heals the servant of a centurion, who is commended for his faith, Luk 7:1-10. Raises a widow's son to life at Nain, Luk 7:11-17. John Baptist hears of his fame, and sends two of his disciples to inquire whether he was the Christ, Luk 7:18-23. Christ's character of John, Luk 7:24-30. The obstinate blindness and capriciousness of the Jews, Luk 7:31-35. A Pharisee invites him to his house, where a woman anoints his head with oil, and washes his feet with her tears, Luk 7:36-38. The Pharisee is offended, Luk 7:39. Our Lord reproves him by a parable, and vindicates the woman, Luk 7:40-46; and pronounces her sins forgiven, Luk 7:47-50.
A certain centurion's servant - See this miracle explained on Mat 8:5-13 (note).
Elders of the Jews - These were either magistrates in the place, or the elders of the synagogue which the centurion had built, Luk 7:5. He sent these, probably, because he was afraid to come to Christ himself, not being a Jew, either by nation or religion. In the parallel place in Matthew, he is represented as coming to Christ himself; but it is a usual form of speech in all nations, to attribute the act to a person which is done not by himself, but by his authority.
He loveth our nation - He is a warm friend to the Jews; and has given a full proof of his affection to them in building them a synagogue. This he had done at his own proper charges; having no doubt employed his own men in the work.
Found the servant whole - This cure was the effect of the faith, prayer, and humility of the centurion, through which the almighty energy of Jesus Christ was conveyed to the sick man. But these very graces in the centurion were the products of grace. It is God himself who, by the gifts of his mercy, disposes the soul to receive its cure; and nothing can contribute to the reception of his grace but what is the fruit of grace itself. The apostle says, The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, Tit 2:11. It should therefore be our concern, not to resist the operations of this grace: for though we cannot endue ourselves with by gracious disposition, yet we can quench the Spirit, by whose agency these are produced in the soul. The centurion had not received the grace of God in vain.
Nain - A small city of Galilee, in the tribe of Issachar.
According to Eusebius, it was two miles from Mount Tabor, southward; and near to Endor.
Carried out - The Jews always buried their dead without the city, except those of the family of David. No burying places should be tolerated within cities or towns; much less in or about churches and chapels. This custom is excessively injurious to the inhabitants; and especially to those who frequent public worship in such chapels and churches. God, decency, and health forbid this shocking abomination.
On the impropriety of burying in towns, churches, and chapels, take the following testimonies: Extra urbem soliti sunt alii mortuos sepelire: Nos Christiani, eos non in urbes solum, sed et in Templa recepimus, quo fit ut multi faetore nimis, fere exanimentur. Schoettgen. "Others were accustomed to bury their dead without the city. We Christians not only bury them within our cities, but receive them even into our churches! Hence many nearly lose their lives through the noxious effluvia." "Both the Jews and other people had their burying places without the city: - Et certe ita postulat ratio publicae sanitatis, quae multum laedi solet aura sepulchrorum: - and this the health of the public requires, which is greatly injured by the effluvia from graves." - Rosenmuller. From long observation I can attest that churches and chapels situated in grave-yards, and those especially within whose walls the dead are interred, are perfectly unwholesome; and many, by attending such places, are shortening their passage to the house appointed for the living. What increases the iniquity of this abominable and deadly work is, that the burying grounds attached to many churches and chapels are made a source of private gain. The whole of this preposterous conduct is as indecorous and unhealthy as it is profane. Every man should know that the gas which is disengaged from putrid flesh, and particularly from a human body, is not only unfriendly to, but destructive of, animal life. Superstition first introduced a practice which self-interest and covetousness continue to maintain.
For a general improvement of all the circumstances of this miracle, see the end of the chapter.
God hath visited his people - Several MSS. and versions add, εις αγαθον, for good. Sometimes God visited his people in the way of judgment, to consume them in their transgressions; but it was now plain that he had visited them in the most tender compassion and mercy. This seems to have been added by some ancient copyist, by way of explanation.
The disciples of John showed him, etc. - It is very likely that John's disciples attended the ministry of our Lord at particular times; and this, we may suppose, was a common case among the disciples of different Jewish teachers. Though bigotry existed in its most formidable shape between the Jews and Samaritans, yet we do not find that it had any place between Jews and Jews, though they were of different sects, and attached to different teachers.
Art thou he that should come? - That is, to save. Art thou the promised Messiah? See on Mat 11:3 (note).
Some have thought that this character of our Lord, ὁ ερχομενος, he who cometh, refers to the prophecy of Jacob, Gen 49:10, where he is called שילה Shiloh, which Grotius and others derive from שלה shalach, he sent: hence, as the time of the fulfillment of the prophecy drew nigh, he was termed, He who cometh, i.e. he who is just now ready to make his appearance in Judea. In Zac 9:9, a similar phrase is used, Behold, thy king Cometh unto thee - having Salvation. This is meant of the Messiah only; therefore I think the words to save, are necessarily implied.
Infirmities and plagues - The following judicious note from Bp. Pearce is worthy of deep attention: "Luke mentions here νοσοι, μαϚιγες, leprosias, and πνευματα πονηρα, i.e. diseases or ill habits of body, sores or lamenesses, and evil spirits: from whence we may conclude that evil spirits are reckoned by him (who speaks of distempers with more accuracy than the other evangelists) as things different from any disorders of the body, included in the two former words."
Unto many that were blind he gave light - Rather, he kindly gave sight - εχαρισατο το βλεπειν; or, he graciously gave sight. This is the proper meaning of the original words. In all his miracles, Jesus showed the tenderest mercy and kindness: not only the cure, but the manner in which he performed it, endeared him to those who were objects of his compassionate regards.
See these verses explained at large on Mat 11:4-15 (note).
Justified God - Or, declared God to be just - εδικαιωσαν τον Θεον. The sense is this: John preached that the Divine wrath was coming upon the Jews, from which they might flee by repentance, Luk 3:7. The Jews, therefore, who were baptized by him, with the baptism of repentance, did thereby acknowledge that it is but justice in God to punish them for their wickedness unless they repented, and were baptized in token of it. Bp. Pearce proves that this is the sense in which the word δικαιοω is used here and in Psa 51:4, compared with Job 32:2, and by this evangelist again in Luk 10:29, and Luk 16:15.
Rejected the counsel of God - Or, frustrated the will of God - την βουλην του Θεου ηθετησαν. Kypke says the verb αθετειν has two meanings: - 1, to disbelieve; 2, despise, or disobey: and that both senses may be properly conjoined here. The will of God was that all the inhabitants of Judea should repent at the preaching of John, be baptized, and believe in Christ Jesus. Now as they did not repent, etc., at John's preaching, so they did not believe his testimony concerning Christ: thus the will, gracious counsel, or design of God, relative to their salvation, was annulled or frustrated. They disbelieved his promises, despised the Messiah, and disobeyed his precepts.
And the Lord said - Almost every MS. of authority and importance, with most of the versions, omit these words. As the Evangelistaria (the books which contained those portions of the Gospels which were read in the Churches) began at this verse, the words were probably at first used by them, to introduce the following parable. There is the fullest proof that they never made a part of Luke's text. Every critic rejects them. Bengel and Griesbach leave them out of the text.
They are like unto children - See on Mat 11:16-19 (note). It is probable that our Lord alludes here to some play or game among the Jewish children, no account of which is now on record.
Wisdom is justified, etc. - Probably the children of wisdom is a mere Hebraism here for the products or fruits of wisdom; hence the Vatican MS., one other, and some versions, have εργων, works, instead of τεκνων, sons, in the parallel place, Mat 11:19. True wisdom shows itself by its works; folly is never found in the wise man's way, any more than wisdom is in the path of a fool. Theophylact's note on this place should not be overlooked. Εδικαιωθη, τουτ' εστιν ετιμηθη, Wisdom Is Justified, that is, Is Honored, by all her children.
One of the Pharisees - Called Simon, Luk 7:40. This account is considered by many critics and commentators to be the same with that in Mat 26:6, etc., Mar 14:3; and Joh 12:3. This subject is considered pretty much at large in the notes on Mat 26:6, etc., to which the reader is requested to refer.
A woman - which was a sinner - Many suppose that this woman had been a notorious public prostitute; but this is taking the subject by the very worst handle. My own opinion is, that she had been a mere heathen who dwelt in this city, (probably Capernaum), who, through the ministry of Christ, had been before this converted to God, and came now to give this public testimony of her gratitude to her gracious deliverer from the darkness and guilt of sin. I am inclined to think that the original word, ἁμαρτωλος, is used for heathen or Gentile in several places of the sacred writings. I am fully persuaded that this is its meaning in Mat 9:10, Mat 9:11, Mat 9:13; Mat 11:19; and Mat 26:45. The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners, i.e. is delivered into the hands of the heathens, viz. the Romans, who alone could put him to death. See Mar 2:15-17; Mar 14:41. I think also it has this meaning in Luk 6:32-34; Luk 15:1, Luk 15:2, Luk 15:7, Luk 15:10; Luk 19:7; Joh 9:31. I think no other sense can be justly assigned to it in Gal 2:15 : We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles. We Jews, who have had the benefit of a Divine revelation, know that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Christ, (Gal 2:16), which other nations, who were heathens, not having a Divine revelation, could not know. It is, I think, likely that the grand subject of the self-righteous Pharisee's complaint was her being a heathen. As those who were touched by such contracted a legal defilement, he could not believe that Christ was a conscientious observer of the law, seeing he permitted her to touch him, knowing who she was; or, if he did not know that she was a heathen, it was a proof that he was no prophet, Luk 7:39, and consequently had not the discernment of spirits which prophets were supposed to possess. As the Jews had a law which forbade all iniquity, and they who embraced it being according to its requisitions and their profession saints; and as the Gentiles had no law to restrain evil, nor made any profession of holiness, the term ἁμαρτωλοι, or sinners, was first with peculiar propriety applied to them, and afterwards to all others, who, though they professed to be under the law, yet lived as Gentiles without the law. Many suppose this person to be the same as Mary Magdalene, but of this there is no solid proof.
Brought an alabaster box - See on Mar 14:3 (note).
Stood at his feet behind him - In taking their meals, the eastern people reclined on one side; the loins and knees being bent to make the more room, the feet of each person were turned outwards behind him. This is the meaning of standing Behind at his Feet.
Began to wash his feet with tears - Ηρξατο βρεχειν - τοις δακρυσι, She began to water his feet - to let a shower of tears fall on them. As the Jews wore nothing like our shoes, (theirs being a mere sole, bound about the foot and ancle with thongs), their feet being so much exposed had frequent need of washing, and this they ordinarily did before taking their meals.
Kissed his feet - With affectionate tenderness, κατεφιλει, or kissed them again and again. See on Mat 26:48 (note).
The kiss was used in ancient times as the emblem of love, religious reverence, subjection, and supplication. It has the meaning of supplication, in the way of adoration, accompanied with subjection, in Kg1 19:18, Whose mouths have not kissed Baal; and in Job 31:27, My mouth hath not kissed my hand; I have paid no sort of adoration to false gods; and in Psa 2:12, Kiss the Son lest he be angry, - close in with him, embrace affectionately, the offers of mercy made unto you through Christ Jesus, lest he (the Lord) be angry with you, and ye perish: which commandment this woman seems to have obeyed, both in the literal and spiritual sense. Kissing the feet was practised also among the heathens, to express subjection of spirit, and earnest supplication. See a long example in Raphelius, produced from Polybius, concerning the Carthaginian ambassadors when supplicating the Romans for peace. With an humble and abject mind, πεσοντες επι την γην, they fell down on the earth, τους ποδας καταφιλοιεν τῳ συνεδριῳ, and kissed the feet of the council. See also several examples in Kypke. Kissing the feet is a farther proof that this person had been educated a heathen. This was no part of a Jew's practice.
A certain creditor, etc. - It is plain that in this parable our Lord means, by the creditor, God, and, by the two debtors, Simon and the woman who was present. Simon, who had the light of the law, and who, in consequence of his profession as a Pharisee, was obliged to abstain from outward iniquity, might be considered as the debtor who owed only fifty pence, or denarii. The woman, whom I have supposed to be a heathen, not having these advantages, having no rule to regulate her actions, and no curb on her evil propensities, may be considered as the debtor who owed five hundred pence, or denarii. And when both were compared, Simon's debt to God might be considered, in reference to hers, as fifty to five hundred. However, we find, notwithstanding this great disparity, both were insolvent. Simon, the religious Pharisee, could no more pay his fifty to God than this poor heathen her five hundred; and, if both be not freely forgiven by the Divine mercy, both must finally perish. Having Nothing to Pay, he kindly Forgave them both. Some think that this very Simon was no inconsiderable debtor to our Lord, as having been mercifully cleansed from a leprosy; for he is supposed to be the same as Simon the leper. See the note on Mat 26:6.
Which of them will love him most? - Which is under the greater obligation and should love him most?
He to whom he forgave most - By this acknowledgment he was, unknowingly to himself, prepared to receive our Lord's reproof.
Thou gavest me no water - In this respect Simon was sadly deficient in civil respect, whether this proceeded from forgetfulness or contempt. The custom of giving water to wash the guest's feet was very ancient. See instances in Gen 18:4; Gen 24:32; Jdg 19:21; Sa1 25:41. In Hindoostan it is the custom, that when a superior enters the house of an inferior, the latter washes his feet, and gives him water to rinse his mouth before he eats. See Ayeen Akbery, vol. iii. p. 226.
Since the time I came in - Rather, Since the time She came in, αφ' ἡς εισηλθεν, not εισηλθον, I came in, for it is clear from Luk 7:37 that the woman came in after Christ, having heard that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee's house. The reading which I have adopted is supported by several MSS. and Versions.
My head with oil thou didst not anoint - Anointing the head with oil was as common among the Jews as washing the face with water is among us. See Rut 3:3; Sa2 12:20; Sa2 14:2; Kg2 4:2; and Psa 23:5, where the author alludes to the Jewish manner of receiving and entertaining a guest. Thou preparest a table for me; anointest my head with oil; givest me an overflowing cup. See Mat 5:17.
For she loved much - Or, Therefore she loved much. It appears to have been a consciousness of God's forgiving love that brought her at this time to the Pharisee's house. In the common translation her forgiveness is represented to be the consequence of her loving much, which is causing the tree to produce the root, and not the root the tree. I have considered ὁτι here as having the sense of διοτι, therefore; because, to make this sentence suit with the foregoing parable, Luk 7:42, Luk 7:43, and with what immediately follows here, but he to whom little is forgiven loveth little, we must suppose her love was the effect of her being pardoned, not the cause of it. Ὁτι seems to have the sense of therefore in Mat 13:13; Joh 8:44; Co1 10:17; and in the Septuagint, in Deuteronomy 33:52; Isaiah 49:19; Hosea 9:15; and Ecc 5:6. Both these particles are often interchanged in the New Testament.
Loved much - loveth little - That is, A man's love to God will be in proportion to the obligations he feels himself under to the bounty of his Maker.
Thy sins are forgiven - He gave her the fullest assurance of what he had said before to Simon, (Luk 7:47), Thy sins are forgiven. While the Pharisee murmured, the poor penitent rejoiced.
Thy faith hath saved thee - Thy faith hath been the instrument of receiving the salvation which is promised to those who repent. Go in peace. Though peace of conscience be the inseparable consequence of the pardon of sin, yet here it seems to be used as a valediction or farewell: as if he had said, May goodness and mercy continue to follow thee! In this sense it is certainly used Jdg 18:6; Sa1 1:17; Sa1 20:42; Sa1 29:7; Sa2 15:9; Jam 2:16.
The affecting account of raising the widow's son to life, Luk 7:11-17, is capable of farther improvement. The following may be considered to be sober, pious uses of this transaction.
In this resurrection of the widow's son, four things are highly worthy of notice: - 1. The meeting. 2. What Christ did to raise the dead man. 3. What the man did when raised to life: and 4. The effect produced on the minds of the people.
I. The Meeting
1. It was uncommon: it was a meeting of life and death, of consolation and distress. On the one part Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, and an innumerable crowd of people, advance towards the gate of the city of Nain: on the other part, a funeral solemnity proceeds out of the gate, - a person of distinction, as we may imagine from the number of the people who accompanied the corpse, is carried out to be buried. Wherever Jesus goes, he meets death or misery; and wherever he comes, he dispenses life and salvation.
2. It was instructive. A young man was carried to the grave - an only son - cut off in the flower of his age from the pleasures, honors, profits, and expectations of life; a multitude of relatives, friends, and neighbors, in tears, affliction, and distress, accompanied the corpse. Behold the present life in its true point of light! How deceitful is the world! To hide its vanity and wretchedness, funeral pomp takes the place of the decorations of life and health; and pride, which carries the person through life, cleaves to the putrid carcass in the ridiculous adornments of palls, scarfs, cloaks, and feathers! Sin has a complete triumph, when pride is one of the principal bearers to the tomb. And shall not the living lay these things to heart? Remember, ye that are young, the young die oftener than the old; and it is because so many of the former die, that there are so few of the latter to die.
3. It was an affecting meeting. The mother of this young man followed the corpse of her son; her distress was extreme. She had already lost her husband, and in losing her only son she loses all that could be reckoned dear to her in the world. She lost her support, her glory, and the name of her family from among the tribes of her people. Jesus sees her in this state of affliction, and was moved with compassion towards her. This God of goodness cannot see the wretched without commiserating their state, and providing for their salvation.
4. It was a happy meeting. Jesus approaches this distressed widow, and says, Weep not. But who, with propriety, can give such advice in a case like this? Only that God who can dry up the fountain of grief, and remove the cause of distress. Weep for thy sin, weep for thy relatives, weep after Christ, and God will infallibly comfort thee.
II. What Christ Did to Raise this Dead Man
1. He came up, Luk 7:14. When the blessed God is about to save a soul from spiritual death, he comes up to the heart by the light of his Spirit, by the preaching of his word, and by a thousand other methods, which all prove that his name is mercy, and his nature love.
2. He touched the bier. God often stretches out his hand against the matter or occasion of sin, renders that public that was before hidden, lays afflictions upon the body; by some evil disease effaces that beauty, or impairs that strength, which were the occasions of sin; disconcerts the schemes and blasts the property of the worldly man. These were carrying him down to the chambers of death, and the merciful God is thus delivering him out of the hands of his murderers.
3. He commanded - Young man! I say unto thee, Arise. Sinners! You have been dead in trespasses and sins too long: now hear the voice of the Son of God. Young people! to you in particular is this commandment addressed. Delay not a moment: it will be more easy for you to return to God now than at any future time. And perhaps the present call may never be repeated. The sooner you hear the voice of God, the sooner you shall be happy.
III . What the Man Did when Raised to Life
1. He sat up, Luk 7:15. When the quickening voice of God reaches the heart of a sinner, his first business is to lift up his head to contemplate the awful state in which he is found, and the horrible pit over which he hangs, and look about for a deliverer from the hell that is moved from beneath to meet him at his coming.
2. He began to speak. Prayer to God, for the salvation he needs, is indispensably requisite to every awakened sinner. Let him speak in prayer and praise; prayer for present salvation, and praise, because he is still out of hell. Let him also declare the power and goodness of God which have thus rescued him from the bitter pains of an eternal death.
3. He walked. He (Christ) presented him to his mother. Those who were carrying the corpse having heard the voice of the young man, immediately laid down the bier, and the young man stepping directly on the ground, Jesus took him by the hand and conducted him to his mother. What a change from the deepest affliction to the highest ecstacy of joy must have now taken place in this widow's heart! Happy moment! - when the quickening power of Christ restores a prodigal son to a disconsolate parent, and a member to Christ's mystical body, the Church militant!
IV. The Effect Produced on the Minds of the People
1. Fear seized them, Luk 7:16. A religious reverence penetrated their hearts, while witnessing the effects of the sovereign power of Christ. Thus should we contemplate the wonders of God's grace in the conviction and conversion of sinners.
2. They glorified God. They plainly saw that he had now visited his people: the miracle proclaimed his presence, and that a great prophet was risen among them, and they expect to be speedily instructed in all righteousness. The conversion of a sinner to God should be matter of public joy to all that fear his name; and should be considered as a full proof that the God of our fathers is still among their children. See Luk 7:16.
3. They published abroad the account. The work of the grace of God should be made known to all: the Gospel should be preached in every place; and the miracle-working power of Christ every where recommended to notice. If those who are raised from the death of sin were more zealous in discoursing of, walking in, and recommending the Gospel of the grace of God, the kingdom of Christ would soon have a more extensive spread; and the souls thus employed would be incessantly watered from on high.