Luke 7 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

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(Read all of Luke 7)
2. And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.

[Who was dear unto him.] So was Tabi to his master Rabban Gamaliel: of whom we meet with several things up and down, particularly that in Beracoth, fol. 16. 2: "When his servant Tabi was dead, he received consolations for him. His disciples say unto him, 'Master, thou hast taught us that they do not use to receive consolations for their servants.' He answered them saying, 'My servant Tabi was not as other servants, he was most upright.'"

5. For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.

[He hath built us a synagogue.] I. It was no unusual thing for one single man to build a synagogue at his own charge: "If any man build a house, and afterward consecrated it to a synagogue, it is of the nature of a synagogue." Gloss: "Any one that builds a synagogue and gives it to his fellow citizens," &c.

And the doctors in that treatise dispute much upon this question, Whether it be lawful to sell a synagogue or to alienate it to any civil use: and amongst the rest, they suppose some one building a synagogue, but would at last reserve it to his own proper use.

II. They had no scruple as to a Gentile's building it, since the holiness of the place consisted not so much in the building as in its being set apart and dedicated to holy use; of which we have some instances in Herod's building the Temple. Such a one had this centurion approved himself towards the Jewish nation, that concerning his liberality and devotion in being at the charges of building, they found no reason to move any scruple.

12. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.

[There was a dead man carried out.] Amongst the Talmudists, a dead corpse going out, is commonly a phrase which is first understood of carrying the corpse out of the court-gate.

"At what time do they take their beds lower? From the time that the person deceased is carried out of the court-gate of his own house."

Secondly, It is taken also for carrying the corpse out of the city: for the burying-places were not near the city.

"The infant dying before it be thirty days old, is carried out in the bosom: and is buried by one woman and two men."

"An infant of thirty days old is carried out in a little coffin. R. Judah saith, Not in a coffin that is carried on men's shoulders, but in their arms."

A child of three years old is carried out in a bed: and so onward from that age.

[Much people was with her.] R. Simeon Ben Eliezer saith, for the dead that is carried out on his bed there are many mourners: but if he be not carried out on his bed [but in a coffin], there are not many mourners.

If the deceased person be known to many, then many accompany him.

There were ordinarily at such funerals those that carried the bier, and some to take their turns, and some also to take their turns again. For as the Gloss hath it, every one desired that office.

There were also those that stood in order about the mourners to comfort them.

14. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

[Touched the bier.] In Syriac, he approached to the bier. The Talmudist would say, he came to the bed of the dead: which indeed is the same, 2 Samuel 3:31, David followed after the bed. The Targumist, after the bier.

"Jacob said to his sons, Beware ye, that no uncircumcised person touch my bed, lest he drive away thence the Divine presence."

37. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,

[A woman which was a sinner.] I. Women of an ill name amongst the Jews were such as these:

"She who transgresseth the law of Moses, and the Jewish law." The Gloss is, "The Jewish law, that is, what the daughters of Israel follow, though it be not written."

"Who is she that transgresseth the law of Moses? She that gives her husband to eat of what is not yet tithed: she that suffers his embraces while her menstrua are upon her: she that doth not set apart a loaf of bread for herself: she that voweth and doth not perform her vow."

"How doth she transgress the Jewish law? If she appears abroad with her head uncovered: if she spin in the streets: if she talk with every one she meets. Abba Saul saith, If she curse her children. R. Tarphon saith, If she be loud and clamorous." The Gloss is, "If she desire coition with her husband within doors, so very loud that her neighbours may hear her."

Maimonides upon the place: "If when she is spinning in the street, she makes her arms so naked that men may see them: if she hang either roses or myrtle, or pomegranate, or any such thing either at her eyes or cheeks: if she play with young men: if she curse her husband's father in the presence of her husband," &c.

II. However, I presume the word sinner, sounds something worse than all this, which also is commonly conjectured of this woman; viz. that she was actually an adulteress, and every way a lewd woman. It is well known what the word sinners signifies in the Old Testament, and what sinners, in the New.

38. And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

[And stood at his feet behind him.] She washed his feet as they lay stretched out behind him: of which posture we treat more largely in our notes upon John 12.

47. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

[For she loved much.] If we consider these two or three things, we shall quickly understand the force and design of the word for, &c.

I. That this was not the first time when this woman betook herself to our Saviour; nor is this the first of her receiving remission of her sins. It is supposed, and that not without good reason, that this was Mary Magdalene. If so, then had her 'seven devils' been cast out of her before; and at that time her sins had been forgiven her, our Lord at once indulging to her the cure both of her body and her mind. She therefore, having been obliged by so great a mercy, now throws herself in gratitude and devotion at the feet of Christ. She had obtained remission of her sins before this action: and from thence came this action, not from this action her forgiveness.

II. Otherwise the similitude which our Saviour propounds about forgiving the debt, would not be to the purpose at all. The debt is not released because the debtor loves his creditor, but the debtor loves because his debt is forgiven him. Remission goes before, and love follows.

III. Christ doth not say, She hath washed my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and anointed me with ointment, therefore her sins are forgiven; but for this cause I say unto thee, Her sins are forgiven her. He tells Simon this, that he might satisfy the murmuring Pharisee. "Perhaps, Simon, thou wonderest within thyself, that since this hath been so lewd a woman, I should so much as suffer her to touch me: but I must tell thee that it is very evident, even from this obsequiousness of hers, and the good offices she hath done to me, that her sins are forgiven her: she could never have given these testimonies and fruits of her gratitude and devotion, if she had still remained in her guilt, and not been loosed form her sins."