Add parallel Print Page Options

The Ministry of John the Baptist

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,[a] when Pontius Pilate[b] was governor of Judea, and Herod[c] was tetrarch[d] of Galilee, and his brother Philip[e] was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias[f] was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood[g] of Annas and Caiaphas, the word[h] of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.[i] He[j] went into all the region around the Jordan River,[k] preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.[l]

As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice[m] of one shouting in the wilderness:[n]
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make[o] his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,[p]
and every mountain and hill will be brought low,
and the crooked will be made straight,
and the rough ways will be made smooth,
and all humanity[q] will see the salvation of God.’”[r]

So John[s] said to the crowds[t] that came out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers![u] Who warned you to flee[v] from the coming wrath? Therefore produce[w] fruit[x] that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say[y] to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’[z] For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones![aa] Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees,[ab] and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be[ac] cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 So[ad] the crowds were asking[ae] him, “What then should we do?” 11 John[af] answered them,[ag] “The person who has two tunics[ah] must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors[ai] also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Collect no more[aj] than you are required to.”[ak] 14 Then some soldiers[al] also asked him, “And as for us—what should we do?”[am] He told them, “Take money from no one by violence[an] or by false accusation,[ao] and be content with your pay.”

15 While the people were filled with anticipation[ap] and they all wondered[aq] whether perhaps John[ar] could be the Christ,[as] 16 John answered them all,[at] “I baptize you with water,[au] but one more powerful than I am is coming—I am not worthy[av] to untie the strap[aw] of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.[ax] 17 His winnowing fork[ay] is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his storehouse,[az] but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.”[ba]

18 And in this way,[bb] with many other exhortations, John[bc] proclaimed good news to the people. 19 But when John rebuked Herod[bd] the tetrarch[be] because of Herodias, his brother’s wife,[bf] and because of all the evil deeds[bg] that he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked up John in prison.

Read full chapter


  1. Luke 3:1 tn Or “Emperor Tiberius” (“Caesar” is a title for the Roman emperor).sn Tiberius Caesar was the Roman emperor Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus, who ruled from a.d. 14-37.
  2. Luke 3:1 sn The rule of Pontius Pilate is also described by Josephus, J. W. 2.9.2-4 (2.169-177) and Ant. 18.3.1 (18.55-59).
  3. Luke 3:1 sn Herod refers here to Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. He ruled from 4 b.c.-a.d. 39, sharing the rule of his father’s realm with his two brothers. One brother, Archelaus (Matt 2:22) was banished in a.d. 6 and died in a.d. 18; the other brother, Herod Philip (mentioned next) died in a.d. 34.
  4. Luke 3:1 sn A tetrarch was a ruler with rank and authority lower than a king, who ruled only with the approval of the Roman authorities. This was roughly equivalent to being governor of a region. Several times in the NT, Herod tetrarch of Galilee is called a king (Matt 14:9, Mark 6:14-29), reflecting popular usage.
  5. Luke 3:1 sn Philip refers to Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great and brother of Herod Antipas. Philip ruled as tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis from 4 b.c.-a.d. 34.
  6. Luke 3:1 sn Nothing else is known about Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.
  7. Luke 3:2 sn Use of the singular high priesthood to mention two figures is unusual but accurate, since Annas was the key priest from a.d. 6-15 and then his relatives were chosen for many of the next several years. After two brief tenures by others, his son-in-law Caiaphas came to power and stayed there until a.d. 36.
  8. Luke 3:2 tn The term translated “word” here is not λόγος (logos) but ῥῆμα (rhēma), and thus could refer to the call of the Lord to John to begin ministry.
  9. Luke 3:2 tn Or “desert.”
  10. Luke 3:3 tn Grk “And he.” Here καί (kai) has not been translated because of differences between Greek and English style. Due to the length and complexity of the Greek sentence, a new sentence was started here in the translation.
  11. Luke 3:3 tn “River” is not in the Greek text but is supplied for clarity.
  12. Luke 3:3 sn A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was a call for preparation for the arrival of the Lord’s salvation. To participate in this baptism was a recognition of the need for God’s forgiveness with a sense that one needed to live differently as a response to it (Luke 3:10-14).
  13. Luke 3:4 tn Or “A voice.”
  14. Luke 3:4 tn Or “desert.” The syntactic position of the phrase “in the wilderness” is unclear in both Luke and the LXX. The MT favors taking it with “Prepare a way,” while the LXX takes it with “a voice shouting.” If the former, the meaning would be that such preparation should be done “in the wilderness.” If the latter, the meaning would be that the place from where John’s ministry went forth was “in the wilderness.” There are Jewish materials that support both renderings: 1QS 8:14 and 9.19-20 support the MT while certain rabbinic texts favor the LXX (see D. L. Bock, Luke [BECNT], 1:290-91). While it is not absolutely necessary that a call in the wilderness led to a response in the wilderness, it is not unlikely that such would be the case. Thus, in the final analysis, the net effect between the two choices may be minimal. In any case, a majority of commentators and translations take “in the wilderness” with “The voice of one shouting” (D. L. Bock; R. H. Stein, Luke [NAC], 129; I. H. Marshall, Luke [NIGTC], 136; NIV, NRSV, NKJV, NLT, NASB, REB).
  15. Luke 3:4 tn This call to “make paths straight” in this context is probably an allusion to preparation through repentance as the verb ποιέω (poieō) reappears in vv. 8, 10, 11, 12, 14.
  16. Luke 3:5 sn The figurative language of this verse speaks of the whole creation preparing for the arrival of a major figure, so all obstacles to his approach are removed.
  17. Luke 3:6 tn Grk “all flesh.”
  18. Luke 3:6 sn A quotation from Isa 40:3-5. Though all the synoptic gospels use this citation from Isaiah, only Luke cites the material of vv. 5-6. His goal may well be to get to the declaration of v. 6, where all humanity (i.e., all nations) see God’s salvation (see also Luke 24:47).
  19. Luke 3:7 tn Grk “he”; the referent (John) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  20. Luke 3:7 sn The crowds. It is interesting to trace references to “the crowd” in Luke. It is sometimes noted favorably, other times less so. The singular appears 25 times in Luke while the plural occurs 16 times. Matt 3:7 singles out the Sadducees and Pharisees here.
  21. Luke 3:7 tn Or “snakes.”
  22. Luke 3:7 sn The rebuke “Who warned you to flee…?” compares the crowd to snakes who flee their desert holes when the heat of a fire drives them out.
  23. Luke 3:8 tn The verb here is ποιέω (poieō; see v. 4).
  24. Luke 3:8 tn Grk “fruits.” The plural Greek term καρπούς has been translated with the collective singular “fruit” (so NIV; cf. Matt 3:8 where the singular καρπός is found). Some other translations render the plural καρπούς as “fruits” (e.g., NRSV, NASB, NAB, NKJV).
  25. Luke 3:8 tn In other words, “do not even begin to think this.”
  26. Luke 3:8 sn We have Abraham as our father. John’s warning to the crowds really assumes two things: (1) A number of John’s listeners apparently believed that simply by their physical descent from Abraham, they were certain heirs of the promises made to the patriarch, and (2) God would never judge his covenant people lest he inadvertently place the fulfillment of his promises in jeopardy. In light of this, John tells these people two things: (1) they need to repent and produce fruit in keeping with repentance, for only that saves from the coming wrath, and (2) God will raise up “children for Abraham from these stones” if he wants to. Their disobedience will not threaten the realization of God’s sovereign purposes.
  27. Luke 3:8 sn The point of the statement God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham is that ancestry or association with a tradition tied to the great founder of the Jewish nation is not an automatic source of salvation.
  28. Luke 3:9 sn Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees. The imagery of an “ax already laid at the root of the trees” is vivid, connoting sudden and catastrophic judgment for the unrepentant and unfruitful. The image of “fire” serves to further heighten the intensity of the judgment referred to. It is John’s way of summoning all people to return to God with all their heart and avoid his unquenchable wrath soon to be poured out. John’s language and imagery is probably ultimately drawn from the OT where Israel is referred to as a fruitless vine (Hos 10:1-2; Jer 2:21-22) and the image of an “ax” is used to indicate God’s judgment (Ps 74:5-6; Jer 46:22).
  29. Luke 3:9 tn Grk “is”; the present tense (ἐκκόπτεται, ekkoptetai) has futuristic force here.
  30. Luke 3:10 tn Here καί (kai) has been translated as “so” to indicate the consequential nature of the people’s response.
  31. Luke 3:10 tn Though this verb is imperfect, in this context it does not mean repeated, ongoing questions, but simply a presentation in vivid style as the following verbs in the other examples are aorist.
  32. Luke 3:11 tn Grk “he”; the referent (John) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  33. Luke 3:11 tn Grk “Answering, he said to them.” This construction with passive participle and finite verb is pleonastic (redundant) and has been simplified in the translation to “answered them.”
  34. Luke 3:11 tn Or “shirt” (a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin). The name for this garment (χιτών, chitōn) presents some difficulty in translation. Most modern readers would not understand what a ‘tunic’ was any more than they would be familiar with a ‘chiton.’ On the other hand, attempts to find a modern equivalent are also a problem: “Shirt” conveys the idea of a much shorter garment that covers only the upper body, and “undergarment” (given the styles of modern underwear) is more misleading still. “Tunic” was therefore employed, but with a note to explain its nature.
  35. Luke 3:12 sn The Roman system of taxation was frequently characterized by “tax farming” where an individual would bid to collect taxes for the Roman government throughout an entire district and then add a surcharge or commission (often exorbitant) which they kept for themselves as their profit. The tax collectors referred to in the NT were generally not the holders of these tax contracts themselves, but hired subordinates who were often local residents. Since these tax collectors worked for Rome (even indirectly), they were viewed as traitors to their own people and were not well liked. In addition, the system offered many opportunities for dishonesty and greed, both of which were often associated with local tax collectors. Yet even they were moved by John’s call.
  36. Luke 3:13 tn In the Greek text μηδὲν πλέον (mēden pleon, “no more”) is in an emphatic By telling the tax collectors to collect no more than…required John was calling for honesty and integrity in a business that was known for greed and dishonesty.
  37. Luke 3:13 tn Or “than you are ordered to.”
  38. Luke 3:14 tn Grk “And soldiers.”
  39. Luke 3:14 tn Grk “And what should we ourselves do?”
  40. Luke 3:14 tn Or “Rob no one.” The term διασείσητε (diaseisēte) here refers to “shaking someone.” In this context it refers to taking financial advantage of someone through violence, so it refers essentially to robbery. Soldiers are to perform their tasks faithfully. A changed person is to carry out his tasks in life faithfully and without grumbling.
  41. Luke 3:14 tn The term translated “accusation” (συκοφαντήσητε, sukophantēsēte) refers to a procedure by which someone could bring charges against an individual and be paid a part of the fine imposed by the court. Soldiers could do this to supplement their pay, and would thus be tempted to make false accusations.
  42. Luke 3:15 tn Or “with expectation.” The participle προσδοκῶντος (prosdokōntos) is taken The people were filled with anticipation because they were hoping God would send someone to deliver them.
  43. Luke 3:15 tn Grk “pondered in their hearts.”
  44. Luke 3:15 tn Grk “in their hearts concerning John, (whether) perhaps he might be the Christ.” The translation simplifies the style here.
  45. Luke 3:15 tn Or “Messiah”; both “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Hebrew and Aramaic) mean “one who has been anointed.”sn See the note on Christ in 2:11.
  46. Luke 3:16 tn Grk “answered them all, saying.” The participle λέγων (legōn) is redundant and has not been translated.
  47. Luke 3:16 tc A few mss (C D 892 1424 it) add εἰς μετάνοιαν (eis metanoian, “for repentance”). Although two of the mss in support are early and significant, it is an obviously motivated reading to add clarification, probably representing a copyist’s attempt to harmonize Luke’s version with Matt 3:11.
  48. Luke 3:16 tn Grk “of whom I am not worthy.”sn The humility of John is evident in the statement I am not worthy. This was considered one of the least worthy tasks of a slave, and John did not consider himself worthy to do even that for the one to come, despite the fact he himself was a prophet!
  49. Luke 3:16 tn The term refers to the leather strap or thong used to bind a sandal. This is often viewed as a collective singular and translated as a plural, “the straps of his sandals,” but it may be more emphatic to retain the singular here.
  50. Luke 3:16 sn With the Holy Spirit and fire. There are differing interpretations for this phrase regarding the number of baptisms and their nature. (1) Some see one baptism here, and this can be divided further into two options. (a) The baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire could refer to the cleansing, purifying work of the Spirit in the individual believer through salvation and sanctification, or (b) it could refer to two different results of Christ’s ministry: Some accept Christ and are baptized with the Holy Spirit, but some reject him and receive judgment. (2) Other interpreters see two baptisms here: The baptism of the Holy Spirit refers to the salvation Jesus brings at his first advent, in which believers receive the Holy Spirit, and the baptism of fire refers to the judgment Jesus will bring upon the world at his second coming. One must take into account both the image of fire and whether individual or corporate baptism is in view. A decision is not easy on either issue. The image of fire is used to refer to both eternal judgment (e.g., Matt 25:41) and the power of the Lord’s presence to purge and cleanse his people (e.g., Isa 4:4-5). The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, a fulfillment of this prophecy no matter which interpretation is taken, had both individual and corporate dimensions. It is possible that since Holy Spirit and fire are governed by a single preposition in Greek, the one-baptism view may be more likely, but this is not certain. Simply put, there is no consensus view in scholarship at this time on the best interpretation of this passage.
  51. Luke 3:17 sn A winnowing fork is a pitchfork-like tool used to toss threshed grain in the air so that the wind blows away the chaff, leaving the grain to fall to the ground. The note of purging is highlighted by the use of imagery involving sifting though threshed grain for the useful kernels.
  52. Luke 3:17 tn Or “granary,” “barn” (referring to a building used to store a farm’s produce rather than a building for housing livestock).
  53. Luke 3:17 sn The image of fire that cannot be extinguished is from the OT: Job 20:26; Isa 34:8-10; 66:24.
  54. Luke 3:18 tn On construction μὲν οὖν καί (men oun kai), see BDF §451.1.
  55. Luke 3:18 tn Grk “he”; the referent (John) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  56. Luke 3:19 sn Herod refers here to Herod Antipas. See the note on Herod Antipas in 3:1.
  57. Luke 3:19 sn See the note on tetrarch in 3:1.
  58. Luke 3:19 tc Several mss (A C K W Ψ 33 565 579 1424 2542 al bo) read τῆς γυναικὸς Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ (tēs gunaikos Philippou tou adelphou autou, “the wife of his brother Philip”), specifying whose wife Herodias was. The addition of “Philip,” however, is an assimilation to Matt 14:3 and is lacking in the better This marriage to his brother’s wife was a violation of OT law (Lev 18:16; 20:21). In addition, both Herod Antipas and Herodias had each left previous marriages to enter into this union.
  59. Luke 3:19 tn Or “immoralities.”