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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]

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  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).