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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Luke 11:37-41

Luke 11:37-41

37. And while he was speaking, a certain Pharisee requested him to dine with him; and he entered and sat down at table. 38. And when the Pharisee saw it, he wondered that he had not first washed before dinner. 39. And the Lord said to him, Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate; and what is within you is full of cruelty and wickedness. 40. Fools, did not he who made what is without make also what is within? 41. But out of what you have  284 give alms; and, lo, all things are clean to you.



This narrative agrees in some respects, but not entirely, with the doctrine laid down by Matthew, (Mt 10:1-20,) that Christ, in order to correct the superstition of the people, and particularly of the scribes, intentionally disregarded outward ceremonies of human invention, which the Jews were too solicitous to observe. God had prescribed in his Law certain kinds of washings, that by means of them he might train his people usefully to the consideration of true purity. The Jews, not satisfied with this moderate portion had added many other washings, and more especially, that no person should partake of food till he had been washed with the water of purification, as Mark relates more minutely, (Mark 12:3, 4,) and as is also evident from John, (Joh 2:6.) This fault was accompanied by wicked confidence; for they cared little about the spiritual worship of God, and thought that they had perfectly discharged their duty, when the figure was substituted in the place of God. Christ is fully aware that his neglect of this ceremony will give offense, but he declines to observe it, in order to show that God sets very little value on outward cleanness, but demands the spiritual righteousness of the heart.

39. Now you Pharisees Christ does not here charge the Pharisees, as in Matthew, (Mt 15:1-20,) and Mark, (Mr 12:2-13,) with serving God in an improper manner by human inventions, and breaking the law of God for the sake of their traditions; but merely glances at their hypocrisy, in having no desire of purity except before the eyes of men, as if they had not to deal with God. Now this reproof applies to all hypocrites, even to those who believe that righteousness consists in ceremonies appointed by God. Christ includes more than if he had said, that it is in vain to serve God by the commandments of men, (Mr 7:7;) for he condemns generally the error of worshipping God by ceremonies, and not spiritually, by faith and a pure affection of the heart.

On this point the prophets had always contended earnestly with the Jews; but, as the minds of men are strongly inclined to hypocrisy, they proudly and obstinately adhered to the conviction, that God is pleased with external worship, even when it is not accompanied by faith. But in the time of Christ, they had sunk to such depth of folly, that they made religion to consist entirely in absolute trifles. Accordingly, he directs his accusation against the Pharisees, for being extremely careful to wash cups, and cherishing within their hearts the most abominable filth of cruelty and wickedness He charges them with folly on this ground, that God, who created that which is within the man, his soul, as truly as the body, cannot be satisfied with a mere external appearance. The chief reason why men are deceived is, that they do not consider that they have to deal with God, or, they transform Him according to the vanity of their senses, as if there were no difference between Him and a mortal man.

41. But out of what you have, give alms. Christ, according to his custom, withdraws the Pharisees from ceremonies to charity, declaring that it is not water, but liberality,  285 that cleanses both men and food. By these words he does not disparage the grace of God, or reject the ceremonies of the Law as vain and useless; but addresses his discourse to those who feel confident that God will be amused by mere signs. “It is the lawful use alone,” he says, “that sanctifies food. But food is rightly and properly used by those who supply from their abundance the necessities of the poor. It would therefore be better to give alms out of what you have, than to be careful about washing hands and cups, and to neglect the poor.”

The inference which the Papists draw from these words, that alms are satisfactions, by which we are cleansed from our sins, is too absurd to require a lengthened refutation. Christ does not here inform us by what price we must purchase the forgiveness of sins, but says that those persons eat their bread with cleanness, who bestow a part of it on the poor. I understand the words, τὰ ἐνόντα, to mean “the present supply,”  286 and not, as Erasmus and the old translator render them, “what remains over.”  287

The reproofs which immediately follow may be reserved, with greater propriety, for another occasion. I do not think it probable that Christ, while sitting at table, indulged in this continuous strain of invective against scribes and Pharisees, but that Luke has introduced here what was spoken at another time; for the Evangelists, as we have frequently mentioned, paid little attention to the order of dates.



Des choses presentes, ou, de ce que vous avez;” —”of present things, or, of what you have.”


Mais que c’est une prompte affection de faire bien a ceux qui sont en necessite;” — “but that it is an active disposition to do good to those who are in want.”


Les presentes choses, comme aussi ie l’ay traduit au texte;” — “the present things, as also I have translated it in the text.”


It seems quite as natural to suppose, with other interpreters, that τὰ ἐνόντα answers to τὸ ἔσωθεν in Luke 11:39, 40 Πλὴν (κατὰ) τὰ ἐνόντα will thus be equivalent to πλὴν (κατὰ) τὸ ἔσωθεν (τοῦ ποτηρίου) δότε ἐλεημοσύνην, but as to what is within the cup give alms out of it. The next, clause commences with καὶ, followed by an ellipsis of (κατὰ), τὸ ἔξωθεν (τοῦ ποτηρίου) μὴ μεριμνήσητε, and give yourselves no concern about what is outside of the cup; for, lo, all things are clean to you. Ed.

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