Luke 7:29

ESV (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John,
NIV (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John.
NASB When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.
CSB (And when all the people, including the tax collectors, heard this, they acknowledged God's way of righteousness, because they had been baptized with John's baptism.
NLT When they heard this, all the people — even the tax collectors — agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John.
KJV And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.

What does Luke 7:29 mean?

Jesus is explaining to a crowd how important John the Baptist is: the greatest prophet of the age. He is the herald of the Messiah and prepares the hearts of the Jews for their Savior (Luke 7:24–28). Now, Luke records the responses of the crowds.

We don't know when John started his ministry. He seems to have centered it on the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea. From there, he was a convenient walk from Jerusalem on the west, right in the middle of the path most Jews from Galilee took to travel to Jerusalem. His reach was monumental. Decades from this moment, in modern-day Asia Minor, Paul will meet twelve "disciples" who follow John's teachings despite knowing little if anything about Jesus (Acts 19:1–7).

John's ministry stopped when Herod Antipas arrested him for criticizing the leader's relationship with his brother's wife (Luke 3:19–20). At that point, Jesus began His public ministry (Mark 1:14–15).

It appears most of Jesus' current audience had heard John preach. They certainly know his message. He exhorted the people to repent of their sin and live a righteous life. When asked, he told the tax collectors to take only what they were due. He told the soldiers to be content with their pay instead of extorting money from the people. And he told the people to share with the needy (Luke 3:7–14).

Those who accepted John's challenge were baptized by him. Baptism was a public sign that someone had chosen a sect to join or a rabbi to follow. The people flocked to John because they felt convicted of their sins and he gave them something to do about it. Like Jesus after him, John did not automatically favor the legalistic Pharisees or the high-ranking priests. His message was for everyone, and many responded, fulfilling Luke 1:16: "And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God." In contrast, the Pharisees and scribes rejected John's baptism, meaning they rejected God's call to repent of their sins. They preferred to rely on their own actions and positions to earn God's favor (Luke 7:30).

Prior to Jesus' affirmation of John, two of John's disciples had asked Jesus if He was the One for whom they were to wait. Their question came from John. Scholars have debated why John would ask the question; why would he doubt the Messiah he was born to herald? A convincing theory is that although Jesus fulfilled many of the signs of the Messiah (Isaiah 26:19; 35:5–6; 61:1), He has neither released the prisoners—like John—nor judged the wicked (Isaiah 26:20; 29:20; 61:1–2).

Prophets are not all-knowing conduits of God's omniscience. They know what they are told, and the Lord does not always tell them everything. John likely doesn't understand that the kingdom of God comes in stages. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom during His ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, but it will not be fulfilled until His second coming. John had said of Jesus, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:17). Like many others, John expects this fire in his lifetime. He doesn't understand that first, Jesus must winnow to separate the grain from the chaff. This is part of that process—distinguishing between the grain of the repentant sinners and the chaff of the proud religious leaders.

Occasionally, debate arises as to whether the words of this verse are Jesus speaking or Luke making a parenthetical remark. Grammatically, there's no reasonable way to make this something Jesus speaks. Luke is describing the people's reaction to Jesus' confirmation of John. "This" refers to Jesus' words. John is not present and baptizing, here. He is in Herod Antipas' prison (Luke 3:19–20).

The King James Version uses "publican" which is an old English term for "tax-farmer." Jews considered tax collectors dishonorable. They not only collaborated with Roman occupiers to collect money from other Jews, but they were also allowed to demand more than the Romans required so as to fill their own pockets. In the Gospels, tax collectors are portrayed as corrupt and greedy but eminently redeemable (Luke 5:27–28; 18:9–14; 19:1–10).

"Declared…just" is the same verb as "justified" in Luke 7:35; it means "shown to be right." Bauer's Lexicon summarizes this as, "by ruling in God's favor they admitted that they were in the wrong and took a new direction."

The statements of Luke 7:29–30 aren't found in Matthew's parallel account. He records similar words in Matthew 21:31–32.
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