What does Luke 3:12 mean?
ESV: Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"
NIV: Even tax collectors came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"
NASB: Now even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they said to him, 'Teacher, what are we to do?'
CSB: Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"
NLT: Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, 'Teacher, what should we do?'
KJV: Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
NKJV: Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
Verse Commentary:
Those who heard John the Baptist were commanded to repent—to run from sin—and to live lives consistent with that repentance (Luke 3:7–9). Those who accepted this message were baptized as a public expression of their decision. All this was part of John's role as the herald of Messiah (Luke 3:1–6). This passage shows John's response to questions from various groups about how to live out that repentance. Each corresponds to some temptation common to that group. For people in general, John's advice is to use one's abundance to bless those who are in need (Luke 3:10–11).

Here, John is approached by tax collectors. This was an era of Roman occupation: the Jewish people were subjects of a pagan empire. Locals were hired by the invaders to collect and submit taxes. This was doubly offensive to the people of Israel. Not only did tax collectors work on behalf of their nation's oppressors, but they also interacted with unclean Gentiles. As a result, the term "tax collectors" was often used as general metaphor for distasteful, immoral people (Mark 2:16; Matthew 5:46).

Worse, many tax collectors were prone to corruption. Romans cared little how much money was taken from conquered people, so long as the correct amount was given to imperial leaders. Unscrupulous tax collectors could add extravagant amounts to the taxes they collected, knowing they could threaten others with arrest or imprisonment. This is the sin which John will address when giving them advice in the next verse (Luke 3:13).
Verse Context:
Luke 3:7–22 is a relatively brief explanation of John the Baptist's ministry. John's preaching calls on people to repent and turn from their sins. At the same time, he is careful to declare that he is not Christ—John is only a herald of the Messiah. Luke's account quickly summarizes this message, John's conflict with Herod the Tetrarch, and the baptism of Jesus. Parallel accounts are found in Matthew 3, Mark 1:1–11, and John 1:19–34.
Chapter Summary:
The early part of Luke's gospel shifts back and forth between the histories of Jesus and John the Baptist. Chapter 3 starts with historical and prophetic context about John. It then depicts some of John's interactions with local religious leaders. Luke gives only a brief description of Jesus' baptism. He also touches on John's criticism of Herod the Tetrarch, which would eventually result in John's execution (Matthew 14:10–12). The chapter ends with a genealogy of Christ.
Chapter Context:
Chapters 1 and 2 provided early history for both John the Baptist and Jesus. Chapter 3 establishes John's preaching ministry and its connection to Jesus Christ. The chapter ends with a genealogy which some believe runs through Mary's side of the family. Chapter 4 transitions from Jesus' baptism into His public ministry, by describing His fasting in the wilderness and temptation by Satan.
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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