Luke 18:13

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Luke 18:13 in Other Translations

King James Version (KJV)
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
English Standard Version (ESV)
13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
New Living Translation (NLT)
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
The Message Bible (MSG)
13 "Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"
American Standard Version (ASV)
13 But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be thou merciful to me a sinner.
GOD'S WORD Translation (GW)
13 "But the tax collector was standing at a distance. He wouldn't even look up to heaven. Instead, he became very upset, and he said, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
Holman Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
13 "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, 'God, turn Your wrath from me -a sinner!'
New International Reader's Version (NIRV)
13 "But the tax collector stood not very far away. He would not even look up to heaven. He beat his chest and said, 'God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner.'

Luke 18:13 Meaning and Commentary

Luke 18:13

And the publican standing afar off
Not at the outermost porch, or at the door: for

``a man might not fix his place at the door of the synagogue, but, (qyxry) , "he must go afar off", the space of two doors, and then pray F18;''

it may be in the court of the Gentiles, when the Pharisee was in the court of the Israelites; at least he was afar off from him: and indeed, those who came to humble themselves before the Lord, and confess their sins, were obliged to stand at the distance of four cubits one from another, that one might not hear the prayers and confessions of the other F19: and it might be, that this poor man might stand at a greater distance than was required, that he might not displease the Pharisee, who, he knew, would resent it, should he stand near him; or rather this was done, to testify the sense he had of his state and condition, and of his unworthiness; as that he was afar off from God, and unworthy to draw nigh unto him, and deserved to be kept at a distance from him for ever. So it is said F20 of the Israelites, that they trembled at Mount Sinai, and "stood afar off", (Mtwntwne twrwhl) , "to show their humility": and under a work of the law, and under such a like dispensation was this publican; and therefore

would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven:
and which, as it was an humble posture he stood in, agrees with the rules the Jews give F21;

``the order (or posture) of the body, how is it? when a man stands in prayer he ought to set his feet one by the side of the other, and fix his eyes, (hjml) , "below", as if he looked to the earth; and his heart must be open above, as if he stood in the heavens; and lay his hands upon his heart, putting the right hand over the left; and must stand as a servant before his master, with trembling, and fear, and dread, and may not put his hands upon his loins.''

And agreeably to this, it is elsewhere F23 said,

``he that prays, ought to fix his eyes below, and his heart above.''

And the Jews used to look downward, or shut their eyes, for the sake of attention in prayer; and it was even forbidden them to open their eyes to look upon the wall F24. This showed in the publican, that the guilt of his sins lay heavy on him; that he could not look up; that shame filled him with blushing; that sorrow caused his countenance to fall; and that fear of divine wrath, and displeasure, possessed him; and that he looked upon himself as unworthy of the smiles of heaven,

but smote upon his breast:
pointing at the fountain of his sin; expressing by this action, his sorrow, and repentance for it; and an aversion and abhorrence of himself on account of it, joined with indignation and revenge; and he did this to arouse and stir up all the powers and faculties of his soul, to call upon God. The Persic version renders it, "he fell on his knees, and beat the earth with his head"; taking a sort of revenge on himself for sin:

saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
This is his prayer; a short, but a very full one, and greatly different from that of the Pharisee: in which is a confession that he was a sinner; a sinner in Adam, who had derived a sinful nature from him, being conceived and born in sin; and a sinner by practice, having committed many actual transgressions, attended with aggravating circumstances; a guilty and filthy sinner, a notorious one, deserving of the wrath of God, and the lowest hell: he speaks of himself, as if he was the only sinner in the world; at least, as if there was none like him: and there is in this prayer also a petition; and the object it is put up to, is "God", against whom he had sinned; with whom there is mercy and forgiveness; and who only can forgive sin; and who has promised that he will: and has proclaimed his name, a God, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin; and has given instances of his forgiving grace and mercy; and therefore the publican was right in addressing him by confession: the petition he makes to him is, to be "merciful", or "propitious" to him; that is, to show mercy to him, through the propitiary sacrifice of the Messiah, which was typified by the sacrifices under the law: the first thing a sensible sinner wants, is an application of pardoning grace and mercy; and forgiveness springs from mercy; and because the mercy of God is free and abundant, therefore pardon is so: but this is not to be expected from an absolute God, or God out of Christ. God is only propitious in Christ: hence it may be observed, that God pardons none but those to whom he is propitious in his Son; and that he forgives sin upon the foot of a reconciliation, and satisfaction made to his law, and justice, and so pardon is an act of justice, as well as of mercy; and that there is no pardoning mercy but through Christ. The Arabic version renders it, "spare me, because I am a sinner"; see ( Psalms 25:11 ) .


F18 Piske Harosh Beracot, c. 1. art. 7. Vid. T. Hieros. Beracot, fol. 9. 1.
F19 Jarchi & Bartenora in Pirke Abot. c. 5. sect. 5.
F20 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 80. 1.
F21 Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 5. sect. 4. & Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora, pr. affirm. 19.
F23 T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 105. 2.
F24 Tzeror Hammor, fol. 25. 3.

Luke 18:13 In-Context

11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.

Cross References 2

  • 1. Isaiah 66:2; Jeremiah 31:19; Luke 23:48
  • 2. Luke 5:32; 1 Timothy 1:15
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