Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

Verse 7 (Luke 15:7)

Just persons, which need no repentance - Who do not require such a change of mind and purpose as these do - who are not so profligate, and cannot repent of sins they have never committed. Distinctions of this kind frequently occur in the Jewish writings. There are many persons who have been brought up in a sober and regular course of life, attending the ordinances of God, and being true and just in all their dealings; these most materially differ from the heathens mentioned, Luke 15:1 , because they believe in God, and attend the means of grace: they differ also essentially from the tax-gatherers mentioned in the same place, because they wrong no man, and are upright in their dealings. Therefore they cannot repent of the sins of a heathen, which they have not practised; nor of the rapine of a tax-gatherer, of which they have never been guilty. As, therefore, these just persons are put in opposition to the tax-gatherers and heathens, we may at once see the scope and design of our Lord's words: these needed no repentance in comparison of the others, as not being guilty of their crimes. And as these belonged, by outward profession at least, to the flock of God, and were sincere and upright according to their light, they are considered as being in no danger of being lost; and at they fear God, and work righteousness according to their light, he will take care to make those farther discoveries to them, of the purity of his nature, the holiness of his law, and the necessity of the atonement, which he sees to be necessary. See the case of Cornelius, Acts 10:1 , etc. On this ground, the owner is represented as feeling more joy in consequence of finding one sheep that was lost, there having been almost no hope of its recovery, than he feels at seeing ninety and nine still safe under his care. "Men generally rejoice more over a small unexpected advantage, than over a much greater good to which they have been accustomed." There are some, and their opinion need not be hastily rejected, who imagine that by the ninety and nine just persons, our Lord means the angels - that they are in proportion to men, as ninety-nine are to one, and that the Lord takes more pleasure in the return and salvation of one sinner, than in the uninterrupted obedience of ninety-nine holy angels; and that it was through his superior love to fallen man that he took upon him his nature, and not the nature of angels. I have met with the following weak objection to this: viz. "The text says just persons; now, angels are not persons, therefore angels cannot be meant." This is extremely foolish; there may be the person of an angel, as well as of a man; we allow persons even in the Godhead; besides, the original word, δικαιοις , means simply just ones, and may be, with as much propriety, applied to angels as to men. After all, our Lord may refer to the Essenes, a sect among the Jews, in the time of our Lord, who were strictly and conscientiously moral; living at the utmost distance from both the hypocrisy and pollutions of their countrymen. These, when compared with the great mass of the Jews, needed no repentance. The reader may take his choice of these interpretations, or make a better for himself. I have seen other methods of explaining these words; but they have appeared to me either too absurd or too improbable to merit particular notice.

- Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible