Luke

A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the New Testament Greek text

Introduction

The gospel of Luke is the first part of a two part theological work that traces the movement of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. The unity of Luke/Acts and the common authorship of both books is beyond question. The books are dedicated to Theophilus who may have financed the project. They are certainly written for the Christian community, but also "the book market" (Dibelius).

 
The structure of Luke

Prologue, 1:1-4

The mission of the Messiah, 1:5-9:50

1. Prophecies concerning the coming messiah, 1:5-2:40

i] Vision in the temple. 1:5-25

ii] Vision of Mary. 1:26-38

iii] Prophecy of Mary. 1:39-56

iv] Prophecy of Zechariah. 1:57-80

v] Vision glorious

    a) The birth of Jesus, 2:1-7

    b) The vision of the shepherds. 2:8-21

vi] Prophecy in the temple. 2:22-40

2. Testimonies to the Messiah, 2:41-4:30

i] Witness in the temple. 2:41-52

ii] Witness of John the Baptist. 3:1-20

iii] Witness of Jesus' baptism. 3:21-22

iv] Witness of Jesus' genealogy. 3:23-38

v] Witness of the temptation. 4:1-13

vi] Witness of Jesus' inaugural ministry. 4:14-30

    a) Good news for the poor. 4:14-21

    b) God's love is universal. 4:22-30

3. The signs of the Messiah, 4:31-6:11

i] Sign at Capernaum - Lord over darkness. 4:31-44

ii] Sign of the fish - Lord of mankind. 5:1-11

iii] Sign of the leper - Lord over sickness. 5:12-16

iv] Sign of the paralytic - Lord of the sinner. 5:17-26

v] Sign of the outcast - Lord of the lost. 5:27-39

vi] Sign of the Sabbath - Lord of the Sabbath. 6:1-11

4. The dawning of the kingdom in the acts of Messiah, 6:12-7:50

i] The new Israel - Choosing the twelve. 6:12-16

ii] Promises and principles of the coming kingdom. 6:17-49

    a) The happiness of Christ's disciples. 6:17-26

    b) Love for enemies. 6:27-38

    c) A tree and it's fruit. 6:39-49

iii] Entering the kingdom by faith alone - a Gentile's faith. 7:1-10

iv] An escape from death - the kingdom's promise. 7:11-17

v] Christ's kingdom surpasses the old - Jesus and the Baptist. 7:18-35

vi] Kingdom entered by faith - a churchman and a prostitute. 7:36-50

5. The dawning of the kingdom in the words of Messiah, 8:1-56

i] Sowing the seed. 8:1-18

ii] Jesus' true family. 8:19-21

iii] Nature stilled. 8:22-25

iv] Dark powers stilled - a demoniac healed. 8:26-39

v] A woman's hemorrhage healed. 8:43-48

vi] Raising an elder's daughter. 8:40-42, 49-56

6. The nature of the Messiah's kingdom, 9:1-50

i] Mission of the twelve. 9:1-9

ii] Feeding the 5000. 9:10-17

iii] Meaning of Peter's confession. 9:18-27

iv] The transfiguration. 9:28-36

v] Healing an epileptic boy. 9:37-45

vi] Meaning of greatness in the kingdom of God. 9:46-50

The teachings of Messiah, 9:51-19:44

1. The meaning and acceptance of the kingdom message, 9:51-10:42

i] Rejection in Samaria. 9:51-56

ii] Demands of discipleship. 9:57-62

iii] Mission of the seventy. 10:1-20

iv] Who receives the kingdom? 10:21-24

v] Who inherits eternal life? 10:25-37

vi] Importance of hearing the word of God. 10:38-42

2. The kingdom and power, 11:1-12:34

i] Meaning of prayer. 11:1-13

ii] Exorcism - a sign of the new age. 11:14-28

iii] The sign of John - the sign of preaching. 11:29-36

iv] Bad news for churchmen. 11:37-54

v] Information for evangelists. 12:1-12

vi] Goals in life - to have or to live. 12:13-34

    a) The parable of the rich fool. 12:13-21

    b) Care about earthly things. 12:22-34

3. The kingdom and judgment, 12:35-13:21

i] A word to servants about the absent Lord. 12:35-40

ii] A warning to unfaithful churchmen. 12:41-48

iii] Signs of the age - division. 12:49-53

iv] Signs of the age - coming judgment. 12:54-59

v] Demands of the kingdom - repent or perish. 13:1-9

vi] Inevitable victory of the kingdom. 13:10-21

4. Who enters the kingdom? 13:22-16:13

i] Rejected seekers - the narrow door. 13:22-30

ii] Forsaken city. 13:31-35

iii] A churchman's dinner party. 14:1-24

    a) Lessons on compassion, humility and generosity. 14:1-14

    b) The parable of the excluded guests. 14:15-24

iv] Half-hearted discipleship - saltless salt. 14:25-35

v] Repentant sinners - the source of God's joy. 15:1-32

    a) The lost sheep. 15:1-10

    b) From death comes life - the parable of the lost son. 15:11-32

vi] Faithfulness - parable of the shrewd manager. 16:1-13

5. The coming kingdom, 16:14-18:14

i] All things are reversed - the rich man and Lazarus. 16:14-31

ii] A word to disciples. 17:1-10

iii] Ten lepers healed, only one understands grace. 17:11-19

iv] A caution to those who wait. 17:20-37

v] Justice - the judge and the widow. 18:1-8

vi] Righteousness given - the pharisee and the tax collector. 18:9-14

6. Discipleship and the rejected king, 18:15-19:44

i] Such is the kingdom - little children. 18:15-17

ii] Leaving all - the rich ruler. 18:18-34

iii] Faith of a blind man. 18:35-43

iv] A rich man converted - he give much (Zacchaeus). 19:1-10

v] The story of a rejected king - the ten minas. 19:11-27

vi] The king rejected - Jesus enters Jerusalem. 19:28-44

The culmination of Messiah's mission, 19:45-24:53

1. The Messiah and the Temple, 19:45-24:53

i] Cleansing the temple - a story about its meaning. 19:45-20:18

ii] Render to Caesar. 20:19-26

iii] The dead are raised - Sadducees on resurrection. 20:27-40

iv] David's greater son. 20:41-44

v] The churchmen and the widow. 20:45-21:4

vi] Signs of the new age and the end times. 21:5-38

    a) Troubles and persecution. 21:5-24

    b) Your liberation is near. 21:25-38

2. The meaning of Messiah's death, 22:1-23:25

i] The plot to kill Jesus. 22:1-6

ii] The Last Supper - consecration to death. 22:7-38

iii] Prayer on the Mount of Olives. 22:39-46

iv] Jesus arrested - betrayal. 22:47-53

v] Peter denies Jesus. 22:54-62

vi] The plot to kill Jesus. 22:63-23:25

3. The Glorification of the Messiah, 23:26-24:53

i] The way of the cross. 23:26-31

ii] The crucifixion. 23:32-49

iii] The burial. 23:50-56

iv] The empty tomb - Angels message. 24:1-12

v] The Emmaus appearance - a message. 24:13-35

vi] Appearances in Jerusalem - the commission. 24:36-53

 

It is possible to divide the gospel up chronologically, eg., Infancy narratives, chapters 1-2; Galilean mission, chapters 3:1-9:50; the journey to Jerusalem, chapters 9.51-19:44; the Jerusalem ministry, chapters 19:45-24:53. Lightfoot and others divided the gospel up geographically, eg. Galilee, the journey, Jerusalem).

Probably the most beneficial way is to approach the gospel thematically for it is now clear that most of the episodes in the gospel (miracle stories, conflict stories, sayings, etc) have links to each other and are not just unrelated pieces of tradition. The tradition has been arranged such that the stories serve to relate to each other. Conzelmann and others have shown that Luke's theological interests have influenced the selection and arrangement of his material. By studying each episode within its context we are better able to understand its theology, ie. the truth the gospel writer wishes to communicate to us. In the end, the writer's truth is God's truth. We must unlock the one to discover the other.

Earle Ellis, in his commentary on Luke, published in 1966, thematically divides up the gospel. Although his structure is somewhat stylized it does serve to tie the episodes of the gospel together. As to whether Luke had this structure in mind we can never be sure, none-the-less, the above structure leans heavily on Ellis' proposed arrangement of the gospel.

 
Interpretation

Luke's prime directive is to reveal, in the presence of the coming kingdom, the condemnation of / curse upon the "righteous" (self-righteous) under the law, in contrast to the blessing of the humble (repentant / believing) under grace. Luke's arrangement of the synoptic tradition serves to draw out this thesis, a thesis evident in the teachings of Jesus and exegeted by Paul, particularly in Romans and Galatians. As a member of Paul's missionary team, Luke understands fully the Pauline thesis that a person is justified (set right with God - it's just-if-I'd never sinned) on the basis of / out faith (by mean of Christ's faithfulness appropriated by our faith response) apart from works of the law (divine law - the Torah +). Luke's gospel radically illustrates the two ways, the way of grace and the way of law, usually in separate literary units, but sometimes together, eg., Luke 18:9-14.

Interpreting the gospels by reading back Pauline theology is viewed with some suspicion in academic circles; it is generally held that the gospels should be interpreted in their own right. Yet, the teachings of Jesus are not easily unlocked and so we need eyes that see, eyes that can unlock the mystery, and to this end Paul serves as the inspired exegete of Jesus' teachings. Without a Pauline perspective we easily take Jesus' teachings as ethical, burdening believers with cross-bearing discipleship when Jesus' cross is a light load indeed.

The Pauline interpretation of the gospel is established in his general letter to the Romans, and his more critical letter to the Galatians. We may summarize his thesis as follows:

"The righteous out of faith will live", Habakkuk 2:4.

The righteous reign of God (his setting all things right)

in justification (in judging right / setting right a people before him),

out of FAITH (based on Christ's faithfulness + our faith response),

establishes the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God's children (covenant compliance),

facilitating God's promised covenant BLESSINGS (the full appropriation of his promised new life through the Spirit),

and its fruit, the WORKS of the law (a striving to keep God's law).

    cf. Rom.1:16-17.

Jesus' teaching on SALVATION and exegeted by Paul may be represented as follows:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS

Paul explains Jesus' teaching on salvation as follows: faith (Christ's faithfulness + our faith response) brings with it a state of holiness before God (righteousness, right-standing, covenant compliance ....) and thus the full appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant evidenced in the fruit of good living (works of the law).

Jesus' teachings, particularly as they relate to ethics, reflect the context of Second Temple Judaism and its pietism. Although it was generally accepted that Israel stood under the grace of God, it was held that the full appropriation of the blessings of the covenant necessitated a faithful attention to the works of the law. Paul functions within the same context, with the Judaizers / members of the circumcision party, similarly seeing themselves as saved by grace, but bound by law for the full appropriation of new life in Christ. As the reader can attest, this heresy is alive and well today. The heresy of nomism can be represented as follows:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS + WORKS = BLESSINGS

This heresy is different to the one Luther faced. He confronted the heresy of legalism, a heresy about getting saved, rather than staying saved:

FAITH + WORKS = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS

As the exegete of Jesus, Paul makes it clear that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works of the law. The law but serves two ends: i] to make sin more sinful, so leading to repentance, and ii] to guide the Christian life. Jesus' constant use of the law to expose sin, usually in the context of a discussion with self-righteous Pharisees or disciples, can lead to a downplaying of the Law, a heresy confronted head-on by James (hedonism, libertinism):

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS - (minus) WORKS

James serves as the exegete of Jesus at this point by reinforcing the fact that the fruit of faith is good works, such that where there is no good works there is likely to be no faith - whoever has been forgiven much loves much, Lk.7:47.

Our capacity today to understand the gospels has been undermined somewhat by the new perspective on Paul - helpful in some ways, but generally confusing:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS - (minus) WORKS = GENTILE INCLUSION

The new perspective commentators have ended up lost in the idea of Gentile inclusion, but for Jesus, and his exegete Paul, the issue is how a person (a descendant of Abraham and the Gentiles within his gate!) may appropriate in full the promised blessings of the covenant. It is not by law suppressing sin to promote holiness (nomism / sanctification by obedience / "trust AND OBEY for there's no other way ..."), but by faith in the faithfulness of Christ. It is all of grace.

This then is the substance of Jesus' teaching and the substance of Luke's shaping of the gospel tradition.

 
Language and style

Luke uses classical Greek expression, constantly altering the hebraisms of Mark and his other sources, working to improve the style of his gospel. In general terms his "literary abilities were of a superior order" (Metzger).

 
Luke as a historian

Luke certainly comes at his subject in a scientific way. He roots the key events of his story in history, evidencing the events as history. Clearly he has researched his work, but it is difficult to see it as "an orderly account" (Lk.1:1-4), in the sense of a chronological listing of facts. The gospel writers don't just list the facts of Jesus life, they are into recording the keryguma, the proclaimed message of the early church, ie. the gospel. The gospel writers are into theology. None-the-less, Luke comes at his subject as researched history with the knowledge that his material is rooted in fact.

i] The gospel of salvation. Luke considers his Gentile readers when he exegetes the gospel in terms of salvation as an experience for the present age. A coming kingdom is not easily understood by Gentiles. For Luke, Jesus is in the business of proclaiming an important message from God ("preach the gospel"), it is a message of "salvation". "The Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost", 19:10. It is not just a salvation from the "wrath to come", but a life-giving salvation in the present, a coming close to the life-giver himself.

ii] Salvation for all. Luke makes a point of defining "the lost", not as "righteous" Israel, but outcast Israel, the brokenhearted, the sinner...., and not just broken Israel, but also outcast Gentiles.

iii] Justification. Given that Luke partnered Paul in his Gentile missionary work, it is understandable that Luke would focus on Paul's "my gospel", ie. a gospel that focuses on a justification that rests on the atoning work of Christ and consequently produces in the justified believer the fullness of new life in Christ. Paul serves as the exegete of Jesus' gospel, and therefore Paul's gospel perspective influences Luke's selection and arrangement of the kereguma. Unlike the other gospel writers, Luke does not focus on the cross of Jesus, but rather on the resurrection life of Christ. He lives, therefore we may live also, and this as a gift of grace appropriated by faith. Luke is also careful in exposing the central function of law. Luke makes sure that no believer could ever think that their Christian life progressed on the basis of faithful obedience. Luke stresses the cross-bearing discipleship of Jesus, not to push us into self-sacrifice, but rather to show us that only Christ's self-sacrifice can obtain God's favor.

iv] Church. Luke shows a keen eye for his missionary church in that he emphasizes the task of gospel proclamation in the power of the Spirit of God, and this supported by prayer.

 
Sources

It is generally accepted that Mark was first to compose his gospel and that Luke and Matthew used it to compose their own, along with another document known as "Q" (now lost), as well as their own source material. Certainly it seems that large slabs of Mark are quoted in Luke's gospel, yet Luke does not quote Mark word for word and this seems to fly in the face of his claim to record the Jesus story accurately. He seems to happily alter Mark's record when it suits his purpose.

We need to understand that the gospel record was firmly entrenched in the oral history of the first century church. The telling and retelling of the stories not only set a common story line, but also bundles of stories and sayings were most likely part of that oral tradition. Luke could quite possibly compose his gospel without any reference to Mark, although he probably knew it well. Given the flexibility of oral tradition (localized variations, its "life situation", ie. preaching) Luke's many charges to Mark's record is quite understandable.

 
Date

It is beyond doubt that the gospel was written by Luke the "beloved physician" and friend of Paul the apostle, yet the date of writing is open to much dispute. It was most likely written in Rome during Paul's imprisonment in conjunction with the writing of Acts. This would date it in the early 60's and certainly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

 
Bibliography: Commentaries - Luke

Arndt, Concordia 1956. Black, NIV. Bock, BECNT. Bovon, ch. 1-9, Hermenia. Browning, Torch. Burnside, CGTSC, 1913. Caird, Pelican. Creed, Macmillan; 1930. Culy, HGT, 2010. Combined authorship: Martin Culy, Mikeal Parsons and Joshua Stigall. Danker, Clayton Publishing House. Drury, Phillips. Easton, T&T Clark, Source critical, 1926. Ellis, NCB. Evans C.F., TPI, 1990. Fitzmyer, Anchor. Glendenhuys, NICNT, Replaced. Gooding, IVF. Green, NICNT, 1997. Hendriksen, Banner of Truth. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, SCM. Johnson, Sacra Pagina. Karris, Doubleday. Leaney, Blacks. Luce, CGTSC, 1933. Manson W, MNTC, 1930. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, SCM, 1949. Marshall, NIGTC, 1930. Melinsky, Libra, 1966. Meyers, T&T Clark, 1877. Morris, Tyndale, 1974. Nolland, Word. Pallis, Oxford, Greek notes, 1928. Plummer, ICC, 1922. Schweitzer, John Knox. Stein, NAC. Talbert, Crossroads, a reading. Tannehill, "The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts"/Fortress Press. Thompson, New Clarendon. Tinsley, CBC. Wright, Macmillan, 1900, Gk.

 

Luke: Expositions

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