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Commentaries on Luke

The Gospel According to Luke, (2 vols.)
The Anchor Bible
Joseph A. Fitzmyer
Doubleday & Company, 1981, 1642 pages in the two volumes

The "dean" of traditional, historical critical commentaries. Focuses on determining the form and sources of each passage. In addition to verse by verse commentary, it includes essays on current Lucan studies, Lucan theology, and other topics. This work has a deserved reputation for being careful and thorough. However, it was written before the rise of literary critical approaches, and it can come off now as a bit dry and unsatisfying. It woud be hard to write a sermon, for example, just using this. Use it as the foundation, but add another work. Still belongs in any serious library.

The Gospel of Luke
The New International Commentary on the Net Testament
Joel B. Green
Eerdmans, 1997, 880 pages

Like Fitzmyer, this is a fully technical commentary, but the intervening 18 years have led to different emphasis. Green takes a literary critical approach, with more emphasis on the meaning of the text as narrative and less on the sometimes reductionistic approaches of the high critical methods. Solid and reliable. A major work by a leading scholar.

Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A literary-cultural approach to the Parables in Luke
Kenneth E. Bailey
Eerdmans, 1976 & 1980, 400 pages total

Bailey's unique contribution is that he sat down with a number of trusted Palestinian nomads and listened carefully to their take on the cultural issues behind various parables. He contends, with some justice, that this group of people have something in contact with the original culture that these parables arose in, and thus can help us understand the unstated assumptions and cultural implications of the texts. He invested many years in this and did it with care and precision. On top of that, he has explored the early translations of the New Testament into Syrac and related languages. The result is nothing short of stunning. His analysis of the puzzling parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13) is worth the price of admission alone, and even on the well-trod parable of the Good Samaritan, he has much valuable insight to share.

Bailey has also written other works including "Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15" that focus on the lost sheep, lost coin, lost son, parables of that chapter. All of his works I especially recommended.


Jesus, Politics, and Society: A Study of Luke's Gospel
Richard J. Cassidy
Orbis Books, 1978, 220 pages.

This is a liberation theology approach to Luke. This is interesting because one significant "mainstream" perspective on Luke is that he is trying to appeal to Roman citizens by showing them that Christianity is a respectable religion, supportive of good order and no treat to Rome. Cassidy works the other side of the street arguing that Luke is firmly supportive of the poor and downtrodden and opposed to much of how Rome is organized.

What are they saying about Luke?
Mark Allan Powell
Paulist Press, 1989, 140 pages.

This is part of a series that attempts to survey current work and "hot" questions in some area of scholarly concern. Chapters address methodological issues, Luke's use of sources, Luke's community (and how it shaped the gospel), key theological issues, and other issues.

Luke 1 (Hermeneia)
Francois Bovon
Fortress Press, 2002, 380 pages

Covers Luke 1:1 - 9:50. Technical with the usual easy to use layout of Hermeneia series. The translation is well done and the text flows well. He admires his subject.


The Gospel of Luke
Luke Timothy Johnson
The Liturgical Press, 1991, 450 pages.

At one point Johnson writes: “… the reader who wants to understand how Luke constructs his overall story in order to accomplish certain religious goals.”  It’s a good description of Johnson’s approach: using literary analysis to call our attention to the flow and structure of Luke’s argument.

Johnson certainly knows the literature; in this commentary he chooses to present arguments and conclusions without extensive reference to the literature. Not many footnotes.  He is a serious scholar and does not lead people astray, but those seeking an in depth study may be slightly frustrated.  It might be a better commentary for those who are new to in depth scholarship rather than to those wanting to study a particular passage in depth.

I also found myself frustrated at times that he seems to stop just when things are getting interesting.  That is, the space needed to draw out and explain Luke’s argument doesn’t leave room for the reflection on theological and spiritual implications of the text that I would have valued coming from Johnson.

Still, while I have written negative sounding comments, this is a serious commentary by a prolific, respected author and worth attention.

The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol 1: The Gospel According to Luke
Robert C. Tannehill
Fortress Press, 1986, 330 pages.

This is widely regarded as a classic, ground-breaking, but perhaps its own success has led to it being surpassed. The narrative insights presented here seem ordinary now. It focuses on character and attempts to read Luke thematically and more holistically as opposed to a verse by verse exegesis.

A Handbook on the Gospel of Luke
(UBS Handbook Series)
J. Reiling, J. L. Swellengrebel
United Bible Societies, 1971
780 pages, indices.

This work is, as the title indicates, intended to help those translating the Bible into other languages. Thus, it focuses on issues of precise translation: how do you translate "sheep" if the society doesn't have sheep, or, equally serious, regards them or shepherding very differently than the culture of the Bible.

Reading this or any volume is a fascinating study in the slipperiness of language and a good antidote to people thumping away on the King James Version.


Last updated 3/2/06; posted 12/19/99; © 2006 John P. Nordin