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Luke for Everyone, reviewed

January 11, 2014

Luke for Everyone

“On the very first occasion when someone stood up in public to tell people about Jesus,” N.T. Wright writes, “he made it very clear: this message is for everyone.”

“N.T.” (is it coincidence that his initials also stand for “New Testament”?) wants the results of careful exegesis and historical background research (his specialties) to be accessible to the general populace–to everyone. While this is an ambitious target audience, Wright’s extensive knowledge of biblical language and history, coupled with his ability to write accessibly, make the series a success. He writes “especially to people who wouldn’t normally read a book with footnotes or Greek words in it.”

This fall I preached through parts of Luke, and had the benefit of consulting Wright’s Luke for Everyone each week as I prepared. He was often helpful, both with historical background and a better devotional understanding of the text and how to apply it. Regarding the well-known story in Luke 10 of Mary and Martha, he notes the real “problem” with Mary: “Mary was behaving as if she were a man” (Wright’s emphasis). He explains:

In the same way, to sit at the feet of a teacher was a decidedly male role. ‘Sitting at someone’s feet’ doesn’t mean (as it might sound to us) a devoted, dog-like adoring posture, as though the teacher were a rock star or a sports idol. When Saul of Tarsus ‘sat at the feet of Gamaliel’ (Acts 22:3), he wasn’t gazing up adoringly and thinking how wonderful the great rabbi was; he was listening and learning, focusing on the teaching of his master and putting it together in his mind.

“Rabbi” in the above passage is in bold, which means it corresponds to a glossary entry in the back. There are other important glossed terms throughout the book, with their entries in the Glossary.

Wright divides Luke into 89 different passages, so that each story, parable, or section can receive a good amount of treatment. This is not as long as other commentaries, so Wright doesn’t even attempt to do verse-by-verse-level detail, but the 4-5 pages per passage tend to be sufficient enough for a general orientation.

What I especially appreciated about this commentary was having someone whose knowledge of Scripture is fairly encyclopedic writing in colloquial, everyday terms. For example, he leads off his section on the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin with a story of a neighbor down the street who threw a noisy party. It led him to “thinking about how one person’s celebration can be really annoying for someone else, especially if they don’t understand the reason for the party.”

As he exposits the passage, he notes:

In the stories of the sheep and the coin, the punch line in each case depends on the Jewish belief that the two halves of God’s creation, heaven and earth, were meant to fit together and be in harmony with each other. If you discover what’s going on in heaven, you’ll discover how things were meant to be on earth. That, after all, is the point of praying that God’s kingdom will come ‘on earth as in heaven’.

He concludes:

The point of the parables is then clear. This is why there’s a party going on: all heaven is having a party, the angels are joining in, and if we don’t have one as well we’ll be out of tune with God’s reality.

The commentary itself would already be good as-is, but Wright also provides his own original translation of each passage under consideration. It’s a really good translation: highly readable and also faithful to the original. It reads as well as a modern paraphrase, but stays closer to the Greek than a paraphrase does. Here’s an example, the Lord’s Prayer:

‘When you pray,’ replied Jesus, ‘this is what to say:

‘Father, may your name be honoured; may your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, as we too forgive all our debtors; and don’t put us to the test.’

Luke for Everyone would make a great devotional guide to reading through the book in one’s private Bible study, and someone taking a group through Luke would also benefit from it. Its blend of substance and accessibility is unique. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Westminster John Knox Press for the review copy of Luke for Everyone. You can find the book on Amazon here, or at the publisher’s product page here.

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