The last few weeks I’ve been spending time with David Garland’s Luke volume in Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT) series.
Garland’s commentary is more than 1,000 pages, but this should not be a surprise, since Luke is the longest Gospel. Like the rest of the ZECNT series, it is “designed for the pastor and Bible teacher.” Garland assumes a basic knowledge of Greek, but Greek is not required to understand his commentary. For each passage the commentary gives the broader literary context, the main idea (great for preachers!), an original translation of the Greek and its graphical layout, the structure, an outline, explanation, and “theology in application” section.
The graphical layout of each passage is a unique contribution that Garland’s Luke makes to Luke studies. Even though a narrative book like Luke is easier to follow than some of Paul’s detailed arguments, seeing main clauses in bold with subordinate clauses indented under them (plus how they relate back to the main clause) gives the reader a quick, visual grasp of the entire passage at hand. Garland does this well, too. Pages 50 and 62-63 of the commentary in this sample pdf give you a taste.
Luke has the full Greek text of Luke, verse by verse, and full English translation by Garland (passage by passage in the graphical layout, then again verse by verse next to the Greek). A value for me in using reference works is not having to pull five more reference works off the shelf to use the first reference work! This is about as portable as exegesis of Luke gets. Garland’s English translation is a bit wooden at times–just about every καὶ in the opening narrative of 1:5-25 receives the translation “and,” which it shouldn’t always. ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν in 10:27 becomes “He answered and said,” where just “He said,” would be preferred.
Garland’s intro is short, but covers what it needs to. He attributes authorship to Luke and holds to Luke-Acts unity, as many scholars do. (“[Luke] is writing not simply about the life of Jesus but what Jesus inaugurated that continued in the deeds of his followers (Acts 1:1-8)” (27).) He understands Luke-Acts as fitting into the genre of “Hellenistic historiography.” He treats Luke’s potential sources, date of writing, readers, location, purpose, and structural outline. There is an additional “theology of Luke” section at the back of the commentary that complements the introduction. It doesn’t cover all the theological themes in Luke (healing/exorcism, for example, is absent), but it doesn’t claim to, either.
Where Garland really shines in this commentary is in his treatment of the Greek words and phrases that comprise the Luke text. He attends to the lexical meaning of given words, how they function in context, and their use in other parts of Scripture. This is helpful especially for parts of Luke where the Greek vocabulary is more obscure or difficult.
Teachers and preachers especially will appreciate the “Theology in Application” section that concludes each passage. To the pastor wondering how to preach on something like Luke’s prologue, Garland writes:
The purpose of the gospel is not to give information but certainty that will change lives. Erudition about Jesus is not the same as insight into Jesus. The history of Jesus is not to be divorced from the proclamation about Jesus, as if the two were somehow incompatible. (58)
This comes after a detailed exegesis of the first four verses. As someone with preaching experience, I can say this combination of thorough attention to the Greek text with contemporary application is pure gold.
Inevitably no commentary can say everything about every word in the text, but there are parts of Luke that I thought deserved more attention. For example, in Luke 8:31 the demons known as Legion beg Jesus not to cast them into the Abyss (Greek ἄβυσσος). Garland just offers, “The Abyss is the place of punishment for evil spirits” (358). Although he infers that this verse shows the “eschatological dimension” to exorcisms, nothing more is given about ἄβυσσος. For a word that appears just once in the Gospels yet multiple times in the Old Testament and Apocrypha, more background on this term would have been useful to the reader. This could, of course, merely reflect a space limitation in the commentary.
On the other hand, Garland’s commentary on the Good Samaritan parable (“merciful” as Garland has it) leaves out just about nothing. To provide needed historical context to the passage, Garland draws on what Josephus said about priests, what Sirach said about helping those in need, and includes an excursus on the “adversarial history” of Jews and Samaritans. Garland compellingly concludes from the parable:
The original Jewish audience must enter the ditch and accept a Samaritan as a savior, helper, and healer. They must experience being touched by this unclean enemy who treats a wounded man as a compatriot. (446)
Garland seeks to prove right the series claim that “all who strive to understand and teach the New Testament will find these books beneficial,” and he succeeds in this. Preachers or students of Luke will want to supplement Garland’s work with other works on Luke (Bock’s two volume set remains the standard), but the graphical layout of each passage and the theology in application sections alone are enough to warrant careful consideration of this volume.
(I am grateful to Zondervan for the free review copy of this commentary, which was offered to me in exchange for an unbiased review. You can find the book on Amazon here.)
UPDATE: Enter to win a free book giveaway of Ephesians from this same series.
11 thoughts on “Luke (Zondervan ECNT), reviewed”