Luke (Zondervan ECNT), reviewed

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.

Magnificent Monograph Monday: The Later New Testament Writings and Scripture, Reviewed

Eisegesis. Not a label most evangelical Biblical interpreters want to wear. If exegesis is drawing the meaning out of a text–with a careful eye toward its original context and authorial intention–eisegesis is taking one’s own set of meanings and intentions into the text. Evangelical scholars aim to practice the former and avoid the latter, although of course everyone comes to any text with some presuppositions. (And new hermeneutics like reader response criticism may see this as a good thing anyway.)

My seminary teaches an exegetical method that majors on reading a text in its original context and understanding its original purpose. I’ve often thought that if New Testament writers submitted any of their works as exegesis papers, they’d fail because of the various “hermeneutical fallacies” they commit! It seems that New Testament writers freely appropriate or proof-text Old Testament passages for their own purposes, no matter the original context or intention of the passage at hand. They might even be accused of eisegesis, were they employing their methods today.

Baker Academic has just published the third volume of Steve Moyises’s de facto trilogy, in which he examines how Jesus, Paul, and the later New Testament writers use Scripture. He seeks to “give an account of” and “consider the use of Scripture” in the later NT writings. This is a “study” of “important engagements with Scripture.”

Just picking up the book before reading it was a pleasure–the layout is great, the paper quality is high, the font is clear and easy to read, and the cover design is appealing. Especially for a paperback, it’s an attractive volume to have on a bookshelf. (I note here that I received a free copy from Baker in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Moyise treats Acts, 1 Peter, Jude/2 Peter, James, Hebrews, Revelation, and includes a brief excursus on 1-3 John. He is thorough in the Scriptures he treats, which is especially aided by a UBS index in the back that serves as an index of all the quotations of the Old Testament in the above books. (There are full Scripture and author/subject indeces, too.)

The author groups the Scriptures thematically or by Old Testament book, rather than going verse by verse through each of the New Testament writings under consideration. In Acts, for example, he considers how the author Luke uses Old Testament Scripture to address themes like “Salvation for Jews and Gentiles,” “Christ’s death, resurrection, and exaltation,” “Judgement,” and so on. In 1 Peter Moyise has sections devoted to I Peter’s use of the Psalms, of Isaiah, etc. Moyise does this so as not to “miss the wood for the trees,” and he is successful. The reader, then, can conclude each portion of the book with a solid overview of how each NT writer uses the OT.

The text is accessible to a non-scholar or non-specialist in this field. For example, Moyise explains on p. 4:

[I]n some cases the New Testament authors appear to know a version of the text that differs from the majority of manuscripts that have come down to us. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1948–) has shown that the biblical text existed in several forms in the first century and it is not always clear which form is being quoted.

He uses gray shaded boxes at various points to succinctly explain key concepts such as “typological interpretation” or to address things like 2 Peter’s use of the largely unknown 1 Enoch. The endnotes include more textual details and point the reader in the direction of the scholarly writings about each book. One does not need knowledge of the original language to read Moyise, but he does at times use transliteration of various Greek words if it helps his explanation.

The potential reader might be concerned that a book about intertextuality could end up as just a dry list of references. Moyise does thoroughly catalog the quoted OT passages, yet he draws conclusions from such use, as well:

Although James’s use of Scripture is not christological in a doctrinal sense, it bears comparison with Jesus’ own interpretation of the law, particularly his emphasis on seeing the law in the light of the twin commands to love God and neighbour. (63)

Moyise presents various interpretations in an even-handed, balanced way. I felt more than once like I was reading R.T. France, a favorite commentator of mine. He includes, too, the full text of many of the verses he cites, eliminating the need to flip back and forth through other reference works while reading this one. Jude and 2 Peter have a helpful table of comparisons where the two are lined up side-by-side, and this feature is present for other passages also.

There were a couple times where I thought Moyise might be guilty of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (inferring causation just because one thing chronologically follows the other). In Revelation, for example (which he notes quotes no Scripture explicitly but is full of allusions), he speaks in terms of the “source” of (129, 137) or “inspiration behind” (130) John’s descriptions of his visions. My response to this was–just because John’s language has much in common with the Scriptures that came before him, do they therefore have to be his source? What if his source was, in fact, the vision he had, and he just used Scriptural language to express it?

Finally in the conclusion to his section on Revelation, Moyise addresses this very question. In fact, he is quite aware of questions like mine, and in the end treats it thoroughly and fairly, citing those who advocate a “scribal model” (where John is said to have basically just compiled Scriptures into a new presentation) and those who advocate a “rhetorical model” (where John uses OT language to express something new that he actually saw).

My question about whether or not NT writers are in some sense eisegetes is not an uncommon one. Students often ask: If we’re not supposed to handle Scripture that way, how can they? Though Moyise doesn’t necessarily set out to answer that question in this volume, he answers it beautifully:

The important point in all this is that the Scriptures did not exist in a vacuum. They were part of a living tradition where text and interpretation were transmitted together. (148)

In describing Revelation’s use of Daniel, for example, he says it is “not necessarily an ‘improper’ use of Scripture but hardly what Daniel had in mind” (140).

Moyise (87) quotes Susan E. Docherty from her book The Use of the Old Testament in Hebrews:

The author of Hebrews as much as any ancient Jewish exegete…regarded it as legitimate interpretation to seek out what scriptural texts imply as much as what they actually say, presumably believing that the new meaning he gave them was inherent in the original revelation, which he regarded as having endless depths of meaning and real contemporary relevance.

That Moyise’s trilogy of books on NT use of Scripture exists is a testament to the depth of Scripture. Moyise is a fantastic guide for exploring what can be confusing and difficult territory.

(Here’s the book at Amazon.)

Best Commentaries

A few posts back I mentioned a great series that a blog called Reading Acts is doing, suggesting five good commentaries to own for each book of the New Testament.

There is also a site that I frequent, called Best Commentaries, that compiles and averages user reviews and ratings to rank the best commentaries on all the books of the Bible. The rankings are somewhat subjective and open to disagreement, but the site is quite helpful all the same. You can look up commentaries by book of the Bible or by commentary series. The site also notes the “academic level” of each commentary, so you know if Greek/Hebrew is required to understand it (“Technical”), if it’s ideal for sermon prep and heavy exegesis (“Pastoral”), or if it’s of a more “Devotional” nature.

(Of course, I think some commentaries fit into all three categories at once.)

Best Commentaries has served me multiple times already as a helpful guide. I highly recommend it.

R.T. France on Mark

R.T. France’s commentary on Mark focuses on the Greek text, but I’d recommend it to anyone interested in carefully working through the Gospel of Mark, regardless of Greek knowledge. France takes the utmost care to interpret the text, providing much relevant background and comparison with other Gospels. Even as he is exegeting a single word or phrase from one verse, he always has the whole contour of the book in mind. While he does not formally have an application section as such, the conclusions he draws from the text are such that the careful reader could easily come up with applications from France’s insights.

France’s work is technical, yet easy enough to read, especially for a commentary. Beyond its superb quality as a technical/academic commentary, it has even gone so far as to more deeply inspire me in my own view of Jesus and his ministry. It’s well worth the money to purchase this book, and well worth the effort to work one’s way through it.

Sadly, France just passed away in February.  I was fortunate to be taking a class this past semester where this commentary was the primary textbook.