Luke is my favorite of the four gospels, so when I was given the chance to review a commentary for Baker Academic, there was only one volume that was an obvious choice.
The obvious choice turned out to be a great one.
Written by David Lyle Jeffrey, this part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible is a fantastic resource for someone who’s looking to deepen their study of Scripture while not getting bogged down with the issues that are crucial to scholars but aren’t as pressing to lay readers. With the exception of the introduction, this volume delves immediately into the text, covering all 24 chapters of Luke’s work by compiling the writings of modern and ancient scholars on the gospel.
That’s where the Brazos series draws its strength: it draws from Catholics and Protestants alike. Where on one page you might find a quote or paraphrase from N.T. Wright, on the next you’ll read the insights of Pope Benedict (or one of his predecessors). This was a huge draw for me, not to mention a pleasant surprise. Many writers fall into the trap of drawing only from sources that agree with them. Brazos’ commentary series draws part of its strength from its willingness to admit that the Holy Spirit hasn’t given insight only to one group of Christians.
For that matter, the Spirit hasn’t given insight only to modern scholars or writers, which is why a host of early church fathers and other significant Christian figures in the early centuries find their works included here. Augustine is an obvious choice, as is John Chrysostom’s golden-tongued writings. John Calvin, Clement of Alexandria, Thomas Aquinas, Justin Martyr, Peter Lombard, Gregory the Great, and Eusebius are just a few of the ancient, medieval, and Reformation-era thinkers referenced.
At not even 300 pages, Luke still packs an intellectual and theological punch. To start with this volume, I decided to go first to my favorite story in Luke’s gospel: the story of the prostitute who barged into a Pharisee’s party and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears. This has always been a powerful passage about forgiveness for me, and I wanted to know what light Brazos might shed on it.
Jeffrey draws on scholarship to note that Simon the Pharisee’s party had a Hellenistic bent to it and that Jesus had been invited to have a “philosophical discussion of a sort to tease out the character of his teaching or even of the nature of his evidence claims concerning his identity” (112). The section also includes a discussion on that era’s view on sin as a debt (and a shifting away from the perspective of iniquity as a burden) as well as contrasts the actions of Simon and the woman: the prostitute managed to show Jesus proper hospitality, in the home of a Pharisee who had evidently refused to do so (114).
Other sections of the commentary prove just as enlightening. In the section on John the Baptist’s teaching, Jeffrey notes that John’s reference to not being worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal was a marital statement. Loosening a sandal strap is a custom found in the Old Testament—specifically, in the stories of Judah and Tamar and Ruth and Boaz. In the case of the latter, Boaz becomes Ruth’s kinsmen redeemer after the man who had the legal obligation to marry her took off his sandal and gave it to Boaz, who at that point had no barrier to marrying Ruth. It’s as if John is saying that he is not worthy to be Israel’s redeemer. (Remember, a good number of people in the gospel had wondered if John, not Jesus, was the anointed one from God who would save them.) Jeffrey includes insight from Gregory the Great, who on this passage wrote:
“John denounces himself as unworthy to loose the latchet of Christ’s shoes; as if he openly said, ‘I am not able to disclose the footsteps of the Redeemer, and do not presume to take unto myself unworthily the name of bridegroom,’ for it was an ancient custom that when a man refused to take a wife her to whom he was obligated, whoever should come to her betrothed by right of kin was to loose his shoe” (Forty Gospel Homilies 6, cited in the commentary)
Regarding the parable of the prodigal son, Jeffrey quotes from Ambrose, who sees the younger son’s decision as resulting in a loss of freedom:
“For what is more afar-off than to depart from one’s self, to be separate not by country but by habits. For he who severs himself from Christ is an exile from his [true] country and a citizen [only] of this world”.
I also found the allegorical interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan worth the read:
“For Origen, as for Ambrose and Augustine after him, we can see in the poor traveler, descending from Jerusalem, the visio pacis, toward Jericho, a city identified with the sin of the world, a kind of everyman figure, embodying in his descent from divine intention the universal journey into the fallen world of the first Adam. On this reading the robbers are the demonic assaults and depredations of sin, which indeed leave us bereft of substance and half dead. The priest and Levite are figures for the law and the prophets, or for the establishments of religiosity, which do not minister to our condition. Christ is the good Samaritan, the one regarded as outcast by these religiously proper persons and institutions but who actually seeks and saves the lost at his own expense” (151).
That’s just a sampling of what this volume offers, and if you’re looking to go deeper into Luke’s gospel—and use that theological treasure to grow in your faith—then I’m hard-pressed to find a reason why Brazos’ commentary on Luke wouldn’t be on your shelf.