New Testament Commentary Reviews: Luke

The Gospel according to Luke

Thousands of commentaries have been written about the Bible, and it’s easy to become confused because these resources are written to various audiences. Choosing the “best” will depend upon the kind of analysis you desire. Commentaries are often divided into three categories:

  • Devotional/Introductory–the primary focus is application of the Word and growing in Christ. Lots of “how to” questions are answered.

  • Pastoral/Intermediate–these commentaries also contain application but are more information oriented. Some go deep into the history or cultural background of the text, while others pay more attention to linguistics. Lots of “what does it mean” questions are answered. Useful for any Christ follower and especially helpful to those who teach.

  • Technical/Advanced–primary value is to teachers and advanced students. Some technical commentaries focus on textual criticism (the reliability of the text), while others address linguistics (the text itself). Lots of minutiae. These commentaries contain Greek text (sometimes transliterated, sometimes not) and require familiarity with Koine Greek to extract their full benefit, but even those with no knowledge of Greek will find these commentaries useful.

My recommendations identify which category each book falls into. Some commentaries overlap; when they do, both categories will be noted (e.g., Pastoral/Technical). The recommendations are listed in order of their helpfulness to Bible students, teachers, and pastors.

The Gospel according to Luke

I’m not sure why, but I have more trouble finding good commentaries for Luke than any other gospel. My top choice is one of my favorite Bible commentaries, but the rest have been of limited use. Below are five that I use, and one I recommend for new teachers.

  • The first commentary I reach for when studying the Gospel of Luke is by Darrell Bock in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Baker, 1994). Technical/Pastoral. The Gospel of Luke is long, and commentaries that are going to be thorough must also be long. Bock’s analysis is 2100+ pages and takes up two fat volumes. Packed with helpful information, this commentary consistently answers the kinds of questions I ask. My copy is a dog-eared and scribbled-up treasure.

    Lagniappe: Bock also wrote my favorite introduction to the four gospels: Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Baker Academic, 2002). Also doubles as a terrific harmony of the synoptics (John’s gospel is dealt with separately). Each pericope is numbered and includes links to the harmonies of Aland, Orchard, and Huck-Greeven. Invaluable for seeing the gospels holistically.

  • My second favorite commentary is by David Garland in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2011). Pastoral. This new series is designed for pastors and teachers, and so far I am really liking the quality of commentaries in ZECNT. Each multi-verse section includes a look at literary context, the passage’s main idea, a fresh translation of the text, structure and literary form, an exegetical outline, and finally, theology in application. Garland’s commentary is relatively long (1000+ pages), but only half the size of Bock’s tome, and it will give you a strong grasp of Luke’s gospel.

  • My third recommendation is by Walter Liefield in the Expositors Bible Commentary revised (Zondervan, 2005). A commentary of few words (250 pages), but Liefield makes good use of the space. For example, in his comments on the Temptation (4:1–13), he expands on the parallel with Israel’s test in the wilderness, distinguishes between three kinds of peirasmos (translated “tempt” or “test”), and provides lots of useful background info about each temptation. This commentary is brief, but it packs a punch.

    Lagniappe: If you are on a budget, this commentary can be purchased on the secondary market in its first edition (Zondervan, 1984), where it is combined with Don Carson’s commentary on Matthew (my favorite on that gospel) and Walter Wessel’s commentary on Mark. A great value.

  • Another commentary I recommend is by Robert Stein in the New American Commentary (Broadman, 1993). Pastoral. Stein divides each pericope into three sections: context, content, and the Lukan message. The context portion grounds the pericope in the larger story being told; the content section offers a concise exegesis; and the Lukan message focuses on theology. Teachers will find these divisions useful when preparing lessons. The exegesis is sometimes too brief to be of much value, but the theology section is helpful.

  • A fifth commentary I like is by Joel Green in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2007). Technical/Pastoral. Green explains the text in its historical and theological context. I am frequently blessed by his insights, and my well-marked copy is evidence of my appreciation. The Greek text is not transliterated, but there is little of it because Green offers a literary analysis and rarely deals with textual criticism. Get Bock for that, or if you’re looking for something more technical, get I. Howard Marshall in the New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1978). Green’s commentary is good for historiographical information, but its narrow in scope, so it’s more of a supplementary resource than a primary one.

  • A book I recommend to new and developing teachers is by Richard France in the Teach the Text Commentary Series (Baker, 2013). Pastoral/Devotional. This unique series was designed for preachers and teachers who are pressed for time and resources when preparing weekly lessons, so what we see is the fruit of the writer’s research rather than the process of how they arrived there. For many teachers, that’s enough, and if that’s you, this series will be of interest. France breaks Luke’s gospel into sixty-five units and devotes six pages of commentary to each, under the headings of big idea, key themes, understanding the text, teaching the text, and illustrating the text. If you are new to teaching, lacking confidence, or just need a creative jump start, this book might move you in the right direction.

Did I miss a commentary you are interested in? Drop me a line. These are not the only resources I am familiar with–these are just my favorites.

Next: Recommended commentaries on the Gospel according to John.

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