The Gospel according to Luke, Pillar Commentary (Review)

Published: RTR 74, no. 3, 2015

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE, The Pillar New Testament Commentary

by James R. Edwards, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015)


Hardcover 859 pages US$65

This is Edwards’ second, sterling contribution to the PNTC series, his first being on Mark (applauded by the present reviewer in RTR 67.2, 2008). As with the first, this volume is in touch with the Gospel author’s historical setting and with the Jewish world, always in tune with overarching themes and intentions, detailed and yet lucid, and unspeculative and reliable, and so useful for ministry purposes.

One distinguishing feature amongst commentaries on Luke is that Edwards sees the Gospel as not only addressing Gentile readers, but also exploring the place of the Jews in the fulfilment of salvation history. Edwards is inclined to think that Luke was Jewish. He notes the focus on Jewish practices and worship, and the Hebraisms (in Special Luke, which he ascribes to a Hebrew source, about which Edwards has written elsewhere). He observes that there is almost no patristic comment to the effect that Luke was Gentile, and the only biblical basis is an unnecessary inference drawn from Col 4:10–11. Luke’s ethnicity is no-where directly raised in Scripture, a remarkable omission if indeed he was Gentile. Possibly the Lucius of Acts 13:1 and Rom 16:21 are Luke, who is called a ‘fellow Jew’ in the latter reference. ‘[T]he Gentile birth certificate that has so freely been issued to Luke in popular tradition should be reconsidered’ (p. 10). The case is stated compellingly, and supported throughout the commentary by tracking the Hebraisms.

Various excursuses are included along the way. Of particular interest are those on Luke’s Elijah-Elisha typology and his use of pairs, especially male-female pairs. Additionally, the main commentary continually responds to a surprising number of controversial, derivative and peripheral issues. There is a defence of Mary as the composer of the Magnificat. ‘Anyone familiar with twentieth-century literature of oppression…will not find it terribly difficult to imagine that a marginalized young peasant woman steeped in the psalms of Israel could have composed what we know as the Magnificat’ (p. 54). Edwards pauses to consider the adoptionist reading of Jesus’ baptism, which he dispatches with aplomb (p. 119).

As one of the few points of demurral, there needed to be greater accuracy on the Sabbath in Luke 6:1–5. Edwards puts it that that Jesus cites ‘David’s violation of Torah…as a precedent for’ His own action (p. 178). By Davidic, Messianic authority, Jesus ‘contravene[s] Sabbath convention’ (p. 179). ‘The purpose of the Sabbath, as originally intended by God, cannot be understood by Moses…but only by Jesus’ (p. 180). A better manner of expression is to say that David did not break Torah, but understood its spirit and intent, especially as it applied to his special role in salvation history. The synoptic parallels make clear that the Law allows Sabbath exceptions for priests (with an underlying principle of not hindering ministry). Jesus is claiming that those exceptions apply to him, the antitypical priest-king. Luke does not have Jesus contradicting the OT, but invoking a forgotten Torah principle (‘Have you not read…?’ 6:3). Otherwise, we head in to a disjunctive view of the unchanging God’s singular Word, and round the dangerous corner of antinomianism.

The other point of demurral is with regard to the otherwise refreshingly standard interpretation of the Prodigal Son parable. There is one misstep that could have a negative impact upon the proclamation of the Gospel, upon the exercise of discipline in the Church, and upon the maintenance of God-honouring Christian relationships. ‘[T]he father extends compassion and forgiveness not when he knows of his son’s repentance… Forgiveness is not merited by repentance, but freely and unconditionally bestowed upon his son before he says a word’ (p. 442). ‘The sin, forgiven before it was confessed, needs no further confession’ (p. 443). Strictly, the text does not speak of forgiveness but compassion, which ought to caution against soteriologically overloading the parable. Apart from that, the son’s return is a physical confession and repentance, a reorientation of his life back towards his father, sufficient for the parable’s purpose (and further, the son’s heart attitude has already been declared, which an omniscient Father would know, so again, this is sufficient for the parable’s pupose). Luke’s point is about how eager the heavenly Father is to forgive, and that He does not need a great display of contrition, not that repentance is not essential. Forgiveness is not merited by repentance, but that does not mean that there is forgiveness without repentance. That would be another antinomian mistake. ‘Unless you repent, you will all perish in your sins’ (13:3). ‘Repent and be baptised…for the forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 2:38).

Edwards comments on the breaking of bread in Luke 24 are apt, as he speaks of the three meals in Luke progressing from ‘satisfaction [physical, at the feeding of the 5,000] to recollection [at the Passover] to revelation’ (p. 723). Edwards holds that the ch 24 meal is not a Eucharist, since no wine is said to be present, but ‘the formulaic narration of all three meals echoes early Christian eucharistic liturgies’ (p. 724).

This is amongst the finest of the already outstanding corpus of Luke commentaries, and is to be spoken of in superlative terms.