Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Luke commentary survey

Right before Thanksgiving, I finished a sermon series wherein I preached through the Gospel of Luke. Throughout the course of that series, I used a number of commentaries and other books.

When I prepare a sermon, I turn to commentaries and other resources after I've spent good time in the text itself, and then I usually consult a couple of commentaries regularly, while referring to others less frequently. Sometimes I'll do a lot of secondary reading for a sermon, but usually that is for more in-depth research of a topic, more than straightforward exegetical study. In the average week, I'll probably make use of 2-3 commentaries; it's exceptional for me to consult more than that.

Here are the commentaries and resources on Luke and what I thought of them:
  • The NIV Application Commentary: Luke by Darrell L. Bock. I like this series of commentaries, and I like Bock's writing and approach to Luke. There is great help here for the teacher and preacher, especially those who think in terms of the "fallen-condition focus" (or FCF) that Bryan Chapell teaches so thoroughly in Christ-Centered Preaching: Bock offers a section in every passage on bridging contexts, which was continuously thought-provoking for developing my FCF. Bock's treatment of many of Jesus' teachings occasionally drifts into a very methodological approach ("do these several things to accomplish this...") which often preaches like moralism or legalism. Otherwise, I found this one to be a regular resource-- not quite my "every week" read, but I probably consulted it more weeks than not.
  • New International Biblical Commentary: Luke by Craig A. Evans. This commentary is an enigma to me, in this way: it is often more technical (referencing Greek, for example) than a typical lay-level commentary, yet it offered little in the way of the kind of in-depth help that a more deeply-engaged student might desire. Consequently, I seldom turned to it for help, because I just didn't find the time spent there worth it.
  • New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke by Joel B. Green. This volume was one of my weekly tools; I loved Green's insight into both the text itself and the meaning, with good help from basic backgrounds and context and useful comments on original language matters. Yet every passage was treated concisely, and I never felt like he was presuming on my time. His writing style is academic, but not technical, and I found it quite readable (I occasionally read a section aloud to Marcie, and she found it so, as well). There's a lot of great help here for the preacher and the student.
  • The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke by Arthur A. Just, Jr. (editor). This is an interesting concept for a commentary series, and I think that the aim is a valuable one; if you're not familiar with these, the editors scour the writings of the church fathers and extract any teaching or reference that they make to particular texts, and include them in these as a collection of excerpts. In common usage, however, I often found that the most insightful excerpts were already to be found in other good commentaries. Therefore, this was useful for the occasional reflection quote, for the most part.
  • The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke by I. Howard Marshall. I didn't consult Marshall as often as I should have-- and that's my fault, not his. This one is above the rest as a help to the original language concerns of Luke, and when I used it I found it to be incredibly helpful that way. The reason for my relative infrequency (I probably referred to this commentary 1-2 times a month, at most) is my "inability" to more deeply engage the Greek of Luke, which I attribute mostly to limited time (though the rustiness makes me less efficient).
  • Reformed Expository Commentary: Luke, vols. 1 & 2 by Philip Graham Ryken. By far, my favorite commentaries on Luke were these. They are the "total package" of exegetical insight, engagement of key original language issues, cross-context application, helpful illustration, and suggestions for preaching and teaching. These commentaries are clearly the fruit of transcribing Ryken's sermons, perhaps with a bit of retouching and additional support added in-- which only strengthens their value as a preacher's resource, because they offer so much in the way of how to preach Luke well. This set joined Green as my weekly references.
  • The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Luke by Michael Wilcock. This series of commentaries is a great series, and I have great appreciation for Wilcock, as well. I occasionally found this useful for preaching, but less so because I was approaching the text at a slower pace than Wilcock works through it. This one, like all of the commentaries in this series, is great to put in the hands of laypeople who wish to support their reading with some additional study and thought.
  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Luke by Walter L. Liefeld. I owned this one already, because it was bound with D.A. Carson's phenomenal work on the gospel of Matthew. I wouldn't buy it if it were sold separately; it is much like Evans's commentary above, with not much for either layman or scholar.
  • The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener. This is a single volume commentary for the whole New Testament, but it doesn't set out to be a comprehensive commentary on every phrase or even every verse; rather, it picks out those words, phrases, as so on that have a particular nuance due to context of history, society, politics, etc. and identify what may be helpful to understand about that background material. As a result, it is a valuable resource for quick-referencing some of the more esoteric sayings or referents.
  • Reformed Expository Commentary: The Incarnation in the Gospels by Daniel M. Doriani, Philip Graham Ryken, and Richard D. Phillips. Every Pastor should have this book, because it is so helpful with regard to teaching and preaching those texts specifically related to the incarnation. A great help in Advent and Christmas, true; but there are occasions throughout the Gospels when the incarnation is a prominent theme, and these essays are particularly aimed at guiding through these occasions. There's also a lot of help here specifically for preparing sermons during Advent and Christmas, even including some new Advent hymns.
  • Luke: Historian and Theologian by I. Howard Marshall. This is the theology companion to Marshall's textual and linguistic commentary; he exposes the reader to the comprehensive theological teaching of Luke and how it develops. Marshall demonstrates both the harmony of Luke's theology with the other gospels and the rest of the New Testament, as well as the peculiarities that set Luke apart theologically. Less useful on a text-by-text basis, this one should simply be read straight through before starting the series and then referenced throughout the preparation process.
  • Literary Studies in Luke-Acts by Richard P. Thompson and Thomas E. Phillips (editors). I have to confess that text-critical matters simply didn't enter into my sermon preparation very much at all-- and certainly not into the preaching itself. In those few times that they did, however, this book was a helpful tool: I found the essay on the sequential use of the sayings of Jesus thought-provoking when I was working through the public teachings in Luke that also appeared in Matthew. When I get to Acts later this year (after the first section of Genesis), I imagine the potential for referring to this one again will be there; I'm glad to have it on my shelf, at any rate.
  • Hard Sayings of Jesus by Frederick Fyvie Bruce. Always the scholar and commentator, Bruce here tackles many of the teachings of Jesus that we either don't understand or we find difficult to know how to apply. Some of these appear in Luke, naturally, and it was a real relief to have some guidance on how to interpret and preach those when I encountered them.
  • Exploring the New Testament World by Albert A. Bell. Background material can be extremely useful for exposition, and when the brief help found in the IVP Background Commentary was insufficient then my main next stop is Albert Bell's book. I have a handful of others, too, but I can't remember encountering a backgrounds question that Bell didn't answer sufficiently.

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