Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The NIV Study Bible


The NIV Study Bible:
Evangelicalism Annotates an English Bible 
[Written in 2011.]
NOTE:  If you are not interested in the Background, skip to Contents of the Study Bible.  
Outline of the Review
            The NIV Translation
                        A Bible of Their Own
                        The Published Translation
            The NIV Study Bible:  Editions and Editors
                        The Editions
                        The Backgrounds of the Editors
                                    Kenneth L. Barker
                                    Donald W. Burdick
                                    John H. Stek
                                    Walter W. Wessel
                                    Ronald Youngblood
            Contents of the Study Bible
            Distinctive Evangelical Themes
            Examples of Interpretation
                        The Pentateuch
                        Creation
                        God’s Warfare
                        The Psalms 
                        The Gospels
            Evaluative Comments
The NIV Translation
A Bible of Their Own.  
In 1952 the Revised Standard Version of the Christian Bible was published under the auspices of the National Council of Churches, the ecumenical body of mainline Protestant denominations in the USA.  In the following generation this version of the Holy Bible finally replaced the worthy old King James Version of 1611 for the majority of Christians in those mainline churches.  
However, there were many groups of conservative Protestants (Evangelicals) who would not accept the RSV for their personal or congregational scripture reading.  They clung to the tried and true, if somewhat old fashioned, KJV.  Some RSV opponents went so far as to call it “the work of Satan and his agents” (Martin Marty, Modern American Religion, Vol. 3, pp. 368-69.)  At the same time, many Evangelical scholars and missionaries (who worked constantly with translations into colloquial languages) knew they really needed an up-to-date English version.  If not the RSV, then they needed one of their own.  
Without reference to the RSV, the “Preface” to the New International Version explains the origin of the translation as follows:  
The New International Version is a completely new translation of the Holy Bible [thus not a revision of the KJV] made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts.  It had its beginning in 1965 when, after several years of exploratory study by committees from the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals, a group of scholars met at Palos Heights, Illinois, and concurred in the need for a new translation of the Bible in contemporary English.  This group, though not made up of official church representatives, was transdenominational.  Its conclusion was endorsed by a large number of leaders from many denominations who met in Chicago [at Moody Bible Institute] in 1966. 
Responsibility for the new version was delegated by the Palos Heights group to a self-governing body of fifteen, the Committee on Bible Translation, composed for the most part of biblical scholars from colleges, universities and seminaries.  In 1967 the New York Bible Society (now the International Bible Society) generously undertook the financial sponsorship of the project—a sponsorship that made it possible to enlist the help of many distinguished scholars.  (“Preface,” first two paragraphs.)
The Preface goes on to explain that the translation is International because the project included scholars from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as the majority from the United States.  The translation was also safeguarded “from sectarian bias” by the involvement of scholars from at least thirteen different denominations, which are listed.  
It may be important to notice that the scholars who initiated the project made certain the translation remained in the control of an independent entity – at least as independent as the financial support of the New York Bible Society could make it.  The NIV was not owned by an ecumenical power, as the National Council of Churches owned the RSV.  Evangelicalism was too diverse (and, an observer might say, “contentious”) to trust the destiny of a major Bible translation to the vicissitudes of warfare among denominations and true believers.  
The chief candidate at the time for such an ownership of a new Bible translation was the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which thought of itself as the main alternative to the National Council.  This coalition of conservative Protestant denominations and churches was created in 1942 and has had varied success in uniting and giving a common voice to Evangelicalism.  In its long in-house history (available in 2011; now see www.nae.net/naes-beginning/), the NAE describes two periods of successes, 1943-1960, and the Reagan era.  Its role throughout, according to historian Roger Olson, has been “aiding the emergence of Evangelicalism out of its fundamentalist past while maintaining a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture and to historic Christian orthodoxy.”  (Roger E. Olson, The SCM Press A-Z of Evangelical Theology [= Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology], 2005, p. 87.)  
Clearly the NAE had been interested in a new Bible translation.  
Another NAE initiative in the 1950s with long-range consequences was the formation of a committee in 1957 to explore the possibility of a new translation of the Bible.  The National Council had five years earlier released the Revised Standard Version, but the new translation did not prove popular among many evangelicals.  The NAE committee began meeting with a similar committee commissioned by the Christian Reformed Church in 1961.  By 1965, the two committees formed an independent Committee on Bible Translation...  In 1978, the first copies of the New International Version of the Bible came off the presses.  The presses would not stop.  Ten years after initial publication more than 50 million copies had been distributed throughout the English-speaking world.  
            [On-line history available in 2011, last paragraph of “Growth and Accomplishments in the 1950s.”] 
The Christian Reformed Church was a Dutch-immigrant denomination formed in the 19th century that didn’t use English in its services until the 20th century.  Thus, it was hardly over-burdened by a KJV heritage.  However, assimilating to American culture carried with it use of English, and after a hundred years English versions of the scriptures would have been a major concern to this very conservative Calvinistic tradition.  In the 1960s, their major college and seminary were growing rapidly (Calvin College, Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI).  
The push within the Christian Reformed Church for a new but conservative translation of the Bible has been told by John Stek, who became the long-term participant of the CRC and Calvin Seminary in the creation of the NIV.  (John Stek, “The New International Version:  How It Came to Be,” cited more fully below.)  The movement had begun as early as 1956, but it leaped forward around 1961, just at the time that Stek was appointed to Calvin Seminary and to the committee discussing translation with the NAE.  
Another not-so-incidental link of the CRC with the NIV beginnings was a new CRC college established in 1959, Trinity Christian College – in Palos Heights, Illinois, meeting place for the birth of the NIV.  
Credo.  To meet the expectations of their constituencies, the translators made clear their belief in Scripture: 
[T]he translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word in written form.  They believe that it contains the divine answer to the deepest needs of humanity, that it sheds unique light on our path in a dark world, and that it sets forth the way to our eternal well-being.  (“Preface to the NIV,” sixth paragraph.)  
Compared to other statements of faith by translators and annotators, this is pretty moderate.  It does not include the “inerrancy” of the scriptures, which later became a shibboleth for fundamentalists and other dedicated literalists.  (The Introduction to the 1967 revised Scofield Bible vowed belief in all the fundamentals:  inerrancy, trinity, virgin birth, atonement, bodily resurrection, Christ’s imminent premillennial return, and eternal blessing for the saved and damnation for the lost.  New Scofield Reference Bible, Oxford, 1967, p. v.)  
The Published Translation.  
The translation work was done between 1967 and 1978.  The process called for a committee of three to translate each Biblical book, for an intermediate committee to review and revise that translation, and finally for the Committee on Bible Translation to make final revisions—final except for more review and revision by English stylists.  (All this is described in Stek’s article.)  
A critical stage in production was reached when it was decided that there had to be a single coordinator of the process.  Edwin H. Palmer was appointed full-time Executive Secretary in April 1968 and from then on, everything passed through his office and his hands.  When, ten years later, the whole translation was finished, Palmer was immediately appointed General Editor of the projected NIV Study Bible.  (See further on Palmer below.)  
The New Testament was published in 1973 but mildly revised when the whole Bible came out in 1978, and the whole thing mildly revised again for a 1983 printing.  The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) announced a gender-inclusive version in 1997, but rapid opposition among the churches and denominations caused the publishers to withhold it (in the US).  A new “gender-accurate” version of the translation, Today’s New International Version (TNIV), was later published in spite of opposition, the New Testament in 2002, the whole Bible in 2005.  (On these developments, see, for example, David Dewey, A User’s Guide to Bible Translation, Intervarsity Press, 2004, pp. 183-187.)  
To finish up on the translation, as these words are being written the owner of the copyright on the NIV (Biblica, Inc., formerly the International Bible Society) is releasing a revision of the translation, NIV 2011.  According to the on-line announcement, the revision of 1984 (THE NIV until now) will be discontinued and Bible study helps, like concordances, gradually adapted to the new revision.  Presumably, a new generation is entering into the heritage of the NIV.  
Two volumes of essays by the NIV translators, published in later years, give backgrounds, research studies, and defenses of the “Contemporary translation.”  
[The Palmer volume] The NIV:  The Making of a Contemporary Translation, ed. Kenneth L. Barker, International Bible Society, 1991, originally published in 1986 by Zondervan Publishing House.  This was created as a memorial volume to Edwin H. Palmer, executive secretary throughout the translation project, and first general editor of the NIV Study Bible.  This volume includes Palmer’s (posthumous) spirited article comparing the NIV to the KJV, greatly to the advantage of the NIV.  It also includes articles by three Study Bible editors:  Kenneth Barker on the name Yahweh; John Stek on the modern study of Old Testament poetry; and Ronald Youngblood on OT quotations in the NT.  
[The Youngblood volume]  The Challenge of Bible Translation, ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss, and Steven M. Voth, Zondervan, 2003.  Published as “Essays in Honor of Ronald F. Youngblood,” near his retirement and seventieth birthday, this volume also contains articles by Study Bible editors:  Kenneth Barker on current translation philosophies and the NIV; Mark Strauss [new editor for the 2008 edition of the Study Bible] on the gender-language debate; Walter Wessel on a recently published history of the KJV; and John Stek on the Christian Reformed Church’s role in the making of the NIV translation.  

[The first edition of the NIV Study Bible I studied.]
The NIV Study Bible:  Editions and Editors
The editors of the NIV Study Bible have no reservations about the quality of the new translation.  “The New International Version of the Bible (NIV) is unsurpassed in accuracy, clarity and literary grace” (“Introduction,” p. xiv, 2008 edition).  Hardly a surprise, since the editors and contributors of the Study Bible had shared in the production of the translation.  
The Editions.  There have been four editions of the NIV Study Bible:  
1985 Edition.  The first edition, work done between 1978 and 1985.  Relatively speaking, there has been little change from the first edition.  The mold was shaped then; only tinkering followed.  
1995 Edition.  10th Anniversary Edition, very minor changes, but added the three symbols for special interest notes:  a stem of leaves, marking notes for “personal application”; a spade marking notes of archeological or research interest; and a silhouette of a human head signifying a character sketch.  
2002 Edition.   “Fully Revised edition.”  The General Editor says he added many notes and updated some of the introductions (giving “greater attention to rhetorical, structural and other literary features”).  
2008 Edition.  The editors added some new notes and charts.  Not heavily revised.  
In doing this review I am using only the 1995 and the 2008 editions.  Quotations are from the 2008 edition, unless otherwise noted. 
The key figure in the transition from Translation to Study Bible was Edwin H. Palmer, who, as Executive Secretary of the Committee on Bible Translation, had played a critical role in coordinating the translation work on the NIV.  On completion of the translation, he was immediately appointed General Editor of the Study Bible to-be, but had only a little over a year before he died in 1980.  Before his death, “he had laid most of the plans for the NIV Study Bible, had recruited the majority of the contributors, and had done some editorial work on the first manuscripts submitted.” (“Tribute to Edwin H. Palmer,” NIV Study Bible, following the title page in all editions.)  
Palmer was born in 1922 and grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts.  He graduated from Harvard in 1944 and served in the Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946.  (The 1944/1943 overlap was possible under those wartime conditions.)  He went to Westminster Theological Seminary (a right-wing break off from conservative Princeton Theological Seminary) where he received a Th.M. in 1949 and a Th.D. in 1953.  He served Christian Reformed Churches in Michigan from 1953, ending at Grand Rapids from 1964-1968, when he became full-time executive secretary of the NIV project.  A prominent publication was The Five Points of Calvinism.  He fought for separate religious education as national chair of the board of Citizens for Educational Freedom while at the Grand Rapids church, and later served as the chairman of the New Jersey Right-to-Life Committee (1969-1972).  (Biographical data from “In Memoriam:  Dr. Edwin H. Palmer, 1922-1980,” in the “Palmer Volume” listed above.)  
The Backgrounds of the (Other) Editors.  
Forty-six men appeared in the Contributors list of the first two editions.  (There were no women contributors, though appreciations were extended to several women on the Zondervan production staff.)  The five editors, however, are said to have done the major work.  
The individuals named below contributed [original material]...  However, since the General Editor and the Associate Editors extensively edited the notes on most books, they alone are responsible for their form and content.  [Heading of Contributors page, all editions.]  
After Palmer’s death, the General Editor who saw the work through, not only the original work from 1978 through 1985, but ever since, is Kenneth L. Barker.  He was assisted by four Associate Editors, Donald W. Burdick, John H. Stek, Walter W. Wessel, and Ronald F. Youngblood.  Burdick (New Testament) died in 1996, right after the tenth anniversary revision came out.  Wessel (also New Testament) died as the 2002 revision was winding up (Tributes page of 2008 edition).  A new Associate Editor had been appointed for the 2008 edition with responsibility for New Testament work, Mark L. Strauss.  
The professional careers of these editors give us a little panorama of the Evangelical Biblical world from the 1960s to the 1980s.  
Kenneth L. Barker (General Editor).  
When Palmer died, Kenneth Barker replaced him as General Editor.  That meant he was the key person in pushing the contributors to complete their work and in scheduling and overseeing the numerous meetings to review and revise the work, assisted, of course, by four heavily involved Associate Editors.  He had been young enough when enlisted to last throughout the seven years of composition (1978-1985) and the subsequent twenty-five years of periodic revisions. 
Barker grew up in Iowa and attended a small Reformed Church school in Orange City, now named Northwestern College.  He went to Dallas Theological Seminary where he received an M.Th. in 1960.  Dallas Theological Seminary was in Cyrus I. Scofield’s old stomping grounds, and was founded in the 1920s as a fervent training ground for Dispensationalist Christians.  Barker got his Old Testament specialized training at Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia, receiving his Ph.D. in 1969.  (This was a Jewish endowed school, but as the title indicates, it was pretty exclusively devoted to Semitic language studies.  It ceased to be a degree-granting institution in the 1980s.)  
Barker was appointed to the faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1968 and continued there until 1981.  He was invited to join the Committee on Bible Translation of the NIV in 1974, as the Old Testament translation was getting well underway.  He is listed as primary contributor for only Zechariah in 1995, but also for Micah in 2008.  He is listed as the secondary reviser for Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Nahum in both editions. 
Barker was not only an Old Testament scholar, he also clearly had skills as an administrator and organizer of group projects.  He later served as secretary as well as executive director of the International Bible Society’s NIV Translation Center until his retirement in 1996.  Even then he continued as General Editor of the NIV Study Bible through the 2008 edition.  
Donald W. Burdick (Associate Editor, New Testament).  
Burdick was born in 1917 and grew up in western New York state.  By 1940 he had graduated from the pastor’s course at Moody Bible Institute and was married.  He attended Wheaton College during World War II, graduating summa cum laude in 1945.  He went on to Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago, taking a B.D. degree in 1946, a Th.M. in 1952, and a Th.D. in 1954.  In those years he was pastoring the Kostner Avenue Baptist Church and was also teaching Greek and Bible at the Seminary.  
Around 1950, the Conservative Baptist Association separated from the Northern Baptist Convention, apparently over scripture issues among others.  The Conservative group went west and founded the Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver.  Donald Burdick was obviously congenial to this group since they made him Professor of New Testament at the new seminary, serving from 1954 until his retirement in the 1980s.  Being a talented hand in a fledging institution, Burdick was not only NT professor, he was librarian for ten years and editor of the house journal Conservative Seminarian for twenty-eight years.  Under President Vernon Grounds, 1956-1979, the Seminary grew from a small denominational school to a “major evangelical seminary,” named simply Denver Seminary since 1998. 
In his scholarly work Burdick did commentaries on the letter of James and on the letters of John.  In the NIV Study Bible, he had primary responsibility for all the catholic letters, Peter, James, John, Jude, and he was the second reviser on Hebrews.  He suffered ill health in his later years and died in 1996.  
John H. Stek (Associate Editor, Old Testament). 
Stek, like Kenneth Barker, was born and grew up in Iowa.  Unlike Barker, he stayed in the Christian Reformed world his entire life.  After army service in the Pacific – battle of Okinawa and occupation of Korea – he attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, and then graduated from Calvin Seminary in 1952.  These schools were the home institutions of the Christian Reformed Church, founded in strongly conservative Dutch Reformed traditions.  He did graduate work in Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, a stronghold of old Presbyterian orthodoxy that separated from “modernist” Princeton Theological Seminary in 1929.  He took a Th.M. from Westminster in 1955, one student generation after Edwin Palmer.  
Exciting times had been brewing in Grand Rapids during the 1950s as the Christian Reformed Church expanded enormously.  A new campus was dedicated for Calvin Seminary in 1961 and the Synod (denominational governing body) issued a new statement on inspiration and infallibility of the Scripture.  It was at just this time that John Stek was appointed to teach Old Testament at Calvin Seminary, where he remained the rest of his career, interrupted only by one-year leaves at the University of Chicago (1965-66) and the Free University of Amsterdam (1973-74).  Like Donald Burdick at Denver Seminary, Stek grew with his home seminary through expansive and prosperous times, representing his conservative tradition faithfully in the translation of the scriptures for the NIV, and staying to play a major part in editing the NIV Study Bible. 
John Stek was said to be a soft-spoken, somewhat introverted scholar, and apparently did not publish much.  A search of on-line books produces many copies of the NIV Study Bibles, but only one other collaborative work, Portraits of Creation:  Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World’s Formation, by Howard J. Van Till, John H. Stek, and Robert Snow, Eerdmans, 1990.  Stek was appointed to the Committee on Bible Translation at the very beginning, 1965 (probably while he was on leave at the University of Chicago), and contributed much editorial work through at least the 2002 edition.  Later he wrote an article about the creation of the NIV translation, particularly documenting the part played by the Christian Reformed Church:  “The New International Version:  How it Came to Be,” in Challenge of Bible Translation (see Youngblood Volume above), pp. 235-263.  (Though published in 2003, this article shows no trace of events or references later than the early 1990s.  It had probably been around for some time.)  
In the Study Bible, Stek did the primary contributions on Psalms and Song of Songs (with no second revisers listed).  He did the secondary revisions of  nine other OT books, including such large items as Judges, Isaiah, and Ezekiel.  He clearly left his hand-prints widely in the Old Testament introductions and notes.  Stek died in 2009, just after the 2008 edition of the Study Bible had come out.  
Walter W. Wessel (Associate Editor, New Testament). 
Information on Walter Wessel is hard to come by.  Publishers mention only that he received his Ph.D. from Edinburgh and that he was a Professor of New Testament and Greek at Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN).  
Bethel Seminary was originally created in Chicago in 1871 by the Baptist Union to prepare pastors for ministries with Swedish immigrants.  In 1914, the Baptist Convention moved the college and seminary to St. Paul, Minnesota, and merged it with a Baptist high school.  After World War II Bethel College became a four-year school and the Seminary grew and expanded until it also had a West Coast campus in San Diego, and, in recent times, non-campus teaching centers in Auburn Massachusetts and in the DC area. 
Wessel must have been on the faculty from the 1960s to the 1990s.  Up until 1978, he would have had as an Old Testament colleague on the St. Paul campus Ronald Youngblood, a fellow translator of the NIV, though the periods of their work did not necessarily overlap, NT finished in 1973, OT in 1978.  Youngblood was no longer at Bethel in St. Paul during the years the Study Bible was produced, though the two must have remained well acquainted during the Study Bible work.  Wessel contributed the commentary on the Gospel According to Mark in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, a 12-volume commentary based on the NIV translation, Zondervan, 1984, “Mark” contained in Vol. 8.  
In the NIV Study Bible completed in 1985, Walter Wessel had primary responsibility for the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and the heavy-weight Pauline letter to the Romans, as well as the Pastorals, I and II Timothy.  As mentioned earlier, Wessel died as the 2002 edition was coming out.  
Ronald F. Youngblood (Associate Editor, Old Testament).  
Youngblood is probably the most widely known of the NIV Study Bible contributors and editors.  He was born in Chicago in 1931, took a B.A. from Valparaiso University in 1952, a B.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, in 1955 (when that path-breaking Evangelical school was only a decade old), and a Ph.D. from the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in 1961.  He would have been at Dropsie a full student generation earlier than Kenneth Barker (see above).  
Youngblood taught Old Testament at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul from 1961 to 1978.  He was invited to contribute to the NIV translation in 1970, eight years before the Old Testament was finished, and was appointed to the governing Committee on Bible Translation in 1976.  His work with the CBT continued into new projects and translations in the twentieth-first century.  During the years the Study Bible was written, Youngblood taught for three years at Wheaton Graduate School and one year at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), both prestige seminaries in Evangelicalism.  He then returned to Bethel Seminary at its West Coast campus in San Diego where he taught from 1982 to 2001.  He would have been at Bethel San Diego during the last three years of completing the NIV Study Bible.  
Among substantial publications were The Genesis Debate:  Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, 1986; the books of Samuel in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (based on the NIV translation), 1992; and co-editor of Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1995.  In recent years, Ronald Youngblood has worked hard to provide common-reader and gender-neutral editions of the NIV translation.  He was executive editor of the New International Reader’s Version (1995 and 1998), and he played a significant role in the TNIV of 2005.  
In the original work on the Study Bible, Youngblood took primary responsibility for the introductions and notes of Genesis, Exodus, Jeremiah, and Lamentations, and served as second reviser of Leviticus, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, and Daniel.  In the 2008 edition, Youngblood is listed as secondary instead of primary contributor for Ezra, Nehemiah (primary contributor being Edwin Yamauchi) and Job (primary contributor Elmer B. Smick).  John Stek also did some revisions in 2008 of Youngblood’s original work on Lamentations.  
Contents of the Study Bible  
These scholars put together an impressive volume of aids to Bible study.  While the NIV translation is the heart of it, the “Quick Start Guide” (just like a new computer) on page vi highlights the following:  
  • Book introductions to the 66 books.
  • Center-column Cross References, for “deeper study of themes or concepts.”
  • Study Notes, over 20,000 of them, for “background and context to the Scripture.” *
  • In-text Maps, Charts, Diagrams, and Illustrations to “explain important information and ideas from Scripture.” 
  • The Topical Index with over 700 entries to allow readers to create their own study paths. 
  • Color maps at the back, 14 of them. 
  • The NIV Concordance, 35,000 references, “the largest ever bound with an English Bible.”  
* The space given to Notes in the NIV Study Bible is generous.  My estimate is that the average page is at least one-third notes, two-thirds translation.  
Distinctive Evangelical Themes.  
The hallmark of Evangelicals as distinct from “mainline” Protestants and some other Christians is their insistence that the Bible must be read literally, that all its statements must be taken as true in some sense.  The most frequently cited Biblical foundation for this view is II Timothy 3:16 (the other great 3:16 text).  “All Scripture [capitalized in NIV] is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness...”  Even though the scriptures referred to here were the Old Testament, Evangelicals take it to apply to the sixty-six Biblical books of the Protestant Bible.  The Study Bible note on the phrase “God-breathed” is, “Paul affirms God’s active involvement in the writing of Scripture, an involvement so powerful and pervasive that what is written is the infallible and authoritative word of God (see 2Pe 1:20-21 and notes).”  
Also, the Bible has a unique status.  It is not ordinary ancient literature, it is revelation of God and God’s plan for human salvation.  This is true of the Bible as a canon, as a closed collection of inspired writings.  (For one academically careful presentation of the Evangelical meanings of Biblical “inspiration,” “inerrancy,” and “authority,” see chapters 10-12 of Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed, BakerAcademic, 1998.)  The corollary of this canonical view is that the Bible must be interpreted in its own terms; one thing in the Bible is explained by other things in the Bible.  The study tools in the NIV Study Bible are especially aimed at Bible study in which topics are followed within the full range of the Bible itself.  “This interrelationship of the Scriptures [e.g., explaining Jesus by quoting Isaiah 53, Acts 8:30]—so essential to understanding the complete Biblical message—is a major theme of the notes in the NIV Study Bible” (p. xiv).  
Bible study in the Evangelical tradition is not primarily a matter of gaining information, of academic mastery of subject matters.  Bible study is a key part of the Christians’ devotional life.  One’s personal seeking the Lord involves tracing meanings of Biblical terms and concepts.  This is not education; this is part of submitting oneself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The tools that facilitate such devotion are the Center-column references, the Topical Index, and the Concordance.  The Notes may also give cross-references that lead to a personal comprehension and feeling for weighty Biblical concepts and symbols.  
Examples of Interpretation. 
Given this Evangelical background, it must be said that the editors have proceeded very modestly.  They explain the translation; they do not address all kinds of questions that curious readers might raise.  There are introductions and notes, but large sweeping articles are conspicuous by their absence.  
The Pentateuch.  
Not only is there no general article on the Old Testament as such, there is no article on the Pentateuch.  One will quickly learn (from the Introduction to Genesis) that Moses wrote the whole Pentateuch, though using older traditions to record primeval and patriarchal times.  Also, it may be conceded that “a certain amount of later editorial updating” has gone on (as in Genesis 14:14; 36:31; 47:11), but the bulk of the Pentateuch was written by Moses by the end of 1406 B.C. in the territory east of the Jordan River (pages 2-3).  
This approach gives scant attention to so-called “critical” issues in the Bible.  Some succinct statements are made of what “many scholars” [1995; changed to “many interpreters” in 2008] believe, but reasons and specific refutations are not included.  For example,  
During the last three centuries many interpreters have claimed to find in the Pentateuch four underlying sources.  The presumed documents, allegedly dating from the tenth to the fifth centuries B.C., are called J...E...D...P...  Each of these documents is claimed to have its own characteristics and its own theology, which often contradicts that of the other documents.  The Pentateuch is thus depicted as a patchwork of stories, poems and laws.  However, this view is not supported by conclusive evidence, and intensive archeological and literary research has tended to undercut many of the arguments used to challenge Mosaic authorship.  (Page 3.)  
The purpose is to let people know that there are other opinions out there about the literature, but not to consider them seriously.  
Creation.  
Ronald Youngblood’s notes on Genesis 1 recognize that the background is the Mesopotamian world of creation and conflict myths.  Over against that world, the Genesis author taught a radically new doctrine of creation.  
The one and only true God did not have to overcome a mighty cosmic champion of chaos but simply by a series of his royal creation decrees called into being the ordered world, the visible kingdom...  The author narrates those acts [of creation] from the perspective of one in God’s royal council chamber, where he issues his creative decrees.  For a similar narrative perspective see Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6.”  [A different narrative perspective is seen in Genesis 2-3.]  (P. 7)  
Creationism issues are left open:  “Some say that the creation days were 24-hour days, others that they were indefinite periods” (on Gen 1:5).  The creation narrative of Genesis 1 is qualitatively distinct from the narrative of Genesis 2-3.  “Human history” only begins in Gen 2-3, where the curses begin to affect human life.  The curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:15 opens the drama of all salvation history:  “The antagonism between people and snakes is used to symbolize the outcome of the titanic struggle between God and the evil one [no caps here], a struggle played out in the hearts and history of humankind” (p. 14).  
The topic of Creation can illustrate the Topical Index as a study tool.  (The 1995 edition has only an Index of Subjects with long strings of Biblical references and page numbers.  The Index of Topics in 2008 provides a much longer and more detailed analytical structure of topics – a major improvement.)  
The topic has six subheadings:  
A) Related theme  
            Beginnings, Gen 1:1
B) The work of creation 
            --Accounts of creation [Gen 1:1-2:3; 2:4-24; Job 38:4-38; Ps 104:1-26]
            --Done out of nothing [Heb 11:3]
            --Done in six days [Gen 1:3-31; Ex 20:11; Ex 31:17]  
C) Creation as the work of God
            --God as the creator [Gen 1:1; Isa 44:24; Acts 4:24]
            --Accomplished through Christ [Jn 1:3,10; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2]
            --The Holy Spirit involved in creation [Job 33:4; Ps 104:30]  
D) Creation reveals God 
            --His glory [Ps 19:1]
            --His power [Isa 40:26, 28]
            --His divine nature [Rom 1:20
            --His wisdom [Ps 104:24]
            --His love [Ps 33:5-6]  
E) Creation after Adam and Eve sinned 
            --Was cursed by God [Gen 3:14, 17-19]
            --Was subjected to frustration [Rom 8:20
            --Praises God [Ps 145:10; 148:1-5; Isa 55:12] 
            --Eagerly awaits redemption [Rom 8:19
            --Will someday be liberated [Rom 8:21
            --Will someday be recreated [Isa 65:17; 2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:1] 
F) Humans commanded to rule creation [Gen 1:26, 28; Ps 8:6-8; Ps 115:16]  
God’s Warfare.  
While it is true that there are no imposing general articles in the NIV Study Bible, there are seven small “Essays” that are not just introductions to books.  Five of these are brief introductions to parts of the Bible (Wisdom literature, the Twelve Prophets, the Synoptic Gospels, the Pastoral letters, and the General letters [why not also the Pentateuch and Historical books?]).  Another essay is on the Period between the Testaments – long enough to mention major topics, not long enough to really explain anything; it also does not extend to the actual time of Jesus but stops with Herod the Great.  
One Essay is of a different character:  “The Conquest and the Ethical Question of War,” placed between Deuteronomy and Joshua, that is, just before the story of the Conquest.  This is one of the major issues dividing Progressive Protestants from Evangelical Protestants who adhere to a literal reading of the Bible.  The Conquest story states unambiguously that God commanded the Israelites to massacre and exterminate the former inhabitants of Jericho and other Canaanite cities and peoples.  “I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king...,” which was to destroy “with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (Joshua 8:1-2, Jericho quote in 6:21).  
Understand, the problem is not simply that the conquests of Jericho and Ai never happened (neither mound was fortified after about 1560 BCE) or that Israelites were simply following the customs of holy warfare in their age; the problem is not what the Israelites did but that GOD COMMANDS THIS SLAUGHTER.  If what the Bible says is always true, then this has to do with the character of God—real God, the One whom we know and pray to.  That is the fundamental religious problem Progressive Christians have with a literal belief in the Biblical text.  
What can be said in the Bible’s defense?  
Many readers of Joshua...are deeply troubled by the role that warfare plays in this account of God’s dealings with his people.  Not a few relieve their ethical scruples by ascribing the author’s perspective to a pre-Christian (and sub-Christian) stage of moral development that the Christian...must repudiate and transcend.  (Page 387.)
The paragraphs that follow restate is several ways that this warfare to conquer Canaan was a necessary part of God’s plan of redemption.  It was necessary first in order to fulfill the promise to Abraham and the other ancestors.  But even more, it was necessary in order to carry to its conclusion the whole drama of eschatological salvation.  
Joshua is the story of the kingdom of God breaking into the world of nations at a time when national and political entities were viewed as the creation of the gods and living proofs of their power....  At once an act of redemption and judgment, [the Conquest of Canaan] gave notice of the outcome of history and anticipated the final destiny of humankind and the creation.  
[About the land:]  God gave his people under Joshua no commission or license to conquer the world with the sword but a particular, limited mission.  The conquered land itself would not become Israel’s national possession by right of conquest, but it belonged to the Lord.  So the land had to be cleansed of all remnants of paganism.... 
The God of the second Joshua (Jesus) is the God of the first Joshua also.  Although now for a time he reaches out to the whole world with the gospel (and commissions his people urgently to carry his offer of peace to all nations), the sword of his judgment waits in the wings—and his second Joshua will wield it (Rev 19:11-16; see notes there).  (Page 388.)  
One has to suppose that many of the Evangelical sisters and brothers are heavy-hearted about such conclusions.  
The Psalms.  
The Book of Psalms is a gem in the NIV Study Bible.  John Stek was apparently the only contributor to the Psalms through all editions, and one may suppose that he played a major part in the original translation.  (He published “When the Spirit was Poetic” in the Palmer memorial volume, see above.)  Space for Notes in the Psalms is increased to about half of every page on average. 
The Introduction to the Psalms is well-written, gives a sound historical treatment of the earlier collections of psalms, of the literary types of the psalms, and a cogent description of the “theology” of the psalms.  The 2008 edition (not in the 1995 edition) contains a 4-page chart of “Significant Arrangement of the Psalter” showing how groups of psalms are related in chiastic (“envelope”) structures and other patterns.  The chart is not always convincing that these patterns were deliberate, but suggestive and stimulating for further reading.  Stek’s discussion of the “messianic” psalms 2, 22, 72, and 110 are faithful to Israelite historical and liturgical contexts as well as to how these psalms came to be read in later centuries.  
To see an example of the Center-column references we can follow the word “shepherd” in Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  The word shepherd has a superscript w on it.  (These superscript letters stay the same across editions.)  In the center column, w gives three references:  S Gen 48:15; S Ps 28:9; and S Jn 10:11.  
Each reference preceded by “S[ee]” contains a chain of references related to “shepherd.”  Thus, the ancestor Jacob says in Genesis 48:15, “May the God before whom my fathers / Abraham and Isaac walked, / the God who has been my shepherd / all my life to this day...” and the word shepherd here gives a further set of references:  Gen 49:24; II Sam 5:2; Ps 23:1; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 23:4.  Studying these passages will reveal what they have in common within the larger concept of “shepherd.”  
The second reference at Psalm 23:1 is to Psalm 28:9, addressed to God:  “Save your people and bless your inheritance; / be their shepherd and carry them forever.”  The word shepherd here is keyed to another list:  I Chr 11:2; then S[ee] Ps 23:1; 78:52, 71; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 31:10; Ezek 34:12-16, 23, 31; Mic 7:14.  Study of these passages will present another take on the shepherd theme.  
And the third reference at Psalm 23:1 is to John 10:11.  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  The first occurrence of shepherd here gives the following chain:  verse 14 [of this same chapter]; Ps 23:1; Isa 40:11; Ezek 34:11-16, 23; Mt 2:6; Lk 12:32; Heb 13:20; I Pet 2:25; 5:4; Rev 7:17.  This chain has some overlap with the other Old Testament passages on “shepherd,” but it obviously leads strongly into the New Testament, and each passage here listed for the New Testament will lead to yet more passages on “shepherd.”  
This is the way the chain references can enrich the Bible student’s fund of meanings and associations for a particular term or idea in Scripture.  
The Gospels.  
The little essay, “The Synoptic Gospels” (pages 1963-64) is very unsatisfactory.  Listed here are nine supposed proposals to solve “the Synoptic Problem” – how Matthew, Mark, and Luke can be so alike and at the same time so different.  (In 1995 only seven proposals were listed.  “Complete independence” of the Gospels from each other is added in 2002/2008, with some hints that it is the best.)  One-sentence summaries of complex hypotheses, as given here, only confuse and distract, not to mention grossly distort by false simplicity.  This is especially true of hypotheses long-since abandoned (for example, the fragment theory).  It would have been so much better if the writers had spent the same space explaining in their own terms how to understand the similarities and differences among the first three Gospels.  They in fact give the reader no help at all.  
In addition, it appears that a diagram has either dropped out or been mislabeled.  Hypothesis 5 ends, “(see diagram below [Two-Source Theory]),” but there is no diagram labeled “Two-Source Theory.”  There is one labeled “Dating the Synoptic Gospels,” but there is nothing in it to show what “two-source” would mean.  (The diagrams are the same in 1995 and 2008.)  It is clear no one’s heart was in this effort to explain how the first three Gospels got that-a-way.  
An important Evangelical tool of Biblical study is presented at the end of the Gospel According to John, “A Harmony of the Gospels,” pages 2244-49.  This consists of a very long, small-print outline of the life of Jesus, with thirteen major headings, thirty-three subheadings, and 270 items spread over six pages.  A “harmony” is very important to Evangelicals because it shows how apparent contradictions among the Gospels can be reconciled, preserving the truthfulness of all that is written in Scripture.  (It should be said that there is a three-page regular time-line layout of “The Life of Jesus” on pages 2028-30, in the middle of Matthew 25.  It includes the events of all four Gospels, but focuses on the flow of time rather than a list of events.)  
For example, in John’s Gospel Jesus clears the money-changers out of the temple at the beginning of his ministry, while in Matthew, Mark, and Luke he clears them out either the day of the triumphal entry, Palm Sunday (Matthew and Luke), or the day after the triumphal entry (Mark).  (John does not have a second temple-clearing at the time of the triumphal entry.)  The Harmony shows a “First clearing of the temple at the Passover” at the beginning of Jesus’ activity, then it has a “Second clearing of the temple” following the triumphal entry and the cursing of the fig tree (Mark’s sequence in 11:1-18).  Two stories at very different times; therefore two different events.  
The Note on Matthew 21:12-17 (p. 2017, contributed by Ralph Earle and/or Associate Editor Walter Wessel) gives a more complicated account.  
In the Synoptics the clearing of the temple occurs during the last week of Jesus’ ministry; in John it takes place during the first few months (Jn 2:12-16).  Two explanations are possible:  (1) There were two clearings, one at the beginning and the other at the end of Jesus’ public ministry.  (2) There was only one clearing, which took place during Passion Week but which John placed at the beginning of his account for theological reasons...  However, different details are present in the two accounts... [which argues for two events].  From Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts we might assume that the [second] clearing of the temple took place on Sunday, following the so-called Triumphal Entry (21:1-11).  But Mark (11:15-19) clearly indicates that it was on Monday.  Matthew often compressed narratives.  
So, Mark trumps Matthew and Luke because he is more exact about the day involved, and the details of John’s narrative require the conclusion that two clearings of the temple took place, a couple of years apart (John’s chronology).  
By working with the Harmony one can adjust all the many events of Jesus’ life on a very complex, not to say highly improbable, time-line.  (Historical-critical scholars usually refer to a tabular comparison of the Gospel texts as a “Synopsis” rather than a “Harmony.”  The latter term announces in advance what the scholar is going to try to do.  A “synopsis” is simply an array “seen-together” [the literal meaning of synoptic] for critical study.  The critical scholar is interested in historical probability rather than in explaining away inconsistencies in God’s Word.)  
This is a good place to mention the spectacular Maps and Charts provided throughout the NIV Study Bible.  Its in-text maps were one of the most striking and attractive features of this book when I first encountered it in 1996.  Fifty-one maps are listed in the Contents at the front (p. ix).  They’re not all equally impressive, but most of them are real winners as in-text aids go.  
One of the best is the two-page map of Passion Week on pages 2086-87, at the beginning of Mark’s Passion narrative.  All of the maps are pseudo-three-dimensional drawings, showing terrain drop-offs, slopes, and walls with shading.  They give a better feel for terrain than any usual flat maps.  The map of Passion Week shows the city of Jerusalem in Pilate’s time with little houses crammed together inside the walls, the expanse of the temple in enough detail to see all the courts, and particularly the valley between the city and the Mount of Olives with the road pictured on which Jesus and the disciples would have traveled from Bethany to the east gates of the city.  Spread around the available spaces on the pages is a series of numbered events each with a written description:  #1 for the Arrival in Bethany on Friday, all the way to #10 for Resurrection on Sunday ten days later.  This is a great spread over which to meditate and ponder the Jesus Remembered in the Gospels.  No other study Bible can match the simplicity and delight of these maps.  
Almost as good as the in-text maps are the charts.  There are forty-five of these listed on page x, and they vary greatly from such things as a listing of “Ancient Texts Relating to the Old Testament” (a listing of 39 major gifts from the archeologists’ labors), to “Major Covenants of the Old Testament,” to “Rulers of the Divided Kingdom of Israel and Judah” (using dates from E.R. Thiele’s solutions to the numbers mysteries), to “the Life of Christ,” “Parables of Jesus,” “Miracles of Jesus,” to “Qualifications for Elders/Overseers and Deacons” in I Timothy.  These are quite uniformly helpful in visualizing complex matters spread out over several pages in textual form.  Dedicated work has been done, especially by the ancillary staff recruited by the editors or by Zondervan publishing house. 
Evaluative Comments.  
My evaluations have largely emerged already, but here are a few overview statements.  
The NIV Study Bible is an extension of the NIV translation.  More than anything else, it should be understood as the translators telling you what they had in the back of their minds when they translated it the way they did.  What they had in mind was combining modern textual studies with the main Biblical principles on which “postfundamentalist Evangelicalism” (Roger Olson’s term) agree, namely, “the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word in written form” (“Preface to the NIV,” sixth paragraph).  
The Contributors and Editors who produced the Study Bible are definitely Evangelicals, but they are a cautious group.  They do not seek battles with unbelieving (from their viewpoint) critics; they make minimal claims on matters of history and literary composition.  “In finding solutions to problems mentioned in the book introductions, [the editors] went only as far as evidence (Biblical and non-Biblical) could carry them” (page xiv). 
As a corollary to the last point, they do not do theology for the theologians—or tie themselves to particular theological orientations within the broad Evangelical tent camp.  They make a point of not deciding between amillennialism, premillennialism, or postmillennialism (Note on Revelation 20:2).  
The NIV Study Bible is for Bible Study—as understood by Evangelicals.  It is aimed at personal and group Bible study as a part of the religious life, a life nurtured by searching the scriptures under whatever impulse or need.  The process of Bible study is religious action, not primarily educational or academic work.  Never stated, that is nevertheless an underlying premise of this well-crafted work. 
While the NIV Study Bible makes as good a case as it can for a literal reading of God in the Bible, it cannot avoid some grossly unacceptable outcomes (very few of which were raised in this review).  The discussion of God’s Warfare is a clear case.  The defense here is chauvinistic, militant, and primitive.  Humankind under a more gracious God has outgrown this inhumane crassness.   This Biblical embarrassment is not often mentioned by Christians, but the literalists teeter constantly on falling back on a tribal god served by exclusionary holy warriors. 
Everyone who loves Bible study should rejoice in the Psalms in the NIV Study Bible, as well as in the delightful in-text maps and charts.  The latter make a great collection for the study and teaching of the Bible—this Bible that the Evangelicals have made. 

Nothing has been said so far about Zondervan, the publishing house greatly enriched by the success of the NIV and the NIV Study Bible.  The NIV is by far the best-selling Bible in the English-speaking world, and apparently the NIV Study Bible—now 25 years old—is the best-selling study bible.  However great their rewards, they have consistently turned out a quality product and served their public very well.   

Friday, January 11, 2019

Luke: A Gospel for Progressives?


Written in 2013 for Protestants for the Common Good. 

If I had to select one of the four Gospels to recommend to Christian Progressives, I would choose the Gospel According to Luke.  To explain this I need to define "progressive," and then to discuss how I think Luke was a Progressive in his own time. 






Contents of this Article:  
      What Does Christian Progressive Mean?
      Luke in the Christian Tradition
            The Era of Historical Criticism
            The Sources of Luke’s Gospel
            Luke as a Theologian
            Luke as a Narrator
      Luke, a Progressive in his Own Time
            On Jesus’ Return in Glory
            On the Challenge of the “Meantime”
            On the Church:  churches not the Church 
      Stumbling Blocks in Luke for a Progressive
            A Progressive’s Canon
            Ascension
            The Martha Putdown
            The Treatment of Wealth
            The Portrayal of the Jews
      A Selected List of Commentaries on Luke (annotated)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
What Does Christian Progressive Mean?  
In the course of writing Lectionary studies for ten years, I constantly questioned what made a Biblical interpretation “progressive.”  I became clear early on that a progressive Bible reader would encounter things that could not be seriously credited to God – actual God, not just ancient Israelite ideas about God (Yahweh).  It cannot be part of the fabric of the universe that Israelites were required to slaughter their neighbors for chauvinistic reasons, though as a historical phenomenon this was comprehensible if regrettable (Joshua, passages in Deuteronomy).  New perspectives came to deeply religious people in the course of the centuries (many prophets, the suffering servant, and ultimately the love-your-enemy texts).  As the United Church of Christ’s recent motto (taken from Gracie Allen) has it, Never place a period where God has placed a comma! [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Gracie_Allen
For a more systematic view of what is “Christian Progressive,” I found assistance in an article by John B. Cobb, “The Christian Reason for Being Progressive.”  The whole article covers several topics, but here are the key paragraphs for present purposes.  
Conservatives understand faith to mean holding steadfast to received Christian teaching and practice. This is often desirable when the alternative is to be swept up in currents of nationalism, superstition, self-indulgence, and idolatry. But for a progressive, holding steadfast is not an expression of faith when we are confronted with new insights that have some element of truth and righteousness. Holding steadfast when this means the outright rejection of insights and wisdom is not faith but clinging. It is a protective and defensive response that does not express trust in the Spirit of Truth. Faith is expressed instead through letting go and by openness to truth however it comes to us. 

This faith is not abandonment of tradition. It is the tradition, and especially Christ, that calls for trust and openness, a humble attitude, the willingness to learn. The task in each new situation is both to bring the wisdom of our tradition to bear and also to rethink elements in the tradition in light of what we can learn from others. The result is not the diminishment of the tradition but its repeated transformation.
 “The Christian Reason for Being Progressive,” John B. Cobb, Jr., Theology Today, Vol. 51, No. 4 – January 1995, pages 548-562 (the above on p. 554).  

Luke in the Christian Tradition 

For eighteen hundred years, the Gospel According to Luke was something of a step-daughter within the Christian Scriptures.  Of the four Gospels, the going-away favorites through the ages were Matthew and John.  Luke was valued alongside the others because of a number of outstanding gems found only in this Gospel, such as,
  • the peaceful Christmas stories (to balance Matthew’s fearful nativity cycle),
  • some magnificent parables (such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son),
  • Jesus’ saying on the cross, “Father, forgive them...,” and
  • Jesus’ walk to Emmaus with two disciples on Easter day.  
Otherwise, Luke was used to supplement (harmonize) the total Gospel story presented mainly in Matthew, or to provide a little compassion for the poor to balance the super-high Christ doctrine of the Gospel of  John.  

The Era of Historical criticism. 

Broadly speaking, the long history of harmonizing Luke with the other Gospels lasted until the nineteenth century. After the humanists had taught Europe to use methods of historical criticism (e.g., Lorenzo Valla, 1450 CE) and political philosophers had fought off civic intolerance based on the scriptures (Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza in the 17th century), serious historical study of the scriptures began in European universities, especially in Germany (late 18th century). As far as Luke’s writings (Gospel and Acts) were concerned, the issue was, How reliable is Luke as a historian?

The answer, particularly concerning the book of Acts, was pretty negative at first. By the mid-nineteenth century, the famous Tübingen school had come to view Acts as a late tendentious writing designed to smooth things over in the second-century church, and thus not at all reliable history. By the beginning of the twentieth century, William Ramsey of Britain and Adolf Harnack of Germany had gone far to rehabilitate Acts’ reputation as good ancient history writing, but that didn’t settle things for the Gospel and historical interest in the life of Jesus.


(For the following, see, for example, L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: the Gospels in Rewrite, HarperOne, 2010, chapter 13, “The Martyred Sage: The Gospel of Luke,” pp. 318-344.)

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the first three Gospels had been sorted out into two early documents – the Gospel of Mark and the Sayings Source Q – and other materials contained only in either Matthew (M) or Luke (L). Matthew and Luke themselves were composite documents, of historical value only for the later development of the Jesus tradition and of the early church. This later development included, of course, everything about Jesus’ birth and the more graphic post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.
The Sources of Luke’s Gospel.  
The consensus of critical scholars about how Luke was composed is as follows:  
1.  The overall narrative structure is based on Mark’s Gospel.
2.  Luke prefixed, from sources of his own, the Birth and Childhood stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, Luke 1-2.  
3.  Mark’s ministry of Jesus in Galilee was expanded by additions from the Sayings Source Q and a few items of Luke’s own, Luke 3-9:50.  (Luke also omitted a big hunk of Mark [Mark 6:45-8:26] between Luke 9:17 and 18, skipping straight from the feeding of the 5,000 to Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah.)  
4.  Luke created a large section, often called the “Travel Narrative,” which sits between the Galilean ministry and the Jerusalem ministry, Luke 9:51-19:44.  These ten chapters contain rather miscellaneous materials from Q and L, the latter especially rich in parables.  Near the end, Mark is drawn on again for his journey to Jerusalem, Luke 18:15-43.  While theoretically this is a “travel” narrative, the journey never makes any progress (except in the section taken from Mark).  The “journey” is a device for depositing a great conglomeration of teachings of Jesus not included in the Galilean ministry.  
5.  Luke follows Mark’s account of Jesus’ debates in the Temple, though with small variations (e.g., no cursed fig tree; the apocalyptic discourse is in the temple, not on the Mount of Olives), Luke 19:45-21:38.  
6.  The Passion narrative follows Mark, but with major distinctive touches (omitting the anointing in Bethany; a symposium of speeches at the last supper; Jesus sweating in Gethsemane; Herod Antipas included in the Trial of Jesus; the Father forgive them saying; the penitent thief on the cross), Luke 22-23.  
7.  The Empty Tomb is taken from Mark, though Luke (as often) needs two angels where one is sufficient for Mark and Matthew, Luke 24:1-11.  
8.  In post-resurrection appearances there is no Mark to follow, and Luke goes his own way (the walk to Emmaus, the appearance in the locked room, and especially the ascension), Luke 24:13-53.  (The Gospel of John also knows the locked room episode, John 20:19-29.)  

Luke as Theologian.  
By the middle of the twentieth century Luke as a Gospel was no longer of interest for seeking the historical Jesus.  While his sources might be of historical value, Luke himself worked in the second generation after the death of Jesus and was one among many who had begun to collect and write traditions about Jesus (Luke 1:1-4). 













The work that made Luke famous as a theologian was Hans Conzelmann’s Die Mitte der Zeit (“the middle of time”), which appeared in German in 1953, but was translated into English under the title, The Theology of St. Luke (tr. G. Buswell, Harper, 1960).  Conzelmann argued that Luke’s extensive redaction (compiling and revising) of Mark, Q, and L created a specific theological viewpoint.  This theology was addressed to a later generation of Christians who were settling in for the long haul rather than waiting for the momentary return of Jesus, which the first generation had expected.  These believers were fitting themselves into the larger “sacred history” that included the Israel of the Jewish scriptures (see Luke 16:16).  That history had now come to include a whole generation of Jesus followers, who had received the same Holy Spirit known to Israel and now sent to those followers by God after Jesus’ exaltation to heaven.  







A wave of writings about Luke’s theology (covering both the Gospel and Acts) occupied many scholars for the rest of the twentieth century.  A balanced review and summary of its early results is given in Joseph Fitzmyer’s commentary in the Anchor (Yale) Bible, The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Doubleday, 1981, pp. 1-34, and “A Sketch of Lucan Theology,” pp. 143-270.  A more (!) compendious treatment has also just appeared, Darrell L. Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts, Zondervan, 2012 (495 pages).  
Luke as Narrator.  
Beginning in the 1970s and escalating to the end of the century, a new type of literary critical approach to Luke’s Gospel and Acts appeared.  This approach applied such concepts as “implied author,” “implied reader,” character development, and plotting to the Gospel and Acts.  These critics focused especially on literary patterns, such as parallels between the actions of Peter and of Paul in Acts, or even between the martyrdom of Jesus in Jerusalem (Gospel) and the near-martyrdom of Paul in Jerusalem (Acts).  A favorite analytic device of these critics is to identify “chiastic structures,” clusters of repeated themes or actions in “envelope” patterns of A-B-C-C’-B’-A’, with variable numbers of units included in the structure.  
One of the clearer explanations of this approach was William S. Kurz, Reading Luke-Acts, Westminster/John Knox, 1993.  Some prominent studies that emphasized Luke-Acts as a narrative were Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke, Crossroad, 1982 (Reading Acts came later), and Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts:  A Literary Interpretation, 2 vols., Fortress Press, 1986-1990.  
This literary approach has led in popular writings to strong emphasis on “stories” and Luke as “storyteller.”  For example, Mikeal C. Parsons, Luke:  Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist, Hendrickson, 2007 (actually a collection of studies in Luke-Acts rather than an exposition of it); Paul Borgman, The Way according to Luke:  Hearing the Whole Story of Luke-Acts, Eerdmans, 2006 (an English professor’s use of the “literary” approach to Luke, also not a straightforward read-through of Luke-Acts).  L. Michael White’s Scripting Jesus approaches all the Gospels in terms of techniques of storytelling.  His book is organized entirely around dramatic-narrative categories:  
Act I, Casting Characters [Messiah, Logos, Divine Man, Savior], pp. 19-83.
Act II, Crafting Scenes [passion, exorcisms, parables, births], pp. 85-256.  
Act III, Staging Gospels [Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, others], pp. 257-404.  
It turns out that many “literary” or “narrative” studies of Luke do not in reality present a close reading of the text of the Gospel (for example, Talbert’s Reading Luke and Tannehill’s Narrative Unity... [the volume on the Gospel], each of which treat the text in selected clusters rather than in narrative sequence).  For a strict sequential reading of Luke, one needs more standard commentaries, of which there have been many in recent times.  (A selection of commentaries with annotations is given at the end of this essay.) 


Before turning to Luke as a progressive, I would like to recommend two works.  One is a commentary, Fred B. Craddock, Luke, in the Interpretation series, John Knox Press, 1990.  Craddock knows the scholarship but is not swallowed by it.  His assessments are very sensible and cogent.  He is a renowned preacher and views Luke as a preacher, which makes for some effective communication.  A very good read for a non-specialist.  
The second recommendation is Graham H. Twelftree, People of the Spirit:  Exploring Luke’s View of the Church, Baker Academic, 2009.  Twelftree is a British scholar now teaching in Virginia.  His theological leanings are conservative, but this challenging work, focused heavily on Acts, is a rigorous study of the meaning of church/Church in Luke’s writings.  The topic is important because Luke’s major overall achievement (Gospel and Acts) is presenting the evolution of the kingdom of God into the churches.  
Luke, a Progressive in His Own Time
Luke compiled his two-volume work after the developing Jesus tradition had passed a significant landmark:  the deaths of the first generation of prominent Jesus followers.  
All three major leaders mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 15:3-8 – Peter, James the Brother, and Paul – had been martyred in the early 60’s of the Christian Era.  James the disciple, elder brother of John son of Zebedee, had already gone the same route around the year 41 (Acts 12:1-2).  Of the early group, the only known survivor was John the younger Zebedee brother, who migrated from Palestine to the Roman province of Asia (Ephesus), probably sometime after James the Brother was executed in Jerusalem in 62 CE.  
None of the deaths in the 60’s are recorded by Luke in Acts – not because he did not know of them but because he is a disciplined writer and the scope of his work was to get Paul to Rome, still freely proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 28; see 1:8).  The persecution of the Christians in Rome by Nero in 64 had come and gone, but carrying the narrative through that dark episode did not fit Luke’s objectives as shaped in the 80’s or 90’s.  
On Jesus’ Return in Glory
Attributed (roughly) to Alfred Loisy around 1906:  “Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God, and what showed up was the Church.”  
Luke retained the apocalyptic tradition...  When Luke wrote, one whole generation was gone and another was well along.  Yet in his Gospel, Luke preserved those passages from Mark which predicted that the Son of Man (the risen Jesus) would return in glory before that first generation had died.  
Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.  (Luke 9:26-27.)  
Luke has modified the last sentence of Mark’s version.  In Mark, that generation would not taste death “until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mark 9:1).  Mark preserved more thoroughly the truly apocalyptic orientation of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.  That coming of the kingdom would culminate (after Jesus’ death) in the spectacular coming of the Son of Man on the clouds (Mark 13:24-27), an event Mark also asserted would happen before “this generation” passed away (Mark 13:30).  
...but Luke varied that tradition.  Luke modified Mark’s saying by dropping out the phrase “with power” from the coming of the kingdom.  This creates an important ambiguity.  The “kingdom” may not necessarily be the apocalyptic climax with the Son of Man on the clouds; the kingdom might be something less spectacular, like a charismatic movement that advanced steadily and impressively across the Roman empire.  
Luke also adapted other traditional sayings about the coming kingdom.  
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you [alternative translation, “within you”].”  (Luke 17:20-21.)  
Luke has Jesus go from this statement to the Pharisees to a long disquisition to the disciples about the suddenness of the Day of the Son of Man (17:22-37).  This discourse (mostly from the Sayings Source Q) says that Day will be like Noah’s flood or Sodom and Gomorrah – like lightning across the heavens.  There will be no time for preparation; two women grinding, one gone, one left.  
Thus Luke and his community still expect the sudden time of judgment, but it cannot be predicted.  In the MEANTIME – “the kingdom of God is among you.”  As Luke reads the apocalyptic tradition of Jesus, the great judgment – first announced by John the Baptist (or Malachi) and declared more emphatically by Jesus – is sure.  Sure – but still in the future.  Given that certainty, Luke in both the Gospel and Acts tells how Jesus prepared for and the apostles’ worked within that great MEANTIME, a time during which many vigorous and faithful assemblies came into being.  
How the kingdom was announced.  Luke’s different take on Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom is seen in the contrast between Mark’s introduction of Jesus and Luke’s.  Here is Jesus’ first proclamation according to Mark:  
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near [or “is at hand’]; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15.)  
Though he follows Mark for most of the actions in the Galilee period, Luke omits this opening proclamation.  Instead, Luke has Jesus go to Nazareth and preach his first sermon to the home folks (Luke 4:16-30).  Instead of announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus announces that HE is at hand.  And who he is is given in the prophet Isaiah:  he is the one Anointed by the Spirit of God, not to execute a great judgment, but to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.  
This is a new definition – at least a new formulation – of the kingdom of God.  This is the kind of activity the disciples (later apostles) will be engaged in.  It is the kind of activity the chains of assemblies (“churches”) will be engaged in.  This is the coming of the kingdom of God – as Jesus first announced it, according to Luke.  
On the Challenge of the “Meantime.”  
John the Baptist’s reform program.  Luke and his referent communities knew they lived in the “meantime.”  The character and importance of that time between Jesus and the end is very much a concern of Luke’s writings.  Mark and Matthew present John the Baptist as a preacher of repentance and conversion before the judgment.  Only Luke has John present a program of social reform to guide conduct in that waiting time.  
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”  In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”  Even the tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”  Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”  (Luke 3:10-15, NRSV.)  
When Luke is moved to expand on the inherited tradition, he does so in the direction of the poor and the oppressed.  Here is a program for a social safety net, for an honest internal revenue service, and for a non-corrupt police and military establishment.  When Luke focused on the MEANTIME, these are the needs he saw.  
Wealth.  On the same lines, the era of waiting – between the times – must inevitably raise the problem of the have-mores and have-nots.  Wealth is a major preoccupation in Luke’s Gospel:  In contrast to Matthew, Luke’s beatitudes for the poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the persecuted are balanced by woes on the rich, the satisfied, the joyful, and the well-esteemed (Luke 6:20-26).  The parable of the “Rich Fool” condemns an exemplar of capitalism (Luke 12:13-21), and a whole chapter is given to miscellaneous (and ambiguous) parables and sayings, generally devoted to condemning wealth (Luke 16).  (What was actually going on with wealth in the churches Luke was writing for?)  
More than the other Gospels, Luke shows us Jesus paying attention to the poor, the sick, women, the despised, and in general the marginalized.  No imminence of the great judgment is an excuse for ignoring suffering, injustice, and neglect.  Jesus is constantly finding and ministering to such folks around him – whether Luke takes the reports from Mark, Q, or his own informants (L).  Luke conveys to his circuit of assemblies (churches) that those things are what the Meantime – the waiting for Jesus time – is about.  
Into the World.  What particularly shows the nature of the MEANTIME is the book of Acts.  Pentecost, the great irruption into the world of God’s Spirit, does not cause the disciples to simply cultivate their spiritual community in Jerusalem.  Pentecost sends them out – thus the great emphasis on all the foreigners who hear the gospel proclaimed.  Acts portrays how the waiting time allowed believers to be sought in Samaria, Caesarea, Syria, the provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia as well as finally reaching Rome.  The world of the kingdom in Luke is not only the Galilee and Judea of the Gospel but the extended world of the apostles Peter and Paul.  
On the Church:  Luke thinks of churches – not the Church.  
Allowing for some exaggeration, the following is roughly true of the church in the Gospels:  
  • Mark has no church; only discipleship, those following Jesus toward martyrdom or his return in power. 
  • John has no church; only a mystic communion of disciples, exemplified in the Disciple that Jesus Loved.  (The appendix in John 21 does have a church, fed by Peter.)
  • Matthew has a Church – with Authority.  Only Matthew has the word “church,” ekklesia, assembly (Matthew 16:18; 18:17).  “...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19, NRSV).  
  • Luke has no “church” in the Gospel, but in Acts Luke presents the Courage to be the churches. 
In Acts 1-5 Luke presents an idealized picture of the “original” church of Jerusalem.  That church had ceased to exist around 66 and was no longer, if ever, relevant to Luke’s situation in Asia Minor and Greece.  The churches of Luke’s world are reflected in the many people of the churches Paul founds in Galatia, Asia, and Greece.  The names of many of these local believers are included in Acts – Lydia in Philippi, Jason in Thessalonica, Sopater in Beroea, Dionysius and Damaris in Athens, Titius Justus and Crispus in Corinth, Eutychus in Troas, and the elders of Ephesus to whom Paul made his farewell speech (Acts 20:17-38).  
The church for Luke was all these local assemblies, particularly those who traced an origin to the missionary work of Paul.  The book of Acts preserves the founding story of those assemblies for the next generation.  Luke knew these assemblies over a period of time, as well as others not mentioned in Acts.  As a young man he had accompanied Paul on some of his trips – especially the one to Jerusalem and Rome (Acts 21-28).  As a more mature leader of the movement, Luke knew these churches more as they appear in the book of Revelation than as they were in Paul’s missionary days.  In Revelation, chapters 2-3, the visionary receives letters from the heavenly Lord to seven of the churches of the province of Asia.  These churches are a mixed bag, hot, cold, and luke-warm, but they almost certainly represent the state that the Jesus movement had reached at the time Luke wrote his two-scroll work, Luke-Acts.  
In the perspective of Luke’s Gospel, these churches were that “kingdom” that Jesus’ generation would see before it died.  These were the congregations caught up by the Spirit and directed to the work of that kingdom that, Jesus said, was “among you.”  
Stumbling Blocks in Luke for a Progressive
Given all that, there are aspects of Luke’s work that have seemed to me rather non-progressive.  
A progressive’s canon.  I put this section in personal terms because I have come to believe that part of being a Christian progressive is having one’s own covert or overt canon.  I think progressives who retain the Bible as a core of that “tradition” they support but occasionally must revise, almost have to select certain texts or themes that represent the truth and power of that part of their heritage.  Correspondingly, they will also encounter Biblical passages that they cannot accept – perhaps as OK for others, or perhaps as unworthy or unacceptable altogether (passages about holy war, psalms that damn one’s enemies to hell, or passages that condemn some sexual orientations).  
I think it is pretty common for progressives to affirm a God of Love, and find Biblical passages one can recite to support and enhance that perspective.  The same folks, however, are often uncomfortable with more Calvinistic passages about the sovereignty and judgment of God.  Similarly, finding passages that resound with mottos for social justice and compassion for the downtrodden is common and fitting – even when some troublesome sayings can be found in the same scriptural neighborhood.    
Thus a Christian progressive is almost certain, by design or by default, to have a personal canon – to have scriptures that ring true and are returned to over and over.  And by the same token the progressive will encounter passages that are troublesome and irritating.  
Here are some items I would mark as stumbling blocks in Luke’s work for my personal canon. 

The Ascension.  Luke is the only Biblical writer who gives an account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  The account of the ascension is given vaguely at the end of the Gospel (Luke 24:50-51) and in more detail at the beginning of Acts (Acts 1:9-12).  As a supposedly historical event, this is probably the most outlandish element of the Jesus tradition preserved in the four Gospels.

Historical explanations can be given for why an ascension story was needed, but they involve assessments of the post-crucifixion Jesus stories about which Christians are likely to differ a lot.  Suffice it to say, the ascension was necessary to get the physical Jesus off the scene.  Especially for Luke’s work, the future was directed by the Holy Spirit.  Luke has Jesus state the master plan for the second volume (Acts 1:6-8), then retire to the right hand of God so the Holy Spirit can actively take over the work (Pentecost).  

Still, the Ascension is an irritating reinforcement of the ancient world-view that I could live without.  
The Martha Putdown.  I am always annoyed by the conclusion of the Martha and Mary episode (Luke 10:38-42).  The story can be read so that Martha is a bit of a nag:  she interrupts a Jesus seminar to complain to the teacher (!) about her sister.  When things get that public, you have to think there has been a major domestic breakdown.  The punch-line of the story, however – “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42) – is a putdown of the needs of the host woman (its her house), no matter how marvelous the spiritual uplift Mary is receiving from Jesus’ holding forth.  The only appropriate response by Jesus would be to let Martha and Mary work it out between them.  After all, when one of two brothers asked Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute, Jesus’ reply was, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:13-14).  
The proper context for Jesus’ comment about Mary – “Mary has chosen the better part” – is the apocalyptic urgency of the coming kingdom.  When the man finds the ultimate treasure in a field, he goes and sells everything to get that field – or the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46).  There are some points at which everything is at stake.  That’s when you forget about preparing snacks for the seminar and flee for the hills or head for Jerusalem.  As the story reads, Martha gets an unfair putdown!  
The Treatment of Wealth.  As indicated, Luke includes lots of things about wealth, but some of them get pretty out of hand.  The blanket instruction to the disciples, “Sell your possessions, and give alms” (12:33) is only credible in the eschatological context of, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32).  Equally uncompromising is 14:33:  “...none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  The most radical sayings about wealth require the original apocalyptic framework to be credible.  You can be very bold in casting away assets – if there is no tomorrow!  (The alternative – later followed in the church – is to confine the radical wealth sayings to only select groups, such as clergy or monks.)  
On another aspect of wealth, the “Parable of the Dishonest Manager (Steward)” certainly fails as a useful instruction (Luke 16:1-8).  The manager is definitely dishonest, and is “commended” for his conduct (verse 8a).  Clearly something has gone astray in the retelling or adaptation of this parable, and none of the usual explanations or excuses has any substance.  Once again, the only application of the original story that could be credible would be the radical apocalyptic one:  In a time of cataclysm (Noah’s flood; Sodom and Gomorrah), take drastic measures (sell all and go buy the field).  Even fine points about forged IOUs (16:5-7) can be overlooked when the kingdom is actually at hand!  Unfortunately, the sayings strung out after the “parable” (16:8b-13), supposedly to elaborate its meaning, are about wealth management, not about the apocalyptic crisis.  When added to the parable, they simply make the issue of wealth in Luke more confused.  In general, I would drop chapter 16 from Luke in my progressive canon – if it weren’t for losing the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  
Wealth is also an issue in Acts.  The famous “communism” attributed to the earliest church (2:44-46 and 4:32) was an ideal that, as Luke presents it, faded away as numbers increased and the communities divided between “Hellenists” and “Hebrews” (6:1).  That pooled economy is the occasion for the notorious Ananias and Sapphira story (5:1-11).  Presumably it was necessary to keep telling this unedifying story in order to scare people into being honest about committing their liquidated assets to the common treasury.  While the purposes of the book of Acts may require this episode, I would drop it from my canon.  
The Portrayal of the Jews.  Luke portrays an increasing but relentless rejection by the Jewish people of Jesus and the message about Jesus.  The birth stories about John and Jesus (Luke 1-2) are very positive about faithful Israelites who were waiting for the Messiah.  Jesus’ first public appearance, however, is a rejection story (Luke 4:16-30), and the many encounters with opponents, first the Pharisees in Galilee, then the authorities in Jerusalem, lead to the trials in Jerusalem and the crucifixion.  
In Acts the early church is entirely Jewish, even when it is divided into Hellenists and Hebrews (the difference being language, not religion).  Turning points come when Peter is led very directly by God to preach to and baptize non-Jewish Romans in Caesarea (Acts 10), and when the gospel preached by Barnabas and Paul is rejected by the Jewish people in Galatia while the non-Jewish people respond and become the Christian assemblies in that province (Acts 13-14).  In the rest of Acts, Paul’s message is consistently rejected by Jews of the synagogues but responded to by non-Jewish people, and assemblies are founded in city after city of the Roman provinces.  
The climax is the final rejection of the gospel by Jews in Rome, against whom Paul repeats the dark prophecy from Isaiah, “You will indeed listen, but never understand...” (Acts 28:26, quoting Isaiah 6:9), to which Paul adds, “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles [that is, the nations]; they will listen” (Acts 28:29).  
This is not something I would omit from my progressive canon.  In broad terms it was historical; mainline Jewish groups did reject the message about Jesus as the Messiah.  Acts accurately shows the Jesus movement steadily becoming more and more non-Jewish, more and more a movement of the peoples of the nations.  That development was clearly well along when Luke wrote his two-volume work.  (Tradition, of course, has mostly thought Luke himself was a non-Jewish person.)  
It is not something I would omit; it is something about which I would feel troubled.  It is a strong warning for admirers of Luke to keep some aspects of his work firmly in the past.  That portrayal of the surging charismatic movement sweeping the Roman provinces – leaving synagogues of scripture-disputing Jews along the way – was much later displaced by a triumphant and oppressing dominion of orthodox Christian rulers and populations.  Allegiance to our Tradition does not require us to affirm all that development as God’s work.  
Better to reaffirm the original statement of Jesus’ mission, as Luke gave it, and be grateful for the courage of those who became the churches!  
A Selected List of Commentaries on Luke [2013]
The challenge here is what to mention from a large field.  The following are the English language commentaries – on Luke only – I think noteworthy, for the reasons given.  
Two oldies but goodies:  
John M. Creed, The Gospel According to St. Luke, Macmillan, original in 1930.  A master treatment of the sources and composition of Luke.  Greek text.  
William Manson, The Gospel of Luke, Moffatt Commentaries, Hodder & Stoughton, 1930.  A sensible and uncomplicated (but not simple) treatment.  
Large-scale works from the late twentieth century:  
I. Howard Marshall, Commentary on Luke, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans, 1978.  A Greek-text commentary by a prominent Evangelical scholar with well-presented conservative positions. 
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Anchor [Yale] Bible, 1981, and The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Anchor Bible, 1985.  Probably the most balanced comprehensive treatment of Luke available.  Helpful in assessing one-sided fads that have been applied to Luke-Acts.  


John Nolland, Luke 1-9:20 (1989), Luke 9:21-18:34 (1993), Luke 18:35-24:53 (1993), 3 volumes in the Word Biblical Commentary series (Word Books, Dallas, TX).  As in all the volumes of this series, these have massive treatment of past scholarship.  The format almost achieves the ideal two-panel view of Luke:  what Luke was made out of (“form/structure/setting”) and what Luke was made into (“Explanation”).  
Francois Bovon, Luke 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1-9:50, tr. Christine M. Thomas, Hermeneia Series, Fortress Press, 2002; Luke 3:  A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 19:28-24:53, tr. James Crouch, Hermeneia Series, Fortress Press, 2012.  [Volume 2 is about to appear in English.]  A life-time work by an esteemed Swiss scholar who taught at the University of Geneva for 26 years and at Harvard Divinity School since 1993.  This work was published in German between 1989 and 2007 as part of a huge ecumenical collaboration on New Testament commentary. 


Robert T. Carroll, Luke:  A Commentary, The New Testament Library series, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.  A major commentary, just off the press; a big seller at the national meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature in Chicago in November.  Carroll has long taught at Union Presbyterian Seminary (its current name) in Richmond, Virginia, and this work completes a life engagement with Luke.  It is tightly written – one might even say its style is a little crabbed.  Carroll takes a rigorous narrative approach to the Gospel.  Luke wrote a narrative with an implied author and implied audiences.  Carroll’s technique, however, allows him to enter into Luke’s narrative and discuss Jesus’ intentions and motives – the Jesus that Luke had mind, presumably.  It often sounds as if Carroll has succeeded in getting back to the historical Jesus – but that’s just a trick of the various narrative perspectives.  Carroll has a few Excurses on complicated subjects, like “The Reign of God and the Roman Empire...” (the recent anti-imperial clichés are critiqued but basically sustained), and “Poverty and Wealth in Luke’s Gospel.”  A massive work with enormous depths of detail and scholarship, but to this reader, at least, a little tired and somewhat disappointing. 

Mid-sized Current Commentaries
Fred B. Craddock’s Interpretation volume, mentioned in the text above, belongs here.  
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina Series, Liturgical Press, 1991.  Johnson’s writing is clear and forceful.  He emphasizes greatly – perhaps too greatly – that Luke presents Jesus as a Prophet.  The titles of six of the seven major parts into which the book is divided contain the word “Prophet.”  Treats the Gospel very much as a narrative.  
 R. Alan Culpepper, “Luke,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, Abingdon Press, 1995, pp. 1-490.  This is a balanced and reliable presentation of scholarship on the book into the 90’s, with reflections relating the texts to concerns of the present.  
Robert C. Tannehill, Luke, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries, Abingdon Press, 1996.  A mature commentary by a scholar who had worked on Luke over 30 years.  (See “Luke as Narrator,” in the text above.)  Comparable to Fred Craddock’s commentary, but with more academic than preaching flavor.