Luke 1:1–9:50 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 3A)

Written by Darrell L. Bock Reviewed By Thomas W. Martin

The four greatest strengths of Bock’s commentary lean toward scholarly readers.

Firstly, Bock deftly handles the synoptic problem. There is an insightful excursus on source criticism and a useful section on synoptic relationships in the introduction. But the brilliance of his handling of this perennial and perplexing problem is to be found in the guts of the commentary where the problem is hammered out consistently passage by passage with an instinctual feel for the issues and possible answers. His ability to draw me as a reader into this debate, given the fact that for me the synoptic problem is not a central question, was outstanding.

Secondly, the commentary is strong in textual criticism. These questions arise relatively infrequently, but are solved with a thorough knowledge of textual families and relationships.

Thirdly, Bock’s skills as a Greek scholar are evident throughout the commentary in discussion of grammar and syntax. Most pastors or lay persons will benefit from this in the English translation. For those who read Greek, the notes and discussion of grammatical points will prove instructive. The translation suffers a single drawback: it is a ‘scholarly’ translation, technically correct in bringing the Greek into English, but deficient in not using enough freedom to produce readable English.

Fourthly, this commentary approaches Luke via historical Jesus questions. Bock skilfully guides the reader into the context of Jesus’ historical ministry as reported by Luke, highlighting Jewish practices, beliefs, groups, and Palestinian geography and politics. His knowledge and use of Jewish Rabbinic and sectarian literature, and Graeco-Roman sources, is broad and well done. A positive feature of the treatment is frequent reference to the work of Robert Funk’s Jesus Seminar. Bock offers helpful criticism of the methodology used by the Seminar and provides useful counter-arguments to support a positive assessment of the reliability of gospel materials. (Vol. 2 will contain an excursus on the Jesus Seminar.)

The commentary excels in relation to the historical Jesus, textual and source criticism, and Greek grammar. However, these points would not consistently meet my needs in a commentary I wished to use for preaching and teaching.

Useful insight and preachable material are to be found in Bock’s treatment of the Sermon on the Plain (pp. 548–628), and the treatment of themes regarding faith and mission from Luke 7:1–9:6 (e.g. pp. 446, 809f.).

Bock’s treatment of Luke as a conscientious historian (pp. 51–69) is motivated by his desire to defend the historicity of the gospel accounts. But the greatest weakness of the commentary is the fact that this emphasis causes him often to overlook Luke the theologian. If the evangelists were pastoral theologians who applied the Jesus tradition to the needs of their own congregations, then the Gospels should provide a wealth of theological insight for contemporary pastoral ministry. Those seeking such insights in this commentary will be frequently disappointed.

The purpose of the series is to interact with the ‘latest scholarly research, regardless of its source’. A difficulty with the commentary is the lack of methodological discussion as to how evangelical scholars writing for those who believe in Scripture as ‘the uniquely inspired Word of God’ (p. ix) take into account the full range of scholarly work on the Gospels. Perhaps working out a rigorous method of interaction between the two philosophically divergent camps (help might be found in evangelical work in the philosophy of science) would provide a way of avoiding what sometimes looks like a ‘straw man’ approach to the liberal wing of biblical scholarship (e.g. pp. 52f., 67, 364). It could also provide a means of avoiding the irritating dependence on the ‘differing worldviews’ argument (e.g. pp. 103f., 756, 767).

More interaction with redactional-theological studies would be helpful. At some points the failure to interact with social science perspectives turns the study astray: for example, in first-century Mediterranean cultures, religion was embedded in kinship and political structures. Lack of this perspective turns some exegesis to anachronistic categories (e.g. pp. 37, 407, 591). Also, if the goal is to engage critical, historical views of Jesus’ ministry, arguments using Luke’s belief in what he wrote to support its actually being true are not apologetically helpful.

The use of the term ‘Godfearer’ (e.g. pp. 155–60) is awkward in light of the technical use this term has in the scholarship of Acts.

There are occasional difficulties with the concept of ‘official Judaism’ in light of studies which highlight the plurality of views in the Judaism of Jesus’ day (e.g. pp. 465, 531).

Overall it is a useful, well-researched, and easily accessible commentary. I look forward to volume 2.

Thomas W. Martin

Fremont, New England