Top Five Luke Commentaries

Introduction. Scholarship on Luke and Acts tends to focus on Luke as a Historian (since that is how he presents himself in the prologue) but also on Luke as a Theologian. In the ancient world, these two disciplines would not have been as separate as they are today. Perhaps this is just my perception, but there are far more monographs on the theology and literary style of Luke and Luke-Acts than the other Gospels.

Luke commentaries tend to be the place where scholars work out the details of the synoptic problem with respect to Q, the sayings source used by both Matthew and Luke. In fact, occasionally, you will see passages in Luke referred to as Q. An additional complication with Luke commentaries is that they are often linked with Acts. The theology of Luke-Acts must be considered since the two books are linked.

Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997). Green’s commentary on Luke in the NICNT series represents something of a renaissance for the series. The earlier contributions were good but less detailed than this excellent commentary. Green’s commentary replaces Geldenhuys in the series. The commentary is primarily based on English. Lexical and syntactical details are found in the footnotes. This makes for a very readable commentary that will be the “first off the shelf” for me for years to come. One aspect of this commentary which I appreciate is the short excursus-style sections that focus on Greco-Roman backgrounds. These are in a smaller font which might imply they can be skipped – but these sections are excellent! Green is now the general editor of the NICNT series, following Ned Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee.

Darrell Bock, Luke (2 Vol.; BCNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1994). Bock’s commentary on Luke was one of the first offerings in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament and is an extremely useful commentary for preaching and teaching. Each section begins with a few paragraphs of summary, followed by a section entitled “Sources and Historicity.” Here Bock deals with “historical Jesus” issues as well as how Luke handled his sources (Mark, Q, “special sources.”) These sections are not long, and I find his comments on Luke as a historian helpful. After the sources is the exegesis proper, beginning with a fresh translation of the text. Greek words and phrases appear with transliteration. More technical matters are relegated to the “additional notes.” Each section concludes with a “summary,” drawing out the contribution of the pericope to the overall theology of Luke. I have used several volumes in this series and found them stimulating, but I am frustrated with the combination of in-text citations and footnotes. While it is not particularly distracting, I do not like using gray-scale boxes behind some text sections.

Joseph Fitzmyer, Luke (AB; Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1981, 1985). This two-volume work on Luke is worthy of the adjective “magisterial.” Like other volumes in the Anchor series, the commentary section begins with a new pericope translation followed by phrase-by-phrase commentary on the English text. Here Fitzmyer deals with redactional matters as well as the overall theology of Luke. In the “notes” section, he goes back through the text dealing with textual criticism, lexical, and syntax issues. All Greek is transliterated. Each pericope concludes with a bibliography that includes a wealth of German and French scholarship. Fitzmyer is an expert in the literature of the Second Temple Period, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Aramaic, and the New Testament. These interests appear frequently in the commentary, and he suggests possible Aramaic words/phrases which may lay behind the Greek.

François Bovon, Luke 1 (Hermenia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002) and Luke 2 (Hermenia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012). Bovon is one of the major lights in the study of Luke. Anyone who researches the gospel of Luke would do well to read the essays collected in Luke the Theologian: Fifty-Five Years of Research (1950-2005). Bovon’s full commentary is not yet complete. Luke 2 will cover the travel narrative (9:51-19:27) and is due out this year. The third volume is planned with no date announced. The Hermenia series is slightly different from most, beginning with an unusual book size.

I. H. Marshall, Luke (NICGT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978). It is hard to believe I am including this volume as a “classic,” but the fact is that it is already 34 years old! The commentary has very little introduction, Marshall simply tells the reader to read his Luke: Historian and Theologian (which was one of the first books I read on Luke and Acts when I was an undergraduate student). Marshall assumes that Luke used Mark, although there is more skepticism for Q. In the body of the commentary, he assumes Q’s existence frequently. Since this is a Greek text commentary, Greek words are given without transliteration. Marshall tends to be more interested in lexical matters than syntax. All sources are cited in-text (there is not a single footnote in the book), sometimes making for difficult reading. Marshall frequently uses rabbinic sources to illustrate the text, which I appreciate, although I wonder about the dating of the rabbinic citations.

Conclusion. What have I left out? What commentaries on Luke have you found useful? What classic commentary on Luke should be read by all students of the Gospels?  Let me know what I have missed!


Index for the Top Five Commentary Series


Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

Matthew        Mark        Luke        John        Acts
Romans        1 Corinthians         2 Corinthians
Galatians         Ephesians        Philippians        Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians        Pastoral Epistles         Philemon
Hebrews        James         1 Peter         2 Peter & Jude 
Letters of John         Revelation

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

17 thoughts on “Top Five Luke Commentaries

  1. Here are two that I would suggest: Robert Stein NAC: LUKE and Leon Moris TNTC: LUKE. An old one that I have enjoyed is F.W. FARRAR, CAMBRIDGE BIBLE FOR SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES: ST LUKE, 1905.

  2. So I go to my Kindle Fire store to see if Kindle has these books. Upon looking I note they do have two. I note on is a Catholic, and one is not intrested in the text but the culture. SO i AM wondering why they are so good? I am glad Kindle gives a description on the book and comments by those who bought it.

    • I think you find Fitzmyer about as non-catholic a catholic as you are likely to find in a commentary! Bock, Green and Marshall are the evangelicals on this list.

    • Is there a full commentary on Luke published by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones? All I see is a short piece on Luke 1:46-55.

  3. Hi,
    What do you think of Garland latest offering on luke in the zondervan exegitical NT, How would that compare with others on your list?



    • I have a copy of Garland, although I have not been able to spend much time with it. I like the idea of the series, a Greek exegetical commentary, there are some great application sections with connections to a wide range of authors outside the usual one sees in a commentary (Malcom Muggeridge on pg. 305!) English and Greek appear for each pericope, But there is less “syntax” than I would have imagined for a commentary billing itself as exegetical. the text explanations are great, but not really that tied to the Greek.

  4. Hi,
    I had a look at Garland, I was impressed and bought it. I think its not as detailed as Bock of Green but it certaintly is easy to read, quite scholarly, has more application and looks great for sermon prep. I think I am starting to like how garland writes.Thanks for your help.



  5. For classic commentaries on Luke, how about the older ICC volume, done by Alfred Plummer? I like Fitzmyer very well, he gives well thought out comments on so much of the text.

  6. The smallish book of James has some very good small handy commentaries.

    Vlachos has real use for the exegete.
    Varner gives good insight into flow.
    Macarthur provides one of his best commentaries here.
    Dorani in the rec is a good practical commentary.
    Blanchard is a superior devotional read.
    Guthrie in rebc is small but well worth a look.
    Morgan has two small works helpful theologically and devotionally.

    So many books so little time.

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