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 discipline 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 the 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 that series. The earlier contributions were good, but not as highly detailed 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 and one that will be the “first off the shelf” for me for years to come. One aspect of this commentary which I appreciate are the short excursus-style sections which 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 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 for the overall theology of Luke. I have used several volumes in this series and have found them stimulating, but I find myself frustrated with the combination of in-text citations and footnotes. While it is not particularly distracting, I do not like the use of gray-scale boxes behind some sections of the text.
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 translation of the pericope, 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, syntax issues. All Greek is transliterated. Each pericope concludes with a bibliography which includes a wealth of German and French scholarship. Fitzmyer is an expert in the literature of the Second Temple Period, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Aramaic as well 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 does research on 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 a bit different than most, beginning with an unusual book size.
I. H. Marshall, Luke (NICGT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978). It is hard to believe that 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 a 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), making for difficult reading at times. Marshall frequently makes used of rabbinic sources to illustrate the text, something which I appreciate although I wonder about the dating of the 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
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