Nicholas Perrin, Luke (TNTC)

Perrin, Nicholas. Luke. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. xxx+487 pp. Pb. $30.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the third series of the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series replaces the original volume by Leon Morris, originally published in 1973 (revised 1988). Perrin is president of Trinity International University, Perrin previously contributed Jesus the Temple (Baker Academic, 2010) and Jesus the Priest (Baker Academic, 2013). He co-edited Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright (IVP Academic, 2011) and the second edition of Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP Academic 2013).

Perrin, LukePerrin begins with the premise that Luke’s central character is Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the Scripture and the human climax of redemptive history (11). But Luke is also the first historian of the church, a fact that Perrin takes seriously. History begins in Israel’s Scripture, so a redemptive-historical storyline must be considered (the Hebrew Scriptures). As he says in his introduction, in the commentary, he is quick to point out intertextual correspondence with Scripture. Perrin points out this is exactly what Jesus told us to do in Luke 24:27. He states this commentary is “a rather robust contemplation of ‘the Old in the New,’” focusing on” a compositional reading approach.”

The twelve-page introduction begins with the early reception of Luke-Acts, two stories held together by the thread of divine activity. With respect to genre, Perrin argues Luke “self-consciously wrote in the newly established genre of gospel” (4). The closest analogy is the Hellenistic bios, a life of an illustrious man, but with a Hebraic cast. The third gospel is a hybrid. “Luke was setting up his literary shop in the world of Scripture” (4). Luke is an extension of Old Testament scripture written in the present; a blended form “part bios and part pastiche of various scriptural forms” (4). In the end, the gospel of Luke resists literary categorization” (4).

Perrin argues for the traditional view that Luke, a companion of Paul, wrote both Luke and Acts. He asks, “if Luke did not write the third gospel, how did an obscure character like Luke become attached to the book?” There is no satisfying answer for that question, so Perrin assumes Lukan authorship based on external evidence. Regarding internal evidence, he begins with the so-called “we passages” beginning in Acts 16:10. The author of Acts claims to be a companion of Paul (Col 4:10-14; 2 Tim 4:11; Philemon 24). There are similarities with Pauline theology, especially the formulation of the Lord’s Supper. He briefly deals with objections to the traditional view, such as the fact the author makes no claim to be an eyewitness himself. Scholarship often considers Colossians and 2 Timothy post-Pauline, so they cannot really count for evidence for Luke as a companion of Paul. Most scholars see a difference between the theology of Paul in Acts and in the undisputed Pauline letters (no justification by faith, for example). The “we passages” are therefore “fictive interpolations” to give the story the ring of truth. Perrin is more open to treating Colossians and 2 Timothy as authentic (and Philemon is rarely disputed). Paul’s letters deal with specific issues. There is no reason to expect every theological issue to be reflected in Acts.

What can we know about a historical Luke? That the gospel is written in good Greek, perhaps the best in the New Testament, shows he was educated and Greek was his mother tongue. He knew the scripture via the Septuagint. Colossians 4: 10 through 14 implies Luke was a gentile, and possibly a physician. Perrin notes that all of this is affirmed in the Anti-Marcionite prologue, which adds the detail that Luke was from Syria (7).

The traditional view is that Luke wrote from Syrian Antioch, but “given Luke’s itinerant lifestyle, provenance is hardly matters” (9). The gospel of Luke has an audience of one, Theophilus. He argues Theophilus was Luke’s benefactor who wished to be better schooled in what he believed. But Luke addresses the two-volume work to all Christians, everywhere. Luke wrote simply because the church needed its own story, precisely the one told by Luke-Acts.

The date of the gospel of Luke depends on its relationship with Mark. Perrin generally avoids discussing source criticism in the commentary, other than the broad consensus that Luke used the Gospel of Mark. This is “taken for granted” and he is agnostic on Q (11). Scholars usually date Mark is to the early AD 70s because of the account of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13). If Luke made use of Mark, then the third gospel must be dated no earlier than 75 to 85. (Perrin does not deal with more radical dating of Luke-Acts into the second century.) However, if predictions of the fall of Jerusalem are genuine prophecy, then Mark could be dated in the mid-60s if not earlier. Luke too could be written before AD 70. Based on the end of Acts, he suggests a date in the mid-60s, shortly after Mark was written. For Perrin, the compelling factor is that there is no hint of Nero’s persecution in Luke-Acts. This seems unlikely that such a traumatic event would not leave a mark on the book.

Since Luke tells the story of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures, he points out numerous allusions to redemptive moments in Israel’s history, such as the exodus or the return from exile. The gospel of Luke traces the Spirit-directed and Spirit-powered mission of Jesus, marked by hospitality (as both guest and host at meals), concern for the poor (the socially marginalized, women, children, and gentiles).

The body of the commentary follows the standard for the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. Perrin begins each unit with a short section on the context, followed by a verse-by-verse commentary. His comments reflect Greek exegesis and a broad reading of secondary literature, but the commentary style focuses on the English text. Where Greek appears, it is in transliteration. Perrin does not deal with syntactical or textual issues in the commentary. There are footnotes to secondary literature, but this is not a commentary on what other commentaries say.

His comments on Luke 2:2 illustrate his understanding of Luke as a historian. This verse contains a notorious historical problem. Quirinius was governor in Syria in AD 6-9 and, although he imposed a census, it is far too late to be around the birth of Jesus in 6 BC. He therefore suggests that the word protos in 2:22 means “prior” rather than “first,” so that the line reads something like “the census prior to the one ordered by Quirinius.” He points out this is the meaning of protos in Acts 1:1. Luke is the first book prior to Acts.

In his introduction, Perrin says he will “quick to point out intertextual correspondence with scripture,” I will examine several examples from the body of the commentary illustrating this method. In the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:12-24). He begins with the observation the banquet itself is “not unlike the banquet which Yahweh will make for all people” (Isa 25:6). The invitation to come to the banquet “resonates” with the invitation in Isaiah 55:1. The servant is “reminiscent” of Isaiah 53:1. The excuses in Luke 14:18-20 are “imitations” of Deuteronomy 20:5-7; 24:5 (exemptions from war). The Parable of the Prodigal son may, “at least on a secondary level of meaning,” refer to Israel’s squandered inheritance of the land, and is therefore a reference to the exile (a nod to N. T. Wright). In Luke 21:20-21, Jesus’s command to “flee to the hills” when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies does not refer to the literal “flight to Pella.” “Flee to the hills” is an allusion to “the proverbial refuge of the faithful on the spiritual abdication of Israel’s leadership” (407). Perrin cites Ezekiel 7:16, but also 1 Maccabees 2:28. Mattathias and his sons “fled to the hills” after he attacked the king’s officer (1 Macc 2:28). This helps identify the desolation in verse 20 as a desolation of cultic space, recalling Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Finally, the celestial signs in 21:25-26 are a fulfillment of Isaiah 13, a passage predicting the fall of Babylon. They are not literal phenomenon but a “scriptural collage… well-rooted in texts of judgment” (411).

Based on this brief survey, it is clear Perrin achieves his goal to “point out intertextual correspondence with Scripture.” However, I do not see this as the dominant motivation for the commentary. This is not an “Old Testament in the New” commentary, such as Beale and Carson’s one-volume commentary (Baker Academic, 2007). Perrin makes appropriate comments on how Luke has used scripture when it sheds light on Luke’s theological agenda.

Conclusion. Perrin’s Tyndale commentary on Luke is an excellent commentary on the English of the third gospel and a worthy successor to Morris’s classic commentary. This commentary will be helpful for pastors and teachers preparing to preach or teach Luke.


Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:


NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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