I deliberately sought out a book in this series on one of the gospels because I enjoyed its volume on Acts (by a different author) so much. And I’m glad I did: Professor Jeffrey is unfailingly insightful and judicious.
I enjoyed, for example, his periodic observations on Luke’s likely source for this or that passage; recall that Luke — who is, by the way, the only Gentile author in the whole Bible — is a self-identified researcher rather than an eyewitness here. Professor Jeffrey is impressed with Luke’s excellent eye for detail, and usefully notes when Luke contains information not found in the other gospels; one certainly gets the impression that the author likes Luke the best (see his epilogue).
The author, a literary scholar at Baylor, frequently references paintings and other art, as well as hymns and other Christian poetry. He also references other ancient, medieval, Reformation, and modern commentary. The bibliography separates the latter from the former three, but the author has no “chronological snobbery”; like C.S. Lewis, he does not assume that because something was written a long time ago it must be less intelligent and, if anything, my impression is that more often than not he finds the older commentary to be better.
Professor Jeffrey’s organization is straightforward: He devotes a chapter in the book to each chapter in Luke, so with about 300 pages this works out to around 12 pages per chapter.
- There’s this interesting paragraph (10, footnote omitted) on memorization then and now:
It is doubtless the case that Luke’s distinctive task was made more possible than most modern Westerners can easily imagine by the prodigiously more refined practices of memorization that obtained widely until the advent of printing. Teachers like Socrates could depend on pupils such as Plato to preserve an exact verbal memory of his teaching; there is wide attestation to precise verbal recall all through the annals of medieval European literature. The “word hid in the heart” would have been particularly apropos for the sayings of Jesus. Indeed, when Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink down into your ears” (Luke 9:44), he was instructing his disciples to employ a habit widely practiced in both the Jewish and Gentile cultures of his time. Luke could count on a precision of memory no modern Western writer could hope for after the invention of moveable type made memory less essential.
- Luke has more on Mary than the other gospels since Jews typically gave women less credence. The amount of material he has on the events around Jesus’ birth “suggests the possibility that among his informants was either Mary herself or someone very close to her” (19). The discussion of Mary’s obscure origins and free agency in accepting her role is very interesting (26-32).
- Jesus’ baptism is the first New Testament passage in which all three persons in the Trinity are explicitly present.
- Jesus does not want to be crucified before He has finished His teaching (73); this point bears on why He is wary about how broadly the news of His deeds is initially spread, and it also suggests — as I discuss here — that the point of Jesus’ coming was not just His life sacrifice for us but also His teaching.
- People also wonder, relatedly, why Jesus did not proclaim more often and insistently His deity, and perhaps it was because He did not want to people to trust others who would or were making such proclamations falsely (108).
- I like this (137, footnote omitted): “Understandably, this miracle [of the loaves and fishes] has occasioned an ingenious array of modern efforts to explain it away. It should rather be admitted that no such attempt removes the central difficulty for this, as indeed for all of Jesus’s other miracles; either it happened or it didn’t.”
- He sees the Mary and Martha story as balancing the Good Samaritan story (151-53). That is, the former emphasizes the importance of worldly actions, while the latter (which immediately follows it in Luke) cautions against stressing them to the exclusion of spiritual life. So we are to love and serve our neighbors, but loving the Lord comes first.
- He uses (235) the term “political correctness” pejoratively (good for him — and speaking of that, I was struck in his discussion of Jesus’ fate by the extent to which He was a victim of mob rule (271)). Professor Lyle doesn’t think much of the prosperity gospel either (200).
- He has a good description of Jesus’ passionate humanity (256), as opposed to being a calm sage.