Garland’s ZECNT Commentary on Luke (short review)

The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary has been releasing new commentaries in a flurry! I have very much enjoyed engaging in the commentaries on Ephesians (Arnold) and Matthew (Osborne). Recently I worked through quite a bit of David Garland’s Luke commentary in this series. At over 1000 pages in hardcover style, it is a mammoth volume!

The series has a distinctive format and agenda: good, rigorous, text-centered exposition of the text with an interest in application. Zondervan knows how to write textbooks, so the font and formatting are very easy on the eyes. Each section begins with a helpful introduction, a one-liner “main idea” and a sentence flow. I will focus here on Garland’s introduction and then offer a singular reflection on a theme that Garland traces in the commentary.

Introduction

Truth be told, I have not read too many commentaries on Luke – my research is in the Gospel of John. However, though I am a Lukan tyro, I will confess I found Garland’s introduction very erudite and lucid. On authorship, Garland sides with attributing authorship of the third Gospel to “Luke.” He mentions an interesting recension of Acts 20:13 that dates to the early second century and appears to have the author refer to himself as “I Luke…”

Using a certain kind of logic of probability, he gives the argument that “Luke would have been an unlikely candidate to connect with the gospel” if the author were not if fact Luke (22). Presuming it is “Luke,” Garland argues the probability that Luke was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian. He seems to have extensive knowledge of the Greek OT. However, he appears to have good acquaintance with Greco-Roman literary techniques.

Why did Luke write this Gospel, Garland wonders? Garland offers several comments. In terms of literary purpose, he “presents the scriptural story and its themes as culminating in Jesus” (37). From a social perspective, “When Luke wrote, the Christian community had largely separated from its Jewish roots, and the Jewish rejection of Jesus was overwhelming. That split forced the question: Who are the real people of God?” (p. 37).

This is a very good beginning for understanding this gospel. You don’t necessarily find much that is “new” in this commentary, but the preaching pastor will have good, solid guidance in exposition in Garland’s care.

From Jesus to Adam and Back

As I was reading through this commentary, I was struck by an interesting connection that Garland makes. In the genealogy, Garland notes, Luke works from Jesus back to Adam, the son of God. Garland urges that Luke does this because just prior to this listing, he had recounted the divine voice hailing Jesus as God’s beloved Son. There is an obvious connection between Jesus as Son and Adam as son of God. Garland also draws attention to the fact that Luke is not really trying to establish a true blood line. Luke says, “He was the son, as was thought, of Joseph the son of Heli” (3:23). “This parenthetical note suggests that the genealogy does not really apply to Jesus” (p. 173). Jesus was not really born directly into humanity, but “Joseph, son of David, adopted him” (p. 173). This really struck me. If I am understanding Garland, he is saying that God’s plan required the cooperation of humanity (or just Joseph?) to “accept” and “adopt” Jesus. Only that way could he really, truly be the new Adam.

The second scene that drew my interest is from 23:26-49, specifically where the thief asks to be taken to paradise with Jesus. Garland, again, sees allusions to Adam imagery. Garland quotes Raymond Brown here approvingly: “By bringing this wrongdoer with him into paradise, Jesus is undoing the results of Adam’s sin which barred access to the tree of life (Gen 3:24)” (Brown, Death of the Messiah, 1011-12; Garland, 934).

This is good stuff. If I have one qualm, it is perhaps with the way Garland draws exegetical “insights” from Greek verbal tense. He regularly associates tense with manner of action and time of action. I think, nowadays, this view of tense needs a defense, because there are enough challenges to this assumption that it can no longer be the default exegetical foundation. Note, for example, how on p. 601 (Luke 14:27) Garland presumes that because the word “bear” (“Whoever does not bear his own cross…”) is in the present tense, the focus is on “the ongoing quality of living in this manner” (601). I think that, though, you can stress the persistent nature of this concept in other ways, like referring to the word “daily” in the statement made in 9:23 (something Garland already notes).

Overall, I still default to Joel Green, Howard Marshall, and Darrell Bock on matters related to the exegesis of Luke. But I won’t leave Garland to get dusty – it will serve as a nice “better check this one also” resource!

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