I announced recently the release of the Luke volume in the Paideia commentary series, by author Dr. Mikeal Parsons. Dr. Parsons was kind enough to answer some questions about his commentary and his research in general. You can find a generous 50+ page free excerpt here.
NKG: You have worked on Luke-Acts for many years and have distinguished yourself as an expert. How did you first come to be interested in Luke-Acts?
MP: From an early age, I found Luke’s portrait of Jesus compelling and challenging. When I was in high school, Dr. Frank Stagg (author of The Book of Acts: The Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel and Studies in the Gospel of Luke) led a bible study on the Gospel of Luke in my home church in North Carolina. I was intrigued and impressed by the fact that he preached and taught from his dog-eared Greek New Testament, and I resolved to learn to read Greek at college. At university, I had a concentration in Classics, so I did not have a Greek course in Luke until seminary. In my first semester in Louisville, I took a Greek exegesis course on Luke with John Polhill (who, years later, authored the New American Commentary on Acts). We used I. Howard Marshall’s then newly published commentary on Luke. I was hooked! My first doctoral seminar paper for Alan Culpepper and Gerald Borchert was on the text of Luke 24, which eventually led to a dissertation on the ascension narratives in Luke/Acts. And the rest, as they say, is history!
NKG: You are one of the general editors of the Paideia commentary series. Can you say a few words about why you personally think that this is an important and worthwhile series? I have thoroughly enjoyed a number of the volumes, and I look forward to Peter Oakes’ work on Galatians!
MP: James Ernest of Baker Academic approached me about editing a commentary series that would be useful to readers, especially students. I enlisted Charles Talbert, and later Bruce Longenecker, both colleagues at Baylor, to serve as co-editors of the series. I have been delighted with the commentaries released so far. Each writer, in his or her own way, has taken to heart the mission of the series to “enable students to understand each book of the New Testament as a literary whole rooted in a particular ancient setting” and an eye on the “theological issues raised by the text that are of interest to the contemporary Christian.” We hope to complete the series in the next couple of years. As you mention, Peter Oakes’ Paideia Galatians is due out any day now.
NKG: You mention in the preface that you agreed to write Luke somewhat reluctantly but in the end you came to find it a blessing. How did this newest work on Luke inspire, inform, and encourage you? Did you come to some new insights in the writing of this particular commentary?
MP: I was, indeed, reluctant to undertake the task of writing the Paideia commentary on Luke. Together, Luke and Acts comprise, as you know, a large chunk of the New Testament, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to make the commitment of time, energy, and resources to take on the task. Commentary writing is distinct from any other form of writing, in my opinion. In the scholarly monograph, one can explore a theme or text, delimited in ways that make sense to the writer. With a commentary, the commentator is presumably obligated to say something about every pericope, even when one may not be sure, at first blush, what a particular text is about! But I had already worked carefully through the Greek text of Luke in the Baylor Handbook (co-authored with Martin Culy and Josh Stigall), so I finally relented to write Paideia Luke. And I am very glad I did! With both Paideia Acts and Luke, the writing itself became a kind of spiritual discipline, in which I was striving (how successfully readers of the commentary will have to judge) to hear the “voice” of Luke coming through and to try and lay out the message(s) of the text, especially by attending to the rhetorical features of the story—medium and message are intertwined. I came to a new and deepened appreciation for Luke’s literary/rhetorical prowess in service of his theological message. And the experience was transformative; as I said in the Preface to Paideia Luke, the commentary (along with other writings I’ve done on Luke/Acts) represents an attempt “to understand Luke and Acts in their originating contexts and . . . more importantly, to better know and love the God who is revealed by Luke’s Jesus” (xiv).
NKG: Obviously there is much in Lukan scholarship that is not settled. What are some of the big interpretive issues in Luke that you still feel are unresolved? What portions of the commentary and the interpretation of Luke did you find the most difficult and challenging?
MP: We refer, sometimes glibly, to Luke as the “Gentile Gospel.” My research has tended to problematize this assertion for me, because if Luke is writing for a predominantly Gentile audience (which he most likely is doing), part of his purpose, or so it seems to me, is to employ all the tools in his Hellenistic rhetorical toolbox in order to recover the significance of Israel’s God and Israel’s Scriptures for understanding the unfolding story of Jesus (Luke) and his first followers (Acts). That simple statement has profound implications, in my opinion, for how we read Luke and Acts. I found the central section of Luke to be the most challenging in terms of trying to understand its structure and how that structure informs our understanding of the story. As someone once remarked, in the journey to Jerusalem, the Lukan Jesus is going nowhere fast! The journey frames the large teaching blocks of parabolic material. I resisted the notion that the materials were put together haphazardly and sought (again the reader will judge the success of the attempt) to see how the individual parts fit together.
NKG: Can you name your three favorite Luke commentaries and say a word or two about why they are important?
MP: One could hardly do better than turning to my colleagues at Baylor who have written significant commentaries on Luke (Charles Talbert, David Garland, and David Jeffrey) and Acts (Charles Talbert, Beverly Gaventa, and David Garland [forthcoming]). These colleagues, along with a brilliant group of doctoral students over the years, have made Baylor a wonderful environment to work on Paideia Luke (and Acts).
Among other commentaries, in addition to those already mentioned, I have found the magisterial and encyclopedic commentaries by Fitzmyer and Bovon indispensable for getting a sense of the philological and theological issues at hand and the various ways those issues were resolved in the exegetical tradition. Also useful were Alan Culpepper, Joel Green, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Robert Tannehill, especially on the literary shape of the narrative. John Carroll’s new commentary (which came out toward the end of my work) was invaluable in understanding especially the eschatological dimensions of Luke’s Gospel. Among the “pre-moderns,” although I do not often cite them, I found rich theological fare in the works of Cyril of Alexandria, Ambrose, and the Venerable Bede. Sorry that’s a lot more than 2 or 3 commentaries!
NKG: Do you mind sharing what writing projects you are currently working on?
MP: My wife, Heidi Hornik and I, are finishing the Blackwell’s Reception History Commentary on Acts, Acts Through the Centuries. After that, I plan to begin work on a primer on “Ancient Rhetoric and the New Testament” in which I hope to introduce the ancient rhetorical categories and conventions of the progymnasmata and handbooks and to show how knowledge of them sheds light on various aspects of New Testament interpretation.
Thank you, Dr. Parsons!
Readers, go and get his commentary now!