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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Luke - Introduction

As one of the three Synoptic Gospels, Luke's story of Jesus has much in common with those of Matthew and Mark. Based on the same outline of his ministry, it includes a large number of episodes common to all three and puts emphasis upon many of the same things. It shares with the other two the same overall perspective from which Jesus' life is described and its significance assessed. Jesus is presented as the one who announces the arrival of the kingdom of God, his exorcisms and miracles are interpreted as witnessing to its presence in him and his teaching, often given by way of parables, explains its implications for those who would receive it.

Within this common framework, however, Luke's gospel includes many episodes which are peculiar to it and a significant number which, paralleled in one or both of Matthew and Mark, appear in his gospel in a different form and give a particular distinctiveness to his narrative. Among the most important of these are:

  • (a) Luke's infancy narratives, though agreeing with Matthew's on a number of important points, are, in the story they tell, quite other than his. Preparations for the birth of John the Baptist form a prelude to those of Jesus which they closely parallel—though in a less dramatic way—and with which they are interwoven. Jesus is linked firmly to Israel's prophetic line whose mission he fulfils. Born while all the world is on the move, he is ignored except by a number of Jewish outcasts who alone receive the divine announcement of his birth. Taken to the temple, however, he is recognized by true representatives of its piety who acknowledge that he will cause divisions in Israel but will become a light to the Gentiles, whose response will rebound to Israel's glory.

  • (b) Luke's narrative introduces Jesus' Galilean ministry with an account of a rejection at Nazareth which Matthew and Mark have much later in their gospels where it becomes Jesus' last visit to a synagogue. Luke's story includes a sermon in which Jesus proclaims himself as the fulfilment of Isaiah's hopes for Israel. He virtually compels his rejection but justifies it on the grounds that no prophet is acceptable to his own. His lack of works at home is defended by pointing out that both Elijah and Elisha gave attention to foreigners. When the townsfolk rise up against him, their attempt to kill him is thwarted and leads only to a furthering of his progress towards his goal.

  • (c) All three Synoptic Gospels tell of Jesus' one, determined journey to Jerusalem to fulfil God's purposes for him. Whereas Matthew covers it in two chapters and Mark in only one, Luke devotes some ten chapters to it. Its beginning is marked by a verse of exceptional solemnity ( 9:51 ) and frequent references to it remind the reader of its importance. The concept of a journey is obviously significant for Luke. The great majority of its episodes are peculiar to him whilst its contents as a whole offer different aspects of his own particular understanding of Jesus.

  • (d) Whilst Luke's account of Jesus' teaching in Jerusalem and of his conflicts with the religious authorities there are paralleled in Matthew and Mark, once the passion narrative proper begins with the account of Jesus' last supper, the distinctiveness of his story is apparent. His account of Jesus' actions at the supper is not easily accommodated to theirs and he includes a significant discussion with the twelve which they lack. The agony in the garden and the arrest resemble theirs (though with significant differences) but his story does not have their account of the night examination of Jesus by the Jews. He has but one single session of the council in the morning. No actual condemnation of him to death is made but all is rather regarded as a preparation for the accusations they are to make against him before Pilate, whose unwillingness to accede to their demands is emphasized by a threefold declaration of his innocence. Pilate's favourable judgment is supported by Herod who in Luke alone is given a role in the drama at this point. Eventually, Pilate delivers up Jesus ‘to their will’ and the Jews take a leading part in bringing him to the cross. His crucifixion scene presents a different picture from that found in Matthew and Mark. Their starkness is mellowed and Luke's, though having the same general contours as theirs, is given in colours that in many ways come closer to those used in John. The cry of desolation is not included and Jesus is serene throughout. He forgives his persecutors, receives the acknowledgment of the penitent thief and promises him a place in paradise, and commends himself into his Father's hands. The picture is of a death which reveals the characteristics that determined the life. What follows can only be a completion of what is now happening. Jesus' exodos, to which 9:31 pointed and which was to be accomplished at Jerusalem, is in the process of being realized.

  • (e) Whereas Mark expects Jesus' resurrected appearances in Galilee, and Matthew describes his final scene there, Luke's narrative leaves no room for such episodes. At the empty tomb, instead of Mark's promise of a future Galilean happening., Luke has a reference to a past event. All the appearances of the risen Jesus take place in or around Jerusalem. The theologically charged story of the journey to Emmaus is followed by the most materialistic of all the NT resurrection stories. What sets out to show that Jesus really is raised from the tomb becomes the setting for his farewell discourse, which justifies the events as those expected of the Messiah. It grounds in the Scriptures the universal mission that it enjoins. It sees its success as reason for believing in Jesus and as proof of the Spirit's presence in the community. Luke alone has a separate ascension event which both brings the resurrection appearances to a close and also accomplishes Jesus' glorification.

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