Fortress Press

Luke 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1-9:50

Luke 1

A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1-9:50

François Bovon (Author), Helmut Koester (Editor), Christine M. Thomas (Translator)

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This is the first of a three-volume commentary on the Gospel of Luke, covering the birth narratives through the Galilean ministry of Jesus. The introduction covers the text-critical questions of the Gospel, as well as its canonization, language, structure, origin, and theological profile. Bovon argues that Luke is not a direct student of Paul, but represents a specific form of the Pauline school in the third generation of the churches. The author also treats how the Gospel was used in later generations: writers from the early church, the Middle Ages, and the Reformation. He includes excursuses on "The Virgin Birth and the History of Religions," "The Devil," "The Word of God," and "Forgiveness of Sins."

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9780800660444
  • Dimensions 8.25 x 9.25
  • Pages 480
  • Publication Date May 29, 2002


Excerpt from the Introduction

The Work of Luke

1. Text
Luke's two volumes are both a concrete and an abstract entity. As with all holy scriptures, they were revered down to their individual letters. But the accidents of history have not left the work untouched. Copyists in the second century worked on the text with the best of intents, but thus concealed the original shape of the text. Theologians attempted either to purify the work by abridgment (like Marcion) or to harmonize it with other Gospels (like Tatian). Even its reception into the Christian canon, which actually should have protected it from alterations, did not leave the Gospel untouched: precisely this led to the division of the two volumes and to their elevation to sacred status — presumably against Luke's intentions. From that point on, the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts ceased to be two volumes of a single work circulating at the book markets. No single manuscript, not even the oldest, transmits Luke's two volumes according to their original form and intention. Thus text criticism is part of the history of interpretation, but at the same time also makes it possible for us still to hear Luke's voice for ourselves and to make out his words throughout the history of the text.

Despite numerous variants, the text is in relatively good condition. I do not share Marcion's opinion that the Gospel of Luke was adulterated by Judaizing interpolations, since Lukan idioms occur so regularly throughout the work. Marcion was perhaps still familiar with one or several of Luke's sources, and used this as a justification for his deletions and "extrapolations."

Three, possibly four, text types can be distinguished; these correspond more nearly to gradually evolving rather than one-time recensions. The Alexandrian text (esp. P75, a, B and C) developed in the second century. The Western text (D, some Old Latin witnesses, one Syriac version [the Curetonian], and citations by the church fathers) is about as old as the Alexandrian text. A third type from the fourth century is attested for the Gospels by A: the Byzantine text, which held sway for centuries (the textus receptus printed by Erasmus). Last, it is an open question whether one has to assume a fourth text type, the Caesarean text, as well.

The variant readings within the manuscript tradition have various causes: copyists' mistakes, the influence of oral tradition or of the other Gospels (esp. Matthew), recensions, and tendencies in theological development or ecclesiastical sensibilities. I would like to draw attention to at least a few of the principal problems in the textual criticism of the Gospel of Luke:
1. What is the original formulation of the second petition of the Lord's Prayer: "Thy kingdom come," or "your holy spirit come upon us and purify us" (11:2)?
2. Is Jesus' short address to the man working on the Sabbath apocryphal or genuine (6:4, in D alone)?
3. According to Luke, did Jesus send out seventy or seventy-two disciples (10:2)?
4. For the words of the institution of the Eucharist, should one prefer the long or the short text (without 22:19b-20)?
5. Should one include the appearance of the comforting angel at Gethsemane (22:43-44)?
6. Are the words "and he was taken up into heaven" a later accretion (24:51)?

2. Structure and Style
The work comprises two books of equal length, each one the average length of a book at that time, which was probably economically determined. The first describes the life of Jesus; the second illustrates the spread of the new message through a few primary witnesses. Formally, the prologue (1:1-4) attempts to elevate gospel tradition to a literary level; its content indicates the author's method, purpose, and results. Following the prologue, Luke narrates, in unbalanced symmetry, the events surrounding the births of John and Jesus (1:5 — 2:52). Only then, introduced by an elaborate and solemn synchronism (3:1), begins the period of John's activity and — following directly upon it — of Jesus' activity.

Luke divides the life of Jesus into three literary units. Jesus is active chiefly in Galilee (4:14 — 9:50), he then teaches and performs healings on the way to Jerusalem (9:51 probably to 19:27), and he finally concludes his saving activity in Jerusalem with a last series of teachings in the temple, and his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension (19:28 — 24:53).

The parallelism between John and Jesus, so characteristic in the birth narrative, recedes at the time when both attain their calling. John is a figure on the threshold of two eras with one foot in prophecy (as the last prophet), and the other foot in its fulfillment (as the first preacher of the good news); he quickly fulfills his role. Luke, who does not intend to write parallel lives, promptly introduces, alongside and after John, the main character — Jesus. Until 4:13, we are still in the preparatory stages. Only then does Luke signal the beginning of Jesus' activity, in the more extensive scene of his first public appearance in Nazareth (4:14-30). The picture of Jesus that Luke sketches in this first section is that of the healing (4:14 — 6:19) and teaching (6:20-49) Messiah, who travels through the cities of Galilee. The transfiguration (9:28-36) introduces the themes of the second unit, the travel account; the discussion between the three figures about the "exit" of Jesus (a euphemism for his death) makes the readers aware that Jesus' messianism is characterized by his suffering. According to the apologetic convictions of Luke, and of the Christians of his time, this suffering was part of God's plan (cf. Acts 2:23). Predictably, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem opens the third unit of the narrative (Luke 19:28-44). ...

Table of Contents

Foreword to Hermeneia
Translator's Foreword
Short Titles
Historical List of Commentaries

Introduction: The Work of Luke

The Prologue (1:1–4)

The Birth Narrative (1:5—2:52)

The Proclamation to Zechariah (1:5–25)

The Annunciation to Mary (1:26–38)

Excursus: The Virgin Birth and the History of Religions

The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth (1:39–56)

The Birth of John (1:57–80)

The Birth of Jesus (2:1–21)

The Presentation at the Temple (2:22–40)

The Twelve-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple (2:41–52)

The Baptist's Ministry and the Baptism of Jesus (3:1–22)

The Genealogy of Jesus (3:23–38)

The Temptation of Jesus (4:1–13)

Excursus: The Devil

The First Public Preaching in Nazareth (4:14–30)

The First Public Activity in Galilee (4:31–44)

Peter's Catch of Fish (5:1–11)

Excursus: The Word of God

The Healing of a Leper (5:12–16)

The Healing of a Paralytic (5:17–26)

Excursus: The Forgiveness of Sins

The Calling and Dinner Party of Levi (5:27–39)

The Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath (6:1–5)

The Healing of the Withered Hand (6:6–11)

The Choosing of the Twelve (6:12–16)

The Healings before the Sermon on the Plain (6:17–19)

The Sermon on the Plain (6:20–49)

The Sermon on the Plain I: Blessings and Woes (6:20–26)

The Sermon on the Plain II: Love of Enemies and Other Matters (6:27–38)

The Sermon on the Plain III: The Parables (6:39–49)

The Centurion from Capernaum (7:1–10)

The Young Man at Nain (7:11–17)

The Testimony of Jesus about the Baptist (7:18–35)

Jesus and the Sinful Woman (7:36–50)

The Discipleship of Women (8:1–3)

The Parable of the Sower and Other Teachings (8:4–21)

The Stilling of the Storm (8:22–25)

The Gergesene Demoniac (8:26–39)

Jairus's Daughter and the Woman with the Discharge of Blood (8:40–56)

The Commissioning of the Twelve (9:1–6)

The Perplexity of Herod (9:7–9)

The Feeding of the Five Thousand (9:10–17)

Peter's Confession of the Messiah (9:18–22)

About Following Jesus (9:23–27)

The Transfiguration (9:28–36)

The Healing of the Possessed Son (9:37–43a)

The Second Prediction of the Passion; the Disciples' Conflict about Rank; the Strange Exorcist (9:43b–50)