Luke vol. 24 in The New Testament Commentary
By Robert H. Stein
Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
5.1 (Spring 1994) : 114-116
The NAC series gains more stature with this work to join such efforts as Craig Blomberg on Matthew (reviewed in TMSJ 4/1 [Spring 1993]) and John Polhill on Acts. Stein is well-known recently through his An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981) and Difficult Passages in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990). He is professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary, St. Paul, MN.
Luke is readable and often communicates the benefit of much research, in many cases offering rich explanations. For each set of verses, Stein gives a summary of the context with comments on words or phrases and on the message in that section that he feels appropriate for readers.
The New American Commentary series has a commitment to biblical inerrancy, so Stein defends the virgin birth in Luke 1:34 (84) and offers several possibilities of how the census in 2:2 could fit between 7 and 4 B.C. On the latter point he awaits new evidence to show more conclusively how the verse fits into history (105-6). The manger in 2:7 "was no doubt a feeding trough" (107), but why this is so he does not explain. True repentance in 3:8 will produce fruit as in 3:10-14 (132). He separates into two groups those baptized "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (3:16) because of the context. Believers (wheat) will receive blessing by the Spirit, and the unrepentant (chaff) will face judgment in fire (135). He often comments on verb tenses, as in 5:16 where the text notes Jesus' regular practice of withdrawing to lonely places for prayer. He understands the Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49) to be parallel with Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29) (197).
Stein's introduction (19-60) bases Lukan authorship on internal evidence, church tradition, and the "we" sections of Acts because of the common authorship of Luke and Acts (see his seven reasons, 21 n. 9). He dates the gospel's writing between A.D. 70 and 90, assuming Luke's use of Mark (25). Not everyone will concur with his assessment (25) that Luke wrote passages about Jerusalem's destruction in light of his knowledge of that destruction (13:35a; 19:43-44; 21:30; 23:28-31). He does hold that Jesus predicted these things in advance (37-39). The introduction also includes a four-page outline of the gospel (31-35) and a very good discussion of Luke's purposes in writing (35-44). In his helpful words on theological emphases (45-46) he elaborates on God's sovereign rule, the kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit, Christology, "the last shall be first," call to salvation, Christian life, and atonement.
Sometimes Stein lists viewpoints, yet does not tell why he favors one of them. For instance, he has 9:27 referring to the transfiguration, because it is the next event in the context, but he does not explain "some of those standing here . . . will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God" (280). Questions about the identity of the "some," the meaning of seeing the kingdom of God, and their relation to Christ's "coming in His kingdom" (Matt. 16:28) go unanswered.
The author's treatment of some matters is skimpy. He races through the 11:5-7 parable on prayer, skipping much that is significant. He favors the idea of "persistence" for the Greek word anaideian (v. 8), without alluding to a major view preferred by some in recent years (cf. I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 1978, 463-65; K. E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 125-33; Alan F. Johnson, "Assurance for Man: The Fallacy of Translating Anaideia by 'Persistence' in Luke 11:5-8," JETS 22/2 [June 1979]:123-31). The ignored view proposes the idea of "shamelessness," blamelessness in having a good name, applying it to the man in bed who gets up to answer the door to protect his reputation even though other motives do not rouse him. Even an evil man (cf. v. 13) will respond with goodness to uphold his honor. How much more will God, whose nature and motives are entirely good, encourage prayer (its persistence, etc.) by His honor that assures what is good.
Some statements such as at 15:20 are puzzling. The father of the prodigal saw this son "a long way off." Stein comments, "The question of how the father could have seen his son a long way off can be answered easily. Jesus, the teller of the parable, wanted him to." What does this imply and why is it necessary? A father could see his son a long way off (how far is not stipulated), and detect something about his figure, manner of walking, or the like, or watch him until he drew close enough to recognize, then race to welcome him. Does Stein hint that Jesus stretches things, that He simply makes it so by wanting it to be so, or neither of the above? What Stein means is uncertain.
The part on salt losing its savor (14:34) needs rewriting to remove its vagueness. Also, it is unclear why early readers would understand the punishment of enemies in 19:27 to refer to the events of A.D. 70, at least in part (472, 474). If the nobleman's return pictures Jesus' parousia, as Stein holds, why cannot the judgment on the enemies be at that time also, in full, rather than both at the parousia and doubling back through the centuries to A.D. 70?
The theological tension connected with 14:26 ff. is unresolved. How do the stringent conditions for discipleship, equated with becoming a Christian, allow for a salvation that is totally of grace without works being required?
Despite its weaker parts, this work has much to offer and ranks among the top half dozen commentaries on Luke. Like other commentaries, its best use is in conjunction with other helpful sources. For the pastor-teacher, Stein's effort easily has enough high points to make it a frequent help.