James R. Edwards (Fuller Theological Seminary, Ph.D) is the Bruner-Welch Professor Emeritus of Theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, where he has taught since 1997. Dr. Edwards is also the author of the well-reviewed Luke volume in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series.
Dr. Edwards’ primary research interests include biblical studies and history of the early church, with secondary interests in the Reformation and history of the twentieth-century German Church struggle. Besides his Luke commentary, he also wrote the Mark commentary in the Pillar series as well as the Romans volume in the UBCS series. He is also the author of the highly-praised, Is Jesus the Only Savior?
Dr. Edwards’ is a frequent visitor to Christian sites, libraries, and monasteries in Germany, Greece, Turkey, and Israel. He is a minister in the Presbyterian church.
7 Questions on Luke in the Pillar Commentary Series
Recently, Dr. Edwards agreed to set aside time in his schedule to answer my questions about his Luke commentary. Readers will learn how this commentary came to be, learn about Dr. Edward’s hypothesis about the “Hebrew Gospel,” and how writing this commentary edified him personally.
What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Luke?
Two things moved me to consider writing a commentary on the Gospel of Luke. The first was the completion of my commentary on the Gospel of Mark in the same series (Eerdmans’s Pillar New Testament Commentary). Mark was one of Luke’s chief sources, and I wanted to investigate more thoroughly how Luke utilizes Mark, and augments it for his own portrait of Jesus. The second thing has to do with the augmentation. Following my Mark commentary (published 2002), I wrote a book on the Hebrew Gospel, in which I proposed that the distinctive number of Hebraisms in “Special Luke” (the approximately one half of Luke that is not paralleled in Mark) derived from the ancient Hebrew Gospel mentioned by Eusebius and a dozen other church fathers. I published my findings in The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition (Eerdmans, 2009). A commentary on Luke would allow me to show exactly where and how the Third Gospel utilizes the Hebrew Gospel as one of the eye-witness sources that he attributes in the prologues of the Gospel (Luke 1:2).
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
I endeavor to write for any English reader who is genuinely interested in the message of the New Testament. My commentaries are read by many students and professors in colleges and seminaries, and I am of course grateful to participate in the theological education of this current generation of pastor-scholars. But I am most pleased to hear, as I frequently do, from pastors and lay persons who find my commentaries interesting and “accessible.” I seek to address the major interpretive issues of the Gospels by writing in a lively style, avoiding undue technical terminology (and carefully defining it when I use it), and above all, indicating the theological and pastoral significance of points as appropriate.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Luke?
My endeavor to demonstrated how Luke utilized a Hebrew source for “Special Luke,” as I have noted above, is perhaps the most unique contribution of my commentary. Along with this, I do not believe there was such a thing as the “Q” source, so my commentary is distinctive in this respect as well. But more broadly and theologically, my commentary shows how the Third Gospel from the Infancy Narrative onward portrays the life of Christ in terms of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and expectation. It is true that Luke writes for outsiders and marginal people and groups, but he above all presents Jesus as the fulfillment of salvation history, the hopes of Israel. Indeed, Luke, who is popularly considered to be the only Gentile author of a NT document, may have been a Jew. And two further distinctives, briefly. In Luke 7-9, we see a number of allusions to the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha, both of whom were miracle workers and also ministered to Gentiles, with reference to the presentation of Jesus. And finally, I do not regard the large central section of the Third Gospel (Luke 9:51-18:34) as a “travel narrative,” as is frequently supposed (for there are virtually no references to travel), but rather as Luke’s presentation of discipleship to Jesus as “the way,” which, incidentally, became the first epithet for the Christian movement according to the Book of Acts.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
I was surprised here. I was dreading writing on chapter 15, especially the Parable of the Prodigal Son, not because I dislike the Parable, but because so much has been written on it that I could not imagine saying anything new or as well as others have already said it. But I have to say that the most enjoyable section in the commentary turned out being my exposition of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15! I soared on a thermal current of delight as I wrote that section, and I’m equally delighted as I reread it today.
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
It took me four years to complete the writing of my Luke commentary, writing virtually every day except for Sunday, and usually between two and five hours per day. When I invest myself that intensely in the New Testament, in this instance the Third Gospel, I am repeatedly impressed how true the gospel is. I am impressed how deeply the Gospel writers, Luke in this instance, believed that Jesus is the Son of God who lived and walked among mortals and introduced them to the liberating joy of the Kingdom of God. This realization redefines my work as a commentator. My task is not to prove anything, but rather simply to expound, as clearly and completely as I can, the Lukan account, because the Jesus therein is “self-authenticating.” The mission of the church—and also my mission as a commentator—is simply rightly and fully to expound and exhibit the gospel, to which the Holy Spirit bears saving witness in the world.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Luke?
I would mention three categories of helpful commentaries.
First, for those interested in technical questions, philology, history, and exegetical exactness, I find the two best still to be Alfred Plummer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to S. Luke (ICC); and I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC).
Next, for those who are interested in the fullest exposition of Luke, especially with regard to its theological significance and its “reception history” (the way Luke has been received and interpreted throughout church history), the best source is the four-volume commentary on Luke written by Francois Bovon, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (which has just recently been translated into the three-volume Luke commentary in the Hermeneia Series).
Finally, the single best one-volume commentary that I found on Luke was Michael Wolter’s Das Lukasevangelium (HNT 5, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). It’s a goldmine.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I am now writing a biography of Professor Ernst Lohmeyer, a famous German NT scholar, who was also president of two German universities, who opposed the Nazis during the Second World War (and survived), but who then found himself in opposition to the communists in East Germany after the war, by whom he was murdered. His name was blotted out by the East Germans for forty years as an “Enemy of the State.” I helped to resolved the mystery of his disappearance and death after the collapse of Soviet totalitarianism in 1990. I am currently completing his life story, which is a great introduction to twentieth-century NT scholarship and a riveting account of a man of faith and courage.
When I finish with Lohmeyer, I want to begin writing the story of how the Jesus movement developed into the organized church within the first generation of the Christian movement.
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