Luke – R.T. France
Teach the Text Commentary Series (Baker: 2013, $39.99)
The new commentary on Luke, by the late and industrious commentator on the gospels, R.T. France, is a beautiful book. Not very often does a biblical reference work come in such an attractive package: full-colour illustrations and photographs are featured throughout, making Luke as much a trip to a lively museum as a Bible commentary.
The Teach the Text series (this is the first volume I’ve had a look at) distinguishes itself from both technical and “application” commentaries in one particular respect: its consistent emphasis on how to communicate each passage in a teaching setting. Important themes are highlighted, but are quickly followed by tips for illustrating those same points. Novels, songs, paintings, movies, even object lessons abound. Nothing you might come across in a Sunday School class or a sermon is out of bounds.
All of this makes the series (and this volume) ideal not only for pastors pressed for time or overwhelmed by bigger commentaries, but also for Sunday School teachers or youth workers. Each segment of text is treated in six pages, more than manageable for any in those roles.
R.T. France previously wrote major commentaries on Matthew and Mark in the New International Commentary on the New Testament and New International Greek Testament Commentary series respectively, as well as a shorter one on Matthew in the Tyndale series. Here he distills his learning in a highly readable, useful volume.
Because of its aims, Luke doesn’t focus on controversy and debate. Neither does France attempt to make much of little simply for the sake of novelty. He highlights the “Big Idea” in each passage, presenting it clearly and succinctly.
In his comments on the Lord’s Prayer (10:38-11:13), for example, he points out that “it is important…to see both the balance of the prayer as a whole and the importance of the focus on God as being prior to the focus on our needs” (198). And he suggests that we should “make use of (the prayer) and teach your people to pray the pattern Jesus taught his disciples, not just a rote repetition of the Our Father” (199). On the story of the Prodigal Son (15:1-32), he says, “In terms of application, it is helpful to point out in your teaching that each of us at times plays the role of each character: (1) wandering away from God or rejecting his authority, (2) joyfully seeking out and welcoming sinners, (3) arrogantly looking down on others as ‘too lost’ to be reconciled to God” (257-258).
But France doesn’t shy away from guiding his readers to a clearer view of things. Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, he affirms, but rather a living room: “an ordinary Palestinian village home was a one-room house in which the animals were kept on a lower level (not in a stable), with the mangers set along the side of the family living area” (32-33). “…the scene is one of warmth and acceptance in a family home, not of rejection and squalor” (34).
France’s Luke isn’t going to amaze or surprise. It isn’t meant to do those things. It accomplishes exactly its aim: it instructs, informs, and encourages those who teach to do the same in their own contexts. In a century already filled with oversized and often impenetrable commentaries, this is a humble gift to the church’s teachers.
Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not obliged to write a positive review.