Luke: Outlines and Commentary
By Derek Leman
© 2017 Derek Leman
Table of Contents
Other accounts and eyewitnesses (1-2), Luke’s account for Theophilus (3), to affirm truth of instruction about Yeshua (4).
Early manuscripts and the Muratorian Canon (second century) attribute the books of Luke and Acts to the Luke known from the epistles of Paul (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phmn 24). Luke-Acts is a single, two-part work. Acts gives indication of a writer who was in the circle of Paul (hence the emphasis on Paul in Acts). The tradition that Luke wrote Luke-Acts is solid and believable, though by no means proven beyond all doubt. The prologue of Luke (vss. 1-4) is typical of Greco-Roman histories. Compare, for example, the prologue to Josephus’ Against Apion, “In the history of the Antiquities, most excellent Epaphroditus, I believe that I have made sufficiently clear to any who would come upon that work the antiquity of our Jewish race . . .” Luke states his purpose: to give historical affirmation, based on first or secondhand reporting of eyewitness testimony (a Greco-Roman value in history writing) to “give assurance” of the teaching Theophilus has received regarding Yeshua. In other words, the oral telling of Yeshua stories by eyewitnesses is, in addition to Mark and Matthew, Luke’s source material. As Fitzmeyer says, it is not that Luke thinks “history” alone is the support for faith. Luke is clear that the Spirit is our assurance of faith. Rather, his history is to support the specific facts of Yeshua’s life. Luke begins in the Greco-Roman style, but after the prologue he falls into the style of the Septuagint version of the Jewish Bible (Fitzmeyer). Theophilus is a common name and theories about his identity have no evidence. Theophilus is a follower of Yeshua, as indicated by the end of vs. 4. The legend that he is an interested non-believer is contradicted by vs. 4.
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Zechariah and Elizabeth (5-7), Gabriel appears to Zechariah (8-12), Gabriel announces John as a Nazirite and as an Elijah-figure (13-17), Gabriel mutes Zechariah for questioning (18-20), the people wonder what happened to Zechariah (21-23), barren Elizabeth conceives (24-25).
Only Luke and Matthew have birth narratives. Historically speaking, it is very difficult to judge what sources they might have been working from. It appears that Luke did not use Matthew as a source for the birth narrative. His account is remarkably different in structure and detail. Luke and Matthew do agree on many of the most important points of the story. Fitzmeyer lists twelve key agreements including the Davidic ancestry of Yeshua, the conception by the Holy Spirit, and the birth in Bethlehem. Yet there are also differences which are difficult to harmonize (did Yeshua’s parents live in Nazareth before the birth? did they go to Egypt?). The birth narratives are doubted by those looking simply for history in the gospels. Those who believe in Yeshua and accept the scriptural tradition as inspired find here a perfect example of the principle: we do not base our faith merely on rational examination of evidence, but also on tradition (see Luke Johnson’s essay in The Historical Jesus: Five Views). And tradition was very important to Luke, who emphasized eyewitness story as the basis of his Gospel. He does not indicate any sources for the birth narrative, so perhaps he simply faithfully recorded one tradition that was known about the events leading to Yeshua’s birth. Once Luke gets past his prologue (vss. 1-4) and begins telling the story, he does so in the style of the Hebrew Bible (or the LXX or Greek version known as the Septuagint). Luke’s manner of telling it strongly resembles other stories from ancient Israel, especially the Samson and Samuel birth announcements. Some of the elements of the story come from standard parts of the gospels (John is in the spirit of Elijah, for example). Others are completely new. Zechariah and Elizabeth are completely unknown from any other gospel and Yeshua’s relationship to John is reported only by Luke. Gabriel, who appeared in Daniel 8 and 9, makes his only appearance in the New Testament here and to Mary in 1:26. With the birth of John, the visitations of God upon Israel have returned as in days of old.
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Gabriel comes to the virgin betrothed to Joseph in Nazareth (26-27), the announcement of the coming birth (28-33), Mary’s concern (34), the Holy Spirit will conceive the child (35), comparison to Elizabeth’s miraculous conception (36-37), Mary’s acceptance (38).
Luke’s birth narratives are structured to compare John and Yeshua so that 1:5-25 is about the announcement of John’s birth, 1:26-38 about Yeshua’s birth announcement, 1:39-56 brings the stories together, 1:57-80 is about John’s birth, and 2:1-20 about Yeshua’s birth. As noted in the previous scene, the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke present some difficulties for those seeking nothing but historical “facts.” That Mary was a virgin who conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit is a tradition whose historical basis is widely doubted. Some say that Matthew, based on his reading of Isaiah 7:14, concocted the idea that Yeshua was born to a virgin and “fulfilled” prophecy. This reading of Matthew 1:23-25 is a poor one (unfortunately and ironically supported by many Christian commentators who do not understand early Jewish modes of using scripture). It should be noted that both Matthew and Luke refer to the tradition of Mary’s virginity and miraculous conception. While this falls far short of historical “proof,” it should be asked why the evangelists would fictively create such a notion. Some might think they were constrained to present Yeshua as having no human father based on some preconceptions of Messiah. This is without any basis. No one thought Messiah would be virgin-born or have God as his father in the sense that Yeshua did. The Davidic Messiah concepts and similar messianic concepts in no way suggest that the early Yeshua-community required a miraculous conception story in order to believe in Yeshua. Thus, the notion that Yeshua was born to a virginal mother who had conceived by the Holy Spirit is an ancient and well-attested tradition which stands on its own to accept or reject based on one’s attitude toward the apostles and the value of gospel tradition (again, see Luke Timothy Johnson’s chapter in The Historical Jesus: Five Views). In the Hebrew Bible, special births often involved certain miraculous and extraordinary aspects. Likewise, in John’s birth announcement he will be a lifelong Nazirite with the power and spirit of Elijah. Yeshua’s birth is by the “overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit and Yeshua will be as the Davidic king is described in 2 Samuel 7: he will have a great name (2 Sam 7:9; Luke 1:32), he will occupy the throne (2 Sam 7:13; Luke 1:32), he will be God’s son (2 Sam 7:14; Luke 1:32), and he will be over the house of Israel (2 Sam 7:16; Luke 1:33; Fitzmeyer). Mary’s acceptance is like that of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. Luke presents Mary as the model believer here and in Acts 1:14, in spite of some traditions about her great doubts concerning Yeshua in Mark 3:21 and 3:31-35. (Fitzmeyer). These traditions are not contradictory. We might guess that Mary, like many others, believed at first, had great doubts in the middle, and after the resurrection returned to powerful belief.
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Mary hastens to Judea to visit Elizabeth (39-40), the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps (41), Elizabeth’s pronouncement (42-45), Mary’s canticle (the Magnificat, 46-55), Mary remains and then returns (56).
Luke 1 alternates between Yeshua’s story and John’s and this middle section joins them together beautifully. Mary comes to Judea because of what the angel told her about Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been in seclusion until Mary arrives (see 1:24). The revealing of John’s birth and its significance awaits the perfect time (Fitzmeyer). Elizabeth’s pronouncement is important theology clarifying that John’s role is as the forerunner to Yeshua. John’s name and deeds were well-known in Israel (as we see in references to him outside of the Bible). It was vital to the early Yeshua movement to clarify that Yeshua was John’s Lord (and the Lord of us all). Mary’s canticle (most commonly known as the Magnificat) is a string of verses from the LXX (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint). Fitzmeyer helpfully lists each reference, which come first and foremost from Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, but also with references from 1 Samuel 1:11, Psalm 24(25 in the LXX), Psalm 113, Deuteronomy 10:21, Psalm 111, Psalm 89, Psalm 107, Job 22:9, Isaiah 41:8-9, Psalm 98, and Micah 7:20. It is important to note that the Magnificat is a string of scriptures and that some things do not exactly fit Mary’s situation. The overall theology of the canticle is God keeping his Abrahamic promises and fulfilling them in the child Mary will bear. Luke, though a gentile, often returns to the Abrahamic promises and the centrality of the people of Israel (in Acts as well as Luke). Yeshua is the seed of Abraham born to redeem the nations and Israel. Mary portrays her son as the promised ultimate king who will bring the time of God’s reign. She celebrates the way God lifts up the weak and insignificant. Scot McKnight (A Community Called Atonement) describes the Magnificat’s theology: “For Mary, the Abrahamic covenant is the promise of God not only to be faithful to Israel but also to be faithful to all of Israel, including the poor, so that a society is created in which God’s will is established.”
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John’s birth, naming, and circumcision (57-63), the sign of Zechariah’s healing portending John’s greatness (64-66), the canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus, 67-79), John grows and inhabits the wilderness (80).
Luke’s birth narrative alternates between John’s story and Yeshua’s. Just as Luke will show Yeshua’s birth and circumcision, and all that they portend, so he does with John. Throughout, Luke makes it clear John is a great prophet, but a forerunner of the greater Yeshua. The miracle of Zechariah’s mute tongue being at last healed leads people to ask, “What will this child be?” The identity and aims and John are matters which Luke and the other evangelists are careful to spell out and identify. Some think this reflects controversy in the first century, perhaps with a cult of John the Baptist which rivaled the Yeshua movement (in Acts there is some indication of this). Zechariah’s canticle (known in tradition as the Benedictus), like Mary’s, is a string of scriptures: Psalm 41:14; 72:18; 106:48; 111:9; 18:3; 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 18:18; 106:10; Genesis 24:12; Psalm 105:8; 106:45; Genesis 26:3; Joshua 24:14; Isaiah 38:20; Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3; Psalm 107:10; and Isaiah 59:8 (Fitzmeyer, note that the Psalm verses sometimes vary by 1 from Hebrew to English). Since in vs. 69 the horn of salvation raised up is from the house of David, this is a reference to Yeshua and not John. Thus, Luke makes clear in this string of messianic verses that John is the forerunner and that he runs before the Davidic messiah. Luke is careful here, as in Mary’s canticle, to reflect the Abrahamic promises as being fulfilled in Yeshua. Luke, though a gentile, never forgets that salvation flows from Israel to the nations. He sees the Abrahamic promise as central and leading to the appearance of Yeshua, the seed of Abraham, to redeem Israel and the nations.
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The setting of Yeshua’s birth in Bethlehem (1-5), the birth (6-7), the angels reveal the Savior-child (8-14), reactions to the birth (15-20).
The birth of Yeshua is crafted here to rival the claims of Augustus Caesar to be Lord and Savior of the world. It is fitting that the chapter begins by mentioning the emperor by name. This scene appears to have been written before chapter 1. Fitzmeyer notes that the section does not refer to John and that Yeshua is re-introduced as Messiah and Lord (thought that was already done in chapter 1). Luke begins the scene by addressing a conflict in Yeshua’s origin stories: he grew up in Nazareth and yet was born in Bethlehem. How did this come about? According to Luke, the family came to Bethlehem because of a census in the reign of Augustus and under the governorship of Quirinius over Syria (which included Galilee and Judea). It seems Luke has made a historical blunder, as our best information from many sources informs us that: (a) Quirinius became governor later, (b) that no census required migration to register, and (c) that Luke refers to this same census in Acts 5:36-37 at a totally different time. Those who would rather not say Luke has made an error can posit solutions. More importantly, the gospels tell us that Yeshua was of the house of David (through his legal father, Joseph) and born in the Davidic city of Bethlehem, though he was raised in Nazareth from early childhood. The “lodge” (or “inn” in some translations) is a guest-house. Instead of a more comfortable place in a guest-house, Mary had to give birth in either a courtyard of a house where animals were kept or some type of outdoor animal pen. This detail is unusual and we would guess that the source is Mary. Luke’s story deliberately sets Yeshua as the real Lord and Savior born in the days of the alleged Lord and Savior, Augustus Caesar. The humble surroundings of his birth fit well with Luke’s emphasis throughout his telling of the Yeshua story: Yeshua’s place was with the poor and marginalized elements, not the elite. What a contrast between the prestigious and powerful Augustus and the lowly Yeshua born in an animal pen with shepherds attending his birth. Yet the glory of Yeshua’s identity shines through the humble scene since an angelic choir announces him. Yeshua is Israel’s Savior, like the judges and kings of the Hebrew Bible. Lord here does not mean “deity,” but ruler. He is Messiah (Christ), Savior, and Lord. These titles were very important to early Yeshua-believers persecuted for their faith during the time of the Roman empire. God’s greatness is not about dominance, but goodness.
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Yeshua’s circumcision and naming (21), purification and redemption of the firstborn (22-24), Simeon’s canticle (25-35), Anna the prophetess (36-38), their Torah observance complete (39), Yeshua grows (40), the incident of the boy Yeshua at the Temple (41-51), Yeshua grows (52).
The eighth-day circumcision of Yeshua parallels John’s circumcision and naming in 1:59-63. In vss.22-24 Luke runs two laws of Torah together: redemption of the firstborn (Exod 13) and the purification of the mother after childbirth (Lev 12). Some have argued that Luke is confused about these laws and mixes them up. His account is brief and need not be read as a confusion. Simeon’s canticle is in the language of Isaiah 40-55. “Consolation of Israel” is a term related to Isaiah 40:1. The whole section of Isaiah 40-55 is about a time when Israel will be consoled and restored. The Servant in Isaiah 40-55 is a light to gentiles and the Savior of Israel. Simeon also prophesies the controversy and pain that will surround Yeshua. Anna the prophetess looks for the redemption of Israel. She and Simeon are part of a community at the Temple of devout pray-ers believing the promises of restoration and salvation. Luke shows the infant Yeshua in a context of a Torah-observant family, making pilgrimage to the Temple annually, and a community of the faithful looking for the end-time promises to come true. Yeshua is the fulfiller of these promises, according to Luke. The childhood incident at the Temple is not, as is commonly asserted, related to a bar mitzvah (the custom did not exist until the Middle Ages). The story of Yeshua’s youth is tantalizing, the only such story we have in the canonical gospels. It is hard to imagine what source Luke could have for this story, but it portrays the young Yeshua as a prodigy of Torah knowledge and foreshadows the way he will stymie the official teachers and scribes in his later career.
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Greco-Roman style prelude to the narrative (1-2), the mission of John (3), the Isaianic midrash of John (4-6).
Vss. 1-2 are a prelude to the public career of Yeshua. The infancy narratives that come before are thus separated from the rest. This probably reflects the way the traditions were viewed: the Passion and Resurrection narratives being most familiar and fixed from the earliest times into a pattern, the Miracles and Sayings narratives being the second oldest, and the Infancy narratives being the latest layer of the tradition and the least fixed in order and contents. Luke introduces the story in the fashion of a Greco-Roman history, but will, as in chapter 1, abandon that style as soon as the story begins and write in the style of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the LXX). He locates John in the time of the various rulers over Galilee and Judea. This is a strong indicator that Luke is deliberately casting Yeshua’s movement as an alternative to Roman pretensions to divine power over the world. A modern reader can easily misunderstand John’s aims. His preaching is not so people can find personal salvation per se, but a national restoration movement in which people sought forgiveness for their own sins and for the corporate sins of the people of Israel as a whole. The entire notion of going back to the Jordan river (where Israel first entered the land in Joshua) is about national revival. Likewise, the verses describing John’s work are about Israel’s restoration in the last days from Isaiah 40:3-5. Luke, ever interested in the gospel to the poor and marginalized, quotes all the way to Isaiah 40:5 (Mark has a shorter quotation) which sees salvation available to “all flesh,” meaning even the poor and marginalized as well as gentiles (a particular emphasis in Luke is salvation for Gentiles). The midrash on Isaiah 40 (which the Qumran community also used for itself) works on two levels: John is in the desert asserting his voice, just like the mysterious voice in Isaiah’s prophecy, and also is working to bring about the messianic renewal promised there.
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John’s repentance message to the crowds (7-9), ethical instructions for various groups (10-14), John on the Greater One who is coming (15-17), John preaches the gospel (18).
Whereas Matthew 3:7 has the harsh message of John directed at Pharisees and Sadducees, Luke simply says this message is to the whole crowd. There is wrath coming, a time of God’s judgment on Israel. The people need to repent and bear the fruit of good deeds to stand in covenant favor with God. John attacks the notion of covenantal nomism, a modern term for the idea that belonging to the elect people (Israel) rendered a person right with God automatically. National apathy resulted from a widespread idea that as the Chosen People, Israel was right with God. The leaders of the Temple State had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (just bring offerings to the Temple and trust that our system is working). John is a prophet whose message is like that of the Hebrew Bible: God demands ethical action and social justice, not arrogated privilege and worship divorced from repentance. Luke would want this message emphasized for two reasons: to show that the people of Israel need to be a part of the Yeshua-movement and to show that gentiles are just as welcome to God as Jews. John’s ethical instruction, as in the Israelite prophets of old, centers on social justice. If the people will practice justice, God will revive the land. John explains that a Mighty One is coming. Luke says that in this message, probably the whole message about the coming wrath, about repentance and justice, and about the Mighty One to Come, is the gospel (the good news).
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John’s imprisonment (19-20), Yeshua’s baptism (21-22).
Why does Luke give such a short version of the imprisonment of John the Baptist and of the baptism of Yeshua? Mark’s account of John’s imprisonment and death is long (Mark 6:17-29). Matthew’s account of the baptism is longer than Luke’s (Matt 3:13-17). There are some things we would not know if Luke’s account was the only record of these events. He doesn’t even mention that Yeshua’s baptism is by John and part of John’s movement (one can imagine how scholars would debate “was Yeshua baptized by John?” if Luke were the only record). Regarding both incidents, the death of John and the baptism, it is obvious that Luke assumes his readers already know the story. He has no intention of completely telling about these events. So we can consider what he has to say about them his commentary on the events, looking for the subtle ways Luke shapes the story with his message. First, regarding the imprisonment of John, Luke places it much earlier in the story than either Mark or Matthew. He shows that John’s work was ending and Yeshua’s starting and is careful to bring John’s story to an end because up till now he has been showing them in parallel. Second, regarding the baptism, Luke’s account is notable for three emphases not found in the other versions: that Yeshua came with “all the people,” that he prayed during the baptism, and that the dove-Spirit appearance was in “bodily form.” The “all the people” theme continues an emphasis in Luke, that there were many righteous people in Judea and Galilee seeking the kingdom. He depicts Yeshua’s baptism as a part of this renewal movement in Israel. The praying of Yeshua in this transcendent moment, when his Sonship is revealed, is Luke’s way of making clear Yeshua’s relation to the Father was known to his disciples by his frequent and intimate communication. There was something remarkable about the way Yeshua prayed which is a Lukan theme. And the bodily form of the dove apparition is part of Luke’s realism, as also in the Shavuot (Pentecost) scene in Acts 2. Divine manifestations happen in visible, bodily forms to the prophetic movement of Yeshua. The kingdom for Luke is not something ethereal, but a transformation of real people.
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Yeshua’s age and ancestors.
In the best manuscripts, Luke’s genealogy has seventy-seven generations (Fitzmeyer). The use of sevens is one point Matthew’s genealogy and Luke’s have in common. The differences between Luke and Matthew’s genealogies are notable. The third generation from Yeshua in Matthew is Jacob, but in Luke’s is Heli. Most of the names in their two genealogies are different. Matthew’s goes back to David’s line through Solomon while Luke’s goes back to David through Nathan (not the prophet, but David’s son as in 2 Sam 5:14). Luke’s account goes back to Adam; Matthew’s to Abraham. Luke emphasizes Yeshua as Son of God, whereas Matthew emphasizes Yeshua as the Son of David and Son of Abraham. The relation of the two genealogies has been much discussed in Christian tradition. A common theory is that the Matthean genealogy is Joseph’s and the Lucan is Mary’s line. But there is no basis for this tradition and Luke says his genealogy is through Joseph. The problem of the third generation (Heli vs. Jacob) has been theorized as a Levirate marriage (i.e., someone died and the brother gave a child in the deceased brother’s name). It is not likely, says Fitzmeyer, that Luke is showing Yeshua as Second Adam (as in Paul). This is not likely since Luke takes the next step of showing Yeshua as Son of God. Therefore, he does not emphasize Adam, but God. The emphasis, then, would seem to be of Yeshua as the savior of all peoples, the one looked for since the time of Adam. Humanity has been waiting for the Son to appear.
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Yeshua, filled with the Spirit, is tempted (1-2), desert-bread (3-4), world-kingdoms (5-8), Temple-pinnacle (9-12), the devil waited for an opportune time to test him again (13).
It is often assumed that the Spirit is either present or not present, that the “filling” of the Spirit has only one meaning. But Luke’s use of the Spirit in both the gospel and in Acts shows that the Spirit’s filling comes at different levels and has different meanings in different contexts. It is not that Luke would deny the Pauline emphasis that all of Yeshua’s followers have the Spirit. Rather, Luke is aware of a more subtle and variegated view of the Spirit’s Presence. As is the case with the Glory in the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit manifests in different ways and levels. One evidence for this is that in Acts, the Spirit’s power is imparted specifically by the presence of one of the Twelve or Paul. Luke emphasizes the Spirit in the life of Yeshua more so than the other gospels (an emphasis somewhat similar to John’s mystical perspective on Yeshua). Mark’s “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness” becomes “Yeshua, full of the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit.” Yeshua will conquer Satan’s temptations with the Spirit’s power and will emerge on the other side with the power of the Spirit in vs. 14. The order of temptations in Luke is desert-bread/world-kingdoms/temple-pinnacle whereas Matthew has desert-bread/temple-pinnacle/world-kingdoms (from a high mountain, says Matthew). The order of Deuteronomy allusions in Luke is 8:3; 6:13; 6:16 (while Matthew’s order is descending: 8:3; 6:16; 6:13). Some argue Matthew’s order is original: the elevation moves up from desert to pinnacle to high mountain and the Deuteronomy verses are in simple descending order. If so, then Luke has moved the world kingdoms temptation earlier and ended with the Temple pinnacle. All three temptations concern false notions about the identity of the Messiah: cheap miracles and the stones-to-bread, messianism as ruling power and the world-kingdoms, and signs to prove messiahship and the temple-pinnacle. Yeshua doesn’t do cheap miracles, teaches a different idea of how power and kingdom work, and doesn’t give signs to prove his identity. The order in Luke probably suggests two things about his emphasis in the scene: (1) Jerusalem is last in Luke’s presentation because Jerusalem and the Temple will be the final test for Yeshua and (2) the Temple-pinnacle is the most potent temptation for Yeshua, to prove his identity by signs (Johnson).
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Yeshua in the power of the Spirit in Galilee (14-15), Yeshua reads and comments in the Nazareth synagogue (16-21), the crowd reacts and Yeshua responds (22-27), the crowd takes him from the synagogue and intends to cast him down (28-29), Yeshua walks through their midst unharmed (30).
Luke has put the story of the Nazareth synagogue out of order, relaying it at the beginning of Yeshua’s work in Galilee. Vss. 14-15 indicate that Yeshua did other things before the Nazareth incident, so Luke’s placing it here is not a chronological disagreement with Mark. It is, rather, a literary decision. What can it mean that Luke places this story at the beginning? It becomes for Luke’s telling of the gospel the quintessence of what Yeshua is all about in Galilee. He is the Anointed Conqueror of Isaiah (from Isaiah 56-66), but the conquering, warlike aspect of Isaiah’s figure is omitted. Thus, when Yeshua reads, he omits the part from Isaiah 61 about the day of God’s vengeance. The crowd expects great things from Yeshua. He has done great things and a great report has circulated about him. He is a healer and he talks about the kingdom. It is a not so subtle technique of Luke to show that the part of Isaiah’s Anointed Conqueror the people want is the conquering, warlike part. Yeshua deliberately avoids that aspect of his messianic authority. He emphasizes the other aspect: the anointed healer and helper of the poor and broken. The reaction of the crowd is at first confusion and then, as the words settle in, disbelief. Yeshua’s message has disappointed them and they turn to their familiarity with Yeshua as an ordinary son who grew up among them. Yeshua further challenges them, even goads them, with an insulting response, as if saying, “I’m not surprised my fellow Israelites do not understand since they did not understand in the days of the prophets either.” The crowd understands the insult and they intend to cast him down the hill, which is the first part of a stoning. Yet, and Luke shows it without telling, Yeshua walks through them miraculously and they are unable to harm him. The rest of what will happen in Galilee will be showing Yeshua doing what he said here: preaching good news to the poor, setting captives of demonic power free, and proclaiming a Jubilee of sorts with the arrival of the kingdom.
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Teaching and exorcising in the Capernaum synagogue (31-36), reports circulate in Galilee (37), Simon’s mother-in-law (38-39), the sick and possessed seek him out and he does not allow demons to proclaim his identity (40-41), Yeshua goes away to pray and says he must preach in other towns (42-43), he preaches in the synagogues of Judea (44).
Luke follows very closely the outline in Mark 1:21-39. The main difference is vs. 44, in which Luke says that Yeshua’s preaching in other places brought him to the synagogues of Judea. Mark does not mention that Yeshua took his kingdom message into Judean synagogues. Does Luke intend to say that Yeshua traveled and preached in Judea specifically? The broader picture, incorporating the account of John with the synoptic gospels, suggests that Yeshua’s work of healing and teaching in synagogues happened in Galilee while his travels to Jerusalem were to the Temple and involved dialogues in the Temple courts. So where does Luke get this note that Yeshua taught in Judean synagogues? First, he may mean “Judean” in the broader sense that the people (even in Galilee) include people from the whole nation (Judeans in Galilee). Second, and in parallel with this point, in 5:17, 6:17, and 7:17, Luke tells us that Judeans came to Galilee where Yeshua was to hear him (Fitzmeyer). Luke has a concern to show that Messiah came to Judea. He states this rather baldly in vs. 44, differing from Mark, and justifies this wording by showing that Yeshua’s audience was more than simply Galileans. The larger message of this section is Yeshua fulfilling what he said was his mission in the Nazareth synagogue: setting at liberty the oppressed and preaching good news to the poor.
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A crowd presses in and Yeshua uses Peter’s boat to speak the Word from (1-3), a miraculous catch of fish (4-7), Peter prostrates himself (8), Peter, James, and John follow Yeshua (9-11).
This story, as Luke tells it, is quite unusual in comparison with the other gospels. Luke’s main source is Mark and this story has many features drawn from Mark 1:16-20, the call of the first disciples: (1) it takes place at the lake of Galilee, (2) it has the saying about “catching men,” (3) it relates that Peter, James, and John (but Andrew is strangely omitted) follow Yeshua. It is also somewhat similar to Mark 4:1, in which Yeshua taught a crowd from a boat. Yet the story of the miraculous catch of fish, of Peter’s guilt and prostration, is not in Mark or Matthew. There is a parallel in John — though it is of a story that takes place after the resurrection. The story in John 21:1-11 makes us wonder if the two evangelists are relating the same event with some difference of details or if two miraculous catches of fish happened. If there were two miraculous catches of fish, we have to wonder why John did not record them both (which would have suited his purpose in John 21). One of the unusual features in Luke’s story is Peter’s sense of guilt. What reason does Peter have for believing himself to be such a sinner? Is this, perhaps, a result of John the Baptist’s teaching about repentance and the coming kingdom? It is always possible that Luke took a story which actually occurred after the resurrection (by when Peter had denied Yeshua and had reason to be guilty) and, not knowing its proper context, used it as part of the background story to Peter’s discipleship and call. We could definitely wonder what Luke’s source is for this story which does not occur in Mark. We are left with three rather different stories about the initial call of the first disciples: Mark’s immediate call, Luke’s miraculous catch story, and John’s note that the first disciples knew Yeshua from the work of John the Baptist. The Lucan version emphasizes repentance and belief as marks of discipleship. Peter’s experience of Yeshua’s power led to a realization of unworthiness, a deep-felt need for repentance. In the presence of such miraculous command of the forces of nature, a person would feel as if the veil had been pulled back a little between everyday living and the unseen, eternal realm which we rarely perceive. The proper response to such grandeur is wonder and awe.
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A leper begs to be cleansed (12), Yeshua’s word and touch cleanses (13), Yeshua commands him to report to the priest (14), Yeshua’s fame increases (15), Yeshua often goes away alone to pray (16).
Luke’s account follows Mark 1:40-45 pretty closely, though he omits reference to the emotions of Yeshua during this incident. He also omits the detail that the leper disobeyed Yeshua’s command to secrecy. Basically the miracle stories in Luke follow the same general pattern as in Mark and Matthew, showing how the miracles Yeshua did in Galilee brought him notoriety and attracted the attention of Jewish leaders. Thus the next section is a series of controversies. The healing of the leper is particularly noteworthy to a Galilean crowd because of the severity of the disease and its implications. Yeshua is demonstrating the kingdom wherever he goes and making signs of the age to come. In the face of increasing crowds, Yeshua often withdraws to pray alone. The Gospel of Luke has a consistent theme encouraging imitation of Yeshua, including descriptions of his prayer practices and more detail than any other Gospel about the filling of the Spirit. Luke has learned and passes these on as models of discipleship. Yeshua gets strength from his withdrawals to pray and from the filling of the Spirit, practices which the Gospel implies will benefit believers who follow Yeshua in serving others and making the kingdom a reality here and now.
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A crowd including leaders from Judea is gathered and Yeshua is about to heal (17), Yeshua heals and says a paralytic’s sins are forgiven (18-20), a controversy over authority to forgive (21-22), Yeshua’s riddle and demonstration (23-25), amazement and realization of Yeshua’s identity (26).
Luke’s version, compared to Mark’s and Matthew’s, begins with emphases that are particular to Luke. Luke stresses throughout that while Yeshua’s work took place mostly in Galilee, people from Judea came to observe. The Jerusalem connection is important to Luke. He also stresses throughout the role of the Spirit and the human aspect of Yeshua’s power. Here the Spirit is referred to as the “power of the Lord.” It seems that Luke’s understanding of Yeshua is of a person uniquely invested with God’s Spirit (which need not imply a denial of Yeshua’s divinity, but an emphasis on realism and humanity). The main story is nearly identical to that in Mark 2:1-12. Yeshua is in conflict with Judean leaders who seek to control interpretation of the scriptures and religious authority. Yeshua is a threat to their control. So Yeshua deliberately provokes them by his statement about forgiving sins. Yeshua’s riddle is a complex one. The correct answer is that it is harder to forgive sins. But it seems to observers that healing is harder, because healing can be verified by sight while declaring forgiveness is invisible and unprovable. So, Yeshua gives the easier sign of healing to verify the harder reality of his authority to forgive sins. Would a person who blasphemes and falsely hands out divine forgiveness be capable of such a display of divine power? The Son of Man saying here cannot mean “all men” any more than other men could heal a paralytic. Yeshua is claiming for himself authority on earth to do what only God can do.
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Yeshua calls Levi the tax collector (27-28), dinner at Levi’s house and the saying about sinners (29-32), the question about fasting (33-35), the wineskin and the patch (36-39).
The idea that Levi the tax collector and Matthew the tax collector are one and the same individual is possible but has difficulties. In favor of equating them are the following: Matthew’s account in 9:9-13 is very similar in many details to Luke 5:27-32 and Mark 2:13-17, so that they seem to be about the same person. Against equating them we have the following to consider: Levi is never mentioned in a list of the Twelve, Matthew is mentioned in every list of the Twelve, and only in Matthew is the tax collector in this story called Matthew (note that the gospel of Matthew does not anywhere claim to be written by Matthew, but the name is traditional). Levi is a toll collector or a low-level tax collector (unlike Zacchaeus in chapter 19, who is major tax collector). Yeshua’s notion of God’s kingdom is very different from the separationism of the Pharisees and scribes. They seek to have dealings only with the pure. Yeshua dines with sinners to call them to repentance and populate the kingdom with forgiven people. The idea, presented by E.P. Sanders, that Yeshua dined with sinners to say that sin no longer matters is contradicted by Yeshua’s main message of repentance. The saying about the bridegroom is like many of the later rabbinic parables which use aspects of the wedding to describe spiritual realities. This saying of Yeshua about the bridegroom being taken away could not possibly be understood until after the resurrection. The parable of the wineskin and patch should not be read as Christianity vs. Judaism, but as a general saying about accepting new ways. The old things Yeshua is contradicting are not all bad (John the Baptist and fasting are good things). But Yeshua has brought something new which remakes the old and those who want to minimize Yeshua’s renewal (seeing it as a mere patch or trying to keep new wine in old skins) are missing what God is doing. Instead of clinging to old modes of righteousness, which have led Israel astray, they should be looking for the new garment and the new wine Yeshua offers. But it should be noted that Yeshua’s new garment and new wine does not reject everything old (fasting, repentance, etc.).
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The Sabbath-grain controversy (1-5), healing on the Sabbath (6-11).
Luke’s version of the Sabbath grain controversy (Mark 2:23-28) correctly omits the reference to Abiathar as high priest and omits the saying about the Sabbath being made for man. Exodus 34:21 forbids working even during harvest time on Shabbat, which may be taken as forbidding reaping on Shabbat. Yet, the disciples are not reaping, but picking only for their immediate needs. What is it that the Pharisees object to? In general, we can say that the Pharisaic-scribal movement, which was still centuries from dominating Judaism, was at that time enlarging the scope of the commandments by making traditions. Although we have no specific source as evidence, it is very reasonable to assume that this movement wanted to build fences around Sabbath laws, so that even picking for immediate needs was forbidden on the Sabbath. The general meaning of this story is that Yeshua does not agree this is the direction halacha or rules of observance ought to go. Vs. 5 is probably a deliberate, double-edged saying: people (a son of man) take priority over Sabbath and also Yeshua (the Son of Man) has authority to legislate the Sabbath. The second story also follows from Mark’s order (see Mark 3:1-6). The healing is a deliberate enactment by Yeshua to make a point. The man did not ask to be healed. His condition could have been healed privately or later. The public healing of a disability which was not painful or life threatening on the Sabbath is an act of Yeshua to declare what he has already said in the previous scene about the meaning of Sabbath. He now backs up his teaching with a miracle. There is an argument, which Yeshua does not use here, but in the Fourth Gospel (John 5:17), that God does not cease his work on the Sabbath and neither should acts of mercy and lovingkindness cease on this holiest of days. Yeshua does not merely suggest that good works are permissible, but even desirable on the Sabbath. As is often the case, there is more to Yeshua’s words than meets the eye. His opponents are incensed at his healing on the Sabbath, yet they are plotting treachery on the holy day.
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Before a decisive moment, Yeshua prays (12); choosing the Twelve (13); list of the Twelve (14-16).
Two observations should precede any interpretation of this passage. First, Luke has reversed the order from his main source, Mark, by placing the healing and exorcism of the multitude story (Mk 7:1-12; Lk 6:17-19) after the choosing the Twelve (Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:12-16). As Luke Johnson observes, Luke’s way of telling the story more clearly connects Yeshua’s choosing the Twelve with the controversy with the Pharisees (Mk 2:23-3:5; Lk 6:1-11). Thus, the order in Mark is controversy, healings, choosing whereas in Luke is it controversy, choosing, healings. One other effect of Luke’s order is that he has healings of a multitude just before the summary of Yeshua’s teaching (Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain). The second observation is that Luke’s list of the Twelve (both here and in Acts 1) varies slightly from the lists in Mark and Matthew. The greatest difference is that Luke has Judas son of James whereas Mark and Matthew have Thaddaeus. From these we can improve our understanding of Luke’s telling of the familiar stories (remember that Luke is the latest of the synoptics and also that these stories have been well-known in oral telling for decades). Yeshua is a man of the Spirit in Luke, a righteous Israelite as well as prophet and Messiah. He prays before momentous decisions and events — Johnson lists the following examples: 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:41, 44-45; 23:46. The choosing of the Twelve is shown by Luke to be the formation of a group within Israel which will follow Messiah’s halakhah (way of living the commandments) as opposed to the other budding movements like the Pharisees. Yeshua is not starting a new religion, but a movement within Judaism. Also, it is important to Luke to record what he knows from his sources, even when they disagree with Mark and Matthew (and he obviously knows of the text of Mark and Matthew and of his divergences from them). For reasons we cannot determine, Luke has a different name on his list (Judas, son of James). Luke’s priority (stated in 1:1-3) is fidelity to his eyewitness sources (probably indirectly passed on to him by those who heard the eyewitnesses) and not fidelity to Mark and Matthew. Yeshua’s Twelve will sit with him at the table in the kingdom and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (22:30).
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Yeshua on the plain (17), healings and exorcisms (18), all sought his power (19).
In the next section, vss. 20-49, we will have Luke’s version of Yeshua’s teaching: the Sermon on the Plain (instead of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). It is vital for the reader to realize that neither Matthew nor Luke intends us to think their summaries of Yeshua’s teaching are a specific sermon which has been recorded word for word (none of Yeshua’s discourses were recorded by scribes, but his sayings were remembered by disciples and passed down orally). The sermons on the plain (Luke) and the mount (Matthew) are summaries of the essence of Yeshua’s teaching. It is also vital to realize that Luke has numerous parallels with the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew in places other than here in the teaching on the plain. What is the significance of the “level place” or plain as the location of Yeshua’s teaching? It does not seem to be an allusion to a part of Israel’s story from the Torah. More importantly, people come from Tyre and Sidon and Judea and Jerusalem to hear Yeshua. Could Genesis 11:2 be the background, the plain of Shinar (Babylon) to which many peoples came? Could the teaching of Yeshua be foreshadowed here as the reversal of the disunity of peoples, so that Luke is presenting the Pauline idea of “all things united” in Yeshua (cf. Eph 1:10)? The people are drawn by the power of God that flows through Yeshua to heal and deliver from demonic powers, but Yeshua uses their coming to proclaim the mission of God in the world to redeem and bring all things to the messianic age.
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Beatitudes (20-23), woes (24-26), messianic love (27-36), heavenly and not earthly reciprocation (37-42), being precedes doing (43-45), actions must accompany wisdom (46-49).
Luke’s sermon, like Matthew’s, is not to be taken as a transcript of a speech, but a summary giving the essence of Yeshua’s teaching. Luke’s version has much in common with Matthew’s, but also is much shorter (30 verses as opposed 111). Matthew does not have woes. Luke’s beatitudes express more the external condition while Matthew’s have a tendency to internalize. Luke does not have sayings about lawkeeping and ways of piety such as prayer and tzedaka. Many of the sayings in Matthew’s sermon are found scattered in Luke 9-19 instead of being here in the Sermon on the Plain. Vss. 20-23 are the Lukan beatitudes. Each Beatitude is five things: promise of the coming kingdom, wisdom while we wait, the sad reality of the present age, antithesis to common thinking, and the essence of Yeshua’s way for his disciples (see my Yeshua in Context, chapter 10). The woes in vss. 24-26 are very similar and the assumption is that full people will not seek God and therefore will settle for a little in this present world, missing out on greater riches in the world to come. The disciple understands that present prosperity is an unworthy goal compared to understanding and serving every day the vision of the reign of God, the kingdom of the Son of Man, the coming ideal world of feasting and joy God has prepared for us. Vss. 27-36 describe messianic love, and there is no doubt hyperbole here (give all but your loincloth if someone begs from you, says vs. 29!). Johnson says Yeshua is going beyond usual human ethics of reciprocity, to an ethic of going beyond, of extravagant excess in giving love. Yeshua rejects, says Johnson, a minimalism of duty with the snide “what credit is that to you?”. To be sons of the Most High means to act as the Eternal does, who gives extravagantly in his love (giving even his Son). In the next section, vss. 37-42, human reciprocity is again found deficient. Judging others based on relative scales of merit is worthless, but it is the judgment from heaven’s vantage point that matters. This does not mean all transgressions are equal, as some claim. Rather each person’s goal is not about exceeding his neighbor, but something larger, namely participating in redeeming the world. Therefore, disciples are to be concerned with giving, with mercy, with generosity, and in no way with self-righteousness. The disciple follows the teacher, imitating his deeds, unconcerned with the relative merit of other persons. The last two sections show two sides of an issue: wisdom/virtue and action. Those who have not acquired wisdom and virtue can do good deeds, but bad fruit will still come inevitably. One cannot fake goodness. Being precedes doing. Therefore we must acquire wisdom to actually be good so that our deeds flow from our knowledge of the ways of God. Yet it is also an error to acquire wisdom without applying the knowledge to deeds. The servant of Messiah will become a wise practitioner of Torah and messianic halakhah (Messiah way’s of living for the kingdom). Both learning and action are required, so that our understanding and our deeds are balanced. The rabbis said one with much wisdom and no deeds is like a tree with many branches and few roots. Yeshua’s disciples must acquire roots and branches.
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Yeshua enters Capernaum (1), the centurion’s slave (2-10), the widow’s son at Nain (11-17).
The centurion is a God-fearer who kept some Torah commands, supported synagogues, attended, but did not convert. Luke has a theme showing non-Jews coming to Yeshua or having faith. He emphasizes here, as in 4:16-30, that there is often greater faith amongst gentiles than in Israel (likely a very important message for the Yeshua movement in Luke’s time). The healing miracle for the centurion’s slave shows that Yeshua’s ability did not require touch or even Yeshua’s presence. He can heal at a distance. The story of the widow at Nain is only told in Luke. It is placed here because in the next scene, Yeshua will report back to John that “the dead are raised.” The story is very similar to Elijah’s reviving of the widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:15 quotes directly from 1 Kings 17:23 (“and he delivered him to his mother”). Yeshua’s miracle exceeds Elijah’s because he does not pray or prostrate himself over the boy, but simply heals with a command. Luke emphasizes the human emotions of Yeshua in this scene and many others. It is one of his characteristics of style to depict Yeshua in human terms and to bring added realism to scenes. Yeshua’s healings are all demonstrations or enactments of the coming kingdom, where death and suffering will not exist.
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John sends disciples to inquire if Yeshua is the one (18-20), Yeshua had just cured and set free many people (21), Yeshua’s response (22-23), Yeshua’s message about John (24-30), Yeshua’s message about his generation (31-35).
Matthew and Luke have this story in common (it is not from Mark). Some see in this and other passages hints of a later dispute between disciples of John and Yeshua (in Luke’s time). This is possible but there is little evidence. Quite simply, the second generation reading the gospel stories needed to know what relationship there was between John and Yeshua. This is a major gospel theme. Yeshua answers John with signs from Isaiah of the Messianic Age. Good news is preached to the poor (Isa 61:1). The blind see (Isa 35:5 and the LXX of Isa 61:1) and the deaf hear (Isa 35:5). The dead are raised (Isa 26:19). It is likely that John has misunderstood what Yeshua came to do. In 3:16-17, John said the one to come would baptize with fire and winnow the wicked out from Israel. Yet Yeshua is healing and teaching peacefully about the kingdom. John’s words about Yeshua in 3:16-17 are true, but they concern what will happen at the return of the Son of Man, not what Yeshua was doing in John’s time. Yeshua even re-orients the thinking of the great John the Baptist and pronounces a blessing if John will receive the word. Vs. 28 is a much-discussed saying. First, it is a hint that John does not yet understand the kingdom and needs to be taught by Yeshua. Second, it is part of Yeshua’s theme that during the kingdom age there will be no evil (so it will be a time of blessing, not judgment). Third, it is a statement that the works Yeshua is doing are greater than those of John, since Yeshua is already bringing signs of the kingdom’s arrival whereas John was preaching repentance to prepare for the kingdom. Yeshua compares the people to children playing games. They can’t decide whether to play “wedding” or “funeral.” When John declared a funeral, they wanted a wedding. When Yeshua declared a wedding, they wanted a funeral.
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LUKE 7:36 – 8:3
Yeshua’s feet anointed by a sinful woman (36-39), a parable of two debtors (40-43), Yeshua explains the parable, chastises Simon, and forgives the woman’s sins (44-50), the women followers of Yeshua (8:1-3).
It is a Lucan narrative technique to introduce a character (vs. 36, a Pharisee) and only later name him (vss. 40, 43, 44, Simon). A major question for understanding this story is whether it is meant to describe the same event as in Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8. If is the same event being described, the differences suggest that the story has become confused: Simon is a leper in Matthew and Mark but a Pharisee in Luke, the location is Bethany in the other three while Luke’s story appears to be in Galilee, Luke’s version happens earlier as opposed to shortly before Yeshua’s death, and a few more. If the story is of a different incident of anointing it is difficult to explain the similarities: a person named Simon owns the home in both versions, Luke does not mention another anointing in chapter 22 where it would be expected, the reclining posture of Yeshua, the phenomenon of a woman coming uninvited into the home, and the mention of an alabaster jar. If Luke’s story is about the same event, the woman is Mary of Bethany (John 12:3). The story, regardless of its background, illustrates several key features about Yeshua: he does not shun sinners, he does not avoid contact with women, and he claims to be able to announce that sins are forgiven. The forgiveness of sins could be the act of a prophet or a claim to divine authority, but it is enough to scandalize those who witness it. Luke tends to depict scenes more realistically. You can detect in this story the deep gratitude of the woman, her speechless act of devotion. Luke means it as a lesson for disciples: love and servanthood are the proper responses of worship in return for God’s forgiveness. Why did the woman come to Yeshua? She must have already been liberated by hearing his words from her guilt about her past. In Yeshua’s words she found hope and she came to show her love in return. It is also a Lucan theme to emphasize the important role of women in Yeshua’s work. Thus, from the story of the anointing by the sinful woman, Luke turns to a description of the disciples that emphasizes the importance of several key women. These women, one of them (Joanna) being the wife of a Herodian steward, have money to support Yeshua. They are named because (according to Richard Bauckham’s theory in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) their testimony about Yeshua was known to the community. The presence of these women as prominent witnesses in Luke’s version is one of the possible reasons for his gospel’s unique point of view and may account for some of the differences in the stories as compared to Mark’s version.
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Parable of the Sower (4-15), the lamp reveals and the disciple takes heed (16-18), Yeshua’s true family (19-21).
For a fuller interpretation of the Sower parable, see Yeshua in Context, chapter 11. Yeshua’s reference to Isaiah 6:9 is crucial to a more subtle interpretation of the parable. In midrashic teaching a reference to a verse of scripture puts the whole context of the passage in mind. Thus, Isaiah 6:13 is a helpful clue to the meaning of the seed: it is the seed of the end of Israel’s exile. The “word” is not the scripture as a whole (not really a Jewish concept), but the specific word of Isaiah 6 about the end of exile. The Sower parable is really about reactions to the kingdom message of Yeshua in light of a long delay that is coming. Many want the kingdom now and complete. When instant victory and complete intervention of God in history does not happen, many will fall away or not even become interested at all. But true disciples, who remain close to Yeshua and hear his teachings over and over again, will bear fruit. The fruit should look like the deeds and teachings of Yeshua (healing, serving, giving future hope, making this world like the world to come). Luke’s version is in some ways close to Mark’s, but he follows Matthew in vs. 10 by making the word “secret” plural. Luke Johnson suggests that Mark may have understood the “secret” to be Yeshua himself while Luke and Matthew understand it to mean the knowledge that comes from his teachings. Luke also puts a more positive spin on the parable, with no note of rejection as in Luke. Yeshua is being positively received when he teaches the Sower parable in Luke’s version. Luke is emphasizing the successful gathering of disciples and presents the Sower parable as the quintessence of Yeshua’s teaching. In vss. 16-18, the lamp is probably Yeshua lifted up on a cross. The delay in the coming of the kingdom will become clear when Yeshua dies. Many will fall away. But Yeshua’s death will reveal deeper secrets and blessed is the disciple who understands. Vss. 19-21 fit well after the parable (Mark has this section before the parable) to underscore the difference between insiders and outsiders. What marks a person as a disciple is hearing and doing the will of God as Yeshua teaches it.
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Power over a storm and a legion of demons (22-39), raising the dead and healing a hopeless woman (40-56).
The promises of Isaiah 35 and 61 are being realized in Yeshua’s work (the lame healed, the oppressed liberated). Healing and saving are equated. The identity of Yeshua is illuminated by these acts of power. Faith is called for from those healed and from the reader. Thus, for example, in the stilling of the storm, Yeshua asks, “Where is your faith?” It is similar to the Mark’s, “Have you no faith?” and Matthew’s, “O men of little faith.” Yet Luke has a greater focus on faith and the role of the Spirit. His version of Yeshua’s saying about faith on this occasion directs itself to disciples: when a crisis comes, have faith in Yeshua’s power and presence. The pagans in the region of the Gerasenes react to Yeshua’s mighty power with fear and want him to leave. But the healed man goes about telling everyone what happened. Luke slightly modifies the story to fit an ordered pattern: the power of Yeshua coming into an area devoid of faith, the evidence of a man returned from (virtual) death is proclaimed, and the region will have to consider faith in Yeshua based on the testimony of a witness. It is a parallel situation to the time of Luke, when the testimony of the eyewitnesses was the basis of teaching faith in Yeshua to skeptical gentile cultures. The intertwined stories of the woman who has been bleeding and the daughter of Jairus continue the point that faith saves. To the bleeding woman after she is healed he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” To those who announce it is too late to save Jairus’ daughter, he says, “Do not fear; only believe.” The Sower parable (8:4-15) is being demonstrated. The kingdom is not coming suddenly. People may fall away in light of the delay of the kingdom. But Yeshua shows that the proper response in the current crisis is faith, even when things do not appear to be right. His true family believes the word (that Yeshua preached, 8:21). In crisis, the question is, “Where is your faith?” (8:25). The response of the healed demoniac is going about and telling others what Yeshua has done (8:39). The woman’s faith has saved her and those who despair about Jairus’ daughter need only to believe. Faith is essential to the fruit commended in the Sower parable.
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The twelve sent out (1-6), John the Baptist’s death (7-9), feeding 5,000 (10-17).
At the early stage of the disciples’ mission, Yeshua sent them with nothing — a test of Yeshua’s generation to see if they would receive and give to his emissaries. Luke’s view of this is positive ( he chooses to emphasize the receptive side of Israel more than other gospels). In 22:35, the disciples say that they lacked nothing. In other words, they were well-received on their mission outings (Johnson). One of the famous gospel discrepancies happens here. In Mark 6:8, Yeshua commands them to take nothing “except a staff” while in Luke 9:3, he commands them to take “no staff.” The disciples are sent with the same kinds of powers as Yeshua and their task is the same as his task. The work the disciples are doing multiplies the miracles and also the talk about Yeshua in Galilee, so that these events come to the notice of Herod. That people thought Yeshua might be one with the spirit of John is affirmed in all the gospels. In the feeding of the 5,000, the sequence of verbs (took, blessed, broke, gave) is the same as in the Last Supper (22:15). Luke’s account is shorter and simpler, focusing simply on the greater provision Yeshua brings than money (Johnson). The focus of this section is positive. Yeshua and his disciple are gaining notoriety in Galilee and good things are happening.
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Peter’s confession (18-21), sharing Yeshua’s rejection (22-27), transfiguration (28-36).
Luke’s version of the confession of Peter is much shorter and has a different emphasis than in Mark or Matthew. In Mark, the confession of Peter is woven together with the story of the blind man of Bethsaida. The theme in Mark is blindness of the disciples about the aims of Messiah. Luke has already covered the theme of Messianic misunderstanding in 4:16-30. The people of Nazareth, rather than the disciples, were the ones Luke chose to show that people wanted Yeshua to be a mere deliverer. Now, in Luke’s version of Peter’s confession, the emphasis is on the hard road of discipleship, following Yeshua’s prophetic example. So, Peter realizes Yeshua is Messiah and then Yeshua adds understanding: “Yes, Peter, you are right, but the Son of Man must suffer. And if you are worthy of me, you will be willing to suffer too. But the Son of Man will also come [again] in the Glory of the Father and the angelic beings.” Luke’s focus is on the meaning of discipleship for his generation. The messianic confession is true, Luke is saying, even though there is present distress. While we wait to see the fulfillment of Yeshua’s messianic calling, we suffer with him and we believe. In the same way, Luke places the Transfiguration story as an example of the reality of the Second Coming. Peter and the others get a glimpse into that Glory of the Son of Man. So we wait, serve, and believe in the Second Coming.
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A demon the disciples could not exorcise (37-43), the idea of Yeshua’s rejection which the disciples could not fathom (44-45), serving instead of ruling (46-50).
Luke artfully combines three stories that contrast Yeshua’s mysterious, exalted identity with the secret of messianic suffering. At the same time we see juxtaposed Yeshua’s knowledge and power with the ordinariness and shortsightedness of the disciples. In the healing of the boy with the unclean spirit, Luke omits reference to Mark’s “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). Whereas in Mark this story is a revealing peek into the divinity of Yeshua (who does not need to pray to heal), in Luke it is simply noted that the disciples were unable to cast out this demon. Yeshua refers to the whole generation, including the disciples, as faithless and twisted. Yeshua’s power amazes everyone, even the disciples. What will Yeshua’s use this teachable moment to say? Naturally, in keeping with the gospel presentation as found in all three synoptic gospels, Yeshua uses this moment to drive home the mystery of messianic suffering. That the disciples are shortsighted and concerned more with movements of power is obvious, as Luke strings together the amazing healing with the messianic suffering with a prosaic group of disciples arguing who is the greatest. The reader knows: the greatest is the one who lays down his life and thinks suffering to redeem beloved ones exceeds all concerns about power and position. Luke theologizes about the ignorance of the disciples: “it was concealed from them.” This is a unique statement, suggesting that God put blinders on the disciples. How can we understand this? Perhaps the hardness of the disciples to the messianic mission of Yeshua already existed and God simply strengthened it so that at the right moment the revelation would come to them. Their shortsightedness serves a purpose, for when they realize the fulness of the messianic mission after the resurrection, their metamorphosis will change the world.
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Yeshua sets his face toward Jerusalem (51), James and John rebuked in Samaria (52-56), the demands of discipleship (57-62).
This begins a long section which is exclusive to Luke (i.e., not found in Matthew or Mark). 9:51 – 18:14 is a travel account toward Jerusalem and only a very tiny portion is found in other gospels. 18:15 – 19:27 continues the travel account with more material from Mark and Matthew, but also with unique Lucan sections (such as Zacchaeus). Luke tends to emphasize the importance of Jerusalem and is second only to John in emphasizing Yeshua’s mission as headed toward the holy city. Thus, in vs. 51, we see the context of this whole section of Yeshua’s life is heading toward Jerusalem. This has been prefigured in vs. 31, when Moses and Elijah talked with Yeshua at the transfiguration about his “departure” (exodos) coming in Jerusalem (probably a reference to his ascension). Vs. 51 specifies that he will be taken up (i.e., ascend) in Jerusalem. Why this emphasis on the ascension (as opposed to the crucifixion or resurrection)? It seems that for Luke, the absence of Yeshua in body, is of major importance for the situation of the disciple community in his day. Yeshua’s disciples serve an ascended Lord. Thus, Luke also emphasizes faith and the role of the Spirit as the means of union with Messiah now while he is ascended. In this, Luke is very similar to John. Ascension talk also brings to mind the story of Elijah and in Samaria James and John wish Yeshua to be Elijah-like and call down fire on the Samaritans. Yeshua does not see the Samaritans as enemies (and in Luke he will say good things about Samaritans (see 10:33 and 17:16). Luke also tends to emphasize the inclusion of gentiles and Samaritans, a live issue for the time of his writing. Finally, on the road to a hard destiny, Yeshua is met by would-be disciples who have reservations and provisions about following. Yeshua accepts no reservations. Discipleship is an all-or-nothing decision. Commitment to Yeshua supersedes attachment to a home. Those who do not accept Yeshua’s kingdom call are “dead” in that they do not have the new life Yeshua is bringing (Johnson). Let these dead (not committed to Yeshua’s call) worry about obligations that detract from service. And Yeshua is stricter than Elijah, who allowed Elisha to kiss his parents before following (1 Kgs 19:19-21). The full weight of Yeshua’s demand does need to be balanced with ethics and love. He is the kind of teacher who speaks in extreme ways to provoke his hearers. These sayings, therefore, do not indicate a rejection of love for family or obligations to work. Rather, they challenge with the greater importance of discipleship.
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The sending of the seventy[-two] (1-12), woes on Galilee (13-15), disciples as Yeshua’s emissaries (16), return of the seventy[-two] (17-20).
The story in Luke left off in Samaria, the large area between Galilee and Judea, toward which Yeshua is resolutely heading (9:51). Having been rejected in a Samaritan village (9:52-56), the mission of the disciples suddenly seems a bit more dangerous. Therefore, the cost of discipleship is emphasized (9:57-62). This background is important for interpreting the sending of the seventy (or seventy-two) in Luke 10. Unfortunately, ancient manuscripts of Luke are divided between seventy and seventy-two as the number. Is the symbolism of Moses choosing seventy elders intended? Or the seventy Gentile nations of Genesis 10? Or the seventy two in Jacob’s household that went into Egypt (Exod 1:5, counting Jacob and Joseph makes seventy-two)? Interestingly, the LXX (Greek version, Septuagint) lists the number of nations in Genesis 10 as seventy-two. Because of the confusion about which number Luke actually used, it is hard to say which symbolism he intended — Yeshua as the New Moses or Yeshua’s good news going to the nations (represented by Samaritans). Johnson notes that, as compared to the sending of the twelve in 9:1-6, there is more emphasis here on rejection. This would fit with traveling through Samaria and passing into northern Judea on the way to Jerusalem. Yeshua’s message was not received well in Samaria and Jerusalem did not know him the way Galilee did. As for the harsh tone in vss. 13-16 concerning those who rejected Yeshua and the disciples as they proclaimed the kingdom, we need to remember the context. Yeshua is not only a timeless Messiah, but a prophet to his own generation. Israel at various turning points in history was in great danger and prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah warned strongly while teaching repentance and clinging to God by faith as the way to peace. Though Yeshua refers to the final judgment (the future, when people will give an account to God), he is not speaking in the language of heaven and hell as it came to be preached in later Christianity. He is speaking primarily about the coming war with Rome, about people being brought down to the grave through death. He adds to this a warning about how people will fare in the judgment after death, having failed to heed the prophet (Yeshua himself, and his disciples). Of course, the warning does not fit geographically as it concerns towns in Galilee, and Yeshua and disciples have come south. But Luke placed it here in the middle of the story of the seventy[-two] to make a point of the fact that Israel as a whole had not heeded Yeshua’s message. By the time Luke is written, Jerusalem and many towns in Israel have been destroyed in the first Jewish revolt against Rome. In vss. 17-20, the disciples are ecstatic about having some of Yeshua’s miraculous power in them. Yeshua uses the occasion to make a cryptic statement (which would be understood later) about how he himself will deal Satan a death blow (via his death and resurrection). He then instructs his disciples to care more about clinging to God and believing they are written in God’s book for life. The kingdom of God is not about who has power or not, but about finding the ultimate source of all goodness and loving him completely.
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Yeshua, the Father, and the disciples (21-22), blessed are those who see what you see (23-24).
Both of these sayings are in Matthew as well (but not Mark). Matthew uses them separately, however, in two different contexts. Perhaps this saying was too direct for Mark, who presents the identity of Yeshua more as a mystery to be seen and not spoken out loud. In Matthew 11:25-27, the saying about the Father revealing sublime truths to little children comes after the woes on Capernaum and Bethsaida. And in Matthew, this leads into Yeshua’s invitation found nowhere else, “Come to me all who are weary and heavily burdened.” The saying about “blessed are the eyes that see” comes immediately after the Sower parable in Matthew 13:16-17. What these two sayings have in common, both in their use in Luke and Matthew, is that they are about the revelation of the Son by the Father. The Father is the revealer and the Son is the revealed. God discloses himself to us by sending and making Messiah known. If Mark knew the sayings of Luke 10:21-24 (and Matt 11:25-27; 13:16-17), it makes sense that he did not include them. They do not fit his literary purpose in presenting Yeshua’s identity as a mystery to be seen and considered. Indeed, these verses sound a lot like the gospel of John. They are remarkable in clarity. Yeshua rejoices in the Spirit, much like Mary in 1:47. For Luke, this expression is the kind of worship a disciple will have: seeing signs of God at work in the world and rejoicing spontaneously. To do things a certain way was the pleasure of the Father. “For this was your gracious will” might be translated “for this [deed] was well pleasing before you” (margin note in the NET version). To reveal the sublime to ordinary people, to make mysteries known to the seemingly unimportant, was pleasing to the Father. Yeshua discloses to us the way God thinks. In contrast to human rivalries and ambitions, God does not reward ego, the will to dominate, and grasping for power. Those who experientially know Yeshua know the Father, because there is something about the Son that makes the Father known. Later, it will become clear that Yeshua is of one being with the Father. Conversely, only those who know the Father can recognize his Radiance in the Son, Yeshua. The disciples are blessed to see what kings (David especially) and prophets (such as Isaiah and Jeremiah) longed to witness, the coming of the Anointed Healer and the signs of the advent of the kingdom. The mission work in Galilee has been full of signs of the messianic fulfillment so longed for. But it has happened through a band of unknowns and not through the normal channels of power. This is the greatest liability of Yeshua-faith: that God does his work quietly and in hidden corners while the world is looking for noise and spectacle.
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A lawyer questions about eternal life (25-28), the lawyer questions about the limits of the term “neighbor” (29), the Good Samaritan (30-37), Mary and Martha receive Yeshua (38-42).
Is Luke 10:25-28 the same incident as related in Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:34-40? Some aspects of Luke’s story are so different that traditional harmonies of the gospels list Luke’s story as unique. Yet the details are so similar, it seems to be the same incident. Luke’s story takes place in Samaria, which makes the follow-up parable of the Good Samaritan in vss. 30-37. In Luke’s story the question is not about the greatest commandment, but how to inherit eternal life. The eternal life question is probably brought to mind by Daniel 12:2. In Mark’s version, the question is part of a series of challenges thrown at Yeshua by seeming opponents. Yet by the end of the story Yeshua says this lawyer is close to the kingdom (Mark 12:34). By contrast, in Luke’s version, the entire episode is hostile. Yeshua says here that loving God and neighbor are the prime traits of a person who will inherit eternal life. Note how Yeshua’s answer is incompatible with some Christian notions of a works-free salvation. The lawyer then tries to show Yeshua an inadequate teacher by asking about the limits of the concept of “neighbor.” In Leviticus 19:18, the neighbor is a fellow Israelite (“the children of your people”). But by Leviticus 19:33-34, as Johnson points out, the stranger in the land becomes also in the category of neighbor. The lawyer is reflecting on a question of legal obligation: to whom am I obligated by neighbor love? The discussion of relation to gentiles is important in the formative stage of the tradition (Johnson). Yeshua turns the question on its head. He ends up asking the lawyer, “Which of these three became a neighbor?” In keeping with Yeshua’s principle of interpreting Torah always in its highest ethical and spiritual demand, he says that everyone is a neighbor (and particularly that obligation is to enemies, outcasts, and those usually overlooked). Yeshua’s story clearly indicates that desire to maintain ritual purity (the priest and levite on their way to the Temple who were afraid of corpse contamination in case the man was dead) is of lower priority than the obligation to neighbor-love. The rhetorical force of making a Samaritan the hero is rather like saying: an Israeli was wounded in a mine field and while his fellows deliberated on how to extract him, a passing Palestinian walked through the mines and saved his life. The Mary and Martha story, by contrast, shows how a prophet and teacher from God ought to be received (Johnson). In Luke’s time, the issue of hospitality to teachers and elders was an important one. Mary and Martha, unlike the leadership of Israel, receive Yeshua and heed his words. Mary’s part is better because she focuses on listening.
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The Lord’s Prayer (1-4), the parable of the persistent friend (5-8), discourse of prayer’s effectiveness (9-13).
Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is famously shorter. Theories that Luke’s version is original and Matthew expanded the prayer are unnecessary. Liturgy has local variations. It is also quite possible that Yeshua taught his prayer more than once and in more than one form. It is more likely that both Matthew and Luke’s versions are colored by the use of their communities and that neither one quotes Yeshua word for word. Reading about the variation and evolution of the prayers in the Mishnah and Talmud is instructive regarding the amount of variation we should expect even in fixed prayers. It is interesting that the disciples felt a need for Yeshua to teach them something distinctive about prayer as John did for his disciples. This might resemble prayer customs in rabbinic discipleship circles we know of from later periods. See, for example, the notes in the Artscroll Siddur under the benediction that comes after the Amidah. At a later period, we know that some rabbis taught unique prayers to their disciples. The Lord’s Prayer could be seen as a mark of discipleship under Yeshua. The persistent friend parable draws from social customs to make a point reinforced by the other sayings: we should be persistent in prayer, trusting that God has our best in mind and that he is more likely to help us than a friend or even a parent. It is more than possible that Luke’s community struggled with their situation or marginalization and wondered if God was listening. Yeshua’s words teach patience and faith when the answers don’t seem to be coming. And the gift of the Spirit will come, as the disciples will see after the ascension of Yeshua.
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