Book Review: Luke (PNTC), James Edwards

Luke pntc James Edwards book review

The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels, and when paired with its second volume Acts, it forms roughly 1/3 of the New Testament. It is evident that these two books are pivotal to the New Testament as they describe the life of Jesus, his death, resurrection, ascension, and the pouring out of his Spirit on his church. Misunderstanding 1/3 of the NT is a detriment to the life of the Church (and its individuals). This is also why I’m reviewing both Luke and Acts (my Acts review here) in the PNTC series at the same time. They go together, and they should be understood together (as best as can be).

If you’re familiar at all with the Pillar series (PNTC), you’ll know that James Edwards wrote the volume on the Gospel of Mark. It’s an incredibly helpful commentary, and, weighing in at 742 pages, Edwards’ volume on Luke is no less impressive.


His Introduction is a mere 22 pages, covering the testimony of the early church on Luke, its title, and authorship. Edwards, while not drawing hard, fast lines, points toward Luke being Paul’s travel companion, possibly being a Jew, and writing the Gospel after AD 70 and perhaps in Antioch. Besides Mark as being a primary source for Luke, Edwards believes Luke had a Hebrew source, which Edwards references “frequently in the commentary” (15). Edwards maintains that there is “a disproportionately high occurrence of Semitisms in the roughly one-half of the Third Gospel… not shared in common with Matt and/or Mark (15). For scholars and specialists the discussions on the Hebrew Gospel source will be stimulating, but I doubt many others will feel the same way. 

There are at least twelve excursuses throughout the commentary. These include topics such as the infancy narratives, how they relate to the body of Luke’s Gospel, Luke’s use of Elijah-Elisha typology in Jesus’ Galilean ministry, Luke’s use of pairs (with a focus on men and women pairs), Luke’s depiction of the universal scope of the gospel, and more.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the body of the commentary was to read. Commentaries this size are commonly replete (“crammed” may be a better term) with discussions of Greek terms, “twenty or so” other ways they can be used, and a concluding comment on the “proper” definition before moving on. Edwards is more tactful here. He looks at a word primarily to show it’s use in the context of Luke’s writings (how is this word/idea used in the OT, or in another NT book, or in Jewish/Greco-Roman writing?). He reveals the threads that are weaved through Luke, he pins down the broad ideas that Luke brings, and he offers us a look at how words and concepts play on each other. 

The Chocolate Milk

One aspect of Edwards’ commentary that should receive praise, like Seifrid’s volume, is his focus on what the text itself says more than what other commentators say. Most pastors don’t buy a commentary so they can read what every other scholar thinks. They want to know what the text says, what it means, and how it matters. Edwards keeps his discussions with the various scholars down in the footnotes which allows for a smoother reading for the commentary proper.

Edwards has a sharp eye for the Literary Features (e.g., parallels, contrasts) of Luke (and Acts).

  • The Magnificat of Mary, which declares “what God does as the powerful deliverer of the needy and oppressed,” is alluded to throughout Luke’s Gospel. Mary’s Magnificant gives us a reversal of expectations. Sinners become saints, and God brings him self low and “gives mercy to those who fear him” (56).

    1. Luke’s Blessings and Woes in 6.20-26 recount Mary’s reversal statements in 1.51-53.

    2. A woman proclaims a blessing on Mary (11.27), reminding us of “all generations” calling Mary “blessed” 1.48. Jesus expands the woman’s statement to blessing all who hear God’s word and do it, something which Mary also did (1.38).

    3. On the cross, God’s Servant “remembers mercy” (1.54) on a repentant criminal (23.42).

  • Unlike the brood of vipers who claim to have Abraham as their father (3.7-8), both Zacchaeus (19.9) and the afflicted woman (13.16) were “children of Abraham” (3.8), the one who “became the father of God’s true children who embodied the promise in history (Isa 45:11; Rom 9:6-9)” (397).
  • “Snake” (ophis) appears only in 10.19 and 11.11, both occurrences may refer to the “evil one.”
  • At the end of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man complains instead of repents, and he still expects Lazarus to serve him. He “is concerned with avoidance of ‘this place of torment’ [16.28] rather than ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’ (3:8).” Also, while the “shrewd manager used wealth to gain eternal friendships (16:9)… the rich man fails to use his wealth to help a poor man at his gate — and thus has no eternal ‘friend’ to advocate for him” (473).
  • In 21.25-28, when the Son of Man returns “redemption is drawing near” (v28), a redemption proclaimed by Zechariah (1.68) and Anna (2.38).

The Spoiled Milk

There really isn’t much to be disappointed about with this volume. Two things that let me down were were the Introduction and the Outline.

Like Seifrid’s volume, Edwards’ Introduction is short (22 pages) and compact which gives more space to the commentary proper. Yet at the same time it leaves something to be desired (e.g., Genre and Purpose).

Edwards outlines Luke into 22 main chapters with no sub-points. To me, this is a poor way to outline Luke’s Gospel. Did Luke really intend us to read his gospel in 22 pieces main pieces? Could not Edwards have brought some of these ideas together so that the reader could have a handle on the major ideas of Luke?

Unlike Edwards, David Garland, author of the ZECNT volume on Luke, divides Luke into 7 main headings (and in the expanded outline Garland has many subpoints that help divide the main ideas):

  • Prologue and Infancy Narrative (1:1–2:52)
  • Preparing for Ministry (3:1–4:13)
  • Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (4:14–9:50)
  • Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem (9:51–19:28)
  • Jesus in Jerusalem (19:29–21:38)
  • Jesus’ Suffering and Death (22:1–23:49)
  • Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension (23:50–24:53)

Based on Edwards’ outline one cannot see how Luke might have divided his gospel. Unfortunately, in the form that Edwards provides, his outline is almost useless. It’s helpful, but not helpful enough.


This is a highly recommended commentary on the Third Gospel. No one commentary has everything, but Edwards packs a lot of good into this commentary. With literary and theological insight, this will have a long lifespan in my house.


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Luke pntc james edwards book review

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP UK. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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Author: Spencer

I put ice in my cereal. Make yourself at home and feel more than welcome to contact me.

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