Darrell L. Bock, Luke, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994, 412 pp., cloth. ISBN: 0-8308-1803-0.
With the completion and publication of his massive two-volume commentary on Luke,1 Darrell Bock has emerged as an influential evangelical voice in the field of Lucan studies. The present work, which is less technical in its outlook than Bock's larger two-volume work, is a volume in the IVP New Testament Commentary series.
At the outset, it is important to note the focus of this series and of Bock's volume on Luke in particular. According to its editor, this series was specifically designed to facilitate the homiletical efforts of pastors in moving "from the text to its contemporary relevance and application" (p. 9). Bock himself states that, in contrast with his two-volume work, "this work focuses on relevancy" (p. 12). While the pursuit of relevance need not be a bad thing, depending upon how one defines 'relevance' and where one seeks for it, such pursuits often run the risk of reconstructing the text as a product of contemporary concerns rather than letting the text speak for itself. Whether Bock manages to make the text of Luke's gospel 'relevant' while at the same time avoiding the imposition of contemporary agendas upon it is a question to which I will return at the close of this review.
As one reads this work, it becomes obvious that Bock is very well read in the Old Testament background to Luke, particularly in reference to the Christology of Luke.2 Bock's work also displays a thorough knowledge of Jewish tradition at the time of Christ, and he provides many helpful background comments in this regard. There is also a good deal of useful material for readers who are interested in the conceptual parallels and differences between Luke's gospel and the Mishnah, Talmud, and Jewish apocryphal writings. Though the work does not contain indexes, there is a fairly representative bibliography of the most important works available on Luke in English.
With regard to Bock's development of the theology of the text, one will find occasional insights that are helpful (see my further comments below). On the whole, however, the theological development of the text is uneven and often lacks penetration. Although Bock frequently references the Old Testament, he seldom develops the theological significance of these references. To take but one example, while commenting on Jesus' use of Malachi 3:1 in Luke 7:27 (p. 138), Bock observes that the prophet's language recalls the Old Testament image of the Shekinah glory going before the people Israel and preparing the way for them. Despite his recognition that 'Exodus imagery' is present, Bock fails to develop the thought or even attempt to discuss how it relates to the eschatological exodus of Christ.
Bock's treatment of Luke's infancy narrative is also thin, even though he lists Raymond Brown's work in this area in his bibliography. Somewhat more encouraging is Bock's treatment of Luke's account of the Parable of the Sower (p. 148). Bock rightly recognizes that the parable does not refer to various stages of sanctification among believers, and that there are only two classes of people in view in the parablebelievers and unbelievers, with the former being exclusively identified with the good soil. Nevertheless, in his subsequent attempts to make application of the text, he fails to be consistent with this insight and ends up urging believers not to let "life's worries" choke out their fruit, thus applying to believers a text that he had previously identified with unbelievers.
Lest readers of this review be misled, it should be noted that there are places where Bock does develop the theological implications of Luke's allusions to the Old Testament and to specific Old Testament texts. On the temptation narrative in Luke (p. 82), Bock notes Luke's Two-Adam Christologya point which Fitzmeyer missesand in general his discussion is clear and helpful, even though the theme of eschatological probation is wholly missing. Likewise, Bock's discussion of the cloud symbolism at Christ's Transfiguration (p. 174) and the relation it has to the founding of a new age and a new Israel is insightful, though brief. Especially helpful is Bock's suggestion that the central section of Luke's gospel (i. e., Luke's travel narrative in chapters 9:51-19:44) builds upon the 'deuteronomistic critique' of the nation Israel that is found in the books of first and second Kings.3 This helps to explain the frequent echoes in Luke's gospel of the Old Testament miracles and ministries of Elijah and Elisha.
As one reads through Bock's work, it is encouraging to note occasional references to Lucan scholars who are working within the newer traditions of narrative theology and literary analysis (i. e., Luke Timothy Johnson, Joel Green, David Moessner, Robert Tannehill). Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Bock's approach to Lucan theology shares the emphases of these newer approaches.4 Generally speaking, Bock's approach reflects the cautious and conservative approach to redaction criticism found in the writings of scholars such as I. Howard Marshall.5 Still, one must acknowledge that Bock is at least aware of the developments in narrative theology,6 and this is a step in the right direction, especially in view of the fact that conservative evangelical scholarship has tended to overlook the contributions that a narrative approach to Scripture contains for those who are committed to the redemptive-historical unity of Scripture.
A brief caveat is in order here concerning Bock's general theological commitments. Although Bock refers to himself as a 'progressive dispensationalist,' he still shares certain key emphases that link him with more classical forms of dispensationalism. For example, while Bock rejects the classical dispensational distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, he retains the more central dispensational tenet that Israel is still a chosen nation awaiting millennial fulfillment of God's promises to it. Though there are a number of examples in Bock's commentary that might be chosen to illustrate this, one of the clearest appears in his remarks on Luke 6:13. After noting that Jesus' selection of 12 disciples 'mimics the structure of Israel,' Bock hastens to add that 'the point is not that this new group of disciples is intended to replace Israel permanently . . . the Twelve represent something new and something parallel to Israel' (p. 119, emphasis his). After reading this comment by Bock, I was reminded of a similar statement that I personally heard him make at a 1996 meeting of the Far West Region of the Evangelical Theological Society (held at the campus of Westminster Seminary in California). At this meeting Bock compared the relationship of Israel and the Church in God's revelational economy to that of two computer chips. According to Bock, the first 'computer chip' in God's program was Israel, alongside of which a second computer chip, the Church, was later placed, so that both Israel and the Church continue today as joint-heirs of the Old Testament promises. It is difficult to see how this way of construing Israel and the Church is any different in substance from that of the classical dispensationalism upon which Bock seeks to improve.
The issue of Bock's premillennial commitments naturally leads into a discussion of Bock's eschatology. Premillennial eschatology tends to shift the weight of eschatology toward Christ's Second Coming, regarding the latter as the pivot upon which the whole of eschatology turns. One is not surprised, therefore, to discover that Bock's approach to eschatology has a decidedly futuristic emphasis to it, an emphasis that is underscored by the fact that references to eschatology in Bock's work focus on that which is chronologically last in history. In this respect, Bock's commentary is more or less typical of the majority of conservative evangelical commentaries in print today. Rather than being the all-controlling and decisive impetus for Luke's interpretation of redemptive history, eschatology for Bock is merely one theological topic among others. Indeed, for Bock soteriological topics occupy the center stage, and eschatology is pushed to the periphery. Such is the price that must be paid for adopting the reductionistic view of eschatology that Bock's commentary displays.
This is not to deny the fact, of course, that all theological topics are important. However, as even more liberal scholars like Werner Kummel have shown,7 there is no substantive difference between Luke's approach to eschatology and that of Paul, and there can be no doubt that Paul recognized the priority of eschatology for all of theology (1 Cor. 15:44-45). To de-prioritize eschatology in Luke, therefore, is to do fundamental violence to his theology as a whole.
Of more immediate concern for the readers of Kerux, however, is the way in which the loss of eschatological perspective in Bock's commentary impacts his approach to 'contemporary relevance and application.' Here I return to the question of the relationship between Bock's quest for relevancy and the text of Luke's gospel. Lurking in the background of Bock's approach to contemporary application is the dubious methodological distinction, springing forth from the womb of Enlightenment historiography, between what the text meant for the people of Luke's own day and what it means for us now. Thus at various points in Bock's commentary one finds him reconstructing the text in terms of the presently relevant rather than attempting to draw his readers up into the eschatological life and drama of the text itself. One notable example of this is the recurrent stress that Bock places upon the relevance of Luke for the 'multicultural' world in which we presently live. Indeed, Bock asserts at the outset of his commentary that 'one could make a case that Luke is the most pluralistic of the gospels, so that it is tailor-made for the modern world' (p. 16). This note is sounded throughout the opening chapters of Bock's commentary. At times it is difficult to escape the impression that among the many useful theological purposes that the gospel of Luke serves for Bock, one may include an anti-racist agenda and a biblical model for relating to those of 'different gender' (p. 24).
To sum up, Bock will be useful for those who are looking for a fairly inexpensive commentary that provides helpful background material for understanding New Testament practices, especially those of the Jewish community contemporaneous with the ministry of Christ. There are also occasional theological insights to be gleaned from this commentary, as well as a host of Old Testament references to the background of Luke's gospel. These are the strengths of this commentary. However, if one is looking for a truly eschatological approach to the text of Luke, one will have to look elsewhere.8
1 Darrell L. Bock, The Gospel of Luke, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994, 1995).
2Bock's doctoral dissertation, which he completed at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, focuses upon the Old Testament background to Luke's Christology. It was published by Sheffield Academic Press in 1987 under the title Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern: Lucan Old Testament Christology (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 12).
3 The prophetic critique of nation Israel given in the books of Samuel and Kings has been called the 'deuteronomistic' critique because it is a critique of Israel conducted on the basis of the theology set forth in the book of Deuteronomy. This theme in Luke is explored in detail by David Moessner in his book The Lord of the Banquet: The Literary and Theological Significance of the Lucan Travel Narrative (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).
4 An excellent survey of the elements and methods used in the narrative approach to Luke's theology can be found in Luke Timothy Johnson's article on Luke-Acts in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.
5 For a useful survey of the various paradigm shifts that have occurred in Lucan studies in this century, see the article by Charles Talbert, "Shifting Sands: The Recent Study of the Gospel of Luke," Interpretation, October 1976, pp. 381-95. See also Talbert's more recent review article on Fitzmeyer's commentary in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48, 1986, pp. 336-38.
6 Bock explicitly states in his preface (p. 12) that he has tried to interact with Luke Timothy Johnson's commentary on Luke.
7 Werner Kummel, "Current Theological Accusations Against Luke," Andover-Newton Quarterly, 16 (1975) 131-45, especially pp. 141-42.
8 Although very brief, E. Earle Ellis' little work Eschatology in Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972) contains some helpful insights, especially chapter three, which is titled "The Conceptual Framework of Luke's Eschatology."