Luke: The People's Bible Commentary

Wansbrough, Henry
Bible Reading Fellowship
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This review accompanies the Study Sheet Luke (Henry Wansbrough).

The People's Bible Commentary is becoming part of our staple diet of reliable, un-flashy exegesis (with the exception of Richard Burridge's brilliant John) and it is therefore quite startling to come up against Henry Wansbrough's Luke which contains some quite magical passages alongside some very poor editing.

To take the good points first: Wansbrough, our best contemporary Lucan, provides the first really credible explanation I have ever read of how we came to establish a tradition of grumpy innkeepers and the birth in a stable. He is also enlightening on the unlikelihood of the Gospel accounts of Jewish law and the details of burial customs. His account of Roman behaviour is equally helpful and unsentimental.

But perhaps the best thing of all is the  sheer enthusiasm for Luke which Wansbrough demonstrates. During the commentary on Zacchaeus he comments: "You never know what Luke's characters are going to do next" and he is insightful on character writing, idiosyncrasy and the tendency for Luke to portray picaresque characters forever doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Time and again he reminds us that Luke's is the gospel of praise, joy and thanksgiving, and a Gospel where penitence follows rather than precedes the encounter with Jesus, necessary antidotes respectively to our obsession with intercessory prayer and moralising.

Conversely, the book strangely lacks an introduction of the major themes and it is weak in cross-referencing which is one of the series' great strengths. It's fine if all you need to look up is an alternative synoptic account of an incident but finding the shard of an unreferenced Psalm or the particular "Emperor Gaius" (who actually turns out to be Caligula!) can be a little wearing. He also refers to the meaning of  words without telling us what they are in the original and is prone to statements such as "Wycliffe's 'Passover' is not equivalent to the Jewish Pesach'" without saying in which ways it is and is not.

Overall, then, a lovely book with some marvellous touches but a few irritations for those without a good study Bible.