Knowing the price range the New Interperter's Study Bible and Fortress Bible commentary might fit the bill (I do think a better pairing with the NISB for your desires might be Eerdmans Bible Commentary but that is not yet available in Accordance, I say yet but have no idea if it is even the horizon just hopeful it may come along):
22:1–33 Holy things and priestly responsibility. A continuation of the preceding chapter, which discusses temporary priestly uncleanness (vv. 2–9), protection of sacred food from the laity (vv. 10–16), and regulations concerning sacrificial animals (vv. 17–30).
22:1–9 Priests became unclean like everyone else from tsara’at, genital discharge, corpse contamination, semen discharge, touching carcasses of dead swarming things (like mice and rats), or touching some human uncleanness (vv. 4–5). Such temporary uncleanness required bathing (v. 6) and the passage of time (when the sun sets, v. 7). The sacred donations included any grain or animal offering that had been transferred, as sacrifice or gift, across the boundary between the holy and common—that is, presented to God. In v. 8, priests are totally forbidden to eat any animal that had died or been killed by wild animals (cf. 17:5, which assumes these might be consumed).
22:10–16 A layperson (lit., “unholy one,” zar; see notes on 10:1) could not eat from any sacred food (v. 10a). Since priestly portions of well-being sacrifices could be taken home for family food (see 10:14–15), who might or might not eat had to be clarified. Hired laborers were excluded (v. 10b), but family members, purchased slaves and their offspring (born in his house), as well as the childless, widowed, or divorced daughter returned to her father’s home, could eat so long as they were clean (vv. 11–13).
22:14–16 If a layperson accidentally consumed some sacred donation, the value of the item plus one-fifth had to be given to make replacement (v. 14). The priests (No one, v. 15) must be careful to prevent laypersons from defiling sacred food since a reparation offering (see 7:1–10) was also required.
22:17–30 So far in Leviticus, the only specified requirement for sacrificial animals was that they should be “without blemish.” This section explains this idea in detail using certain sacrifices (mainly well-being offerings) as examples.
22:17–20 H here states that votive (in payment of a vow) and freewill offerings could be made as burnt sacrifices (vv. 18b–19; see 3:1–17), thus expressing the fact that the latter could be expressions of joy and celebration.
22:21–25 Sacrificial animals had to be unblemished, complete (perfect), thus one could not offer an animal that was blind, injured, maimed, or afflicted (vv. 21–22). A limb too long or too short made an animal unfit for a votive offering, but it could be used as a freewill offering (v. 23); such a limb still functioned. The votive offering, made to fulfill a vow, was presented after a delay of time allowing one to acquire an unblemished animal. Freewill offerings were made on the spur-of-the-moment, thus one could use any animal immediately at hand.
22:24–25 In the same way that genital imperfections prevented a priest from fulfilling his priestly duties (see 21:20; Deut 23:1), genital blemishes, including castration, rendered an animal unusable for sacrifice. Gelded animals could be acquired from foreigners but not for use as sacrifice.
22:26–30 Newborn animals had to remain with their mothers for seven days; as early as the eighth day they could be offered as sacrifice (v. 27).
22:28 An animal and its offspring were not to be sacrificed on the same day, perhaps for humanitarian concerns or the pure vulgarity of such an act.
22:29–30 The thanksgiving well-being offering is mentioned here because of the time reference.
22:31–32 This closing exhortation stresses the divine command for holiness and has God declare that sanctification (“holification”) of Israel (“you”) is the work of the divine.
Walter J. Harrelson, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), paragraph 2585.
Leviticus 21:1–22:33: Priestly Holiness and Offerings
THE TEXT IN ITS ANCIENT CONTEXT
This long section addresses the consequences of holiness for the priesthood and for the offerings of Israel. Leviticus 21 makes (remarkably strong) prescriptions regarding all priests: because they are holy to God and make God’s offerings, they should only have limited contact with the dead; they should not mar their bodies or cut away facial or cranial hair unnecessarily; and they should not marry women who are unclean by prostitution, divorce, or other defilement. Laypeople should treat them with the respect owed to the sanctified, and their daughters who profane their line by acts of prostitution should be executed by fire. The chapter further lays out the standards to which the anointed (high) priest is held: he should not make a mess of his hair, tear his garments, have any contact with the dead, or even go outside of the sanctuary lest he defile it, and he can only marry a virgin of his own kin. The rest of the chapter then lists a range of physical blemishes that would disqualify someone of the priestly line from service in the sanctuary, allowing them nonetheless access to the proceeds of the offerings. Leviticus 22 then commands that priests who have somehow incurred any kind of impurity may not approach the sanctified foodstuffs provided to the priests through the people’s offerings, and decrees that no layperson may eat of the sacred portions (excepting only those who are of the priest’s household by purchase, or by birth and still within the household). Additional detail is added to the general claim that a layperson’s animal offering must be without blemish, naming a broad range of circumstances that can render a beast unfit, and there are instructions on how a newly born animal may be offered as a sacrifice. The section closes with another passage remarking on God’s holiness as the motivation for keeping the commandments laid out in the preceding section.
Within the framework and agenda of the Holiness Code as a whole, this section seems intended to point out the consequences of intensifying God’s holiness in Israel for the priests and the things they deal with. And just as the legislation for the laity in the preceding section makes clear that the chief significance of making all experience holy is to render things possible under the Priestly system impossible—at least without serious consequences coming to bear—the same holds true here. Priests who might have qualified for service and all of its benefits in the Priestly world—and certainly did, if we are to believe the level of corruption that Malachi and Third Isaiah identified—would be summarily dismissed from contact with the sacred offerings and precincts under the Holiness Code’s stipulations. Similarly, the rules on how prebends might be handled were more limiting, as were the norms for everything from whom a priest might marry to how he might groom himself. On the reading of the Holiness Code promoted in this commentary, at least, this section is thus a wily indictment of the priestly abuses which might have been allowed by the Priestly perspective achieved precisely by taking with utmost seriousness the P tradition’s own view that the priests, the sanctified offerings of Israel, and the space they worked in were the locus of God’s holiness.
THE TEXT IN THE INTERPRETIVE TRADITION
Because of the Qumran community’s intense interest in the purity (or better, impurity) of the priesthood and temple practice in Jerusalem and in creating their own alternatives to those, portions of this passage in Leviticus were frequently commented on by the Essene tradents. Two examples from 4QMMT, a legal document that lays out a number of the group’s (early?) legal positions, demonstrate this.
The first instance involves a reading of Lev. 22:28, which prohibits slaughtering an offspring with its parent on the same day. 4QMMT B 36–38 seems to rely on an expansive reading of that rule in answering the question of what one does if an animal brought for sacrifice proves to be pregnant: the text seems to read the “slaughter” of Leviticus as “sacrifice” and “parent” and “offspring” as “mother” and “fetus” to decree that both may not be counted as an offering to God. The second instance is 4QMMT B 75–82, a much-discussed passage, that in any case agrees with and seems to intensify the sharp limitations on who might be acceptable as a wife for a priest (Lev. 21:7, 14).
Interestingly, the Essene use of this section of Leviticus grows out of the same sort of concerns this commentary assumes provoked the author(s) of the Holiness Code to create their utopian, corrective, critical vision of what the Priestly work wrought. The Essenes, however, distinguished themselves sharply from the Holiness school, using H’s extension of holiness to all Israel and all of its experience not merely as a utopian corrective but also as a guide for rules they wanted to be implemented in real time, in the real world.
THE TEXT IN CONTEMPORARY DISCUSSION
In a somewhat embarrassing contemporary use of the same regulations regarding priests and marriage in Leviticus 21, one does not have to search far on the Internet to discover American right-wing fundamentalist readers of the Bible who cite Lev. 21:13 (in a selective and decidedly nonliteralist way!) to argue that the prohibition on married clergy in the Roman Catholic communion is antibiblical. And searching just a little further turns up those among the latter group who will go so far as to suggest, ignorantly, that the sex abuse scandals that plagued Catholicism in recent decades would have been avoided if only marriage had been permitted. That it is difficult to find much from this portion of Leviticus in contemporary discussion may say more about the sensible allergy to getting caught up in such nonsense than about the availability of this section of text for thoughtful reflections on contemporary pastoral and priestly leadership across Christian and Jewish denominations.
Robert Kugler, Leviticus, ed. Gale A. Yee, Hugh R. Page Jr., and Matthew J.M. Coomber, Fortress Commentary on the Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 202-204.
23:1–6 God is with me Certainty of God’s protection and providence and exceptional intimacy with God combine in an individual’s prayer of trust. Text divisions are: vv. 1–3, declaration of faith in and obedience to the ways of God’s shepherding; v. 4, assertion, at the psalm’s midpoint, that God’s presence and guidance bring comfort; vv. 5–6, portrayal of God as a gracious host who sustains life. From green pastures (v. 2) to the house of the LORD (v. 6), every verse expresses trust and thanksgiving for what God does for this person. God’s salvific leadership, goodness, and mercy are constant (v. 6). The divine name YHWH forms an inclusio around this psalm and the psalmist (cf. vv. 1 and 6). At its center, 26 words in Hebrew from the first and last word of the text (excluding the superscription), appears the phrase for you are with me (v. 4), which sums up the heart of the matter. Although often used in funeral services, this psalm is more about God-centered living than it is about death. Its unmistakable depiction of intimacy with God is effected by its basic image: God and a single sheep, not a flock; God the host and a single guest.
23:1 Shepherd The claim that God is my shepherd is unparalleled in Scripture. This familiar metaphoric title for God actually appears in only two other psalms (28:9; 80:1). God’s care for people as sheep is more frequent (cf. 44:11, 22; 74:1; 78:52; 95:7; 100:3; 119:176). “Shepherd” is only once a political substitute for an earthly king in the psalms (78:71). References to real sheep appear only in 8:7; 144:13.
23:4 Darkest valley (Heb. slmwt) is an image for a very deep shadow or total darkness. In Job 10:21–22, the expression conveys death.
23:6 Mercy (Heb. khsd) introduces the language of the exodus and wilderness covenant, thereby extending the prayer of an individual to wider contexts. Follow is the more active “pursue” (rdp) in Hebrew. House of the LORD may refer to the Temple or may suggest metaphorical closeness to God.
Walter J. Harrelson, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), paragraph 7842.
Psalms 23–33: Trust in God’s Steadfast Love
THE TEXT IN ITS ANCIENT CONTEXT
The pastoral imagery of Psalm 23 may be the most familiar of the Psalms, speaking about rather than to God throughout. Beyond the link to David’s childhood, “shepherd” was a term used for royalty in the ancient Near East, so that “the LORD is my shepherd” resonates with describing God as king (Pss. 10:16; 47:7–8; 93:1). “Setting a table” reflects hospitality and casts God as a gracious host committed to the guests’ welfare (Anderson and Bishop, 183); where elsewhere enemies pursue the psalmist, here it is “goodness and mercy [hesed]” that do so.
Psalm 24, which begins with a cosmic description of YHWH as creator (24:1–2; cf. Psalms 74, 104), contains an entrance liturgy with a call and response among different voices (cf. Psalm 15). The psalm moves from liturgical and ethical motifs to military ones, with the concluding reference to “YHWH of hosts/armies [yhwh tsebaʾoth]” highlighting a divine-warrior motif (cf. Psalm 84). Psalm 24 also illustrates the difficulty of determining a psalm’s “ancient context,” with proposed settings including the ark of the covenant entering the temple during the preexilic period (Gunkel 1998, 316–17), pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for a religious festival (Sarna, 103), and worshipers approaching the Second Temple or a synagogue after exile (Gerstenberger 1988, 119).
Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem that incorporates aspects of lament alongside statements of confidence (cf. Psalms 34; 119). It declares the psalmist’s trust in God, appeals to divine steadfast love, asks for God’s guidance, and seeks forgiveness. In Psalm 26, the psalmist claims innocence grounded in his integrity (26:1, 11; 37:37; cf. Job 1:1, 8; 9:20–22). Oriented by God’s steadfast love and truth (v. 2), the psalmist does not associate with the wicked but loves the temple (26:4–5, 8; cf. 1:1; 141).
Psalm 27 again reflects confidence and links a fulfilled life to the temple (27:4; 26:8), while also appealing for divine intervention and teaching (27:7–12). The concluding dual call to a social audience to “wait for the LORD” reaffirms the psalmist’s confidence, even though the situation has not changed.
Psalm 28 begins with a lament to God that turns into thanksgiving for answered prayer addressed to a social audience. A concluding assertion of God’s support for “his anointed” (meshiho) leading to a final appeal on behalf of the people may reflect a later broadening of material beyond an individual supplicant (cf. 3:8; Gerstenberger 1988, 129).
Psalm 29 begins by addressing the “sons of gods” (bene ʾelim), a divine council common within ancient literature and assumed elsewhere in Scripture (82:1; Gen. 1:26; Job 1; Jer. 23:18). The sevenfold repetition of the “voice/sound of YHWH [qol yhwh]” punctuates the psalm and underscores the cosmic power of this deity, while the concluding description of YHWH as king directly counters Canaanite mythology, which used the same description for Baal. In effect, Psalm 29 redeploys language and imagery used to describe the rival storm god Baal within Canaanite mythology to affirm YHWH’s sovereignty instead.
Psalm 30 again gives thanks for answered prayer, describing the psalmist’s prior state, his own cry, and YHWH’s response. Reference to God’s anger and the psalmist’s impending death suggests the psalm arises from a setting of illness (cf. Psalm 6), while the exhortation for a social audience to join the psalmist in praise reflects the public setting key to thanksgiving (cf. Psalm 116).
Psalm 31 intermingles lament and calls for respite from enemies with confident praise for answered prayer, concluding with “blessed be the LORD” and a call for broad social recognition (31:21–23). Once again, this response reflects the psalmist’s “taking refuge” and trusting in God. The social appeal to “Love the LORD, all you his saints [hasidayw]” reflects the mutuality of covenant commitment (31:23; cf. 30:4), since both God and the saints/faithful ones demonstrate “steadfast love” (hesed). The final exhortation to “be strong” and “take courage” broadens the call familiar from Joshua to the community (see Josh. 1:6–9).
Psalm 32 begins with a description of distress, confession, and forgiveness that broadens to a social exhortation for each of the faithful to pray (v. 6). The divine voice describes God’s commitment to teach and guide (32:8; cf. 25:4) before contrasting the wicked with the righteous who trust in YHWH and whom steadfast love surrounds. In effect, this psalm gives thanks for having experienced the forgiveness requested earlier (32:5; cf. Psalm 25).
Psalm 33 concludes this section with a communal hymn celebrating God’s steadfast love shown in creation and to Israel, reiterating the major emphases of the preceding psalms and calling for joyful response. YHWH’s role as cosmic king makes human military preparation useless (33:14–17), while the community affirms its trust and hope in God’s hesed (33:20–22).
THE TEXT IN THE INTERPRETIVE TRADITION
Both Jewish and Christian medieval interpreters contrast the “praise of God’s loud voice” in Psalm 29 with the “still, small voice” found in 1 Kgs. 19:12. However, where Rashi connects “wilderness of Kadesh” to Sinai and so sees God’s voice giving torah (29:8), the Glossa Ordinaria, a medieval collation of biblical notations from the church fathers, identifies the same phrase with “the Jews, who do not have the sanctity of the law, that is spiritual understanding” (S. Davis, 73). Jewish interpreters Rashbam and David Kimch.i link the divine voice to creation and the Messiah respectively, while Bruno de Segni ties it to inspired teaching that leads to baptism (S. Davis, 69–73).
While very different from Western or academic readings, David Adamo argues against portraying indigenous African interpretation as “fetish, magical, unchristian and uncritical.” Rather, he describes how contemporary African Independent Churches recognize the “power in names” and so interpret Psalm 29 as a psalm of “protection . . . defense, liberation, healing, and success” (Adamo, 141, 135).
Jesus’ final words on the cross in Luke’s Gospel are: “into your hand I commit my spirit” (Ps. 31:5; Luke 23:46). While this statement contrasts with Mark and Matthew’s “My God . . . why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34), in both cases Jesus embodies the suffering of lament rather than a militaristic messiah (Psalms 2, 18, 72, 89a).
Psalm 23 has long been a liturgical resource, functioning as a “funeral psalm” alongside Psalm 22 and 116 as early as the fourth century (Gillingham, 55).
THE TEXT IN CONTEMPORARY DISCUSSION
Psalms 29 and 19 draw on broader Canaanite mythology and so raise the issue of how previous traditions and understandings can be appropriately incorporated into the tradition. Missionary movements have often insisted that new adherents break from all aspects of prior culture. For instance, church-run residential schools sought to “assimilate” Native American peoples into (European) Canadian culture by systematically eliminating their indigenous language, traditions, and religious perspectives, with grave ongoing consequences. Postcolonial critics have also drawn attention to “marks of colonial hermeneutics” amid links between Christian evangelization and Western imperialism (Sugirtharajah, 61–73).
Psalms 29 and 19 reflect the ongoing dynamic of religious contextualization or syncretism whereby ancient traditions are adapted and transformed, in these cases shifting their significance to emphatically underscore that it is YHWH’s “voice” (not that of Baal) that thunders (29) and YHWH (not the sun) who orients their lives through torah (19). This has been a long-standing issue, as attested in the “Christianization” of the winter equinox as a celebration of Jesus’ birth (Christmas) and the transformation of spring fertility celebrations into a commemoration of the resurrection (Easter).
W. Derek Suderman, Psalms, ed. Gale A. Yee, Hugh R. Page Jr., and Matthew J.M. Coomber, Fortress Commentary on the Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), paragraph 4950.
3:1–4:13 Although initially focused on the public ministry of John, this major section of the Gospel of Luke is oriented to preparing for Jesus’ ministry. Luke’s account of the ministry of John is carefully interwoven with what was anticipated of him in chap. 1. He is the prophet who anticipates and prepares for the coming of the Lord. The two storylines—one concerning John, the other concerning Jesus—intertwine again at Jesus’ baptism, which marks the shift from the proclamation of John to a concern with the identity and credentials of Jesus. At the end of this section, Jesus has been introduced as Son of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, sanctioned by God, taken up the mantle of God’s agent of restoration on behalf of Israel, and determined to embrace fully the aims of God. This section of the Gospel contains two subunits: the ministry of John (3:1–20) and the introduction of Jesus, Son of God (3:21–4:13).
3:1–20 John’s importance to the Gospel of Luke is accentuated by the sheer amount of space Luke allots to him. As “prophet of God Most High” (1:76), he paves the way for Jesus’ ministry by provoking a crisis around the nature of faithfulness to and identity before God and by directing popular hopes to the coming of a Messiah. And he attracts hostility from the people, just as Israel’s prophets had done before him.
3:1–6 Luke situates John in both a sociopolitical and a salvation-historical context.
3:1–2 The Roman and Jewish figures he lists speak to the universal reach of the prophetic message, but they also serve to contrast sharply those inhabiting ancient centers of power and privilege over against what is happening in the wilderness. Reference to the wilderness is a poignant reminder of Israel’s formation as a people in the exodus and hopes for restoration in a new exodus.
3:3 Whether the baptism of John draws on Jewish practices for the inclusion of proselytes or more simply is rooted in the long-standing relation of washing and ethical demeanor (cf. Isa 1:16–17; Ezek 36:25–26) is not clear. What is clear is that baptism signaled one’s submission to God, profession of new or renewed allegiance to God’s will, and inclusion within the restored people of God.
3:4–6 Luke draws the narrative to a halt so as to interpret John’s ministry within the horizons of Isaiah’s proclamation of Israel’s restoration (Isa 40).
3:7–18 Luke illustrates the substance of John’s message—delivered to people who have temporarily departed their normal lives, who have expressed anew their allegiance to God, and who will now return home to live transformed lives in keeping with their status as Abraham’s children. What is at stake, then, is not a paternity test by which one proves that Abraham is one’s blood ancestor, but a test of character and behavior consistent with that of Abraham. Important for the portrait of faithfulness Luke will paint, Abraham’s own faithfulness was articulated in Israel’s literature, especially in terms of hospitality to strangers.
3:19–20 Luke concludes his account of John’s ministry with reference to the opposition he attracted, emphasizing especially in this short summary the character of Herod as an evildoer. Here the Gospel writer anticipates the fate of the one for whom John’s ministry prepares, Jesus (see 9:7–9; 23:6–12).
3:21–4:13 With John’s having been deftly removed from the scene, the narrative shifts to a series of transitions: from the ministry of John (3:1–20) to the ministry of Jesus (beginning with 4:14). At stake in this interim is the preparation and readiness of Jesus for his Spirit-anointed mission as Son of God.
3:21–22 Prayer in the Gospel of Luke is regularly the context of divine revelation, and this is the case here, where the act of Jesus’ baptism fades into the background so that the light shines the more brightly on his endowment with the Spirit and God’s affirmation of Jesus’ sonship. See esp. 4:18–19 and Acts 10:37, where Jesus’ baptism is interpreted as his anointing for divine service. Cf. Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1.
3:23–38 In traditional cultures, genealogies identify the status of people in relation to their ancestry. In such settings, genealogies may be adjusted (e.g., by deleting insignificant or problematic ancestors) in order to fulfill social requirements. It is not surprising, then, that biblical genealogies such as this one are hardly ever in exact agreement with other ancestral lists. The aim of this genealogy seems to be threefold: (1) to identify Jesus as having achieved the age of public service (cf. Gen 41:46; Num 4:3, 23; 2 Sam 5:4); (2) to ensure that Luke’s readers know what characters within the narrative do not—namely, that Jesus is not Joseph’s son (3:23); and (3) to designate Jesus further as Son of God (3:22, 38). The net effect is to provide for Jesus a form of legitimation appropriate to Luke’s world.
Walter J. Harrelson, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), paragraph 16773.
Luke 1:5–3:20: Divine Promises, Infancy Narratives, Global
and Local Settings
THE TEXT IN ITS ANCIENT CONTEXT
Immediately after the prologue, Luke establishes a setting before Herod’s death (4 BCE). But more than establish chronology, the narrator starts with a local personal story that is set in global systems of social order, religion, and politics. Zechariah and Elizabeth belong to a priestly order of low status that contrasts with high-priestly elites. Piety makes them exemplary, but in an ethos where children manifest God’s blessings, childlessness blemishes them. Sterility before menopause and advanced age are characteristic of biblical stories of extraordinary births. Their privacy cannot escape the foreground of imperial systems (see also 2:1–2; 3:1–2). Systems involving an imperial client king (1:5) and high-priestly collaborators (implied by Zechariah’s status under a priestly hierarchy, 1:5, 8) affect their lives.
The setting jumps inside the Jerusalem sanctuary (1:8). Outside, a multitude prays; inside, incense goes up like prayers. Gabriel has to do with both. Inside, he promises God’s remedy for the couple’s childlessness. For the outside, his promise is for Israel. Zechariah’s question “how will I know” encompasses both sides, and his inability to speak until the child’s birth is a sign that validates God’s promises for Israel as well as for him and Elizabeth.
Dramatically the narrative becomes gendered. It shifts from masculine characters to women. Elizabeth celebrates her pregnancy as God’s inversion of disgrace, and the term of her pregnancy links her to Mary in Galilee. Gabriel speaks to Mary, and aside from overarching imperial systems, her impending marriage is the context. Promises to her are also both private and communal—a child for her; restoration of David’s commonwealth for Israel. In keeping with 2 Samuel 7, the restoration is everlasting—with a twist. In 2 Samuel, David’s “seed” is a collective noun for David’s dynasty. Gabriel makes it literally singular. Gabriel promises Jesus’ everlasting enthronement (1:32–33).
Like Zechariah, Mary asks “how” (1:34). Gabriel’s response makes her conception a matter of divine initiative and correlates it with Elizabeth’s pregnancy by means of an astounding claim: “Any prediction [thing] will not be impossible with God” (1:37). Mary avows remarkable consonance with Gabriel’s announcement: “[I am] the Lord’s servant; may it be with me according to your prediction” (1:38).
When Mary journeys to Elizabeth, they join forces. In contrast to mute Zechariah, women deliver the first speeches of consequence. By concealing herself, Elizabeth occupies the social margin but transforms it into creative space by playing a prophet’s role. She blesses Mary and Mary’s child, and affirms her own place in God’s eyes in something greater than themselves.
Mary adds the antiphonal voice of another prophet from the margins. She identifies with the low social class and affirms God’s power to bless. This takes the shape of God’s “class conversion.” Against powerful thrones (implicating imperial systems), God manifests mercy to generations of those who have inadequate access to the earth’s resources. Her references to Abrahamic promises also supplement Gabriel’s allusions to David’s commonwealth (1:46–55).
Then a male prophesies creatively from the margins (the Judean backcountry, 1:68–79). Zechariah reiterates Gabriel’s allusions to Davidic promises, synthesizes them with Abrahamic promises, and views God’s fidelity to the promises as liberation from oppression. John and Jesus are ways God keeps ancient promises. When Zechariah calls this “forgiveness of sins,” he means corporate consequences beyond individual transgressions: in context, complicity in Israel’s subjugation. John’s role as preparing the way of the Lord, recalling prophecies of Israel’s restoration from captivity, likewise embraces liberation from oppression.
Luke 2:1 fills in the foreground of imperial systems. Emperor Augustus and Governor Quirinius in Syria complement the picture of King Herod and an implicit priestly hierarchy in chapter 1. Another imperial agent in Bethlehem, an unmentioned local clerk, awaits Joseph’s enrollment. Geographical horizons reflect the interplay between local and global—Herod’s Judea (1:5), all the world (2:1) (Wolter, 121). Distinctions in political status between Judea and Galilee also affect the setting, as does the village atmosphere reflected in a manger and shepherds. Augustus’s might, contrasted with peasants caught homeless at childbirth, is full of pathos. Irony snags imperial powers, who force a journey that matches divine purposes for Jesus to be born in David’s city. Like Mary, shepherds measure low culturally and are unanticipated recipients of the message that a Savior-Messiah is born to them. The inauspicious becomes auspicious, and out of character for their marginal status, shepherds become witnesses to others.
Joseph and Mary comply with cultic expectations of circumcision and purification. Offering two turtledoves underlines their peasant status (Lev. 12:8). But the inauspicious is also confirmed in the temple by sagacity, commitment, and hope. This also is gendered. First, venerable Simeon anticipates peace through God’s restoration of Israel. He labels Jesus a light of revelation for the nations and for the glory of Israel, but also predicts the falling and rising of many in Israel (Luke 2:34). This reiterates Mary’s prophecy about the downfall of the powerful and exaltation of the lowly (1:52) and anticipates conflict between elites and the oppressed. Second, venerable Anna witnesses to God’s promises to deliver Jerusalem from oppression.
Most interpreters present 3:1–20 as a new literary unit. A reference to Tiberius’s fifteenth year (c. 29 CE) lures many commentators to focus on chronology. But 3:1–2 elaborates and extends the local and global political and economic setting of chapters 1–2 and depicts how Jewish people experienced imperial systems from the emperor to local collaborators. Furthermore, like Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna, the Baptizer plays a prophet’s role within this imperial setting. His baptism for forgiveness has implications for individuals (3:10–14) but is also tied to Isaiah’s message of national restoration (Isa. 40:3; Luke 3:3–6). Individual behavior has communal consequences for Israel in imperial contexts in both Isaiah and Luke. When John deals with instances of behavior in 3:14, they have to do with covenant values of equitable access to resources, economics, and the power of the strong over the weak. By contrast, 3:18–20 portrays another imperial client ruler, Herod Antipas, suppressing covenant values by imprisoning John.
Abraham, who figures in Mary’s and Zechariah’s prophecies, reappears in John’s. First, he challenges Abrahamic descent unless it bears fruit in covenant ethics (3:8). Simultaneously, he espouses God’s ability to raise up children of Abraham. Most interpreters take the metaphor of raising up children from stones as devaluing Abrahamic descent. But does it not also, like 1:37, affirm God’s power (see 19:40)? In Luke, does God (metaphorically) raise up children of Abraham from stones?
THE TEXT IN THE INTERPRETIVE TRADITION
Most interpreters underplay the context of imperial systems and social struggles among the elite and the oppressed and focus instead on chronology (1:5; 2:1; 3:1–2). From the beginning of the second Christian millennium, Elizabeth’s prophecy concerning Mary and her child became a liturgical prayer, with emphasis on Mary’s roles as the mother of the Lord and mediatrix. This reduced the complementarity of the prophecies of Elizabeth, Mary, and Zechariah. The virginal conception also dominated interpretation and eclipsed scriptural traditions of divine initiative in birth wonders; indeed, it overshadowed parallels between Elizabeth’s conception and Mary’s, and diverted emphasis from God’s initiative to Mary’s character.
Moreover, emphasis on John as a forerunner and Jesus as Savior tended to write off antecedents in Israel’s history and neglected continuity with Israel in portrayals of John and Jesus in the traditions of Elijah, David, and Abraham.
THE TEXT IN CONTEMPORARY DISCUSSION
Debates persist over the virginal conception. The narrative lacks specificity about how conception occurred. When Gabriel predicts that Mary will bear a son, her engagement implies conception in her impending marriage (see Fitzmyer 1973, 566–67). However, Mary presumes not her marriage but her virginal condition (Brown 1979, 298–309). In addition, some deduce that Luke conceals Mary’s pregnancy outside marriage. This too can be intensely theological if one assumes pregnancy due to rape or abuse. This intensifies God’s inversion of shame among the marginalized (Schaberg). Either option underscores God’s initiative in the births of Jesus and John. Such divine initiative, however, remains mysterious. Karl Barth once remarked that the virginal conception is “inconceivable.”
Luke’s use of sources leads interpreters to emphasize individual episodes, but increasingly, narrative continuity is also accented. Speeches of Gabriel, Elizabeth, Mary, and Zechariah fit together in one story. The context of imperial systems is also overarching.
Mid-twentieth-century interpretations made a sharp break between Jesus’ proclamation of God’s commonwealth and Israel’s heritage (Conzelmann), sharpened even into “anti-Judaism” (J. Sanders). This will come under consideration again, but continuity with God’s promises to Israel is undeniable.
Similarly, some interpreters judge Luke deficient in neglecting significant roles for women (Reid). Elizabeth and Mary are prominent exceptions. Interpreters often read the silence imposed on Zechariah as punishment for failing to believe Gabriel and contrast this with Mary’s assertion of conformity to divine purposes. Actually, both ask “how?” Further, when it is clear that Gabriel’s promises are for Israel as well as for Zechariah and Elizabeth, rather than punishing Zechariah, Gabriel declares that the inability to speak is a sign that confirms predictions both to him and to Israel.
How does the serene and contemplative Mary as the servant of the Lord (1:38) in popular piety and art fit her role as a prophet in 1:46–55? As with servants of the Lord in Israel’s traditions such as Moses and the prophets, in her role as God’s servant she also confronts oppressive powers and correlates God’s mercy and promises to the plight of poverty, hunger, and oppressive powers. Today the Virgin of Guadalupe has been used as just such a prophet among the disadvantaged in Mexico, especially among indigenous populations. An image of her accompanied César Chávez and the striking United Farm Workers in the 1960s, and some feminists have adopted her as an advocate of liberation.
Robert L. Brawley, Luke, ed. Gale A. Yee, Hugh R. Page Jr., and Matthew J.M. Coomber, Fortress Commentary on the Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 219-222.
PS: I will place the New Interperter's One Volume (note this is not an abridgement of the NIB but a fresh work in the spirit of the multivolume set) samples below as they make a good compliment for the NISB, just feel that fortress is a stronger companion.
E. Requirements and Disqualifications for Holy Persons and Sacrificial Animals (21–22)
God now addresses the issue of holiness in the tabernacle cult (chs. 21–22). All persons and objects that have become “holy,” that is, have the status of belonging to the Lord, are subject to desecration, either through contact with impurity, by disqualifying blemish, or by unauthorized use; these must therefore be avoided so that Yahweh’s earthly abode and holy name are not desecrated in turn.
The first topic is the holiness of the priesthood (21:1–15); priests are charged with preserving the boundaries between holy and profane (see 10:10). Since they enter the sacred precincts and must handle and eat sacrificial flesh, they must avoid impurity and refrain from approaching the sacred when they do become impure. Lay Israelites are not subject to the former prohibition, but they too must observe the latter. The priests must also abstain from observing the rituals of mourning detailed here (see 10:6–7), as they too are considered to desecrate their bodies (in 19:27–28, similar acts are also forbidden to lay Israelites). Further, since the holiness of the priests is genetically transmitted, they may marry only women about whom there is no suspicion of the presence of another man’s seed. And while lay Israelites too are forbidden to allow their daughters to engage in harlotry (19:29), the priest’s daughter’s prostitution is a capital case, since her father’s sanctity—and through it, God’s—would thereby be desecrated.
The high priest is subject to even greater restrictions: he must refrain even from benign expressions of grief, must avoid contact with the corpse of even his closest relations, and must marry a virgin: even a widow is off-limits.
The next topic is the prevention of desecration resulting from priests (21:16–24) who have disqualifying physical defects. The priest, as God’s palace servant, profanes the abode of the deity if he cannot adequately embody the divine form in whose image humans are made (Gen 1:26–27; 5:1). The absence, or permanent malformation, of external characteristics distinctive of the human species thus disqualifies a person born into the priesthood from officiating. He, of course, remains a priest and is, therefore, entitled to eat the priestly portions of the sacrificial flesh.
Another measure to be taken in order to avoid desecrating the sanctuary and the sacred offerings is to prevent their coming into contact with impure priests and, in the case of the offerings, their consumption by ineligible persons (22:1–16). Allowing impurities, even minor ones, to come into contact with the sacred profanes the divine name, since Yahweh’s abode and the gifts presented to him are thereby treated as though they were common. The specifics, including the procedures required for cleansing and disposal of each type of impurity, are treated in chs. 11–15. Sacrificial portions that may only be consumed by priests are “most sacred” (see 6:24–29); contact between them and a lay person leads to their desecration. Non-priests who are formally a part of the priest’s household may however share in them. On unwitting desecration of the sacred (v. 14) see also 5:14–16.
The physical defects that render animals unfit for the altar (vv. 17–25) are analogous to those that disqualify priests from officiating, but deformed animals do not cause desecration; they are simply not accepted (see 1:3–4; 7:18; 19:5–8) and the person’s sacrifice is deemed not to have been offered. What is placed on God’s table must be without defect (cf. Mal 1:6–14). From vv. 21–23 it may be deduced that the offering made in fulfillment of a vow is of a greater sanctity than the freewill offering, since the deformities mentioned in v. 23 are acceptable in the latter case. Together with 7:12–18, whence it is learned that the thanksgiving offering is the most sacred of the three, these verses thus confirm the hierarchy of the three classes of well-being offering.
The final section (vv. 26–30) deals with offerings that are not accepted due to time factors. The law in vv. 26–27 is based on the idea that an animal is not considered fit for the divine table until it is viable, i.e., has safely gotten beyond the stage of a newborn and is a creature in its own right. The law in v. 28, in contrast, seems to be motivated by humane concerns (see Exod 23:19; 34:26; Deut 14:21; 22:6–7). The law in vv. 29–30 must be read along with that in 19:5–8; together they restate the law in 7:12–15.
This passage concludes with a general exhortation (22:31–33). Just as compliance with the commandments enables the Israelites to absorb the holiness of God (19:3, 37; 20:7–8), failure to obey the commandments desecrates the name of God. In Priestly thought, Israel exists in order to sanctify God’s name, and their failure to do so has the opposite effect: God’s name is profaned, that is, God’s fame is diminished and his reputation tarnished.
Baruch J. Schwartz, Leviticus, The New Interpreter’s Bible: One-Volume Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 75-76.
One of the most loved passages in all of Scripture, this poem draws on the metaphors of shepherd and table host to express trust and confidence in the Lord. The psalm combines two movements—one movement from the metaphor of shepherd to that of host, and a second from third-person creedal language spoken about God to second-person prayer language spoken to God.
In the ancient world, the shepherd metaphor always carried royal connotations (see 1 Kgs 22:17–18; Jer 23:1–4). Thus, far from being a bucolic image, the shepherd of Ps 23 is a royal figure. The metaphor confesses the faithfulness with which God provides food, safety, and guidance. In v. 4, when the psalmist is “in the darkest valley,” the divine pronouns shift from third-person to first-person. This reflects the reality that creedal information one memorizes about God quickens into a second-person relationship when one experiences the paradox that God’s care becomes known in suffering.
The image of God setting a table in the midst of violent pursuers draws on the social values of honor and shame. Although the enemies desire the psalmist’s shame, God provides a place of honor. God’s faithfulness is not merely passive acceptance of the psalmist, but active pursuit. Normally, in the psalms the enemies “pursue” the psalmist to do violence, but here, God’s “goodness and mercy” pursue (v. 6; NRSV, follow) the psalmist. The original meaning of v. 6b was that the psalmist was promising to return to God’s Temple throughout life. The later Christian interpretation of this verse as confidence of eternal life in God’s heavenly house is a faithful expansion of this image.
Rolf A. Jacobson, Psalms, The New Interpreter’s Bible: One-Volume Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 316.
B. Preparation for the Ministry of the Messiah (3:1–4:13)
Fast-forward nearly two decades: John the baptizing prophet steps back into the story to begin his ministry. So the narrative preparation for Jesus’ own career gains momentum.
3:1–20. John’s Prophetic Ministry. The passage begins with a list of political leaders, notably the emperor Tiberius; the tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas; the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate; and the high priestly duo of Annas and (his son-in-law) Caiaphas. By linking the prophet’s call to the reign of particular rulers, and by employing the phrasing “the word of God came to John” (3:2), Luke recalls the prophetic books of the OT (e.g., Jer 1:2–3; Hos 1:1; Mic 1:1). The question again arises: How and with what outcome will political power and prophetic message authorized by God collide?
John receives his prophetic call while in the wilderness near the Jordan (where Jesus’ messianic call will soon be validated) and conducts his ministry there. Through a purifying ritual bath in the river, John baptizes all who are willing to reorder their lives (“repent”), orienting commitments and actions toward the coming reign of God—a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3), thus fulfilling his father Zechariah’s prophecy (1:77). John’s message, drawing from Isa 40:3–5, pictures him as the wilderness herald who prepares the way of the Lord (cf. Luke 1:76), a way that extends salvation to all people. John joins Simeon as a prophetic witness to the universal scope of salvation.
Verses 7–14 expand John’s proclamation, first with an urgent summons to repentance in view of imminent judgment, then through moral instruction that accents generous, just, and honest handling of material goods, anticipating a theme Jesus will develop in radical terms in his teaching (e.g., 12:13–21; 14:33; 16:13, 19–31; 18:18–30). Finally, John distinguishes his role from that of Messiah, the more powerful one still to come. Despite the austerity and urgent tenor of John’s message, the narrator characterizes it as “good news” (or “gospel,” v. 18). For John, and later for Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, good news of salvation and moral seriousness are two sides of one coin.
Luke brings John’s ministry to a sudden end, reporting his arrest by Herod Antipas. Such is the destiny of a prophet who not only admonishes soldiers but also dares to rebuke a powerful ruler (for Herod’s decision to marry his brother’s wife). This is the outcome of the first direct collision between prophet and “king” in Luke’s story. Opposition to the agents of God’s deliverance is real—and potent. Luke keeps the stage uncluttered; one character (John) exits the story before another (Jesus) takes his place (cf. 1:56 for a similar departure by Mary before Elizabeth gives birth to John). This narrative sequence reinforces the image of John as the precursor who goes before the Lord (Jesus) to prepare his way; their ministries do not overlap. Nevertheless, in a temporal flashback, one significant baptism remains to be narrated.
3:21–4:13. Jesus’ Identity and Vocation: Baptism, Genealogy, and Testing. This section of the Gospel brings into focus the identity and vocation of Jesus as Messiah, Son of God. At his baptism he receives direct divine confirmation of his status as Son of God, and the Spirit anoints him for the work that lies ahead. Then a genealogy ascribes honor to Jesus as “son of Adam, son of God.” Finally, Jesus demonstrates, against demonic opposition, his resolve to accept his vocation as Messiah, Son of God.
3:21–22. In the course of John’s baptizing ministry, Jesus, too, received baptism—presumably by John, though this is only implicit. What matters is not John’s role in the event (after all, Jesus is the “greater one” of the two) but heaven’s. The Spirit of God (Holy Spirit) descends upon Jesus (tangibly, as a dove). Luke will not often mention the Spirit during the ministry of Jesus; however, a cluster of references at the outset (also 4:1, 14, 18) supplies the divine signature on Jesus’ activity. He speaks and acts under the direction and empowerment of God’s Spirit (cf. Acts 10:38). The Spirit is not alone in bearing witness to Jesus; a voice from heaven addresses Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; I take delight in you” (Luke 3:22; author’s trans.). In God’s authoritative voice, the baptism seals Jesus’ identity as Son of God.
3:23–38. Genealogies serve various interests, including ascription of honor through recall of one’s ancestors. Luke does this and more, as he presents a genealogy (substantially different from the one in Matt 1:1–17) that locates Jesus on a family tree that, proceeding backward in time, includes King David; patriarchs Judah, Jacob, and Abraham; and Adam, “son of God.” By tracing Jesus’ roots to Adam, Luke again affirms that Jesus brings God’s salvation not only to Israel but also to all people (cf. 2:32; 3:6). Mention of Adam as “son of God” (3:38) prepares for resumption of the theme of Jesus’ divine sonship, the implications of which will be probed in the next scene.
4:1–13. At Jesus’ baptism, the divine voice marked Jesus as beloved Son of God, confirming Jesus’ self-understanding and the Lukan audience’s previous information, and God’s Spirit came to rest upon Jesus. Yet neither knowledge of divine sonship nor anointing by the Holy Spirit sets Jesus on an easy path. In fact, the devil—chief enemy of God’s purpose and architect of evil opposition to its accomplishment—seizes the opportunity to challenge Jesus’ fidelity to his vocation as God’s Son. (To dramatic effect, the narrative presents as a dialogue with an external entity what one might today describe as an internal struggle to discern and embrace God’s will.)
Like Matt 4:1–11, Luke narrates a threefold test in which both the devil and Jesus appeal to Scripture (OT). The devil, with support from Ps 91:11–12, prods Jesus to tap divine power to make a splash in the world: (1) breaking his 40–day fast in the wilderness—replication in miniature of Israel’s 40–year wilderness ordeal?—by turning stone into bread (Jesus will later speak of stones acclaiming God’s royal Messiah, Luke 19:40); (2) seizing power over the nations (though at the cost of abandoning loyalty to God); and (3) claiming angelic protection from destruction at the Temple mount. Jesus counters this “scriptural paradigm” for his messianic vocation by appealing to texts from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:13 and 10:20; 6:16): (1) not bread but God’s word sustains (though Jesus will interpret reliance upon divine nourishment as a practice that calls for robust response to human hunger, Luke 9:10–17); (2) worship and loyalty are due God alone (from whom the Son of God does receive “the ends of the earth [as] your possession,” according to Ps 2:8); and (3) not even God’s Son should presume to place a demand upon God, inverting the testing scenario by putting God to the test. Jesus’ ensuing ministry will reject the flashy, power-centered ministry urged by the devil, but neither he nor his followers will neglect the physical needs of people. Indeed, he will feed a large crowd and restore health to the sick. The focus is instead on the temptation to use power to serve self-interest. By the story’s conclusion, Jesus’ radical rejection of that approach will be evident. The one who saves others will not save himself from the cross, even if he does ask to be spared the ordeal (see 22:42; 23:35, 37, 39).
The unit closes on a foreboding note; the devil, though bested by Jesus, will at “an opportune time” again challenge Jesus’ fidelity to his messianic vocation (4:13; cf. 22:3). For the time being, however, Jesus—Spirit-empowered, his mission in sharp focus—is ready to launch his ministry. Where better to begin than at home?
John T. Carroll, Luke, The New Interpreter’s Bible: One-Volume Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 684-685.