Did you hear the one about the Jewish feminist, the Methodist evangelical, and the first century gospel writer? It resulted in a great gift for the church. The Gospel of Luke by Amy-Jill Levine and Ben Witherington III is the first commentary of its kind. Amy-Jill provides a Jewish voice and Ben a Christian voice as they engage in a stimulating discussion with the Gospel. I like the way they say it “Ours is not a debating commentary; ours is a ‘come let us reason together and talk’ commentary.”
I have not yet read it in its entirety. But what I have read I find fascinating. The approach is novel. It is helpful for a critical reading of the text but not only that, this approach is helpful as a way of living. While it is important to express conflicting views rather than pretend they do not exist, they are able to maintain some sense of sensibility. The authors prefer to dialogue with respect for the text, for those who listen to the text, and for one another. Although they differ often, they exhibit a working friendship with peacemaking as a goal. I love the way they say this “Biblical studies should not be a contact sport, with its own sections of cheerleaders.” For me, it comes across as (apologies to Amy-Jill) a very Christian effort.
Amy-Jill and Ben refer to the author as “Luke” without making a serious attempt to identify this “Luke.” They agree that “Luke” writes sometime during the second or third generation of Jesus followers. They agree that the Gospel is written to an ideal audience known as “Theophilus.” This recipient has insider information and already knows something about Jesus. Theophilus is a gentile who is familiar with Jewish scripture and has sympathy for the Roman presence.
Just as they make no strong effort to identify who “Luke” or “Theophilus” are, they do not discuss at length potential sources or synoptic relationships. Instead, they emphasize the text, which they would both encourage to be read out loud. Finally, both Amy-Jill and Ben agree that Luke writes with an agenda. And that is “to show how Jesus of Nazareth is the world’s preeminent teacher, healer, and savior who should be heeded, imitated, and finally worshipped.”
Perhaps what both authors want most is for readers to feel as if they are invited into the conversation.