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Cover image: “Greatest in the Kingdom,” by J. Kirk Richards.
The Interview: There are four books in the New Testament that tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. Each one does it quite differently. The gospel of Luke is related to the gospel of Mark—it appears to use Mark as its foundation—but changes Mark’s stories in specific ways and adds many others.
Kent Brown spent years teaching and studying the New Testament and especially the gospel of Luke. He has written and published a hefty commentary on it—more than 1,200 pages—that deeply explores every element of Luke’s unique messages, language, theology, and priorities. As part of the BYU New Testament Commentary series, Brown’s book, The Testimony of Luke, offers insights and discoveries unique to the Latter-day Saint culture. In this episode of the LDS Perspective podcast, guest interviewer David A. LeFevre discusses some of these unique elements.
As one of the founders of the New Testament Commentary series, Brown shares how the project began, including challenges to getting it off the ground. The Luke volume was the culmination of twenty years of teaching and even more years of research and writing. He chose Luke because of the book’s “flavor,” which he describes as “sweet and deep.” Each volume includes a “rendition” of the text from Greek into English, not to compete with the King James Version, as Brown explains, but providing enrichment through an alternate reading and “a layer of modernity.”
Luke portrays a compassionate Christ. For example, he is in Capernaum but makes it to Nain early the next day, a distance of about thirty miles. Brown describes how a woman there was mourning the loss of her only son, but she was a woman of no real consequence, from the world’s perspective. Her tragedy was one that would be soon forgotten, but Jesus woke the disciples in the middle of the night in order to arrive just in time for the funeral procession that was coming out of the city. Jesus has great compassion on this widow, going out of his way to lift her burden.
Jesus’ unique stories in Luke focus on money and property, perhaps because those were important to Luke the author before his conversion but became less important through the messages of Jesus. Brown determined to also have a home and family-centric focus in the commentary, taking his lead from Luke’s own efforts to do that. The gospel starts with a family story—Zacharias and Elizabeth and their new son, John—and then continues with another family—Mark, Joseph, and their baby Jesus.
The commentary provides ties to Restoration scriptures throughout the volume. Highlighting ties of Lukan stories to the Doctrine and Covenants, including the parable of the widow and the unjust judge and the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, we see the influence of Luke on that book of modern scripture. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible was consulted and used as a doctrinal and historical commentary.
Brown’s unique contributions to our understanding of Luke are many, bringing in linguistic, cultural, and theological understanding. The podcast presents insights from the volume, benefitting from Brown’s personal style, passion, and poetic storytelling, though the interested listener will want to pick up the whole volume to get the full benefit.
Our Guest: Kent Brown is an emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and was twice the director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, as well as the director of FARMS and member of the executive council of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He taught at BYU from 1971 to 2008. From 1988 to 1992, he was a member of the board of editors for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. He has worked on archaeological teams in Egypt, Israel, and Oman, including as a fellow of the American Research Center in Egypt, where he worked on ostraca at the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. He is the author of the BYU New Testament Commentary volume, The Testimony of Luke, and is currently working on another volume on Ephesians.