The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, jointly called Luke-Acts, have long been recognized as the single work in two volumes of an author with a distinctive understanding of the origins of Christianity. Luke Timothy Johnson has written the commentaries on booth books for the Sacra Pagina series. He has treated them as a literary unity, and chosen the progression of the narrative as his interpretive tool, almost to the complete exclusion of historical-critical concerns. With rhetorical flair he can declare (p. 362), "We ask not about the facts of history but about the meaning of narrative." This approach to understanding particularly suits the study of Luke-Acts. Luke appears to have believed in the persuasive power of narrative, as evidenced by the Gospel prologue (proposing to present an "orderly account"). Not so evident is that Luke's literary art, used so successfuly to communicate his religious perceptions, stamps the whole composition. It has taken the efforts of scholars like Johnson, Robert Tannehill and Joel Green, among others, to bring it out, for which all interested readers should be grateful. The selective remarks below have to do with Luke-Acts as a whole. My review of Sacra Pagina Volume 5 is a brief recap.
Johnson has classified Luke-Acts as an apologetic work in the form of historical narrative--not in defence of Paul or of the Christian movement within the Roman Empire, as some have supposed, but of God's faithfulness to his promises and his people. The early chapters of Acts are crucial to Johnson's interpretation of the whole. He reads the perspective of Acts 1-7 back into the Gospel story and forward to the remainder of Acts. In the Lukan drama God acts in the world to form a "people after his name," and the offer is universal. God indeed had been faithful to the Jews (or the people--Greek "laos"--which in Luke's idiom usually means God's people) and had acted to "restore" them, as the events concentrated in Jerusalem show. Those who rejected the good news cut themselves off from the blessings. Only after establishing that understanding does Luke move on to narrate the Gentile mission. The Christian movement was a continuation of the biblical story.
Many scholars have thought of Luke's composition as an account of salvation history. Johnson does not deny the idea but sees the main story line as that of the Prophet and the people. From beginning to end he relentlessly brings out the prophetic structure of the narrative, first as concerning the words and deeds of Jesus, then of the apostles in their capacity as Jesus' prophetic successors richly gifted with the Spirit. The principal OT model is Moses; his prophetic career of sending and rejection, especially as sketched in Stephen's speech (Acts 7), is paralleled by that of Jesus and the apostles. The death and resurrection of Jesus, and the words of the resurrected Messiah (Luke 24), throw light on the Scriptures and offer the key to interpreting them. As Johnson sees it, "that which is written about me has a fulfillment" (Luke 22:37, author's translation) is a "stark statement" that "stands as a summary of Luke's view concerning Jesus." (p. 349.)
The disciples' recounting of the resurrection appearances (Luke 24) and the accounts of Cornelius' conversion (Acts 10, 11, 15) stand out as examples of narration in Luke's scheme of things. Johnson's astute observation is that the telling and retelling of what had happened, with accompanying interpretations, provided the basis for discernment, and not only became "communal narrative," but began to form the believing community itself.
The commentary is arranged in discrete sections, each consisting of the author's own translation of the Greek, followed by notes, an interpretation, and a brief bibliography. The notes combine the technical notes and the verse by verse exposition found in other commentary formats. The many references to Hellenistic literature identify Luke's cultural milieu and place his writing within it. In terms of content and the space they occupy, the notes constitute a very important part of the commentary. But it is in the interpretation subsections that Johnson's Luke-Acts shows the most vigor. Here he does not use many words, and he does not have to. He makes almost every paragraph tell as it contributes to building an overall picture of what Luke was up to when he composed his masterwork. Each discrete section has meaning in itself, but Johnson has avoided an atomistic study of the text by relating sections to each other, pointing out recurring themes and, best of all, showing how the various vignettes accomplish Luke's literary and religious goals.
I recommend getting both commentaries and reading them in sequence. But note this: neither volume has a subjects index, something to be regretted in works so rich in content. The four-star rating is my assessment of each commentary standing by itself--taken together they rate more, for sheer consistency in demonstrating (1) the prophetic structure of Luke-Acts, (2) the overarching theme of God's faithfulness to his redemptive purpose, (3) how each part relates to the whole, and (4) that Acts continues the Gospel narrative, confirms it, and provides the key to interpreting it.