The InterVarsity Press Background Bible Commentary add helpful cultural insights for passages in the Bible. An example is the notes on Luke 6.27-36.
6:27. The Old Testament specifically commanded love of neighbor (Lev 19:18), but no one commanded love of enemies.
6:28. Although Jesus (23:34) and his followers (Acts 7:60) practiced this rule of blessing and praying for enemies, prayers for vindication by vengeance were common in the Old Testament (2 Chron 24:22; Ps 137:7–9; Jer 15:15; cf. Rev 6:10) and in ancient execration (magical curse) texts.
6:29. The blow on the right cheek was the most grievous insult in the ancient Near East. The clothing in the verse refers to the outer and inner cloak, respectively; the poorest of people (like the average peasant in Egypt) might have only one of each; thus here Jesus refers, perhaps in hyperbolic images, to absolute nonresistance on one’s own behalf.
6:30. Here Jesus may allude to beggars, quite common in the ancient East, and poorer people seeking loans. In Jewish Palestine beggars were usually only those in genuine need, and most were unable to work; farmers generally sought loans to plant crops. Jewish society emphasized both charity and responsibility.
6:31. In its negative form (“Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you”), this was a common ethical saying in the ancient world.
6:32–33. Ideas like loving enemies and lending without hoping to receive again were unheard of, although many Pharisees advocated peace with the Roman state (at least, tolerating enemies in some sense).
6:34–35. In the Roman world, interest rates sometimes ran as high as 48 percent, but the Old Testament forbade usury, or charging interest. Because many Jewish creditors feared that they would lose their investment if they lent too near the seventh year (when the law required cancellation of all debts), they stopped lending then, hurting the small farmers who needed to borrow for planting. Jewish teachers thus found a way to circumvent this law so the poor could borrow so long as they repaid. Jesus argues that this practice should not be necessary; those with resources should help those without, whether or not they would lose money by doing so.
Biblical laws about lending to the poor before the year of release (Deut 15:9; every seventh year debts were forgiven; cf. Lev 25) support Jesus’ principle here, but Jesus goes even farther in emphasizing unselfish giving. Although the law limited selfishness, Jesus looks to the heart of the law and advocates sacrifice for one’s neighbor. A good man’s “sons” were expected to exemplify their father’s character; thus God’s children should act like him.
6:36. That human mercy should reflect God’s mercy became a common Jewish saying (e.g., the Letter of Aristeas 208; rabbis). “Merciful” may reflect the same Aramaic word translated “perfect” in Matthew 5:48.
6:37. “Judge,” “condemn” and “pardon” are all the language of the day of judgment, prefigured in God’s current reckonings with his people (e.g., on the Day of Atonement).
6:38. The image here is of a measuring container into which as much grain as possible is packed; it is then shaken to allow the grain to settle, and more is poured in till the container overflows. Pouring it “into the lap” refers to the fold in the garment used as a pocket or pouch. Because Jewish people sometimes used “they” as a way of avoiding God’s name, here “they will pour” (NASB) may mean that God will do it; or the idea may be that God will repay a person through others. The Old Testament often speaks of God judging people according to their ways (e.g., Is 65:7). Proverbs and other texts speak of his blessings toward the generous (e.g., Deut 15:10; Prov 19:17; 22:9; 28:8).
Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament (Lk 6:27–38). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
This is in contrast with a more traditional commentary like The Bible Exposition Commentary.
Luke 6. 27-38
We must not look at these admonitions as a series of rules to be obeyed. They describe an attitude of heart that expresses itself positively when others are negative, and generously when others are selfish, all to the glory of God. It is an inner disposition, not a legal duty. We must have wisdom to know when to turn the other cheek and when to claim our rights (John 18:22–23; Acts 16:35–40). Even Christian love must exercise discernment (Phil. 1:9–11).
Two principles stand out: we must treat others as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31), which assumes we want the very best spiritually for ourselves; and we must imitate our Father in heaven and be merciful (Luke 6:36). The important thing is not that we are vindicated before our enemies but that we become more like God in our character (Luke 6:35). This is the greatest reward anyone can receive, far greater than riches, food, laughter, or popularity (Luke 6:24–26). Those things will one day vanish, but character will last for eternity. We must believe Matthew 6:33 and practice it in the power of the Spirit.