A THEOLOGY OF LUKE AND ACTS: GOD’S PROMISED PROGRAM, REALIZED FOR ALL NATIONS, by Darrell L. Bock

Published on January 29, 2018 by Joshua R Monroe

Zondervan, 2012 | 495 pages

Reviewed by Gregory E. Lamb

 

Introduction

A Theology of Luke and Acts is Darrell Bock’s entry into the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series (hereafter BTNT) edited by Andreas Köstenberger. Other contributors in this series include: David Garland (A Theology of Mark’s Gospel), Andreas Köstenberger (A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters), and Peter Davids (A Theology of James, Peter, and Jude). Bock (Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary) earned his doctorate under the late Lukan scholar I. H. Marshall at Aberdeen (Bock’s dissertation was entitled, “Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern: Lucan Old Testament [hereafter OT] Christology,” 1982), and has written a host of works on Luke-Acts including the two-volume commentary on Luke (1994–96) and single volume on Acts (2007) in the BECNT series. Given Bock’s expertise in Luke-Acts—especially his dissertation focus in intertextual Lukan studies—Bock is well qualified to contribute this volume on Luke-Acts in the BTNT series.

According to Köstenberger’s preface (p. 19), the purpose of the BTNT series is to “make a significant contribution to the study of the major interrelated themes of Scripture in a holistic, context-sensitive, and spiritually-nurturing manner.” The BTNT series will ultimately consist of “eight distinct volumes covering the entire New Testament” (hereafter NT). Each work in the BTNT series is to contain five common features: (1) a survey of recent scholarship and of the state of research; (2) a treatment of relevant introductory issues; (3) a thematic commentary following the narrative flow of the document(s); (4) a treatment of important individual themes; and lastly, (5) discussions of the relationship between a particular writing and the rest of the Scripture. There are three main contributions that the BTNT series hopes to make in biblical studies: (1) to the study of the individual writings (specifically); (2) to the study of Scripture (more generally); and lastly, (3) the BTNT series hopes to make a methodological contribution in “showing how biblical theology [hereafter BT] ought to be conducted” (p. 19, emphasis added).

 

Thesis, Purpose, Methodology, Audience, and Scope

Bock’s thesis is conspicuously placed at the end of his first chapter, “Luke-Acts seeks to show that the coming of Jesus, Christ, and Son of God launched the long-promised new movement of God…. In the ancient world, it is not that which is new that is valuable but that which is old. Thus, Luke explains that this seemingly new movement is actually rooted in old promises and in a design that God promised and now has executed through Jesus, the sent promised one of God” (p. 29).

Because Luke-Acts has often been bifurcated due to the study of the Synoptic Gospels as a collective unit, and the manuscript transmission of the early church, which “distinguished between the gospels and the history of the early church” (p. 28), the purpose of Bock’s work is to “reconnect the volumes [Luke-Acts] to each other and to tell Luke’s theological story in which one cannot see Jesus without understanding the story of the community that he was responsible for launching” (p. 28). This is refreshing as this reviewer’s initial assumption regarding the title of this book (Luke and Acts, rather than Luke-Acts) was that Bock was implicitly focusing on each of the individual works as distinct pieces of literature having no implied literary or theological unity (so M. Parsons and R. Pervo, 1993). Rather, contra Parsons and Pervo, Bock sees both works as a cohesive, united literary and theological whole (pp. 31–32, n. 1, 60).

Bock describes his methodology in three chief ways: (1) to discuss key introductory issues (esp. the question of literary unity); (2) to present the theology of Luke-Acts in steps (beginning with the major topics Luke treats); and (3) to synthesize the results in taking “a closer look at specific verses and the exegetical issues tied to the theme at that point” (p. 29). Such an inductive study seeks to place the text first, rather than beginning with a presupposed conception of what Luke-Acts is trying to convey. However, no research is truly devoid of presuppositional baggage (Vorgriff), which informs our mode of accessing (Zugangsart) of the biblical text as M. Heidegger has shown (Heidegger, 1927).

The audience of the BTNT series is targeted at upper-college and seminary-level students of NT theology (hereafter NTT), interpretation, and exegesis. Although pastors, informed laity, and discerning theology readers should also benefit from this series. All Greek terms include both the Greek font as well as its transliterated form. This is (in this reviewer’s opinion) a superior method to strictly proffering the transliteration only, as both the advanced and beginning scholar can access and engage the material in the way that is most familiar/helpful to them.

Regarding the scope of A Theology of Luke and Acts, Bock does offer a succinct summary of the debate for the unity of Luke-Acts in Chapter 3 (pp. 55–61), and meets the remaining four criteria listed by Köstenberger in his preface. Bock covers the relevant introductory issues of Luke-Acts in Chapter 2; Bock offers a thematic commentary following the narrative outline of Luke-Acts in Chapters 4–11; a treatment of important individual themes in Luke-Acts is given in Chapters 12–21; and lastly, Bock discusses the relationship between Luke-Acts and the rest of Scripture in Chapter 22.

 

Structure and Chapter Surveys

Bock’s work is divided into three main parts: (1) introductory matters; (2) major theological themes; and (3) Luke and the canon. Within these three parts are twenty-three chapters that treat a host of topics including: the lacuna of scholarship on Luke-Acts within biblical studies (ch. 1); a brief survey of the introductory matters of Luke-Acts with a special focus on literary unity (chs. 2–4); a treatment of Luke’s major theological themes in narrative order from theology proper, Luke’s Christology, pneumatology, soteriology, anthropology, ecclesiology, to eschatology, intertextuality and Luke’s use of Scripture (chs. 5–21); the integration of Luke-Acts with the rest of the canon of Scripture (ch. 22), and Bock’s concluding remarks (ch. 23). More specifically, in chapter 22, Bock investigates the reception of Luke-Acts into the canon (pp. 432–33), Luke’s contribution to the canon (pp. 433–38), Luke’s parallels with other parts of the NT (pp.439–43), and the issue of descriptivity and prescriptivity (or as Bock labels it, “normativity”) within Luke-Acts for the church today (pp. 444–45). Bock concludes his book with six theses regarding Luke’s theology: (1) the major motif in Luke-Acts is that Jesus’s coming represents the inauguration and culmination of YHWH’s “program of promise” (p. 448) first introduced to Israel through the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and the offer of a new covenant in texts such as Jeremiah 31–32 and Ezekiel 37; (2) Israel’s story includes the nations, and is not-anti-Semitic; (3) Luke’s pneumatology is the sign of a new era of empowerment; (4) salvation and identity are tied to Jesus’s work; (5) Luke-Acts implicitly tell a trinitarian story; and lastly, (6) the events depicted in Luke-Acts are the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures (pp. 448–50). Bock also includes a sixteen-page bibliography (pp. 453–68), and helpful Scripture, subject, and author indices (pp. 469–95).

 

Strengths and Contribution to the Academy and Church

In terms of strengths, Bock argues his thesis well, and offers a compelling, lucid argument for Luke-Acts being the continuation of Scripture’s portrayal of “the mighty God who saves” (p. 450). Moreover, YHWH’s active participation in salvation history is continued in Luke-Acts through the person of Jesus Christ. A Theology of Luke and Acts rightly argues that Luke-Acts should be read both vertically as Luke and Acts as well as horizontally as Luke-Acts. More importantly, Bock maintains the literary and theological unity of Luke-Acts against scholars (so Pervo) who would bifurcate the narrative unity between Luke’s two volumes (pp. 60–61). The “battle for the hyphen” in Luke-Acts was seemingly won with the publication to H. Cadbury’s classic monograph, The Making of Luke-Acts (1927), and Bock stands firm in documenting the literary integrity of Luke-Acts. Bock is also correct in both lamenting the dearth of scholarship on Luke-Acts (in comparison to the other gospels and the Pauline corpus), and in seeing the place of primacy that the 2,157 verses contained in Luke-Acts (27.1 percent of the NT) has in terms of NTT specifically, and biblical studies in general (pp. 27–28).

The strongest feature of A Theology of Luke and Acts is Part Two (Bock’s presentation of the major theological themes within Luke-Acts). This feature is where the BTNT series really shines, and makes an important contribution to scholarship as well as a beneficial, pragmatic contribution to both students and busy pastors wishing to have a more fully-orbed understanding of Lukan theology. Bock also offers an excellent discussion on Lukan pneumatology, and traces Luke’s development of the Holy Spirit as the empowering agent of the church throughout Luke-Acts. Bock serves the church well in helpfully summarizing the key motifs throughout Luke-Acts—thus, providing busy pastor, seminary students, and teachers a comprehensive, trusted resource that they will return to time and again in teaching through Luke-Acts.

 

Concluding Evaluation of A Theology of Luke and Acts

In sum, A Theology of Luke and Acts allows its readers to navigate safely into the “storm center” of Lukan theology. Bock’s case for the Lukan contribution for canonical theology is alone worth the price of the book. Bock gives his readers a powerful tool that helps pastors not only to understand the narrative flow of the documents on the macro and micro levels, but also helps readers see how Luke-Acts is inextricable linked thematically. This volume is a must-have for anyone preaching/teaching through Luke-Acts.

 

Gregory E. Lamb, is a Ph.D. candidate in Biblical Studies (ABD) at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC and Pastor of Mays Chapel Baptist Church (SBC) in Bear Creek, NC.

Buy the books

A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations

Zondervan, 2012 | 495 pages