Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Case for the Unity of Luke-Acts (Review: A Theology of Luke and Acts)

A Theology of Luke and Acts: God's Promised Program, Realized for All Nations. By Darrel L. Bock. Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series. Ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. pp. 496. 2012. ($39.99 Print)

Zondervan is bringing out a new eight-volume series on biblical theology, which looks at a given book or books from the New Testament in light of the theology it contains in light of the whole New Testament. It’s somewhat thematic in its approach and aims to identify the unique contributions of each biblical writing to the canon of Scripture and the doctrines we hold to.

Since reading through and reviewing a work of this size is better suited to a multi-page report, I’m going to touch on one chapter, share my thoughts on it, and give my general impression of this work. The full table of contents and a few pages from chapter two are available online for viewing.

Chapter 3, The Case for the Unity of Luke-Acts and Reading the Volumes as Luke-Acts and as Luke and Acts
In chapter three Bock makes an argument for viewing Luke and Acts as a unified literary and theological message. Much debate has arisen in recent years over Luke’s original intention regarding the two books. Did he intend to write a two-volume work from the outset, or did Acts come about later? Ultimately, what was going on in the mind of Luke is something we will never know, but Bock suggests there are enough links between the two books to show Luke was planning Acts from the beginning.

I was fairly convinced already of Bock’s position prior to reading the chapter, and I find the arguments regarding the parallel structures of Luke and Acts. Bock points out such things as the prominence of Rome at the beginning of Luke and the end of Acts, parallels between the miracles of Jesus and those of Peter and Paul, and the development of theme surrounding the inclusion of the Gentiles in the believing community as evidences for their unity.

Yet even if one does not agree, Bock makes a strong case for reading Luke and Acts as unified and also as distinct. Structurally, thematically, and theologically, there is a lot of overlap. Thus it is not inappropriate to swing back and forth from Luke to Acts while discussing topics such as Israel, Gentiles, women, or persecution. Each supports and builds upon the other. Yet the longstanding history of separating the books in the arrangement of the New Testament reminds us that there are two volumes for a reason. The first describes the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. The second describes the birth and growth of the New Covenant community by means of the proclamation about Jesus. There is value in both approaches, so neither one should be abandoned.

Why not a commentary?
Since there are many commentaries available on both Luke and Acts, what is the value of this book on the theology of Luke and Acts? For one, this book treats the two books together in order to trace out the themes common to both, thus bringing special emphasis to topics such as the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s covenant community (which Bock obviously sees as one of the most important themes). Secondly, this book gives us a better look at the place of Luke and Acts in the canon of Scripture and their unique contribution to our theology.

I am encouraged by what I’ve read thus far, and I believe works like this will help us to more faithfully grasp and apply the truths of Scripture. Anything that gives us a better understanding of the purpose and message of a book of the Bible will make us better at understanding and applying the Bible’s message as a whole to our lives rather than emphasizing only what strikes a chord with our own emphases instead.

I received a copy of this book from Zondervan for the purpose of review.

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