Last year, under the editorial direction of Andreas Kostenberger, Zondervan began the Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series. The first installment was Kostenberger’s contribution A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. The BTNT series seeks to provide a biblical theology of the entire NT in eight volumes with a biblical/thematic approach.
This year the next volume is A Theology of Luke and Acts by well known Luke commentator Darrell Bock. Darrell Bock has written a few other books on Luke and Acts: Luke (IVP), Luke (NIVAC), Luke (BECNT), and Acts (BECNT). A Theology of Luke and Acts is not a commentary but rather a thematic look at the biblical theology of Luke and Acts as a literary unit.
Purpose of Luke-Acts
The essential purpose for Luke-Acts is “to show that the coming of Jesus, Christ, and Son of God launched the long-promised new movement of God. The community that has come from his ministry, the suffering these believers experienced, and the inclusion of Gentiles are part of God’s program promised in Scripture” (p. 29). According to Bock, Theophilus needed assurance that this new movement (Christianity) was a legitimate work of God given the amount of persecution it underwent. Luke assures him that the persecution is not a judgment of God but rather part of the plan of God to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations.
Unity of Luke-Acts
There has been a long history in regards to the unity of Luke and Acts. Bock’s argument is that Luke and Acts are to be read together, as was intended by Luke. After handling the objections to the unity of the two books Bock responds with the argument that Luke and Acts are to be viewed as Luke-Acts on the basis of literary and theological grounds rather than their shared authorship (p. 60). Two of the literary aspects that point to their unity are the beginning of both books (Lk. 1:1-4; Acts 1) and the clear connection between Luke 24 and Acts 1. “The two volumes link together in the telling of the ascension, which concludes Luke and also begins the book of Acts” (p. 65). One of the other subtle literary pointers to their unity is the geographical movement of the books. Luke begins in Jerusalem and Acts ends in Rome (p. 66). In regards to the theological point of unity, well, that’s the main content of the book. In each chapter Bock discusses the contribution of both books towards the biblical theological theme discussed. Through the pairing of these books side by side the theological unity of the books clearly shines through.
Biblical Thelogical Themes
The bulk of the book is taken up by the intent of the book – to provide a biblical thematic look at Luke-Acts together. In the seventeen chapters dedicated to the major themes in Luke-Acts we see discussion on God as the primary acting agent in the book (chap. 5), Jesus as the promised Messiah and bringer of the new era of salvation (chap. 7), the Holy Spirit (chap. 9), Israel (chap. 12), the church (chap. 14), the law (chap. 18) and eschatology, judgment and hope (chap. 20). With few exceptions, each chapter tackles 2-3 common themes and brings them together through a common thread.
There are a number of elements which Bock utilizes in order to discuss the many themes within Luke-Acts:
- Infancy Material of Luke – Perhaps the predominate and driving lens through which Bock sees and draws out the various biblical theological themes of Luke-Acts is in the infancy material of Luke 1-2. Chapter after chapter Bock anchors his discussion within Luke’s infancy material. It is truly the bedrock for the various theological themes in both books.
- Israel and the Church – As a Progressive Dispensationalist (though he never mentions this in the book) Bock is committed to the position that since the OT promises were given to national Israel they will be fulfilled to a reconstituted national Israel. However, this does NOT mean Gentiles will not partake in these blessing and promises. In fact, from the beginning with God’s promises to Abraham they were always in view as being recipients of God’s promises and blessings. Though it shows up from time to time throughout the book, Bock primarily fleshes out his view of how this works out in the chapters on Israel (chap. 12), the Gentiles nations (chap. 13) the church (chap. 14) and ecclesiology (chap. 19).
- Word Studies – One way in which Bock picks out the major theological themes is by observing the dominate words used by Luke in both books. Here Bock provides a great example for the reader on the proper use of word studies. For instance, in chapter ten on salvation, Bock discusses all of uses of the sozo word group.
- OT Background – A reading through of any chapter will alert the reader to the fact that Bock sees Luke-Acts as having their roots in the OT. This is one of the great strengths of the book. As Bock discusses in the book, it is this anchoring in the OT which Bock uses to show that Luke believed what God was doing through Christ, during and after his life on earth, was rooted in the OT plan of God for all nations.
- Continuity of Themes in Both Books – As each chapter bears out, Bock begins with the theme under discussion in Luke and then moves to Acts. It is here that the theological unity of the books shines through. What Luke begins in his gospel he continues in Acts.
In Bock’s words, the canonical theological contribution of Luke-Acts is that it “presents the continuity of Israel’s story with the new era that Jesus brought and the new community that his ministry generated” (p. 447). Though much of national Israel rejected Jesus and His message, many still believed and God did not reject His people. There was a remnant that believed (which is typical of believing Israel in the OT). In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is continuing to pursue His people and spread the gospel to all nations.
A Theology of Luke and Acts is a very readable biblical theology of Luke-Acts. Bock has done a great job synthesizing the biblical theological themes that no doubt run through his commentaries. Though not a commentary, this is an essential book along side Bock’s, or any other commentator’s book on Luke and Acts, as it gives the reader the big picture of what Luke wrote to Theophilus and for us. It is clearly organized, exegetically mindful, OT rooted, eye-opening and lay friendly.
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