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The Gospels and Acts
                           The main teaching points of this section are:
W. Barclay

New Testament              1.    Some scholars have tried to relate Luke's purpose to the
                                 person of Theophilus
R. Martin

New Testament              2.    Four main views are discussed;
Introduction                     An anti Gnostic Gospel
D. Guthrie                       An explanation of the delayed parousia
                                 An apology
New Testament
W G Kummel                       Historical and theological purpose

                                 FOCUS ON      IT
                                   Was Luke responding to the specific
                                   needs of the Christian community or was
                                   his purpose more general?

                       1 LUKE'S PREFACE

                       a        Introduction

                       Luke prefaces his Gospel with an exordium, a literary device employed by
TAKE                   Greek writers of his era (e.g., Josephus, Against Apion 1.1; 2.1). There are
NOTE                   several reasons for believing that Luke intended this prologue to cover
                       both the Gospel and the Acts. It was the custom in antiquity to divide long
Luke's preface         works into volumes and to provide a preface for the entire work and
folowed the            secondary prefaces to later volumes. The 'in my former book,'of Acts 1:1
                       probably refers to the Third Gospel. Both books are dedicated to the same
conventions of
                       person, Theophilus. And the phrase “the things accomplished among us”
his day
                       (Luke 1:1) is more applicable to the events related in Acts.

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                        b    Identity of Theophilus

                        Some scholars link Luke’s purpose to his dedication to Theophilus. These
 TAKE                   relate closely to the identity of Theophilus.
 NOTE                   q     Cadbury suggests that he was an influential non-Christian, but that
Some scholars have            the work is addressed to the educated class in general.
suggested that the
purpose of Luke's       q     Streeter proposed that Theophilus was a name invented to cloak the
Gospel is linked to
                              identity of Titus Flavius Clemens, cousin of the Emperor Domitian
the    person      of
                              and a probable inquirer of Christianity, who was put to death on a
Theophilus. If he
could be identified,          religious charge. For him Theophilus, meaning “lover of God” or
this may help in dis-         “friend of God,” would be an appropriate pseudonym.
covering Luke's pur-
pose in writing.        q     Bruce concludes is that he was a representative of the middle-class
                              public in Rome whom Luke wanted to win over to a more favourable
                              view of Christianity.

                        q     Theophilus was a recent convert, or at least a catechumen, and
                              thus a representative of Christians.

                        q     There are those who argue that, whether or not he was a Christian,
                              Theophilus was Luke’s patron, and he defrayed the costs of
                              publishing Luke-Acts.

                        The intention of the Gospel and Acts, as derived from Luke’s statement in
                        this dedication, depends on the explanation given for the identity of

                        q      Marxsen postulates, that Luke is consciously presenting his book
                              to the educated public, but the details of the prologue should not be
                              pressed too far.

                        q     Others maintain that Luke wants to correct misinformation about

                        q     Still others see his goal as confirming and supplementing
                              Theophilus’ knowledge about the historical basis of

                        However, as it is unlikely that Theophilus’s identity can be truly known it is
                        necessary to examine Luke’s work in its entirety in order to determine his

                                                                                            page 2
                       2 LUKE'S PURPOSE
                       A number of suggestions have been offered regarding Luke’s theological
                       purpose. We are going to look at four possible purposes

                       a    An Anti Gnostic Gospel

                       (C.H. Talbert )
 TAKE                  Talbert puts forward the idea, “that Luke-Acts was written for the express
 NOTE                  purpose of serving as a defence against Gnosticism.’’ Luke appeals to
                       apostolic authority in three ways to counter Gnosticism.
Talbert suggests
that Luke's gospel     q     The motif of authentic witness—particularly to Jesus’ death, burial,
was written to               resurrection, and ascension—is a protection against a docetic
counter the threat           tendency.
from Gnosticism.
In his defense of      q     In the face of Gnostic misinterpretation of Scripture, Luke appealed
Christianity he              to the apostles’ legitimate exegesis of the Old Testament.
appeals to apostolic
authority.             q     The motif of the succession of tradition of eyewitnesses assured
                             “the guarantee of the truth of the church’s proclamation in the midst
                             of Gnostic distortions of the gospel.’’

                       While Talbert raises a number of new possibilities in the interpretation of
                       Lukan literature, Ralph Martin suggests that it is unlikely that the purpose
                       of Luke-Acts can be viewed simply as a defence against Gnosticism.
                       For example, Talbert concludes that within Luke there is a failure to
                       understand Scripture correctly in that;

                       *     Jesus was the Christ;
                       *     it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead;
                       *      there will be a general resurrection.

                       Gnosis, he claims, denied these three points. But why does he believe that
                       these three points need to fit one problem? Luke could have directed his
                       attention against the orthodox Jews, who would have denied that Christ
                       was Jesus and that the Christ should suffer.

                       b    The Delay f the Parousia

                       (Hans Conzelmann)
                       Conzelmann’s suggestion is that Luke’s aim was to respond to the
                       embarrassing delay of the parousia. According to Conzelmann, Luke has
                       reconstructed his sources to eliminate the concept of an imminent
                       parousia. Since the imminence of the end was the most important factor
                       in the kerygma, Luke offered an alternative to explain the delay of the
                       parousia—a history of salvation, which unfolds in three distinct stages:

                                                                                         page 3
                             q                the period of Israel,

 TAKE                        q                the period of Jesus’ ministry
                             q                the age of the church.
Luke wrote to ex-
plain why Jesus had
not returned. He       Matin is not convinced by this view, as Conzelmann does not show that
proposes 3 stages in   the delay of the parousia was at the time of Luke a problem which
salvation.             needed resolution. “The motif,” Ellis notes, “could hardly have originated
Some scholars sug-     as a solution inspired by embarrassment or disappointment about Jesus’
gest that the delay    continued absence, since it appears before there was time to get embar-
in the parousia was    rassed.” The delay motif in Luke more likely serves the purpose “to counter
not a problem that     an overeager or false anticipation of the parousia.’’
needed to be ad-
dressed in Luke's
time.                  c    An Apology

                       It has been suggested that Luke as an apology took one of three forms.

                       q     an apology of Christianity to Rome,
                       q     a defence of Paul against Jewish Christian charges,
                       q     an evangelistic apology.

                       1    B.S. Easton-an apology of Christianity to Rome
                           Writing towards the end of the first century, at a time of impending
                       persecution, Luke wanted to demonstrate that Christianity should be
                       tolerated by the state.
                       His argument was twofold.

                       q     he showed the political innocence of Paul and others (Acts 13—28);
                       q     he sought to demonstrate that Christianity is nothing more nor less
                             than fulfilled Judaism, and as such has a claim to be permitted to
                             exist as a religio licita.

                       But Luke’s argument failed to convince Rome because the Christians
                       remained unconvinced that they were a Jewish sect. Paul had done his
                       work too well. A weakness with this view is that Easton’s thesis applies
                       only for the Acts and the passion story. But even for those sections a
                       political motif is too narrow to account for all the material, which would seem
                       irrelevant to a Roman official.

                       2    Christianity distinct from Judaism
                           T.W. Manson holds that Luke’s purpose is to show that the
                       Christian community is separate from the Jewish community.

                            “From beginning to end Luke-Acts is out to show the width and
                            depth of the breach between Jesus and his Jewish
                            contemporaries, between the Synagogue and the Church.”

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                        Also Luke was interested in showing that “the Christian Gospel was no
                        seditious propaganda but a message of universal peace and goodwill.”
                        A.J. Mattill, Jr. sees in Luke-Acts an apology for Paul against Jewish
                        Christian charges. The evidence for this claim is found in several Lukan
                        features such as;

                        q     the centrality of Jerusalem in the Gospel and Acts,
                        q     the parallels between Paul and Jesus,
                        q     the various anticipations in the Gospel of the life, work, and thought
                              of Paul in Acts.

                        An example of this prefiguring is found in the Good Samaritan pericopae
 TAKE                   in Luke’s Gospel. Accepting Halevy’s thesis that the parable about the
 NOTE                   Good Samaritan in Luke was originally the parable of the Good Israelite,
                        Mattill sees behind this secondary creation a Pauline apologetic purpose.
There are aspects of    By prefiguring the Gentile movement through the evangelisation of Samari-
Luke's gospel which     tans and Gentiles in his Gospel and Acts, Luke is able to show that the
seem to support
                        outreach of the Gospel is grounded in Jesus himself. The Pauline view
Paul's rlationship
                        and practice of evangelisation to the Gentiles is, therefore, buttressed
and activities in the
gentile community.      (given credibility) by its appearance as a theme in Jesus’ teachings.
One has to decide
wheather this is de-    According to Martin, Mattill’s argument is weak at this one point: What
liberate on Luke's      evidence is there to show that Jewish Christianity was a major
part.                   problem at the time of Luke’s writings? The parallels between Jesus
                        and Paul may have been constructed for a pastoral purpose. By showing
                        how a model Christian’s life conforms to that of his Lord, Luke could
                        effectively demonstrate to his congregation the way a Christian should live.

                         3     The evangelisation of the non-Christian world.
                              J.C. O’Neill, dates Luke-Acts in the second century (c. AD 115-30)
                        chiefly because he sees in Acts a Christian “apology,” similar to those
                        of second-century apologists (e.g., Justin, Aristides), and suggests that
                        Luke’s apology “had the burning inner purpose of bringing men to the
                        faith.... The repeated and dramatic demonstration that Christianity was
                        both politically innocent and religiously the true fulfilment of the expecta-
                        tions of Judaism was not a legal but an evangelistic argument.” This
                        evangelistic message was directed to the educated reading public of

                        I. Howard Marshall has suggested that Luke’s main concern was
                        simply to present salvation to his readers. Luke’s work was not written
                        to deal with a particular problem or situation in the church, but rather
                        to aid the church’s task of evangelism. Marshall finds no overt polemic
                        against Gnosticism, no stress on the church as an institution developing
                        rigid forms of organization, and no defence of Paul as a primary aim. Nor
                        was Luke motivated by the delay of the parousia. “It was enough that he
                        should compose this record as a means of evangelism.”

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                       The severely “negative” element in Marshall’s conclusion is perhaps a
                       weakness. since it is arguable that no other New Testament book lacks a
                       definite purpose in its composition and publication.

                       d       Luke as Historian and Theologian

                       The recent tendency has been to view Luke as both historian and
 TAKE                  theologian. Luke wanted to “compile a narrative of the things which have
 NOTE                  been accomplished” but it was a narrative directed to a specific audi-
                       ence from a particular point of view. Several scholars have suggested
There has been a
                       a number of purposes in Luke’s gospel.
trend to view Luke's
purpose as a combi-
nation of history              E. Earle Ellis makes reference to no fewer than three theological
and theology.
                           1   concerns of the church of Luke’s day.

                       q       Luke addresses the dehistoricizing of the gospel events by gnosticizing
                       q       His eschatology provides a corrective for those who viewed the
                               kingdom of God only in terms of an immediate return of Jesus.
                       q       Luke's principal purposeis the relationship of Judaism and

                            William Neil, recognizing that Luke is writing history as a theologian
                       2    and a preacher, suggests that he is writing both for the church and
                          for the world, “and above all for the Church in the world.... He is thinking
                       not only of intelligent enquirers outside the Church who want to know
                       what Christianity is all about, but also of intelligent enquirers inside the
                       Church who want to know how it all began. Searching for some sort of
                       “umbrella” term or terms to label Luke’s purpose in Acts,

                             Stephen G. Wilson describes Luke’s aim as “a combination of
                            historical and practical elements.” Luke wanted to write history,
                       “but history that had a message for his contemporaries.” Therefore, he
                       concludes, Luke’s primary interest was practical. Wilson’s discussion of
                       Luke’s purpose seems to offer the most satisfactory solution. This, we
                       suggest, is to be found in terms of Luke’s general interest rather than his
                       attention to some specific circumstance or set of circumstances.
                       Ralph Martin suggests that Luke’s role as a Gospel writer and historian
                       might be can be best understood if we view Luke as a “pastor.” Luke’s
                       purpose is seen not primarily in his desire to chronicle events of the past
                       (though he does evince some interest in constructing a “life of Jesus”), nor
                       is he above all a theologian, chiefly concerned to use historical records as
                       a polemical vehicle to rebut heresy or to edify the church of his day. His
                       main interest is to aid the church in his lifetime by proclaiming the
                       kerygma and by offering pastoral counsel and encouragement to his
                       fellow believers who, to be sure, may well have needed some corrective
                       teaching and have required a fresh retelling of the earthly life of their Lord.

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Luke's pastoral concern ca be seen in the way;

q    he assembles the traditions at his disposal,

q    the use he makes of liturgical and catechetical elements (in ch. 1, 2,
     and 7—the sermon on the plain),

q    the prominence he ascribes to the character of the earthly Jesus as
     man among men,

q    he emphasises the Jesus-tradition on those elements which figured
     so prominently in Paul’s kerygmatic message, e.g., the kindness and
     compassion of God in Christ and his offer of free grace to the

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