Luke and Acts, Darrell L. Bock says, is “a very Trinitarian story.” Indeed. The two volumes taken together go a long way to instruct the reader in the mutual relationship God shares as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They also detail the founding of the early church and show how it continued Jesus’ ministry and mission.
The above video is from Zondervan, in promotion of their blog tour of Bock’s new book, A Theology of Luke and Acts. Blog tour participants each select a chapter on which to focus their review, i.e., a major theological theme. (Posts from Round 1 of the tour are all here.)
I focus my review on chapter 16, “How Response to Jesus Divides: The Opponents, the Crowds, and Rome as Observer of Events in Luke-Acts.” Having last semester taken an exegesis course on Mark, I had already become interested in how groups of people could have such radically different responses to the same person and message.
But first, the book more generally.
A Theology of Luke and Acts consists of three parts. Part One briefly addresses introductory matters (context, unity of Luke-Acts, extensive book outlines, etc.). Part Two covers the theology of Luke-Acts. (For the Contents and a sample chapter, see the pdf here.) Part Three then briefly concludes with Luke-Acts’s place in and contribution to the New Testament canon.
Bock makes the case right away for why study of Luke and Acts is important:
The biblical material from Luke-Acts is probably the largest and most neglected portion of the NT. Of the 7,947 verses in the NT, Luke-Acts comprises 2,157 verses, or 27.1 percent. …In addition, only Luke-Acts tells the story of Jesus Christ from his birth through the beginning of the church into the ministry of Paul. This linkage is important, for it gives perspective to the sequence of these events. …So thinking biblically, it is important to keep Luke and Acts together and tell the story of Acts with an eye on Luke.
Bock has spent the last 30 years in Luke and Acts. Many (myself included) consider his Baker commentaries on each book (Luke here; Acts here) to be the standard among recent evangelical Luke-Acts commentaries. Bock writes that this new volume “has allowed me to put together in one place many things I have said before in many distinct volumes.”
The author balances in-depth scholarship (extensive footnotes and a 16-page bibliography give the reader more to explore) with winsome, practical insight into the Biblical text. Of “discipleship and ethics in the new community” (chapter 15), for example, he writes,
Discipleship is both demanding and rewarding. According to Luke, it is people-focused, showing love for God and then treating others with love that parallels the love of the Father. In Acts, one sees little of the church serving itself and much of the church reaching out to those who need the Lord. For Luke, the people in the highly effective early church look outward.
For the preacher, teacher, or student working his or her way through Luke and Acts, this is a book to have at hand.
Chapter 16 addresses “How Response to Jesus Divides: The Opponents, the Crowds, and Rome as Observer of Events in Luke-Acts.” Bock notes that in his pre-Jerusalem ministry, “it is the Pharisees and teachers of the law who interact the most with Jesus among representatives of official Judaism,” often occurring together in Luke as a pair: “Pharisees and teachers of the law” (οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι). The Pharisees, who ridicule, question, and oppose Jesus, are “the key foil for Jesus until he gets to Jerusalem.” At that point, says Bock, “the chief priests and teachers of the law take over that role with much more hostility. …Their opposition is part of the picture of a divided Israel for Luke.” Jesus’ “new way” and claims of authority “brought reaction from those who liked the old wine.”
“Crowds” (ὄχλος), by contrast, “often note Jesus’ presence or press upon him in his ministry” in a non-oppositional way. Noting the blind man’s cry from the crowd of “Son of David” (“a messianic confession of great significance”), Bock says that those “on the fringe” or margins of the crowd are “often more sensitive” to the mission and message of Jesus. Jesus interacts with the crowd, Bock says, as teacher and healer, and yet “the crowd as a group thinks of him only as a prophet (Luke 9:18).” In Acts, the crowds are more easily swayed, “being incited or worked up to oppose the new movement.”
Rome is a mixed bag. “After Jesus, her actions protect the Christians from the hostile desires of Jewish leadership, but do so with an injustice that will not recognize their rights or release them.” And yet they are still for Luke “the unseen agent of providence in their acts,” even though they may not be aware of it.
It is easy to imagine Bock’s chapter on varied reactions to Jesus aiding the preacher or teacher, especially one who wants to elaborate on the famous “Who do you say that I am?” question of Jesus. Bock guides the reader through key texts in Luke and Acts to survey various Jewish, crowd, and Roman reactions to Jesus, whose coming, if nothing else, “generated a reaction.”
I can also easily envision someone referring to other similar chapters for a quick yet thorough overview of how Luke treats other theological themes: women and the poor (chapter 17), Israel (chapter 12), salvation (chapters 10 and 11), and so on. A Theology of Luke and Acts is worthy of Bock’s other work on those two texts, and serves as a useful reference guide.
As a blog tour participant, I received a free review copy of the book from Zondervan, but without obligation to write a positive review. The blog tour continues through the end of this week. You can follow it here.