Life Long Reader
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 THEOLOGICAL 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:
1. 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.
2. 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).
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 commentators 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.
When associating biblical scholars with their area of specialty, the realm of Lucan studies (at least in my mind) belongs to Darrell Bock. His two volume commentaries on Luke and one volume on Acts in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series are commonly regarded by conservative evangelical scholars as close to, if not the best available. Bock's acquaintance with the Lucan material is unquestionably deep and his work on the material will most likely be, taken together, his magnum opus contribution to the field of biblical studies. For depth of treatment and faithfulness in scholarship to Luke-Acts as the very Word of God, Bock is arguably the number one draft pick to take if treating the inspired physician's New Testament contributions is your priority.
In 2009, Andreas Kostenberger published the inaugural volume of a series plainly called Biblical Theology of the New Testament. His contribution, which I have not finished reading, addresses a theology of John's Gospel and letters. I found the portion of the book I've read to be helpful. When I saw that Bock would be releasing the next volume in the series on Luke-Acts, I was excited and looked forward to reading a biblical theological treatment of Luke's NT contribution.
I began reading Bock's book, A Theology of Luke and Acts: God's Promised Program, Realized for All Nations, with high hopes. And, altogether, the book doesn't disappoint in providing an encyclopedic treatment of the themes Dr. Bock writes about in his contribution to the BTNT series. The book is, above all things, informative. If you have a question about how Luke addresses a particular matter, consulting this volume could be a first stop for you. That being said, I have to say I found it difficult to make it through the book for the following reasons:
1) As noted, the book is informative. It reads more as a reference volume and less as a contribution to a series that seeks to connect biblical theological dots. This isn't a knock on the book as a matter of content, necessarily. However, it is to say that it's not as engaging as I expected and doesn't provide as many new angles on biblical theology as I expected. I'm certainly not looking for bizarre interpretations of texts, but I was hoping to be helped by a Lucan scholar to string things together in a more memorable way. This, I suggest, is the primary weakness I found with the book.
2) I was hoping to find Bock addressing some of the more controversial issues that find justification in Acts, particularly, from a solid biblical perspective. The explosion of the charismatic movement over the past hundred years has given rise to a generation of Christians who have an understanding of Acts that is largely deficient. It would have been very helpful for Bock to write more (as he does address it somewhat, though, in my opinion, not nearly enough) on the way that Acts functions as a descriptive/prescriptive book in relation to other portions of the Scriptures. That would have probably been the most needed thing to take away from a book like this and I'm disappointed that it wasn't addressed, seeing as there is both a deep pastoral need and it fits within the parameters of a book devoted to addressing Luke's relationship to biblical theology. After reading the book, this would be my primary request for something that wasn't handled and could/should have been.
These things being said, Bock does a fine job of presenting the material and staying in bounds with Luke-Acts. His integrity as a Lucan scholar is clear throughout the book and he doesn't wander into unnecessary territory. Apart from the above, there's not much one can find fault with in this book and it would do any man well who has a responsibility to preach or teach Luke and Acts to get a copy of this book to support that work.
Altogether, Dr. Bock's contribution to the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series was not as enjoyable as I expected, though it wasn't because the book veers off a cliff anywhere. It just wasn't as readable. As a reference volume, the book does a fine job (with the primary exception of my concern regarding the normative nature of Acts, particularly). I would not recommend it as a book to "read through," but rather as a book to "consult," in order to give a healthier perspective on themes in Luke and Acts. Thank you to the folks at Zondervan for providing a complimentary copy without expectation of a positive review.
Joseph T. Cochran
Darrell Bock displays why he is one of the world's foremost Lukan scholars in his recent work A Theology of Luke and Acts. This book is the second installment in Zondervan's Biblical Theology of the New Testament series, which is edited by Andreas J. Kostenberger, who wrote the first book in the series, A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters. If these two tomes of theology boast of what is to come in this series then I expect that we will see this series sitting next to Cambridge's New Testament Theology set on every serious student's of the New Testament shelf.
Very similar to Kostenberger's work, Bock divides his study of Lukes' writings in three parts: Introductory Matters, Major Theological Themes, and Luke and the Canon. With the continued rise of interest in canonical theology, part three of this resource is very welcomed.
As a reference work for students of theology and pastors who are pressed for time, this series offers a detailed table of contents. This is quite helpful for those who are looking for some fact-finding or validation on a particular matter that Luke addresses. For instance, a pastor may swiftly look up the different speeches in Acts (2.4.5, p. 51) or a student may quickly find a survey involving the theme of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts (6.5.7, p. 143; 9, pp. 211-225).
This work also makes for an excellent textbook in the classroom both from a professor's and a student's standpoint. Student's will appreciate how each chapter is between 10-30 pages, making for manageable reading for each class. Professors will appreciate how masterfully Bock organizes the content, especially Part Two, which is the main body of the text.
Part One of A Theology of Luke and Acts covers the importance of Luke-Acts (Chapter 1), the context of these two books (Chapter 2), the unity of Luke-Acts (Chapter 3), and the Outline and Narrative Survey of Luke-Acts (Chapter 4). Chapter three is of a special value. Though this chapter is brief in nature, only seven pages, it sets a tone for the theological study of Luke-Acts. This chapter helps readers understand the approach at which Bock reads, exegetes, and makes theological observations in Luke-Acts. Bock writes, "In viewing this unity in the midst of diverse application of these volumes, we contend that Luke-Acts as well as Luke and Acts is intended to set forth the program of God as delivered through Jesus. The Christ was sent to bring the kingdom and Spirit to people of all nations who embraced his message of promise and deliverance (Bock, p. 60)." This chapter also gives a wonderful introduction to the background and discussion surrounding the unity of Luke-Acts.
Part Two of A Theology of Luke and Acts covers the many theological themes of these two books. Being that Bock covers these various themes over seventeen chapters, it does not seem helpful for me to go into great detail on each of these chapters. However, I will highlight some of my favorite material in Part Two.
I found Chapters 12-14 to be fascinating. These chapters discuss Israel, Gentiles and the expression of "the nations", and the Church/the Way in Luke-Acts. Studying the continuity and discontinuity in God's revelation to God's elect people is always of interest and a great challenge. Bock argues, "Luke's story about Jesus is Israel's story...All through the two volumes, those who preach the message present it as Israel's story and identify with Israel's God and hope. Nothing in any of this shows that Israel has been set aside ( Bock, p. 289)."
Meanwhile, Bock addresses the mixed view that Luke has concerning the Gentiles. Sometimes the book of Luke seems to have positive perspective and then in other places cities are set aside for judgment, and the lifestyle of the Gentiles is rebuked. Yet, the Gentiles play a role of growing significance as we approach Acts and throughout Acts. Bock rightly identifies how the last use of the term in the commission to bring the message of "repentance for forgiveness of sins...to all nations" is pivotal in Luke 24.47. He says, "This is a key part of the story that will drive Acts (Bock, p. 296)." Bock concludes about the Gentiles, "Acts describes how the gospel went out to the Gentiles, who needed salvation because of their association with idolatry. This inclusion did not take place at the expense of mission to Israel but out of it and alongside of it (Bock, p. 300)."
I appreciate how Bock helps us see the purpose of Christ's mission to Israel and the continuation of those efforts as Paul brings the message to Israel faithfully, while extending salvation to all people. Bock discusses how the Church surfaces in the book of Acts. He observes, "What we see is a group developing a distinct identity. They are gathering in various locales, most often in homes, but they also still connect to Israel and her story (Bock, p. 303)." Later he writes, "...the Church is a new entity with connection to old promises...They were a community that formed a new household of God (Bock, 310)." Bock maintains the high importance of the history of God's people, Israel, while emphasizing God's new initiative with the Church.
Part Three of A Theology of Luke and Acts covers the canonical understanding of Luke-Acts. He highlights the unique contributions that Luke-Acts offers to the New Testament and traces the parallels that Luke-Acts share with the other New Testament writings.
I strongly encourage students of the Word to add A Theology of Luke and Acts to their theological library. You may purchase this work here* on Amazon. Students will turn to this source often as they continue to delve into the riches of Luke's message concerning the Kingdom of God displayed in the people of God as seen through the visible Church today.
You are reading this post because Zondervan offered me this book in return for an honest review. Read more book reviews by Joey Cochran at jtcochran.com.
* I receive no benefit from you if purchased through this link.