Studying the Bible rigorously comes with its share of challenges. Though the Bible is able to be understood, some things aren't as plainly stated as others. As the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7) states, "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130).
One challenge the student of the Scriptures faces is properly understanding those elements that appear in both Testaments. The coming of Christ and the work he accomplished often had a profound impact on these Scripturally-pervasive elements and how they were/are to be understood depending on the particular point in salvation history. Looking across the Testaments, it is important to note areas of continuity and discontinuity if we are going to arrive a proper understanding of pan-Scriptural theological matters.
One such element is the Law. How is the Law to be understood and applied at various points in salvation history: During the period of the Moses and the Prophets? During the life and ministry of Christ? After Christ's resurrection and ascension? These can be difficult questions to answer, but the answers are not out of reach. When one examines such matters through a biblical-theological lens, clarity can be brought to that which at once seemed out of focus.
To assist the student of biblical theology in such matters, Zondervan has begun publishing a number of volumes in their Biblical Theology of the New Testament (BTNT) series. This series is designed to provide pastors, scholars, and students of theology with a holistic grasp of the theology put forth by particular books of the Bible; noting how they relate to the New Testament canon in particular, and the larger context of the Bible in general.
Darrell L.Bock (PhD, University of Aberdeen), research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and well-known for his scholarly work on Luke-Acts, has penned the second volume in the BTNT series. A Theology of Luke and Acts is rigorous examination of the theology contained within Luke's unified two-volume work, and how it relates to the overall picture of New Testament theology. Often viewed as two very separate books due to their positioning in the New Testament canon, Luke's gospel and the book of Acts are actually a unified, two-volume work penned by Luke for the purpose of telling "one basic story." The story is that of "God working through Jesus to usher in a new era of promise and Spirit-enablement so that the people of God can be God's people even in the midst of a hostile world."
In terms of the overall structure of my review, I'll begin with some brief remarks on the form and content of the volume, then address the chapter on the Law, and I'll close with some remarks as to the book's quality and significance.
A Theology of Luke and Acts is divided into three main sections: "Introductory Matters", "Major Theological Themes", and "Luke and the Canon". The introductory material is thorough, well-written, and accessible, dealing with authorship, date, historical context, source material and genre. Because the BTNT series is geared toward college and seminary-level students, there is a good deal of interaction with historic and contemporary scholarship within the introduction as well as throughout the entire volume. However, to assist in dealing with the potentially cumbersome matters, there are often helpful "Conclusion" sections that provide a succinct synopsis of the material presented.
The section devoted to "Major Theological Themes" contains 17 chapters that deal with prominent topics in contemporary biblical theology. Topics addressed include, but are not limited to, promise-fulfillment, the Holy Spirit, dimensions of salvation, Israel and the Church, Gentile inclusion, women, the poor, social dimensions, the Law, ecclesiology, and eschatology.
The final section, prior to the conclusion, is devoted to a study of Luke-Acts as it operates within the entire New Testament canon.
Moving forward, Bock provides a very helpful analysis of the place of the Law in Luke-Acts. Concerning his study, three main features are noteworthy. First, Luke portrays law-abiding as an acceptable option for Jewish believers in matters of outreach, but it must not hinder Jew-Gentile unity in church or impede the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Second, "the Law and the Prophets point to God's final activity in Christ." Third, Luke saw no salvation benefit from the Law.
Allow me to list some brief remarks regarding each feature of Luke's presentation of the Law...
1.) Luke saw law-abiding as an acceptable option for Jewish believers in matters of outreach, though it must not hinder Jew-Gentile unity in church or impede the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Luke portrays the Jewish individuals highlighted in his gospel in a particularly positive light as it pertains to their fulfillment and obedience to the Law. Specifically, this positive portrait is painted of John the Baptizer, Jesus, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon, Joseph and Mary. During the course of Jesus' earthly ministry we find him obedient to the Law as well as encouraging obedience in others. Yet it is important to note, as Bock does, that "Christ trumps law in terms of interpreting how it is to be implemented. Ultimately, Bock notes, "Luke shows respect for the Law among Jewish believers and total freedom from its requirements for Gentiles."
2.) Luke viewed the Law as pointing to God's final activity in Christ.
Luke views the plan of God mainly in two parts: promise and fulfillment. He portrays John the Baptizer as a key transitional figure between the two eras, with Christ Jesus being the one in whom the promised plan of God is fully realized. Luke sees the Law as mainly functioning during the era of promise and that it ultimately is a pointer to Christ and his redemptive activity. In sum, Bock writes, "Key to appreciating the law is knowing that in the new era, the promise and hope of the law come to fruition. Yet the law still teaches ethically and relationally. It calls for justice and love. Yet some practices of the law are not to be undertaken, as they were in the past. So challenges to Sabbath practice, the washing of hands, and diet are seen."
3.) Luke saw no salvation benefit from the Law.
Luke is consistent in his presentation of Christ as the one through whom the believer is saved. The law is unable to justify. Forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in Jesus' Name, not through law-abiding. Bock notes that, "Responding to Jesus represents fulfilling the law, and so receiving him brings its intention to pass." Overall, Luke demonstrates that justification cannot be obtained through the Law, but rather by faith in Messiah Jesus, exclusively.
Though I have only covered one aspect for the purposes of this review, overall, A Theology of Luke and Acts is a remarkably thorough and helpful volume by one of evangelicalism's foremost scholars on Luke-Acts. Bock is not lacking in his engagement of historical and contemporary scholarship, and is articulate in his interaction. This volume is not written at a "popular" level, but will prove to be both accessible and beneficial for the student, seminarian, and pastor-theologian. I recommend it enthusiastically.
NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.