Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jesus and Salvation in Luke-Acts

Update: Nick Meyer points to Luke 23, where Luke clearly develops a connection between salvation and Jesus' death in his own way. See the comments for more discussion.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Luke rarely draws attention to the saving significance of Jesus' death. While there are a couple passages in which Luke indicates his awareness of the idea (esp. Luke 22:19-20; Acts 20:28), most scholars agree that Luke doesn't develop them, but chooses instead to focus in Acts on the saving significance of his resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand. Take, for instance, the following passages where Jesus' death is presented as a divine necessity but where his resurrection and exaltation receive more emphasis:
  • "Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear....Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:33, 38).
  • "It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:10-12).
  • See also 10:38-43; 13:26-39; 17:30-31; 26:1-23.
References to salvation in Luke's Gospel are even more surprising for someone like me, who was raised with a narrow Paul-derived (and Gospels-deprived) view of salvation as "Christ's death for the forgiveness of my sins so I can go to heaven when I die."

Before Jesus begins his public ministry, he is associated with salvation: The stage is set in Luke 2:30 when Simeon says "my eyes have seen your salvation" echoing Isa 49:6, and in the quotation from Isa 40:3-5: John is "the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord.'" As a result of his ministry and the Lord's coming "'all flesh shall see the salvation of God'" (Luke 3:6).

And according to Luke, Jesus brought salvation already during his earthly ministry:
  • Jesus defines his mission as proclaiming "release (=forgiveness) to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18; quoting Isa 61:1). Jesus' commission to proclaim "release" is applied to the forgiveness of sins in Luke 5:20-4 and 7:47-9. (In the passages from Acts quoted above, salvation is closely identified with forgiveness.)
  • In Luke 6:9, Jesus says: "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"
  • Jesus responds to questions about the forgiveness of sins by saying to the "sinful woman": "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:50).
  • Jesus tells the woman with a flow of blood: "Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 8:48). (Most English translations read: "your faith has made you well," but the phrase is identical to 7:50.)
  • Jesus tells the one grateful ex-leper: "your faith has saved you" (Luke 17:19). All the lepers were made well; only one was saved.
  • And Jesus announces at Zacchaeus's party: "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9; cf. the "today" in 4:21).
So Luke works with a broader understanding of what salvation entails. In another post, I'd like to explore how Jesus' "exodus" (Luke 9:31) may or may not fit into his understanding of salvation.

P.S. Sorry. No pictures.


nicholas meyer said...

Will you deal witht the "exodus" text itself, that is, the crucifixion scene in Luke? I think there may be stuff here to help us make sense of Luke's understanding of the salvific significane of Jesus' death.

d. miller said...

Hmm...Are you thinking of "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34)? The verse does associate forgiveness closely with Jesus' death and I probably should have included it along with Luke 22:19-20 and Acts 20:28 (assuming it belongs in Luke. I'd like to think it does on internal grounds despite the important manuscripts that omit it.)

There's also the concentration of "salvation" language in vv. 35-43.

Did you have anything else in mind?

nicholas meyer said...

Hey d. I'm tempted to read the salvation language in the story of the two criminals as being ironic and also suggestive that Luke is dramatizing in this scene his understanding of the salvific signficance of Jesus' unjustified death (note the curious v. 47) for guilty sinners (hence v 39 and 42-43). I could be reading too much into it. What do you think? I look forward to what you have to say in general about this topic. Cheers

d. miller said...

Hey Nick. I think you are certainly right that Luke connects Jesus' death to salvation in this passage, and I'm a little embarrassed to have overlooked Luke 23 in my original post. I also really like your suggestion--against, e.g., Joel Green who denies any vicarious element to Jesus' death--that Luke presents Jesus' death as a righteous sacrifice (?) for the unrighteous. I need to think about this some more.

Still, in Acts the emphasis is on Jesus' exaltation (though it would be wrong to remove Jesus' death from the picture), and Luke also presents Jesus as savior during his earthly ministry. I'm not sure yet how to put all these pieces together.

I will also be on the lookout for evidence that Luke understands the crucifixion scene as an exodus text. I do see exodus in the last supper, but not (yet) in the crucifixion where the dominant emphasis is on Jesus' royalty.