Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The law and salvation in Luke-Acts

In Luke's Gospel Jesus tells an expert in the law to do what the law says if he wants to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25). But in Acts Peter declares, "through the grace of the Lord Jesus we believe to be saved" (Acts 15:11). Explaining the relationship between these two apparently conflicting statements about works and faith is only one of the puzzles that make grasping what Luke says about the law so challenging.
I have begun to wonder if part of the difficulty is our assumption that we know what salvation is. What if, for Luke, salvation is a new sectarian thing that qualifies law, not a result of the law itself? In other words, what if "salvation" in the Christian sense only became a live issue for the sectarian group made up of Jesus' followers?
If so, it would be anachronistic to suggest that salvation in the sense that Luke uses it would have been legitimately connected to Torah by Second Temple Jews. In Luke, as for Paul, then, there would be a move from solution to plight, and it wouldn't be the law's fault that it can't--and wasn't expected to--deal with the new problem(s) to which "salvation" is the answer.

In any case, reducing the Christian value of the law to a via media or to a concern for its sociological effects (e.g., to legitimate Christianity in Roman eyes by linking it to ancient Jewish tradition), seems to underplay its continued significance for Acts. It is as if "salvation" is such a big thing, that we can't appreciate any subsidiary and on-going role for the law.

(For earlier thoughts on salvation in Luke-Acts see this post, and follow the links back.)

Photo credits: Big Four Ice Caves, Washington (more links here and here). Don't worry, we didn't go inside.


Rev. Bryant J. Williams III said...

What I think is happening is that the remarks of Jesus and Paul is due to the time before and after the Cross.

Jesus was born under the Law (Gal 4:4). Although the Gospels are part of the NT, the time period covered in Matthew 1-27, Mark 1-15, Luke 1-23 and John 1-19 are ALL part of the OT. The NT properly would not begin until AFTER the Cross."Christ is the end of the Law, Rom. 10:4

d. miller said...

Thanks for your comment, Bryant. Perhaps I should have pointed out the continuities as well: Like Peter in Acts, Jesus in Luke says, "your faith has saved you." Part of the conundrum is that salvation, in Luke and Acts, is provided before the cross, apart from the cross.

Also in Acts 15, Peter declares that we are saved by faith without, I think, implying any changes in his own continued law observance.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III said...

Thank you for your response. I find that Acts shows that the early believers who were ALL Jewish believers in Christ continued to worship in the Temple complex area and in house churches in the area. Being Jews themselves they would have continued in their observances, but with one distinction, that of worship of Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Acts continues to show how the Spirit of God moved the believers into further contact with the Samaritans, then finally, after Cornelius, to Gentiles by Phillip, Peter, etc. It is not until the persecutions of the believers that spread the early church from Jerusalem into the non-strict Jewish and Gentile areas. Paul himself began in the synagogues and early house churches after his conversion. The whole issue comes to a head in Acts 15 and the Epistle to the Galatians.

Regarding Jesus' remarks "your faith has saved you." This would be expected since the issue is "faith." Jesus would have known of Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4. In fact, these two verses are repeated quite frequently in the NT.

The key is the Book of Acts. It shows the gradual transition from Law observance of the early Jewish believers in Christ to the non-Law observance by Gentiles. All by the instigation of the Holy Spirit. This would indicate that the early Jewish believers would not have changed much of their normal daily behaviors until the maturation of their faith would have made them include the Gentiles. This was not easy for them as Acts 10-11 and 15 show. But it took revelation to do this. It culminates in Acts 16:31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house."

Paul in Galatians would extremely agitated, to put it mildly, about what was going in Galatia with Gentile believers were trying to keep the Law in order to maintain their faith. Paul is quite adamant about the fact that they do NOT do this (Gal. 1-2).

d. miller said...

It seems to me that a problem with a narrative of a transition away from the law is Paul's repeated claims to be an observant Jew in Acts 21-28.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III said...

I Corinthians 8-10 deals with the issue of "freedom of the strong believer." I Corinthians 9:19-23 is quite clear about how Paul thinks about his freedom in Christ. Thus, in Acts 16:33, Paul has Timothy circumcised in order not to cause offense to the Jews in that area, but since Paul would be going into synagogues, it would make sense to do so not to create a "stumbling block" especially since Timothy's mother was Jewish. In Acts 21:19-23 Paul agreed to pay the expenses of some Jewish believers in Christ to fulfill their vows.

Suffice it to say that the issue for Paul in Acts, and says it in Romans, Galatians, et al., is that a Gentile did not need to keep the Law to believe in Christ neither were the Jews. Nor was the Law necessary to keep the faith. Paul himself would not deliberately "offend" those were potential believers for the sake of "freedom from the Law." He did understand what the Council of Jerusalem was all about.

d. miller said...

Hi Bryant,

The Paul of Acts claims to have done nothing against the law (Acts 25:8). The emphasis on Paul's law-keeping when he is on trial for violating the law indicates that Jewish Christian law-observance is important to Luke. Paul says the same thing in Acts 28, at the very end of Acts--so there is no progression from Jewish law-observance to non-law-observance. It seems to be more than the need not to cause offense.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III said...

The trial before Festus was another attempt by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem to get Paul into their hands. This was the third time that there was an attempt by the Jewish leadership to accuse Paul that he violated the Law, laws, commandments and restrictions regarding the Temple, Gentiles in the Temple complex, etc. His remark in 25:8 is to counter those accusations. Furthermore, the issue again regarding the Jews and Gentiles is that the Gentiles did not need to keep the Law to be saved, keep their salvation and neither did the Jews.

Acts 28:17-28 has Paul before the Roman Jews. He again reiterates is argument that he had done nothing against the people (of Israel/Judah) nor against their customs. This also gives another time of which Luke shows that the Christian movement with Judaism was over the person and work of Christ (Acts 18:12-17) which the Jews were against.

I admit that several times in Luke-Acts their are disagreements between Jesus and the Jewish leaders (the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, etc.) in Luke; and the Sanhedrin (Pharisees early; Sadducees much more later) in Acts. The issue of the Resurrection and Messiahship of Jesus caused more of a problem for the Sadducees; although all Jewish leadership had the problem over Jesus.

I also admit that the tension found in Acts is more over "custom" than anything else, but the issue of opposition of Salvation to the Gentiles by the Jewish leadership is still there.

d. miller said...

Thanks for your interaction, Bryant. I hope to post more on the same general topic presently.

Steve Finnell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
d. miller said...

Steve, I fail to see how your comment relates to this discussion.