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1. The Atonement in Lucan Theology in Recent Discussion


The purpose of this chapter is to survey recent discussion on the issue of Luke’s theology of the atonement with an attempt to enumerate the various positions of several authors and their relation to one another in the stream of ideas. The discussion will essentially begin with Hans Conzelmann in 1960, with brief reference being made to the antecedents of his thought in earlier writers such as Henry J. Cadbury and C. H. Dodd, and will continue up to the present day.

While every author agrees that the death of Jesus in Luke-Acts is important, they are not at all agreed on the particular significance Luke maintains for it.4 Thus there is no lack of suggestions as to how Luke frames the death of Christ in his gospel and therefore how he desires that his readers understand this event. Once the traditional view had in large measure been set aside,5 several models were developed which have attempted to define Luke’s soteriology. Some have suggested that Luke simply sees Jesus dying according to a divine plan and that he gives no more thought to it than that. Others understand Jesus’ death in Luke-Acts to be a demonstration of divine favor in which His death sufferings form only part of His atoning work. Still others, by placing the Lucan writings in their first century literary milieu, and paralleling Luke’s passion narrative with what appear to be conceptually similar materials, advance the idea that Luke’s Christ died as an innocent martyr. Still others maintain that Christ’s death in Luke was as the Isaianic Suffering Servant and was indeed vicarious. Finally, others see the death of Christ in Luke-Acts as either a demonstration of God’s righteousness, a prelude to glorification, the representative death of the ‘lowly’ or as a great Benefactor.6 Beginning with Conzelmann, we now turn our attention to a brief description of the various interpretations.

    The Death of Jesus to Fulfill Scripture: A Divine Necessity with No Explicit Theology of the Atonement

      Hans Conzelmann

Hans Conzelmann’s work, The Theology of St. Luke,7 was one of the first to explain the overall structure of Luke-Acts as “redemptive history.”8 Working on premises laid down by his mentor, Rudolph Bultmann,9 Conzelmann carried on his literary studies in Luke-Acts, outlining the work and ‘plan’ of God in three distinct phases, which are themselves hemmed in by Creation at one extreme and the Parousia at the other. Conzelmann delineates the three phases or time periods as the period of Israel, the period of Christ’s earthly life, and the period of the church which culminates in the Parousia.10

The focus for our discussion concerns Conzelmann’s understanding of the significance Luke accords the death of Christ. Working within his threefold framework, Conzelmann agrees with the idea that Luke’s Jesus suffered as a ‘martyr’,11 but does not feel that this is at all the essential idea in the Lucan account. For him, Luke’s passion account portrays Jesus as one who ‘must’ suffer, albeit willingly, because this is indeed the divine plan and according to Scripture.12 The emphasis is therefore upon the necessity of the suffering of Jesus to fulfill Scripture. In this regard Conzelmann argues from the use of the verb dei‘ and its relation to the fulfillment theme in Luke:

The most important indication as regards the whole complex of ideas is the use of the significant word dei‘. It is again in the defense of the Passion that the word is particularly used, already in pre-Lucan tradition of course. In Luke, however, the ‘necessity’ of the Passion is fully brought out.13

However, while Conzelmann understands the death of Jesus in Luke to be a divine necessity and according to Scripture he argues that nowhere does Luke give the death of Jesus the explanation that Paul does or even that of the other synoptists, all of whom relate it to the forgiveness of sins. He says,

The most important finding in this connection for our purpose is that there is no trace of any Passion mysticism, nor is any direct soteriological significance drawn from Jesus’ suffering or death. There is no suggestion of a connection with the forgiveness of sins (italics mine).14

His argument rests heavily on the following observations: 1) Luke omits Mark 10:45; 2) the cross plays no part in the proclamation of salvation in Luke-Acts; 3) there is no trace of the idea of atonement in Luke’s use of the term paradidovnai and 4) Luke appears to steer clear of any atonement ideas in his use of Isaiah 53. For Conzelmann all these omissions indicate a desire on the part of Luke to avoid casting the death of Christ in expiatory tones.15

Conzelmann’s view, then, regarding the death of Jesus in Luke-Acts is that it is according to divine plan and is never interpreted by Luke to have any connection with the forgiveness of sin. This particular interpretation of the atonement in Luke-Acts was not uncommon in 1960 when Conzelmann wrote. It appears that he was in agreement with earlier writers whom he refers to as influencing his views; men such as Henry J. Cadbury and C. H. Dodd.16

      H. J. Cadbury

Henry J. Cadbury’s work, The Making of Luke-Acts17 has been considered “a seminal redaction-critical work before the rise of redaction criticism. . . [which would] influence Lucan studies from that time onward.”18 Conzelmann’s conclusions can be seen in Cadbury’s remarks on the Lucan presentation of the death of Jesus. Cadbury understood the death of Jesus to be of little evidential value to Luke in comparison with the emphasis placed upon the resurrection of Christ. He says,

The death of Jesus was an act of ignorant wickedness and rejection on the part of the Jews. God, however, thwarted its effect by raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection is therefore the significant thing about Jesus. His death is only the prelude. The resurrection is the great fulfillment of prophecy, the demonstration of Messiahship. . . .19

Cadbury goes on to say that 1) Luke omits Marcan ideas which might suggest a doctrine of atonement; 2) that the longer ending of Luke 22:19, 20 is probably not original; 3) that Luke’s use of Isaiah 53 is devoid of the soteriology that later Christians have come to see in the text20 and 4) any connection between Christ’s death and forgiveness in Acts is simply a Pauline intrusion. Cadbury’s remarks can be summarized in the following two points: 1) Luke makes no comments linking the death of Jesus with forgiveness of sin 2) the death of Jesus was simply necessary to make the resurrection possible. It is the former of these two ideas that can explicitly be found in Conzelmann’s understanding of the Lucan death of Jesus.

      C. H. Dodd

C. H. Dodd, in his work, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, also espoused the same basic view of the death of Jesus in Luke. According to Dodd,

The Jerusalem kerygma does not assert that Christ died for our sins. The result of the life, death and resurrection of Christ is the forgiveness of sins, but this forgiveness is not specifically connected with His death.21

Dodd claimed that Paul received his doctrine of Christ’s death from the school of Stephen and Philip who had taken the step to interpret the death of Jesus vicariously along the lines of Isaiah 53. Thus it can be seen that Conzelmann’s view, according to his own admission, has its antecedents in Cadbury, Dodd and others. They understand Jesus’ death in Luke to be a necessity according to the divine plan, but not in anyway connected with forgiveness.

      Vincent Taylor

Vincent Taylor is a more recent advocate of this view.22 He wishes to see a distinction between Luke’s theology and the theology of his sources. He understands Luke to be conveying that Christ’s work was pre-eminently an act of obedience to his father’s will, with no thought given to suffering vicariously. He notes, as did Conzelmann, the omission of Mark 10:45. Then, as regards Luke 22:19, 20 Taylor suggests that these verses belong to a pre-Lukan liturgical source23 (if they are original at all) and that their theology, which is admittedly speaking of a vicarious atonement, is not inherently Lucan.24

    The Death of Christ: Part of Christ’s Atoning Work
    and a Demonstration of Divine Favor

In his article, “The Salvific Character of Jesus’ Death in Lucan Soteriology,” Richard Zehnle writes explicitly to refute the idea that Luke makes no association of the death of Christ with the salvation of men and to affirm that Luke does indeed have a soteriology with respect to the death of Christ.25 He affirms Dodd, Conzelmann and others as they understand Luke to present no satisfaction theory of the atonement in his two-volume work. However, he sharply criticizes them for equating that idea with the idea that there is therefore “no direct soteriological significance to be drawn from Jesus’ death.” According to Zehnle, this is a wrong, unwarranted and even “dangerous” conclusion to be drawn from an author who makes up more than a fourth of the entire New Testament.26

Zehnle begins his argument by attempting to demonstrate that the theme of salvation is very important to Luke. From an examination of the verb swvzw and its cognates, he attempts tomake it plain that Luke is highly interested in the salvation of men. This emphasis can be misunderstood, according to Zehnle, if Luke is constantly viewed from a Pauline perspective.27 He argues further that Luke gives the details on the nature of salvation and even spells out the requirements of a man’s salvation, namely, an internal response of repentance engendered by genuine trust in Christ leading to baptism in the name of Christ.28 Therefore, since salvation is important to Luke, and since he does record the death of Christ, the two in some way must be connected. In this regard, Zehnle says that the role of Jesus in salvation involves his whole life from birth through to glorification:

Essential to the understanding of the role of Jesus in Luke-Acts is the recognition that the complex, life-death-resurrection-ascension/glorification, constitutes a whole whose individual parts find their full meaning precisely in relation to the whole.29

In this process, Zehnle argues that it is the glorified Christ in Luke who is now the cause of salvation. He refers to the life and death of Jesus as therefore holding mediate influence as regards the salvation of men. He means by this that the perfect life of Christ and his complete obedience unto the cross provide the necessary prerequisites for the glorification of Christ. The death of Christ is the therefore, the formal cause of salvation, not the efficient cause. This belongs to the glorification of Christ.30 But, says Zehnle, we are bound to say that Luke has no soteriology if we focus on any one particular aspect of Christ’s life and death. We must keep in mind the whole and out of that emerges the relation of the death of Christ to the salvation of men.

But the question remains, “Does the death of Christ itself have any intrinsic soteriological value in Luke-Acts?” according to Zehnle. Or, “What is the nature of Christ’s death as a formal cause in salvation?” On this point Zehnle argues that the death of Christ, as it makes up the life-death-resurrection complex, is simply a demonstration of God’s favor toward men and when viewed by man becomes the impetus for making a decision to trust in Christ. When one sees all that Christ has done as a person who perfectly conformed his life to the will of His father, one is moved to dedicate one’s life in faith to Him. Zehnle says,

Thus, in his life, death and resurrection the favor of God for man may be seen, and a man is motivated to make an act of faith in His Name. This explains why the apostolic preaching insists on conformity with God’s will in the life of Jesus, but also why the proclamation of the resurrection plays so central a place. Indeed, apart from it, the death of Jesus has no meaning for Luke.31

In summary, Zehnle understands the death of Christ in Luke to indicate God’s favor upon men and valuable as a saving act only insofar as it forms part of the larger whole of his life-death-resurrection-ascension and glorification. Alone it does not save, but instead motivates a person to trust in Christ.32 For Zehnle, Luke’s soteriology is not primitive and pre-Pauline, and by implication inferior (contra Dodd), but simply unique with different emphases.

    Vicarious Atonement and the Idea of the Suffering Servant

      Joachim Jeremias

Joachim Jeremias, in The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, argues that it is inconceivable that Jesus should not have viewed His death as a vicarious atonement.33 Jesus has, according to Jeremias, compared Himself with the paschal lamb (cf. Luke 22:15-20) and in so doing has basically affirmed his death as a saving death. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Egyptian paschal lamb and all other Passover meals before him. Just as each Passover meal looked back to Israel’s deliverance from death and judgment in Exodus 12, so Christ also delivers through his death. This is the significance of the Eucharistic words of Jesus in Luke 22:19, 20.34

Adding to this, Jeremias points to the milieu in which Jesus lived and thought as further support for the idea of vicarious atonement in the last supper. He argues that it was very common in first century Palestinian Judaism to view death as possessing atoning power, even the death of a criminal if that person were truly repentant. He says,

Conceptions of the atoning power of death play a large part in the thought of Jesus’ contemporaries. Every death has atoning power—even that of a criminal if he dies penitent. An innocent death offered to God has vicarious power of atonement for others.35

This being the case, it is not surprising that Jesus, knowing he was going to face a violent death, should search for the meaning of his death and find it in the idea of the paschal lamb. This is indeed what Christ did according to Jeremias, and once having clearly understood the meaning of his sufferings he thus taught his disciples at the supper. For Jeremias the Jesus of Luke’s passion knows he is the Servant of God who is going to His death on behalf of others.36

      I. H. Marshall

I. H. Marshall, in Luke: Historian and Theologian, begins by pointing out, as others have done, that Luke is not so out of place as might be imagined regarding explanations relating to the death of Christ.37 He says,

As compared with Mark and Matthew, therefore, Luke’s silence about the death of Jesus in the Gospel is not in any way remarkable. It is more significant that there is little about it in Acts. But the rather scanty evidence must be carefully scrutinized lest we take too superficial a view of Luke’s teaching on this theme.38

Having made the point, he nonetheless recognizes that Luke’s emphasis is to link salvation with the exaltation of Jesus and with His name and not so much with the cross.39 But, he says, this does not justify claiming that the cross has no direct soteriological value in Luke. He argues that there is the possibility of a Servant soteriology in Luke.40

Marshall emphasizes the fact that Luke describes Jesus in terms of the Suffering Servant. He bases this on the use of Isaiah 53 in Acts 8:32; that pai‘” (Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30) in the light of 8:32 must mean Servant and not son, and the term divkaio” (Acts 3:14, 7:52; 22:14) associates Christ with Is. 53:11. He acknowledges that the New Testament does not develop at length a Servant christology but maintains nonetheless that a Servant soteriology is not precluded by this fact. He refers to 1 Peter as support for his thesis. The use of the traditions referring to Christ as Servant show that Luke has at least incorporated traditions about the atoning work of the Servant though he himself has not positively interpreted the Servant idea as vicarious, redemptive suffering.

There is, according to Marshall, another way in which Luke has (at least implicitly) affirmed vicarious atonement, namely, through the borrowing of the oldest tradition of “hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29) from Deut 21:22. The oldest form of the tradition seems to be related to the bearing of sin and its curse, as its use in Paul and Peter seem to make clear. What is different in Luke is that he has not explicitly made known its soteriological interpretation, but would have left that up to the community, who undoubtedly understood it as vicarious.41

Finally, Marshall raises the question of whether Luke has misrepresented the teaching of the early church which explicitly claimed that ‘Christ died for our sins’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 4). He says “no.” Luke has simply decided to emphasize that as “exalted Lord and Messiah, Jesus is the Saviour.” Citing Romans 4:25 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, he claims that the linking of the death and resurrection of Christ (as Luke has done) was common in the early church.42 Luke has, according to Marshall, recorded one line of preaching in the early church which had, as it focus, the resurrection of Christ as the confirmation of His Lordship and the guarantee of his offer of forgiveness. Thus, Luke’s presentation is one sided (as is every presentation) stressing certain aspects to the playing down of others. One should not conclude, however, that Luke has no rationale for salvation. Indeed he does, namely, that Jesus grants salvation in virtue of the fact that He is Lord and Messiah. Again, what is different is that Luke does not spell out every detail in an attempt to relate the death of Christ as the means of salvation.43

      Darrell L. Bock

Darrell Bock is another who is unwilling to claim as did Conzelmann and others that there is no doctrine of the atonement in Luke-Acts. He links the idea of forgiveness in Acts 10:43; 13:38 with the idea of the Servant in Luke 22:37 and the idea of the necessity of Christ’s sufferings in Luke 24:46, 47. From these references he concludes that Luke does indeed present Christ as the Suffering Servant whose death is vicarious.44

He also mentions Luke 22:19, 20 and refers to it as having “undoubted substitutionary significance” and Acts 20:28 as setting forth the purchasing value of the blood, a reference with clear expiatory overtones. But it appears that he has laid less stress on Luke 22:19, 20 and Acts 20:28 in his argument, perhaps due to their textual uncertainty and unusual grammatical problems.

In summary, Bock affirms with Marshall and others that Luke does indeed have a positive theology of the atonement, but has chosen to place greater emphases on other aspects of Christ’s work. Nonetheless, he claims that it is incorrect to think that Luke has no theology of the cross.45

      William J. Larkin, Jr.

William J. Larkin has developed the Isaiah 53 background to Luke’s passion narrative in a slightly different manner than has Marshall or Bock.46 Before entering into his main thesis, though, it is worthy to note some interesting answers he supplies to the traditional arguments raised in favor of Luke’s supposed intention to steer clear of any reference to vicarious suffering in his account of the passion.

As far as Luke’s omission of the Mark 10:45 passage (i. e. kaiV dou‘nai thVn yuchVn aujtou‘ luvtron ajntiV pollw‘n) is concerned,47 Larkin says this need not be the result of an a priori soteriological idea in the mind of the evangelist, but simply due to any number of things, including: 1) the desire to link up directly the passion prediction with the following scene in which miraculous powers are demonstrated and a blind man is healed (cf. Luke 18:31-34 and 18:35-43); 2) due to his redactional activity and the wish to avoid repeating similar though independent material or 3) due to Luke’s preoccupation with the large amount of non-Markan material occurring throughout the travel narrative (Luke 9:51-18:14).48

Commenting on the textual problem in Luke 22:19b-20, Larkin argues (based substantially on the work of Jeremias49 and Schürmann50) that when the extrinsic probabilities are combined with the probability that the short form developed as a result of disciplina arcani, 51 the longer reading is to be preferred. This is of course important, for the longer reading almost certainly carries the idea of vicarious atonement.

Larkin also argues that the lack of the soteriological interpretation of the Christ’s death in the preaching in Acts can be accounted for in ways other than presuming Luke’s avoidance of the idea of vicarious atonement. The book of Acts appears to record summary forms of proclamation, linking Jesus with the Isaianic Servant and presenting the fact that as such he suffered unjustly for the sins of people. Larkin admits that the connection is not as explicit as one would like, but it is nonetheless there.52

Finally, in his comments against the traditional arguments for rejecting a soteriological interpretation of Jesus’ death in Luke-Acts, Larkin says that interpretations that want to find Luke’s soteriology completely in the resurrection-ascension-glorification of Christ fail to adequately link Jesus’ present position as glorified Lord with the fruit of salvation, namely, the forgiveness of sins.53 Thus says Larkin, it is probably correct to see the basis of Luke’s soteriology as the death of Jesus.

The reason Larkin responded to the previous arguments against a soteriological interpretation of Jesus’ death in Luke-Acts was to show that the possibility is still open to a redemptive understanding of Luke’s soteriology and to set the stage for his own idea of vicarious atonement as seen in Luke’s use of Isaiah 53:12d in Luke 22:37. We now turn our attention to the main points in his presentation.

It is Larkin’s desire to demonstrate that Luke’s use of Isaiah 53:12d (i. e. “and he was numbered with the transgressors”) in 22:37 functions as a context pointer to draw the reader back to the entire Servant song in Isaiah 53 and all that it means (cf. Isaiah 52:13-53:12), including the idea of vicarious atonement.54

First, Larkin argues that the specific reference “and he was numbered with the transgressors” is not fulfilled in any specific way in the Lucan context.55 The fact that it is not fulfilled in a specific way leads to the possibility that Luke wants us to read the whole of the passion narrative in the light of Isaiah 53:12d. That is, that the fulfillment of Jesus’ words are to be seen in the whole of the passion. Two reasons suggest this: 1) Luke 22:37 is placed at the end of the farewell discourse and at the beginning of the action of the passion, thus it stands as virtually a headline for all that is about to come56 and 2) Luke uses other fulfillment proof texts in his gospel in similar ways (cf. Luke 3:4-6/Isaiah 40:3-5 and Luke 4:17-19, 21/ Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6).57

Having established the idea that Isaiah 53:12d is being used by Luke to refer to the entire passion narrative, Larkin raises the question as to what part of the quotation is fulfilled in the passion as a whole. He asks,

What is the precise content from Isaiah 53 that is fulfilled? Is the fulfillment limited only to what is explicitly cited by Luke, or is this brief quotation a pointer to the rest of the original context? Further, if the Luke 22:37/Isa 53:12 quotation is a “context pointer,” is the vicarious atonement significance of the Servant’s death something to which Luke intends to point and present as fulfilled in Jesus’ death?58

There must be some criteria that can be used to determine if an Old Testament text quoted by a New Testament writer is being used as a ‘pointer.’ For this, Larkin draws upon the work of Morna Hooker.59 Two criteria are cited: 1) the presence of other Old Testament allusions in the immediate context and 2) the “presence of a unified interpretation. . . of the whole Isaianic Servant concept.” Luke 22:37 fails the first test, but passes the second according to Larkin.

There are several points in the passion that demonstrate that the suffering experienced by Jesus is identical with that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53,60 that is, that Jesus was innocent, yet was treated unjustly just as the Servant. Luke brings this out through interpretive comments (cf. 22:48, 52, 53; 23:41), through his arrangement of the details of the narrative and through certain special emphases. The net result is that we see Luke using the objective facts of Isaiah 53:12d (i. e. “that he was numbered with the transgressors”) in Luke 22:37 to show that what follows (i. e. the passion events and suffering) is really to be related to the whole Servant song in Isaiah 53. In the end, according to Larkin, Luke has indeed placed the whole of Isaiah 53 behind his use of 53:12d and therefore, vicarious atonement stands at the heart of the death of the Lucan Jesus. He does this, Larkin says, because in a literary way he wants to drive his readers to ask the question of what possible explanation can there be for this God-ordained injustice? The answer: it must be the vicarious suffering spoken of in Isaiah 53:12.61

    The Lucan Jesus as an Innocent Martyr

C. H. Talbert, following M. Dibelius,62 argues that Luke associates the death of Jesus with the motif of an innocent martyr.63 He strongly denies that Luke 22:19, 20 and Acts 20:28 have anything to do with the forgiveness of sins, but instead simply present Christ as the seal of the New Covenant.64 As well, he follows in the line of Conzelmann and others in their treatment of the Luke’s failure to record the soteriological words of Mark 10:45, Luke’s studious avoidance of any redemptive overtones from Isaiah 53 and the lack of reference to the death of Christ in apostolic preaching. According to Talbert, Peter’s and Paul’s sermons in Acts never link the forgiveness of sins with the death of Christ. Instead he says, forgiveness in Luke comes from the earthly life of Jesus as well as Christ, the glorified, ascended Lord.65

For Talbert, then, the significance of the death of Christ must be found in some place other than in a kind of Pauline soteriology. It is his contention, as stated, that Christ died as a martyr: “the unjust murder of an innocent man by the established powers due to the pressure of the Jewish leaders.”66

According to Talbert, the first dimension in understanding Jesus’ death as a martyrdom in Luke is that his death represents the rejection of God’s messenger by God’s people. The nation as a whole was supposed to be God’s people, but indeed the majority of the historical people (i. e. the nation of Israel, the larger populace out of which believers would arise) rejected the Lord, expressed most clearly in His condemnation by the religious authorities, the chief priests and their associates (not so much the Pharisees in Luke).67

The second dimension involved in understanding Luke’s presentation of the death of Jesus as a martyrdom, is that such deaths serve to legitimate the Christian cause and serve as a catalysts for evangelistic outreach.68 To further establish that this is indeed the Lucan idea, Talbert parallels Luke’s portrayal of the death of Jesus with 1) Graeco-Roman views of martyrdom; 2) Jewish views of martyrdom and 3) Christian views of martyrdom. In his mind, these parallels serve to buttress the idea that the Lucan Jesus died as a martyr.

It was common, Talbert argues, for a Graeco-Roman philosopher to enjoin his mighty doctrine with concomitant acts which later result in his unjust death. It was the hope of the philosopher that his death might propel his cause forward. But, adds Talbert, Seneca and others taught that one should not seek death. So there is a parallel here between secular writings on the subject of martyrdom and Luke’s writing of the death of Jesus.

The Jewish view of martyrdom was similar to the Graeco-Roman view with the hope of course that the one might win converts to Judaism. The early Christian view of martyrdom is similar to its Graeco-Roman and Jewish counterparts, except that it apparently put more emphasis on the evangelistic thrust resulting from the death.69

From these observations Talbert argues the following two points:

1) The martyrdom of Jesus in Luke is like the Jewish martyrdoms in that Jesus is a prophet rejected and killed by God’s people and that he is a devout Jew executed unjustly by the Gentiles and 2) Jesus’ martyrdom has points in common with all three views. He did not seek martyrdom and not everyone was converted by his being killed.

    Luke’s Passion Account as the Suffering of a Righteous

      Man and the Demonstration of God’s Justice

Robert J. Karris argues that the term divkaio” in Luke 23:47 should be translated ‘righteous’ and not ‘innocent.’’ He recognizes the weighty support advanced for the translation of divkaio” as ‘innocent’ but there is other sound evidence, he argues, from the context of Luke-Acts as a whole, from the cry of the centurion and Luke’s use of dovxazein toVn qeovn (cf. Luke 2:20; 5:25, 26; 7:16; 13:13; etc. ) and from Jesus’ death when he recites a Psalm of the righteous suffering one (i. e. Psalm 31) that is commonly overlooked. From these references, as well as Luke’s use of Psalms 22 and 69 and Wisdom 2:18 in Luke 23:34b-38, Karris feels that it is perhaps better to conclude that divkaio” means ‘righteous’ in this context.

Karris then attempts to show how the idea of justice is a pervasive motif in Luke-Acts. Building on the work of John Reumann70 and Norman Perrin,71 he concludes that Jesus’ work in Luke-Acts is as a preacher whose mission of justice it is to go about preaching the good news to the poor so that God’s kingdom (which is founded on righteousness) can be realized on earth.

With that in mind he demonstrates that the death of Christ in Luke is to be seen as a picture of the ‘righteous suffering one,’ whom the just God later vindicated in the resurrection. Anyone who trusts in God’s justice will receive similar vindication. Thus, according to Karris, in Luke,

God has not abandoned his suffering righteous son, whose suffering typifies that of his unjustly treated creation; God graciously vindicates that Jesus and creates salvific trust in those who trust in his justice. Truly, Jesus was the suffering righteous one.72

      The Death of Jesus Simply a Means to Resurrection,

    Ascension and Glorification

Eric Franklin understands the Lucan Jesus to be cast largely in the light of the Isaianic Servant and puzzles over the question of why Luke avoids any mention of the redemptive sufferings of the Servant.73 His response to this query is to posit that Luke is so controlled by his Christology, and Jesus’ present reign in glory from whence He dispenses salvation, that he does not want to root human salvation in the past event of the cross.

Franklin argues that Luke does not have a negative view of the cross, that is, Luke does not allow it to go against those things that were claimed by the Messiah and he therefore, places it among the events in Jesus’ life that were decreed by God. In short, for Franklin Luke’s cross is simply the means to a higher end, namely, glorification. He says that “its positive value lies in the fact that it alone made the resurrection and ascension possible.”74 Other than that, the cross simply underscores the necessity of suffering, a predominant theme in Luke-Acts.75 Franklin’s view has much in common with Conzelmann, Dodd and others, but he places more emphasis on the cross as a means to the end, namely, glorification.

    The Death of Jesus: The Death of the Lowly

In his article, “Luke’s Theology of the Death of Jesus,”76 Jerome Kodell underscores the New Testament affirmation that ‘Christ died for our sins’ and proclaims the fact that there is probably no truth more deeply embedded in the hearts of Christians. He therefore, finds it incredible that it should be altogether “missing” from Luke-Acts.

Kodell acknowledges the veracity of the martyr motif in Luke as well as the necessity of Christ to go to the cross, but building on the work of a German Dominican, Richard Glöckner, he sees salvation in Luke as essentially the raising of the “lowly” and the cross as the means to this end.77 He argues that there is a great struggle going on in Luke-Acts between the truly righteous and the self-righteous, between the truly lowly and those who are mighty, and the death of Christ as one who was lowly (and sought not his own self-glorification) is the means by which God can now raise all those who are likewise lowly. “His death has meaning in itself as the confrontation of human sinfulness by lowliness, which in God’s plan is the state of openness to divine salvation.”78

    The Death of Christ Imaged through Beneficence

F. W. Danker places the Lucan account of Jesus squarely in the traditions of the Graeco-Roman writers and parallels the passion narrative to the so-called stories of the Graeco-Roman heroes, superstars—great benefactors.79 He says that the fact that Luke introduces Jesus as a deliverer would have automatically alerted his readers to the fact that Jesus was being cast in this light. By interchanging Christ with Satan in the temptation account, Luke has once again demonstrated the superior ability of the great benefactor, Jesus. Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4 is akin to the great addresses of political leaders who promise liberation and his exorcisms were proof that he had power to carry out his promises.

It is in this context, Danker argues, that Luke presents Jesus. Jesus is the great Benefactor, the one individual of exceptional personal merit and piety. His death then, is to be seen as the ability to face impending danger without flinching or being detoured from his purpose and mission. Danker parallels Christ’s struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane with the life struggles of Demetrios the Great and Antiochus I of Kommagene who faced deadly perils during their various exploits and overcame by persevering. He especially cites a quotation from Eumenes who said that he had undergone many great struggles (povllou” meVn kaiV mevgalou” ajgovna”) yet approached the great dangers with indifference. So Christ has all the qualities of a great Graeco-Roman Benefactor and his death in that it leads to his exaltation and apparent immortality further confirm this interpretation for Danker.


Since the time of Conzelmann’s work, The Theology of St. Luke (1960), in which he claimed that Luke delineates no clear theology of the atonement, there have arisen several models to account for the Lucan presentation of the death of Jesus. These models have several things in common: 1) they all recognize Luke’s underscoring of the necessity of the death of Jesus; 2) they all recognize that Luke-Acts focuses more on the exalted, glorified Lord and 3) they all tend to see the mixture of motifs Luke uses, including, justice, innocence, betrayal and martyrological ideas. It is this last point, however, that gives rise to the different models advanced, depending on what a commentator thinks should be stressed.

Some commentators stress the justice motif and therefore cast his death in the light of God’s vindication of a righteous man.80 Others stress the innocent martyr idea.81 Some feel that the death of Christ in Luke-Acts is that of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and that the death is presented so as to include the idea of vicarious atonement.82

In summary then, there is at present no satisfactory consensus reached regarding Luke’s presentation of the death of Jesus. Many models have been proposed, but none seem to deal adequately with all that is going on in Luke-Acts.

4 Perhaps the major cause for the current dilemma is the textual uncertainty of the only two texts in Luke-Acts that seem to explicate a doctrine of the atonement, namely, Luke 22:19b, 20 and Acts 20:28. The issue of the their authenticity will be taken up in the next chapter. However, one cannot totally put the blame here for there are many commentators, due to the problem of Luke’s use of sources, who nonetheless regard the theology of these two texts (if original) as characteristically nonLucan. Therefore, solving the textual problem does not put the debate to rest; there are several others factors, including ‘Pauline intrusionisms’ in Acts and Luke’s use of apparently unaltered early church tradition.

5 By traditional I mean the interpretation of the death of Christ in Luke as vicarious atonement. It must be said at the outset that many still regard the traditional view as essentially correct, but most scholars appear to have opted for another model for understanding Christ’s death on the cross.

6 For a brief statement of the problem and a summary of some of the suggested solutions, see William J. Larkin, Jr. “Luke’s Use of the Old Testament as a Key to His Soteriology,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19, 20 (1977): 326. Cf. also A. George, “Le Sens de la Mort de Jésus pour Luc,” Revue Biblique 80 (1973): 186, 87.

7 Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke, Translated by Geoffrey Buswell, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), 200, 201.

8 Ibid., 137. Cf. also I. Howard Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), 77. He says, “The key word in Conzelmann’s approach is Heilsgeschichte, variously rendered into English as ‘the history of salvation,’ ‘redemptive history’ or ‘salvation-history.’”

9 cf. Charles H. Talbert, “Shifting Sands: The Recent Study of the Gospel of Luke,” Interpretation 30 (1976): 381. Talbert says that before the 1950’s Luke was viewed primarily as an historian, one who had researched information on the Jesus tradition and subsequently assembled his findings, according to their historical outworking, in a two-volume work. But by the mid sixties, Luke-Acts had become a hotbed of study focusing on several issues, especially Luke as a theologian. The locus for the change according to Talbert lay in Rudolph Bultmann’s, Theology of the New Testament (1951, 55). Out of his work grew the work of his students; men like Ernst Käsemann and Hans Conzelmann. Conzelmann is dealt with here while E. Käsemann is not. However, it should be noted that while Käsemann saw the death of Jesus in Luke in a slightly different light than his colleague, namely, as ‘a misunderstanding of the Jews which had to be corrected by God’s intervention in the resurrection,’ he nonetheless stands in the same line with Conzelmann in affirming that Luke communicates no positive doctrine of the atonement; cf. Richard Zehnle, “The Salvific Character of Jesus’ Death in Lucan Soteriology,” Theological Studies 30 (1969): 420.

10 Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke, 149, 150. According to Kevin Giles, “Salvation in Lucan Theology (1),” The Reformed Theological Review 42 (1983): 12,13, the basic idea in Conzelmann’s view is that Luke is primarily a historian, not a theologian and thus has abandoned any hope of the imminent return of Christ. Giles attempts to refute this position by affirming the theological character of Luke’s work as proclamation.

11 Ibid., 200, n. 2. Conzelmann says that he agrees with H. W. Surkau, Martyrien in judischer und frühchristlicher Zeit, 1938 and M. Dibelius, Die Formgeschichte der Evangelien, 2nd ed., 1933, that the martyr-motif is present in the Lucan account of the Passion, but says also that the fact that Luke presents Jesus’ death as according to divine plan substantially differentiates it form a pure martyrdom. Cf. also p. 80 where Conzelmann speaks about the martyr idea.

12 Ibid., 200.

13 Ibid., 153. See also p. 153, n. 3: “cf. Luke 17:25. Although the context is eschatological, the word dei~ is used not in connection with the future, but with the Passion. In xxiv, 7 it is a question of a subsequent proof that the Passion was part of God’s plan, by means of a reference back to one of Jesus’ own statements. A comparison with xxii, 37 shows the harmony between Scripture and Jesus’ own statement. In Luke xxiv, 26 the demonstration of the necessity of the Passion is made the climax of the resurrection story; cf. v. 27 and v. 44 where the circle is completed by the fact that Jesus quotes the Scriptural proof and refers to his earlier sayings.” Cf. also p. 57.

14 Ibid., 201.

15 Ibid., 201, 202. This is difficult to fathom since Luke traveled with Paul and was undoubtedly affected by his ministry and message (notice the large place he gives him in the Gentile mission in Acts 13-28). But perhaps this is trying to read Luke’s soteriology through Pauline eyes, with Paul placed consciously or perhaps unwittingly superior to Luke. Cf. also Paul Feine and Johannes Behm, Introduction to the New Testament, 14th ed., Translated by A, J. Mattill, Jr., ed. Werner Georg Kümmel, (Abingdon Press: New York, 1965), 104. Following Bleiben, Feine et. al. claim that Luke is altogether unfamiliar with the Pauline theology. “This unfamiliarity can most clearly be recognized in the author’s conception of Jesus’ death. Although he understands it as corresponding to the divine necessity (9:22; 24:26), he makes no clear reference to an expiatory death. Mark 10:45 is wanting. Luke 22:19f is carried out no further.”

16 Ibid., 201.

17 Henry J. Cadbury, The Making of Luke-Acts, (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1927), 280.

18 Darrell L. Bock, Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern: Lucan Old Testament Christology, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 12, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1987), 27.

19 Cadbury, The Making of Luke-Acts, 280.

20 Ibid., 281, n. 2 from 280: “It is noticeable how out of the middle of a passage with a dozen “vicarious” phrases (Is. liii, 4-12), Acts quotes vss. 7bcd, 8abc, which have none.”

21 Conzelmann refers to C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching, 1937. But cf. also C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1964), 25. See also E. Franklin, Christ the Lord: A Study in the Purpose and Theology of Luke-Acts, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 65; T. Bleiben, “The Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Paul,” Journal of Theological Studies 45 (1944): 137, who, while disagreeing with Dodd’s analysis of the Lucan and Pauline kerygma, says, “It is perhaps in connexion with the significance attached to the Lord’s death that the divergence between St. Luke and St. Paul is most marked. Both Franklin and Bleiben regard the Cross as the necessary prelude to the exaltation of Christ. But St. Luke seems deliberately to avoid attaching to it any saving power in itself, while the atonement, of course, is a fundamental element in Pauline doctrine. St. Luke omits Christ’s saying about his death being a ransom. According to the shorter text of Luke 22:19-21, which is almost universally regarded as original, there is no reference at the institution of the Eucharist to the shedding of the Lord’s blood on behalf of others” and M. Kiddle, “The Passion Narrative in St. Luke’s Gospel,” Journal of Theological Studies 36 (1935): 267-280, for a similar view.

22 Vincent Taylor, The Passion Narrative of St. Luke, ed. by Owen E. Evans, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 137.

23 Ibid., 57. Taylor suggests the possibility that v. 19a may be a Marcan insertion.

24 cf. Joseph B. Tyson, The Death of Jesus in Luke-Acts, (Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina, 1986), 172, n. 1. Concerning Lucan soteriology he writes, “The conviction of divine necessity constitutes Luke’s main contribution to the theological discussion of Jesus’ death. But he seems uninterested in piercing through to an understanding of the theological reason for the death or in analyzing what it was intended to accomplish.”

25 Zehnle, “Salvific Character,” 420-44.

26 Ibid., 420.

27 Ibid., 420-23, 44; Zehnle argues that just because Luke disagrees with Paul on a particular point, that fact in and of itself, should not render ipso facto his opinion as invalid or inferior. “Whatever position we may adopt on the much-debated question of the relationship of Paul to the author of Luke-Acts, we are bound to misunderstand it unless we admit that we are dealing with two creative theological geniuses.” Several authors have sounded this warning, including Joel B. Green, “The Death of Jesus, God’s Servant,” in Reimaging the Death of the Lukan Jesus, ed. Dennis D. Sylva, (Frankfurt am Main: Anton Hain, 1990), 6; Jerome Kodell, “Luke’s Theology of the Death of Jesus,” in Sin, Salvation and the Spirit, ed. D. Durkin, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1979,) 223 and Werner Georg Kümmel, “Current Theological Accusations Against Luke,” Andover Newton Quarterly 16 (1975): 132.

28 Zehnle, “Salvific Character,” 425.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., 432.

31 Ibid., 436. He further tries to reinforce this interpretation of the death of Christ by arguing that the phrase “the forgiveness of sins” (ajfevsi" aJmartiw`n) in Luke-Acts really equates to divine favor. And the parable of the prodigal son, as a picture of salvation, is further indication that this is so. The son who knows he has sinned against his father receives special favor from his father when he returns home.

32 At this point Zehnle’s appears to present Christ’s death in Luke as a moral appeal to cause people to turn to him, that is, Luke frames it in such a way so as to reveal its emotional power to motivate lost sinners to turn to Christ in faith.

33 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1966): 220-31. It is true that Jeremias is writing largely to refute those who say that while the Eucharistic words of Jesus in the gospels (in particular Luke for our purposes) do assert a vicarious theology, it is nonetheless the dogma of the early church read back into Jesus and not his own interpretation. This situation, however, does not change the fact that Jeremias affirms that Luke 22:19, 20 teaches vicarious atonement. Cf. also, Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology, Translated by John Bowden, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), 291.

34 Ibid., 139-59. Jeremias regards the longer text as authentic primarily on the basis of the overwhelming manuscript evidence in its favor. Also, he focuses on the “for you” aspect of the Eucharistic words of Jesus which are proof for him that the idea of vicarious suffering is present in these verses. But cf. Frederick W. Danker, Jesus and the New Age: A Commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel. Revised and Expanded, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988): 346, who believes that the idea of vicarious death indicates a substitution which would go well beyond Luke’s words here. Cf. also Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), 555; “The sacrificial death of the Saviour was not the outcome of a fortuitous combination of circumstances, but was in accord with the divine plan of salvation, which had already been foreshadowed in the Old Testament, especially in the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, centuries before. Moreover, the Saviour allowed Himself knowingly and voluntarily to be sacrificed as the perfect paschal lamb. For this reason his sacrificial death possesses an eternal, all-sufficient, divine value.”

35 Ibid., 231.

36 Ibid., 227; Jeremias links the Eucharistic words of Jesus in Mark and Matthew with Isaiah 53 predominantly through the association of polloiv yBr. He refers to it as a leit motiv. In this way he supports the idea of the ‘suffering servant’ standing behind Jesus’ interpretation of the bread and the cup. However, the Lucan text has uJmw`n so this is not valid for our purposes. But, Jeremias does indicate that the Lucan Jesus stands as the suffering servant as well, due to the presence of Luke 22:37, but he [i.e., Jeremias] does not develop it at any length. This has been done by Marshall, Bock and others though Bock affirms that Markan usage is more clearly linked to the Old Testament than is Lucan. Cf. Darrell L. Bock, Proclamation from Prophecy, 338, n. 204 .

37 cf. Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke, 201.

38 Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, 171.

39 Ibid., 169.

40 The idea of a Servant christology is admitted by Marshall to be doubtful, but cf. Green, “The Death of Jesus,” 24.

41 Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, 173. According to Marshall, Acts 20:28 was another traditional expression in the church, but Luke does not develop its theology.

42 Ibid., 174.

43 Ibid., 175

44 For a slightly different emphasis in the development of the “Servant” motif in Luke-Acts see Green, “The Death of Jesus,” 1-29. Green relates the whole of the life and passion of Jesus to the Servant idea throughout Isaiah.

45 Bock, Proclamation from Prophecy, p. 338, n. 204 . Cf. also Kümmel, “Current Theological Accusations Against Luke,” 138, for a similar view and the caution that we not too quickly dismiss Luke as having no redemptive understanding of the cross.

46 Larkin, “Luke’s Use of the Old Testament,” 325-35. Larkin argues similarly to Bock, et. al. and says that Luke’s use of Is. 53:12 sets the historical basis for the doctrine of vicarious atonement and the offer of the forgiveness of sins in Luke-Acts.

47 One might remember that Conzelmann, Dodd, Cadbury and virtually every other commentator who denies a vicarious atonement in Luke-Acts points to this omission in support of their hypothesis.

48 Larkin, “Luke’s Use of the Old Testament,” 326. Larkin attempts to demonstrate his thesis regarding the omission of the ‘Mark 10:45 saying by presenting similar editorial activity, etc. in other places in Luke when compared to Mark.

49 Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, NT Library trans. from 3rd German ed., (London: SCM, 1966), 139-59.

50 H. Schürmann, “Lk 22, 19b-20 als ursprungliche Textüberlieferung,” Traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zu den synoptischen Evangelien (Kommentar und Beiträge ZANT; Düsseldorf: Patmos-Verlag, 1968), 159-97.

51 For a brief discussion of disiplina arcani see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971), 176.

52 Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 328.

53 Ibid. For an example of this oversight see Green, “The Death of Jesus,” 10.

54 But cf. Ralph P. Martin, “Salvation and Discipleship in Luke’s Gospel,” Interpretation 30 (1976): 377-378. He feels that the Servant passages are more closely tied to Isaiah 49:6-8 than Isaiah 53.

55 Larkin, “Luke’s Use of the Old Testament,” 329, 30. He suggests that there have been at least four traditional places to place the fulfillment of Jesus’ words (i.e. levgw gaVr uJmi'n o{ti tou'to toV gegrammevnon dei' telesqh'nai ejn ejmoiv, toV kaiV metaV ajnovmwn ejlogivsqh: kaiV gaVr toV periV ejmou' tevlo" e[cei.); 1) when the disciples took up swords and acted like rebelling criminals; 2) when Christ was arrested; 3) when Jesus’ life was given over and Barabbas released in his place or 4) the crucifixion between two criminals. As far as Larkin is concerned all these are wanting on the basis of the lack of verbal and material parallelisms.

56 cf. Green, “The Death of Jesus,” 23.

57 Larkin, “Luke’s Use of the Old Testament,” 331. Larkin deals with the exception to this pattern, namely, Luke 7:27/Malachi 3:1; Exodus 23:20 by showing in fact that it too focuses only on a general description of Johns’ ministry and not on one detail in particular.

58 Ibid., 332.

59 Ibid. Cf. Morna D. Hooker, Jesus and the Servant, (London: SPCK, 1959), 22.

60 And thus Isaiah 53:12d is being used as a context pointer with Luke desiring to ask why a man so innocent should suffer so unrighteously. We find the answer when we read Isaiah 53—he bore our sin.

61 Ibid., Larkin, 332-35.

62 cf. Martin Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966), 201. “The literary consequence of this view is that Luke presents the Passion as a martyrdom. There were Jewish martyrdoms, as is proved by the literary record of them in the Martyrdom of Isaiah. . .[and] since these were read among the Christians, the evangelist [could expect to be understood].”

63 C. H. Talbert, “Martyrdom in Luke -Acts and the Lucan Social Ethic,” In Political Issues in Luke-Acts, ed. Richard J. Cassidy and Philip J. Scharper, (New York: Orbis Books, 1983), 99 and 110, n. 1. For a similar view of the Lucan Jesus as a martyr, see Arland J. Hultgren, “Interpreting the Gospel of Luke,” Interpretation 30 (1976): 361. But cf. also Green, “The Death of Jesus,” 21. He denies that Luke is representing Christ as a martyr. Cf. also Robert J. Karris, “Luke 23:47 and the Lucan View of Jesus’ Death,” Journal of Biblical Literature 105 (January 1986): 68-70, where he strongly denies the idea of the Lucan Jesus as a martyr. He brings into question the material essence of the so-called parallels from extant non-biblical literature that are often cited as corroboration for such an argument.

64 Talbert, “Martyrdom in Luke -Acts,” 109, n. 2.

65 Ibid., 99.

66 Ibid.

67 Talbert sees Luke as more favorably disposed toward the Pharisees, but not everyone is in agreement with this. Cf. Robert J. Karris, “Luke 23:47,” 189, n. 28.

68 Basic to the idea of legitimating the Christian cause is Talbert’s insistence that Luke wrote with a polemical mindset. One can understand the possibility of this in light of Luke’s second volume which in large measure records the advance of the gospel into unevangelized territory. There would be a need to legitimate the Christian cause.

69 This point involves circular reasoning, assuming the idea of martyrdom to be true.

70 John Reumann, “Righteousness” in the New Testament: “Justification” in the United States Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, with Responses by Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Jerome D. Quinn, (Philadelphia: Fortress; New York and Ramsey, NJ: Paulist, 1982): 135.

71 Norman Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976): 15-32.

72 Ibid., 78.

73 E. Franklin, Christ the Lord: A Study in the Purpose and Theology of Luke-Acts, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 67.

74 Ibid., 66, 67.

75 For a similar view of the relation of the cross to Christ’s glorification in Luke see Hultgren, “Interpreting the Gospel of Luke,” 361.

76 Kodell, “Luke’s Theology of the Death of Jesus,” 221-30.

77 By the term ‘lowly’ Kodell means a person who is humble and ready to receive God’s salvation.

78 Kodell, “Luke’s Theology of the Death of Jesus,” 229.

79 Frederick W. Danker, “Imaged as Beneficence,” in Reimaging the Death of the Lukan Jesus, ed. Dennis D. Sylva, (Frankfurt-am-main: Anton Hain, 1990), 57-67.

80 cf. Karris, “Luke 23:47,” 68-78.

81 cf. Talbert, “Martyrdom in Luke -Acts,” 99 and 110, n. 1; Hultgren, “Interpreting the Gospel of Luke,” 361.

82 cf. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words, 220-31; Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, 171; Bock, Proclamation from Prophecy, 338, n. 204.

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