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Conclusion on the Atonement in Luke-Acts

The purpose of this thesis, as stated in the introduction, is to enable the reader to understand the stream of debate regarding the issue of the atonement in Luke-Acts from the time of the publication of Hans Conzelmann’s The Theology of St. Luke (1960) to the present day. No attempt has been made to argue for one position over against another, but instead to delineate from the time of Conzelmann to the present, the state of affairs surrounding this issue. In this regard, we have seen that there have been several models developed to account for Luke’s presentation of the death of Jesus, but nonetheless the problem remains a thorny issue with no satisfactory consensus reached.

While virtually every scholar recognizes Luke’s stress on the necessity of Christ’s sufferings,137 there have been few who have organized the whole of their exegesis of Luke around this idea. Thus, the discussion continues as to whether Luke presents Jesus’ death as 1) part of his atoning work; 2) the Isaianic Suffering Servant with expiatory overtones; 3) an innocent martyr; 4) the death of a righteous man whom God later vindicated in the resurrection; 5) necessary to make possible the resurrection, glorification and exaltation; 6) the death of the lowly and humble, the benefits of which are passed on to others who walk in lowliness of life or 7) that of a great benefactor.

The reason for the scholarly movement away from a vicarious interpretation of the death of Christ in Luke-Acts is due to the fact that apart from two passages Luke never appears to make that equation. That is, apart from these two passages, he never explicitly links the death of Christ with forgiveness of sins. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the two passages in question, namely, Luke 22:19, 20 and Acts 20:28 are fraught with both textual and interpretive problems.

There are a growing number of New Testament scholars, however, who regard Luke 22:19, 20 as authentic and as such argue for vicarious atonement. Not all, however, who regard the longer text as original interpret it as commending vicarious atonement. Many instead see Christ’s impending death as the seal of the New Covenant and not substitutionary suffering at all.

The other passage, Acts 20:28, is textually uncertain as well, but most scholars view the qeou‘ reading as original. And there seems to be a developing consensus among exegetes that the phrase tou‘ iJdivou was a way of referring to Christ in the early church. With this in mind, most interpreters understand the thrust of the verb periepoihvsato to be in the direction of the “purchasing” idea and agree that here we have vicarious suffering espoused. But again, in recent discussion on the issue there has been a tendency to ascribe this idea to the theology of someone other than Luke; to Paul perhaps or to early church tradition.

Such is the current state of the discussion regarding the atonement in Lucan theology. If a satisfactory consensus is to be forthcoming, it will undoubtedly include a model that will both rightly appraise the strengths and weaknesses of the previous solutions and adequately handle the exegetical details of the Lucan texts in a unified and convincing way. Such a model has not yet been proposed and is probably good material for a dissertation.

137 Scholars have tended to recognize Luke’s use of the Greek verb dei` in connection with Christ’s sufferings.

Related Topics: Atonement