Where the world comes to study the Bible

Introduction to Atonement in Luke-Acts

    The Need for the Study

The study of Luke-Acts has received considerable attention over the last thirty or more years. Studies have brought to light questions regarding redaction criticism and Luke’s use of sources,1 the reliability of Luke as a historian and the relation of Acts to Paul’s letters and travels,2 the textual problems in this two-volume work as well as the theology of Luke-Acts. Commenting on these issues, W. C. Van Unnik says, that “in 1950 no one could have foretold that in the next decade Luke-Acts would become one of the great storm centers of New Testament scholarship, second only to that of the historical Jesus.”3

With the increasing volume of work being produced on these important documents it has become difficult to keep up with the flow of information. This is true not only as it relates to Lucan studies as a whole, but also as it relates to just one aspect of Lucan studies, namely, his theology of the atonement. There is no work, as far as the author knows, that surveys the last 40 years or so of this discussion and yet there is the great advantage to the exegete to be aware of the state of the current debate on this topic. Therein lies the rational and need for this work.

    The Purpose & Scope of the Study

The purpose for The Atonement in Lucan Theology in Recent Discussion, 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. The primary question regarding this issue may be stated as follows: “Since it appears that Luke articulates no explicit theology of the atonement with respect to the cross, how does the cross function in his work?” There have been several answers given to this question in recent discussion and it is the purpose of this study, not to argue for one position over against another, but instead to present the various solutions and their relation to one another since Conzelmann.

    The Method of Research

In order to produce this study several works were consulted. First, the most current New Testament introductions, theologies and commentaries were investigated in order to trace the discussion back to Conzelmann in 1960. Second, essays and periodicals that dealt specifically with the debate were investigated. Third, works such as lexical aids, grammars and textual-critical works were consulted as necessary. The results are presented in the body of the text according to the major authors and their respective views.

    Overview of the Study

The body of the paper will contain two chapters. The first chapter will be a historical survey. It will deal with the history of the debate, tracing to the present various authors in the discussion and the positions they hold. Though the bulk of the study concerns the time between Conzelmann and the present day, some of the background and influences upon Conzelmann will be enumerated in order that the reader be able to contextualize his [i. e. Conzelmann’s] views.

The second chapter in the body will give the exegetical rationale for the respective positions of the various authors. It will focus on an examination of two critical texts involved in the discussion: Luke 22:19-20 and Acts 20:28. This chapter will look at the textual problems in these passages as well as the recent history of their exegesis. These two chapters will serve to give the essence of recent discussion surrounding the issue of the atonement in Lucan theology.


1 On the question of sources underlying Luke’s passion narrative, see Frank J. Matera, “The Death of Jesus according to Luke: A Question of Sources,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47 (1985): 469-85.

2 One need only consider, as an example of this problem, the difficulty in relating Paul’s travels as described in the book of Galatians to those set forth by Luke in Acts. For example, cf. Robert G. Hoerber, “Galatians 2:1-10 and the Acts of the Apostles,” Concordia Theological Monthly 31 (August 1960): 482-91. John B. Polhill, “Galatia Revisited, The Life Setting of the Epistle,” Review and Expositor 69 (Fall 1972): 437-48. Robert H. Stein, “The Relationship of Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15:1-35: Two Neglected Arguments,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17 (Fall 1974): 239-42. Charles H. Talbert, “Again: Paul’s Visits to Jerusalem,” Novum Testamentum 9 (January 1967): 26-40. Stanley D. Toussaint, “The Chronological Problem of Galatians 2:1-10,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (October-December 1963): 334-40.

3 W. C. Van Unnik, “Luke-Acts, A Storm Center in Contemporary Scholarship,” in Studies in Luke-Acts, ed. Leander E. Keck and J. Louis Martyn, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 15-32. See also Charles H. Talbert, “Shifting Sands: The Recent Study of the Gospel of Luke,” Interpretation 30 (1976): 384, who quotes W. W. Gasque, A History of the Criticism of the Acts of the Apostles, (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1975), 305, as saying that “there is no general agreement among scholars on even the most basic issues of Lukan research.”

Related Topics: Atonement