Home > Christianity, Christology, Church History, Eschatology, Study of the New Testament, Theology > Luke the Theologian: Fifty-five Years of Research (1950–2005), Second Revised Edition

Luke the Theologian: Fifty-five Years of Research (1950–2005), Second Revised Edition

  • Author: François Bovon
  • Publisher: Publisher (2005)
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 700
  • ISBN-10: 193279218X
  • ISBN-13: 9781932792188
  • Format: PDF

In this completely revised and updated edition, François Bovon provides a critical assessment of the last fifty-five years of scholarship on Luke-Acts. The study divides thematically, with individual chapters covering the subjects of history and eschatology, the role of the Old Testament, Christology, the Holy Spirit, conversion, and the church. Each chapter begins with a consideration of the exegetical and theological problems unique to each theme in Luke-Acts before providing a detailed survey and critique of contemporary English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian New Testament scholarship.


Everything began with history and eschatology. Luke was caught between the anvil of redaktionsgeschichtlich exegesis and the hammer of Bultmannian theology. For many, the objectification of faith into creed or history was a temptation that early Christianity could not resist. From the beginning, eschatology, or rather eschatological conscience, had to seek for temporary and contingent forms of expression. These forms were found in the apocalyptic sphere. R. Bultmann, P. Vielhauer, H. Conzelmann, E. Haenchen, S. Schulz, E. Dinkler, E. Grasser and G. Klein1 think that the evangelist modified this mode of expression. By choosing historical narrative instead of the apocalyptic urgency, he betrayed the cause and revealed a loss of the eschatological sap.

Settled in the Roman Empire, which for some was peaceful and for others dangerous, Luke would have lived according to a gospel that had become a holy and ideal evangelical story as well as a hope in a distant resurrection from the dead. Associated with a certain, but as yet remote, return of the Son of Man, absent because of the ascension, this hope could no longer nurture, except in an ethical manner, an existence whose origin was more ecclesiastical than christological. For the present, this memory and hope left an uncomfortable situation in which the presence of the Spirit was unable to institute eschatological fullness, but only an Ersatz (substitute). Considered from a Bultmannian theological point of view and read in a redactional manner, Luke seems to be quite distinct from Paul—perhaps even opposed to him. With the existentialist Paul serving as the norm, the canon within the canon, Luke emerges from the investigation perhaps admired, but with the admiration one has for a gifted culprit for whom the verdict is in any case guilty. He is guilty of having historicized and, in so doing, having de eschatologized the kerygma. Furthermore, he is also guilty of giving a false solution to a real problem, a solution which only touches the apocalyptic framework of the delay of the Parousia and not the existential and eschatological reality of the gospel. The stages of salvation history necessarily project backward into the past the eternal present of the Word, which still holds true. Moreover, the idea of a church history contradicts the conviction of the first Christians for whom Jesus Christ was the end of history. An over-optimistic consideration is given to the Old Testament (OT), whose promises are highlighted, and this in turn provokes the ignoring of the failures. The manifestation of Jesus itself culminates in a powerful proclamation and a privileged resurrection. The cross, the paradoxical center of a still-actual message, becomes a failure, which for Luke is quickly effaced. It is merely a human obstacle, overcome in three days, by a God whose power is a little too visible. Moreover, who tells us that the image of this God remained biblical? What if the God of Luke was an avatar of a Greco-Roman fatum of inescapable decisions? Concerning this, unity was not to be found within the Bultmannian school. Some pointed out that in Luke’s thought, the role of the free will, without much reflection, should have hindered him from having a solid doctrine of grace. Does Luke give too much to humanity by limiting God to heaven? Is secularization the final word of historization? If this is so, we should underline the word history in the expression “salvation history.” Or does Luke give too much place to God by making humans into puppets? The helping strokes of God in history would be intolerably imperialistic: history would advance in miraculous bounds, and Luke would be wrong in observing the famous Heilstatsachen with the aid of the binoculars of an experienced historian. The positivism of revelation could be the ultimate consequence of a salvation history conceived only from the angle of salvation. Whether too human or too “theophile,” Luke is condemned. Certain Protestants wonder what an author who is so Catholic is doing inside the canon.

Today, the sculptors of the image of Luke have grown older. Their blows have weakened, and they are becoming rarer. Others have come to give yet another banal or eccentric form to the abused evangelist. And yet others have been happy to wrest this view from their hands, declared unworthy for the task. Quite numerous are the others, impressed by the intelligence and exegetical talent of Conzelmann and friends, who accept his general schema and limit their ambitions to the correction of certain details. Finally, still others, understanding that Luke, less original concerning eschatology than first thought, judge that his interests lie in the church and the moral life of the communities. This is why Lukan studies have taken a new direction. The dissertations concerning the Eucharist, the ministries, the church, etc. are multiplying. Salvation history, so vigorously defended by O. Cullmann in the peak of the storm, is no longer of utmost concern. Many German Catholic exegetes wonder if salvation history cannot get along with eschatology, an eschatology whose definition remains still unclear or even ambiguous. The existentialist Paul was not the historical Paul, and Luke lives a generation after him. Could not a Lukan rereading of the gospel be one of the legitimate actualizations of the message of which we speak so often today? Formally Luke inserts the gospel into his time differently than Paul. But did he do so responding to the same requirements of faith? The certainty that he wishes his readers to share (against Bultmann and company) could not be the assurance of the modern intellectual who has verified the facts and accepted the proof. This is an anachronistic view of reality. The aporia mentioned above, between a tyrant God and a God who is absent, between a human robot and a Promethean human, can be surpassed by a new conception of history, of the real action. This conception is mediated by God in a world where humans are taken seriously not only in their abstract existential existence but also in their corporality and finiteness, which is also the true mark of the image of God. Luke is the theologian of social realities, of the popular incarnation, of collective hope, of conflicts for bread. The space of humanity, henceforth, takes on an autonomous theological dimension, coexisting with and not subjugated to salvation history. It is a cultivated space.

Twenty five years of Lukan studies have passed: the preceding lines have summarized what seems to us to be the essential ideas of the discussions concerning history and eschatology. It is now the moment to discover in detail the position of each and the manner in which the exegetes and theologians have advanced—although perhaps not always making progress—the debate.

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