Zondervan Academic have been working on a new series of eight planned books called The Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Their aim is to examine the theology within each of the New Testament writings. I have the privilege of being part of a blog tour regarding the second book in the series, A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell L. Bock. Here’s a quick snippet to give you an introductory look:
As the website states:
The Biblical Theology of the New Testament (BTNT) series provides upper college and seminary-level textbooks for students of New Testament theology, interpretation, and exegesis. Pastors and discerning theology readers alike will also benefit from this series. Written at the highest level of academic excellence by recognized experts in the field, the BTNT series not only offers a comprehensive exploration of the theology of every book of the New Testament, including introductory issues and major themes, but also shows how each book relates to the broad picture of New Testament theology.
Bock, having spent over three decades studying and writing about both Luke and Acts, is seen as a leading expert. The first four chapters of this 500+ page book are devoted to introductory matters, the real detail is in the next 19 chapters where Bock explains the theology of Luke. Since reading through and reviewing a work of this size is better suited to several posts, for ease of this review I scanned a number of chapters, and looked more carefully at chapter 3 – The Case for the Unity of Luke-Acts and Reading the Volumes as Luke-Acts and as Luke and Acts. The full table of contents and a few pages from chapter two are available online for viewing.
It is always interesting when one gets to the end of reading Luke’s gospel as to whether one should continue on into John’s gospel or skip into the second part of Luke’s writing and read Acts. Darrell Bock would seem to agree with me that there is a unity to the two books based on chapter 3 of A Theology of Luke and Acts.
Much debate has arisen in recent years over Luke’s original intention regarding the two books. Did he intend to write a two-volume work from the outset, or did Acts come about later? Ultimately, what was going on in the mind of Luke is something we will never know, but Bock suggests there are enough links between the two books to show Luke was planning Acts from the beginning.
One criticism is that the two books have different styles and even deal with different theological topics. This is an argument based on nuances more than anything. However, even some who sought to prove the disunity ended up finding that there is so much interwoven between the books that they come out more strongly in favor of the argument for unity.
The other main argument is that the early church did not treat these two volumes as one. However, this misses the bigger point. Although they may focus more heavily on different theological themes, there is enough unity to show that they are part of a bigger story. Bock uses the examples of the six episodes of the Star Wars epic. Each tells a story in its own right, but they are all part of a larger narrative. The same is true for Luke and Acts.
Yet even if one does not agree, Bock makes a strong case for reading Luke and Acts as unified and also as distinct. Structurally, thematically, and theologically, there is a lot of overlap. Thus it is not inappropriate to swing back and forth from Luke to Acts while discussing topics such as Israel, Gentiles, women, or persecution. Each supports and builds upon the other. Yet the longstanding history of separating the books in the arrangement of the New Testament reminds us that there are two volumes for a reason. The first describes the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the second describes the birth and growth of the early church.
Bock explains why this unified reading is so important to understanding Luke-Acts:
…we contend that Luke-Acts as well as Luke and Acts is intended to set forth the program of God as delivered through Jesus. The Christ was sent to bring the kingdom and Spirit to people of all nations who embraced his message of promise and deliverance. Jesus is the promised Messiah who also was vindicated by God to show he is Lord of all. So the kingdom message can go to all (p. 60).
I have not read the whole book, but from my reading so far it is clear that this will be a valuable resource in regards to Luke-Acts scholarship.