Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Luke has no theology of the cross

While Loren Rosson III at busybody agrees that Luke has no atonement theology, he contends Luke shows signs of a martyrdom theology and thus has a theology of the cross. This is of course an error of logic. Rosson has redefined theology of the cross so expansively as to effectively bastardize the meaning of the theology of the cross.

Christians believe that Jesus, the anointed one, died on the cross for the sins of mankind. This is the definition of theology of the cross. Christians also believe that no further sacrifices are needed or are necessary to effectuate salvation. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews made it clear that additional sacrifices are not necessary. To equate martyrdom theology with a theology of the cross is to suggest martyrs need to die to obtain their own salvation and possibly the salvation of others.

There is one additional preliminary matter that needs to be mentioned. Hans Conzelmann was the first write to about Luke having no atonement theology although Cadbury and Dodd had mentioned it before him. Darrell Bock who contends Luke does have a theology of the cross may have been the first to say that Conzelmann and those who agree with him were wrong to say that Luke has no theology of the cross, my point being that Conzelmann and those who agree with him probably did not use the phrase, “no theology of the cross,” to describe their views. Furthermore, Martin Luther was the first to use the theology of the cross terminology. Luther certainly understood that the basic element of the theology of the cross was that Jesus, the anointed one, died on the cross for the sins of mankind. Since Luther, Conzelmann and Bock are centuries from the time Luke wrote, it is extremely important to define exacting what it is we say is not included in Luke’s theology. When we say Luke has no theology of the cross, we mean that Luke gives no redemptive significance to the death of Jesus on the cross. As Jean Danielou has indicated, early Christian theology saw in the symbolism of the cross the expression of irresistible power and divine efficacy.

Having addressed the preliminaries, it is now necessary to address what evidence there is for a martyrdom theology in Luke, recognizing that there could be a martyrdom theology even in the absence of a theology of the cross. This evidence, however, does not provide support for the existence of a theology of the cross in Luke.

Rosson cites five examples provided by Brown and one from Seeley, Noble Death.

Consider the following, many of which are noted by Raymond Brown in Death of the Messiah, pp 31-32:

(a) Luke understands Jesus to be a prophet (Lk 4:24; 7:16; 9:8,19; 24:19), and believes that prophets are made for martyrdom (Lk 6:22-23; Acts 7:52).
(b) Luke believes that Jesus went to Jerusalem, because that’s where prophetic martyrs were supposed to die (Lk 13:33-34).

(c) Luke’s repeated theme of “innocence” invokes martyrdom, by implying that Jesus died for a holy and just cause.
(d) Luke parallels the deaths of Jesus and Stephen (the latter of whom is clearly a martyr); both die forgiving their enemies and “entrusting their spirits” to God/Jesus. Here we see a crucial aspect by which the martyr serves as a model to be followed, or copied, by others.
(e) Luke insists that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected, before being killed and raised (Lk 9:22).
(f) Luke’s original eucharist tradition (Lk 22:15-19a; minus the editorial 22:19b-20) anticipates necessary suffering on the part of Jesus.
So Luke does have a theology of the cross. Jesus’ innocence as a crucified martyr is precisely what leads to him being raised from death.

Although Talbert sees the Lucan Jesus as an innocent martyr, Robert Karris argues the term ‘divkaio’ in Luke 23:47 should be translated ‘righteous’ and not ‘innocent.’ This would be consistent with the translation of ‘divkaio’ in Acts 7:52.

The clearest example of martyrdom theology can be found in Second and Fourth Maccabees. Stephen Farris has suggested that the hymns of Luke's infancy narratives show evidence of Maccabean influence. In addition, word studies indicate that Luke used many words common only to his writings, not appearing elsewhere in the NT, and I-IV Maccabees. This would suggest that Luke has some familiarity with these writings.

Finlan states: “The deaths of the martyrs are a momentary disciplining of the nation, but ‘he will again be reconciled with his own servants’” (2 Macc. 7:33). The deaths are instructional, and will be imitated by the next generation; Eleazar is leaving ‘to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws’ (6:28). The seventh son sees his self-surrender as a way of appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation’ (7:37), and their deaths are effective; “through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty’ (7:38). The plea for deliverance ‘soon’ is answered. God responds to the ‘intercessory prayer’ of the martyrs to ‘show mercy,’ and he shortens the afflictions of the nation. The martyrs’ deaths actually made the atonement possible, so they can be described as propitiatory deaths. God became reconciled- the literal meaning, translated as ‘show mercy’ in 7:37.” Finlan, 198; Greek words and footnotes omitted.

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is a significant event. We call this day, Palm Sunday, because on this day the crowd hailed Jesus, no doubt by waving palm branches, as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

In 2Macc10.7-8, Jacob Macc. has just cleansed the temple from Antiochus Epiphanes' desecrating acts. Verses 6-8 shows that the people celebrated by carying and waving ivy leaves and palm branches: "The celebrated [the cleansing] for eight days with rejoicing.... Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathedwands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year."

Now in Lk19.32ff, Luke's Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. After his entrance, he cleanses the temple (vv45), which is in opposite order of Judas' acts in 2Macc. But Luke omits any "waving of palms", etc., reducing the people to merely "spread their garment on the road" (v36). It might be argued, I think, that Luke does not have such a detail because he did not mean to convey a kind of celebration that would be regarded as a national holiday

I would add to these comments by Lee Dahn that Luke is certainly familiar with 2nd Macc and may be avoiding an allusion to it with its martyrdom theology.

There simply is no common martyrological formula or relationship between the passages in these 2 Maccabean books, cited by Finlan, and Luke-Acts. Stephen does not petition God to be merciful as do the Maccabean martyrs nor does his blood cry out.[i]

Although Rosson mentions Stephen, there is no mention of James, brother of John and James, brother of Jesus, as martyrs for the faith. If Luke had a martyrdom theology, it certainly should have been exhibited in Acts 12:2 in the description of the death of James, brother of John.

For these reasons, I conclude that not only does Luke not have any atonement theology; he also has no martyrdom theology.

[i] 4 Macc. 8:3. Luke 1:72 has a phrase that could be translated as “to do mercy” but this is the only instance.

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