Response to Loren Rosson’s blog article, Luke and the Cross
I do not recall the first time I read Conzelmann’s The Theology of Saint Luke, but for a long time I wondered why Luke has no theology of the cross. Since Conzelmann caused me to think about the subject for a long time, I will start my response to Loren Rosson, III’s article, Luke and the Cross, http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/2005/08/luke-and-cross.html, which is a partial response to my article "The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews" (1999) with Conzelmann. Conzelmann says he agrees with Martin Dibelius that the martyr-motif is present in the Lucan account of the Passion but this is not an essential idea in Luke. However, Conzelmann says that the fact that Luke presents Jesus’ death as according to divine plan substantially differentiates it from a pure human martyrdom. Luke does not present the death of Jesus in expiatory terms. Luke, according to Conzelmann, understands the death as corresponding to the divine necessity (9:22; 24:26). Luke makes no clear reference to an expiatory death. In my article, I argued that by the power of God, Jesus was raised from the death; that the cross had no salvific value and that the resurrection of Jesus vindicated his ministry.Talbert likewise agrees that Jesus as a martyr but there is no linkage with the forgiveness of sins. In Luke there is no indication that Jesus died on the cross for us.
I do acknowledge that Eusebius celebrated martyrdom in his History of the Martyrs in Palestine but he did not suggest dying as a martyr had any atoning value. However there is no question that the Maccabean martyr beliefs was part of the traditions and beliefs of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. The belief structure of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem included the entire corpus of Jewish scripture including the 18th chapter of Ezekiel that teaches that a righteous person cannot die vicariously for the sins of the wicked. There is one exception, the limited atoning value of the death of the High Priest, which I mentioned in my article, "The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews." The Jerusalem community of the followers of Jesus did not have a belief in the atoning value of the death of Jesus.
The common elements of the Lucan transfiguration and the stoning of Stephen only mean that Stephen at the moment of his death sees God just as the face of Moses shined when Moses talked to God. There was no atonement value to the death of Stephen yet both Jesus and Stephen are presented as martyrs. Thus the fact that we call Stephen the first Christian martyr is no support for Rosson’s position. It merely confirms that Stephen was not like Jesus. To say that Jesus died as an innocent martyr means that his death is no more significant than any other martyr.
Rosson cites six reasons related to prophets, martyrs, dying in Jerusalem, suffering, innocence and example to support his statement that Luke has a theology of the cross. It is not enough to show that Luke viewed Jesus as an innocent, suffering prophet who dies as a martyr in Jerusalem as an example for others. None of the six reasons advanced by Rosson shows that Luke has an atonement theology. Martyrdom does not constitute a theology of the cross nor does the death of an innocent, suffering prophet who dies as a martyr in Jerusalem constitute a theology of the cross.
Rosson mentions two points in support of my argument, neither of which were included in my article, one advanced by him, that Luke omits the scapegoat allusion and my comment on crosstalk, that Bart Ehrman has concluded that Lk. 19b-20 is a second century addition. However, Rosson did not discuss my theory that Luke wrote to Theophilus the High Priest. Any suggestion that the death of Jesus had any atoning value, a thought that never occurred to Luke, would have been offensive to the High Priest because he viewed his own death as having a limited atoning value. In my article, I stated: “The death of the High Priest was regarded as atonement for the innocent blood that had been shed” with footnote 10 citing Jacob Milgrom’s JPS Commentary on Numbers with his reasoning in support thereof included. This belief structure of the limited atoning value of the death of the High Priest is the true origin of the Christian doctrine of atonement.
I mention my theory that Luke wrote to the High Priest because it explains in part my belief that Luke was the earliest gospel published in Greek. Rosson merely states, that Luke having no atonement theology, is not evidence that supports early dating of Luke. Since I consider Luke having no atonement theology a piece of the evidence for early dating, I respectfully disagree.
I do want to publicly thank Loren Rosson, III, for taking the time to read my article and discuss it on busybody. It is nice to know that at least one person has read my article. Thank you, Loren.