Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Covenant in Luke-Acts

It is interesting that the usage of the word "covenant" [diatheke] has apparently declined in the NT era. One need note that Josephus does not use the word "covenant" in his writings and has in fact rewritten the covenant concept out of his sacred scriptures to accomplish his objectives. For Josephus, if there is no [old] covenant, there can be no new covenant.

The usage of [diatheke] in the NT is 32/33 and in Luke-Acts 3/4 [one questionable usage]. Since Luke-Acts represents 25% of the NT, one would expect a higher number of occurrences of the word in Luke-Acts on a proportionate basis.

However, looking more closely at Luke's writings, the concept of a covenant community is rather strong and in fact Luke does defend the rite of circumcision. Three examples should illustrate this point.

Luke has added “For a long while” to note the antiquity of God's covenant with Moses. This Lucan addition makes no sense if the Lucan Jesus has rejected and terminated a long standing relationship with God's people. This is consistent with the findings of Richardson that Luke has not identified Christianity with Israel in explicit terms as did Justin Martyr. Rather, as explained by Jervell, Luke has redefined the people of Israel, as did Paul, to include “those of faith” among whom are now numbered Gentiles, in God's blessing of Abraham. This is also consistent with the teaching of Isaiah and Sirach that the promise to Abraham is interpreted to include the redemption of the Gentiles. The Lucan version of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants represents the original teaching of Jesus, a parable in which Jesus does not condemn the Temple and the animal sacrificial system nor does God reject his people. As a result of the restoration, Gentiles receive a share in the salvation in accordance with the promise of God and thus become associated with Israel as equal members of the covenant community.

The story of the 'Good Thief' is another example of a story unique to Luke that had one meaning to the High Priest and another meaning for us. The prophets repeatedly told the people 'repent and be saved.' The prophets taught that it was never too late to turn from your evil ways. The Good Thief did repent on the cross and the Lucan Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The High Priest believed that repentance was the key to salvation and therefore would have appreciated this story. It was the ultimate last minute act of repentance. The behavior of the Good Thief was consistent with Jewish belief that even someone who had gone astray could return to the fold of the covenant by repenting. Both the Prodigal Son and the Good Thief had repented.

A number of scholars have quoted from anthropologist Feeley-Harnik's seminal study on food and teaching in the OT and NT. Neyrey synthesizes Feeley-Harnik's observations into his analysis of Luke 22:14-38:

“These statements rest on the basic principle: as God gives food to the covenant people, so God gives Torah-instruction to them. Bread/food are a clear and unmistakable symbol of Torah-instruction ... Food and instruction are interchangeable symbols, replicating each other. In other words, a meal is a perfect setting for teaching, as Wisdom in the Old Testament or symposia in Greek literature indicate.”

Luke does have a concept of covenant community.

Copyrighted 2006


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