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The Character and Purpose of Luke's Christology.

Buckwalter's aim, as he himself expresses it, is to `push open a few doors in the study of Luke-Acts and New Testament Christology which "critical orthodoxy" has declared closed'. Many recent studies have not done justice to Luke's overall vision. Above all, they have failed to allow his statement of the Lordship of Jesus to qualify that subordinationism which is so often seen to control his Christology and to acknowledge adequately how he allows Jesus' past earthly ministry to be caught up in his present reign at God's right hand. Buckwalter is clearly setting out to take issue with those who, in pointing to Luke's distinctive christological stance, see him as embracing something other than that trinitarian orthodoxy which the New Testament as a whole is said to express, or at least to facilitate.

Buckwalter finds the clue to a true assessment of Luke's beliefs in a right understanding of his purpose. Here, any more immediate reason for writing is denied other than the emergence of second generation Christianity and the possible recent loss of Paul. Luke is at one in outlook with both Mark and Paul. He writes to supplement Mark whom he would have found deficient in drawing out the fact and significance of the Resurrection, in showing how John's promise of one who bestowed the Spirit was fulfilled and in pointing to the continuing action of Jesus in the community. If Mark's gospel helps us to appreciate the purpose of Luke-Acts, Paul's writings `may contain a roughly contemporaneous chronological parallel for understanding Luke'. His readers most likely had some contact or association with Paul. They were therefore well acquainted with the contents of the apostolic preaching. Their knowledge most likely paralleled that of the Ephesian elders of Acts 20. Luke's aim was to supplement what they already knew and believed.

Parallels with the thought of Philippians lead Buckwalter to suggest that Luke, like Paul, presents a Christology which is used in the service of commending a Jesus-like lifestyle. Since Philippians does not refer to the vicarious aspect of Jesus' death in which Paul so clearly believed, `Luke probably intentionally avoids much reference to the atoning value of Jesus' death so as not to confuse believers on how they are to conform to Jesus' life'. Nevertheless, `Luke's writings do not lack the idea of Jesus' death as a ransom, but only clear reference to it'.

Luke's differences from Mark are explained with equal ease. `Luke in all probability is not opposed to Mark's idea of a Galilean appearance but merely expresses for literary reasons parts of the tradition which concentrated on Jerusalem in preparation for its central -- and perhaps symbolic -- geographical location for the spread of the gospel in Acts.'

The third part of the book is a discussion of Luke's understanding of Jesus' Lordship. Here, issue is taken with Moule's evaluation of Luke's as an `absentee Christology'. In reaction, however, Buckwalter expounds one which sees Jesus as taking on those attributes which in the Old Testament are assigned to Yahweh himself and which express both his transcendent and immanent deity. Such is the identity of imagery -- bestowal of the Spirit, presence through the name, dwelling in the midst of his people, description as Lord -- that `when God is spoken of in Acts, for Luke, both Jesus and the Father fit the billing'. Luke is not to be seen as `categorically separating function from essence when commenting on Jesus' Lordship'.

Jesus, though mediated through the Spirit, also appears himself to his people. Their work is parallel. Jesus is personally active among his followers. Buckwalter summarizes thus: `The textual evidence most likely suggests that Luke considered Jesus' heavenly reign as equal to the Father's -- the exalted Jesus appears, in the cosmological sense as the Father's co-equal, ruling over Israel, the church, and the world, and leading sacred and world history to its consummation in his return.'

There is, however, a subordinationist strand in Luke's work, not it is true in his understanding of the post-existent Christ, but in his presentation of his earthly career. Philippians here is our guide to Luke. Paul there has no need to express the atoning significance of Jesus' death, for belief in that already binds together him and his readers. He is therefore able to concentrate on Jesus' exemplary function. Luke, aiming to show how the `life of the believer should image the message preached' follows the same path. His is a `tract on Christian discipleship drawn from Jesus' life, work and teaching' which Acts applies.

Buckwalter's is an ambitious project, for he aims not only to find a purpose for Luke's two volumes but also to line them up with both full-blown Trinitarianism and a vicarious cross. Luke is pressed into the service of both orthodox belief and biblical uniformity. But does it work? Here I must express an interest, for my own reading leads me to line up with those from whom this book would rescue Luke. I remain unconvinced by its argument.

His expression of Luke's purpose is just too vague, seeming to do less than justice to Luke's preface which at least suggests some distinctive point of view. That this includes Luke's reading of Mark is made likely both by his free handling of that volume and his reshaping of its two incidents which support a vicarious reading of the cross. Luke was not simply adding to a Mark with whom he agreed and with whom he was known to agree by his readers. Buckwalter's categorizing of Luke-Acts as supplementary information allows for a catch-all exposition of Luke and one which in one bound can break free from any constraints imposed by his actual text. The suspicion that this allows just too much room for eisegesis is not lessened by the frequent use of `perhaps', `it is possible that', `it may be that' and the like. Their frequency is such as to allow the wish ultimately to become the father of the thought.

This subjectivity mars Buckwalter's discussion of Luke's exaltation Christology. There is room for discussion of this and it is pursued ably by such as Turner and Bock. Buckwalter comes to their support but I think his arguments add little to theirs. He points to the weaknesses of Moule and makes some inroads in Lampe, but he deals with the Spirit less adequately than these predecessors, is far too general in the parallelisms he draws between the work of Yahweh in the Old Testament and that of Jesus in Acts, does less than justice to Psalm 110, and pays scant attention to the Apostolic Prayer. Overall, Buckwalter is so keen to claim more for his reasoning than it deserves that his conclusions become suspect. This is a pity, for a more controlled approach would have given weight to his position. The line between legitimately held presuppositions and a determined imposition of them upon a text is thin. This book I think crosses that line and its contribution to Lukan scholarship is thereby considerably reduced.
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Author:Franklin, E.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
Words:1166
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