Book Review: The Story Luke Tells.

Review of Justo L. González's
"The Story Luke Tells: Luke's Unique Witness to the Gospel"
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., February 2015

González is an eloquent communicator, making this book a great read, and as a historian he puts the author (understood to be Luke) in the context of what was taking place in his cultural setting. He sets Luke's message alongside the accounts of the other gospels and points out the nuances that are unique to Luke and Acts. There were a number of discussions I found to be most enlightening. Not that this short study is necessarily unexplored territory, but it was a great read for someone who may not be trained in fields of biblical scholastic studies, providing a view of the story from a fresh perspective and written in non-technical language, thereby making this work accessible to anyone, but also keeping it engaging for a trained academic.

He starts off pointing out how undervalued Luke (Luke and Acts), as a NT contributor has been. Luke's writing forms a substantial part of the NT, therefore González systematically explores Luke's different outlooks on many subjects: salvation, the history of humanity and also more specifically Israel's history (via genealogies), gender roles, examining theological and social implications relating to food and drink, worship, the role of the Holy Spirit and the list goes on.

He also made some passing comments throughout the book I found to be extremely valuable. Not just in relation to the accounts of Luke, but also practices and principles that inevitably shape the rest of our worldview pertaining to biblical study and exegesis. Here are some examples:

There are stands of biblical interpretation that envision Jesus as "the creator", meaning of the corporeal world, the originator at the very beginning (the Lukan author is very clear that this is not the case, especially in the second work, Acts). These interpretations stem from the prologue of John and various fragments of Pauline communication. This viewpoint has some major flaws ( which is not the point of this review nor the thrust of the book). Rather, Jesus is better seen as the channel of a new creation, a new work that God is doing in and through the historical Jesus. González picks up on this theme of Luke in the title "son of God."

"He [Luke] is able to end his genealogy with the phrase 'Adam, son of God' (Luke 3:38). Since in the earlier chapter Luke has made it very clear that Jesus is the son of God, in giving Adam the title 'son of God,' Luke is implying that in Jesus a new creation begins. This theme of Jesus as the new Adam, as the beginning of a new creation, is typical of the theology that was beginning to develop around Antioch and Asia Minor at that time, and may be particularly seen in the writings of both Luke and Paul" p. 9.

This is crucial especially relating to Christology. Failure to understand the Hebraic principle of "new creation" brings interpretations of the text that the writers never intended or indeed could have envisioned. Their scripture was very clear as to who was the originator of the "heavens and earth" as physical entities and in no way did they think Jesus of Nazareth was responsible. Jesus was however, the one through whom God was making the aiōn Heb. 1 (an age, a period of time, a specific order: this does not mean, as some translations lead us to believe that he created the "universe" or "world" in the physical sense. The overall context of Hebrews bears this out).

He also speaks of supernatural conceptions found in the Scripture and then details principles relating to biblical "typology." This is a concept that is known in scholarship, but is unfortunately lost to many theologians, commentators and pastors. For example, in Paul's words in 1 Cor. 10:4,

"all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ." 

In verse 6 Paul uses the word tupos which exemplifies that of which González speaks. This is typology, but I have observed this passage severely abused in an atrocious attempt to support a literal and physical preexistence of Jesus. Typology is of utmost importance. Thus González's howbeit short treatment of typology was a welcome addition.

Not far from the subject of typology, he gives his perspective (although inadvertently) that corresponds to a "second Adam Christology." His perspectives relating to Luke's treatment of Jesus' temptation fit well with a "second Adam" interpretation of Philippians 2 and how Luke portrays Jesus as the culmination and ultimate historical fulfillment of Israel.

His exploration of OT events and NT manifestations relating to the salvific works of the God of Israel were of great interest to me as well. Defining “salvation” in modern Christianity has been far too depoliticized. There is no question regarding the multiplicity of value in salvation, but in current Christian pop culture, salvation has been reduced to a theme hardly anything other than a present spiritual phenomenon one either “has” or “hasn’t” thus determining an eternal destination of eternal bliss or eternal torment. The text is thus read within this small eisegetical constraint, causing us to miss the depth of what Luke intended to communicate (although arguably his first century audience would have understood well). González writes,

"if the way in which we understand salvific events...makes it incompatible with the great salvific actions of God in the Old Testament, then we, like the shepherds [in the Lukan infancy narrative], have an incomplete and deficient understanding of salvation. In other words, we have repeatedly heard that we must read the Old Testament in the light of the New, and that is true. But it is equally true that we must learn how to read the New Testament in the light of the Old" p. 67.

I love the way he phrases that, "we must learn...," implying (rightly so in my opinion) that Christians no longer (know how to) do this. We have forgotten whence the story of Jesus has its root.

The last thing I will highlight about this worthwhile book is also a subject to which I am no stranger. The modern misconception regarding what "name" signifies in the Scripture has caused much turmoil among some believers today (specifically in Jewish roots and messianic movements). It is not complex nor difficult, but still is a foreign concept to many. It has gone so far that it is has even crept into some aspects of varying forms of Christology. Regarding Luke's telling of Peter and John being questioned as to whose name and in whose authority they brought forth healing, Peter's sermon and ultimately the connection between "healing" and "salvation," González finds it noteworthy to write,

"It is important to remember that the 'name' of Jesus in this context is not the mere combination of the letters J e s u s, but is rather the very person and authority of Jesus. What is meant is not that to be healed one has to say 'Jesus,' but rather that every healing and every salvation take place through the power and the mercy of Jesus" p. 72.

Far too many have swept away in the phonetics and pronunciation of not only Jesus name, but the name of Jesus' God, Yahweh. It is an absurd notion to suggest that God has a preoccupation with modern English or Hebrew. Calling on a "name" has to do with reputation, authority and everything represented in the character of the individual called upon not how the name is pronounced or spelled in a language, God is not into mysticism (as we define it today). The same naive and errant ideological phenomenon is represented in the belief by some that God's word is not only limited to English in one specific translation (namely the KJV) but also in the view that “God's word,” represents something that became known as the Bible. But I digress.

I don't wholly adhere to everything promoted in this book, but it is nevertheless a worthwhile read that will give more appreciation for the story Luke tells, thus giving more of an appreciation for the one of whom the story speaks. After all, it's our story too. True to pastoral form, González begins and concludes with practical admonitions:

"Luke proposes to tell the story of Jesus. And like every one of those others, he has his own interests, perspectives, and emphases. Therefore, much of what Luke has to tell us today in the midst of our own situation and interests has to do with his perspective and emphases. It is therefore important to consider some of those emphases and interests, which certainly help us today to draw nearer to Luke's Master and ours...we cannot let Luke's story go...precisely because it does not end. It extends through time and geography to reach us, no matter where or when it may be. If this were simply a story about the past it would be appropriate to write, at the conclusion of Acts 28, as at the conclusion of a film, 'The End.' But since the story is unfinished, it is more appropriate to conclude it with 'RSVP,' like an invitation that awaits a response. This is what Luke demands from us: not satisfied curiosity about the past, but a response here and now. RSVP!" pp. xi, 129.

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