How Luke Relates to Acts

17 Mar
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It may be surprising to some that Luke connects his two theses together by more than simply naming their addressee, Theophilus. It is through the literary use of chiasms that Luke shows us that both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts need to be understood together as one complete work. In doing so, Luke unveils important details in both works that might otherwise be lost. The use of chiastic patterns as a literary tool is commonly found in ancient works of importance like the Iliad and the Odyssey. Likewise, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament both employ chiastic structures to illustrate or emphasize certain facts the authors view as particularly significant.

Chiastic patterns aid especially those in an oral culture to recall what one has memorized. It also aided actors or orators in their performances in recalling what needed to be said before an audience. Chiasms appear in several forms. For example, arguably President Kennedy’s most famous and most quoted statement was: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This is an example of an alternate (A-B-A-B) chiasm. The first statement is changed around in the second and then contrasted with the first. Benjamin Franklin offers a simple introverted (A-B-B-A) chiasm in his famous statement: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

The Gospel of Luke connects with the Book of Acts in a great A-B-C-C-B-A chiastic pattern. After the introduction (chapters 1 through Luke 4:13), Jesus came into Galilee of the gentiles (Luke 4:14; cf. Matthew 4:12-16) and preached the Gospel there. Afterward he journeyed into Samaria and Judea and ministered there (Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:27). Finally, Jesus came to Jerusalem where he preached the Gospel and was taken by his enemies, crucified and rose from the dead (Luke 19:28 to Luke 24). This represents the A (gentiles), B (Samaria and Judea) and C (Jerusalem) chiastic pattern of the Gospel being preached, and is answered in Acts with the Gospel preached from C (Jerusalem – Acts 2 to 7), then to B (Samaria and Judea – Acts 8 through 11) and finally to the gentiles (Acts 12) with Peter going to Antioch and (Acts 13 through Acts 28) Paul’s evangelistic efforts around the Empire terminating in Rome). So, the pattern is the Gospel is preached by Jesus in Luke to (A) gentiles, (B) Samaria and Judea, and (C) Jerusalem. Then it is preached by Jesus’ disciples to (C) Jerusalem, (B) Samaria and Judea, and (A) gentiles, thus uniting the two works into one complete and symmetrical structure.

On the other hand, when it comes to the themes of the Gospel preached, Luke used the alternate chiastic pattern (A-B-C-A-B-C). In Luke 4:14 to Luke 9:50 he intends for us to view the Gospel going to the gentiles, but the theme is the mobile Temple of God in Christ (Moses’ Tabernacle) as opposed to the stationary Temple at Jerusalem built by Solomon. Folks went to the Temple for forgiveness of sin and to be declared healed and cleansed by the priests. However, Jesus went about Galilee of the gentiles healing the sick (Luke 4:38-40), raising the dead (Luke7:12-16), casting out demons (Luke 4:33-35, 41) and forgiving sin (Luke 5:18-26)—all of which in the 1st century culture were done either in the Temple or by the priests of the Temple via animal sacrifice. Nevertheless, Jesus did all these things himself, while going from town to town throughout Galilee.

Next Jesus journeyed through Samaria and Judea preaching the Gospel, but the theme was receiving the outcasts of Jewish society. It was salvation to the Samaritans (Luke 9:56) and the gentiles (Luke 10:13; 11:31-32), honoring women (Luke 10:40-42; 13:11-13), welcoming publicans and sinners (Luke 15:4-10; 18:10-14; 19:1-9), and blessing the helpless and poor (Luke 14:12-14; 15:11-24; 16:19-22; 18:3-6).

Finally, Jesus entered Jerusalem and his enemies tried to trip him up in his words (Luke 20:19-26). They sought how they might kill him (Luke 22:2), but they found no reason to justify their efforts. Jesus was innocent (Luke 23:13-15). Thus the chiasm is: (A) the stationary Temple has become mobile in Jesus (the Temple of God); (B) the outcasts are welcomed and saved; (C) Jesus is innocent and harmless with respect to his enemies.

When we come to Acts we find (A) the Temple at Jerusalem gives way to the mobile Temple of God in the believer as seen in Acts 2 through 7. In Acts 8 through 11 (B) Judaism’s outcasts: the unclean Samaritans and gentiles are made clean through the washing of the Spirit of God, and circumcision of the flesh has become circumcision of the heart. In Act 12 through 28 (C) we find that the Gospel is innocuous and threatens no one or any government of men. The believer is completely innocent as a terror against society. The Kingdom of God is not of this world.

Without a doubt Luke has interwoven his two theses to Theophilus into one complete and symmetrical work by using the literary tool of chiastic structure. Thus, Luke unites them not only as one work, but also defines the respective parts of one thesis by means of what he says in the corresponding parts of the other thesis. Each depends upon and supports the other, uniting both into one complete work.

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Posted by on March 17, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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