The Universalism of Luke

The most striking feature of Lk's writing in comparison to the other gospels is its universalism: the Good News is preached to all people of every age. Conzelmann wrote a famous book on Lk entitled Die Mitte der Zeit, whose thesis was that Lk saw time in three segments, first till the end of John the Baptist's mission, second the time of Jesus' ministry, and third the time of the risen Christ. Howard Marshall plausibly suggests rather that the chief purpose of Lk's writing a two-volume was to explain 'how we got here', to give Theophilus avsfalei,a. If salvation was promised to the Jews, Christians might well wonder how they could be on the right lines if the Jews had rejected the Gospel. So to explain this Lk stresses the extent of salvation, extent in two planes, vertical and horizontal, that is, embracing past and future ages, and in all the ages reaching out to all people. Two aspects are to be examined, the universality and the concept of salvation in Lk.

1. The Universality of Salvation

a. Embracing past and future as well as present

1. Past.

a. Mt's infancy narratives set out to show the meaningof Jesus by presenting him as the second David and the second Moses. Lk's show that Jesus forms an integral part in the continuum of the history of Israel. Lk's gospel 'begins in mid-story' (Tannehill, p. 18). Thus it is stressed that all the parents of the two boys are faithful to the Law, Zechariah is the embodiment of the priesthood of Israel, the age of Simeon and Anna (and their fidelity to the Temple) symbolize the fidelity of ancient Israel. In the Presentation scene this becomes a manor pre-occupation (2.21, 22, 27, 39). The infancy narratives show the real true Israel at its best, says Fitzmyer. Mary is the embodiment of the Poor of Yahweh, his special favourites, since he cares for the lowly and humble. Further, the Baptist will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old who was to be the prophet of the last times. The canticles reiterate that it is salvation to Israel that has come, the fulfilment of God's promises (1.54, 68, 77; 2.30, 32). This is the meaning of the Septuagintal language of Lk 1-2 (biblical phrases like 'Now the time had come for her to give birth to a child', the parallelism which is constant, especially in the canticles): it is as though these chapters are still part of the Old Testament.

b. From the beginning of his ministry Jesus is set in the context of fulfilment. In the Temptations as Son of God he succeeds where Israel fell to temptation in the desert. At Nazareth he proclaims the fulfilment of Isaiah's hope even as they watch. The great journey to Jerusalem both mirrors Israel's great journey across the desert to the promised land and fulfills the destiny of all the prophets that they must die at Jerusalem. The frequent dei/ makes sense only as allusion to God's immutable plan of salvation.

One of Lk's favourite designations of Jesus is as a prophet, which places him among the ancient prophets of Israel: Jesus compares himself with Elijah in his programmatic opening speech at Nazareth, when he is anointed with the Spirit to preach to the poor. At the raising of the boy at Naim he is hailed as a prohet. His death is likened to that of the prophets, and his Ascension is assimilated to that of Elijah.

Thus there is a sense in which the reader feels that Jesus steps into an already-flowing stream of history. One climax of this is the bracketting of the final scenes in Jerusalem by the laments over the destrcution of Jerusalem which has failed to recognise the time of its deliverance (19.39-44 and 23.27-32) - despite special calls to repentance, such as 13.1-9, a refusal which will be constantly repeated in Acts. It is gentiles who take over the inheritance promised to Irael. The kingdom is given 'to you', the disciples, not to Israel (12.32).

2. Future

Lk, alone of the evangelists, writes a 2-volume story in order to leave no doubt that the Christian community carries on the work of Jesus. In the gospel the emphasis is strong and constant that the disciples must follow their Master, perhaps particularly in the Passion Narrative (there is no separation in Gethsemane, and the trial-scene there is specifically an example to them of endurance of trial through prayer. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross 'behind him').

In detail there is a constant parallel between the ministry of Jesus and that of the apostles who carry on his work. Both Jesus and the apostolic community start their work only when they have received a visible manifestation of the Spirit (at the Baptism and at Pentecost respectively). There is a carefully-wrought parallel between Jesus and Stephen:

both filled with the Spirit

full of wisdom and power

work signs and wonders

are accused of blasphemy by false witnesses

led before the Council

finally cast out and killed

asking forgiveness for their murderers

and commending their spirits to God.

A similar parallel is given with Peter and Paul to Jesus

they pray

work signs and wonders

raise the dead

proclaim the kingdom and repentance (with the same keywords, dida,skein lalei/n euvangge,lion khru,ssein )

rejoice to be similarly persecuted

their mission guided by the Spirit

appear before the Roman governor and a Herod

declared innocent three times

depicted as the Suffering Servant.

It is because history is important as the sphere of the working-out of salvation that Lk no longer looks impationetly towards the parousia. The intevening time matters! The kingdom of God will not come by watching for it, but it is evnto.j u`mw/n (17.20-21). Lk stresses that the end will not come soon (19.11; Ac 1.6). When he comes to Mk's warning about the persecution before the final cataclysm, all Lk's accent is put on the triumphant witness of the Church (21.13; 18.1-9) before the destruction of Jerusalem. An Acts this is, of course, what is depicted as happening, until finally the history of the Church is left open-ended, with Paul's reaching the 'ends of the earth' (=Rome), and is solemnly turningfor a third time from the Jews to the gentiles.

b. Embracing all kinds and sexes

1. Both sexes

Lk carefully pairs men and women in his story:

Mary & Zechariah, Simon & Anna, the Widow of Zarephat & Naaman, Simon & the Woman who was a sinner, a girl & a boy raised from the dead, the Good Samaritan & Martha-and-Mary, the Queen of the South & the Ninevites, kai' ivdou/ gunh. (13.11) & kai. ivdou/ av,nqrwpoj (14.2). He is the only evangelist to mention the women who follow and minister to Jesus (8.1-3), and the Women of Jerusalem (23.55-56). In the Acts Ananias & Sapphira, Aeneas & Tabitha, Dionysus & Damaris. At every level salvation is brought to women equally with men.

It is because of Lk's stress on the salvation of women as well as men that a woman, Mary, is the model of believers. She accepts the message whereas Zechariah dobts (1.38). It is perhspas for this reason that all criticism is removed from Jesus' family (no mention in 4.24 as there is in Mk, of the failure of a prophet's own household or family to honour him). In the passage corresponding to Mk 3.31-35 Lk carefully removes all suggestion that Jesus' own mother and family are unfavourably contrast with the crowd listening to Jesus, and she is made rather the model for the listener. Mary makes a feminine presence even at Pentecost (Ac 1.14).

2. The disadvantaged of many kinds

This is the chief theme of the Canticles of Mary and Zechariah, that salvation is proclaimed to the oppressed. In Jesus' ministry there is special emphasis on:

Significantly, in Lk there is no parallel to Mt's 10.3-6, forbidding the disciples to go among the Samaritans. The Samaritans are especially welcomed in the story of the Ten Lepers and in the parable of the Good Samaritan (corresponding to the mission to Samaria mentioned Ac 8.4).

In the parable of the Great Supper Mt again concentrates on the destruction of the city of those originally invited, and has messegers only into the crossroads, but Lk, having had beggars and cripples brought in, has messengers go outside the city into the highways and byways (Mt 22.7-10; Lk 1.21-23)

In the final charge to the apostles the risen Lord prepares for Ac by instructions to preach repentance to all nations (24.47, already hinted at by the number of disciples sent out in 10.1, seventy-two, corresponding to the traditional number of the nations of the world)

The overall plan of Ac, the spread of the message from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, is already prepared in the gospel by the great journey to Jerusalem, which makes Jerusalem the hinge of the two volumes.

2. The Concept of Salvation

a. A Lukan Conception

It is certainly not true that sw,thr swthri,a and cognate words are exclusively Lukan, but there is a clear predominance of them in Lk. Mk already uses the verb 13 imes and Mt 14, but Lk has 7 further uses which do not occur in etiher. And, apart from Jn 4.42-44, the cognate nouns occur in the gospels only in Lk: sw,thr twice swthri,a thrice, and swth,rion twice (plus a total between them of 9 times in Ac). The concept of a saviour has previously been used in two ways:

b. The Era of the Spirit

The importance of the Spirit in Lk has often been noted. Arguably this should be seen in function of, as an adumbration of, the Spirit at work in the early Christian communities, so prominent in Galatians, Romans and especially First Corinthians. One of the most noticeable features of the early Christian communities must have been the workings of the Spirit among them. Much of 1 Cor is taken up with Paul's attempts to control the riotous excesses of activity in the Spirit at Corinth. In Ga the presence of the Spirit among them is appealed to as an experiential datum, 'Would you say, then, that he who so lavishly sends the Spirit among you and causes these miracles among you is doing this through your practice of the Law?' (3.5). This presupposes that there were phenomena which needed an explanation. In Romans the presence of the Spirit is appealed to in joy and confidence as a title to authorize Christians to call God 'Abba'.

It must be the manifest presence of the Spirit in the communities which leads Lk to stress the leadership of the Spirit in his account of the founding of the communities, and - one step further back - in the ministry of Jesus himself. By contrast to Mk and Mt, the Baptism in Lk is not so much a baptism as a temporal marker for the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus. The arrest of John the Baptist has already been told, and the point of the event is the anointing with the Spirit and the proclamation by the Bath Qol of the divine sonship and messianic kingship. Each of the early pericopes which follows is ruled by the Spirit. Jesus goes to be tested in the desert 'filled with the Spirit' (4.1) and begins to preach 'with the power of the Spirit in him (4.14). The climax comes at Nazareth when he begins his programmatic sermon with the Isaiah-quotation, 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me', and continues, 'This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening' (4.18, 21).

That this is the clue to how Lk sees the events is shown by the speeches in Ac, e.g. Peter's at Cornelius' house, 'You know what happened all over Judaea, after Jesus of Nazareth began in Galilee. God had anointed him with the holy Spirit and with power...' (Ac 10.37-38). This should also be the reason for Lk why apostles must have been present with Jesus since the baptism (Ac 1.22), that they had witnessed the anointing with the Spirit.

At the end of the gospel the apostles are told to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high (24.46-49). This is fulfilled at Pentecost, and the early community is guided at every step and every decision by the Spirit. Lk's emphasis on the Spirit in his gospel is therefore a preparation for a similar emphasis in his account of the early Church.

Lk's hints of realised eschatology should also be seen in this light. The Day of the Lord is so much less important to him that he divides up the great Markan eschatological discourse and directs a large part of it to the destruction of Jerusalem, which is important in his theology, bth as a sign of the failure of Judaism (cmpare the concluding warning of the Parable of Dives and Lzarus) and as the moment of emancipation of Christianity from Judaism. At the trial scene, similarly, Jesus directs the attention of the high priest not to the coming of the Lord but to the immediate change, 'From now on the son of man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.'