Luke and the foreshadow of the Gentile mission
Luke on Peter and the Gentile mission (Acts 10-11:8)
Luke on Paul’s Gentile mission
The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15-16:1-5)
Old Testament citations supporting Paul’s Gentile mission
Can this teach us anything today for our understanding of our practice of cross-cultural mission?
This essay addresses the question: “How does Luke develop his defence of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles? Can this teach us anything today for our understanding of our practice of cross-cultural mission?” In addressing the aforementioned question, this essay follows various stories and assertions in Luke-Acts that show his (Luke) development of the defence of Paul’s Gentile mission. The literary and narrative study of the accounts on Peter, the Jerusalem Council and Cornelius, significantly help resolve the imminent and crucial theological and missiological approach to the Gentile mission. Luke develops the Gentile motif, which begins earlier on in the Gospel of Luke through Acts. He is without question setting up a platform for a Gentile mission agenda, even before Paul appears on the scene. Luke systematically addresses the vivid and crucial cosmographic and trans-historical movement of themissio-dei. This paper follows these arguments to see how Luke validates and defends Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Lessons learnt from Luke’s validation of the Gentile mission will be applied for present day hermeneutical and cross-cultural missional approach. A conclusion will then be drawn.
Luke in writing the Luke-Acts volume overtly displays interest in Gentiles and those neglected. Green asserts that Luke himself, is a Gentile from Antioch in Syria and that he is the only New Testament author who is non-Jewish.Luke is also writing to a Gentile audience. In my indebtedness to Green, I also see Luke’s Gentile motif as one of the key issues being addressed. He is not only a Gentile from Antioch. He sees humanity’s origin going back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). It is worth noting that there is a question Luke is answering. His style of authorship and Gentile inferences show that there is contemporary literary discontent on the Jew-Gentile issue. There is a question on table fellowship and Jewish religious piety. These issues caused theological and ethnic prejudices.
I agree with Keethat the scandal of the Gentile issue is precipitated by a socio-political, religious ferment among the Jews. Bruceand Greenmention that Gentile interests are not forgotten in Luke although the Jews are the primary audience to the salvation message. Although the Gentile mission is fully launched after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, there is a significant mention of Gentiles being welcomed into the Kingdom of God. Pragmatic coherence of Luke and his readership indicates Israel’s hostility and religious insulation is a contra-realization of God’s redemptive plan for all humanity. The Gentile mission controversy started very early even before Paul was converted!
Luke and the foreshadow of the Gentile mission
Luke shows in the Magnificat, a promise and hope for Gentile inclusion in God’s salvation plan. Luke 2:3132 (ὃ ἡτοίμασας κατὰ πρόσωπον πάντων τῶν λαῶν, φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν καὶ δόξαν λαοῦ σου Ἰσραήλ) shows God’s universal scope of salvation. Jesus’ parents were amazed in verse 33 by Simeon’s declarations. Utleyasserts that Mary and Joseph as Jews, must have been shocked to hear that the destiny and mission of their baby would involve Gentiles. τῶν λαῶν is a collective reference of all people, not just Jews while ἐθνῶν similarly refers to many ethnic groups (Gentiles) who were non-Jews. God’s salvation through Jesus birth, ministry, death and resurrection would involve many tribes of the earth. Here, Luke indicates the fore-shadow of the Gentile mission, before Paul comes on the scene.
Luke 3:6 pronounces another Gentile promise of salvation through John the Baptist. Although John is quoting the Isaiah showing God’s universal plan to save "καὶ ὄψεται πᾶσα σὰρξ τὸ σωτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ", this text shows a promise of salvation on all flesh. Utley asserts that Luke has quoted from the LXX.πᾶσα serves as a nominative adjective denoting that the catchment for the process of salvation is “all” or “every”, a collective and universal understanding of the people God has in mind. Σωτήριον indicates God’s salvation and preservation of those he has chosen while the verb ὄψεται points to a future event. This is a profound promise and hope to the Gentiles being proclaimed by John the Baptist. The salvation of Gentiles and Jews is centred on Jesus’ person and finished work on the cross. Although Jesus’ mission was directed towards the Jews, Theophilus and the other Roman upper middle class reading public are being assured of their involvement in God’s salvific plan which began as a Jewish movement. Luke is clearly and deliberately showing a background groundswell of Gentile missional focus as God’s missional praxis through Jesus, His Son.
Jesus early in His ministry, in Luke 4:18-30, made Gentile salvation references in the synagogue readings. This did not only anger the Jews, but they also sought to kill Jesus because they understood him to be Anti-Semitic when he made references to Gentiles in the plan of God. What angered the Jews in the synagogue is not the reading from the prophet Isaiah. Their anger erupted because of Jesus’ declaration that this Old Testament scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing. Childressupholds that Jesus’ synagogue utterance showed a deep unbelief and rejection of the Messiah among the Jews in Jesus’ hometown. Jesus told his audience that like the Old Testament prophets, he would not be received by contemporary Jews just as Elisha and Elijah were not received in Israel. I concur with Childress that Jesus’ synagogue reading and speech shows a clear Gentile salvation hope. The widow of Zarepath and Naaman, the Syrian army officer were both Gentiles who tasted God’s hand of salvation through Israel’s significant prophets. In the plan of God and His sovereignty, Gentiles are emerging as recipients of God’s mercies. In this narrative, Luke records Jesus foreshadowing the Gentile mission before the book of Acts.
The Roman Centurion in Luke 7:2-10 is a marvellous account by Luke of a Roman Centurion (a Gentile) who points to Cornelius in Acts. This story opens with the adverb conjunction Ἐπειδὴ linking Jesus’ previous teaching and ongoing journey which leads him to meet the Centurion (Ἑκατοντάρχου). The Centurion’s δοῦλος (servant) was in a bad state or seriously sick, as clearly illustrated by the idiomatic adverb κακῶς. Utleyasserts that this Roman Centurion was a God-fearer like Cornelius in Acts 10. Utley’s assertion is clearly a summation of the Pharisees’ statements when they describe the Roman officer as (v.6) ‘loving our nation and built the synagogue.’
Bockstates that this Centurion won respect across religious lines although he was a Gentile who did not fully identify with Israel but had honour and respect for Judaism. This story has a promising and hopeful outlook in its details. Bockreiterates that the Centurion viewed himself as unworthy, yet the Jewish leaders when they persuaded Jesus used the word ἄξιος denoting worth or a relatively high degree of comparable merit. Although the Jewish leaders were being religiously inclusive to the Centurion, I hesitate to think that they fully embraced him into their religious institution as one of them. Jesus commends this man by comparing him to Israel. The Centurion, a Gentile himself, had outstanding faith in the Son of God as compared to the whole of Israel. Jesus’ audience is not only to contemplate on the distant healing of the servant but also reflect on Gentile faith and God’s mercy towards those that believe in Him. Talbert warrants that the pious centurion’s story has a theme of gospel proclamation to all people, as God’s continuous mission.
Luke 24:47 is the Great Commission in Luke although it is not imperative in nature. This verse has in it an imbedded dialogue with significant hope to all nations in relation to the salvific milieu. Blightstates that in this verse there are some manuscript variants on the word ἄφεσιν (forgiveness). The universal scope of God’s mission is promised and described as starting from Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish nation. The aorist passive κηρυχθῆναι to be preached/ proclaimed means that the disciples are expected to preach the gospel message and the forgiveness of ἁμαρτιῶν (sin) to all nations and urge their listeners to accept it and comply with implications of the message.
The gospel of Luke has a strong Gentile motif. Jesus reached out and delivered a Gentile demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). The parable of the banquet alludes to a Gentile motif (Luke 14:15-24). There is a growing and developing theological outlook of the Gentile mission. Jesus although His mission was directed towards the Jews, He at several points in His ministry referred and engaged in Gentile mission and its significance in the universal plan of God’s salvation. Luke showed that the Magnificat referred to a worldwide scope of themission-dei. From Jesus’ birth, prophecies concerning his missional dimension pointed to a Gentile and universal paradigm. This universal and cosmographic mission of salvation was not at the expense of the Jews. Luke offers a précis of the Gentile mission in the third gospel through various narratives which preamble the full scale Gentile mission in Acts.
Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:47 is a direct a link between the Great Commission/ promise of salvation to all people of the earth. Keenermentions that from the close of Luke 24:47 to Acts 1:4-8, Jesus promises the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the imperative and signal for universal mission. Keener adds that the disciples’ pneumatological experience was paramount to their Jerusalem ministry and distant lands. Keeneris indebted to Shelton and Menzies who assert that the spirit’s empowerment on the disciples was mainly and exclusively for Jewish and Gentile mission.
Luke, in Acts 1:8 shows a source of understanding Jesus’ mission to the ends of the earth through the obedience of the disciples. The mission to the Gentiles was without question a major issue for Luke and it was not clearly understood by Jesus’ disciples. Acts 1:8 is an answer to a preceding question that has been asked by disciples. They haven’t come to a complete eschatological realization. Their understanding of God’s mission is limited as reflected in their question. Luke is clearly showing that even the disciples in Acts 1:6, are thinking of a political restoration and self-government of the Jewish people. Jesus then outlined the full extent of God’s kingdom to be involving people of all nations and clearly divorced from the question of political emancipation.
Green, M. 2002.30 Years that changed the world. A fresh look at the book of Acts. Nottingham: Inter Varsity Press, p27
Kee, H. C. 1997.Every Nation Under Heaven. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES. The New Testament in context. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, p130
Bruce, F. F. 1983.The Hard Sayings of Jesus. London: Hodder & Stoughton, p106
Green, M. 2002.30 Years, p27
Utley, B. 2004.Luke the Historian: The Gospel of Luke. Study Guide Commentary Series. New Testament Volume A.Texas: Bible Lessons International, Electronic (Logos software)
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Childress, G. 2006.Opening up Luke’s Gospel. Leominster: Day One Publications. p40–41
Utley,Luke the Historian, Electronic (Logos software)
Bock, D. L. 1994.Luke(Lk 6:37). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Electronic (Logos software)
Bock,Luke(Lk 6:37). Electronic (Logos software)
Talbert, C. H. 1982.Reading Luke. A New Commentary for Preachers. Essex: SPCK, p52-53
Blight, R. C.2nd Edition. 2008. An Exegetical Summary of Luke 12-24. Dallas: SIL International, p573-574. The GNT does not mention the variant
Keener, C. S. 2012.Volume 1. Acts. An Exegetical Commentary and Introduction. 1:1-2:47. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p642
Keener,Volume 1. Acts, p662
- Quote paper
- Simba Musvamhiri (Author), 2014, Luke's gentile motif. The defense of Paul's mission to the gentiles, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/277990