Category Archives: Luke

Podcast – Forming a Healthy Understanding of the Holy Spirit

podcast

by Scott

A short time ago, on To Be Continued, I mentioned that I had begun a podcast entitled Prodigal Thought Podcast. Recently, I posted a new episode that relates to the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.

As a charismatic, I long for us to have a healthy and holistic understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. So I take up that topic in this episode, particularly encouraging us to allow the book of Acts to teach us. In the podcast, I refer to a specific book, so I wanted to put a link to that book: The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke by Roger Stronstad.

Listen to or download the podcast episode below (16:25 in length). Continue reading

Sense and Subjectivity

by Marv

This is the story of two sisters–and the man who loved them.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” (John 11:5)

Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus–Jesus was their particular friend. There’s not a friend like Jesus–the soul of kindness, and if anyone had a just claim on that kindness, it is a particular friend.

But one day He disappointed them. Lazarus fell ill, and though they dispatched word to Jesus, they sat at their brother’s side, day after day, and watched him–anxious, frustrated, dumbfounded–as he sickened, dwindled and died. And where was Jesus? Where was their particular friend?

Now you know these ladies, daughters of the same mother and father, but so very different in their characters.

Martha is the one who, left to roll the canapés all on her own, dropped the “Don’t you care?” bomb on Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus? Care? You mean the one who left Glory for our sqalid hovel of a planet to come to our miserable kitchen, wipe up the spilled milk we cried over, scrape our burned toast, with His own hands–and at great personal cost–whip up a feast so nourishing that it endures for eternal life? That Jesus?

He told her, basically, that with Him there, a woman’s place was not in the kitchen.

And Mary, the other sister, she was the one who, shortly afterward will engage in–let’s face it–some pretty blatant emotional excess (John 12:1-7). It’s one thing to raise your hands while worshipping, but where’s the sense of decorum?

Still, Jesus doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, He quite approves. The congregation objects, however, particularly Judas (v. 4) who seems to have been working on commission (not the “great” one). Maybe Judas is the patron saint of the anti-emotionalists… Oh, wait, he can’t be anybody’s saint. Silly me.

So here we are, dearest brother Lazarus now dead and buried–for four days no less (V. 17)–before particular friend Jesus makes it to town. He even missed the funeral.

Martha, the sensible one, did the right thing and went to talk with Jesus. Mary, who couldn’t be separated from Him before, doesn’t go. She sits at home.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she says (v. 21). Makes sense. Perfectly theological. She was right. Worse than that, He could have healed Lazarus with a word from anywhere.

She does hint. Gives another very sensible proposition: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (v. 22). A statement of indubitable truth.

In return, Jesus gives her some of the most magnificent red letters in all the Bible.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (25, 26)

Now, I love me some propositional truth–I really do. Objective statements of Scripture that we can ground our lives on, as Jesus Himself said. The gospel is about Jesus Christ, what He did, and does, outside us. Martha understood this. She knows: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (v. 24). She believes: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (v. 27).

Jesus gave Martha a great gift, showed her great kindness. Oh, that His very words to me might be written down forever in Scripture. Unimaginably gracious.

Then He asked to see Mary.

How was Mary feeling? Yes, feeling. Do you suppose John tells us for nothing that she stayed sitting in the house, while Martha went to see Jesus? Grieved over Lazarus, her heart was broken regarding Jesus. Yet, when He called for her, she hurried to Him (29, 31), and fell at His feet, crying. Not just “weeping,” crying (klaiousan).

And she said the same words as her sister: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And they were the same words, exactly the same words–and yet what she said was not the same.

Now bringing up the Greek, directly, need only be an occasional thing. But here it is necessary. I would not begin to know how adequately to render the difference in the two sisters’ statements to Jesus. So I will show you. Understand, you may have heard that word order is not important in Greek. This is perfectly untrue. It functions rather differently from English, but there are regular patterns and variations, and these signal meaning. One device is known as “fronting,” moving a word or phrase toward the front of a sentence or clause from where it usually would stand. This gives it something called increased “prominence,” which does any number of things, depending on the context.

This is what happens in this passage. The ladies no doubt were speaking in Aramaic, though John represents their speech in Greek. And he is an excellent and thoughtful writer, the difference, subtle perhaps, is non-accidental. Non-incidental.

Martha:
Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἂν ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός μου
Kurie, ei es hode ouk an apethanen ho adelphos mou
Lord, if you-were here not – died the brother of-me.

Mary:>
Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἄν μου ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός.
Kurie, ei es hode ouk an mou apethanen ho aldephos
Lord, if you-were here not – of-me died the brother.

Syntactically, the genitive pronoun which belongs with the noun it modifies, belongs at the end of the clause, is moved up in Mary’s speech about as far as it can go in it’s clause. Semantically, this alters the focus of the statement.

Martha is stating the objective reality about Lazarus. Just the facts, ma’am.

Mary, however, is saying something about herself. Very much personal. Very subjective. It’s something like “if you had been here I wouldn’t have lost my brother,” though that is too forceful, I think.

So what was Jesus’ response to her? What was the gift He gave Mary? Some precious objectivity?

Jesus wept. (v. 35)

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. (v. 33)

He was moved, troubled, emotional. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). This was His answer to her prayer. That she should “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

A subjective cry received a subjective response from our Lord, who cannot be unmoved by the tears, the cries, the pain of His particular friends.

He therefore felt with her, wept with her.

And raised her brother from the dead.

Remember, He knew all along that Lazarus was sick and dying, would die, and yet would not be left dead (4, 11, 13-15). He was acting on instructions (John 5:19), though it had to pain Him. And was He not acting in answer to prayer? The prayer, however, came later in time, or prayers, two at least, Martha’s and Mary’s.

There is great mystery here. Does it matter how we pray what we pray? “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). It’s not a matter of information. Is there something about mingling the subjective with the objective–as we were created for both?

The Use of Luke-Acts For Developing Our Pneumatology

by Scott

When it comes to developing our pneumatology, or our theology of the Holy Spirit, there has been much discussion on whether or not we can utilise the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts to inform our understanding. Honestly, some have not been keen on the idea of utilising Luke-Acts, since they would see it as more descriptive rather than didactic (teaching doctrine). Such a group would see the epistles (i.e. Paul’s letters) as the primary didactic source for our pneumatology and the descriptive parts (such as Luke-Acts) as secondary in teaching doctrine.

So, is it worth utilising Luke’s words in both his Gospel and Acts as a primary source for developing our theology of the Holy Spirit? Or should Luke’s two-volume work be seen more as a secondary pneumatological resource?

There are a couple of points I believe that are worth noting:

Luke as Both Historian and Theologian

An important thing to notice is that Luke stands as the only recorder of the early church and its history. Other Gospels (3 of them) had been written alongside Luke’s. But he alone holds a unique position as presenting early church history. It leaves us asking if his words should be relegated as secondary to the epistles or if they will give us a better understanding of the Spirit of God and His work.

If we are honest with the text, and note Luke’s pneumatological purpose in his recording of early church history, Acts does stand as a vitally important theological work. And its significance is especially heightened when studied with its preceding volume, the Gospel of Luke, as Luke emphatically highlights the work of the Spirit in the life of Christ.

So, whereas in the past, many evangelical theologians would have not seen the benefit of developing doctrine from narrative portions of Scripture, there has been a much great acceptance of such in recent years. This is a very important recognition, for we can definitely learn from narrative parts. We can learn just as much from God’s deeds as we can learn from God’s words. Even more, this inspired account of early church history is where theology and doctrine are being walked out in daily life. Thus, it carries importance. This is why I believe that Luke must be respected as both historian and theologian.

Below are a few passages showing how we can receive instruction from the historical recordings of Scripture.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)

Yes, it is definitely true that Luke presents a descriptive history of the church in his second volume, Acts. No one can argue with such. But, what we must be willing to recognise is that it is a didactic history at the same time. There is no doubt that Luke wrote to teach. He did not only write to describe, he wrote with a purpose to instruct us, just as the writers of old would have done with their narrative portions of the Old Testament text.

As theologian Roger Stronstad reminds us:

‘If for Paul the historical narratives of the Old Testament had didactic lessons for New Testament Christians, then it would be most surprising if Luke, who modelled his historiography after the Old Testament historiography, did not invest his own history of the origin and spread of Christianity with a didactic significance.’ (The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, p7)

Not only that, but we have these oft-quoted words of Paul:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Paul envisioned all parts of Scripture as God-breathed and useful for teaching. To say that certain portions of Scripture take precedence over others is not easily established from Scripture itself.

Luke Speaks For Himself

What I mean with this subheading is that, many times, theologians will try and squeeze Paul’s specific theological emphases into Luke’s theology. Thus, we end up reading Luke through a Pauline lens, which is not at all helpful.

Of course Scripture presents a harmonious whole. There is a unifying structure and nature to the entire text. But we need to give room for Luke to speak as Luke, rather than try and make Paul’s words fit into Luke’s words (or vice versa). For Luke is himself trying to teach us something about the Messiah, the mission of the church, the work of the Spirit, and a whole lot more. Let’s give this man room to teach us, even teach us apart from Paul’s own words.

Even more interesting, when it comes to the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit, Luke speaks about these two issues many more times than Paul ever does. Consider these statistics:

  • Baptised in the Spirit: Luke 3 times; Paul 1 time
  • Filled with the Spirit: Luke 9 times; Paul 1 time

Not only that, but Luke utilises a lot of different phrases to describe these similar actions: the Holy Spirit came upon; the Spirit was poured out; the gift of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit fell on people; people received the Spirit. If we take all of these into account with regards to being baptised and/or filled with the Spirit, Luke has a lot to contribute on this topic. Our ears should be tuned to this man’s words.

Stronstad shares some more insights:

‘Consequently, just as the recognition that Luke is a theologian as well as a historian makes Luke-Acts a legitimate data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, so the recognition that Luke is independent of Paul will broaden the New Testament data base for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. To recognize these two facts is to rehabilitate Luke as a historian-theologian of the Holy Spirit and to allow him to make a significant, unique, and independent contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.’ (p11)

Thus, I agree wholeheartedly with this final statement of Stronstad:

‘On the one hand, where it is appropriate, all parties in the current debate must abandon those largely self-serving methodological programs which conspire to either silence or to manipulate Luke’s distinctive theology. On the other hand, all parties must develop a methodological consensus for interpreting the gift of the Spirit in Luke-Acts. At a minimum, this consensus must include the following principles: 1) Luke-Acts is theologically homogeneous, 2) Luke is a theologian as well as a historian, and 3) Luke is an independent theologian in his own right.’ (p12)

And just as a side note, another great work on how Luke should be viewed as not only historian, but also theologian, is I. Howard Marshall’s Luke: Historian & Theologian.

As we look to develop a holistic pneumatology, consistent with the full text of Scripture, we must not forget Luke’s words and set them aside as only secondary to the words of Paul. Of course, we must also not pit Luke and Paul against one another, noting they were part of the same ministry team at times and are both within the canon of Scripture. But Luke’s words will, no doubt, enrich our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. All we must do is allow for them to teach us.