A few years back now I purchased an old book which I found being constantly referred to in scholarly books on the New Testament. It was frequently cited in footnotes and found in bibliographies, and I wanted to read some of the passages with a bit more context. So I ordered an old copy on Amazon for pretty cheap, but never sat down and read straight through. So I decided recently to remedy that situation.
I refer to The Theology of St. Luke by Hans Conzelmann (Professor of New Testament, University of Zurich). It was published in German in 1953 and translated into English by Geoffrey Buswell in 1961.
Its a scholarly work, and Conzelmann is only interested in describing the theology of Luke as found in Luke-Acts, not in harmonizing Luke with an other books of the New Testament, not even the Pauline epistles. Nor is he interested in the question of what the historical Jesus really said, or Jesus’ eschatology, etc. but only in Luke’s interpretation of these things. The result being that he has no need to grind a theological axe. He is not telling us what we should believe, only what he interprets to have been Luke’s theology based on his reading of Luke-Acts.
I want to share two quotes that caught my eye reading it today.
From Pgs. 208-209:
The life of the Church in the Spirit, with its fellowship and sacrament, is prayer and endurance in persecution, is illustrated in the descripton of the primitive community. But here again there is a direct awareness of the historial uniquenss of this situation, for this period is the ‘arche’, when the witnesses are still present. The account does not present a timeless ideal for the Church, for the reproduction or conservation of the conditions prevailing then is obviously not required in the present. There is no trace in Luke of the idea which would form a necessary part of such a programme of reform, i.e. an asserton that the Church has declined from its original high ideal. Further, in his account of Paul’s missionary activities he never sets up the primitive community as a model. We can see this in relation to the Law: although the primitive community–including Paul–keeps the Law, Gentile Christians are free from it, and for a reason which is characteristically different from Paul’s.
He recognizes that Luke agrees with Paul in the fact of Gentiles being free from the Law (at least from the ceremonial aspects of the Law) but also openly acknowledges that he sees that Luke believes this for an entirely different reason from Paul. In other words, Luke’s explanation of why we don’t have to be circumcised, etc. is not Paul’s explanation. This is massively significant!
He doesn’t elaborate any on the difference between the two (at least not in this chapter), but the difference is obvious to anyone who can read: Paul’s reason, of course, is the boneheaded faith vs works rhetoric. But Luke’s reason is that the apostles got together in Acts 15 and under the guidance of the Spirit determined that Gentiles need not keep any of the Law but the moral commandments, and to abstain from idolatry, abstain from eating blood/”things strangled”, and abstain from sexual immorality. Could there be any two more different ways to explain the same fact?
From Pg. 218, and remember he is describing his interpretation of Luke’s theology, not his own theology:
In actual fact the unity of the Church of past and present consists in the identity of her message and her sacraments; Baptism confers forgiveness and the Spirit, and the Lord’s Supper continually keeps the fellowship in being. The sacraments are the abiding factor which spans the gulf separating the present from the beginnings.
He recognizes without any struggle that Acts 2:38 says exactly what is says, and unlike the Baptists doesn’t spend his entire life dedicated to convincing the whole world that Acts 2:38 doesn’t say what it says “because it just can’t, because Paul says ‘faith alone’.” What a waste of life to be a Baptist. To live your whole life deluded by “Paul says” when what Paul says is not even worth one bean, much less a hill of beans.