Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Luke-Acts and the atonement

I've just discovered a debate that theologians have been having on and off for decades. The debate concerns whether or not the author of Luke-Acts believes that Jesus death had atoning power or not.

I'll admit, this came as something of a shock to me. While I've known for years that each of the gospel writers has their own agenda and their own take on who Jesus was and what he came to do, I actually thought that they all basically agreed on what Jesus death on the cross was all about. But apparently not.

For some time I've been meaning to read up on the things that Matthew changed when he expanded on Mark, and the things that Luke changed when he expanded on Mark, but had never really found the time. Now, quite by accident, I have stumbled upon this astounding claim:

When Luke used Mark to create his gospel, he deliberately removed verses that said that Jesus death was an atoning sacrifice. 

Specifically, the debate hangs on a few verses:
  1. Mark 10:45 says "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Luke uses much of Mark in his gospel, including material from immediately before and immediately after this, but omits this verse.
  2. Luke 22:19-20 says "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." but some manuscripts only have "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body.'" that is, some manuscripts miss out the bit that suggests there is some atonement going on. I've just been reading Bart Ehrman (in 'The orthodox corruption of scripture') giving a very compelling case for why the shorter reading is the original. This is the only verse in Luke that suggests that Jesus's death has atoning power.
  3. Acts 20:28 says "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." This is the only verse in Acts that suggests that Jesus's death has atoning power, and much like the verse in Luke, there is a good case to be made that these words were not part of the original.
Without Luke 22:19b-20 and Acts 20:28 there is no concept of atonement in all of Luke-Acts. When Jesus died, according to Luke, it wasn't on behalf of sinners.

So what is the cross all about according to Luke-Acts? Let's have a look at the preaching of Peter and Paul in Acts.

Peter's preaching in Acts 2 has this basic message:
Jesus was a man sent by God. We know he was sent by God because of the miracles. According to God's plan he was killed. God raised him to life. God made him Lord and Messiah. God gave him the Holy Spirit, which he now pours out on his followers. In order to get the Spirit you need to repent and be baptised in Jesus's name. The process of baptism forgives your sins.
The objective of Peter's message here is that you get the Holy Spirit. There is no atonement in Jesus's death. Forgiveness comes through repentance and baptism.

In Acts 3, Peter's preaching touches on similar themes, although here forgiveness comes through repentance and baptism isn't mentioned.

In Acts 4, Peter's message to the Sanhedrin is that salvation is found in Jesus, but this appears linked to his exalted current status, not to his death.

In Acts 5, Peter's words suggest that God gave Jesus the role of Saviour after his resurrection, so it was neither the death or resurrection that has saving power, but rather Jesus's current exalted status.

Stephen's preaching in Acts 7 doesn't actually include a 'gospel' message, but it is clear that it is the power of the risen Jesus that matters.

In Acts 8, the thing with Simon the Sorcerer is all about how you get the Holy Spirit. Again, this seems to be the objective of preaching in Acts. 

Again, in Acts 10, in Peter's preaching to Cornelius, it is what God did to Jesus after his ascension that matters, and believing in the risen Jesus is the way to receive the Holy Spirit.

The same basic message features in the preaching of Paul in Acts 13. Jesus was a good man, wrongly killed, vindicated by god, raised, and then made Son of God and Saviour. Some of the same is in Paul's famous preaching in Acts 17.

Throughout all the preaching of the apostles in Acts, the same basic message is evident: Jesus was a good man, wrongly killed. He was vindicated by God and raised from the dead. He became the Son of God and Saviour. He can forgive the sins of the repentant and give the Holy Spirit.

There is no atonement in the preaching in Acts. The cross is not central. There is barely any future hope of heaven or resurrection either. The gospel message in Luke-Acts is for now and it is this: repent, be baptised in the name of Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. That is all.

How come I've never noticed this before? How come millions of Christians haven't noticed this either?

The 'gospel' of Luke and Acts is different to the gospel of the epistles and the other three gospels.

Another nail in the coffin of inerrancy.


Edwardtbabinski said...


What do you think of Luke 19:19ff (NASB), which talks about "salvation" coming to Zaccheus after he repents and returns ill gotten gains? This is a form of salvation, and an understanding of salvation that precedes Jesus' death on the cross, and also differs from the view that "without shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins." It also differs from the rich young man whom Jesus told to give away all of his possessions, since Zachaeus only gives away half of them, and still, "savlation" is his. Here's the story:

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. [The Greek in this case is ambiguous as to whether or not Zaccheus or Jesus was "small in stature," though the former is probably meant, though if that latter is meant, it would be the only time in the New Testament where some description of the physical Jesus is presented. Though like I said, that is doubtful.] 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Also note that the word "salvation" does not appear in the earliest two Gospels at all, it is neither in Mark nor Matthew, and it appears only once in the fourth Gospel.

But the word "salvation" appears a lot in Luke, especially in material only found in Luke, like his birth narrative, and in Acts and in Paul's epistles, all of which place an emphasis on "salvation" and receiving the Holy Spirit.

Luke 1:69
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant—

Luke 1:71
Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us;

Luke 1:77
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins,

Luke 2:30
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,

Luke 3:6
And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’”

Luke 19:9
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.

John 4:22
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

Acts 4:12
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 13:26
“Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.

Acts 13:47
For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’”

Acts 16:17
Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”

Acts 28:28
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

arnold e. karr said...

About Zacchaeus: I heard a Quaker pastor talk on that passage. He said most English versions mistranslate Zacchaeus' words to Jesus, that Zacchaeus is recorded in Greek as saying, "Half of all I own, I give (not will give) and if I have defrauded anyone, I repay (not will repay"
The point is that Zacchaeus is defending his honesty to Jesus and Jesus accepts his explanation. Salvation has come to his house because he has vindicated himself as "a son of Israel."