How Did Luke Use The OT in His Writing?


Have you ever noticed when you’re reading one of the gospels or an epistle and, after seeing a reference to an Old Testament passage, you find yourself going, “How does that fit?” The application of the passage makes sense and “feels” right, but you’re not sure why the author chose that particular reference or when you go back to the original passage you start getting confused.

This makes perfect sense because (let’s face it) there can be a great deal of confusion in how the New Testament authors used the Old if we don’t understand how and why they’re using it.

Consider Luke:

  1. What was his approach to reading the Old Testament?
  2. What themes were being communicated in his references to the Old Testament?

In his recently released volume in Zondervan’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament series, A Theology of Luke and Acts, Darrell L. Bock provides a wealth of information to help us better understand Luke’s approach in his insightful examination of Luke’s use of the Old Testament.

“In everything Luke does, a key frame is the teaching and promise of Scripture, for Luke’s claim is that this seemingly new faith realizes promises of old that God made to his people,” Bock writes (p. 408), noting that a review of Luke-Acts reveals three fundamental beliefs undergirding Luke’s¬†interpretative¬†approach:

God’s design and a new era of realization. “The events of Luke’s gospel are ‘designed’ as part of God’s plan, bringing a necessity with them, as Luke 24:43-47 points out, using [dei] while appealing both to events and Scripture,” Bock explains. “The old era of expectations leads to the new era of realization. . . . What was revealed and promised long ago has come” (pp. 410-411).

Jesus is at the center of this plan. While Christology isn’t the sole point of Luke’s use of the Old Testament, it is “an important port of call on the way to more comprehensive claims about God’s plan and the promise’s subsequent realization.” Bock sums up that comprehensive claim writing, “The plan argues that Jesus is Lord of all, so the gospel can go to all” (p. 411).

Scripture helps to explain what’s taken place and is taking place.¬†“Promise for the early church included prophetic texts and pattern texts, along with appeal to covenant hope now freshly realized,” Bock writes. “The promise behind reading history as involving promise and pattern is divine design and the constancy of God’s character as he saves in similar ways at different times” (p. 412). In other words, because Jesus is at the center of God’s plan, then the events recorded within it and the events taking place at the time of Luke’s writing can only be fully explained in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection-ascension.

Recognizing these beliefs help us to better understand much of what Luke’s trying to communicate; indeed, I would hope it’s reasonable to say that while many readers of Luke-Acts might pick up on these patterns intuitively (indeed, they’re relatively common approaches in the entirety of the NT, particularly Paul’s work), explicit knowledge of these fundamentals helps us to look more closely and notice the themes Luke communicates in his two volumes:

  1. Covenant and Promise
  2. Christology
  3. Community Mission, Community Guidance, and Ethical Direction
  4. Commission to the Gentiles
  5. Challenge with Warning to Israel

Bock’s overviews of each of these is incredibly insightful, but are best summarized with the reminder that while Luke’s use of Scripture serves a variety of roles, it is always underscored by the understanding that the message proclaimed is the realization of a promise that God made long ago. . . . There is a line of continuity between what God had revealed to Israel and what took place in Jesus and the new community. . . . The claims attached to the new community are in line with Scripture, and even more, with the will of God” (p. 427).

What’s most helpful about this approach to understanding Luke-Acts is that it better helps us to understand what it means to follow after Jesus. When the early church suffered persecution, it was suffering as Jesus had. When they were betrayed and mocked, it’s because Jesus was the subject of betrayal and mockery. And this pattern continues on today, undergirded by the promise of the greater fulfillment yet of all God’s promises in Christ’s return.

While this book is geared primarily toward academic level readers (as you may have noticed, big theological terms abound in the quotations I’ve provided), it’s surprisingly accessible. While big words may abound, they don’t overwhelm (which is important for readers of any level). Additionally, while there are numerous reference to Greek texts, along with the occasional bit of Hebrew, transliterations are provided so those of us who aren’t up on our ancient languages don’t get lost in the shuffle.

All in all, I’d joyfully encourage readers to check out¬†A Theology of Luke and Acts¬†as they seek to better understand Luke’s use of Scripture (as well as numerous other themes). I hope it proves to be a great benefit to me in my ongoing studies and hope it will do likewise for you.

Title: A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations
Author: Darrell L Bock
Publisher: Zondervan Academic (2012)

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