The Kingdom according to Luke and Acts: A Social, Literary, and Theological Introduction
The Kingdom according to Luke and Acts presents the social makeup of Luke’s audience and the literary tools that he uses to tell his story. It also shows the theological significance of Luke’s presentation. Kuhn pulls these elements together to highlight the emphasis of Luke-Acts: Jesus’s presentation of the kingdom of God. For Kuhn, Luke’s “kingdom worldview” is the belief that “(1) Yahweh is in charge of the world; (2) despite God’s sovereignty, the world and its human inhabitants have largely strayed from God’s intentions for its peace and prosperity; and (3) God will act to reclaim and transform creation” (p. 45). This worldview explains the social context of Luke’s audience; his narrative challenges the values of those outside the kingdom.
Kuhn makes a strong case that Luke’s kingdom narrative countered the controlling values of the first century, creating an anti-Roman critique. Luke’s goal was to call his audience “to join in leaving behind the kingdom of Rome, with all of its privileges, trappings, and inequities, to seek another, radically different realm, and to align themselves with another crowd and a much greater Lord” (p. 64). Part 1 places this worldview in contrast to the Greco-Roman concept of patronage and the negative economic effect that it could have. This comes to a climax in part 3, where Kuhn argues that part of Luke’s purpose was to counter the empire and the values associated with it.
Kuhn’s reading is attractive. The kingdom values that Luke espouses come into direct conflict with values within Rome. Ancient readers who completely adopted Luke’s ethical approach would instantly be at odds with dominant Greco-Roman values. But Luke never directly critiques Rome. In fact, he shows how a Christian can live within the reality of the Roman empire, despite its conflicting values. Luke calls his readers to “embrace the Kingdom of God” (p. 255), but the social and economic critique that runs through the Gospel should not be understood as a call to reject Rome. Kuhn rightly shows the difference between Luke’s values and those throughout the empire; this early Christian position ultimately led to the Roman rejection of the church. A second purpose for Luke is describing the rejection of the kingdom by the Jewish people. In comparison with Luke’s view of the Roman empire, this seems to be the more dominant concern throughout Luke-Acts.
Part 2 describes Luke’s literary strategy. After introducing some basic literary conventions, Kuhn highlights the key ways that Luke narrates his story. Luke makes significant use of two literary tools. First, he uses patterns. He structures his episodes within a specific framework to draw attention to an element within or outside of his narrative. Luke uses the Old Testament to establish patterns in his story. By doing this he communicates that God’s promises to Israel are coming to fruition through Jesus Christ. He also establishes patterns by creating parallels between two characters. Jesus’s birth follows a pattern similar to that of John’s birth; by establishing the pattern, Luke is able to show how Jesus’s birth is superior. Second, Luke makes use of rhetorical techniques that draw readers into the story in order to challenge their worldview.
In short, Kuhn provides a helpful reading of Luke. His analysis of the social construct within which Luke wrote provides helpful insight into several points of Luke-Acts. By integrating Luke’s literary method with his social concerns, Kuhn gives a new angle to read Luke-Acts. Luke did not challenge the empire to the degree that Kuhn argues, but he did challenge his readers to refuse the values that dominated the empire.
About the Contributors
Benjamin I. Simpson
Dr. Simpson joined the faculty in 2006 as the registrar. In 2011, he moved to Houston to work with the Houston campus. In 2016, he and his family moved to Washington DC where he continues helping external students complete their degrees while positively influencing their ministries. His research interests include Jesus, the Gospels, and hermeneutics. He is married to Amber and they have two children: Madison and Eli.