The Followers of Jesus as the ‘Servant’: Luke’s Model from Isaiah for the Disciples in Luke-Acts.
Holly Beers presents a reading of Luke-Acts through the Isaianic Servant Songs. Many before Beers have traced Luke’s use of the Old Testament and specifically Isaiah (for example, see David W. Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000]). According to Beers, Isaiah’s servant embodies the New Exodus described in Isaiah 40–66. Luke’s use of Isaiah clearly shows that Jesus fulfilled the role of the servant (Luke 4:18–19), but he also applied servant texts to his followers, showing that they embodied the role of the servant as well (Acts 13:47; 26:18).
Before making her case, Beers provides a hermeneutical framework for describing the relationship between a text (Isaiah) and a reader, or how a reader (Luke) might use that text. She adopts critical realism as a way to negotiate the relationship between the text and reader. In response to postmodern attempts to wrangle meaning away from the text and give it to the reader, Beers argues that the texts themselves limit a reader’s interpretation. Through critical realism a reader can understand what the author hoped to convey, even without complete knowledge of the author’s original context.
Beers builds her case by first looking at the Servant Songs in Isaiah. She argues that Isaiah applied the Servant image to multiple figures, including a Davidic king and the nation of Israel. She also argues that intertestamental literature makes the same type of hermeneutical shifts as Isaiah. For example, Qumran literature sometimes uses the Servant Songs to describe the Teacher of Righteousness, but other times, the community itself embodies the role of the Servant. Beers argues that Luke’s reading of Isaiah is in line with other first-century Jewish readings.
Luke’s use of Isaiah itself provides the foundation for Beers’s argument. In the Gospel, Luke primarily uses Isaiah to describe Jesus’s ministry. The disciples imitate Jesus’s ministry when he sends out the Twelve (Luke 9:1–6) and later the seventy-two (10:1–12, 17–20). The disciples will experience rejection in the same way as Jesus. In the Gospel, the disciples only embody the Servant image through extension of the clear allusion to Jesus. However, in Acts the connection between the Isaianic Servant and the disciples becomes much clearer. In Acts, Luke shows how the disciples themselves take on various roles of the Servant. The disciples declare the gospel message; they suffer unjustly; they see the Gentiles repent and receive the Spirit. However, Luke sets Jesus apart from the disciples. The disciples may suffer, but only Jesus’s death atones for sin. In this way, Luke presents Jesus as the Servant par excellence. Those in the community embrace aspects of the Servant’s mission, and to those who do not, both Jesus and Paul quote Isaiah 6:9–10 (Luke 10:16; Acts 28:26–27).
Beers shows that Luke most likely read Isaiah in a deep manner. In quoting Isaiah, Luke did not simply provide proof-texts, but rather understood the narrative world within which both the Servant and the nation functioned. Unfortunately, for Luke, not everyone in the nation embodied the vocation of the Servant, but the Gentiles did. Simeon’s prophetic utterance foreshadows this division, which he describes as a sword that will divide even Mary’s soul (Luke 2:34–35). While Beers’s reading is not conclusive, her argument is persuasive. If correct, it provides a helpful link between Luke and Acts, as well as between Jesus and his disciples.
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.