Monday, August 15, 2005

Luke and the Cross

Prodded by Richard Anderson's essay, "The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews" in conjunction with Stephen Finlan's recent book, I've been thinking more about Luke's unease with the cross. Anderson thinks Luke attributes no saving power to the cross at all. "For Luke, by the power of God, Jesus was resurrected from the dead." That's it. Jesus' crucifixion didn’t benefit others, whether as a sacrifice or ransom payment. Luke also goes out of his way to avoid scapegoat imagery (though Anderson doesn’t mention this in his essay). So that makes three death metaphors shunned by Luke. Compare with Mark and Matthew:

Sacrifice: Mk 14:22-25/Mt 26:26-29 (eucharist)
Scapegoat: Mk 15:16-20/Mt 27:27-31 (abuse by soldiers)
Ransom Payment: Mk 10:45/Mt 20:28 (servant saying)

Considering each, briefly:

Sacrifice -- Luke’s eucharist account (Lk 22:15-19a) implies nothing about Jesus dying as a sacrifice. It’s simply the last passover meal Jesus expects to eat before the apocalypse comes. Lk 22:19b-20, which speaks of “my body given for you” and “the new covenant in my blood poured out for you”, is missing from some manuscripts and is probably a later scribal addition (as argued by Bart Erhman; followed by Anderson).

It’s true that Acts 20:28 has Paul speaking of "the church obtained with the blood of God's son", but Anderson convinces me (see his Crosstalk post) that this reflects Luke's awareness, not agreement, with Paul's view.

Scapegoat -- Luke omits the scapegoat allusions in Mk 15:16-20/Mt 27:27-31, where Jesus is abused in a peculiar way by the Roman soldiers -- spat on and struck with a reed, before being led away to the (implied) "demonic wilderness" of Golgotha.

Ransom Payment -- Luke offers a simple statement about one who serves (Lk 22:27), but nothing about ransom redemption.

So Luke has no use for these metaphors. None of this, however, points to an early dating of Luke (pre-50s??), as Anderson claims. It just means that, for whatever reason, Luke doesn’t like this stuff.

Nor does this indicate that Luke is uneasy with martyrdom theology, as Anderson also claims (in this Crosstalk post). Consider the following, many of which are noted by Raymond Brown in Death of the Messiah, pp 31-32:

(a) Luke understands Jesus to be a prophet (Lk 4:24; 7:16; 9:8,19; 24:19), and believes that prophets are made for martyrdom (Lk 6:22-23; Acts 7:52).

(b) Luke believes that Jesus went to Jerusalem, because that’s where prophetic martyrs were supposed to die (Lk 13:33-34).

(c) Luke’s repeated theme of “innocence” invokes martyrdom, by implying that Jesus died for a holy and just cause.

(d) Luke parallels the deaths of Jesus and Stephen (the latter of whom is clearly a martyr); both die forgiving their enemies and “entrusting their spirits” to God/Jesus. Here we see a crucial aspect by which the martyr serves as a model to be followed, or copied, by others.

(e) Luke insists that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected, before being killed and raised (Lk 9:22).

(f) Luke’s original eucharist tradition (Lk 22:15-19a; minus the editorial 22:19b-20) anticipates necessary suffering on the part of Jesus.

So Luke does have a theology of the cross. Jesus’ innocence as a crucified martyr is precisely what leads to him being raised from death.

UPDATE: Richard Anderson has a rejoinder to all of this here.


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