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Chapter Review of Bock's A Theology of Luke and Acts

I decided to join in the blog tour fun at the Koinonia blog, specifically by offering a review of one chapter from Bock’s A Theology of Luke and Acts. Before I begin, let me thank Zondervan for the gratis copy, and assure you that my opinion here is not influenced by the publisher’s generosity. Also, while my given task is to review only a chapter of the book, I’ll include a few other broader observations, too.

First Impressions

The book is a nicely bound hardcover, written of course by a well establish Lukan scholar, Darrell L. Bock. The book is part of a larger series of volumes, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (BTNT), of which it is the second to appear. (The first is Köstenberger’s volume, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters).

Scanning the table of contents, one finds few surprises: Three parts, (1) Introductory Matters; (2) Major Theological Themes;  and (3) Luke and the Canon (which really is only a chapter in itself). Standard introductory issues are covered in the first part, though Bock begins by explaining how and why Luke-Acts is “probably the largest and most neglected portion of the NT” (27).

As one might expect, the book shares much in common with Bock’s three BECNT volumes on Luke and Acts, though here, he can unpack themes and issues much further, leaving the brunt of the exegetical work to his BECNT volumes (and other publications). The narrative survey (chapter 4) offers an “at-a-glance” (okay, that’s a bit overstated) resource from which one can get a ‘quick and dirty’ summary of Bock on Luke-Acts. The meat of the volume, though, comes in the second part, 17 chapters covering various theological themes:

  • The Plan, Activity, and Character of God: A Survey in Narrative Order
  • The God of Promise, Fulfillment, and Salvation: Synthesis of Texts on the Plan of God
  • Jesus the Messiah Who Is Lord and Bringer of the New Era: Narrative Order
  • Messiah, Servant, Prophet, Savior, Son of Man, and Lord: A Synthesis on the Person and Work of Jesus
  • The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts: Power and Enablement for the Promise and Witness of the New Era
  • The Salvation of God through Christ and the Healings That Picture It: Narrative Order
  • The Many Dimensions of Salvation in Luke-Acts: A Synthesis
  • Israel in Luke-Acts
  • The Gentiles and the Expression “the Nations” in Luke-Acts
  • The Church and the Way in Luke-Acts
  • Discipleship and Ethics in the New Community
  • How Response to Jesus Divides: The Opponents, the Crowds, and Rome as Observer of Events in Luke-Acts
  • Women, the Poor, and the Social Dimensions in Luke-Acts
  • The Law in Luke-Acts
  • Ecclesiology in Luke-Acts
  • Eschatology, Judgment, and Hope for the Future in Luke-Acts
  • The Scriptures in Luke-Acts

I’ll be focusing on chapter 9: “The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts: Power and Enablement for the Promise and Witness of the New Era.”

Brief Review of Chapter 9: “The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts”

As is the case throughout the book, a helpful bibliography on the relevant subject begins chapter. Bock gives about half of this space to Max Turner’s work on the subject, and rightly so (though interestingly Bock diverts from Turner in a few key theological points).

Before the conclusion, the main content of the chapter is broken into four pieces, three of which are categorized structurally: (1) The Spirit in Luke’s Infancy Material; (2) The Spirit in the Body of Luke’s Gospel; (3) The Spirit in the Book of Acts; and the final section, (4) Spirit and Power. Bock says at the outset that

The Spirit is a driving force for Luke’s portrait of salvation, energizing and guiding events both in Luke and especially in Acts (211-12).

But rather than be satisfied, as many are, in describing the Spirit as the “Spirit of prophecy,” Bock prefers the term “Spirit for witness,” given the thematic importance of witness in the two volumes. While he recognizes the Spirit has more than one function in Luke-Acts, Bock encounters the issue that many who write on the subject face: how to sum up the manifold activity of the Holy Spirit in Luke and Acts.

The Spirit in Luke’s Infancy Material

The first section, as the title suggests, examines the role of the Spirit in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. Here Bock observes the Spirit’s leadership over John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon, all led by the Spirit to bear witness to God’s plan. The Spirit is involved in the conception of Jesus in Mary. In the infancy narratives, Bock also finds hints of Trinitarian doctrine:

The reference to power and the Most high shows the intimate connection between the Spirit and God. They share identity and yet are discussed distinctly (213).

The Spirit is also closely associated with power, enablement from God, which Bock will speak more about further in the chapter.

The Spirit in the Body of Luke’s Gospel

Bock gives Luke 3:15-16 a central place in the whole of this theme in Luke-Acts , saying Luke “continuously alludes back to this text” (giving examples of Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5; 2; 10-11; 13; 19:4).

In regard to John the Baptist’s statement about this baptism of the Spirit and fire, Bock devotes quite a bit of ink. To be brief, Bock argues that Luke neither added to John the Baptist’s original statement (i.e., to the tradition of the statement Luke was using) the concept of fire nor the Spirit, especially given the association of fire with judgment in the OT and Judaism of the day, as well as the association of the Spirit with the eschaton. Bock concludes:

Thus, the baptism with fire in Luke 3:16 does not have literary contact with Acts… the baptism of the Spirit and fire represents two sides to Jesus’ offer of God’s promise. It divides people into two groups. Those who accept it, by accepting the one who brings it, are purged and taken in. Those who do not accept it are thrown to the wind, as 3:17 suggests (215-16).

What I don’t understand is why Bock makes such a strong case against literary contact between Luke 3:16 and Acts 2, especially with the concept of fire. He argues that Matthew’s use of the phrase in the same context supports his view, though this argument loses its power in the case that Luke does not pick up Matthew’s use of the phrase (which is possible on a variety of synoptic solutions). He secondly argues that the use of fire in Acts 2:3 is only metaphorical as a description of how the Spirit spread. I agree it is an image of what took place, as Bock says, but I don’t see this is a strong argument against a literary connection. (And actually, the “tongues” are what are distributed as fire, not the Holy Spirit itself [διαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι ὡσεὶ πυρὸς].)

But, if in fact so much about Acts 2 (the event at Pentecost, Peter’s sermon, the Joel passage, etc.), not to mention Luke 24 and the mention of John the Baptist in Acts 1:4-5, allude to Luke 3:16, why is it so easy to dismiss a possible link between the fire of Luke 3:16 with that of Pentecost, even if Luke himself is responsible?

Bock acknowledges that the offer of God’s promise, mentioned in the quote above, is a “decisive baptism… revealed at Pentecost” (216), and he affirms that the baptism of the Spirit and that of fire are really a “single baptism” (215). I have argued elsewhere that a probable chiasm in Acts 2:2-4 suggests a strong link between Luke 3:16 and Acts 2, and possibly places the concept of fire at the center of the passage to emphasize the fulfillment of the earlier promise by John the Baptism (see Joshua L. Mann, “The Rhetorical Function of Chiasmus in Acts 2:2-4,” MJT (Spring 2010): 66-77; see this post for access). Further, the theme of promise-fulfillment is supported very well by Bock elsewhere in the volume.

Before moving to the Spirit in Acts, Bock briefly discusses the Spirit’s involvement in anointing Jesus and the disciples, guiding and encouraging them, providing aid in facing persecution, and, most of all, power for witness.

The Spirit in the Book of Acts

In the next section, Bock notes that the fourfold increase in references to the Spirit in Acts over Luke reveal the activity of the Spirit in the new community of believers in this new eschatological era. The commission of the disciples by Jesus in Acts 1:8 is described as Jesus reprioritizing the disciples after their question about the restoration of Israel (220). Note that this is quite a different view than that of some, including Max Turner who argues that the coming Spirit at Pentecost and beyond is the signal of the restoration of Israel. Thus in Turner’s view, Jesus answers their question, in effect, rather than “reprioritizes” the disciples.

Acts shows how the Spirit is involved with “revelatory process of the promise of Scripture” (220), how the pouring out of the Spirit fulfills the Joel prophecy (221), how the Spirit is related to and distinct from the Father and the Son (221), the Spirit’s empowerment for witness and guidance for believers, especially church leaders, and the Spirit’s involvement in Jew and Gentile alike  (222-23).

Spirit and Power

In a short section (half of a page), Bock names significant references to the association of the Spirit with power, including Luke 1:35; 4:14, 36; 5:15; 6:19; 8:46; 9:1; 24:49 (which is labeled “the key text here”); Acts 1:8; 3-4; 10:38. He thus says,

This permanent indwelling is a bestowal of power that enables believers to give evidence of God’s presence, to appreciate the will of God (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15; 1 John 2:27) (225).

The chapter closes with a fifth section in which Bock concludes the chapter, nicely synthesizing what he’s said and includes a list (in paragraph form) of what all the Spirit does in Luke and Acts.


I’m confident that those studying Luke and Acts, whether in academic settings or in the local church, will find Bock’s volume helpful. He’s a good scholar who I think can now be classified as “seasoned,” especially in the area of Luke and Acts. If you’ve enjoyed his BECNT commentaries, you’ll enjoy this one, too.

2 Responses to Chapter Review of Bock's A Theology of Luke and Acts

  1. Hi Joshua, that’s a great review. I posted on the other post on your review of Luke-Acts asking your view on the best of the three Luke commentaries (Marshall, Bovon and Bock)? And your take Bock and Peterson on Acts?

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