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LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


In Luke 1-3 we have seen Jesus introduced by Luke as a true man, prophet, Saviour, Messiah, Lord and Son of God.  We need to add to our awareness Luke's rich and varied christology by studying the way the evangelist pursues the use of the christological names and titles through Luke-Acts. These notes give a brief introduction, and add suggested reading after each section. [1]


Luke's christology begins "from below", with the historical Jesus.  At its first level the Third Gospel is about the man Christ Jesus.  "Jesus" is the Lord's human name.  The early chapters of Luke record the birth and growth of Jesus as a "baby" (Lk.2:16, brephos), "little boy" (2:40, Gk. to paidion) and "the boy" (v.43, Gk. ho pais).  The genealogy in chapter three goes back to Adam, the first man (3:23-38; Gen.1:27; 2:7). Be aware of the Lord's human characteristics as you read and study the Gospel, e.g., Jesus is tempted (4:1), he prayed (5:16), wept (19:41) and slept (8:23).  The Lord's experience in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals his humanity. [2]

Jesus and the Spirit
As a man Jesus was subordinate to his Father, and depended on the Holy Spirit for the guidance, inspiration and power in his life and ministry.  He said: "If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Lk.11:20 = Mt.12:28, Q; cf. Ex.8:19). [3]

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, Leicester, IVP, 1981, pp.220-222.
C.K.Barrett, The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, revised, London, SPCK, 1966, pp.5-68.


That Jesus saw himself as a prophet may be inferred from Lk.4:24 and 13:33.  His disciples recognised him as a prophet (24:19).  The populace recognised Jesus as a prophet (7:16).  His ministry is reminiscent of an OT prophet's (e.g., his "woes": 6:24-26; 11:42-52).  Beginning with Lk.4:25-27 a number of allusions are made to Elijah and Elisha (9:8,19,30,33).  On the mount of transfiguration (9:28-36) Jesus is seen as greater than Moses representing the law) and Elijah (representing the prophets). [4]

Jesus the prophet and the Spirit
As a prophet his prophetical ability and inspiration came from the fact that "the Holy Spirit was upon him" (3:22; 4:18).

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp.269-270.
C.K.Barrett, The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition, pp.94-99.
O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, London, SCM, pp.13-50.
J.D.G.Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, London, SCM, 1975, pp.82-84.
I.H.Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian, Exeter, Paternoster, 1970, pp.124-128.
R.P.Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts, Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press, 1994, pp.132-139


Luke's Gospel is the Gospel of a Saviour. [5] We have seen how the promise of a Saviour features in the nativity narratives. "Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you" (2:11).  The key verse to the Gospel comes at the end of the story of Zacchaeus with the Son of Man saying: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (19:1-10). [6]

Although salvation statements may be limited in Luke, [7] God's divine plan for Jesus - involving his suffering, death and resurrection is made quite plain (e.g., Lk.22:22).  The exodus of Jesus was the topic of conversation on the mount of transfiguration (9:31).  Luke tells us that Jesus was aware of his destiny.  He predicted his death (9:22), faced it (9:51; 12:50) and accepted it (22:39). When he kept the Passover with his disciples, he spoke of his death in redemptive terms (22:19-20). [8] We may argue that the full meaning of Jesus' death is reserved for Luke's second work (e.g., Acts 2:23; 5:30; 10:39; 13:29). [9]

Jesus the Saviour and the Spirit
Does Luke indicate the involvement of the Spirit in the saving work of Christ in any way? The Spirit was involved in the incarnation and in the temptation of Jesus.  The Spirit was also vitally involved in the promulgation of the good news (Lk.4:18-19; Acts 1:8). Consider Heb.9:14 here.

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp.431-449.
O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, pp.238-245.


A christological awareness is firmly stated at the beginning of the Gospel: "A Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Lk.2:11). [10] Jesus was anointed and consecrated at his baptism by the Spirit as the Messiah (3:21-22). At Caesarea Philippi Peter confessed Jesus as Christ (9:20).  At his transfiguration the Father attested his messiahship (Sonship) (9:35).  Jesus never preached that he was the Messiah, but in his sermon at Nazareth and in his reply to John the Baptist he applied messianic scriptures to himself (4:17-21; 7:20-22, Q).  When he was confronted with the question at his trial, "Are you the Christ?" he answered in the affirmative (22:67-70).  He also applied the messianic Psalm 110 to himself (20:41-44). [11]

Jesus the Messiah and the Spirit
The relationship of the Holy Spirit to Jesus as the Messiah is obvious.  Jesus was "the Anointed" (Gk. Christos) because of his relationship with the Spirit. [12]

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp.236-242.
O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, pp.111-136.
I.H.Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology, Leicester, IVP, 1976, pp.83-96.


The term "lord" (Gk.kurios, kyrios) is a common designation, and has a number of uses. [13] It is used of Jesus in the highest sense in scriptures such as Rom.10:9, 1 Cor.12:3 and Phil.2:11.  The question is how does Luke use it? Sometimes his recognition of Jesus as Lord reflects his faith and the faith of the church at the time of writing (e.g., Lk.7:13).  1 Cor.16:22 counters the view that the title was given to Jesus by the Hellenistic church.  The Aramaic formula Maran atha, "the Lord comes" (or "our Lord, come") in 1 Cor.16:22 (Rev.22:20) roots the phrase early in the Jewish Christian church.

Lk.1:16 sees John as the forerunner of the Lord (see 3:4; cf. Isa.40:3).  The angels announced the incarnation of the Lord (2:11). [14] Peter's confession, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man" (5:8) has theological depth.  Jesus saw himself as the "Lord of the Sabbath" (6:5).  He recognised his authority as Lord (6:46).  Again, Jesus applied Psa.110 to himself (20:41-44). 

Jesus the Lord and the Spirit
The resurrection made the disciples of Jesus aware of the reality of Jesus' Lordship (Lk.24:34).  In the Acts Peter declares how the resurrection asserted Jesus' lordship (Acts 2:29-36). Jesus was so raised and declared by the Holy Spirit (Rom.1:4).  In Acts Jesus is the baptiser with the Spirit (Acts 2:33; cf. Lk.3:16).

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, 291-293.
O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, pp.195-237.
I.H.Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology, pp.97-110.


The Servant Songs found in Deutero-Isaiah indicate the Servant's ministry (see Isa.42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). [15] Jesus quoted from Isaiah 53 and applied it to himself (22:37).  He also related to Isaiah 61 (4:17-21), and to the prophecy of Isaiah in a broader sense (7:21-22; cf., Isa.29:18; 32:3-5; 42:16). Luke does not have an exact equivalent of Mk.10:45 (Mt.20:28), but he records the saying of Jesus "But I am among you as one who serves" (see 22:27).  As the Suffering Servant Jesus had a redemptive mission.  Remember the significance of Isa.42:1 at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration.

The title Servant of the Lord (Ebed Yahweh) is explicitly applied to Jesus in the Acts.  Peter makes this claim in his sermons (Acts 3:13,26), as does the Jerusalem church in its prayers (Acts 4:27,30).  Philip related Isa.53 to Jesus in his witness to official from the court of Candace (Acts 8:26-35).  Isaiah intimates the relationship of the Spirit to the Servant (see Isa.42:1-4; 61:1-3.).

Jesus the Ebed Yahweh
Ebed Yahweh (Servant of the Lord) is a messianic title.  The Spirit is intimately involved in the Messiah's ministry The Servant Songs support this observation.

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp.258-263.
O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, pp.51-82.


"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David" (Lk.1:32). Gabriel's word to Mary intimates the special nature of Jesus.  Further to this the title is used by Satan (4:3,9), demons (4:41; 8:28) and the Sanhedrin (22:70 ). [16] The Father witnessed to Jesus' Sonship (3:21-22; 9:27-36).

Jesus did not use the title Son of God of himself, [17] but he referred to his Sonship and confessed an unique filial consciousness from the early age of twelve (Lk.2:49).  The inference to his Sonship is clear in the Parable of the Tenants (20:9-18).  The words, "I will send my son, whom I love" (pempsō ton huion mou ton agapēton) call to mind Genesis 22 (see the term, to agapētos, beloved, only, unique, in Gen.22:2,12).  The so-called "Johannine thunderbolt" (Mt.11:27=Lk.10:22, Q) demands special attention.  C.A.Craig says that the devil had no doubt regarding Jesus' identity. [18]

Jesus the Son of God and the Spirit
Luke is not as profound as John (John's Gospel) in detailing this relationship - his perspective is different.  The relationship of the Spirit with the Son begins with the Spirit's involvement in the conception and birth of Jesus.  The angel stated: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Lk.1:35).

The Gnostic Redeemer-myth
"The Son of God" of Scripture is sometimes compared with "a (the) Son of God" in Hellenistic literature.  The latter was "a divine man" (theios anēr), who claimed to be a son of a god.  These son-divinities were often depicted as deliverers to be worshipped.  R.Bultmann believes that the Gnostic Redeemer-myth is behind the developing christology of the NT.  The church, he maintained, develops the Jesus of history into the Christ of faith.  He also compares the Son of Man sayings with the gnostic idea of the cosmic Redeemer who came from heaven to save.  Bultmann's views cannot be ignored and require evaluation. [19]

The Trinity
A.Richardson makes the observation:

The New Testament formulates no doctrine of the Trinity, but its threefold doxological and liturgical formulae (e.g., Matt.28:19; 2 Cor.1:21f.; 13:14; 1 Pet.1:2; Jude 20f.; Rev.1:4-6) sufficiently demonstrate that the apostolic Church worshipped one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity. [20]

Following this kind of awareness we note that Luke recognises each member of the Godhead, for example, at the baptism of Jesus. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are recognised (Lk.3:21-22).

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp.301-312.
O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, pp.270-305.
J.D.G.Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, pp.26-40.
I.H.Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology, pp.111-125.


According to the witness of the four Gospels Jesus' chief self-designation was barnasha or Son of Man. [21] The Greek equivalent ho huios tou anthrōpou (both nouns with an article) is clumsy and indicates its Semitic background.  It occurs in the singular 84 (83) times, in Luke 12 (11) times (but consider: Lk.5:24; 6:5; 7:34; 9:26,44,58; 11:30; 12:8,40; 17:24,30; 18:8; 19:10; 22:22,69).  Outside the Gospels it is only found in Acts 7:56. [22] Although some scholars argue that barnasha is not a title, [23] others present grounds for believing otherwise. [24]

In the OT "son of man" is used of man or mankind (ben adam) (e.g., Psa.8:4; 80:17); of a prophet (ben 'enosh) (e.g., Ezek.2:1) and of God's special Agent, the "son of man" who stands before the ancient of days (Dan.7:13).  There is evidence from inter-testamental literature (such as the Similitudes of Enoch) that "son of man" took on messianic significance in the inter-testamental period.  Because of this, R.H.Charles believes that Jesus could use the designation "son of man" as a messianic title, fusing it with that of Servant of the Lord.  The significance of Dan.7:13 cannot be ignored (see Mk.14:62; Mt.26:64; Lk.22:69). Scholars sometimes refer to Jesus as the Danielic Son of Man. 

A conservative view represents Jesus using barnasha as a title that would say so much more about himself than other titles, for example, Messiah. [25] (The NIV denotes the term as a title by using capital letters, viz., Son of Man.) Jesus did use the term obliquely, which left his audience asking whether he spoke of himself or someone else. This use of the term would challenge thought and faith.  Scholars universally classify the Son of Man sayings according to their contents, denoting them with letters of the alphabet:

A. The sayings which refer to the earthly ministry of the Son of Man.

B. The sayings which refer to the coming suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of Man.

C. The sayings which refer to the future coming, exaltation and judgment of the Son of Man.

The Son of Man and the Spirit
As far as we can see none of the Son of Man sayings contain a reference to the Holy Spirit.  Why is this? This title is not encountered in Luke's Gospel until the account of the healing of the paralysed man in chapter five (Lk.5:24).

D.Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp.270-282.
O.Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, pp.137-192.
I.H.Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology, pp.63-82.


1. Consider the Son of Man sayings in the Synoptic Gospels.  Do they all fit into one of the above categories, A B C? How do they compare with those in the Fourth Gospel?

2. Consider the christological titles in Luke. Which, in your opinion, relates most to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

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Copyright 2008 Vernon Ralphs

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