Reviews of

Basileia bei Lukas

In Book of Acts, Christian BLUMENTHAL, Gospels, Herder, Kingdom of God, Luke-Acts, Michael Kochenash on July 20, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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2018.07.11 | Christian Blumenthal. Basileia bei Lukas: Studien zur erzählerischen Entfaltung der lukanischen Basileiakonzeption. Herders Biblische Studien 84. Freiburg: Herder, 2016.

Reviewed by Michael Kochenash.

Christian Blumenthal’s Basileia bei Lukas is a detailed study of the use and conception of βασιλεία in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Blumenthal gives special attention to implications arising from the narrative location of βασιλεία statements—along with any observable developments within the narrative chronology—and to narrative indications of space in relation to Luke’s conception of βασιλεία. Moreover, in addition to all of the “kingdom of God” statements in Luke and Acts, Luke’s characterizations of Jesus as a king (e.g., the narratives of his birth and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem) also fall within the purview of Blumenthal’s study. To say the least, Basileia bei Lukas covers a lot of ground.

After an introductory chapter that reviews recent research on the topics identified above, chapter two surveys the entirety of Luke and Acts, identifying all of the relevant passages vis-à-vis the kingdom of God (see tables 2.1.1.a and 2.1.1.b on pp. 51–60) and the presentation of Jesus as a kingly figure (see tables 2.3.1.a and 2.3.1.b on pp. 130–33). The chapter begins with the kingdom of God statements (sec. 2.1). The majority of the references to the kingdom of God occur in direct speech, indirect speech, or speech reports, and Blumenthal identifies those that are attributed to the adult Jesus—whom Luke presents as all-knowing—as the most authoritative. Among these, Jesus explains his mission as proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, and so Blumenthal suggests that Jesus’s entire ministry ought to be interpreted as an important aspect of Luke’s conception of the kingdom of God. Though there are fewer kingdom statements in Acts, those that exist are strategically located throughout the narrative, a circumstance that Blumenthal regards as indicative of the continuing significance of the kingdom of God in Luke’s second volume.

In section 2.2, Blumenthal situates the kingdom expectations of Luke and Acts among other early Jewish expectations regarding God’s reign, as exemplified through excerpts from the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other extracanonical early Jewish writings. Blumenthal observes that early Jewish texts that anticipate the coming of the kingdom of God often foreground God’s role in the process and God’s association with Jerusalem. Luke’s conception of the kingdom of God differs in several fundamental ways, most notably: (1) the work, ministry, and teachings of Jesus often feature where readers might expect to find hopes for the liberation of Jerusalem and Israel’s rule over other nations; (2) salvation and damnation are no longer determined by association with Israel but rather by association with Jesus; and (3) the coming kingdom of God is inaugurated by the appearance of Jesus rather than by that of God. Thus, readers may conclude that Luke’s conception of the reign of God is especially characterized by the prominent role played by Jesus. (These observations echo the scholarship of Michael Wolter and Costantino Ziccardi; see pp. 16–19.)

Appropriately, then, Blumenthal turns to the presentation of Jesus as a kingly figure in section 2.3. Two contrasting images emerge from Luke’s characterizations of Jesus as both “king” and “messiah”: a true image (articulated by Gabriel, an unnamed angel of the Lord, and Peter) and a false one, usually equating Jesus’s rule with insurrection (articulated by the rulers of the Judeans, Roman soldiers, and the jealous Jews in Thessalonica). Blumenthal foregrounds the kingdom sayings in Luke 22:16, 18, and 29 as particularly significant due to their specific spatio-temporal contextualization—they occur in Jerusalem the night of the Last Supper—and the close relationship of the content of these sayings to their spatio-temporal context. Luke 22:29 is particularly noteworthy for Blumenthal because it is the only verse in Luke or Acts where kingdom theology and kingdom Christology coalesce: God conferred the kingdom upon Jesus, and Jesus confers his kingdom upon his disciples. Moreover, with only three exceptions (Luke 1:32; 12:32; 22:29), Jesus is always the subject of βασιλεύω verbs in Luke and Acts. In these other verses, God is the subject and is giving Jesus authority to rule. Blumenthal thus concludes that Jesus plays a critical role in the kingdom of God and that his ministry constitutes a manifestation of God’s reign on earth.

The two chapters that follow comprise the heart of Blumenthal’s study. These chapters foreground Luke’s conception of the kingdom of God and how it relates to Luke’s characterization of Jesus (ch. 3) and how the kingdom functions as a salvific space and continues to manifest on earth after Jesus’s ascension (ch. 4).

Chapter three features a discussion of the “kingdom of God” sayings, with in-depth analyses of three in particular (Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28) wherein Jesus links the kingdom of God with himself rather than with Israel. At the outset of his public ministry (Luke 4:14–44, the Nazareth and Capernaum narratives), Jesus himself manifests the inbreaking of the kingdom of God—identifying his ministry as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promises for the poor, casting out demons, and healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Blumenthal reads these narratives against early Jewish expectations regarding God’s reign, which often foreground the city of Jerusalem and/or the Temple. The kingdom of God in Luke 4 is, in contrast, connected only with the person of Jesus, who applies Isaiah’s prophecy to those outside of Israel (4:25–27) and proclaims the kingdom in “other cities” (4:43). In the Lukan Beatitudes (Luke 6:20–26), Jesus pronounces that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor (6:20). Blumenthal argues that comparing this pronouncement with Tobit 8:21 supports his interpretation of the disciples as Jesus’s heirs to the reign of God. Finally, in his discussion about John the Baptist (Luke 7:24–30), Jesus situates John outside the kingdom of God—at that point in the narrative, at least. Blumenthal explains this positioning as a result of John’s ignorance about Jesus: he is not yet convinced that Jesus is ὁ ἐρχόμενος (7:20), but Luke leaves the possibility open that John will believe the answer given to his disciples and that he may yet enter the kingdom, even if only as ὁ μικρότερος (7:28). Blumenthal concludes this chapter by reviewing seven lines of development for the concept of βασιλεία in Luke and Acts, many of which emphasize the binding of the kingdom to Jesus—both during his ministry and after his ascension.

In chapter four, Blumenthal explores Jesus’s royal power and its relation to narrative space. Although the kingdom of God is primarily located spatially above—in the heavens—the narratives in Luke and Acts present it as occasionally manifesting on earth, through Jesus’s ministry of healings and exorcisms and through his disciples’ preaching after his ascension. In these circumstances, as proclaimed by Jesus, the kingdom of God is often conceptualized as a confined space that can be entered (into) or that is a place of residence (in). The partial establishment of the kingdom of God on earth ends with Jesus’s ascension. After this event, the heavenly space remains open, even viewable from earth—as Stephen evinces immediately prior to his death. The heavenly space thus guides the followers of Christ as they witness to him, and salvation is experienced through the sharing of goods, through communal meals, and—at least for Stephen—at the moment of one’s death.

Before concluding Basileia bei Lukas with a synthesis of the key insights arising from his study, Blumenthal includes a brief fifth chapter. He suggests here that Luke aims to undermine his audience’s worldviews regarding power structures and authority. On the one hand, the Lukan narratives undermine claims to power by Roman authorities (here, those made by Augustus, Herod, and Festus) by attributing this power to God and to God’s Son, Jesus—particularly after his ascension and enthronement. On the other hand, these narratives also subvert his audience’s presuppositions about authority within their own communities by presenting Jesus’s sacrifice of his life as a model for wielding authority in the kingdom of God (see Luke 22:14–30, the first instance of “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of Jesus” discourses coinciding). Those who want to be great in God’s kingdom must be “like a servant.”

Ultimately, and perhaps inevitably, Basileia bei Lukas contains many more observations and insights regarding the narrative presentation of the kingdom of God in Luke and Acts than I can reproduce in this review. Accordingly, scholars interested in Lukan theology, the narrative construction of Luke and/or Acts, and early Christian conceptions regarding God’s kingdom will find much value in Blumenthal’s thorough and judicious work.

Michael Kochenash
Los Angeles, California, USA
michael.kochenash [ at ] gmail.com

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