Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2021.08.07

Isaac W. Oliver. Luke’s Jewish Eschatology: The National Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. Pp. 304. ISBN: 9780197530580. $99.00. Hardback

Darrell L. Bock
Dallas Theological Seminary

For centuries, there has been a consensus that the New Testament taught that the church has totally replaced or superseded Israel in God’s program. That discussion paid attention to how Jesus and the early church’s teaching placed stewardship for God’s program among those who responded to Jesus, with Israel and the Jews being excluded because of their rejection of Jesus. In recent times, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, more attention given to Second Temple Jewish texts, and a sensitivity produced by the Holocaust, a movement known as post-supersessionism has revived a concentrated look at just how Jewish the New Testament is. Among the NT books often most neglected or undervalued in this conversation is Luke-Acts. Isaac Oliver’s book steps directly and clearly into this discussion. He argues that Luke-Acts does not neglect nor cast aside the hope for Israel as a people and nation. He takes on people like F. F. Bruce, C. K. Barrett, I. Howard Marshall, Gary Burge, N. T Wright, and Michael Fuller, who in different ways defend the older consensus, but do so by ignoring the series of texts Oliver examines in detail. Even Robert Tannehill, with his sensitive treatment of the remnant in Luke-Acts does not fill out the Lucan portrait.

Oliver tackles the question by examining the universalism and particularism that Luke presents. He appropriately asks, Does the idea that Luke embraces all nations necessarily mean that he excludes the restoration of a nation lost down the eschatological road? He claims that Luke “still awaited the restoration of the nation of Israel, and his Jewish ‘nationalism’ was of an eschatological, pacifist type, though certainly not of a passive kind” (22). Oliver then proceeds to walk systematically through the relevant parts of Luke-Acts with this theme in mind. He dates the work somewhere after 70 CE and the outbreak of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, most likely in the early part of the second century. This later date for the volumes does not diminish the Jewish hope contained in it. He looks at the infancy narratives, the body of Luke’s gospel focusing on Jesus Messiah Son of David, and examines themes tied to Jerusalem and the restoration of Israel that is a topic from Luke 9 to the gospel’s end. He closes with a look at how Acts follows up on these themes. There is a note of national restoration in Simeon’s prophecy, a hope for the restoration of the Davidic throne in Lucan Christology, the lamentation over Jerusalem in a temporary judgment at the end of Luke 13, Jerusalem regained in Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse, and a discussion of the reunification of the twelve tribes in Acts. These themes reflect Jewish national concerns and a deep hope for the nation’s restoration.

He notes that Luke does not redefine Israel or its restoration hope in his opening chapters that form the introduction to Luke’s entire effort. This restoration is “spiritual as well as national, political, social and physical” (40). Luke has Jesus “assume Davidic prerogatives that are of a national-political order” (42). Restoration is coming with the Parousia (46). More controversially, he claims the church “is not an ethnically undifferentiated entity, a nation (Israel) reconfigured into the transnational people of God” (48). It is ethnically and halakically differentiated” (48). The question here that could have been probed more is how and how much this is the case. There is a oneness to what Jesus did and yet there still could be a distinction in how that oneness is seen to reflect a reconciliation that does not homogenize the result but keeps the reconciliation evident. For Oliver, the use of the Davidic Psalter underscores this continuing effort to see Israel in the program (55). Jesus is presented in Acts 2 as the legitimate heir to David’s throne (63), while Acts 13 makes clear Israel inherits these promises and so is included in what they represent (65). The new laos that is the Gentiles in Acts 15 is another chosen people that does not replace Israel so that the result is two twin peoples of God (66–67). One can ask if this is the best way to explain this relationship since Jew and Gentile function together in a delivered community identified as the church, but the point recast may still be valid. There can be a restoration plan for Israel from within this unity that Christ provides.

As Jesus heads to Jerusalem, he discusses an Exodus in the scene with Moses and Elijah. Oliver sees this as entailing everything from the death to the return for Luke (73). One can ask if the purview of the theme extends to the return as then we may not have a departure only. At the least, however we do have a death and departure in a vindication by God in what becomes the resurrection-ascension. In the expansion to include the nations in Luke 13:22–30, Oliver fairly asks if we have simply an expansion versus a substitution (83). Luke 13:34–35 shows a “reestablishment of Jerusalem will occur when the resurrected messiah returns” (85). This does depend on Israel’s repentance, but this fits larger Jewish expectations in other literature (e.g., Ezek 20:42–43). What is seen in Luke 13 matches what Peter says in Acts 3:19–20. Jerusalem’s rejection of Messiah will be reversed one day (93). Luke may see the events of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE as analogous to the end and the days of the Son of Man (96). There is a limit to the time of Jerusalem’s trampling by the nations (98). Luke’s difference with other Jewish texts is that the nations’ conversion precedes Israel’s final restoration (99). The advent of the Son of Man comes after Jerusalem’s destruction and that of the temple (101).

Turning to Acts, Oliver argues that Rome is not the endpoint of the Great Commission nor “a new center that usurps Jerusalem” (106). This does seem to underestimate the literary and geographic flow of the book which goes from Jerusalem to Galilee, back to Jerusalem then out to Samaria and the nations before landing quite clearly in Rome as the goal. Rome appears to indicate a new center of activity that represents outreach to the world. The direction matches Luke 24:47, from Jerusalem out to all with Rome as the indicator that the “all” phase is now in full swing. That emphasis, distinct from the way Oliver frames it, does not negate his core point that Israel still has a role in the program with restoration in view. In Acts 3, the restoration Peter preaches is rooted in what the Jewish Scriptures teach about what remains. Nothing in Luke-Acts nullifies that perspective. What it awaits is a national embrace of messiah so restoration can come to the nation (108). Pentecost in Acts 2 shows both a universal emphasis and a hope of Israel side by side (113). Tribal unification is also foreseen (119). He argues that the Samaritan cult should not be seen as an adulterated form of Israel’s worship (120). This appears to soften what otherwise is a commitment to Torah in Luke-Acts, as the Torah and the history that follows it did not embrace the Samaritan effort in such neutral terms. This raises the question whether Luke saw the Samaritans as Jews or not. Here the answer seems to come from Luke 17:11–19 where the healed Samaritan is called a foreigner by Jesus, as well as by the marking out of Samaria as a distinct phase of outreach needing a distinct authentication in Acts 8, something the commission in Acts 1:8 also presents.

In sum, this overview of Oliver’s arguments shows how thorough and well-constructed the overall thesis is, even as I have hinted at places where the case may be overstated in what could be called an overcorrection. This is an important volume for Luke-Acts eschatology because it issues a long needed corrective to a widely held reading of these two volumes that misses an important keynote in Luke’s depiction of eschatological hope.

I conclude noting a few minor items of difference for reflection, less related to the central theme but of some significance. 

First, in regard to dating, I would simply observe that virtually all of what is said here as a central thesis is not affected should one see an earlier date for Luke in the 80’s or even in the mid- to late 60’s. My point there is that what Luke says may well reflect an even earlier take on this theme than the later date his book entertains.

Second, I believe Oliver understates how Luke handles the Virgin Birth by entertaining the idea that Luke may have held to a physical and adoptive role for Joseph in his portrayal (59–61). While adoption is likely, a physical role for Joseph seems less so for Luke. This seems unlikely given the way the birth of Jesus is stair-stepped to John the Baptist’s origins.

Third, Oliver’s hesitation about the ethnic makeup of the author of these volumes seems to assume that someone who knows this much about Judaism must have been Jewish (135). He did state this more softly than he did in his earlier works. Still I would suggest that Luke may well have been a God-fearer who had come into the new movement exposing him both before and after his embrace of Jesus to its Jewish background even though he was ethnically a Gentile. Luke’s sensitivity to God-fearers through his volumes may point in this direction. This may well explain also how he can be so sensitive to both Gentile outreach and Jewish concerns at the same time. 

Finally, did Luke think a Jew needed to confess Jesus as the Christ in order to be saved, something Oliver appears to question (137)? The entire effort of the two volumes is to present how central Jesus was to God’s program and how that effort was focused on Israel for a long time, including as late as Paul’s appeals in the defense speeches of Acts, not to mention the warnings about accountability to the nation that closes the narrative with Paul in Rome. This means Luke is serious about his call to those in the nation to repent in faith, a reorientation that also stands at the base of his hope for her restoration one day. The alternative Oliver raises seems to undercut the entire effort without any hint from Luke that an alternative route exists.

Oliver is to be thanked for giving us a substantive volume on Lucan eschatology. The recovery of this lost theme with its corrective does NT study a great service.


Response by Isaac W. Oliver
Bradley University

I would like to thank Darrell Bock for sharing his precious time and expertise to review my book. I am delighted that my work has found grace in his eyes. In the following, I would like to clarify some points that I believe will underline further agreement between us.

First, concerning ecclesiology, I wish to emphasize that for Luke there is only one ekklesia (for various reasons, I leave this term untranslated and prefer not to render it in English as “church”). On this point, both Bock and I fully agree. Bock wonders, however, what is the best way to conceive of this unity, noting that there can be “a oneness to what Jesus did and yet there still could be a distinction in how that oneness is seen to reflect a reconciliation that does not homogenize the result but keeps the reconciliation evident.” I have tried to illustrate this point in my book by positing that in Luke’s conception the ekklesia encompasses two chosen peoples (laoi), one Jewish, the other gentile. These two branches are united, can share the same table, and partake in the same koinonia, but exist in parallel and retain their respective identities. Thus the ekklesia is united but not homogenized, guaranteeing as Bock says, “a restoration plan for Israel from within this unity that Christ provides.”

I sense nevertheless some hesitation when Bock asks whether my proposal (2 laoi = 1 ekklesia) “is the best way to explain this relationship since Jew and Gentile function together in a delivered community identified as the church.” Perhaps this reservation stems from my emphasis on the collective identities of the laoi, which stand for groups of peoples, rather than on the standing of the individual members of the ekklesia. This brings me to a second, interrelated issue: soteriology. Here too I wish first to underscore agreement with Bock. For Luke there is only one way that leads to Israel’s restoration: “There is salvation in no one else [i.e., Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NRSV). Importantly, this statement appears in an address to a Jewish audience in Jerusalem (v. 10: “to all of you, and to all the people of Israel”), making it clear that for Luke there is no such thing as “two paths to salvation” (I would argue that this observation is of consequence for Pauline studies as well).

Having said that, I would stress that Luke, like Paul, is concerned more with the collective restoration of Israel (“all of Israel”) than with the eternal fate of individual Jews. Luke still awaits therefore for a majority of the nation, a number sufficient enough to constitute the whole people, to repent and submit to Jesus as their (Davidic) deliverer and king. What about the current standing of individual Jews who do not recognize the messianic authority of Jesus? I propose that Luke recognized that there were righteous non-Christian Jews from before and after the time of Jesus. Examples include: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph of Arimathea, who, though a sympathizer, is not called a follower of Jesus by Luke or Mark (but cf. Matt 27:57), and probably Gamliel the Elder. So would Luke have condemned Jews such as Joseph of Arimathea or Gamliel who feared God and practiced righteousness for not officially recognizing Jesus’ messiahship? In Acts Peter states that even a gentile can find divine favor if s/he “fears him [i.e., God] and does what is right” (Acts 10:35). I suggest therefore that Luke takes issue especially with those Jews who actively oppose Jesus and his followers, those citizens, who according to the Parable of the Pounds “hate” their own king (Luke 19:14). Thus there is only one path of salvation for the nation of Israel but as far as the individual standing of each and every single Jew (or gentile), the Son of Man will be the judge. Needless to say, I am describing what I think were Luke’s beliefs, not my own theological convictions.

On the Virgin Birth, I want to clarify that I agree with Bock. It is unlikely that Luke considered Joseph to be Jesus’ biological father. Perhaps because I seriously contemplate this possibility, I may convey the misimpression that I embrace it. In the end though I rule in favor of viewing Joseph in Luke as Jesus’ adoptive father (61). Nevertheless, Luke endeavors as much as possible to emphasize Jesus’ Davidic ancestry, using the most vivid language to impress his readers that Jesus is in fact the scion of David. We are reminded that ethnic identity is a social-cultural construct, even when couched in primordialist language, which is precisely what Luke does as he genealogically connects Jesus to David via Joseph.

Regarding the Samaritans, one critical terminological clarification seems necessary. I only propose that Luke considered the Samaritans to be Israelites—not Jews. The terms, though they overlap, are not synonymous. As Jason Staples argues in The Idea of Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2021), the term Israel(ite) retains its tribal connotations throughout the Second Temple period and even beyond (I am not convinced though that Paul believed that gentiles were the descendants of the northern tribes). Thus Luke specifies that Anna stemmed from the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36). Jews are, strictly speaking, descendants of the tribe of Judah. However important, they only represent one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Samaritans, on the other hand, descend from the tribe(s) of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh). Indeed, this corresponds to Samaritan self-definition; Samaritans do not view themselves as Jews or Judahites. All Jews are Israelites but not all Israelites are Jews. I propose accordingly that Luke’s special interest in the Samaritans stems from his hope for the pan-tribal restoration of Israel (Luke 22:30; Acts 26:7). Thanks to Jesus, Samaria and Judea, Ephraim and Judah, north and south, are being reconciled. The nation of Israel is being reconstituted. I don’t think that Luke’s eschatological inclusion of the Samaritans qua Israelites would soften Luke’s commitment to the Torah, since the Samaritans were, indeed are, Torah observant. Not only does Luke honor the Mosaic Torah, which en soi is not anti-Samaritan but arguably a product of Judean and Samaritan redactional activity, he (re)inserts the Samaritans into Israel from a Jewish standpoint: the Samaritans submit to a Davidic and therefore Judahite messiah whose gaze remains fixed on Jerusalem. According to Luke, Jesus will restore Israel to its former days of glory when David ruled from Jerusalem over the northern and southern tribes.

On dating, I concur that my thesis would stand whether Luke/-Acts is situated in the 80s or the early second century CE. Indeed, I am more inclined to place Luke/-Acts closer to the year 70 than the time of Marcion. The hypothesis that Luke/-Acts redacted his works to combat Marcion thought is eisegetical (it cannot be internally inferred from reading Luke or Acts). I shy away though from joining Adolf von Harnack and others who date Luke and Acts before 70 because of Luke’s lamentation for the destruction of the Second Temple (Luke 13:33–34; 19:41–44; 23:27–31), which is remarkably singular for the New Testament yet widely attested in post-70 Jewish literature (Josephus, 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, etc.).

Finally, Bock is right that I more timidly suggested in my new book that Luke was born and raised a Jew. Indeed, even in my first monograph (Torah Praxis after 70 CE) my main goal was to demonstrate that the writings of Luke rather than their author were Jewish. However, having just read the fine dissertational work of Joshua Smith (University of Denver), which is entirely devoted to the question of Lukan authorship, I feel more emboldened than ever to reaffirm my motto that “Luke is Jewish till proven gentile.” It is of course possible that a non-Jew could have acquired the remarkable knowledge and interest in all things Jewish recorded in Luke’s writings. Yet the onus of proof now falls on those who wish to hold onto Luke’s gentile roots. Sensitivity to gentile and Jewish interests does not constitute proof of Luke’s non-Jewish background, since a Jew can show concern for the two. Ask Paul or Martin Buber.

Once again, I thank Bock for his insightful review. It’s an honor to receive commendation from such a distinguished scholar of the New Testament.