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Why Foreign Missions? 11. Luke and the Isaianic New Exodus

Why Foreign Missions?  11. Luke and the Isaianic New Exodus

The previous section argued that Luke uses Psalms 104-108 to frame the salvation historical narrative of Israel that comes to include the Gentiles.  He also uses Isaiah 40ff for the same purpose.  This point has been argued in detail by +David Pao, and the following points present his argument.  +Pao’s thesis is that ‘the scriptural story which provides the hermeneutical framework for Acts is none other than the foundation story of Exodus as developed and transformed through the Isaianic corpus.’[1]  This is an important matter for a biblical theology of missions, for Is. 40ff is the key section of the Old Testament for the mission of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the early Church.

+Pao brings to attention the fact that Luke apparently frames his two volume work—Luke and Acts—with quotations from Isaiah:

                Lk. 3.4-6 (John the Baptist) from Is. 40.3-5 (the passage also explains calling Christianity ‘the Way’ in Acts 18-19 and 24; so also Is. 43.16-19)
                Lk. 4.18-19 (Jesus’ first sermon) from Is. 61.1-2
                Acts 8.28-33 (the Ethiopian eunuch) from Is. 53.7-8
                Acts 28.25-27 (why Jews’ reject Paul’s message in Rome) from Is. 6.9-10

The quotation from Isaiah 40.3-5 expands the passage that Mark quotes (1.3).  Thus the text not only functions (1) as a prophecy about John the Baptist’s ministry but also (2) points to God’s salvation that will come to (3) all flesh.  Also, the larger context of this passage, Is. 40.1-11, introduces four themes of importance to Luke:

                1. The restoration of the people of God (Is. 40.1-2).  This theme is related to the idea of comfort—God comforting his people in restoring them from exile (Is. 49.13) and rebuilding Jerusalem (Is. 51.3; 52.9).  Simeon speaks of the ‘consolation of Israel’ (Lk. 2.25; cf. Is. 40.11).  The underlying Greek for comfort/consolation is parakaleō and its cognates, which has to do with God’s coming salvation in Is. 35.4; 40.1, 11; 49.10, 13; 51.3, 12; 57.18; 61.2; 66.10-13.

                2. The universal revelation of God’s glory/salvation (Is. 40.3-5).  This theme has to do with God’s return to Zion.  As he bares holy arm to reveal his glory and salvation for Israel, all the nations are witnesses (Is. 42.4, 23; 49.6; 51.4-6).  Moreover, when God calls the nations, they come running (Is. 55.5).

                3. The power of the word of God and the fragility of the people (Is. 40.6-8).  +Pao argues that the main ‘character’ in Acts is God’s Word; if so, Isaiah can also be cited as relevant for this theme.  God’s Word goes forth and will not return (Is. 45.23; 55.10).  God’s powerful Word contrasts to the impotence of the nations’ idols (Is. 40.18-20; 41.5-7; 44.9-20; 46.5-7).  Note Acts 19.20: ‘the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.’  The theme of God’s Word overcoming idols in Acts should also be noted.

                4. The restoration of the people of God (Is. 40.9-11).  This theme of restoration beginning from Jerusalem is found in Is. 52.7-10 and 2.3, as it also is in Acts 1.8.

Is. 40.1-11 also introduces the theme of the new exodus (see also Is. 43.16-19; 44.26f; 51.9-11; 52.12 (cf. Ex. 23.20).  The new exodus theme is also combined with the new creation theme in Isaiah (40.12-31; 42.5; 43.15-21; 44.24; 45.9-18; 48.12f; 50.2; 51.9-11, 12-16).  In this way, the restoration of God’s people, Israel, is part of a larger plan of salvation for all peoples: Is. 40.5 and 49.6.

+Pao argues that the identity of God’s people and the means God uses to save his people changes in Isaiah and in Luke-Acts.  Isaiah opens up the identity of God’s people, and Luke understand the Church to be God’s people (Acts 9.2; 19.9, 23; 22.4; 24.14, 22).  A passage in the Community Rule at Qumran also references Is. 40.3 to identify the wilderness as the place for restoring God’s people, uses the term ‘the Way’ to refer to God’s plan, and understands that the identity of God’s people will be different, since deceivers will be separated out from them (1QS 9.16-21; cf. 1 QS 8.13-16).[2]  The means by which God restores his people is through the proclamation of God’s Word—a Word about what he has done in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit-empowered disciples are witnesses of the work of God (Acts 1.8, 22; 2.32; 3.15; 5.32; 10.39, 41; 13.31; 22.15, 20; 26.16) and so are the means by which God’s Word is spoken.

For Jesus’ first sermon (Lk. 4.16-30), given in Nazareth, he reads Is. 61.1-2c and part of Is. 58.6.  This quotation involves a figurative redefinition of God’s people as Israel restored from captivity.[3]  Jesus’ sermon, however, redefines this ‘Israel’ so as to include Gentiles—a point that nearly gets him killed on the spot.  Paul frequently turns from Jewish synagogues to the Gentiles (Acts 13.14; 14.1; 18.19; 19.8; cf. 17.10).[4]  Moreover, Luke does not limit himself to taking the ‘poor’ lot of God’s people figuratively, since Jesus’ ministry includes the actual poor, marginalized, and needy (cf. Lk. 7.22).

Isaiah 49:6 is an important text for Luke:

… he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

This passage is quoted in Acts 13.47[5] and is alluded to on three other occasions: Lk. 24.44-49; Acts 1.8; and Acts 26.23 (cf. ‘light to the nations’).  The text appears at the end of Luke’s first volume, foreshadows what appears at the beginning of Luke’s second volume, in Acts 1.8, and is alluded to once more towards the end of the second volume, in Acts 26.23.  The phrase ‘end of the earth’ appears in both Acts 1.8 and 13.47.  The disciples will be Jesus’ witnesses from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.  The phrase ‘ends of the earth’ can be found in Isaiah, in 8.9; 48.20; 62.11, as well as in 49.6.  +Pao suggests that Acts 1.8 should be read not as the geographical expansion of the Church but in terms of (1) Jerusalem as the place where God’s salvation dawns; (2) Judea and Samaria as a reference to the reconstitution of Israel; and (3) ‘ends of the earth’ as a reference to the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s salvation.[6]

In conclusion, we see from +Pao’s helpful analysis of Luke’s use of Isaiah that the second exodus motif is important for Luke’s understanding of salvation history and its climax in Jesus Christ.  The restoration of God’s people from captivity involves a redefining of the identity of God’s people (this need not require our speaking of a ‘replacement’ of Israel by the Gentiles in Luke any more than this is the case in Isaiah, though) and of the means by which God’s restoration occurs—through the preaching of the Word.  Thus Luke’s mission theology, like Matthew’s, is an interpretation of Isaiah in light of the coming of Jesus Christ.

[1] +David W. Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002; originally published by J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 2000) as volume 130 in Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament Series 2), p. 5.  The following notes pay particular attention to the first half of this book (apart from the literature survey), which presents the basic argument.  For more detail, the rest of Pao’s work should be consulted.
[2] +Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, pp. 66-67.
[3] This point was previously made by +Max Turner, Power From on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), p. 250.
[4] +Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, p. 82.
[5] Pao notes that Acts 13.46-47 transfers the servant role of Isaiah from Jesus to the early Christian missionaries (Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, p. 100).
[6] Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, p. 95.