I’m blogging through Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament over the next several weeks. In this introductory post, I laid out a reading schedule.

If you’re just joining us, don’t miss the post that sets the stage for how we understand the ethics of the New Testament, a summary of Paul’s moral vision, and last week’s post about the ethical vision of two Gospels – Mark and Matthew.

Today, we’re looking at the ethical vision we find in Luke-Acts, a morality that must be seen within Luke’s “larger vision for the people of God as the bearers of the fulfilled promise” in Christ (114).

The Gospel of Luke & The Acts of the Apostles

Christology: Luke’s view of Christ is primarily functional. He emphasizes what Jesus has done in bringing God’s salvation to the world.

  • The Spirit-Empowered Servant: Jesus is a prophet who is identified as God’s anointed one. His vocation is to proclaim good news to the poor (liberation and justice). His salvation will be for everyone whom God may call, including Gentiles.
  • The Prophet Like Moses: Unlike Matthew, Luke focuses more on Jesus’ resemblance to Moses’ prophetic liberation of God’s people and less on Moses’ teaching role.
  • The Righteous Martyr: Luke stresses the innocence of Jesus who dies as a model martyr.

The Church in the Power of the Spirit

  • Jesus as paradigm for the church’s ministry: The church is anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel to all nations, and this proclamation includes the message of liberation.
  • The New Community: The church is the fulfillment of two ancient ideals – the Greek ideal of true friendship and the Deuteronomic ideal of the covenant community.
  • The Church and the Empire: The church turns the world upside down not through armed revolution but through the formation of the church as a counterculture, an alternative witness-bearing community.


  • The church in history: Luke’s emphasis shifts away from future expectation toward immediate mission.
  • The eschatological Spirit in the church: The Spirit supplies both power for the mission and very specific guidance.
  • Eschatological reversal: The cross overturns the world’s notions of wisdom and power.

7 Observations about Luke’s narrative world

  1. Luke offers a sense of orientation within time and history.
  2. An aspect of the church’s orientation in time is its direct continuity with Israel.
  3. The church is on a journey, an exodus to a promised destination not yet reached.
  4. Confidence in God’s providence leads to a positive, world-affirming vision.
  5. The affective tone is characterized by joy and praise.
  6. The Holy Spirit empowers the work and witness of the church.
  7. Where the Spirit is at work, liberation is underway.

Some Personal Considerations: Hays provides a good overview of the Lukan tradition and the distinctive elements of his vision. Unfortunately, Hays sometimes pits Luke against the other Gospels in distracting ways. (For example, he claims Luke’s “Jesus” quotes Psalm 31:5 instead of Psalm 22:1 from the cross because the starkness of the latter is inconsistent with Luke’s interpretation of Jesus.)

Where Hays is most helpful in his balanced approach to the church’s sociopolitical challenge in Acts, neither leaning too far towards anti-imperialism nor taking Conzelmann’s view that the church was docile and politically innocuous. There is an ongoing discussion about Jesus and empire, and Hays’ take on the picture we see in Luke-Acts avoids the sharper edges of that debate.

There is another element of Hays’ portrayal that deserves mention. He sees the apostles’ work in Acts as deliberately mirroring and carrying on Jesus’ work in Luke.

For example, Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8 resembles Peter’s raising of Dorcas in Acts 9. Similarly, Stephen’s death in Acts 7 is modeled on Jesus’ death, and Paul’s resolution to go to Jerusalem recapitulates Jesus’ setting his face toward David’s city. Hays writes:

“The apostolic hardships of the Acts narrative can be read as the fulfillment of Jesus’ call to surrender everything and take up the cross in order to follow him” (122).

If this is so, then part of Luke’s ethical vision of imitating Christ is not expressed in commands, but by the narrative itself.