Common Ground in Luke, Paul, and Peter

COMPARISON of NT WRITINGS | Luke, Colossians, & 1 Peter

The New Testament represents an amazing in-breaking of God into the reality of humanity and the reality of his creation. Prior to the New Testament, the presence of God was, while certainly immanent on many occasions, seemed to have a transcendence that was unapproachable most of the time. The New Testament changes this in dramatic fashion. No longer the God far away ruling on the throne of Creation, He is revealed as the God near humanity through the incarnation and within humanity through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There are so many disparate ways of approaching the concreteness of this for believers, and the New Testament canon contains eyewitness and second hand accounts of this event. And as the unfolding of the story of God progresses, the New Testament offers practical insights as well as theological truths that help to guide us and inform us for living out this new relationship that has been won for us in Christ. This paper will take a look at three books that cover a broad spectrum of theology as well as practical application of truth – these are the Gospel of Luke, the Letter to the Church at Colossae, and the letter of 1 Peter. Working from the second hand and oral accounts of Jesus in Luke, we will also cover the transition of belief to the more robust theological and applicable understanding of the maturing church in the letters at hand. Throughout this paper, the primary resource will be the Holman Christian Standard Bible version of the New Testament.

Luke is commonly the third Gospel in the Synoptic Gospels. These three gospels carry significant content between them and appear to draw on oral traditions that inform the three. Luke begins, “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4) This sets the stage for a thoughtful and apparently thorough recounting of the Story of Jesus. While every author chooses from a vast trove of stories and data and have to filter them, Luke’s gospel presents in such a way as to draw in the reader through well thought out action and insight. The author, most often associated with Luke, the physician, is also associated with the Book of Acts. The internal evidence in Acts leads to the authorship of Luke for that Book, and with both being addressed to Theophilus, the conclusion rests on Luke as the author the eponymous gospel. The dating for Luke seems to lead to a date in the early 60’s CE, prior to the Book of Acts (which ends with Paul in prison, around 64CE). Luke is more than likely a Gentile believer. As such, his Gospel has elements that focus on the mission of Jesus to the Gentiles. I think that Luke’s knowledge of Judaism could be attributed to Paul’s influence on him through the journeys that they shared.[1] Luke has in mind, apparently, a natural inclusion of Gentile’s as part of the salvation history along with the Jews. The initial words of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry echoed in Isaiah 61 and the inclusion of Gentile recipients of miracles in the Old Testament (see Luke 4:25-27) all point to a firm purpose in Luke – that the Gentiles are included in the plan of God for salvation. Luke also has a strong emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit in the story line. Obviously leading toward a more fully developed understanding of the Holy Spirit in his second volume, the Book of Acts, Luke includes several important references to this as a promise of the Father (Luke 24:44-49), as active in the incarnation (Luke 1-2), and the Holy Spirit as guide and the one who empowers (Luke 6:10, 7:55, 8:29, 10:19, etc.). I think that Ladd is correct in concluding that “[Luke] offers a wide ranging theology of salvation, which is firmly grounded in the experience of the church as it fulfills its calling to be the instrument of Jesus continuing mission to all nations, a mission that from first to last is no merely human endeavor, but it is carried out by the plan and power of “the Spirit of Jesus.””[2]

Carrying on the emphasis on the church, Paul, the author of Colossians finds the ever present need to bring correction to teaching that had entered the church. One of the prison epistles, Paul wrote while in prison in Rome. The internal evidence points to this reality as he mentions his state several times (see Col. 4:2-3 “At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah, for which I am in prison…”, 10, 18). The Church in Colossae faced a continual influence that would diminish its effectiveness and existence. There are similarities between the letter to the Ephesians in a general sense, and these cities are related by geography, so to find similar heretical tendencies is only natural. The attempt to mix cultures is central to the issues at Colossae, and in so doing reduces the power and influence of Christ as unique to the experience of believers. This leads to Paul’s high view of Christ throughout the letter, this is a direct confrontation and correction to the tendency among some of the believers to allow Christ to slip from his primary status. This has profound effect on relationships among believers and allows for abuse when Christ is NOT the center. “Being a new creature in Christ means that respect, dignity, and equality are to be extended to all—Jews, Gentiles, barbarian, Scythian, males, females, slaves, and free; and family members (husbands, wives, fathers, children, and slaves) should maintain the appropriate relationship to one another, in a spirit of mutual respect.”[3] Other teachings that would be outside the acceptable, in Paul’s eyes, were teachings that promoted asceticism, circumcision as a necessity for salvation, and observation of the Sabbath as a prerequisite in addition to faith. This syncretism was prevalent throughout the culture of the time and Paul’s constant battle in the early church was to maintain the purity of the truth of God’s activity with humanity through Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We finally encounter the first letter ascribed to Peter. While there is some question as to the author of 1 Peter, most scholars are comfortable with the traditional view of Peter as the author. There seems to be a central theme throughout the letter, that of providing encouragement for those Christians that are currently encountering suffering of various natures. As Peter writes this letter from Rome, the audience, while specifically unknown, is entrenched in cultures where persecution is potentially institutional, if not simply endemic. Since this is the case, the best group to be recipients of the letter would be those located in Asia Minor, intended to be a latter read throughout the churches in the region, and not a particular group. It is somewhat surprising and rewarding to note that it is Peter who is writing to the Gentiles here. He was one that was very reluctant in receiving those first sets of beleivers that were not Jewish, and struggled in his acceptance of those outside of the Jewish foundations. But here, he is pointing out the uniqueness and special state of ALL believers in Christ. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10) Peter, like Paul in Colossians, values the conduct of believers as important to their interaction with those that do not believe. “This good behavior is itself a witness to unbelievers and will frustrate their hostility, and possibly win them to Christ.”[4] Peter has truly come a long way in his own salvation story, and uses his leadership and anointed leadership to be an encouragement to those who are facing the toughest battles of their faith.

CONTRIBUTION of EACH

When looking to find an important theme in each of the above books and letters, it is important to keep in mind that each book or letter were written in a specific time and to a specific group (or individual) and those purposes may be lost at some level. In reading through the books and letter, however, we can find some themes that appear to rise to the top as a theme that is timeless and approachable. From there, we seek to find ways that they contribute to our understanding of the Gospel story and the theology that is included in this story that has changed everything! As we begin, an immediate theme that is central to all three books (and authors) is the desire to keep central to the story that of Jesus. For Luke, the entire Book is written to an individual to help that person come to grips with who this Messiah is, so Luke is written to that purpose as primary – to reveal Jesus to one who is seeking, Theophilus. Concerning Paul, the letter to the Colossians is rife with a high Christology that deeply celebrates the supremacy of Christ. Reading directly from Colossians 1:15-17,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth,

the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions

or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.

This view of Christ cannot find any higher expression in other letters from Paul. This centrality of Christ in Paul is vital for a healthy believer to keep at the forefront. And Peter continues the trend of the focus on Christ. Peter, the only eye-witness to Christ (1 Peter 5:1), celebrates the resurrected life of Christ (1:3), the example of Christ as enduring suffering (4:1-2), and has a nearly Trinitarian view of Christ at the greeting of the letter (1:2-3). Christ is the example that should be followed by believers, retaining for Christ a Lordship that is unlike any other. This high view of Christ in each of the books and letter mirrors the heart of the New Testament in dramatic fashion. This unifying purpose helps as we read the Gospels and the letters that apply theology in practical ways, that we stay close to the core belief in Christ as sufficient and Lord over all, God in the flesh.

I also see a strong affinity in the letters toward a firm belief that can withstand the pressures of persecution and suffering. In particular, 1 Peter has this as a significant theme from the start. I also see this in Colossians through Paul’s insistence on sound teaching. Persecution will seek to weaken the teaching of the Church, but both Paul and Peter go to lengths to give sound doctrine as a counter to the impact and effects of persecution. Persecution can also take on a spiritual dynamic. Both Peter and Paul deal with the supernatural realms of influence. Paul, in Colossians 2:15 speaks of Christ overcoming the ‘rulers and authorities’ by the work on the cross, triumphing publicly! Peter ends his letter with an appeal to be alert and aware of the adversary, the Devil. The believers can resist him through a stout faith. This influence of the supernatural accompanies all persecution and spiritual suffering. Peter ends with a great declaration, “Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.” (1 Peter 5:10)

For Luke, a major theme can be that of Christ’s attention on those that are not in the ascendency of society, politically, economically, or relationally. Luke has strong affinity with the outcasts and includes stories that have that theme as a focus. This is vital for the church to embrace. Jesus himself ministered among the poor (Luke 1:46-55), the marginalized (such as women, infirm, etc – Luke 5:27-32, 8:1-3, etc.). This theme, when carried out in a mature fashion, will lead the church to those same corners of society, and the church must meet the needs. While an unhealthy focus on this can potentially lead to abuses in some theological approaches, the theme remains nonetheless.[5] The care and concern for beleivers is celebrated in the New Testament, and the amazing fact of extending that concern and grace to those outside of the faith is a hallmark of Christianity, even extending to enemies, as Jesus himself reveals, “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28) This theology of behavior is vital to the Christian faith.

A final important theological theme that finds equal footing in Luke, Paul and Peter, is that of salvation. For each of these authors, the centrality of Salvation found in Christ alone gives urgency to their messages. In Luke, we are presented with an astounding revelation that salvation is not just for the Jews, but to be celebrated among the Gentiles as well. From the first chapters, the idea Gentile inclusion in the plan of God is very clear to the reader. If one were to include Acts in the arc of this study, the obvious becomes even more revealed as the Book of Acts unfold with Gentiles now the central focus of God’s revelation of Christ. Jesus cites the Old Testament as proof of this reality – the healing of the widow at Zarephath and the healing of Naaman the Syrian, in particular, both obviously outside of the Jewish community. Jesus own theme is recorded in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”[6] In Paul, salvation is celebrated as the church is referred to as brothers, participants in the grace of God. Paul is praying for them to remain strong in their faith, because they have been rescued from darkness, the very thing that trapped them to begin with (See Col. 1:13). Paul goes so far to say that the Gentile believers are participants in the glory of Christ (1:27) having experienced salvation. And Peter has a high view of those who have experienced salvation, Gentiles that are actually the focal point of history as the activity of God through the incarnated Christ would reach to them! “It was revealed to them [Jewish prophets of the OT] that they were not serving themselves, but you. These things have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” (1 Peter 1:12) The Gentiles that are the focus of all three authors is proof of the universal nature of the appeal of the Gospel of Christ. It is being proclaimed to this day as THE answer for all humanity. And these writings through Luke, Paul, and Peter are foundational to the teaching of salvation for all who call on the name of the Lord.

PERSONAL APPLICATION

Colossians has been a book that has helped to transform my understanding of Christ from my very earliest days as a follower of Jesus. One verse has served as a catalyst that has stuck with me through these many years. A quick back story is needed – I was pursuing the idea of following a path of Bio-Chemistry as a Junior/Senior in high school when God grabbed my life. Through upheaval in my family, I found myself in need of Christ, and eventually made my to him through the youth ministry at our church. Soon after that, I began to question my ultimate calling in life. It seemed that the sciences that had captured my imagination began to fade as Christ took up ever increasing residence in my newly open heart. As the struggle continued, one verse kept rising to the top, not even sure how it got there, perhaps someone shared it with me. That verse? Colossians 1:17. This single verse revolutionized by view. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (NIV) The application of this single verse had a dynamic impact. As I have matured in my faith, I know that there is much more to this passage now. The richness and power of the 5 or so verse that make up this declaration in its fullness is truly life transforming. But to this day, I remember my early attempts at applying Scripture to my own reality. It found its way into my heart on a personal level as support for the idea that family would still be God’s idea, that when Christ is served, all things (family relationships) can hold together. While my parents eventually divorced, the reality of this verse never lost its power and has informed my marriage and family as I am now a father (of 4!). Truly, He is before all things and in him all things hold together. I even found application in the sciences for this verse. While obviously not the intent of Paul, I do see an awareness that there are things beyond us, and I believe that ultimately, as science continually must delve deeper and deeper into the unknown of quantum realities and forces of ever exotic natures, this verse will remain true – it is He who holds all things together. This is where I begin when it comes to Colossians.

Now, after 24 years of ministry, I think that Colossians’ applications come to even greater focus. Paul, as a pastor, is insistent upon sound doctrine and teaching that stays with a Christ-centric bent. He cares for his people greatly. And he longs for them to stand firmly in the truth of the Gospel. He uses his own life as an example of faith that should mark the beleivers in Colosse. This is fantastic as a pastor – to be so committed that an invitation is given to look to me as an image bearer and message bearer. The Colossian heresy, while not given in great detail by Paul, reveals common ground for us as pastors to embrace. Warnings against philosophies that are counter to Christ, warnings against legalistic expressions of faith, and issues dealing with freedoms in Christ are all part of today’s culture. Paul gives huge amounts of wisdom to me, personally, as I deal with issues that sound very different, but are at the core still wrapped up in the trappings of 1st century Christians and their culture. Paul deals with one in particular that can find its way very easily into the Pentecostal experience of my background. Holiness is a common thread for the church in my denomination. And it can quickly become a gospel of behavior with no grace associated with it all. But Paul brings a correction to the regulations and living rules that mark this kind of faith. Saying in conclusion, “they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.” (Colossians 2:23) Paul gets to the human heart of the matter in a matter of fact way that is so refreshing and helpful. He goes on to proclaim that we are to put to death the things of this world, the stuff of earth. But we are no longer the way we were – we are now the new self! This message has great bearing on my current role as Pastor to a growing congregation where many are new to the faith. Paul’s words are a tremendous challenge to me and to our leadership!

I also see in Colossians an application of the gifts of the Spirit that can often be overlooked. Having cut my teeth in my early years in Pentecost (Assemblies of God), I am hungry for the activity of the Holy Spirit. I long for his direction and influence in my life. I believe that he is still active and indwelling in me personally, an in-breaking of the eschatological reality of the now-and-the-not-yet. As Paul concludes his message, he gives instruction to an individual, “And tell Archippus, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.”” (Colossians 4:17) This is so encouraging to me, that Paul would sense a specific message for a specific person, and the letter was the moment for it to be shared. I am sure that Archippus was encouraged by this ‘word’ given to him by Paul, the pastor of pastors! And this challenges me to remain sensitive to the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit in my own personal time with God. And I am encouraged to use whatever transmission means are available – I can see Paul, if he were in our time, using social media to be a message, image, and conviction bearer. I need to be more present with the people that I lead so that I can encourage in the moment that God wants to use my voice for a particular person at a particular time. This is exciting to me, to have the opportunity to participate with the Holy Spirit in the maturing and transformative process in the people of God. I would love to be able to say, with Paul, “I labor for this [presenting everyone mature in Christ], striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.” (Colossians 1:29) May it be, Lord Jesus, may it be!

 

 


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Andrew David Naselli. Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to its History and Message. [Abridg.]. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. Logos Edition. Vol. 3 Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995.

Ladd, George Eldon (1911-1982). A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.


ENDNOTES

[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 239-240.

[2] Ibid., 245.

[3] Walter A. Elwell. Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. Vol. 3. Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), Logos Online Edition.

[4] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 648.

[5] D.A.Carson, Douglas Moo, Andrew David Naselli. Introducing the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 42-43. There is a caution given to read the passages mentioned above within the context of Old Testament understandings rather than reading with our current culture in mind. This will help to keep the reader from abusing the passages and misreading the intent of Luke.

[6] Ibid. 42. Carson and Moo have a small section about this that I found to be quite compelling as to a primary focus of Luke – and carried this over to ideas presented concerning Paul and Peter.

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