The Restoration of Israel at the End of Acts

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from Luke-Acts in Modern Interpretation
written by David K. Bryan
edited by Stanley E. Porter and Ron C. Fay

Jervell has argued that Luke presents the Jewish Christian history of the early church in Acts with particular emphasis on Israel as the divided people of God, with the “true” people of God being those who embrace Jesus-Messiah and keep the whole law. The natural response, however, is to ask: When does the mission to the Gentiles begin in Jervell’s under- standing of Acts? The answer—at the restoration of Israel.

Scholars have long recognized the theological importance of the restoration language sprinkled throughout Acts (e.g., 1:6; 3:21).[1]  Prior to Jervell, scholars generally understood the restoration of Israel as an eschatological hope.[2] In this understanding, the Gentile mission began in Acts via Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah, so that any notion of the eschatological restoration of Israel corresponds with the conclusion of the Gentile mission at the last day.[3]

Jervell, however, presents a radical counterproposal: the Gentile mission begins at the restoration of Israel at the conclusion of Acts.[4] Since Acts does not focus on the Gentile mission, Jervell says, “It is more correct to say that only when Israel has accepted the gospel can the way to Gentiles be opened.”[5] The proclamation of the mission to Israel in Acts is a successful one, with Jews either repenting or renouncing membership in the people of God. Therefore, as Jervell states, “the mission to Gentiles is fulfillment of Scripture in the sense that the promises must first be fulfilled to Israel before Gentiles can share in salvation. This fulfillment has occurred in the conversion of repentant Jews. The mission to Jews is a necessary stage through which the history of salvation must pass in order that salvation might proceed from the restored Israel to the Gentiles.”[6] In other words, Luke’s concern in Acts is to narrate the mission to the Jews, which is a necessary first step—and a fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel[7]— before the mission turns to the Gentiles.[8]

But what about texts that seem to imply an eschatological restoration of Israel? Jervell responds:

Strictly speaking, Luke has excluded the possibility of a further mission to Jews for the church of his time because the judgment by and on the Jews has been irrevocably passed. A conversion of the entire Jewish people by the Gentiles in the future, as Paul envisions in Rom. 9–11, is out of the question for Luke.[9]

For Jervell, the church in Acts is Israel, the people of God, and at the conclusion of the mission to the Jews “‘a people from the Gentiles’ will join Israel (Acts 15:14). The idea is that of a people and an associate people.”[10] At the end of Acts, the mission to the Jews is concluded, “Israel is restored, and the time of the Gentiles has come.”[11] In summary, “Luke’s version of ‘the Jew first,’ then, is determined by the idea that with- out ‘the Jew first’ the Gentiles would have no admission to salvation.”[12]

 

[1] On Acts 1:6, Jervell states, “The restoration of the kingdom is its restoration to Israel (1:6). We have no right to push aside the saying in 1:6 as some sort of nationalistic misunderstanding. This is frequently done without any justification in the text, but from preconceived notions about the history of the early church and Luke’s role in it. It is never denied in Acts that the kingdom is the kingdom for Israel. Only so are the repeatedly mentioned promises to Israel in the whole section of Acts 1–15 understandable. The answer to the apostles’ question about restoring the kingdom to Israel is that the Spirit will come upon them and they will be witnesses from Jerusalem and to ‘the end of the earth’ (1:8). This is nothing but a part of the restoration. So far nothing is said about the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit apart from the witness of the apostles as part of the restoration of the kingdom.” Jervell, Unknown Paul, 98; cf. Jervell, Theology of the Acts of the Apostles, 35. One of the more thorough assessments of the restoration of Israel in Acts is in David W. Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, WUNT 2/130 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000). Pao is also one of the few scholars who appears to engage with much of Jervell’s work on this topic. Cf. Ravens, Luke and the Restoration of Israel.

[2] E.g., Haenchen, Acts of the Apostles, 143; Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles, 7; cf. Tannehill, “Israel in Luke–Acts,” 84–85.

[3] For a more recent discussion of the future of Israel, see Michael Wolter, “Israel’s Future and the Delay of the parousia, According to Luke,” in Jesus and the Heritage of Israel: Luke’s Narrative Claim upon Israel’s Legacy, ed. David P. Moessner, Luke the Interpreter of Israel 1 (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), 307–24.

[4] Jervell, Luke and the People of God, 41–74.

[5] Jervell, Luke and the People of God, 55; cf. 58. Tannehill, in his essay on “Israel in Luke–Acts,” writes, “If the author of Luke–Acts wished only to justify the Gentile mission and a Gentile church, that purpose was already accomplished with the story of Cornelius’s conversion (Acts 10:1–11:18) and the decision about the status of Gentile Christians in Acts 15:1–29. There would be no further need to return repeatedly to the problem of the unbelieving Jews.” Tannehill, “Israel in Luke–Acts,” 81; cf. 74.

[6] Jervell, Luke and the People of God, 43; cf. 62.

[7] Of all his predecessors, Dahl is probably the closest to Jervell’s position: “Salvation of Gentiles was from the beginning envisaged by God and included as part of his promises to Israel. Luke does not claim that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God, nor does he call Gentile believers Abraham’s children. Gentiles are saved as Gentiles. Luke takes care to adduce prophecies that really spoke of them.” Dahl, “Story of Abraham,” 151. A subtle difference between Dahl and Jervell, however, is Dahl’s belief that “the priority of Israel is regarded as a matter of history; it is no longer a present reality for Luke and for churches like those of Corinth and Rome.” Jervell obviously considers Israel as supremely important even up to Luke’s day.

[8] Jervell, Luke and the People of God, 63–64, 122–23.

[9] Jervell, Luke and the People of God, 64.

[10] Jervell, Luke and the People of God, 143; Jervell, Theology of the Acts of the Apostles, 40. According to Jervell, “The mission to the Gentiles is simply a part of the mission to the Jews. The command to world mission in Acts 1:8 shows the disciples witnessing in Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. ‘To the ends of the earth’ does not mean the Gentile mission: throughout Acts the mission goes from synagogue to synagogue, ending with a meeting with the Jews in Rome (28:17ff.). There is no specific mission to the Gentiles, separated from the mission to the Jews. It is striking that in their speeches to Jews the apostles emphasize the sharing of the Gentiles in salvation, while in their speeches to Gentiles, they mention their commission to Israel.” Jervell, Theology of the Acts of the Apostles, 40–41.

[11] Jervell, Unknown Paul, 42

[12] Jervell, Theology of the Acts of the Apostles, 40.

 


This post is adapted from the newest addition to The Milestones in New Testament Scholarship series from Kregel Academic: Luke-Acts in Modern Interpretation, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Ron C. Fay, contribution written by David K. Bryan releasing November 16th 2021. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

A biographical and interpretive history of Luke-Acts scholarship

Luke-Acts in Modern Interpretation explores the lives and work of ten interpreters who have significantly influenced the study of the Lukan writings over the past 150 years. The chapters contain short biographical sketches of the scholars that illuminate their personal and academic lives, summaries and evaluations of their major works, and analysis of the ongoing relevance of their work in contemporary scholarship on Luke-Acts.

Key thinkers surveyed include the following:

  • Adolf Harnack
  • Martin Dibelius
  • F. F. Bruce
  • Loveday Alexander
  • C. K. Barrett
  • Hans Conzelmann

An introduction and a conclusion by Stanley Porter and Ron Fay trace the development of Luke-Acts scholarship from the 1870s to the present and examine how these ten scholars’ studies have shaped the field. Those invested in understanding the recent history of scholarship on Luke-Acts will find here a valuable deposit of historical insight into biblical studies.


Editors:

Stanley E. Porter (PhD, University of Sheffield) is president, dean, professor of New Testament, and Roy A. Hope Chair in Christian Worldview at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the author or coauthor of thirty volumes, as well as editor of over ninety others. His other works include The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation and Active Hermeneutics. Visit his blog at domainthirtythree.com.
Ron C. Fay is assistant professor of biblical studies at Liberty University. His other works include The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation.

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About Author

Dr. Bryan is the co-editor of Ascent Into Heaven in Luke–Acts (Fortress, 2016) and has published articles in Novum Testamentum and Catholic Biblical Quarterly. His dissertation on Luke’s narration of authority and the domains of authority ascribed to Jesus is being revised for publication

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