Michael F. Bird's accessible and compelling introduction, A Birds-Eye View of Luke and Acts, draws us into the wide-ranging narrative of Luke-Acts to discover how Luke frames the life of Jesus and of the first disciples. In this interview, he shares about the exciting and surprising insights he's discovered during his years teaching on these important biblical books.
Michael Bird: I have been teaching, preaching, researching, and writing on Luke and Acts for more than twenty years. There are a few good "theologies" on Luke and Acts, but I felt like there wasn't anything around that I thought would be good textbook or class companion for an exegesis course on Luke and Acts. So, I decided to write my own, specifically, to summarize my own lectures on Luke-Acts, and to provide a supplement to any exegesis courses I taught on these two books. So that's the big idea, to introduce the historical background issues, tackle the hairy subjects, and explore the big themes and Luke-Acts.
MB: I never ceased to be amazed as to how much one can keep learning even after decades of reading, researching, and writing on the same topic. You pick up new things just by working through the text or else by reading classic and contemporary works on Luke-Acts. I guess for me, the topics that made me think the hardest were (1) Luke and women; (2) Luke and the Jews; and (3) Luke and eschatology.
To break that down, I've learned to better appreciate feminist critics wrestling with Luke. To me, Luke sounds pro-women, but not everyone reads Luke that way, that's a view I want to understand, address, and figure out.
Similar, Luke clearly puts a lot of blame at the feet the Jews of Jerusalem and the Diaspora for the death of Jesus and for the persecution of the apostles. Now, much of this is really intra-Jewish sectarianism, but we have to ask painful questions about Luke's role in creating anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism. What does Luke really believe about Jewish communities and their relationship to the church? I think it's a complex topic—Luke is either disappointed or pessimistic about Jewish responses to the church's gospel, but he does not write off the Jews in total.
Finally, Luke and eschatology, end-times stuff. For ages Luke was regarded as trying to explain the delay of Jesus to return. I think that totally misses the point. Luke has a form of Jewish restoration eschatology; he believes a transformed Israel will transform the world. I could add other stuff too, Luke and possessions is always challenging. There's much to learn from Luke's account of Jesus and even the very nature of discipleship itself.
MB: My conclusion in the book is based on the questions about Luke-Acts that either scholars are wrestling with (like Luke and the Roman Empire) or topics that students are always asking me about (Should we have a common pool of possessions and property like the Jerusalem church did?). As for what I wish I could have included, well, it would have been great to include something on the reception history of Luke-Acts. How has Luke-Acts shaped everything from the later Christological Controversies, Christian Socialism, and the establishment of Pentecostalism, and more. There's also more to say on Luke-Acts and ethics and mission in a postmodern and post-Christian world.
MB: I want readers to come away with an understanding that Luke-Acts is the single largest corpus in the New Testament. Luke-Acts is really the New Testament in miniature: Jesus and the apostolic mission. Luke-Acts is one of the most important resources we have for cultivating deep discipleship, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus, and thinking about the church's mission today.