The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation - Vol. 1

The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation - Vol. 1

The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation - Vol. 1

The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation - Vol. 1


Tannehill shows how the narrative contributes to the impact of Luke's literary whole. The study further shows that Luke's use of recurring words, patterns of repetition and contrast, irony, pathos, and many other features of this narrative contribute to the total fabric of Luke's masterpiece.


The following study will emphasize the unity of Luke-Acts. This unity is the result of a single author working within a persistent theological perspective, but it is something more. It is a narrative unity, the unity appropriate to a well-formed narrative. Change and development are expected in such a narrative, yet unity is maintained because the scenes and characters contribute to a larger story that determines the significance of each part.

To be sure, our expectations of narrative unity, shaped perhaps by the modern novel, are not always fulfilled in Luke. Much of Luke shares the episodic style of the synoptic gospels in general, in which individual scenes may be vivid but their connection into story sequences is often unclear. The neglect of clear causal connections among episodes (indications that one event leads to the next) is striking when we compare the synoptic gospels with modern narrative. Our narrator is quite capable of making such connections, as major portions of Acts attest, but chose to leave the Jesus tradition in its looser form. Despite the episodic style of large portions of Luke, it traces the unfolding of a single dominant purpose. This unifies the gospel story and unites Luke with Acts, for this purpose is not only at work in the ministry of Jesus but also in the ministries of Jesus’ witnesses. Luke-Acts is a unified narrative because the chief human characters (John the Baptist, Jesus, the apostles, Paul) share in a mission which expresses a single controlling purpose—the purpose of God. The individual episodes gain their significance through their relation to this controlling purpose of God, and the narrator has made efforts to clarify this relation.

Disclosures of the nature of God’s purpose are highlighted at key points in the narrative as guides in interpreting the story. The disclosures at the beginning of Luke are especially important in suggesting ultimate expectations. However, conflict soon appears in the plot, for God’s purpose repeatedly encounters rejection. The unity of this narrative is a unity in tension, and the last section of Luke, the crisis in Jerusalem and the ironic triumph that follows, has special importance in showing how God’s purpose meets human rejection.

These disclosures of God’s purpose and of how it responds to human resistance provide an interpretive context for understanding the mission of . . .

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