Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Theology of Prayer in the Gospel of Luke

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Theology of Prayer in the Gospel of Luke

Article excerpt

Prayer materials in Luke's Gospel are rich and unique.1 P. T. O'Brien has correctly observed that "[p]rayer is a significant motif in the Lukan writings as both the terminology and the contexts make plain."2 The verb npocTF6XoPat (meaning "to offer petition"), for example, is used nineteen times in the Gospel of Luke alone. In fact, thirty-five of the eighty-six NT occurrences of the term are in Luke-Acts, whereas only ten occurrences are in Mark and fifteen in Matthew. When the noun 7rpoosF6Xq is included in the count, the Lukan writings use the term forty-seven times, whereas Matthew employs it seventeen times, Mark twelve, John never, the Pauline writings thirty-three times, and others three times. In Luke's Gospel alone, xpooyc6Xopati or npoa6Xi occur twenty-two times.' In the NT, e6pat and its noun &Tjaig, appear thirty-four times:4 Luke uses these terms nineteen times, Paul ten times.5 Acts also uses Kpdc(o (twice) and npo(wapTEpaco (three times) in prayer contexts, and even the adverb 6po0t[aBov is used to express unity in prayer in Acts 1:14 and 4:24. These statistics, however, may be misleading, since the Gospel of Luke and Acts are longer than any other books in the NT. More important for our purpose is not the frequency of the terms, but the fact that most of Luke's prayer texts come in Lukan special materials 0. G. Harris noted that Luke not only "has sixteen prayer terms where his sources do not," but also that "these terms appear at significant points in his Gospel."'

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the theology of prayer in the Gospel of Luke.' We will begin with a survey of scholars' views regarding Luke's theology of prayer. Two themes have been suggested: (1) prayer and salvation history; and (2) prayer as a model for the church (didactic prayer), though the majority of scholars admit both concepts and attempt to identify which has primacy. The subsequent sections will examine the prayer texts. Following Alfred Plummer's suggestion, we will divide the prayer passages in the Gospel of Luke as follows: (1) prayer texts related to Jesus' life and ministry (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 9:29; 22:32; 22:39-46; 23:46); and (2) prayer texts for the instruction of the disciples (Luke 6:27-28; 10:2; 11:1-4; 5-8; 18:1-8; 21:36).9 Of course, these two groups of texts are not entirely distinct, since some passages such as Luke 22:32 and 22:39-46 may be classed in both categories. The former has more to do with salvation history, the latter with a didactic aim. However, the analysis will show that the two are not separate foci; rather, Luke's view of the cross and discipleship harmonizes them into a single theological theme.

1. APPROACHES TO PRAYER IN LUKE'S GOSPEL: A HISTORY AND EVALUATION

It was W. Ott who first called attention to the fact that prayer plays an important role in the overall scheme of Luke-Acts.10 Ott proposed that Luke's purpose was didactic, which accounts for the emphasis on the exemplary character of prayer in the life of Jesus and of the early church.ll For Ott, Jesus' own prayer life reflected continual reliance upon God as a way of dealing with temptation. 12 The temptations that began with his passion would continue in that "the church would remain in the world for an indefinitely long period of time, and its members needed to be on guard so that their faith would not be stifled."13 In his second volume, Luke portrays the Church as following her Lord's example by persevering in the faith. 14 Ott's study of Luke's theology of prayer thus demonstrates that prayer plays an important function in the overall scheme of Luke-Acts: Jesus prayed constantly and taught his disciples to do likewise.

Ott's view has been widely accepted, although the majority of subsequent scholars accord the issue less significance. 15 In spite of this agreement, there is a problem with Ott's study. Ott does not discuss "the explicit prayer texts" of Luke-Acts, that is, those that deal with the prayer life of Jesus; he limits his examination to Luke's paraenetic material (Luke 11:113; 18:1-8; 21:34-36; 22:31-34, 39-46), while neglecting the material in Acts. …

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