Luke’s Jesus in the Roman Empire and the Emperor in the Gospel of Luke

Pyung-Soo Seo (2015), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Some theologians interpret Luke’s writings as an apology for Christianity addressed to a Roman magistrate, that ‘Jesus and his followers seek accommodation to the empire, to minimize the political elements in Christianity in order to show that Christianity is politically harmless’ (p 3).  Some maintain that Luke-Acts is not an apology for the church but an apology to Rome directed at Luke’s own community; that Luke aims to persuade his readers that the institution of the church and empire are complementary’ (p 4)  Seo challenges these perspectives, pointing to the clash of authority, between Jesus, and Jewish and Roman leaders; contrasting the perspectives of ‘benefactor’ and ‘saviour’ between the empire and Jesus (Augustus as a pseudo-saviour).

Luke 22:24-27 emphasizes Luke’s perspective that the emperor is not a true benefactor, but neglects altruistic benefaction; Jesus is characterized by ‘service-oriented benefactor’.  The emperor makes use of his military authority to obtain peace and security, but Jesus rejects violence.  Jesus’ salvation focuses especially on forgiveness of sins of tax collectors; by showing that the emperor’s salvation does not reach those outcasts, the emperor is seen as a pseudo-saviour.  ‘Luke portrays Jesus as the one who successfully achieves victory and peace through his correction of their wrong doing, not through the emperor’s authority or military power.

A wonderfully clear book on the nature of Jesus and the state.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.