The Way according to Luke: Hearing the Whole Story of Luke-Acts. By Paul Borgman


Pp. 404 , Eerdmans , Grand Rapids MI , 2006 , $23.00 .

The historical-critical method seems weary these days, and scholars are looking for other ways of reading the texts of the New Testament, not because they want to retreat from the gains that the older methods have made for us; it is simply that these methods are feeling their age, and do not succeed in showing us how Scripture can come alive. This book is a notable example of what literary critics have to teach exegetes. Borgman's insistence on ‘Hearing the Whole Story’ (in the words of his sub-title) reminds us importantly that i) Luke, like all the NT authors, wrote primarily to be heard (most readers of the NT have always been illiterate, and therefore all the more able to pick up his clues); ii) Luke-Acts comes in two volumes. You will go the length and breadth of any biblical conference nowadays without hearing anyone wanting to argue a separate author for Luke and Acts; but we still tend to read and teach them separately; iii) Luke-Acts is a story, and needs to be read as such. Among many other things, a story invites the reader aboard.

In narrative, especially oral narrative, Borgman frequently points out, repetitions are of immense importance. Luke-Acts needs to be read as a dramatic script, with attention given to what he calls the ‘ear-clues’. In this connection, one claim that may raise a few eyebrows is his estimate of no less than 37 ‘we-passages’. Another is Borgman's identification of no less than twelve ‘clustered poems’ in the first two chapters of Luke; but take these clues, and see how they help you to read the work. Borgman confidently unveils chiasms everywhere, which will cause many an exegete to reach for his gun; but he is very persuasive. The central message of Luke-Acts comes down, according to Borgman, to a clash of two ways, Jesus' radical way against the ‘normal’ way, love as opposed to self-interest. Readers who suppose themselves all too wearily familiar with the exegesis of Luke may find themselves reanimated by his talk of the ‘poem on the plain’, which is separated from Jesus' ‘Nazareth poem’ by five healings and two healing-summaries. There is a freshness in Borgman's reading of the text that answers the question raised by all too many acts of historical-critical reading, ‘why should I bother with this?’ Borgman will not allow us to scissor the text into pericopae, although occasionally, it must be said, he drifts into the territory of historical-critical exegesis, and makes claims about what went on ‘in those days’ which he does not really trouble to defend.

Borgman is especially effective when he points out ‘echoes’ as indicators of what Luke is about; for example the way in which Simeon's ‘light for the Gentiles’ is echoed in Acts. And to prevent us from getting lost in the jungle, each chapter begins and ends with a useful (and thoroughly nuanced) summary of where we have been and where we are going. Borgman's account of how the speeches in Acts (that old chestnut of an essay-topic) hang together is remarkably persuasive, and his account of Cornelius as a paradigm of the changed allegiance to which the story invites us, is most illuminating, as is his affirmation that God is the central character of the whole two-volume story.

Most intriguing of all was Borgman's version of how the three accounts of Paul's ‘repentance’ work together. Borgman shows himself very sensitive to the intertextuality of the three accounts, and demonstrates that their mounting rhetorical effect is to highlight the Jesus who is ‘light to the Gentiles’. Finally Borgman brings the whole thing quite beautifully together by way of a concluding reflection on the jailer at Philippi. Read this book for the breath of fresh air that it brings.