Jesus Against the Idols: The Use of Isaianic Servant Songs in the Missiology of Acts -- By: Dennis E. Johnson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: Jesus Against the Idols: The Use of Isaianic Servant Songs in the Missiology of Acts
Author: Dennis E. Johnson

Jesus Against the Idols:
The Use of Isaianic Servant Songs in the Missiology of Acts*

Dennis E. Johnson

* Adapted from a paper read at the national meeting of the Evangelical Theological society, San Diego, California, November 17, 1989.

The purposes of this paper are (1) to examine the application of texts, terms, and concepts from the servant songs in Isaiah 42–53, 61 to the church and its mission in the book of Acts; and (2) to make several observations regarding the possible implications of this OT background for our understanding of Luke’s missiology. I believe that Luke’s theological method, at least in Acts, confirms the conclusion reached by Charles Dodd in According to the Scriptures:

The method [of the NT writers’ use of the OT] included…the selection of certain large sections of the Old Testament scriptures…. These sections were understood as wholes, and particular verses were quoted from them rather as pointers to the whole context than as constituting testimonies in and of themselves.1

Indications in Acts suggest that the Isaianic servant songs as wholes lie in the background of Luke’s presentation of the church, and particularly the church’s apostolic leaders, as Spirit-empowered witnesses of Jesus the Lord.

As background to our survey, I would recall the widely recognized prominence of servant-Christology in Luke-Acts. Among the ways in which Luke presents Jesus himself as fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the servant in Isaiah are these:

(1) Luke 1:79: The priest Zechariah foretells that his son John will prepare the way for the daybreak which will “shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death”—an allusion to the mandate given to the servant in Isa 42:7.

(2) Luke 2:32: The aged Simeon greets the sight of the infant Jesus with praise to God, who has prepared his salvation in the sight of all peoples (see

Isa 52:7), “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”—in which “a light for revelation to [or of] the Gentiles” (φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν) alludes to Isa 49:6, a text which will be especially significant for the church’s mission in Acts.

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