“I wrote this book because I know personally the pain of not merely not knowing whether God exists, but not knowing what the word ‘God’ is supposed to mean. For many people whom I knew during my childhood, ‘God’ has just as much meaning as ‘the Great Pumpkin’.”
The following is an excerpt from Conversion in Luke-Acts, by Joel Green.
Luke presents conversion as the movement from darkness to light above all in Acts 26:17–18. In his testimony to King Agrippa, Paul represents his commission by recalling the words Jesus spoke to him on the way to Damascus: “I [that is, the Lord Jesus] will rescue you from your people and from the gentiles—to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they might turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified through faith in me.”
“Darkness” and “light” appear to be universal metaphors in which language and conceptual structure from the source domain of vision, a bodily function, are used to depict the more abstract concepts of the presence or absence of knowledge, understanding, or even wisdom. Accordingly, someone might complain, “Why was I kept in the dark about that decision?”
The biblical tradition presses this metaphor further by associating it with knowledge of God, or with living in God’s light. In Exod. 10:21–23, for example, one of the disasters the Lord brings on Egypt involves three days of darkness, during which time the Israelites enjoy the light. For Isaiah, God forms light/prosperity as well as darkness/doom (45:7), and, at Israel’s restoration, God’s people are told, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (60:1–3, emphasis added).
….Light and darkness can refer to the presence or absence of sunlight, but even when they do their metaphorical senses are not far from view; (2) light and darkness can be understood as realms to which people belong and according to whose rule people behave; (3) light is typically associated with divine revelation more generally, as well as with the coming or message of salvation more particularly, and thus with illumination, health, the age of salvation, and the Lord’s coming or presence; and (4) darkness is typically correlated with divine judgment, and more particularly with death, disease, the devil, cataclysm, and blindness.
Conversion, understood in terms of movement from darkness to light, is thus easily understood as movement from a less desirable to a more desirable life situation.
©2015 by Joel B. Green. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
For more information on Conversion in Luke-Acts, click here.
Repentance and conversion are key topics in New Testament interpretation and in Christian life. However, the study of conversion in early Christianity has been plagued by psychological assumptions alien to the world of the New Testament. Leading New Testament scholar Joel Green believes that careful attention to the narrative of Luke-Acts calls for significant rethinking about the nature of Christian conversion.
Drawing on the cognitive sciences and examining key evidence in Luke-Acts, this book emphasizes the embodied nature of human life as it explores the life transformation signaled by the message of conversion, offering a new reading of a key aspect of New Testament theology.
“Joel Green takes our understanding of repentance and conversion in Luke-Acts, and indeed the whole New Testament, to a new level of methodological sophistication. He delves into important aspects of modern cognitive studies and theory as a tool for understanding human experience and concludes that repentance/conversion (rightly regarded as synonymous) must be viewed as a holistic, embodied phenomenon….Green also correctly emphasizes that conversion is not just a once-for-all experience but rather constitutes the beginning of a lifelong journey within the context of the faith community.” – David Aune, University of Notre Dame
“Joel Green offers a provocative and uncommonly helpful analysis of a subject that has become increasingly important….He opens up for readers fresh ways of thinking about Luke’s two volumes as well as the meaning of religious conversion and its embodied enactment in a lifelong journey shared with a community of others and marked by a set of sustained practices. I enthusiastically recommend this work!” – John T. Carroll, Union Presbyterian Seminary
“Joel Green offers a fresh account of conversion in Luke-Acts that is exegetically fruitful and eminently readable. Green’s cognitive approach expertly explores the communal, embodied nature of Lukan conversion and examines passages both expected and unexpected along the way. Students and scholars alike will find Green’s navigation of Luke’s narrative theology of conversion a welcome read.” – Brittany E. Wilson, Duke University Divinity School
“Joel Green shows that Luke’s understanding of what we call ‘conversion’ involves not merely a change in thinking or of opinion but an entire reorientation of life, connected both with God’s summons to his people in earlier biblical history and with a need for perseverance. This is a decisively fresh work on a vital topic.” – Craig Keener, Asbury Theological Seminary
Joel B. Green (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is dean of the School of Theology, professor of New Testament interpretation, and associate dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, The World of the New Testament, Introducing the New Testament, and commentaries on Luke and 1 Peter. He is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Theological Interpretation.
For more information on Conversion in Luke-Acts, click here.