The Spirit of Vision in Luke-Acts


May 15, 2013 by jmw

Throughout the book of Luke-Acts there is an intimate connection between the Holy Spirit and the concept of witness.  Not only does Luke use ‘Holy Spirit’ (pneuma hagion) prolifically (some 80 occurrences!)[1], but also he employs ‘witness’ substantially more than Matthew and Mark.[2]  The noun form of witness (martures / martus) occurs some 15 times,[3] while the verb form (diamarturasthai) arises 10 times.[4]  But the most explicit usage of ‘witness’ comes in Jesus’ post-resurrection command to the disciples to be witnesses by the power of the Spirit (Lk 24:48-49, Acts 1:8).  With these two passages serving as the hinge between the two books, it is no surprise that Acts 2, the Day of Pentecost to which the hinge points, has become the ‘normative paradigm’ for understanding the role of the Holy Spirit and the nature of witness.  As such, the most common view of Lukan pneumatology is that the Holy Spirit is gifted to believers exclusively for prophetic/charismatic witness; namely, the preaching of the gospel.[5]  This view has traditionally emphasized the verbal/aural aspect of witness.  While not incorrect, I believe that this view reduces both the work of the Holy Spirit and the concept of witness to less than what Luke intended.[6]  In addition to the verbal/aural element, there is also a fundamental visual element of witness in Luke-Acts.  Indeed, the word ‘witness’ itself has a double meaning.[7]  Only when we see the verbal/aural element as dependent upon the visual are we afforded a fuller understanding of Luke’s concept of witness, and therefore a more complete view of Lukan pneumatology.

Thus, the current study by no means dismisses the traditional Pentecostal view of the Holy Spirit as the empowering presence for prophetic witness.  I intend rather to build upon this view and attempt to tease out the visual element that is often overlooked.  In doing so we shall discover that, for Luke, authentic Christian witness is possible only by the Spirit-enabled vision of the Son and His messianic mission.


The Spirit of Prophecy

That Luke employs a characteristically Jewish understanding of the Spirit (ruach) as the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ is clear throughout his work.[8]  With extended proclamation in the birth narratives (Lk 1-3), a detailed exposition of the Day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, and almost one third of Acts consisting of speeches, it is clear that Luke understands the Spirit as the giver of prophetic speech.  In this section we may visit a handful of instances in which Luke has explicitly linked the Holy Spirit with prophetic speech.

The birth canticles of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon each provide a distinct example of Spirit-empowered speech.  In some ways, they are unique in that, unlike the rest of the gospel and Acts, they point toward the salvific events of Jesus’ life rather than respond to them.  Nonetheless, this triad of speeches is still characteristically Lukan by their explicit witness to Jesus and his messianic mission.

The first prophetic announcement is Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:39-56).  Yet, even prior to Mary’s song, the Spirit of prophecy is evidenced in the words of Elizabeth upon Mary’s arrival (v.43).  Elizabeth’s foretelling the lordship of Mary’s child is, according to Luke, the result of her being filled with the Holy Spirit (v.41).  Elizabeth then continues to set up the subsequent song of Mary by blessing Mary as one “who believed that there would be a fulfillment (teleiosis) of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v.45).  This language of fulfillment gives clear emphasis on the prophetic nature of Mary’s song.  The promise of the Spirit in 1:35 is undoubtedly linked with Mary’s exclamation in vv.46-55.  Like all three characters in the birth narrative, Mary’s direct encounter with the Spirit is clearly the power behind her prophecy of teleiosis regarding the messiah who is to be born.

The second birth canticle comes from Zechariah upon the birth of his son, John the Baptist (1:57-80).  What is unique about Zechariah’s prophecy is that it is preceded by nine months of silence.  His inability to speak is therefore contrasted with his miraculous pronouncement in vv.68-79.  Luke emphasizes this by informing us that Zechariah’s “mouth was opened and his tongue loosed” (v.64).  But not only is Zechariah now miraculously enabled to speak by the recovery of his voice; he is, more importantly, filled with the Holy Spirit (v.67).  What follows in vv. 68-79 is without a doubt the gift of prophetic speech by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And not surprisingly, within Zechariah’s prophecy, he foretells the prophetic speech of his son, John (vv.76-77), who, according to Luke, is already filled with the Holy Spirit (1:41).

The third canticle, the prophecy of Simeon, is much shorter than that of Mary and Zechariah, yet it is perhaps the climax of the three.  Luke informs us no less than three times that the Holy Spirit is upon Simeon (2:25, 26, 27) and it is by the Spirit that he speaks his prophetic words.  What is unique about Simeon’s prophecy is that, unlike Mary and Zechariah, his words are somewhat of a confirmation of what was promised to Mary and Zechariah: the Christ child was to be born and is indeed now born.  The prophetic promises of Mary and Zechariah have now unquestionably begun before Simeon’s eyes.  Yet Simeon’s prophecy is still undoubtedly prophetic in that he foretells the messiahship of the infant.  More specifically, Simeon is the first to offer an explicit reference to Jesus’ messianic mission as being a light to the Gentiles (v.32).  This mission, as we shall see, is precisely the Spirit-empowered mission of the early church as well.

Altogether the three speeches within the birth narratives provide the foundation for Luke’s pneumatology.  What is clear is that the Spirit is the giver of prophetic speech.  More specifically, this speech is explicitly a witness to the person of Jesus and the salvific nature of his mission as the messiah of Israel.  This becomes more apparent in Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ own Spirit-empowered mission.

Luke intentionally envelops Jesus’ entire mission with the Holy Spirit.  The anointing of the Spirit at his baptism (3:22) and his giving up of his spirit on the cross (23:46) provides an inclusio to his mission thus indicating that Jesus’ entire ministry is empowered by the Spirit.  This is further supported by Luke’s repetition of Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: firstly in his baptism, secondly before/during his time of testing in the wilderness (4:1), and thirdly in his return to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” (4:14).  It is here, in Jesus’ return to Galilee, that Luke unambiguously links Jesus’ anointing with the Spirit to the gift of prophetic speech.  In his inaugural sermon at Nazareth (4:16-30), Jesus explains that the Spirit is upon him that he may 1) preach, 2) proclaim, 3) set free, and 4) proclaim.[9]  Luke’s emphasis is not on acts of power such as miracles and healings, but rather the Spirit-empowered witness of prophetic speech.  According to Menzies, this passage “undeniably emphasizes preaching as the most prominent dimension of Jesus’ mission.”[10]  Menzies’ perspective is substantially supported by the lengthy discourses and teachings of Jesus throughout his ministry, especially during his journey to Jerusalem.[11]

Following the passion and resurrection of Jesus, the next major instance that is of concern to our study is Jesus’ pre-ascension promise to the disciples (24:48-49; Acts 1:4-5, 8).  As aforementioned, Luke’s overlap of this scene provides a kind of hinge between the two-volume work.[12]  Moreover, each account unequivocally links the Holy Spirit with the mission of witness.  In the first account (Luke 24:49), following Jesus’ affirmation of their status as witnesses (v.48), the disciples are told to wait for the ‘promise of the Father’ (epangeliea tou patros) until they are clothed with ‘power from on high’.  In the second (Acts 1:4-5, 8), Jesus specifically names this ‘power from on high’ as the Holy Spirit who shall enable the disciples to become effective witnesses.  With this Luke effectively anticipates the Day of Pentecost as the decisive moment for the disciples’ Spirit-led mission to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Luke explains that on the Day of Pentecost the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance,” (Acts 2:4).  For Luke, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is intimately linked with the disciples’ prophetic speech.  Indeed, “just as prophesying is the sign par excellence of the transfer of the Spirit in Old Testament times, so on the Day of Pentecost speaking in other tongues/prophesying (Acts 2:4,17) is the sign that the Spirit has been transferred to the disciples.”[13]  But not only is Luke’s Pentecost account paralleled with the Old Testament transfer of the Spirit; it is also closely paralleled with his gospel account of Jesus’ anointing with the Spirit.  Like Jesus, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit during/after prayer, there is a physical manifestation of the Spirit, and the disciples inaugurate their ministry with “a sermon which is programmatic for what follows, appeals to fulfillment of prophecy, and speaks of rejection of Jesus.”[14]  The literary cohesion seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples not as a kind of donum superadditum (“additional gift”) but as the same exact means to continue the ministry of Jesus, which for Luke was characterized by witness.[15]  The disciples’ speaking in “other tongues,” then, is not simply a sign of possessing the Spirit, but rather Luke’s indication that “the disciples receive the Spirit for others” and for mission.[16]  The gift of tongues is the prime example of the church’s pneumatic mission to be a light to the Gentiles.

As such, Luke expands this interpretation with Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-40.  Peter explains the events of Pentecost in terms of the promise of Joel (Joel 2:28ff), which prophesied of the time when God would pour out God’s Spirit upon all flesh.  The addition of “God declares” (legei o theos) to the words of Joel (v.17) underlines the work of God behind the prophecy that explains the inspired speech of the disciples.  More explicit, however, is the addition of “and they shall prophesy”(kai propheiteusousin) (v.18) to Joel’s original prophecy.  This further emphasizes the Spirit as the enabler of charismatic preaching and witness that is to come throughout Acts.[17]  What is most significant, however, is that Peter’s Spirit-enabled witness, not unlike the instances we have heretofore examined, is witness to Jesus and his messianic mission, particularly his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father.

This pneumatic witness is essentially the content of all of Acts.  Aside from the events of Pentecost and additional narrative filler, the book of Acts is practically made up of speeches – Spirit-empowered speeches.[18]  Here we may note just two of Luke’s examples, beginning with the witness of Stephen in Acts 6:5-7:51.  Luke adds that Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” (6:5) and that his opponents could not withstand “the Spirit with which he spoke,” (6:10).  As such, his extended defense in 7:2-53 is unquestionably the gift of the Spirit to witness to the crucifixion of the “Righteous One” (v.52).  Like Peter, Stephen receives power from the Holy Spirit to witness to the person and work of Jesus.

A second post-Pentecost example of pneumatic witness is Paul, whom Luke gives central focus in the last fifteen chapters of Acts.  Luke includes a detailed account of Paul’s conversion (9:1-19), which is of fundamental importance to our study.  As we shall see below, Paul’s conversion is the key to uncovering Luke’s understanding of authentic Christian witness.  At this point, however, we may simply note the role of the Holy Spirit in commissioning Paul to be a witness.  Paul’s Damascus experience is as much his commissioning to pneumatic witness as it is a conversion: “Paul is commissioned and empowered to proclaim the gospel to, above all, the Gentiles.”[19]  And while the Holy Spirit is not mentioned explicitly in Paul’s commissioning, it is nevertheless implied through Ananias’ words in 9:17 that Paul received the Spirit for prophetic witness.  Luke confirms this in 9:20 stating, “Immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying ‘He is the Son of God,’” as well as throughout the rest of Acts.[20]

It is therefore evident that, according to Luke, the Holy Spirit is the ‘Spirit of Prophecy’ that enables prophetic speech expressed most distinctly in the Lukan term ‘witness.’ Here Turner is helpful:

“It is thus easy to see how the Spirit was ’empowering for mission’ in the sense of inspiring witness to Jesus.  Luke has given a special place to this through Lk 24:46-49 and Acts 1:8, because it was above all the witness to Jesus which initially called men and women into the messianic people of God and so brought salvation to them, and this same witness extended the church towards ‘the end(s) of the earth’ in accordance with the program in 1:8.”

And, indeed, this is where most Pentecostals conclude.  However, to limit the role of the Holy Spirit to verbal/aural witness, I believe, overlooks a key motif in Lukan pneumatology, namely the visual element.  Thus, it is the task of the rest of our study to re-examine the major instances of prophetic witness and uncover the Spirit’s role in providing vision.


The Spirit of Vision

If we are to take Luke’s narrative seriously we must consider the amount of ‘vision language’ that he employs, just as we have noted his usage of “Spirit” and “witness.”  More than any other author of the New Testament, Luke uses words such as “appear,” “appearance,” “eyes,” “light,” “look,” “see,” “seeing,” “sight” “vision,” and, of course, “witness.”  Altogether, Luke’s use of such language creates a vision motif that may be clearly linked to the work of the Holy Spirit and his concept of witness.  Ultimately, for Luke, to be a witness is not just to speak inspired speech, it is to speak in response to the vision of what God has done in Jesus Christ.  This becomes clearer when we re-examine our survey.

The birth canticles provide the foundation to Luke’s pneumatology of prophetic witness.  Yet, there is more than just speech in these accounts.  Each of the three canticles is enabled by vision given through the Spirit.  In the first canticle, Mary is given a vision by the angel Gabriel and it is the power of the Spirit (1:35) that enables Mary to believe “that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken from the Lord,” (v.45).  Her ensuing Magnificat is no mere speaking in tongues or a random Spirit-filled prayer.  It is the verbal manifestation of the Spirit’s vision of what is to be accomplished through the Son.  In her utterance Mary proclaims the beginning of the Isaiahnic vision (cf. Isa. 40) because she sees the beginning of the Lord’s promise in the events of her own life.  She is therefore both witness of and witness to the in-breaking of God’s new day, which is precisely the theme of the birth canticles.

Zechariah, like Mary, is provided a vision (1:11-21) that conditions his prophetic speech.  Upon the birth of his son, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit to prophesy.  Yet that to which he witnesses is both already and not yet.  Once again, I believe, Luke plays upon the double meaning of witness: Zechariah has caught the vision of his son’s birth as the dawning of a new age (vv.78-79), while also proclaiming the future salvation of his people (v.68).  Thus, the Spirit has enabled Zechariah’s vision as well as his speech; and the latter is dependent upon the former.

In the third canticle, Luke informs us that Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him (2:25).[21]  Not only this, but Simeon was looking precisely because the Spirit had revealed (i.e. given vision) to him that he would see the messiah (v.26).  In Simeon’s case, the Spirit shapes expectations before prophetic utterances are even made.  Before his speech Simeon has been anointed with a pneumatic vision and is therefore looking and expecting accordingly.  We must consider that Luke has given special attention to the role of the Spirit in preparing and revealing the vision of God’s Son before a prophetic word is spoken.  Thus, it is the Spirit-enabled vision of Jesus that makes Simeon’s prophecy possible.  It is therefore fitting that Simeon’s prophecy confirms, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”  Like Mary and Zechariah, Simeon has seen both the already and the not yet.

In the canticles we see that it is not only prophetic speech that Luke has woven into the birth narratives, but also prophetic vision – upon which the speech depends.  The Holy Spirit enables many characters in the birth narratives to see the divine plan of salvation that rests upon the infant born of Mary.  Even the shepherds do not give glorified utterance (2:14) until they have received a glimpse of God’s vision (2:10-12).  And so we must consider that Luke’s pneumatology is as much about seeing as it is about speaking.

Luke’s portrait of John as the forerunner to Jesus’ ministry continues to tease out this vision motif. Luke informs us that John, whom we know to be filled with the Holy Spirit (1:15), is preaching the good news to the people (3:18).  But more specifically, Luke’s insertion of Isaiah 40:3-5 makes it clear that John’s good news is the verbal proclamation of the Isaiahnic vision.  John’s voice (Isa. 40:3) witnesses to what all flesh shall see (40:5) – the vision that he himself has already begun to see (but not fully, cf. 7:18-23).  With John, Luke has provided a fitting forerunner for the one who preaches recovery of sight to the blind.

As we have seen, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ Spirit-anointing in 3:22, 4:1, and 4:14 prior to his prophetic announcement at Nazareth.  And further, his announcement clarifies that preaching is at the heart of his mission.[22]  But this scene too contains the work of the Spirit in providing vision.  After reading from Isaiah 61, Jesus, being filled with the Spirit, informs the synagogue attendants that, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” (4:21).  This bold statement indicates that the Spirit has granted Jesus a unique vision of himself and his vocation.  But not only is Jesus enabled to see by the power of the Spirit, he implies that those in attendance may see as well.  Here we are afforded another glimpse of Luke’s enigmatic interplay between hearing and seeing by the power of the Spirit: Jesus promises that the Spirit of the Lord will enable “recovery of sight to the blind”[23] and that this recovery has been made possible by hearing (v.21).  In this stream of thought Penney asserts, “The Holy Spirit is the power by which salvation is both announced and effected in the ministry of Jesus.”[24]  This pericope is absolutely fundamental to Luke’s portrayal of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit as the enabler of vision and speech.

From this moment on, Jesus’ ministry is enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the kingdom of God.  As we noted above, Luke gives special attention to Jesus’ teaching and verbal proclamation.[25]  Yet simply noting that Jesus preached would be an oversimplification.  We must note also the content of Jesus’ preaching; as well as Luke’s description of its effects.  Thus, Green is correct to note, “What is often striking about Jesus’ instruction is its orientation toward a reconstructed vision of God and the sort of world order that might reflect this vision of God.”[26]  This seems to get closer to what Luke depicts in his gospel.  Jesus’ teaching is certainly Spirit-empowered prophetic speech, but it is also the means for the recovery of sight to the blind (i.e. those who cannot see God’s divine plan).  In many places, Jesus’ teaching or Luke’s narrative filler makes reference to the sight (or lack thereof) of Jesus’ hearers.[27]  Here we may note a few.

In 7:18-23 John’s disciples come to Jesus asking if they are to “look for another.”  Jesus’ response is not a decisive “yes” or “no” but rather an exhortation to look and listen: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard,” (v.22).  Jesus is not the giver of simple answers.  Instead, he is the teacher of how to be a true witness.  John’s disciples are challenged to catch the vision of the kingdom and see for themselves whether or not Jesus is the messiah.  This task is precisely the challenge to see through the power of the Spirit.

A second brief example comes in 10:21-24.  Here again we find the Lukan vision motif.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus thanks the Father that, “Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes,” (v.21).  In this there is, I believe, an implicit message of the nature of the Spirit’s revelation.  Not unlike the birth canticles (cf. 1:48,52), here Luke implies that the vision God’s divine plan is given, not to those of high regard, but through the Spirit to those who are pure in heart (cf. Mt. 5:3,8).  Jesus continues to clarify that the disciples have, in fact, seen and heard (vv.23-24), and it is no doubt by the power of the Holy Spirit in and through Jesus’ own witness.

One last example from the gospel is the Emmaus account (24:13-35).  Taking place after the resurrection and before Pentecost, this incident adds insight to Luke’s concept of witness.  In this account Luke makes it clear that each of the two men could see neither Jesus nor the divine plan of the Father.[28]  “Their eyes are ‘kept from recognizing him’; their spirits, like their eyes, are shut.  For that matter, everything is shut.”[29]  However, despite this lack of sight, Luke informs us that the two men know more than they realize.  In their retelling of the recent events they reveal their knowledge of the divine plan (which is revealed by the power of the Spirit, cf. 10:23-24).  Not only this, they also reveal the dawn of their knowledge of the resurrection (vv.22-24).  In their witnessing of the events, they witness to Jesus and thus illustrate their capability to be true “Lukan” witnesses.  The only thing missing is the Spirit-enabled vision that allows them to “recognize” (epignosai) Jesus in his vindicated state and thus piece together the divine plan.  This ultimately comes as Jesus expounds the scriptures to them (v.27) and then breaks bread with them (v.31), but is no doubt the power of the Spirit that enables the event.  When the disciples’ eyes are opened, they recognize the risen Lord and “return it as a gift in terms of Christian witness,”[30] (24:33-35).  That Luke makes no mention of the Holy Spirit in this pericope is not problematic since we are here elucidating the connection between vision and witness.  Nevertheless, for Luke, the ability to see and recognize Jesus implies the work of the Spirit.  The Emmaus account is therefore a fundamental piece of Luke’s portrait of true Christian witness.  Jesus’ subsequent command to be Spirit-empowered witnesses “to the nations” (24:46-49) is thus highly appropriate in Luke’s transition from the ministry of Jesus to the ministry of the early church.  The watershed moment for the early church continues to emphasize these Lukan themes.

As we have seen, the Day of Pentecost is often the normative paradigm for understanding the role of the Spirit as providing prophetic speech for witness.  However, I believe that it may also be the normative paradigm for understanding the role of the Spirit as the provider of vision.  We have also noted that the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples as the means to continue the ministry of Jesus.  However, we have now expounded that Jesus’ ministry was not just preaching; it was the recovery of sight to the blind, which for Luke meant casting the vision of God’s kingdom by the power of the Spirit.  The Day of Pentecost is no different when we examine the witness of the disciples and Peter’s sermon to the Jews.  Like Jesus’ teaching on the road to Emmaus, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 opens the scriptures, which for Luke is a primary facet of witness.[31]  The Spirit-enabled vision of Jesus and his messianic mission is contingent upon the context of Israel’s story (so too is the mission of the church in Acts).  In Acts 2 and throughout, the speeches function to re-paint the picture of God’s Messiah and the work of God’s Spirit in ushering in the kingdom.  These speeches, then, have everything to do with vision.  Indeed, Peter’s very explanation of Joel’s promise is not limited to prophetic speech, but also indicates the Spirit’s role in giving vision for salvation (2:17, 21).

Furthermore, like Jesus’ Nazareth pronouncement, Peter’s sermon is “not merely bold, or inspired with wisdom and insight, it is powerfully effective such that his hearers are ‘cut to the heart’ (2:37).”[32]  Like Jesus’ prophetic preaching, Peter’s is also effective to give recovery of sight to those who are blind to God’s plan.  If, then, Peter speaks by the power of the Spirit, those who are cut to the heart (recover their sight?) have heard by the power of the Spirit.  This is surely what Luke continues to proffer in 10:44 when, “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.”  Menzies, on the other hand, argues that the Spirit “does not produce faith, but is given to faith.”[33]  This, I believe, overlooks the Lukan interplay between pneumatic witness(A) (speaking) and pneumatic witness(B) (hearing/seeing).  Both require the work of the Spirit.  Throughout the book of Acts, the “knowledge of God comes about in the Spirit of God.”[34]  This pneumatic knowing, which Luke describes in terms of vision, is precisely what makes for an authentic witness and is what allows the early church to continue the work of Jesus and sustain its mission, from the first century unto the present.

When Jesus tells the disciples that they are “witnesses of these things,” (Lk 24:48), he undoubtedly refers to the events of his ministry, passion, and resurrection.  The disciples were thus ‘witnesses to facts’ in the historical sense.  But it was inevitable that there would come a day when those who had witnessed historical events would cease to exist.  Therefore, it is of utmost importance that Jesus’ command to be witnesses is dependent upon the gift of the Holy Spirit (24:49, Acts 1:8).  For Luke, true witness does not necessarily stem from eyewitness of historical events, but from understanding their significance.[35]  This understanding is rooted in the gift of the Spirit and Luke offers two key examples.  The first is Stephen, about whom little is known except that he received the laying on of hands from the disciples and was a man filled with the Holy Spirit.  Stephen is thus the first major witness who is not an explicit eyewitness like the original disciples.  Nevertheless, Stephen is referred to by Paul as “thy witness” (22:20); as if he is the paradigmatic ‘confessional witness.’  Stephen, like Peter, understands the significance of Jesus in the context of Israel’s story.  Despite (possibly) not having seen the historical events, the Holy Spirit empowers Stephen to see the divine plan.  Luke emphasizes this in v.55 as Stephen, “full of the Holy Spirit,” sees the vision of the Son.  The event is momentous for both Luke’s pneumatology and his understanding of witness.  Stephen may not be a witness in the traditional sense (i.e. witness to historical events), but he is filled with the Holy Spirit, which, for Luke, is superior to seeing historical events.  For it is only by the power of the Spirit that we are able to see Jesus: “In the seeing of the risen Christ, those who perceived him experienced the life-giving power of the Spirit; and conversely, it is this quickening power of the Spirit which allows Christ to be perceived, either through seeing or hearing.”  This elucidation of witness-by-the-Spirit is evidenced most clearly in the witness of Paul.

Along with Menzies, we have noted that Paul was commissioned for witness and received the Holy Spirit for this mission.[36]  At first glance, Paul’s conversion and ministry seem to support the typical interpretation of the Spirit as the gift of prophetic speech.  But Luke’s threefold repetition of Paul’s conversion indicates something more.  To miss the visual aspect to Paul’s conversion is, I believe, to miss the Lukan understanding of witness.  In the original account (9:1-19) Paul remains blind until he receives the Holy Spirit; and even when “his eyes were opened, he could see nothing,” (v.8, cf. Lk 8:10 and Acts 28:26).  And Luke does not downplay this event as he describes it as “something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight,” (v.18).  For Paul, the receipt of the Spirit is the exact moment that he recovers his sight (anablepsin, cf. Lk 4:18). Furthermore, this recovery of sight precedes any verbal proclamation.  This might be an extrapolation if it weren’t for the amount of evidence throughout Luke-Acts supporting the connection between the Spirit and vision.

Further evidence may be found in the subsequent accounts of Paul’s conversion (22:6-16, 26:12-18).  In both accounts Paul is referred to as a witness in the same sense as the disciples in Acts 1:8.  Yet, “at best, he is only this with reference to the Damascus vision, and in both instances the concept is limited to this and to the visions which followed.”[37]  But the heart of Paul’s missionary witness was not the Damascus vision; it was the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.[38]  Paul, like Stephen, is not a witness of historical events.  He is, however, a confessional witness who, by the power of the Spirit, sees the significance of Jesus in the story of Israel and the world, most specifically in his Spirit-enabled vision to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).[39]  Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit in being a witness is, according to Luke, not limited to prophetic speech, but also includes and depends upon Spirit-enabled sight.



Being a Christian witness in the 21st Century is no easy task.  We live in a world that emphasizes rationalism over confession.  It is a culture in which the only witness that counts is that which can recount the cold, hard ‘facts’.  For Luke, however, this concept is remarkably inferior to the witness of confession that comes through the power of the Spirit.  As we have seen, the Holy Spirit empowers Her recipients for a kind of witness that speaks ‘beyond’ to a deeper, divine plan that glorifies the Son and his messianic mission to the nations.  The witnesses of those in Luke’s gospel are those who witness both historical events and their significance in light of God’s plan through Jesus Christ.  As witnesses of these things, these men and women thereby become Spirit-driven witnesses to them through prophetic speech.  In the Acts of the Apostles Luke asserts that it is the power of the Spirit that enables the early church to transition from eyewitnesses to confessional witnesses.  Indeed, for Luke, seeing by the Spirit is even more important than simply physically seeing (cf. Lk 8:10, Acts 28:26) because it is the Spirit Who witnesses to the Son and makes Him known.  With this pneumatological assertion Luke depicts Paul as the paradigmatic witness for the post-Pentecost church as he witnesses to the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in the divine plan for Israel, most notably in his understanding of the Isaiahnic vision of the inclusion of the Gentiles.[40]

In the final analysis, Paul is truly the model for pneumatic witness in the 21st Century.  In the final exposition of his conversion experience, Paul states that the Lord appointed him “to bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,” (26:16).  Paul’s task is to bear witness to the things in which he has seen Jesus.  But Paul, like many of us in the 21st Century, has not literally seen the Lord Jesus.  What Paul does have, however, is the Holy Spirit – the Spirit who gives vision to see the Son in all things (Eph. 1:23).  Like Paul, we cannot see the Son of Light directly, but we may see Him indirectly, from whatever He illuminates by the power of the Spirit.  And it is by the Spirit that we may see Him and give witness to Him.










[1] Compare to Matthew (12) and Mark (6).

[2] Luke uses ‘witness’ 35 times.  Compare to Mathew (2) and Mark (1).

[3] Lk 11:48; 24:48, Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 6:13; 7:58; 10:39, 41; 13:31; 22:15, 20; 26:16.

            [4] Lk 16:28, Acts 2:40; 8:25; 10:42; 18:5; 20:21,23,24; 23:11; 28:23.

[5] Max Turner, “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts,” from Word and World, vol. 23 no. 2, Spring 2003, 147.  See also Robert P. Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts, New York: T & T Clark International, 2004.

[6] Determining what Luke “really intended” via criticisms is ultimately impossible.  Here we are concerned with the role of the Spirit in the narrative as it stands.  See Ju Hur, A Dynamic Reading of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2001), 26-36.

[7] To witness (see) or to give witness as in testimony (recount).

[8] Turner, “Work of the Holy Spirit,” 147. cf. Menzies, 45.

[9] Menzies, 155.

[10] Menzies, 150.

[11] 6:20-49; 7:22-28; 10:1-16; 25-37; 11:1-13; 17-52; 12:1-21; 22-59; 15:1-32; 16:1-13; 19-31; 17:1-10; 22-37; 18:1-14; 18-30; 19:11-27; 20:1-8; 9-18; 19-26; 21:5-38.

[12] See Menzies, 168.

[13] Roger Stronstad, “The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts: A Synthesis of Luke’s Pneumatology,” Continuation of Part Three in a series of guest lectures given at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri,

[14] John Michael Penney, The Missionary Emphasis of Lukan Pneumatology, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 17.

[15] See Max Turner, Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 347.

[16] Menzies, 175, italics added.

[17] Acts 4:8, 31; 5:32; 6:10; 9:17, 31; 13:52; 18:25.

[18] See John T. Townsend, “The Speeches in Acts,” from

[19] Menzies, 215.

[20] Acts 13:4-5, 16-41; 17:22-31; 19:8; 20:18-35; 22:1-21; 24:10-21; 26:2-23; 28:17-28.

[21] Pneuma ain hagion ep aouton.  Was the Spirit upon him because he was looking or was he looking because the Spirit was upon him?

[22] Menzies, 156.

[23] Luke uses the LXX rendering: kai tuphlos anablepsin.

[24] Penney, 23.

[25] Lk 6:20-49; 7:22-28; 10:1-16; 25-37; 11:1-13; 17-52; 12:1-21; 22-59; 15:1-32; 16:1-13; 19-31; 17:1-10; 22-37; 18:1-14; 18-30; 19:11-27; 20:1-8; 9-18; 19-26; 21:5-38.

[26] Paul J. Achtemeir, Joel B. Green, Marianne Meye Thomspson,  Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology.  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 151.

[27] Lk  5:26; 6:39, 42; 7:18-23, 24-30; 8:10, 16-17; 9:32; 10:21-23; 11:34-36; 17:22; 18:31, 35; 19:42; 24:16, 24, 30-31, 48-49.

[28] 24:15 – “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” cf. 24:21.

[29] Ivana Dolejsova, “The Symbolic Nature of Christian Existence According to Ricoeur and Chauvet,” from Communio Viatorum, is. 43, no. 1, 2001, 55.

[30] Dolejsova, 55.

[31] Consider major speeches in Acts: 4:8-12; 7:2-53; 13:4-5, 16-41; 17:22-31; 19:8; 20:18-35; 22:1-21; 24:10-21; 26:2-23; 28:17-28.

[32] Penney, 23.

[33] Menzies, 186.

[34] Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1992), 56.

[35] Martus from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley,  Vol. IV (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 492.

[36] Menzies, 213-215.

[37]  “Martus” from the Theological Dictionary, 492.

[38]  “Martus” from the Theological Dictionary, 493.

[39] Paul is also the witness of Stephen’s witness in 7:58, which Luke no doubt uses to connect the cyclic nature of witness in the power of the Spirit.

[40] cf. Lk 3:6 and Acts 28:28.


One thought on “The Spirit of Vision in Luke-Acts

  1. joe d says:

    thanks for posting this josh. i’m actually working through a “pastoral situation” this week around prophecy, so hearing your thoughts on the Spirit’s role in prophecy was very helpful. are you familiar with brueggeman’s “The Prophetic Imagination”? its worth reading if you haven’t gotten to it yet.

    did you write this for a class?

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