The extent of Jesus’s knowledge seems paradoxical in the canonical gospels. On the one hand, Jesus’s knowledge appears to be limited (Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52). On the other hand, Jesus displays supernatural omniscience evinced in his prophetic pronouncements as well as Jesus’s knowledge of the inner thoughts of certain characters (Luke 4:24; 5:22, 6:8; et passim). This paradox is the subject of Collin Blake Bullard’s monograph, Jesus and the Thoughts of Many Hearts: Implicit Christology and Jesus’ Knowledge in the Gospel of Luke. Bullard (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodville, TX) argues in this work (a revision of his doctoral thesis at Cambridge under the supervision of Simon Gathercole) that “Luke understood Jesus’ knowledge to be a divine ability which he possessed by virtue of his identity as Lord” (p. 26). The bedrock of Bullard’s project is Simeon’s oracle in Luke 2:34–35, which Bullard sees as a hermeneutical lens through which Luke frames the earthly ministry of Jesus via inclusio with Luke 24:7 (pp. 7–8, 157). Bullard’s volume makes an important contribution to scholarship because “the Christological questions relating to Jesus’ knowledge of thoughts have not been sufficiently considered in combination with ancient parallels and in light of the Lukan narrative” (p. 9). Bullard seeks to fill this lacuna. Rather than seeing Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’s divine knowledge as the result of extra-biblical parallels—thus, eschewing the seeming parallelomania prevalent in Lukan studies (e.g., the investigations of Luke 16:19–31 by Hugo Gressmann, Richard Bauckham, and Ronald Hock)—Bullard sees Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as commensurate with the portrayal of YHWH’s knowledge in the LXX (especially, Ps 93 ) (pp. 62–64, 168–69, 175).
Bullard’s narrative- and redaction-critical study consists of an introduction, three chapters, conclusion, bibliography, and useful indices for biblical/extra-biblical references and authors. In his introduction, Bullard identifies the motif of Jesus’s knowledge of thoughts in seven pericopes (four that are explicit: Luke 5:17–26; 6:6–11; 9:46–48; 11:14–32; and three that are implicit: 7:36–50; 11:37–54; 24:36–43). He investigates each of these pericopes via a four-fold rubric: (1) the presentation of Jesus’s knowledge; (2) Lukan redaction; (3) resonance with Simeon’s oracle; and (4) implicit Christology, noting “the points at which the text encourages a link between Jesus’ knowledge and Jesus’ identity” (pp. 3, 82). Bullard concludes his introduction with a review of literature, and highlights the “gap in scholarship” surrounding the motif of Jesus’s “knowledge of thoughts” (p. 9). In chapter 1, Bullard surveys the Greco-Roman and Jewish sources and argues that “expressions of divine knowledge in the OT and STJ [Second Temple Judaism] provide . . . the closest literary parallels to Jesus’ knowledge of thoughts in Luke” (p. 63). Chapter 2 explores the framework provided by Simeon’s oracle in Luke 2:34–35, and chapter 3 comprises nearly half the book (ninety-three pages) in Bullard’s narrative-critical study of the seven pericopes above. For Bullard, Jesus’s knowledge is not incidental to his identity as Jesus uncovers the depths of the human heart (p. 184).
Bullard’s work displays numerous strengths. He argues his thesis well, and disproves many a priori assumptions within the religionsgeschichtliche Schule and the subsequent work of Rudolf Bultmann regarding Luke’s “Hellenistic touch” of Jesus as a “divine man” (pp. 22, 29–34), as well as Luke’s supposed “primitive/low” Christology (p. 182). It is mostly well-written (only a few typographical errors were noted [e.g., pp. 113, 153, 172]). Further, this work reflects Bullard’s pastoral heart—thus, bridging the gap between the academy and the Church.
However, as good as Bullard’s work is, a few quibbles remain. First, Bullard fails to adequately address the tension(s) arising from passages that present the apparent limitations of Jesus’s knowledge. Neither Mark 13:32 nor Luke 2:52 (both of which are loci classici in the discussion) is referenced in Bullard’s work, and this is perhaps a blind spot in Bullard’s argument (pp. 198–99). Second, the section on Luke 11:37–54 is perhaps the weakest link in Bullard’s catena as Bullard seems to have overstated his case. Luke 11:37–54 does not fit Bullard’s schema: “a verb of knowing followed by a direct object meaning ‘thoughts’” (p. 7). Moreover, the other “implicit” passages in Bullard’s study (Luke 7:36–50; 24:36–43) more readily display Jesus’s knowledge of interior thoughts/monologues than does 11:37–54. Contra Bullard, Jesus could have been responding to a visible look of “surprise” on the Pharisee’s face in 11:38, rather than knowing his inner thoughts/heart. Third, the flow of Bullard’s monograph is interrupted at times, especially in the inclusion of “other relevant passages” in chapter 3 (pp. 139–53). This section appears disjointed and misplaced, and perhaps should have been moved to an appendix or a separate chapter.
In conclusion, Bullard’s meticulous monograph paves the way forward for investigations studying Jesus’s knowledge and interior monologues in the remaining canonical gospels (see, e.g., Michal Dinkler’s recent article, “‘The Thoughts of Many Hearts Shall Be Revealed’: Listening in on Lukan Interior Monologues,” JBL 133 : 373–99). While a few flaws were noted above, this work is overall an excellent study that demonstrates the literary artistry of Luke and the intertextual resonances that reverberate throughout the Third Gospel.