Luke: a gospel for the Graeco

Luke: a gospel for the GraecoRoman world
“Since many have undertaken to set down an
orderly account of the events that have been
fulfilled among us . . . I too decided, after
investigating everything carefully from the very
first, to write an orderly account for you, most
excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the
truth concerning the things about which you
have been instructed.”
A narrative that aims at integrating
the tensions of 1st century
• Recall ideas of narrative from Abbot essay (in reader).
• Here the conflict the narrative wants to negotiate are two identities of
“the way”:
• It’s a Jewish thing: in a multitude of elements expressing identity.
• It’s a gentile thing: in much, perhaps most, of its current
• This is a gospel of large integrations of time and space.
• The work of an historian who sees the need to connect past to
• Aware of its belatedness: the prologue to Theophilus.
• Sees itself as wanting to make sense of a great deal of material, to
create “an orderly account.”
• It’s also a portrait of a Jesus who integrates, makes whole, teaches
in parables about wholeness, reconciliation (e.g., Prodigal Son,
Good Samaritan).
• Gospel in which women are accorded a larger role.
• “Gospel” (Gk “Euangelium” – good message) here also means
wonder, joy.
• “Luke” is actually Part I of a two-part work that includes
Acts of the Apostles.
• Which would make it the longest and most sustained
narrative in the NT, about a quarter of the whole NT.
• Prologue to Acts: “In the former book, Theophilus . . .”
• The large work becomes a great narrative bridge
between the world of the Israel’s past (as recounted in
the Hebrew Scriptures) and the world contemporary with
its writing -• As well as between the Jewish/Palestinian Jesus
movement of mid-first century and the gentile/Hellenistic
world toward the end of the century.
• Also a “tale of two cities,” Jerusalem and Rome: the
historical progression between them.
• Work was split apart in the 4th century to make room for
John’s gospel.
• Again an anonymous text.
• In Colossians 4:14 author (attributed to Paul, but
probably not by Paul) refers to a Luke who is a "beloved
• Irenaeus (around 180 C.E.) identifies the author of this
gospel as Luke, a companion of Paul.
• The "Muratorian Canon," a list of NT texts at end of 2nd
cent., also identified the gospel and Acts with this Luke.
• But text itself implies no attribution, and late 2nd cent. is
too far from composition to be authoritative.
• Another mystery: in the second half of Acts the writer
suddenly and without explanation begins to refer to
himself as "we" with Paul.
• Did writer include some travel diary in this part of Acts?
• At 2:52 narrative says "his mother treasured up these
things in her heart“ – implying Mary as source?
What can we learn about the author from the
text itself?
• Writes the best Greek in the NT.
• Clearly educated in the traditions of Hellenistic history,
• Sympathetic with Roman rule, law.
• But also knew Hebrew Scriptures well.
• Uses Hebrew Scriptures in significant ways, but quite
differently from Matthew.
• Another kind of “intertextuality” in relations to the H.S.
• Understands himself as historian, not eyewitness; sees
the gospel as a process.
• Likes to refer to times and places.
• A gifted storyteller (likes drama, details, contrasting
narrative patterns).
• “Luke” is clearly an educated person, probably (but not
necessarily) a gentile, but with strong sympathies for
Judaism, interested in tying nascent Christianity to the
larger structures of the Roman world.
• Like Matthew, Luke swallows up Mark – but not
• Uses a little more than half of Mark. (Matthew
used about 90 percent of Mark; 610 of 690
• Perhaps dissatisfied with Mark for various
• Like Matthew, uses “Q” – and usually closer to
• But has his own independent sources: nativity
narrative, parables, other short narratives (see
• Used the Septuagint translation of Hebrew
“Luke the painter”
• In middle ages there was a tradition that
Luke was a painter.
• (In fact he became the patron saint of
painters: Accademia di San Luca in
• He wasn’t, but the tradition says
something about his art.
• Painting of “St. Luke painting the Virgin” by
Rogier van der Weyden (Flemish, 14001464)
Luke’s art
The consummate literary artist among the evangelists.
Loves to create a sense of relation or contrast among
For example, infancy narrative has two annunciations,
two births, carefully woven together.
At circumcision the infant Jesus is met by two prophets,
one a man and the other a woman, who give two
complementary prophecies.
Luke has Jesus go from Pilate to Herod and back to
Pilate at his passion (23: 6-12)
Luke tells of the good thief and the bad thief, who react
in contrasting ways to Jesus on the cross (23: 39-43).
In Peter’s denial of Jesus, he has Jesus’ eyes meet
Peter’s (22: 61).
Though not really a painter himself, Luke’s scenes are
probably the most painted ones in the NT.
Hebrew Scriptures as source for
• Luke actually seems to start deeply in the Hebrew
Scriptures, story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
• Modeled on story of Elkanah and Hannah in 1 Samuel (1
to 2: 10): barrenness, promise of child, fulfillment.
• Mary’s psalm when she meets Elizabeth is modeled on
Hannah’s at 2: 1-10.
• Zechariah’s poem/prophecy based on various psalms
(See psalms 18, 92, 132).
• Luke’s gospel begins and ends in the Temple.
• Various other incidents in Luke suggest moments in
Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., widow’s son at Nain (2 Kings, 4:
Why this concern with Hebrew
• Not a legal relationship for Luke, as it is for
• Luke wants to show divine purposes emerging
out of Israel, out of the Temple in Jerusalem,
spreading into the world around it, then into the
cities of Asia Minor, into Greece, then Rome.
• But everything begins in Jerusalem.
• An “epic” story – movement from one place, one
city, to another.
• Luke’s story ends in Paul’s journey to Rome . . .
• . . . and enacts an integral part of this “epic.”
Luke’s infancy narratives
• In fact we get two infancy narratives, John’s and
Jesus’, carefully woven together.
• Contrast of annunciations to Zechariah, to Mary.
• In Mark the adult John recognizes the adult
Jesus; in Luke the recognition is pre-natal!
• In fact John “quickens” when Mary’s voice is
• Luke's Hebraic message: the two children who
are to be born will represent the continuation
and renewal of God's promises to Israel.
• This the theme of Zechariah’s “psalm.”
Luke’s nativity
• Shares with Matthew’s account only names of parents,
virginal conception, birth in Bethlehem.
• But has entirely different account of how Jesus comes to
be born in Bethlehem.
• Uses historical locators, decree of Augustus, Quirinius
as governor of Syria.
• Major problems with these locators (Quirinius was not
legate before CE 6-7, when there was a regional, not
universal, census).
• But if Luke gets details wrong, the point is rather the
locating of the event in Roman and Hebraic time (Herod
in 1:1, Augustus and Quirinius in 2: 1, Tiberius an others
in 3: 1).
• The shepherds and Israel: 2: 8-21.
• Very different tone of narrative in comparison to
• Luke’s narrative creates Christmas?
Continued relevance of Temple
• Infant Jesus is taken to Temple for purification
• Greeted by prophetic figure of Simeon, who
comes to Temple
• And by a woman prophet Anna -- an equal
opportunity prophet? -- who lives in Temple.
• Then the family returns to Temple when Jesus is
12, a significant age.
• “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s
• 2: 52 echoes 1 Samuel 2: 26. As is said of the
child prophet Samuel, Jesus grows “in wisdom
and in years in divine and human favor.”