Oct 032013

questionmarkIn my last post, I drew together some lines of thought. (1) The Gospel of Luke’s preface says the writer is putting things ‘orderly’ or ‘in order.’ (2) The central section of the Gospel of Luke exhibits a structure of chiasm (according to some scholars) and disagrees with the order of Mark/Matthew. (3) Some writers in the ancient world used such literary structure to make their text memorable to those hearing it read.

From this, I concluded that the author of Luke-Acts intentionally ordered his narrative to make it memorable, that this is part of the interpretation of the preface, that this explains his treatment of the other synoptics, and lastly that Luke-Acts did all this so that his work could stand on its own, as it were, as an important text to be read widely, without having a claim to apostolic authorship.

  • This short essay moved from premises, stated and unstated, to a conclusion.
  • The conclusion is a plausible but not necessary consequence of the premises.
  • The stated premises are not beyond reproach (e.g., chiasmus or no?).
  • The unstated premises are a bit shaky too (e.g., the text of Luke-Acts, any synoptic problem solution).

To say that a lot of writing on the New Testament follows this kind of pattern is a bit of an understatement.

There is more to the problem of Luke and Acts than first meets the eye…

Looking at the text of Luke-Acts, we might ask:

  • First, were Luke and Acts written by the same person? (Ask the question even if we think we know the answer.)
  • Second, and related to the first, are there any alterations to the text of Luke-Acts for which we have no manuscript evidence? (Ask the question even if we think there’s no way to know the answer.)
  • Third, and obviously, what is the solution to the Synoptic Problem? Who wrote first? Who used whom, and how?
  • Fourth, when would we say it was written? You can get the answer 65 AD, 80-100 AD, early second century, or mid-second century, depending on whom you ask.
  • Fifth, why does the Acts of the Apostles end how it does? (It’s questions like these that show how rarely “evangelical” and “critical” scholarship intersect in their interests beyond matters of textual criticism and interpretation. What one finds endlessly fascinating, the other so often finds trivial.)
  • Sixth, what about those “we sections” of Acts? Literary device (V.K. Robbins), inherited from a diary, false affectation, or evidence of being a companion of Paul? Pick your poison.
  • Seventh, was the preface addressed to a real Theophilus? Can we identify him?
  • Eighth, was the title “the gospel according to Luke” originally attached? (This question can be treated separately from whether the other gospels originally had their titles.)
  • Ninth, was the author male or female? (The latter has been argued.)
  • Tenth, where was the author writing from? (Geographically, that is.)

These are just some of the problems (clearly, not all) of Luke-Acts internal to the text. And externally?

  • Did Papias know Luke, vice-versa, or neither? Dennis MacDonald recently argued that Luke knew about Papias.
  • What about its relationship to the Antiquities of Josephus? Richard Carrier argues that the author knew that text, an idea also explored by Steve Mason.
  • Irenaeus says that Valentinus made use of the Gospel of Luke (for the ’15th year of Tiberius’ and the ’30 years old’ bits). Okay, this might not be a problem, but it’s worth mentioning.
  • Justin Martyr says that the memoirs of the apostles were written by the apostles and those who followed them. He quotes a gospel, so-called. He seems to have either Matthew and Luke or, as often argued, some text (harmony?) based on them.
  • Further references exist in the Muratorian Canon, Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, etc.
  • And that big elephant in the room, Marcion (who, allegedly, “mutilated” Luke to make his Gospel).

Marcion! This guy. He’s as bad as Papias.

What do they have in common? Marcion, like Papias, doesn’t survive in extant manuscripts. He’s known only through quotations and references. At the same time, both Marcion and Papias are some of our most important evidence for the reception of the New Testament texts in the years before Justin Martyr.

Marcion and Papias can feel like ink blot tests. Those investigating seem to come to almost as many opinions regarding them as there are investigators.

I’m okay with not knowing all the answers. That’s to be expected. The evidence is uneven, and it’s our job to know what we don’t know as much as it is our job to say what we do know.

But sometimes it feels like, as soon as you get one answer, ten questions jump out to ambush you.

I guess if we didn’t like wrestling with difficult questions, we wouldn’t be here, would we?

  11 Responses to “The Difficulties of Luke-Acts”

  1. My answers according to my research:
    1) Yes, most likely.
    2) Possibly, there are some discontinuities in gLuke & Acts betraying some interpolations or editing.
    3) GMark was written first. gLuke & gMatthew used gMark & Q. gJohn used gMark, then also gLuke, then also Acts.
    4) Around 80-90
    5) a) to have Paul still in his prime (not executed yet) and triumphant after his epic saga to the then big apple.
    b) to suggest Acts was written well before the events of 70CE (well covered in gLuke!) and also the gospel.
    6) The WE sections are here to suggest the author (rightly or falsely) got her info directly from companions of Paul.
    7) Theophilus might have been the name or the nickname of a VIP in the Roman world, suspected to be interested into Judaism &/or Christianity and most importantly, known to die well before the events of 70CE.
    8) Most likely not. That was done not before around 180.
    9) Definitively a female.
    10) Definitively from Philippi, Macedonia.

    Other issues:
    I think Papias knew about gLuke. “Luke” knew about Josepus’ Wars but not Antiquities. Valentinus & Basilides used gLuke. Justin Martyr used also “gospels” plural and made a distinction when quoting material only in gLuke (as not written by the apostles).
    Marcion used gLuke and made some changes on it showing Marcion’s gospel was written after gLuke.

    Cordially, Bernard

    • Thanks for the reply, Bernard. It’s good to see you.

      Your idea that the author is attempting to imply that the work is older, through the ending and connection to Theophlius, is certainly interesting, but I don’t think that the ending can carry that weight, and I have a little discussion of it on my Acts page.

      • From your comments on Acts, I gather you take that Theophilus as the true patron of “Luke”.
        “Luke” might have pretended that, but it is very unlikely that was true. Any well educated man in the Roman world would have jumped in dismay when reading that two Galileans (including a very pregnant woman) made a journey to Bethlehem, Judea, for a census because Joseph thought he was a descendant of David. Totally unrealistic! And all over the OT, it is Jerusalem and never Bethlehem which is considered the city of David. And that woman, not even the wife yet, looks to be brought to Bethlehem and give birth here for no other reasons than to fulfill some prophecies. No, you do not write that garbage to somebody in power or else!
        Cordially, Bernard

        • I’m not so sure about that, but thanks for adding your perspective all the same.

          • I wrote: “Theophilus might have been the name or the nickname of a VIP in the Roman world, suspected to be interested into Judaism &/or Christianity and most importantly, known to die well before the events of 70CE.”
            I found one Roman VIP who fits the bill:
            Gallio, proconsul of Achaia
            Saving Paul from the Jews in Corinth (‘Acts’) could have been interpreted as him being pro-Christian. Gallio died around 65 CE.
            Cordially, Bernard

  2. I take gLuke as the least mysterious of all the canonical gospel. It’s dating, authorship & location of first audience is particularly clear. BTW, I forgot to mention that “Luke” was working from a copy of gMark with a big chunk missing.
    For most of my answers, here and on my first posting, I got explanations either from my website or from my blog.
    Are you interested of knowing the specific webpages and blog posts?
    Cordially, Bernard

  3. Bernard´s points (from his blog) about the female author are very good and impressive. Nevertheless my impression is that the author of Luke 1, 2 is male, cause the message from the angel Gabriel to Mary and the Song of Mary is rather male. It´s not the way a woman writer would speak about pregnancy and birth. Also no little word about the social situation of the young mother (even the old macho Matt bring it up – Mt 1, 19 -24; 2, 13-14; 2, 19-21 !!!).

    • The two passages you mentioned are in Luke 1 & 2, which is already full of pro-feminist and pro-Mary elements. Why more?
      The angel Gabriel’s words to Mary are few, but very complimentary to Mary.
      The Song of Mary is not about Mary. However, 1:46b-49 specifies “From now on all generations will call me [Mary] blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me”
      That certainly put Mary on a pedestal.
      The verses of Matthew actually do not say much about the social situation of the Mary (except that she is a subordinate of Joseph). Luke described her as rather liberated, with Joseph as only a sidekick,
      Cordially, Bernard

      • Yes, I see it all, Bernard. It´s only the question about a female author or a female audience or to honour the women. I think that Matt´s birth story is for a male audience, he protrays Jesus as a son of men (of Abraham, David and Joseph) and the main character in his birth story is Joseph. Matt takes the angel repeatedly to put the gentle Joseph in the centre of the story. Mary and the little baby have only minor characters 😉 So I would say, that Luke´s story is in contrast for a more female audience or to honour the women, but “he” is not a woman.

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