Category Archives: Muller & Nielsen: Luke’s Literary Creativity


2017-06-14

Acts as a Rewriting of Gospels and Paul’s Letters, part 2

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from part 1…..

Expanding the Foundation Story

Notice how the author of Luke-Acts prepares for his second volume (Acts) from the outset of his new gospel:

  • Luke extends the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam and God themselves. Jesus no longer (as in Matthew) is contextualized within the Abrahamic family but comes with more universal credentials.

In the gospel Jesus is clearly the authority figure but our author manoeuvres the narrative to replace Jesus with the Holy Spirit as the new authority in Acts. To do so, Luke actually contrives a new concept of the Holy Spirit, at least one that is different from the spirit we read about in Paul’s letters and the Gospel of John. (That’s another topic of its own that I may write about soon, examining two works cited by Müller, Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit by Engberg-Pedersen, 2010 and “It is the Spirit That Gives Life”: A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in John’s Gospel by Buch-Hansen, 2010.)

The Holy Spirit to Jesus Becomes the Holy Spirit to the Church

Notice next how the author repeats the motif of the Holy Spirit with which he began Jesus’ work in Acts to begin the Church’s work.

As Jesus at his baptism became endowed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3.21-22), thus the church is also first established at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. (p. 106)

To extrapolate from Müller’s work, I wonder if we have here an explanation for why in the Gospel of Luke the account of Jesus’ baptism is so incidentally presented (as an afterthought). The focus of Luke’s narrative is the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus through prayer. In Luke 3:21-22

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (NKJV)

Luke’s image is repeated so it appears like two columns side by side: as prayer and the descent of the Holy Spirit opened Jesus’ ministry and gave him the authority, so prayer and the Holy Spirit opened and authorized the ministry of the Church in Acts.

This is but one of several demonstrations of how Acts is being built out of material in the gospel.

We saw in the previous post that other evangelists shoehorned subsequent church situations (the law, gentiles) into the story of Jesus. Luke-Acts delays the completion of the foundation story, however. The foundation story is not complete until “the new Israel” is established as the church is withdrawn from “Judaism”. A series of historical steps in the life of the church replace the sayings of the earthly Jesus (as in Mark and Matthew) as the explanation for the church’s final stance on the Mosaic Law.

The Holy Spirit remains the new authority throughout Acts.

As Passover was set as the time for the covenant made by Jesus in the gospel so Pentecost was introduced as the time of the covenant with the church in Acts, Pentecost being in the Judean religion a feast of covenant renewal. With the Holy Spirit come all the fulfillments of  Scripture: new hearts, obedience, and proofs of the resurrection as promised in the Scripture, and proofs that the Scripture had been fulfilled with the messiah son of David reigning on God’s throne.

Luke’s gospel concluded with Jesus pointing to all the scriptures that had been “fulfilled” in his life, death and resurrection and Acts opens with all the scriptures being fulfilled now with the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church.

The Twelve to Israel first

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2017-06-13

Acts as a Rewriting of Gospels and Paul’s Letters, part 1

by Neil Godfrey

This post selects a few of the highlights from Mogens Müller’s chapter in Luke’s Literary Creativity (2016) in which he presents a case for Acts being a “biblical rewriting of the gospels and the letters of Paul”. I omit several important questions that his thesis raises and that he addresses in the same chapter, attempting to focus here exclusively on some of the indicators that Acts could be such a rewriting.

Müller accepts the possibility that Luke-Acts was written well into the second century, possibly even as late as the 140s, as a revised foundational story for the church. Such a late date should not be a problem, Müller suggests, if we no longer accept that the author did not use Q as one of his sources but knew of and included both Matthew and even possibly John as among the previous lives of Jesus that he was critical of in his introduction. (For other arguments that Luke and Acts in their current canonical form were a mid second century product see the archive on Tyson‘s book and links within those posts to related archives.) Müller even points to recent scholarship that allows for the work of Papias as a possible source for the author of Luke-Acts.

Inclusion of the Non-Jewish World

If Paul’s letters are our oldest surviving Christian documents and the authors of our first gospels, Mark and Matthew, needed to find a way to explain how gentiles came to be incorporated into a church supposedly founded by a Jewish teacher in Galilee, we know they found the solution by creating “proleptic episodes and teaching” in their stories of Jesus. read more »


2017-04-12

The Gospel of Luke As Creative Rewriting of the Gospel of Matthew – Hasert’s study

by Neil Godfrey

The following outline of ways the Gospel of Luke appears to rewrite the Gospel of Matthew is taken from a chapter by Vadim Wittkowsky, “Luke Uses/Rewrites Matthew: A Survey of the Nineteenth-Century Research” in Luke’s Literary Creativity (ed by Mogens Müller and Jesper Tan Nielsen, 2016). I focus here on just one of the authors discussed by Wittkowsky, Christian Adolf Hasert (1795-1864), who published a detailed analysis of the relationship between the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.


Luke’s Literary Creativity is a collection of essays from a 2014 conference on Luke’s creativity held in Roskilde, Denmark; Wittkowsky (photo) is listed there as based at Humboldt University, Berlin.

Hasert’s analysis indicates that the author of Luke’s Gospel was a “Paulinist” who objected to Matthew’s anti-Pauline views.

Every change, every omission or adding of details in parables, sayings and stories are of pure Pauline character (Wittkowsky, p. 11 – presenting Hasert’s summary of his research)

On the futility, impossibility, of seeking salvation by good works

Note, for example, 2 Corinthians 3:5,

By ourselves we are not qualified in any way to claim that we can do anything. Rather, God makes us qualified. (God’s Word translation)

That’s not what we see being taught by Jesus in Matthew 5:48,

Be perfect (τέλειοι), therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NIV)

Luke changes “perfect” to “merciful” in Luke 6:36,

Be merciful (οἰκτίρμονες), just as your Father is merciful. (NIV)

For Luke one can only be like God insofar as one is merciful; perfection is out of the question. Notice also the concluding thought Luke adds to the parable of the dutiful servants in Luke 17:7-10,

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Recall the parable of the Great Banquet in Matthew that concludes with the king ordering the poorly dressed guest to be cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:11-13); Luke’s version of the same parable (14:16-24) drops that miserable ending.

Recall further Luke 16:15,

He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.

— a saying that might be interpreted as a snub to the teaching of Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew’s Jesus instructs the disciples to search out for someone “worthy” with whom they might stay in a town they are visiting:

“And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy (ἄξιός) in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. (Matthew 10:11, NASB)

Luke, on the other hand, has Jesus merely require that his disciples stay put in the one place wherever they visit (Luke 9:4). read more »


2017-01-13

The Gospels as Creative Rewriting (like rewritten biblical books)

by Neil Godfrey

Back in 2010 the University of Copenhagen published news of a project to “map the development of the four gospels in order to establish that the Gospel of Luke is not, as believed so far, a contemporary of the Gospel of Matthew, and that the shared content of the two is not to be explained by the existence of a lost scripture [i.e. Q], but by the fact that the author of St. Luke’s Gospel used St. Matthew’s Gospel as well as that of St. Mark as basis for his own scripture.” See Scholars will explode the myth of the New Testament.

(For yet another work by Morgens Müller discussed on this blog, see Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus.)

A Facebook reader reminded me of this post a few days ago and asked me what the outcome of this project had been. One outcome appears to be Luke’s Literary Creativity – a work edited by Mogens Müller and Jesper Tang Nielsen that I look forward to reading in the coming months. Meanwhile I can discuss another essay by Mogens Müller that appears to be related to the same project,

The New Testament gospels as Biblical rewritings : On the question of referentiality

By “the question of referentiality” Müller means the question of “whether the story told refers to real incidents.” To what, exactly, do the narrative’s episodes refer? How much is historical? How much fiction? Are our attempts to make such black and white distinctions anachronistic? Müller draws upon Ulrich Luz’s Studies in Matthew in which the gospel is compared with Greek literature that intends to reference and describe “historical” or “factual” events. Luz believes that the author of the Gospel of Matthew

must have known that in his writing, to some extent, he reshaped the Jesus-tradition or even invented it. (p.22)

Müller’s article led me to Luz’s study but it soon became obvious I would not be able to merge the two discussions into a single post. Luz’s book requires separate treatment so I will restrict this post to Müller’s article and a few of his references to Luz. The argument that arises is that the Gospel of Matthew is a re-writing of the Gospel of Mark much as

  • 1 and 2 Chronicles are re-writings of the books of Samuel and Kings,
  • or as Deuteronomy is a rewriting (possibly in King Josiah’s time?) of the Covenant narrative found in Exodus-Numbers,
  • or as Jubilees is a rewriting of Genesis-Exodus,
  • or as the Genesis Apocryphon is a rewriting of the patriarchal narratives in Genesis,
  • or as Pseudo-Philo’s Book of Biblical Antiquities and
  • Josephus’s first eleven books of Antiquities are rewritings of biblical narratives.

Some scholars have even seen parts of Genesis 1-11 as a rewriting of the Epic of Gilgamesh. A re-writing can be found in the same book with a single narrative repeated in different ways: the Abraham and Isaac / Sarah and Rebecca narratives contain three narratives that are all duplicates – Gen. 12:10-20; 20; 26:1-11 – changing to gradually conform more and more closely to Mosaic law.

What is going on here? Why do authors feel at liberty to take existing texts and change them here and there, keeping the original outline more or less in tact but feeling free to add details and to omit others, and changing the way some stories are told so that they present readers with a new lesson that contradicts the original one?

What is going through the authors’ minds as they are reading Genesis or the Gospel of Mark and deciding what elements to change or omit and where to inject new material? Can they really be thinking that Genesis or the Gospel is a true account of historical events that must be preserved for posterity in the way a Greek or Roman historian felt a desire to preserve for posterity the best and most authoritative account of a people’s past?

To try to answer these questions it is useful to identify the characteristics of a “rewritten bible” and here Müller uses the nine characteristics singled out by Philip S. Alexander on the basis of Jubilees, Genesis Apocryphon, Pseudo-Philo’s Book of Biblical Antiquities and Josephus’s Antiquities.

  1. “Rewritten Bible” texts are narratives following a sequential chronological order;
  2. On their face, they are free-standing compositions replicating the form of the biblical books on which they are based;
  3. Despite superficial independence of form, these texts are not intended to replace, or to supersede the Bible;
  4. “Rewritten Bible” texts cover a substantial portion of the Bible;
  5. They retain the biblical order of events but can be very selective in what they represent;
  6. The intention is to produce an interpretative reading of Scripture;
  7. The narrative form means, in effect, that they can impose only a single interpretation on the original;
  8. The narrative form also precludes making clear their exegetical reasoning;
  9. “Rewritten Bible” texts draw on non-biblical sources, whether oral or written.

Müller’s conclusion:

This means that rewritten Bible texts, by their very existence, document that the texts they are rewriting have not exclusively been understood as being referential with regard to the events which have really taken place. This would have precluded the freedom of their “rewriters.”

Apparently, they are foremost perceived as theological texts, not so much aiming at information as at preaching.

Put another way: In their rewriting they intend to mirror the heavenly forces that, according to these authors, are active in their readers’ lives. Thus it is this “truth” and not some “historical” fact, they are aiming at describing. (p. 23, my bold and formatting in all quotations)

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