The origin and meaning of the Emmaus Road narrative in Luke

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by Neil Godfrey

The Emmaus Road narrative in Luke 24 raises many questions. Why is the hitherto unknown Cleopas one of those who appears to be the first to meet the resurrected Jesus? Who is his unnamed companion? Why does the narrative conclude with a statement that Jesus has appeared to Simon when no such appearance is described? Is this really a reference to Simon Peter or some other Simon? Do the two travellers tell the eleven apostles about the appearance to Simon or is it the eleven apostles who are telling the two travellers that Jesus has appeared to Simon?

The account is found in Luke 24:13-35.

The best explanation I can think of is based principally on the problems faced by an author wanting to introduce relatively late in the life of the church a brand new narrative involving a central character. This leads to an look at the logic of the narrative of the gospel and an attempt to understand its structure through the standards of popular story-telling of the day, as well as in the context of similar well-known Jewish stories. It also considers the possibilities that the text found in an alternative manuscript, the Codex Bezae, contains some elements of the original story.

Having lost appreciation for this context of the original gospel, subsequent literal and historical approaches to understanding the nature and intent of the episode have been lost, and it has been this far “too serious” approach that has raised the interpretative and textual problems. Those problems vanish when the ending is read as being constructed by the tools of ancient popular fiction.

Does Simon in the Emmaus Road narrative refer to the Simon Peter?

1. The most natural way to understand the reference to Simon in Luke 24 is that it is a reference to Peter. The claim would have little significance otherwise. Peter is introduced in the early chapters of the gospel as by being repeatedly named Simon (4:38; 5:3, 4, 5, 8; 6:14; . During the Passover Jesus doubly addressed him as “Simon, Simon” and set up for the readers a narrative tension over him that would lead them to anticipate reading a resolution to a fateful struggle with Satan. “Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail, and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren” (22:31-32). The reader sees Satan have his way with Peter in the threefold denial and is left waiting to read of his rehabilitation. Readers are thus led to naturally assume the Simon spoken about in Luke 24 is Simon Peter. It would be a very strange anticlimax if it was announced that some other and otherwise virtually unknown Simon (or even Simon Zelotes? Simon the Pharisee? Simon the Cyrenian?) was the subject of the grand announcement of having been the first to see the resurrected Jesus. That Simon Peter is the one to have first seen the resurrected Jesus resolves the narrative tension set up by Jesus on the Passover night (22:31-32).

The problem facing an author hoping to introduce a new narrative

2. Before Luke was written there existed no narrative about the resurrected Jesus appearing first and exclusively to Peter.

3. This would mean that the author of Luke 24 is the first we know of to make reference to the resurrected Jesus appearing to Peter in the context of a written narrative.

4. If the author of Luke plans to be the first to introduce a new narrative about the leader of the Twelve Apostles, he would need to introduce the narrative in a way that also goes some way to explaining why it had not been heard before. The author of Luke knew and copied much of the gospel of Mark, so a comparison with Mark’s technique is instructive. The author of Mark’s gospel had a similar problem with being the first to introduce the story of the empty tomb: by concluding with the visitors to the tomb being too frightened to say a word about their experience, he can justify to his readers why no-one knew that story before. The same author likewise manages to explain in his narrative why the story of Jesus’ glorified appearance to Peter, James and John was mistakenly believed to be a post-resurrection appearance: by having Jesus instruct Peter, James and John not to say a word about it till after the resurrection. (Weeden) Introducing a new narrative about a central event or character to an audience who already possesses a narrative poses special problems for an author. The author needs to be able to why they hadn’t heard it before.

5. There is another interesting comparison between the gospels of Luke and Mark that also bears on the Emmaus Road narrative. Luke 7:36-40 is another narrative where the name of a leading protagonist is delayed until a critical juncture, and again, as in Luke 24, it is introduced nested within the narrated speech of one of the characters. See how the delay of the name adds to the narrative impact, which is surely the reason for the author teasingly holding it back for so long:

Comparison with the Gospel of Mark
The author of Luke has copied much of Mark and re-written some of it, too. Mark’s scene of the woman anointing Jesus’ in the house of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3-9) was known to the audience of Luke’s gospel. So when they attend a hearing of Luke and hear of Jesus entering the house of an unnamed Pharisee, and then suddenly they hear of a woman anointing him there, of course they are going to be thinking: “Hey, what’s this about? This sounds like something that was supposed to happen at Simon the Leper’s house.” So they listen intrigued. The author of Luke knows he has their attention. They are looking for points of similarity and difference, and wondering. And the points of contact and reflection abound: sitting at the table, the alabastar flask, the fragrant oil, the criticism of the onlookers, Jesus’ attack on the criticisms and defence of the woman. But there is something else that we also find in the Luke 24 Road to Emmaus story:

Then one of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him. And he went in to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman . . . knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, [and] brought an alabastar flask of fragrant oil. . . Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he spoke to himself . . . And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon . . .” (7:36-40)

The audience is hooked by Luke’s echoes of the familiar. And by the differences. Then the author strikes home one more comparison at the critical juncture when Jesus begins his theologically charged response: the unnamed Pharisee does have a name after all. The author has saved it for this critical moment. And the name is (again) Simon. The audience realize they are not mistaken. That was the same name of the owner of the house where Jesus was anointed in Mark. The mention of the same personal name leaves no doubt that the author is drawing attention to the fact he is retelling another story they already know. Audience thinks: “This gospel really is recasting that other story. What is the difference between a leper and the Pharisee?”

There are also obvious differences between the narrative of the anointing in Simon the Pharisee’s house and the Road to Emmaus, but I will return to this delayed and narratively embedded (that is, wrapped in a character’s speech and not directly introduced by the narrator) mention of a key name later.

Drawing on popular Jewish stories

6. The Road to Emmaus story contains easily recognizable literary motifs associated with similar stories in Genesis and Judges and apparently recycled in nonbiblical narratives. One author has even suggested that around the middle of the second century Justin Martyr may have adapted the Emmaus Road account to shape the story of his own conversion to Christianity. In the Dialogue with Trypho Justin describes meeting an unnamed stranger while on a walk, and how the stranger engaged him in a discussion of the most weighty matters on his mind at the time, and then disappeared leaving Justin deeply moved with life-changing spiritual insight.

In Genesis Abraham sees three strangers on the road and exercises hospitality by inviting them in to eat with him; it emerges in the course of the narrative that the three strangers were angelic messengers, and one is even named “the Lord” (Genesis 18). Then two of those same strangers travel to Sodom where Lot has to work to persuade them to stay at his place before continuing their journey. It is late in the day, as in the Emmaus road story. He is unaware of their identity until later in the narrative (Genesis 19). Joshua also encountered a stranger he assumed was a fellow mortal at first but who went on to reveal himself as a divine being (Joshua 5:13-15).

When Jacob was travelling the sun set (early Jewish legends explained the pointed reference in Genesis 28:11 by saying God had caused it to set prematurely to force Jacob to stop there) and he had a dream that he was in the presence of God. God spoke to him there. And the name of the place was originally known as Luz — in the Septuagint it is Oulammaus. In the Codex Bezae this is the name used for Emmaus in Luke 24. In an early reading of Luke (perhaps the earliest) the Emmaus road revelation happened at the same place that Jacob dreamed he was visited by God.

In Judges we read about an unnamed woman who meets a “man of God”, but whom the audience knows is an angelic messenger. Her husband is named, Manoah, and he prays to God to send the same man again but this time “to us” — both of them. So God sent him again but only to his unnamed partner. She had to call Manoah to meet him. The couple, Manoah and his wife, press the “man of God” who speaks to them of divine promises to come in and stay with them in their house. A sacrifice is offered and the “man of God” reveals his true identity by disappearing before their eyes carried up into heaven by the flames and smoke of the sacrifice. (Judges 13)

This story in Judges contains many of the motifs used in Luke 24:

a. Two people receive a visit from a supernatural being.

b. Only one of the two persons is named. How readers would love to know the name of the both – in both stories. The authors of both are in some way playing with their readers’ curiosity. (Readers are told the names of both parties in all other stories where an angel comes to announce a special birth.)

c. The supernatural being speaks of divine plans and knowledge.

d. The couple invite this stranger to stay with them and eat.

e. A meal or sacrifice is begun.

f. Before the stranger eats he miraculously vanishes before the couple’s eyes

g. By witnessing this disappearing trick the couple are made aware of the identity of their guest

h. The couple speak to each other about their experience and what they have just seen and express their emotional responses.

7. One feature all of these stories of a divine emissaries visiting one or two mortals share is anonymity of at least one of the central characters. One of the rhetorical effects of this is to enhance the element of an appropriate mystery about the episode.

8. The similarities between the Emmaus Road story and those in Genesis and Judges strongly suggest the story in Luke is a literary creation, cut and pasted and edited from the earlier narratives. These obvious literary similarities obviate the need for postulating, without evidence, some other source such as an oral tradition that had been unknown to other gospel authors.

9. The gospel of Luke borrows from other stories from Genesis as is evident when comparing the angelic visits and miraculous births of John the Baptist and Jesus with the stories of similar visits relating to miraculous births. The points of contact between Luke’s birth narratives and those concerning Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel, are many:

a. parents are called righteous in Gen.26:5 and Luke 1:6;

b. mothers were barren in Gen.11:30 and Luke 1:7;

c. parents were old in Gen.18:11 and Luke 1:7;

d. angels speak to a doubting father in Gen.18:11 and Luke 1:11;

e. angels tells fathers nothing is impossible in Gen.18:14 and Luke 1:37;

f. while in the wombs it was foretold the older would serve the younger in Gen.25:19-23 and Luke 1;

g. infants leapt in the womb in Gen.25:22 and Luke 1:44;

h. Rachel’s words in Gen.30:23 are spoken by Elizabeth in Luke 1:25;

i. mothers expressed their lowly status and said they would be called ‘blessed’ in Gen.29:30, 13 and Luke 1:48;

j. Jacob at Peniel, sees God and lives in Gen.32:30, as do Zechariah and Anna the daughter of Peniel in Luke 2:30, 36.

(List adapted from Spong, 1996.)

This supports the argument that the author of Luke was returning to these sources of stories about early Israel again at the gospel’s conclusion.

The significance of the name Emmaus

10. Another contact between the Emmaus Road narrative and Genesis is the name of destination of the journey itself. Our texts read “Emmaus”. But according to the Codex Bezae manuscript the village was Oulammaus. This, according to the Greek Septuagint version of Genesis, is the original name of the place where God appeared in a dream to Jacob when he was travelling. “And he called the name of that place House of God (Beth-el), but it had been previously Oulammaus” (Genesis 28:19). The Hebrew version says “but it had been previously known as Luz”. The Greek translators took the whole phrase “known as Luz” as the place name. The “L” in Luz was changed in the process to a second “M” following common phonetic transformation. (Read-Heimerdinger, 2002).

What happened at Oulammaus to Jacob was used to resonate details in Luke 24. God visited Jacob in a dream he had while sleeping on a “rock” (petros/peter, cephas) that he had set for his pillow. Jewish legends subsequently focussed on this rock. It was a popular topic for Jewish folklore.

11. The form of the Greek word for “named” that indicates “a name by which a person or place is known”, possibly in the sense of saying “Let us call this place or person such and such”, is “onoma”. In our (Alexandrian) text the Greek “onoma” is used to indicate the name of the village Emmaus. If the name “Oulammaus” was not recognized by the scribe of the Alexandrian text he may have substituted the more familiar “Emmaus”, and introduced it with “onoma”, “Let’s name the village Emmaus”. (Reid-Heimerdinger and Rius-Camps, 2002)

12. If the Codex Bezae contains the original here — which given that it follows the LXX as does Luke elsewhere, and the fact that it makes more sense of an otherwise unknown place, seems likely — then the Emmaus Road narrative is embedded even more firmly in the literary motifs of the a supernatural being appearing to a mortal devotee or pair of devotees. Emmaus, or Oulammaus, evokes the place where God appeared to Jacob as he was travelling away from his home.

Other differences in the Codex Bezae

13. If we look further at the Bezan version of Luke 24 we see other small but potentially significant differences from the Alexandrian text behind our canonical Luke 24. One of these is in Luke 24:19. Codex Bezae describes the conversation happening between Jesus and Cleopas, not between Jesus and both of the travellers.

And one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, not knowing the things which are come to pass in it in these days? But he said unto him; What things? . . . (Whiston’s translation of Luke 24:18-19 from the Codex Bezae)

Compare our Alexandrian text: And he said unto them; What things? . .

14. The Bezan manuscript gives a reason for, or at least points to significance in, the naming of Cleopas. The conversation that follows is specifically between him and Jesus, not between the pair and Jesus.

15. The word used in Luke to introduce Cleopas possibly indicates that Cleopas is not the real name of the character. The Bezan text uses the same word, “onoma”, to introduce the name Cleopas that the Alexandrian text uses to introduce Emmaus (point 11 above). This raises the possibility that it was originally understood that Cleopas was not the real name, but a nickname or other substitute name. “Let’s call him Cleopas”. (Reid-Heimerdinger and Rius-Camps, 2002)

16. The introduction of the name Cleopas is intriguing here. It is ascribed to one of the two “of them” — referring back to the eleven apostles:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles . . . Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus . . . (Luke 24:10-13)

The link between “two of them” and the apostles is even stronger in the Bezan text which omits verse 12 about Peter’s visit to the tomb (which some commentators see as an interpolation from the Gospel of John), and also omits “And behold” which wedges deeper the break between the two sentences:

Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary [the mother] of James, and other [women] with them, told these things unto the apostles, two of the apostles. And these words seemed to them as an idle tale, and they believed them not. But there were two of them who went that same day to a village whose name was Oulammaus . . . (Whiston’s translation of Luke 24:10-13 from the Codex Bezae)

This suggests that the two travellers are two of the apostles. (Or at least one apostle and one of the “other women with them”.)

The Codex Bezae contains another pointer identifying the two travellers with the apostles. When Cleopas is telling Jesus about earlier visitors to the tomb, he says those visitors were “with us” and he slips into the first person:

And certain of them who were with us, went to the sepulchre, and found as the women said, But him we have not seen. (Whiston’s translation of Luke 24:24 from the Codex Bezae)

The narrative’s coherence

17. So far all the names in Luke 24 are known to the readers from earlier references in the gospel (c.f. Luke 8:2-3). So the introduction of a new name in the last chapter is arresting. What readers are expecting is a resolution that involves the names they know from the earlier parts of the narrative, especially Peter. He has denied Jesus three times as Jesus implied he would. The audience now wants and waits for his rehabilitation which Jesus also implied would follow. The logic of the narrative would point towards an appearance to Peter at the end. But instead, we are introduced to an otherwise unknown Cleopas from among the twelve (or now eleven) disciples, a name that was never on their list. The mystery is enhanced by naming only the one who was engaged in the actual conversation with Jesus, at least according the Codex Bezae.

18. The length of space given to this narrative in comparison with its bracketing accounts of the experiences of the women and the rest of the apostles implies that it is at least of equal significance. It is in fact longer than either of its bookend narratives. It would be strange indeed if its central character was a complete unknown, given that the people in the two wrapper narratives are all well-known.

Comparing popular story-telling

19. At this point it is worth observing how Luke’s ending is so similar to popular fictional narratives of the time. A most common motif was the resolution of the narrative through a gradual series of recognition scenes at the end. Throughout so many plots of novels character’s identities had become confused, changed, or lost. One reads them with a sense that at this point both author and audience are on the point of laughing with tears of joy as the author drags out the suspense by sometimes tossing in added confusion and mistakes to tease and titillate the readers. The Odyssey (a work all who learned to write Greek would have been familiar with from their education) even famously has Odysseus deliberately give his father, who fails to recognize him after 19 years, a false name, Eperitus! The tension is pressed to breaking point. What if the father reacts badly to the one he thinks is a stranger?

The final chapter in Luke complies with the popular classic series of recognition denouements.

1. First the women come to the tomb and see it empty, but encounter two angels who explain the situation. The women tell the apostles but scepticism remains.

2. Secondly two people, presumably from among the apostles, actually meet the resurrected Jesus but fail to recognize him until the moment he vanishes. They, too, return to tell the rest of the apostles.

(Though the “rest of the apostles” are labelled “the eleven”, one might well see this as a technical term for the apostles as a collective or formal group, just as “the twelve” also could be. So even if the one or two of the pair on the Emmaus road were from that company, they could still be said to reporting back to “the eleven”.)

3. Finally, this graduation of recognition scenes climaxes with the appearance of Jesus himself in the midst of “the eleven and those who were with them” (presumably the women – see Luke 24:10) when he proves both his identity and reality by a couple of touch-me and watch-me-eat tests. (Luke 24:33-43)

20. Is the author of Luke playing with his audience as authors of fiction often did with their audiences when it came to the climactic and suspenseful recognition scenes at the end? Such a view makes sense of the introduction of the otherwise unknown name of Cleopas. It also sits well with the way we know from other scenes how this author works. Recall the way he retold Mark’s anointing story by setting it in the house of a Pharisee and played there also with his audience by delaying the critical name that cemented in the minds of his readers and listeners his rhetorical intent.

Narrative’s explanations revealed at the end

21. Another common technique of story tellers was to create a problem or mystery in the plot that leaves the audience wondering until the end when all is finally explained. One of the more most famous instances of this suspense-creating technique in ancient novels is found in Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius. Clitophon watched in despair from a distance as his love Leucippe was disemboweled by pirates. Achilles Tatius plays with the audience as much as with Clitophon’s feelings by not revealing until much later firstly that Leucippe is still alive and secondly, how the illusion of a torturous death was performed.

The author of Luke’s gospel narrates likewise plays with his audience by withholding the identity of Simon Peter, and the fact of the final re-acceptance of Peter as foretold at the Passover (22:32), until the end of the Emmaus road narrative. The original audience was surely anticipating more than an appearance to an otherwise unknown person when the reader set the scene at the same place where Jacob himself had met God in a dream.

Having begun by teasing the audience by hiding Simon Peter’s identity behind Cleophas, the author next had to find a way of revealing his identity to his readers at the end. So when the two travellers pronounce to the eleven, “The Lord is indeed risen, and has appeared to Simon”, the author is more conscious of his audience’s reaction than the reaction of his characters, and he is really having them address the audience. The two travellers are really announcing to the author’s audience that Jesus has just appeared to Simon.

And the name Cleopas?

22. Is Cleopas a teasing pun-like substitute for Cephas, an Aramaic name with the same meaning as the Greek Peter (“rock”), and widely understood to be the same as Peter? (See my earlier blog post where I suggested how and why the confusion arose.) If so, sense would be made of the way the author earlier spoke of him as “one of them”, meaning one of the apostles. The audience is certainly expecting the name of one of the apostles, especially Peter, according to the direction of the narrative logic.

23. Is the author deliberately withholding the name of the one he knows the audience is waiting to hear, while at the same time having fun by indirectly hinting at it? Recall Codex Bezae’s “Let’s call him Cleopas.”

24. Did the author save the unambiguous revelation of the true identity of this disciple until the very end of this second recognition scene? That was when he referred to the name he had been known as from the beginning of the gospel, and the name Jesus had used repetitively when foretelling of his failure and ensuing conversion. It was the name the author had primed his audience to be wanting to hear and which he teasingly half-hid from them with that intriguing half-pun Cleopas. At least until the end.

How to introduce a new story about a well-known character

25. Apart from the dramatic suspense that the withholding of the name of Simon carried, this second part of a three part recognition revelation also carried with it an explanation why the narrative of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Peter was so slow to emerge. Was it not, rather, a now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t type of “appearance”. What sort of resurrection appearance is that? Yet it was a real appearance, real enough for the author to draw on tales of divine presences appearing to the fathers and mothers of Israel, in particular to Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson. Nevertheless, it was an appearance that was immediately overshadowed by Jesus’ appearance before all the apostles together. And that appearance before the collective (including the women) was the one in which Jesus verified his identity with the unmistakable signs of enabling them to touch him and watch him eat.

26. The author of Luke was able to introduce a brand new narrative about the resurrected Jesus’ appearance to Peter by couching it as a “now you see me now you don’t” type appearance that was immediately overshadowed by the more conclusive appearance to all the apostles. Yet this first appearance to Peter was nonetheless a very real contact with the resurrected Jesus. For all its mysterious uncertainties, it was in the same narrative mould as the appearance of the divine messenger to Manoah and his wife, and to Abraham and Sarah, and to Jacob.

The comparison with Jacob’s encounter with the divinity as he travelled to Haran is particularly apt. Jacob’s experience happened at the very same place, Oulammaus (Emmaus). It occurred in a dream Jacob had while sleeping on a “rock” (= Peter) he had set for his pillow. Jewish legends subsequently focussed on this rock. It was a significant part of Jewish folklore.

So the very first appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Simon Peter could be explained as a late entry into the narrative world by a combination of its somewhat shadowy or half-mysterious nature and its being immediately overshadowed by the appearance to the same Simon Peter as part of the larger group of apostles.

27. The likelihood that the Road to Emmaus episode is in fact the earliest narrative of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Simon Peter is argued from the following:

a. the logic of the overall narrative in Luke which cries out for a narrative resolution for Simon Peter and not merely a second-hand report of the fact of the event,

b. the place and length of the Emmaus Road story in comparison with the narratives relating to the women and the rest of the apostles either side of it,

c. the problem faced by an author attempting to introduce a new story as part of an already well-known narrative and leading character, along with earlier models of how other authors (in this case, the author of Mark) had managed a similar situation,

d. the known audience-teasing story-telling techniques of the author (in this case withholding the name of a key character until a climactic moment),

e. the popular story-telling and its associated features of common recognition-scene conclusions,

f. well known Jewish narratives about mysterious divine encounters with unsuspecting mortals, and the author’s known preference for using other Jewish narrative motifs, and the appropriateness of these for application to the leader of the twelve apostles,

g. the possibility of the Bezae Codex in this case preserving features of the original narrative

h. the strong possibility of the identity of Cephas and Peter

Putting it all together

28. The final author of our canonical Luke-Acts knew how to please an audience and hold them in suspense. Acts in particular is one long series of adventures and narrow escapes. The conclusion of Luke demonstrates a mastery of popular technique resolving the narrative plot with a suspenseful graduated series of recognition scenes. The author has primed his audience to anticipate a resolution that involves not only the resurrection of Jesus but in particular a resolution with Simon Peter. This is a plot development that is new and original to this gospel. His audience knew of the earlier gospel stories where the hoped for meeting between the resurrected Jesus and Peter either never happened or was blurred out by his being included namelessly in the ranks of the rest of the apostles. The author of Luke-Acts also wanted to wrap narrative flesh around the doctrinal “fact” that the very first appearance of the resurrected Jesus was to Peter (1 Cor.15:5). Yet simply fabricating a dramatic scene at this point of the Christian community’s growth, one that no-one had ever heard before, would scarcely win easy acceptance. The story had to be low key enough to explain why it had not been common public knowledge before. At the same time it had to be rich enough in associations and meaning to be worthy of a genuine appearance to the leader of the Twelve. Embedding in the narrative the motifs of travel, evening hospitality towards unrecognized divine messengers, and the place identified as where Jacob was visited by God, achieved this. (Jewish legends further added elaborated the significance of the rock Jacob used for his pillow, possibly further playing with word associations and their relation to the names of Cephas and Peter.)

The author found the solution to both problems by turning one part of the classic recognition scenes into a double dialogue with his audience: at the same time he was taking them through the suspense of how the characters came to recognize the resurrected Jesus, he was playing with them to give them a chance to recognize for themselves how Simon Peter became the first to see the resurrected Jesus. He repeated his known trick of saving the key identity of the character until the critical point in the narrative.

The author chose to put some of the narrative details into the direct speech of Cleophas. The author used Cleophas to tell some of the details of the story in hindsight. One of those details (“and certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said”) was only otherwise known in the Gospel of John. The author of what is now our canonical Luke may well have known and used the Gospel of John (Matson, 2001). If he was the same author who wrote Acts then he certainly knew John’s gospel and a primary reason for his composition of Luke-Acts was to present a unifying narrative out of divergent, often conflicting, Christian narratives (c.f. Tyson, 2006).

The final resolution of the status of Simon Peter, as well as that of the mystery of the anonymity and strange new name in the Emmaus road narrative, comes when the pair announce to the audience even more than to the eleven that Jesus has just appeared to Simon!

The nature of this revelation, as mysterious and ephemeral but nonetheless as real as the recognition scene in the story of how Manoah and his wife belatedly recognized the heavenly nature of their guest, and it’s immediate overshadowing by Jesus’ dramatic open appearance in the midst of them all, complete with his proofs that he was real, facilitated the noncontroversial introduction of the new narrative of how Jesus appeared first to Peter.

Unfortunately for later more literal minded audiences and for subsequent ecclesiastical mythmakers who began to create a genealogy and entirely new identity for Cleophas, an understanding of the playfulness and novelistic art of the author was lost, along with the true meaning of the narrative.

An objection: who was speaking to whom?

29. In response to the argument that Luke meant to say that it was the eleven apostles who told the two arrivals from Emmaus that Simon had seen the resurrected Jesus, Jenny Read-Heimerdinger and Josep Rius-Camps (2002) write:

“v. 34D: When the two disciples return to Jerusalem, it is they who report (λεγοντες) that Jesus had appeared to Simon (that is, Peter), and not the <> who had remained in Jerusalem, as the AT [i.e. Alexandrian text] with λεγοντας at v. 34 would have it. In the DO5 [i.e. Bezan] text, consequently, αυτοι in v. 35 takes up the same subject as that of v. 34 (in exactly the same way as in v. 14 of the AT); direct speech gives way to indirect, with an imperfect verb (εξηγουντο) expressing the idea of a lengthy exposition of the things which happened on the two disciples’ journey. The final verb (εγνωσθη), like those of the direct speech (ηγερθη, ωφθη), is introduced by οτι and is in the aorist. The subject is clearly maintained from the initial statement, that <> If, on the other hand, it is those in Jerusalem who announce the appearance of Jesus to Simon, it has to be said that nowhere does Luke record such an appearance. Furthermore, the declaration is made in a participial phrase in the accusative (λεγοντας) which is an unusually weak construction in Greek to carry such an important piece of information which is entirely new in the AT version of the story.”

One might also add that if the eleven were the first to know that Jesus had been resurrected and appeared to Simon, then their terror at seeing Jesus for the first time themselves and thinking he was a ghost fails the test of narrative coherence.

30. Well that’s the best I can do till I come across a better argument.

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31 thoughts on “The origin and meaning of the Emmaus Road narrative in Luke”

  1. In response to the author’s second point above,

    “2. Before Luke was written there existed no narrative about the resurrected Jesus appearing first and exclusively to Peter.”

    In this vague and poorly contrived statement the author seems to imply that Luke is introducing some new idea into the resurrection narrative, namely an early and exclusive appearance to Peter by the resurrected Christ. The truth is Luke is not introducing an new idea, this appearance of Christ to Peter was previously recorded by Luke’s travelling companion, the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (written before the gospel of Luke).

    Furthermore, the statement is missleading for the following reasons.

    The gospel of Luke does not provide us with a narrative about the resurrected Jesus appearing to Peter. What we have is an extremely brief reference to this event imbedded in a narrative that has as its main focus, other matters. So even after Luke’s gospel was written we have no “narrative about the resurrected Jesus appearing first and exclusively to Peter.”

    Jesus certainly did not appear first to Simon Peter, go back and read the gospels to see who first saw him after his resurrection.

    Before the Gospel of Luke was written, the Apostle Paul had written his first letter to the Corinthians, and that earlier Biblical material tells us that that Jesus indeed appeared to Simon Peter in what is best understood as a personal and separate appearance.

    So the statement above might be considered true just as a statement saying that a married man cannot be rightly called a bachelor is true, but both statements are empty of any value or meaning.

    Before the Gospel of Luke was written we do find Biblical material telling us of an early and exclusive appearance of Jesus to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:) This appearance is not communicated as a narrative but then neither could the brief statement in Luke be considered a “narrative”. Whether such a brief statement occurs within the context of a narrative or a historical letter, makes no real difference.

    The blog above would be better if this statement had been left out.

  2. The author has conveniently neglected to make reference to the fact that Luke 24: 9 say’s ” to the eleven and all the others.” This statement obviously includes unnamed disciples otherwise known as believers or followers, the “two of them” which are introduced in verse 13. Taking scripture out of context and using it to support a personal agenda in my book renders the entire article useless and irrelevant.

  3. Ok you are right, he did mention it, there is a lot there to review. It seems like he is determined to identify the two as apostles when the scriptures clearly indicate that there were other unnamed disciples present at the announcement of the empty tomb. Others are also referred to as having been with the women when they made the announcement. Why does he not make this simple connection? He doesn’t explain it , I believe that he misquotes it. Verse 33 in the NIV does not say that they reported to the apostles, It says” the eleven and those with them,assembled together” I appreciate knowledge and expertise but this seems to be an overly technical attempt to discredit the word of God.

    1. I don’t know the authors personally so I cannot comment on their motives. But it does appear to me that they are treating the Gospel of Luke like any other ancient or modern piece of literature and analysing it with normal critical methods. We are free to disagree with them (I am not willing to bet my life on their argument about the identity of the travellers — I am more interested in the recognition of the Genesis motifs) but if we approach the Gospels as “the word of God” then we are not capable of engaging in normal historical or literary studies of them.

      I myself am not the least interested in trying to “discredit the word of God”. I am only interested in understanding the Gospels as literature and historical documents no differently from any other documents.

      1. I appreciate your candidness about this. I am all for recognizing and studying motifs as you mentioned. There is a lot to learn about God and his nature from that. I think that we can and do approach the gospels as the word of God and learn something of the literature and historical background of that time. The authors were intelligent people who were contemporary to the time, so how could their writings inspired by God, not be reliable in studying history and literature?
        Maybe I’m to simplistic but I don’t understand the authors need for trying to prove that the Emmaus road incident was simply fabricated from previous events that had some similarities. Good designs and techniques are being or have been built upon,duplicated, adapted and reused for just about everything I can think of. Why not by an omniscient and omnipresent God who created it all to begin with? Thank’s

        1. For me the simpler explanation is that the biblical literature originated no differently from any other ancient literature — from human creativity.

          Adding a God to the picture is an unnecessary addition. It seems to me to have the same rationale as Muslims might claim for the Koran — that that book is also inspired by Allah.

          1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1: 1-5

            1. Tom, I let your comment through to demonstrate to all and sundry your response to critical reason. I used to think the same way as yourself and offer such answers as you give here. In sum, you are saying you are right because you know you are right, and you know you are right because God says you are right, and you know God says you are right because that’s how you read the Bible, and you know the Bible means this because you have the Holy Spirit, and you know this . . . . . and on it goes, in a never ending circle.

              1. Sir, I know I am right because of my personal life changing experience with my God and my savior. I know I am right because so many times I have laid myself bare before my God and freely given over to him control over circumstances in my life that were beyond my control. Doing so in true faith, my God has responded to me in real and obvious ways that have proven to me that his word and his promise given to us through his Word are true. I know I am right not because of my intellect but because I do in fact have the Holy Spirit within me that guides me even when I don’t ask for it. I know I am right because so many times in my life I have been in danger of injury or harm and was kept through it by no effort of my own and I recognize that God has preserved me for a reason which first and foremost is to worship and to glorify him…. and on it goes, in a never ending circle.

              2. The arrogance of humility. I submit that God has answered your prayers with the consistency of dice-rolls but that you have rationalized every failure into a success-story. Sorry, Tom, but your words bring back shameful memories of a mind-set I once had.

  4. The story of Emmaus demonstrates the origin of the Christian eucharist in the antinomianist reading of the tale of the tree-adder of Genesis 3. The eyes of the disciples, theretofore blinded, are opened by the breaking of the bread just as those of Adam and Eve had been opened after the manducation of the apple. Now they realize what the scriptural messiah is about (the suffering servant), as opposed to what they had believed in vain (a successful rebel against the foreign rulers ofver Judea).

    The appearance of the Risen lord to Saint Peter is a post-marcionite interpolation into First Corinthians, thence it cannot be used to correct the gospels.

  5. Where on earth you have the opinion that I have been copying and pasting chapters from your books frankly astonishes me as an answer to my aforementioned comment on the Emmaus story. I await, perhaps in vain, for the courtesy of a reply justifying the curtness and the truth of your remarks.

    Dennis Sutherland.

    1. I typed your last paragraph/sentence into google and sure enough, there was a book authored by Dennis Sutherland in google books, with the other paragraphs of your comment matching the same page in the google book page. Would you like me to place the link here for advertising? Will you pay us for the service?

      Perhaps you’re astonished that I discovered what you had done. One learns the signs. Why would anyone post from scratch such a lengthy comment, carefully structured, that had nothing to do with the point of the post? That makes me suspicious so I take a snippet of the comment and do a search. Your book has the date stamp of 2015 on it.

      Sharing with us a psychological reading of the Emmaus Road episode may be a nice postmodernist and self-improvement exercise but it has nothing to do with a historical reading of the sort we are interested in. In your book you do describe yourself as a “historian of the future” but we prefer to be stuck in the past here.

    2. Ah, I see where the confusion has arisen and also the disingenuity. My reference to “our books” was my attempt to be speaking generally of commenters (you are not the first to have done this) to copy and paste from their books in the comments. Tim and I have never written any books so I was hardly referring to you copying from anything he, I or both of us have ever written.

      I like your disingenuous touch, though. Very stylish.

      1. We are all for self improvement and trust you are taking this to heart. Hopefully you know the signs.

        Your heading my article was posted to is “The origin and the meaning of the Emmaus Road narrative in Luke” and taking this on face value I responded with my thoughts as to another explanation, a valid alternative, looking to a consideration of the problem at another level.

        Just in passing the article that was posted to you was a copy of another draft I had of the Emmaus story, not a copy of the version which appears in the my book.

        Obviously from what you say you wish the matter restricted to purely historical evidence and you could have responded in a proper manner without treating my contribution in a cavalier fashion.

        1. If you had done your homework on a new blog you came across you would know that here the very idea of “self improvement” has unhealthy associations that no longer interest us. The way I am now I am quite capable of making decisions and doing things that benefit others and making/doing others that cause harm. I have no need for “self-improvement”, thank you. Been there, done that, I mean the “self-improvement” thing. No more. Do your homework before barging in with your evangelical message.

          Before copying and pasting your own hobby horse thoughts to posts on other people’s blogs try to get a feel for what the other person’s blog is about and do check the comments and moderation policy before deciding whether to comment, or whether copying and pasting an old draft of something you published elsewhere would have any interest to anyone here.

          Now please leave us. We have nothing to discuss.

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