Luke’s dialogue with John on the first resurrection appearance?

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by Neil Godfrey

Imagine for a moment that the author of the Luke knew the gospel of John.

Some scholars have argued on the basis of close textual comparisons that the Gospel of Luke was written after, and used, the Gospel of John. (e.g. Matson, Shellard, et al) A few others also believe our canonical Luke was written very late, some time in the first half of the second century, and this would support the possibility that the author of Luke knew and used the gospel of John.

John’s gospel describes two disciples, one named and the other unnamed, wandering off together (“to their own homes”) after finding the tomb of Jesus empty as they had been told. The named disciple is Simon Peter (20:6). It also claims Mary Magdalene was the first to see the resurrected Jesus.

Luke describes a post resurrection scene where two disciples, one named and the other unnamed, are walking together to a village outside Jerusalem. (We learn in the course of the narrative that their destination village is the home of at least one of them.)

To address the easy difference first: Luke also claims, contra John, that Mary Magdalene did not linger at the empty tomb but returned to the other disciples. Is the author directly and intentionally contradicting the claim found in John? Is he disputing the identity of the first to see the resurrected Jesus as a result of some theological rivalry that involved respective founding figures such as Mary, Thomas, Peter?

But the more interesting contact between the two gospels concerns two disciples wandering off together after seeing the empty tomb.

In both Luke and John there are two disciples, one named and the other anonymous, walking together back to their home(s) after seeing or hearing about the empty tomb. (John 20:3-10 and Luke 24:13:34)

The named disciple in John is Simon Peter. The named disciple in Luke is Cleophas. Cleophas does not sound so far removed from Cephas, an Aramaic name having the same meaning as the Greek Peter, and whom in 1 Cor.15:5 we read was the first to see the resurrected Jesus. (I have discussed in an earlier post the possibility of Cleophas being a deliberate pun by the author of Luke.)

The possibility that Cleophas was a pun used by the author to withhold from his audience the identity of the disciple until the end (I cite a few arguments for this possibility in that earlier post lined in the above paragraph) is rarely considered by readers who approach the gospels for “historical” information and to find out exactly “what happened”.

But if we read Luke through the known good story-telling literary devices of his time, as a story told by an author who knew the tricks of holding and teasing an audience, then a different view of the identity of Cleophas emerges.

When Luke is read as a good story using the tricks of novelists then we strengthen the possibility that the mention of Simon at the end of that Emmaus road narrative is the author’s climactic announcement to his audience (more than to the eleven) that Cleophas is Simon Peter.

There is another strong indication that Luke is in direct dialogue with the gospel of John:

— In Luke, Cleophas gives a summary of what had transpired that morning, but not all the details are found in that gospel. They are only otherwise known from a reading of John. (The visit of the 2 disciples to the tomb is narrated in John, but told second hand by Cleophas in Luke.)

If his is the case, that Luke is addressing the Gospel of John and audiences who knew that gospel, then some of the problems about the Emmaus passage in Luke 24 that modern interpreters attempt to answer begin to fade away. The audience hearing Luke’s gospel will be wondering about the identity of Cleophas from the beginning. When they read or hear the account in Luke that there were 2 disciples traveling together their first recollection would quite likely be the two disciples wandering off to their homes that they knew from John. So the introduction of the name Cleophas (not unlike Cephas) instead of Simon Peter would have had the audience wondering. I have explained this technique used in Luke in my earlier post — especially in relation to his retelling the Markan account of anointing of Jesus in my earlier post.

If indeed some of the questions surrounding the Emmaus episode in Luke are resolved by the hypothesis that Luke was written after John, and in dialogue with John (and the other gospels too, but that’s again another story), then is not the case for this re-dating Luke strengthened?

Which will bring me back to my discussion from Tyson and the anti-Marcionite agenda for the creation of canonical Luke-Acts.

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Neil Godfrey

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6 thoughts on “Luke’s dialogue with John on the first resurrection appearance?”

  1. Mary does seem to be linked with the prophets at a very early stage. With reference to Mary, Luke 1.35 has: ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you’. She lived in Zechariah’s home with Elizabeth for a time. Elizabeth is described as being filled with the Spirit. (Luke 1.41). Thus the editors/compilers had Mary being among the first to ‘see’ the Lord in their fabricated resurrection stories.

    After the birth of his son, the so-called John the Baptist, Zechariah is described as being filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1.67). There was some doubt in the author’s story what the name of John should be, and shortly after being introduced as John, the author wrote him out of the story, that is after introducing Jesus, supposedly the son of Mary. In the writings attributed to Josephus, the son of Ezekias, in one clearly interpolated passage, is Judas (Ant.17.10.5).

    I suggest that Mary’s disgrace was not that she became pregnant, but it was that she was filled with the Spirit and went over to the prophets who rejected animal sacrifices. Mary was more than likely the daughter of a high priest, probably originally betrothed to Joseph, that is Caiaphus. But there was a long tradition of high priest’s daughters marrying the sons of prophetic types who lived sufficiently pure lives to do service in the sanctuary. When Mary entered Zechariah’s home, Zechariah had already been executed for being a false prophet – the story of the death of Zechariah is in the writings attributed to Josephus. Mary either had, or was about to, marry Zechariah’s son, the prophet of the original New Testament, i.e. not the fictitious Jesus. In the writings attributed to Josephus, the relationship between Mary and the son of Elizabeth, is garbled in the story of Paulina and Mundus who was helped by a woman Ide.

    1. Possible, but to frame an argument in its favour it would help if we could see what such a combination explains. What light or new understanding does it cast on other questions in the text or that are related to the names in early Christianity?

      1. I don’t think the question would be important to early Christianity at large, only to the topic of this article, which is about a possible connection between John 20:3-10, where Peter and an unnamed disciple go to the tomb, and Luke 24:13-34, where Cleophas and an unnamed disciple see Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and whether Cleophas is a form of Cephas who turns out to be Simon. Since Clopas is used in close proximity to the John 20:3-10 passage (20 verses away), Luke may have been using it, too. The similarity looks greater in written English than in Greek but i wonder if it sounds better in Greek when spoken.

        I just noticed that the KJV translated Clopas as Cleophas so the translators thought they were same person.

  2. Neil, there was just one problem. Is located at Luke 24:33:

    They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together

    One of those disciples could not be Peter. They went back to Jerusalem and found the disciples before Christ first appearance. Thomas was absent. There are eleven including Peter.

    I believe Peter and the other one (his wife) after leaving the tomb went to their own house in Jerusalém. See Acts 12:12-14; 1 Peter 5:13.

    That is the same Mary among the women in John 19:25,26. She is Jesus’ sister, not his mother’s sister. She is Mary of Cephas, not Cleophas.

    I am looking for sources to confirm that just the family of the “criminal” could, or, must stay near the cross. Just relatives of the “criminal” could go to the tomb to anoint the body and so forth. Do you have anything?

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