Luke’s Marcionite source for Paul’s Jerusalem and trial experiences?

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by Neil Godfrey

In Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the Genre of Luke-Acts (1974) Charles Talbert compiled lists totalling about 40 literary and narrative resonances between the Gospel of Luke and Acts. (He called them parallels back in 1974 but that word has since acquired for many a bad name — sometimes justifiably, but other times less so.)

From his comparisons of some of these he concluded that Luke had generally made changes sometimes to the gospel narrative he knew and sometimes to his narrative of Paul to make the two form a set of parallels to each other.

This explained, for example, why Luke’s narrative of Jesus included a hearing before Herod, thus giving him a total of 4 separate hearings (Sanhedrin – 22:26, Pilate – 23:1, Herod – 23:8, Pilate – 23:13) unlike the narratives found in the other gospels. Talbert indicates that Luke edited Mark’s gospel to write a narrative of Jesus’ Passion that conformed to events in Paul’s life. Compare Paul’s 4 trials: Sanhedrin – ch.23; Felix – ch.24; Festus – ch.25; Herod Agrippa – ch.26). But this is based not simply on the matching fourfold hearings. Within these Talbert points to distinctively Lucan additions to Mark’s narrative also being found in similar positions in Acts: the threefold declarations of innocence of the one on trial; the directly positive claim Jesus can be released; the crowds shouting “Away with this man”; the centurion proclaiming the one charged as “innocent”; et al.

Another example is Luke’s adding to Mark’s description of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem a description of the way the crowds praised God for all the mighty works they had seen done through Jesus (Luke 19:37 – cf. Mark 11:1-10). Talbert notes how this corresponds with the reception Paul received when he also entered Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-20a).

Another change in Luke’s gospel is his removal of Mark’s reference to Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree. In Mark’s gospel, the fig tree episode strongly suggests Jesus’ rejection of and pronunciation of doom on the Temple. Luke deletes this, and gives readers a Jesus who stays entrenched in the Temple, preaching daily from it. (19:45-48). Talbert compares this with Paul’s favourable attitude toward the Temple. (e.g. Acts 21:26)

I would add here that this wish to have a less judgmental Jesus, one favourably disposed to the Temple in his efforts to save, not condemn, the Jews, may also have something to do with Luke’s changes to the Little Apocalypse. In place of Mark’s condemnation of a Temple being stained by the presence of an abomination he envisions “only” a city besieged by armies.

There are other points Talbert lists but this is enough to get the main idea of the case he argues.

But what if we relook at Talbert’s discussion of the strands linking the events in Paul’s life with those in Jesus’ last days in the light of recent studies on Luke and Acts that I have been summing up in bits and pieces in blog posts here?

Klinghardt has recently raised the possibility that canonical Luke’s gospel used Marcion’s gospel as one of its sources. See Marcion Enters the Synoptic Problem and subsequent follow up posts. Tyson argues that canonical Luke likewise was a reworking of Marcion’s gospel. See the Tyson and Marcion archives. Pervo also argues that Luke was a late document.

Given the possibilities raised by Kinghardt and Tyson in particular, one is justified in rethinking the sources Luke used for his last chapters of Acts.

The possibility is opened that Luke was modeling his Paul’s entry into Jerusalem and subsequent four-fold trial sequence on the life of Jesus as found in Marcion’s gospel.

In fact, given the absence of any other known source for Luke’s narrative here, this must be seen the most economical and plausible solution to the question of Luke’s sources for this phase of Paul’s career.

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Neil Godfrey

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