The earliest gospels 6(b) – Luke (à la Couchoud)

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by Neil Godfrey

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Continuing with the series archived here.

Couchoud suggests that the author of the Gospel we attribute to Luke may quite likely have been Clement of Rome. But he sees the contribution of this person as of far greater significance than the simple composition of the works we know as Luke and Acts. First, however, the outline of Couchoud’s views of who this major author was. This p.ost should be read in conjunction with the previous one, 6(a).

The popular Shepherd of Hermas written about this time (mid second century) informs us that it was Clement’s duty to send to the other churches the edict of remission of sins which the prophet Hermas learned of in a vision:

Clement will address it to the other towns for he is charged with this duty. (Hermas Vis. 2.4)

The prophetic work of Hermas indicates that prophets were strongly influential in the Roman Church, most likely with wielding power as the Spirit whimmed them. When their authority was replaced by Elders it is suggested that Clement kept his old office as a Church Secretary and increased his authority. He may even have been one of the persons Marcion debated against when in Rome. Clement clearly had some importance among the ruling Elders when he (presumably) wrote his letter to the entire Corinthian Church admonishing them to restore the rule of the Elders they had deposed, “no doubt in order to vest authority in the bishop alone, and to wrest that Church from the Marcionite enemy.”

He was probably born a gentile. He was widely read in Greek and Latin literature and the Hebrew Bible in Greek translation, as well as the Book of Enoch and other Jewish apocryphal and apocalyptic writings. He also knew the works of Philo and Josephus.

He expresses a love of good Stoic Roman virtues. His interpretation of the Biblical literature followed the method he learned in the Epistle to the Hebrews. His love is for the Church whose portrait he is always delineating in his works. He appeals to converted Gentiles to take their possession of the spiritual goods (including the Scriptures) of the Jews that the Jews had rejected. Among this inheritance for them to claim were the traditional hopes of the Jews such as the Last Judgment and Resurrection of the Body. The promises originally meant for the Jews in his mind now belong to “the younger son”, the Gentiles who become the new people of God.

Thus this man was imbued with a deep sense of continuity between the Old and New laws and covenants — the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian faith.

It was important for him to see the Church ruled by stable authorities and that meant that the age of the independent prophets had to end. But he could not denigrate the venerated prophets of the past who each was believed to have been an agent of the Spirit of God.

Enter the Holy Spirit; Exit the Prophets

In this lies his masterpiece. He endowed the Church with a doctrine of the Holy Ghost which was to assure its stability and give it the means of checking the last prophetic explosions — those of Montanus and his prophetesses and energumens. The Holy Ghost is a celestial being derived from God and from Jesus; at times it appears in the form of a dove [i.e. from Mark 1], at others in the shape of tongues of flame [i.e. from Enoch 66:5]. It is burning and weighty, and it falls on him to whom God sends it;  it seizes him. The Holy Ghost took possession of the prophets of the Old Testament and spoke by their mouths. But — here take heed! — it did this only to foretell the coming of Jesus, his sufferings, and his glory. This preparation was not done for the benefit of the prophets nor their auditors, but for Christians [1 Clem 17:1 et al]. Since Jesus’s birth all that has changed. The Holy Ghost fertilized a virgin and consecrated Jesus on earth. When Jesus returned to heaven, he caused the Holy Ghost to fall on the Apostles. Whereon they announced the coming of Jesus, told of his sufferings and his glory; the very things which the prophets of old had foretold. Prophecy is therefore replaced by the Gospel, and the two converge on Jesus. Both to-day are fixed by the written word, and should be the constant reading of the faithful; there is left no further room for prophecy. (p. 272)

There were only a few exceptions in the early days of the Church where Jesus gave special revelations to some of his apostles. But from the beginning of the Church the Holy Spirit was not restricted to prophets. The apostles could even pray and have it fall on all Christians.

After the apostles’ authority devolved to the Elders and they became the responsible ministers of the Holy Spirit and Clement, when he wrote in agreement with them, felt he was the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit (1 Clement 63:12).

The council of Elders did not last long as the sole authority of the Church, though. Around 154, no doubt in order to more effectively withstand heresy, the Roman Church organized itself under a single bishop, and the myth that a single bishop had always ruled was created. Clement himself was assigned a place in this “historical” line of supreme bishops.

The Divine Epic of Luke-Acts

Some time between the Marcionite schism of around 139 and Justin’s Apology with its allusion to a source speaking of a census by Quirinius and that was written some time before the death of Marcion in 144, a divine epic was written for the benefit of educated Roman Christians. This epic stood in opposition to Marcionism and made the Holy Spirit the central character. The work was dedicated to an otherwise unknown Theophilus — perhaps the Maecenas who paid for the first edition, perhaps a false name concealing the identity of a bona fide inquirer.

Later the rumour was spread that this was the work of Luke, the companion of Paul who journeyed to Rome.

Next post in this series will look at the Gospel of Luke itself and how it relates to the other Gospels and mid second century setting.

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Neil Godfrey

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0 thoughts on “The earliest gospels 6(b) – Luke (à la Couchoud)”

  1. I have often wondered why Theophilus was regarded as “most excellent,” why would it be capitalized yet singular if it was to mean anyone other than Theophilus Bishop of Antioch (169-177 CE)? Whether this is a copy which was addressing, or addressed to, his Excellency the Bishop for didactic purposes, say, or merely dedicated to god lovers generally speaks to the reason for hidden (apocryphal) writings within and among the churches. Also, was not Antioch the front-lines of the battle with Marcionite religion, specifically with a church which, according to one reading of Peregrinus Proteus (c.150 cum Ignatius of Antioch ~180-200 CE), was being split between Marcionites and Apelleans, the Gospel of proto-Luke and the proto-Johannine Gospel? Would not the “revised” Luke-Acts, as issued by Clement(?), be a compromise they could live with? Couldn’t the theology of the forged letters of Ignatius be seen as a clue in this regard?

    One of the points I try to keep in mind is: How did these particular writings come down to the centralized church of Theodosius I? How, and by whom, were these writings preserved prior to inclusion in the canon? Since there is no evidence, even today, which could anchor the correctness of a system of belief, what was the criterion upon which a community was either allowed to survive as a member of the proto-Catholic power structure or burnt to the ground as a victim of the politics of beliefs? My answers to these questions leads me to put the politics of belief at the forefront of the Christian power struggle while rendering belief itself as a consumer level product, almost a byproduct of propaganda. The church will tell the people what to believe as they have been for centuries.

    Thanks Neil.

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