Tag Archives: Luke-Acts prologue

Luke-Acts as form of history-writing (Luke-Acts Explained . . . Part 2)

Continuing from Luke-Acts Explained as a form of “Ideal Jewish History” (Part 1)

The reasons Luke-Acts has been considered a form of ancient history writing:

  1. Like other ancient historiography the work begins with a prologue announcing its superiority over what has gone before;
    • Steve Mason notes that unlike the preceding gospels Luke-Acts, as a two volume work, narrates a changing or developing historical movement (see p. 9 of the article for details; I think of the way the author has restructured the events in the gospels in order to )
  2. Like Xenophon, Plutarch, Tacitus and others the author of Luke-Acts fuses “biography with a quasi-biographical history”;
  3. Like other historical writing of the day Luke-Acts constant changes of scene, notes on geographical and  political details, episodes of high drama such as storms at sea and encounters with murderous enemies, and speeches.

Mason addresses works of Richard Pervo (Profit with Delight) and Loveday Alexander (The Preface to Luke’s Gospel) — there are posts on Pervo and Alexander here and here — that dispute the ‘historical’ character of Luke-Acts. In response Mason observes that the line between ancient historiography and ancient novels may not be so easy to discern given, in addition to the nature of ancient historiography, the difficulty in “defining” the ancient novel. Perhaps, but I think that’s another question for another chapter or article. In short, to Mason nothing can be gained by assigning Luke-Acts to another genre since writers were simply too willing to innovate and mix elements that we think of as belonging to separate genres.

The reasons against considering Luke-Acts as a form of historiography:

  1. The prologue of Luke-Acts does not identify the author and anonymity defeated the whole point of ancient prologues to historiography. The point was establish “the author’s character and unique moral assessment of the past.” (I have set out my view that the historian used his identity in order to establish confidence among readers of his work that he was in a position to know and to give his work authoritative status.)
    • Josephus did not identify himself in the prefaces to his later works but he certainly did “introduce himself magnificently” in his first work (and again in his closing section). The author of Luke-Acts does nothing like that.
  2. The next point has long been decisive for me: “The effect of the missing author-identification in Luke-Acts is greatly compounded by the complete absence of historia-language, or Thucydides’ preferred συγγράφω and cognates, along with any suggestion of knowledge from open-ended inquiry—if we leave aside the prologue’s covering reference to the author’s careful observation—or the political analysis that was history’s reason for being. Even though the author shows himself well aware of political conditions in the eastern Mediterranean, and is happy to use them as furniture, this is simply not a work of political or historical analysis comparable to other histories. By comparison with any other histories, Luke-Acts is far removed from historiography in both its characteristic language and its prevailing ethos: the stories of Peter and Paul proclaiming Christ’s resurrection.” It is rare to read an article acknowledging this start difference between Luke-Acts and other histories.
  3. I quote in full (p. 11, my bolding as always):
    • In place of normal historical analysis, the author boldly announces his subject matter as ‘the deeds that have been fulfilled among us’ and the observation and reception of truth by those who were ‘eyewitnesses and servants of the word/teaching’ (1.2-3). Historians were not supposed to be anyone’s servants or emissaries, a posture antithetical to history’s purpose of truth-seeking inquiry. The anonymous author does briefly stress his efforts to get the story straight, in the prologue, but the story itself comes from revelation. The work’s many episodes of heavenly and angelic visitation as revelatory of the most important truths undercut any notion of a historian’s authority, which derives from rigorous inquiry and his own moral character. Of this there is no trace in the anonymous Luke-Acts.
    • That the most important truth comes via revelation is reinforced throughout the two-volume work at all crucial junctures: infancy narrative, explanatory angelic appearances at Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and the decisive revelations to Peter, Paul, and the early community. Equally, the account is driven by wondrous deeds beyond the ken of historical inquiry, from Jesus’ divine birth through his many miracles and resurrection to the signs and wonders performed by his emissaries.

It is at this point that Steve Mason parts company with the critical studies that have sought to understand Luke-Acts as a form of history writing by focusing on details in common with works of Greco-Roman historians. Yes, the comparisons are significant, but at the same time we ought not to lose sight of “the highly distinctive atmosphere and content of Luke-Acts.”

We should not, then, become so fixated on the parallels with Graeco-Roman historiography, as I would suggest Cadbury, Lake, and Foakes Jackson were, that we miss the highly distinctive atmosphere and content of Luke-Acts.

Reconciling the historiographical and non-historical features of Luke-Acts

It is here that Steve Mason finds Josephus useful for understanding Luke-Acts and its mix of historical and even “anti”-historical features. read more »

Luke-Acts Explained as a form of “Ideal Jewish History” (Part 1)

TL;DR
The author of Luke-Acts was following an ideal that Josephus had presented as a superior feature of Jewish historical writings: that history learned from revelation (e.g. works of Moses) was superior to the uncertain and often disputed historical inquiries of the Greeks.

I think Steve Mason has nailed Luke-Acts. I think, as a specialist in Josephus, he has identified something crucial in Luke-Acts that appears to have been more generally overlooked.

Up till now I have posted at length scholarly proposals that Acts is a work of ancient fiction, that its prologue follows the pattern found in technical medical or military or mathematical treatises rather than those found in works of ancient historians, and I have even ventured to suggest that Josephus would have deplored the gospels, and by extension Acts, as serious history – a post I now see is badly flawed in places. Most recently we looked at some findings from the Acts Seminar Report.) Well, having read Steve Mason’s paper I now think the author of our canonical version of Luke-Acts was more in tune with Josephus’s ideals than I had suspected. (Some readers will know of Steve Mason’s earlier book, Josephus and the New Testament, which includes a chapter offering reasons to think the author of Luke-Acts knew the Antiquities of Josephus. We have also posted, and plan to post further in depth, on Mason’s newer work, A History of the Jewish War A.D. 66-74.)

Steve Mason

The following is taken from a paper Mason has just uploaded on academia.edu, Luke-Acts and Ancient Historiography.

When Biblical Scholars Took the Lead in Critical Studies

I was fascinated and sobered to learn that there was a time when biblical scholars took the lead over their classicist peers when it came to critical study of their literary sources.

So we should not imagine that biblical studies merely followed classical trends. In fact, critical study of the Old and New Testaments largely paved the way for critical history as a discipline, including ancient history. It was not until the late 1970s through the 1990s that such authors as Livy, Polybius, Diodorus, and Pausanias were subjected to searching study as genuine authors, who had crafted their narratives to serve their moral and thematic purposes, rather than as mere transmitters of data. This post-Hippie period corresponded roughly to that in which redaction- and composition-critical research flourished in OT and NT studies.

(p. 4)

I had not appreciated the full extent to which the studies in Acts by Cadbury, Foakes Jackson and Lake had been so ground-breaking.

To write the important second volume, they enlisted the controversial Quaker, classicist, pacifist, and agnostic Henry Joel Cadbury, later of Harvard but then at Andover Seminary. Cadbury agreed with Foakes Jackson and Lake about the need to understand Acts in light of ancient historiography, and letting the theological chips fall where they may

. . . . 

He was ahead of his time in calling for scholars to pay more attention to the nature of ancient historiography. In order to responsibly understand and use this crucial account of Christian origins, he was saying, one needed to understand how people generally wrote about the past 2000 years ago (BC 2.7–8). Understanding Acts this way, as ancient historiography, was not merely different from proving is historicity. It required a different mindset because it directed scholars’ attention to how things were being said rather than to the underlying facts.

. . . .

So, having laid out this rather bracing summary, by 1920 standards in the Anglophone world, Cadbury began comparing the Lucan double-work with other creations of ancient historiography. And he found Luke-Acts—to which he compared the Jewish historian Josephus—to be in general agreement with contemporary historiographical practice. In the 1920s, this was a huge advance. In many respects, Cadbury was far ahead of his time. I say that because even in the field of Classics, although a few scholars were thinking about the artistic qualities and literary freedom of some historians, it would take another half-century—after the ‘literary turn’ in the humanities— before such perspectives were broadly applied. The historian and philosopher R. G. Collingwood told his Oxford undergraduates in 1926 that ‘the average professional historian is far less critical in his attitude to Herodotus than the average professional theologian in his attitude to St. Mark’.

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“Eyewitnesses” in Luke-Acts: Not What We Think

There is a very good argument that the word for “eyewitnesses” in the preface to the Gospel of Luke (and by extension to Acts) does not refer to persons who literally saw the people and events that are found in the narratives.

The argument by John N. Collins has been published in The Expository Times (June, 2010) and deserves far more attention than it appears to have received. Its implications are far-reaching and highly significant for any thesis that rests upon the view that Luke drew upon oral traditions or accounts of individuals who were known for having personally witnessed Jesus or other events found in the Gospel and Acts.

I originally posted this as What Did Luke’s Eyewitnesses See? I won’t repeat it in all its detail here. I’ll outline here the main points of the argument but first let’s have another look at that prologue in the inspired King James translation:

1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

The original article and my post have the details, but in sum the argument goes as follows: read more »

What Luke’s witnesses saw — according to Luke

Witnesses of the Resurrection
Witnesses of the Resurrection (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

The most solid argument I have read about what the word in Luke 1:2 translated as “eyewitnesses” actually means is by John N. Collins: see the post What Did Luke’s Eyewitnesses See? Collins presents a cogent argument that the word really means officials who have the responsibility for the writings/library of the community: it is their job to assess and preserve the authenticity of the documents entrusted to them — they are “specially authorized guarantors of the traditions.”

But in this post I am backtracking and working from the assumption that the word does convey the idea of one who sees firsthand some event. What I am saying here is this: What if the word really did express the idea of a witness? What does such a witness mean for Luke?

Norman Perrin answered this question nearly forty years ago in Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus.

Firstly, Perrin begins by reminding modern readers that they must leave behind their modern conceptions and make an effort to enter the world of the biblical authors. Get out of your heads any modern notion of what the word “eyewitness” means to us today who are familiar with the concept from our newspaper reports and court proceedings:

If we resolutely ban from our minds . . . what a modern writer would mean by an ‘eyewitness’ and ask ourselves what Luke meant by the expression . . . . (p. 27)

Perrin’s conclusion?

Luke considers Paul an eyewitness!

Perrin explains: read more »

Collins’ Eyewitness Source Citation

Expository Times 121.9 (June 2010) 447-52: ‘Re-thinking “Eyewitnesses” in the Light of “Servants of the Word” (Luke 1:2)’

The previous post was based on John Collins’ article found via the above link online. I am posting this here because in my initial post my link to this site was not obvious and I only attempted to rectify that after many readers had accessed the article.

What Did Luke’s Eyewitnesses See?

The Gospel of Luke begins with words that many have understood to be an assurance that its narrative is based on the firsthand eyewitness testimony of those who had seen Jesus for themselves. Here is Craig S. Keener‘s rendition of Luke 1:1-2

. . . many have sought to complete a narrative of the acts fulfilled in our midst, just as those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the message have from the beginning transmitted them orally to us. (from the header to chapter 10, “The Gospels’ Oral Sources”, in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, 139)

Keener captures the meaning Richard Bauckham imputes to the term “eyewitnesses” in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

The autoptai [eyewitnesses] are simply firsthand observers of the events. (p. 117)

Now . . . we have discovered how important was the notion of an eyewitness who was qualified to tell the whole gospel story by virtue of participation in it from beginning to end . . . . (p. 124)

John N. Collins, in a 2010 Expository Times article, ‘Re-thinking “Eyewitnesses” in the Light of “Servants of the Word” (Luke 1:2)’ on the other hand, has cogently argued that the term translated “eyewitnesses” in Luke 2 almost certainly means something quite different from this widely-embraced view, and after 2 1/2 years Richard Bauckham has still to find time to respond. One scholar who has noticed Collins’ article is Thomas L. Brodie. He cites it six times in Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. (For info on John Collins see his details at the end of his review on Catholica.)

English: beginning of the Gospel of Luke
English: beginning of the Gospel of Luke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Collins closely examines the context of the word for eyewitnesses in Luke 1:2 and concludes it refers to officers of long-standing in the Christian community. At this point it is important to recall the opening words of Luke’s preface:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled [peplērophorēmenōn] among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you [NRSV]

Given that the opening verses are about literary activity, and the close association of the “autoptai” with “servants”, Collins further concludes that their role was related to the authentication of the documents accumulated from those many literary endeavours.

The word in question is found only once in the New Testament so there are no other biblical comparisons that can assist us with its meaning. The essence of Collins’ argument follows. (In all quotations the bolding is my own, not original.)

Eyewitnesses are also the Servants of the Word “From the Beginning”

First, Collins draws attention to the word order of the Greek. He sets out the above NRSV translation the following word order to reflect the Greek:

the from beginning eyewitnesses and servants being of the word

Servants and eyewitnesses are bracketed as a unit between “the” and “being/genomenoi“. It is clear that the two terms, eyewitnesses and servants, are to be understood as the one and same group with the same dual functions — eyewitnessing and serving — from the beginning. read more »

Who Wrote That? Verbal Affinities in the New Testament (Part 2)

(This post is a follow-on to Who Wrote That? Verbal Affinities Between the Lukan Prologue and Acts.)

In the comments section of the previous post, Squirrelloid asked, “I’m curious, have you also compared to the Pauline corpus as reconstructed for Marcion to see if the affinities you find are not present using his presumably less redacted versions?

With respect to the Lukan Prologue, one difficulty in finding statistically meaningful affinities outside of Luke/Acts is the rarity of many of the words. The author used a good many (NT) hapax legomena, no doubt because he was trying to sound more like Polybius than the LXX. And those words that aren’t unique are often found only in Acts (or perhaps Luke). We’re going to have to go farther afield than the prologue to find anything convincing regarding the Pauline epistles.

Servants of God

At least one curious exception to the above disclaimer is the word for “servant” in Luke 1:2.

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus
A nineteenth-century picture of Paul of Tarsus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ὑπηρέται (hypēretai) – “servants, officers, attendants” — As we pointed out before, the author of the prologue uses this term when speaking about “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” The gospels generally use this word to denote an officer under the charge of a hostile group.  Hence, we have “officers of the Jews” seizing Jesus and binding him in John 18:12. I think many times you could translate it as “henchmen.”

Paul, of course, when he talks about servants of Christ, prefers the word for slave — δοῦλος (doulos). The one exception to the rule is in 1 Corinthians 4:1.

First the Greek (SBLGNT):

Οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος ὡς ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ.

And then the English (NASB):

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Here Paul (or whoever wrote the passage) is using officer/servant instead of slave/servant for the first and only time in the entire corpus.  Interestingly, he’s using it in a sentence with a formulaic designation for the followers of Jesus. They are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Yet, if it is a formula, it is the only time we find it in the NT; nor do we find its constituent parts.  In other words, the exact phrases “ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ (servants of Christ) and “οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ (stewards of the mysteries of God)” never occur anywhere in the Bible except for 1 Corinthians 4:1. read more »

Who Wrote That? Verbal Affinities Between the Lukan Prologue and Acts

Saint Luke the Evangelist
One of the disciples hands Luke a sworn, signed, eyewitness statement. — Saint Luke the Evangelist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, Robert Bumbalough asked, “. . . What of the style and grammar of the Lukan prologue vs. that of the Lukan infancy narrative vs. subsequent sections? Is there evidence [that] portions stem from the same pen?” This question reminded me of a personal, informal study I undertook a short while back, comparing the word selection in the Lukan Prologue to the rest of the New Testament. What follows is a brief recap of that study. Caveat lector: I’m not a professional text critic, just a curious amateur; I’m interested in your take on the matter too.

Is the prologue original to the text of Luke?

I start with the hypothesis that the original core of Luke probably did not contain the prologue and perhaps not even the genealogy or birth narrative. My working theory, at least for the purposes of the study, is that the later author who wrote the Acts of the Apostles added introductions to both works and “ironed out” the language in the original gospel of Luke to conform better to his linguistic preferences.

Word selection is not proof of authorship, but it can be a strong indicator. When we write we tend to follow known, comfortable patterns. These patterns include sentence length, preferences for correlative clauses versus clauses concatenated with conjunctions, and word choice. For example, if you ever see me use “author” as a verb, you’ll know my body has been taken over by aliens.

Food for thought: If the short introductions to Luke and Acts, which were addressed to a fictional Theophilus (“Dear God-lover . . .”), can be shown to be the products of a second-century redactor (to add verisimilitude and “a touch of class”) then what does that say about historicists’ assertions that we have “no reason to doubt” Luke when he says he knew of “many” gospels and talked to “eyewitnesses”?

Textual analysis: Verse 1

Here’s the Greek text of Luke 1:1 from Westcott and Hort:

Ἐπειδήπερ πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνατάξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων,

Epeidēper polloi epecheirēsan anataxasthai diēgēsin peri tōn peplērophorēmenōn en hēmin pragmatōn,

As a reminder, here’s the English translation of the first verse:

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, (KJV)

We’ll look at each word (other than common words such as articles, conjunctions, and prepositions) to see where they were used elsewhere in the NT. read more »

Luke’s Prologue — historical or historical illusion?

I was reminded of Luke’s prologue (again) when I recently read (again) the prologue of Roman historian Livy. Stream of consciousness takes me immediately to Loveday Alexander’s argument that Luke’s prologue is very “unlike” the prologues of ancient historians and to my own pet notion (anathema to most interested classicists, I am sure) that Luke’s second volume, Acts, is structured around the founding myth of Rome: both narrate the voyage of a hero from the east, via Troy, to establish a new (imperial/spiritual) headquarters in Rome. But I do take some courage in that at least one scholar, Marianne Palmer Bonz, has written an exploratory book, The Past As Legacy: Luke-Acts As Ancient Epic, expressing the same theme. (I call it “exploratory” because I am still seeking more specific details to support the argument.)

So I collate the different possible explanations of Luke’s Prologue in this post. read more »

Marcion and Luke-Acts: The Preface of Luke

From Allposters.com
Prologue of the Gospel of St. Luke, from the Gospel of St. Riquier, circa 800. From Allposters.com

Continuing notes from Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts — the previous post (on Luke 24) is here, the lot archived here

Previously I discussed Ancient Prologues in detail, but that was with particular reference to the Book of Acts. Nonbiblical examples of split prefaces, such as we find in Luke-Acts, were part of that discussion, but here I’m focusing on Tyson’s look at the Preface of Luke in the context of his earlier sections on Luke’s special material, and their apparent Marcionite context.

So far we have looked at

  1. the evidence (especially from contradictions and tendentiousness within the Tertullian claim, and from Justin Martyr’s evidence) that Marcion was active considerably earlier than the 144 c.e. date that has generally been assigned to him;
  2. reasons for assigning a late date to the Book of Acts;
  3. arguments for canonical Luke and Marcion’s gospel both being editings of an “original Luke”;
  4. the arguably anti-Marcionite content of Acts;
  5. the anti-Marcionite aptness of the Infancy Narratives and the Resurrection appearances in Luke.

This post is continuing point 4, arguing for the coherence of the Prologue to the Gospel of Luke within a context of a reaction against Marcionism. read more »

The literary genre of Acts 1(a): Ancient Prologue followup

My post on the style, content and function of ancient prologues or prefaces in relation to the Book of Acts has been misunderstood as interpreted by some as an attempt to argue or prove from the prologue itself that the author did not intend to write history. read more »

The literary genre of Acts. 2: Chronology

There is not a lot to say about the use of chronological markers in Acts. There aren’t many.

read more »

Ancient prologues: Conventions and an oddity of the Acts preface

Since my previous post on looking at the preface to Acts in the context of contemporary prefaces, I have added a new section in that same post on the conventions of those prefaces. I have included it separately again here below.

I have also added the most obvious omission in my previous post, the preface of Acts itself. It is interesting to compare it with other prefaces to histories, and note not only Cadbury’s comments on where it fails to meet expected conventional standards, but also to observe the remarkable failure of the author to declare the purpose or contents of the work it is introducing. (Cadbury raises the possibility that the original preface may have been tampered with in order to account for this failure to match expected convention.) read more »

The literary genre of Acts. 1: Ancient Prologues

Richard Pervo (Profit with Delight) compares Acts with ancient novels and finds striking resemblances. We tend to resist finding the thrill of novelistic adventure and humour in the books of the Bible. Holy books are supposed to be read with much gravitas, after all. But Pervo’s comparison with ancient novels has persuaded him that Acts shared their particular qualities that excited and entertained his audiences. I have read many ancient novels over recent years — and many ancient historians over a longer period of time — and fully agree with him.

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