Tag Archives: Luke-Acts prologue

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 »

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.

read more »

Luke’s Prologue: the How question. (A question only)

Luke 1:1-4

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I am not an expert in biblical Greek. I rely on tools such as lexicons and grammars and dictionaries. But till then my use of those tools has led me to ask the following:

Is there anything in the prologue of Luke that discounts the possibility that he is speaking of written transmission exclusively?

The author begins by reminding readers that many before him have written a gospel-like narrative.

He then says that those who were there from the beginning, the eyewitnesses, “delivered the data” to us. That “delivered” work in Greek is the same as used elsewhere for Christ being delivered up for us, sinners being handed over to Satan, and Paul delivering the decrees from the Jerusalem council to his churches. It doesn’t seem to me to be related in any way at all to a method of delivery, but rather to a fact of delivery, method immaterial.

Is there anything in this prologue that denies the possibility, even plausibility, that the original eyewitnesses were believed to have passed on their understanding through a written narrative?

The Greek-English Lexicon of the NT ….. 4th ed of Bauers’s …. includes a meaning for the word for “delivered” the following:

3. of oral or written tradition hand down, pass one, transmit, . . . .  (p.615)

That sounds to me like a prima facie argument for the eyewitnesses handing on the tradition whether orally or in written form….

Then the author of Luke’s Prologue says it seemed a good idea for him to do the same thing as had been done up to the point of his own experience. To add another link to the chain to give some confidence to his own readers that the past was still present.

The strongest argument against this question that comes to mind is later belief that the original eyewitnesses did not write their of their own experiences. (Except maybe for Matthew for some, and John for others. — but these are not majority views.)

But we cannot without good reason judge the intended meaning of the author of Luke’s prologue by how later generations interpreted it. What does the Prologue itself actually say and what are the plausible interpretations of what it says in its own right quite apart from later interpretations?

Is it reasonable to think that the author of the Prologue was speaking of a chain of written documents — which of course stretches even further the possible time gap between the original events and his own time?