Tag Archives: Luke-Acts

How the Author of Acts Rewrote Stories from Luke

As we discussed several months ago, Michael Licona wrote a book about the differences in the gospels in which he tries to explain them away by comparing the evangelists to Plutarch. However, his attempt was stillborn, since his methodology contains a deadly flaw. He proposes that by examining how Plutarch changed stories as he recounted them in different Lives, we can gain some insight as to how the author of Luke, for example, edited Marcan stories.

In the latter case, of course, we can see only how Luke dealt with one of his sources. In the former, we discover how Plutarch rewrote himself. These are two different things. But before we toss Licona’s book aside, let’s consider how we might apply his methodology correctly. Is there any place in the New Testament in which an author created a second work and plainly rewrote one or more stories in a way that might resemble Plutarch’s process?

Resuscitation Redux

Peter: “Tabitha, arise!”

Yes. In the Acts of the Apostles, the author (whom most scholars believe is the same person as the author of Luke) recycled stories told about Jesus and applied them to Peter. You probably already noticed long ago that Jesus raised a young girl (Mark provides the Aramaic talitha) in Luke 8:40-56, while Peter raised a female disciple named Tabitha (Aramaic for antelope or gazelle) in Acts 9:36-42. And no doubt you thought to yourself, “That sounds familiar.”

The author (we’ll call him Luke for the sake of convenience) has left other clues that we’re reading the same story, albeit with different characters set in a different locale. By examining the Greek text, we can discover textual affinities between the two stories.

Acts 9:36  Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. (NASB)

Acts places several important events in Joppa, because historically this town acted as the port city for Jerusalem. Legend has it that the cedars of Lebanon floated via the sea to Joppa, and then were shipped overland to Jerusalem. Joppa is the physical and metaphorical gateway from Judea to the Greco-Roman world.

Luke tells us Peter learned all animals are now clean while visiting Simon the Tanner in Joppa. This fable seeks to explain the change from a faction based in Judaism, with its understanding of what is ritually unclean to God (pork, blood, foreskins, etc.), to something new — a splinter cult on the path to a separate religion that fell back on the so-called Noahide Covenantread more »

Who Were the Hellenists in Acts?

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By Fra Angelico, “Life of Stephen: Ordination and Distributing Alms” — making sure the Hellenist widows get a fair deal.

Larry Hurtado’s Blog is a sincere effort to share biblical scholarship with a wider lay readership. He has most recently pointed to a site that promises to address biblical issues for a general readership and even has an “ask a scholar” section: Bible Odyssey. Hurtado’s interpretations are (in my view) quite conservative. I think one should raise questions when a scholar’s explanations for so many questions coincidentally support traditional Christian dogma. I don’t suggest that all of his views should be suspect for that reason alone: I have found some of his analysis into how soon Jesus was worshiped as an exalted divine figure to be very strong. But I think Biblioblogs fail to fully respect readers when they present just one view of scholarly research as if that one view were “the correct” one.

Vridar was started as an attempt to share “the other side” of so much scholarly research in biblical studies. When I first took up learning so much about scholarly studies into the nature and origins of the Biblical literature I found that it was so difficult to wade through so much that was logically suspect or short on clear evidence. There was so much assumption, specious reasoning, possibilities that were transformed to probabilities and then to facts, circular argument . . . . and most of it was (suspiciously) essentially consistent with conventional religious dogmas.

So when I read The “Hellenists” of Acts: Dubious Assumptions and an Important Publication — a post in which Larry Hurtado argues that the only difference between the Hellenists in Acts and other Jewish members of the first church was that they hailed from the Diaspora and hence spoke Greek — I felt compelled to submit the following comment:  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 Prolog in this post. read more »

Luke’s Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:5-2:52) as an integrated response to Marcionism

Broken links fixed — 25th November 2009

The Infancy Narratives of Luke, the first 2 chapters of this gospel, are well integrated into the larger narrative of the rest of Luke and Acts (Tannehill). But that does not preclude the possibility that they were added later to an original Luke, with the final redactor reworking that original gospel to thematically and theologically so that it formed a new whole, a new single work which included new material and added the Book of Acts as a second part to the narrative. Tyson fully embraces the narrative and thematic unity between the Infancy Narratives and the rest of the canonical form of the gospel, but he also sees reasons for believing that these opening chapters (along with other material and the Book of Acts) were added to a pre-canonical form of Luke in order to undermine the gospel of Marcion. Marcion’s gospel, he argues, was based on an “original Luke”. First Marcion edited this “original”, and then the canonical redactor did likewise, adding the first two chapters that we know today, in order to turn it into an anti-Marcionite document.

Tyson’s reasons (with reference to Streeter, Fitzmeyer, Raymond Brown, Cadbury, Conzelmann, Vincent Taylor, Knox, and his own earlier work on the Judaistic unity of the gospel), for believing that the Infancy Narratives of Luke were a later addition to the “original Luke” (which was also redacted) are summarized here:

Luke 3:1 is still an excellent beginning for a Gospel

  1. Luke 3:1-2 is a most suitable beginning. It is more precise in its chronological and geographical setting than Luke 1:5. Luke 3:1-2 places the drama on a world stage, without neglecting the parochial details. Carefully composed time setting details makes for an appropriate beginning of an historical or biographical account.
  2. Luke 1:5-2:52 appears to stand apart from everything else in the gospel.
  3. If Luke used Mark as a source it is not unlikely that he also began his gospel where Mark did.
  4. The genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 is appropriate only if Luke 3:1 is the beginning of the gospel. The genealogy only works (makes Jesus a son of David) if Joseph is his father, which conflicts with the birth narrative .
  5. John the Baptist is introduced in 3:1-2 as if for the first time.
  6. Requirements for apostleship in Acts 1:22 appear to designate the beginning of the gospel as the baptism of Jesus.
  7. Marcion’s gospel also began with the reference to the 15th year of Tiberius, although not to introduce John the Baptist but to designate the first earthly appearance of Jesus who came down to Capernaum (Luke 4:31).

Contrasts of narrative tone

  1. There is a profound sense that something new has begun at Luke 3:1. Luke 3:1 marks an abrupt change of time (from Herod to Tiberius) and marks a silent interval of some 18 years.
  2. Contrasting tones, including a contrast between infancy and adulthood, between miraculous births and wilderness preaching, between prophetic blessings and demonic temptations, between a time of good will and imprisonment.
  3. There is a sense of “abrupt change from a comfortable, idyllic, semimythical world to the cold cruel world of political social reality.” (p.94)

Different treatment of prominent characters

John the Baptist

Although there is some continuity between the treatment of John the Baptist in the Infancy Narrative and the remainder of the gospel (in both parts John is the preparer of the way for Jesus), there are also discontinuities.

There is a distinct contrast between the closeness of John the Baptist and Jesus in 1:5-2:52 and the distancing of these two in rest of gospel. This is in stark contrast to the first 2 chapters where the author has closely knit a narrative comparing the likenesses and differences between the two in a step by step sequence.

  1. Luke 16:16 can be read as assigning John to the age of Israel, and thus separated from age of Jesus.
  2. John and Jesus occupy different geographic areas after the Infancy Narratives.
  3. John completes his mission before the baptism of Jesus.
  4. John is imprisoned before Jesus begins his ministry.
  5. John does not even baptize Jesus in the main body of the gospel. The emphasis is on the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven, not the baptism of Jesus.

The Parents and Family of Jesus

  1. Joseph is mentioned five times in the Infancy Narratives but only twice thereafter.
  2. Mary is a lead character in the opening chapters. She is mentioned sixteen times in the Infancy Narratives but only once afterwards. In the early chapters she is treated with near veneration: she is given a great promise by the archangel Gabriel, and then the focus of Simeon’s dramatic prophecy, but then simply disappears except for one strange mention where Jesus rejects her in favour of his disciples.
  3. In that later mention the brothers of Jesus are also mentioned, which is again strange given there was no hint beforehand that they existed.
  4. The opening two chapters portray a very positive relationship between Jesus and his family, and a very positive picture of Jesus’ family itself. This contrasts sharply with the negative and rejectionist view of families in the remainder of the gospel. There, Jesus says he has come to create family division (12:53), that his disciples must hate their parents to follow him (14:26). Nor does this gospel, unlike those of Mark and Matthew, condemn the custom of Corban which allowed parents to be neglected if one made an offering to the Temple.
  5. The genealogy does not work given the Infancy Narrative opening of the gospel. The Infancy Narratives demand that the birth of Jesus be more miraculous than that of John. So to this end the focus has to be on Mary there more than Joseph. This early narrative also stresses Jesus being the Son of David. But later in the main body of the gospel the genealogy traces Jesus’ ancestry through Joseph. So the genealogy does not cohere with the Infancy Narrative and its portrayal of Jesus being the Son of David by Mary.

Linquistic Style Differences

  1. The Septuagintal style (and content) is found throughout Luke-Acts but is most prominent in the Infancy Narratives.
  2. Also the heavy Semitic flavour in the Infancy Narratives can be found throughout Luke-Acts, but is most pronounced in the first 2 chapters.
  3. The style of the Infancy Narratives serves to link Jesus to the Hebrew Scriptures. It transports the reader back to world of the ancient Hebrew writers and prophets.
  4. The characters’ lives are set against this background and governed by the values of the Hebrew Scriptures. The description of piety of the characters is idyllic.

Differences in Ideology

  1. The different ideologies of the family expressed in the Infancy Narratives and the body of the gospel has been discussed above.
  2. The treatment of Jews and Judaism in the Infancy Narratives is strikingly positive in contrast with rest of Luke-Acts.
  3. Chapters 1-2 function to connect Jesus and the Baptist to the world of the Hebrew prophets and ongoing Jewish piety and expectations. The tone is almost entirely one of hope and optimism.

The appropriateness of all the above as a reaction against Marcionism

  1. These opening chapters take the reader back 30 years before Jesus began his ministry, back to the reigns of Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus, as if to deny the Marcionite claim that Jesus’ first appearance was in the time of Tiberius (Luke 3:1).
  2. The Infancy Narratives emphasize that Jesus was born of a woman. He did not, as per Marcion, suddenly descend from heaven to Capernaum. For Marcion, a human birth for Jesus would have been degrading.
  3. Gabriel’s message seems chosen to offend Marcionites for its anatomical detail: to conceive in her womb, produce a son, leaping in her womb.
  4. Jesus is repeatedly called a baby or a child — as also is John.
  5. The language throughout emphasizes Jesus’ humanity, and proximity to family, and his similarities with John.
  6. Close relationship with John is conveyed through angelic announcements predicting their conception and births, the narratives about their births, their naming, the circumcision of both, the similar summary statements conclude narratives of both. Compare the author of Acts drawing similar narrative parallel units for the reader to compare Peter and Paul.
  7. The Infancy Narratives stress the relationship of Jesus to Israel, the prophetic anticipation of his coming, of Jesus being the fulfilment of Jewish expectation.
  8. The same chapters stress the relationship of Jesus to the Jewish people. He is of the House of David; David is Jesus’ father; he is born in City of David.
  9. The family of Jesus is faithful to Jewish practices — note the stories of the presentation of Jesus and Mary’s purification. They are pious Jews, observing Torah, supporting the Jerusalem Temple, practicing sacrifices, observing Jewish festivals.
  10. And Jesus incorporated these practices, being obedient to parents.
  11. Jesus’ Jewishness is especially stressed in the story of his circumcision. This vitally links him with Judaism. and would have been especially offensive to Marcionites.
  12. Pervasive influence of the Hebrew Scriptures is especially pronounced in the Infancy Narratives, in language, tone and content.
  13. Prominent use of Daniel and Malachi (Malachi is drawn on in the announcement of the birth of John; and in the appearances of Jesus in the Temple)
  14. Eight characters from the Hebrew bible are mentioned in the Infancy Narratives: Aaron, Abijah, Abraham, Asher, David, Elijah, Jacob, Moses.
  15. There are also references to the holy prophets predicting Jesus. (Marcion denied that Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophetic scriptures. He interpreted these literally, not allegorically, to refer to a conquering Messiah.)
  16. Quotations, allusions and models of narratives are closely based on the Septuagint Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. the presentation of Samuel was probably the model for the story of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple).

Tyson writes:

These considerations make it highly probable, in my judgment, that the Lukan birth narratives were added in reaction to the challenges of Marcionite Christianity.

If these two chapters were a part of the original Luke, it is very hard to understand why Marcion would have chosen such a gospel with such highly offensive chapters to edit to begin with. On the other hand,

it would be difficult to imagine a more directly anti-Marcionite narrative than what we have in Luke 1 :5- 2:52. (p.100)

Next — the postresurrection accounts (and the Preface) of Luke . . . .

Did Marcion mutilate the Gospel of Luke?

This was the claim of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Epiphanaeus.

Besides this, he mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father. Irenaeus AH 1:27.2

Now, of the authors whom we possess, Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process. Tetullian, AM 4:2

But these claims are questionable when we think about the times in which they were recorded. Irenaeus was writing in the late second century, Tertullian in the early third, and Epiphanaeus much later still. “The ecclesiastical situation for all these writers was very different from that in Marcion’s time.” (Tyson, p.39 — This blog post is mostly derived from Tyson’s book)

Contrast the date of Marcion, especially as revised by Hoffmann to the early part of the second century: — See previous posts beginning with Dating Marcion Early (2). (This revised earlier date for Marcion is based primarily on a rejection of the the ideologically tendentious date assigned by Irenaeus and an assigning greater weight to the contrasting contemporaneous observations of Justin Martyr.)

Irenaeus saw the need for authority to redress the “riotous diversity” that characterized Christianity till his time. That meant an authoritative canon and a clear genealogy of bishops from the apostles to his own day. And that canon of four gospels had to be four because the world — throughout which the church was scattered — had four corners and four winds. (Irenaeus AH 3:11.8)

Tyson refers to Bauer’s conclusion:

Walter Bauer has convincingly shown that the early part of the second century was a time of great diversity in terms of Christian thought and practice. He observed that heterodoxy probably preceded orthodoxy in many locations and that, particularly in the East, Marcionism, or something closely resembling it, was the original form of Christianity. (Tyson, p.39)

Bauer’s work is online. Tyson refers particularly to his discussion from p.194, his chapter 8. To cite one section from Bauer’s chapter 8:

One final point. The reckless speed with which, from the very beginning, the doctrine and ideology of Marcion spread can only be explained if it had found the ground already prepared. Apparently a great number of the baptized, especially in the East, inclined toward this view of Christianity and joined Marcion without hesitation as soon as he appeared, finding in him the classic embodiment of their own belief. What had dwelt in their inner consciousness in a more or less undefined form until then, acquired through Marcion the definite form that satisfied head and heart. No one can call that a falling away from orthodoxy to heresy.

Tyson discusses the implausibility of Marcion, living at a time when there was no gospel canon as called for by Irenaeus, being faced with an authoritative list of 4 gospels, selecting one of those four, excising large chunks from it, and then elevating it to a level above the others, “in full consciousness of having chosen a practice opposed to the worldwide church”. Such a notion is what Irenaeus suggests, but it is anachronistic.

If the scenario of Marcion knowingly mutilating one of the gospels upheld by his peers to be of the sacred four is implausible, what did Marcion do?

If he did select a gospel from among many known to him, then we must think of unstable texts with various editions, certainly not formal or even quasi-canonical collections.

It may be objected that Marcion would naturally select the text written by the companion of Paul, Luke. However, there is no evidence that the gospels were assigned author names until the time of Irenaeus. The first evidence we have that a gospel was authored by Luke, a companion of Paul, is from Irenaeus. (In a future post I hope to discuss Hoffmann’s suggestion for how Luke came to be assigned the authorship of the gospel and Acts.)

Tyson asserts the most likely scenario is that Marcion worked with a gospel that was originally a text known to his locality (the Pontus).

The evidence for local texts at this time is strong, and the use of one gospel in a specific church is manifest. (Tyson, p.40)

Tyson’s footnoted support for this assertion:

B. H. Streeter, “The Four Gospel: A Study of Origins” (1924), 27-50.

Harnack, “Marcion: The Gospel” (1921), 29. Harnack accepted the idea that Marcion did use the Gospel of Luke, but believed that this gospel may have been the only one known in the Pontus region.

Yet clearly there was significant overlap between Marcion’s gospel and the canonical Luke. For this reason the opponents of Marcion, writing from a very different time and context, accused him of mutilating the canonical gospel.

A follow-up post will outline what Marcion’s gospel must have looked like, with an evaluation of Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion’s text.

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.

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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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