THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
We've just spent three classes discussing the Gospel of
of you may wonder why. What has this to do with history?
it have to do with larger theme the course addresses, the church as a
point in history of world?
Studying the Gospel of Matthew is important for two reasons. As I am sure you history majors know, history doesn't automatically come in well-made, ready to use volumes. Instead, historical works are pieced together based on what historians can deduct from primary sources, works like the Gospel of Matthew. History (from the Greek historia) means investigation, and a good historian is trained to sift evidence in the same way a good detective does. Any of you who take any of Dr. Grettler's courses know that dealing with the kind of evidence historians use (artificats and primary sources) is a tricky business--but also a lot of fun--and interestingly enough, you often are closer to the truth with your own analysis of primary source material than when you depend on others to tell you what it's all about.
One of the strengths of the NSU history department is that our
students do become really good at primary source analysis, and I am
often pleased to find my students discovering ideas and possibilities
that I hadn't figured out for myself in the sources we read.
But how does our discussion of Matthew relate
to central theme of course, how does it help explain the transition of
empire from paganism to Christianity, a transition that affects every
of life, and, in many ways, marks the end of ancient world?
The growth of Christianity, and with it the transition
from polytheism to monotheism is a major, major step. Why wasn't it
made earlier? To a very slight degree, it had been made earlier.
alternative had been around for a long time among the Jews and among
some of the philosophers. But neither the monotheism of the
philosophers nor the type of monotheism advocated by the Pharisees or
Sadducees was going to attract many adherents. Philosophy was
for the elite few. Sadduceeism was dependent on worship in the
Jerusalem temple. The Pharisees, with their synagogues in every city,
were a bit more successful in prosyletizing, but the rigid nature of
the Pharasaic life-style made in unlikely for there belief to spread
all that widely. For monotheism to spread beyond tiny
communities, monotheism itself had
to be transformed.
The Gospel of Matthew shows how Jewish monotheism was changed, how a
nucleus of Jewish converts were converted to a monotheism very
different from that of the Pharisees and Sadduccees. Particularly
important, Matthew shows Christianity as a return to core Jewish
beliefts, and it explains how, for the original core of Jewish
followers of the Gospel, their "new" religion wasn't new at all--just a
fulfillment of what had been promised long before in the
prophets. Perhaps this is similar in some respects to the growth
of Protestantism. The protestant denominations could never have
grown so rapidly had it not been for the preceeding Catholic church,
not was it likely Protestantism could have succeeded had it not
convinced many Catholics that it was really a return to their true
The Gospel of Luke is in many ways very like Matthew. The two gospels tell the same story: many passages are identical. About 50% of material you read in Luke you had already read in Matthew (no, you weren't having de ja vu!). The Gospel of Mark also is similar to Luke and Matthew: there are only 50 verses in Mark not also included in either Matthew or Luke--one reason I don't assign that gospel. These three gospels are so much alike, we give them the special name "synoptic." Synoptic comes from Greek words "with" and "see." It essentially means Gospels that look alike or that can be easily compared..
Despite the similarities, the three synoptic gospels differ from each other in some respects. Why? Each gospel is addressed to a slightly different primary audience. Matthew seems be addressed to religious Jews or people already familiar with OT, but also for people who need some convincing. Luke doesn't anticipates same audience. One, he doesn't assume his audience knows OT scripture. Second, he seems to assume more sympathy for his message, as if he is writing primarily to those already convinced. Luke, then, is a gospel particularly well suited to the needs and interests of gentile believers in the first century.
This isn't surprising. Luke himself, the man who wrote gospel, was himself a gentile, probably the only gentile who wrote any book of Bible. He was a also a companion of the Apostle Paul, the man who, more than any other, was responsible for the spread of Christianity to the gentile world. Paul calls himself the "apostle to the gentiles," and, in many ways, he was just that. Luke was with Paul at cities such as Mytilene and Caesarea and remained with Paul throughout Paul's captivity. On his travels, Luke met many of key figures of the early church--certainly Peter and most probably Mary the mother of Jesus. This put him in an excellent position to write what was, for the average gentile reader, probably the most attractive of the four gospels.
What was attractive to gentiles about Luke?
First of all, Luke's writing style. A literary expert of the time would have viewed Luke's Greek is the "best" in the New Testament: the most sophisticated and interesting in terms of language use. Luke has been called "the most beautiful book ever written," and, while this has to do mostly with the content of the book, it also refers to the book's literary quality and the beauty of it's language. Matthew is full of "Hebraicisms," linguistic constructions more "appropriate" for Hebrew than Greek. He writes the kind of Greek spoken my a non-native. Luke's Greek is more sophisticated--good enough to be set alongside that of the greatest Greek prose writers.
In terms of structure, too, Luke would have had a special appeal to
gentiles. The gospel is put together in exactly the pattern
gentile audience would expect for the biography of a great man.
Gentiles would expect such a biography to include some or all of the
1. A dedication. Greek writers typically dedicated their books
to a prominent figure,
often the patron who sponsored the book. Dedications to the
emperor or another great man were common.
Marcus Aurelius, for instance, dedicates his Meditations "to
himself." Luke dedicates his book to Theophilus, a "lover
of God," but likely a wealthy gentiler Christian who is sponsoring the
publication and distribution of this book and Acts.
2. A statement of purpose. Herodotus, for instance,
begins his great history by explaining that he is trying to make sure
that great deeds wouldn't be forgotten--and
to explain the reasons why the Greeks and Persians fought one
another. Quite often, the writer maintains that his purpose
is to set the the
record straigh, Hecataeus, for instance, noting that, in connection
with the events he is going to write about, "the Greeks tell many
ones at that.". Luke indicates that he is going to set the
recored straight so that Theophilus can be sure of things he has been
taught. Luke also seems to be claiming that he is clarifying the
chronology, "setting forth in order" the events of the life of
Christ. Matthew tends to organize topically rather than
chronologically (a fairly frequent Jewish approach), and Luke may be
writing for an audience that prefers things in chronological order.
3. Early hints of a man's future greatness. Gentile
biographers looked for omens and signs of future greatness,
signs connected with birth, e.g., an unusually hard or easy labor.
Also, they would be careful to include any examples of precocious
behavior and the comments of those who first recognized their subjects
potential for greatness. Julius Caesar's ability to give a eulogy at a
very young age and Sulla's comment that there were "many Mariuses" in
the young Caesar were noted by Caesar's biographers.
4. Genealogical information. Gentile audiences wanted to know
a persons ancestry--and illustrious deeds done by those ancestors.
Luke's emphasis on the virgin birth and on John the Baptist leaping
in Elizabeth's womb is the kind of thing gentile would find
intriguing. The prophecies of
Simeon and Anna--and the appearance of the angels--likewise were the
kind of thing gentiles would have wanted included in the biography of a
great man. Jesus teaching n the temple at twelve? Again,
important to a gentile audience. And ancestors? You
want illustrious ancestors? Here goes, says Luke--as he traces
Jesus lineage back to God--a typically gentile thing to do, by the way.
Another indication that Luke has in mind a gentile audience is his use of scripture. He cites scripture far less than Matthew, but, when he does cite scripture, he tends to quote in full. Compare, for intance, Luke 3:6-7 with Matt 3:3).
Luke omits things many things Matthew includes. Luke's
"Sermon on Plain" (Luke 6) parallels the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew
5-7), but some things are left out. The "Ye have heard that it
was said by them of old time...." verses are all gone. Jesus just
indicates the tandards just set without the preceeding
contrast. Also, the criticism of public alms, prayer, and
fasting are gone--probably lest critical issues for Luke's intended
Much of what Luke omits in his account can be explained by the
fact he is writing to gentiles. Luke, for instance, leaves out the
parable of 10 virgins, perhaps because it would not have made as
to gentile readers as to Jews: Jewish and gentile marriage customs were
Here are some other things Luke omits, and, in at least some
instances, it's pretty clear that the omitted material would simply
have been more important to a Jewish audience that a gentile
audience. Among theos things left out:
--the Syrophonecian woman that Jesus initially ignores and tells that it is "not fit to give children's bread unto dogs." (Matt. 15:21-28)
--Jesus' teaching on what defiles a man (Matt. 15:1-10)
--the temple tax question (does your master pay the tribute?)
--the Pharisees questions on divorce (Matt. 19:1-12)
--the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-10)
--the cursing of the fig tree (Matt. 21:18-19)
--the death of Judas
--the mocking by the soldiers (Matt 27:27-31)
--the guard at the tomb (Matt. 27:62-66)
Remember, though, that Luke is very near the limit of a one-volume
book. He has to be selective, and he no doubt he sacrificed
some material only because he had other material he considered even
more important. What Luke *includes* is a better clue to the
audience he is trying to reach than what he leaves out. Material
in Luke but not Matthew includes the following. Note that Luke
seems to go out of his way to include material that would appeal to
special groups among the gentiles. There's much of special
interest to Samaritans, much of special interest to women, and much of
special interest to the poor.
--the healing of widow's son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17)
--the ministering women (Luke 8:1-3)
--the strange exorcist (Luke 9:49-50 also in Mark, but not Matt.)
--the story of the disciples wanting to destroy Samaritan villagers (Luke 9:51-56 cf. Acts 8:1-8, note Luke's special concern for Samaritans)
--the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37)
--Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42, note role of women here)
--the blessedness of Jesus mother (Luke 11:27-28, tie to women's role above)
--the friend at midnight (Luke 11:5-8, follows Lord's prayer)
--the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21)
--an addition to servant watching, degrees of reward (Luke 12:47-48, look up, note answer to question of righteous gentile, goes along with 13:1-9 which also is in Luke only)
--the healing of an infirm woman (Luke 13:11-13)
--the healing of ten lepers (returnee a Samaritan!! Luke 17:11-18)
--Jesus' teaching on humility (the servant prepares for his master not for reward but because its his duty--service to god should be like that, analogy to master/servant works for gentile)
--the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-10)
--the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-23)
--the rich man and Lazarus
--the pharisee and the publican
--the unjust judge
--the road to Emmaeus
Now it's possible to go way too far in emphasizing Matthew as a gospel for Jews and Luke as a gospel for gentiles. The gospels have much in common, and, to a certain extent, focusing on the differences rather than similiarities means overlooking some central themes of human appeal, e.g. Jesus crucifixion for the sins of mankind and his triumph over death. But even in treating common themes, differences in treatment show different audience. Compare, for instance, Matthew 24, and Luke 21, the "little apocalypse." Note that, Instead of Matthew's reference to the "abomination of desolation," famililiar to Jews from the the book of Daniel, Luke simply says, "When you see Jerusalem compassed about by armies..."\