Luke’s parables are narratives of disorientation that subvert conventional wisdom about many issues such as the use of wealth and possessions. The parables use specific rhetorical strategies (character identification and premature closure) in order to transform the lives of Luke’s readers/hearers
Admittedly, I have never read Dean Printer before, but I have read Josephus and I have read Luke. When it comes to Josephus, I suspect Printer and I will disagree about him and his hidden transcripts, but will agree when it comes to Luke. Unlike Willitts who has Carter as his foil, Printer’s essay is generally a collection of talking points aimed roughly across the Third Gospel but not hitting anyone in particular in a cordon defensive manner.
Printer’s aim, then, without another scholar to directly challenge, is to use Josephus as a foil to Luke. This, I believed, would be interesting given Luke’s sometimes borrowing of scenes from various works of Josephus, but alas, I found the mention of this area of scholarship lacking in this essay.1 Instead, Printer bases his use of Josephus on a supposed commonality of agendas shared by the two ancient historiographers (103). Printer ultimately sees more of the hidden transcripts in Josephus than Luke (107–8), which I find rather odd since several scholars, myself included, have identified the imperial propaganda created by Josephus as the impetus for the Gospel of Mark.2
While I agree with Printer’s overall arguments, that Luke is simply not concerned enough with Rome to be anti-Rome, his argument is lacking in two distinct areas. First, in discussing the hiddenness of the transcript, Printer’s laugh is almost noticeable as he points out the addressing to Theophilus (109) of the Gospel. The essayist, then, counts the Gospel as a private letter. If so, then this is the only instance of a private letter in the New Testament, not to mention that neither Luke nor Acts is presented as a private letter.3 It is doubtful historiographers would see such a historical enterprise as private, but this is another story. Instead, we can focus on the lack of historical Theophilus. This is not say Theophilus may have not been a real person, but there needs not be such an entity. Instead, we can allow the possibility “Theophilus” is itself a hidden meaning implying “friend of God” or “lover of God,” both theological concepts indicating a status of the person reading the letter rather than a person of status reading the letter. If this is the case, then from the start, Luke is telling his audience that something is buried in the Gospel, something only they will fully understand.
Of course, that is not the major weakness of his argument. His major weakness is not considering Luke as a final redactor of the Mark-Matthew tradition à la Farrer-Goulder. We may allow Luke to have his own agenda, but given the distance away from Mark and Matthew, Luke’s agenda must be considered as one without the crisis of imperial ideology as we see in Mark with something of an echo in Matthew. If Luke is not using the implausible and certainly non-existent Q, then Printer’s allowance that Luke is “free to write as he chooses” (109) is roundly mistaken. Luke is only really free to shape Mark-Matthew around some independent sources. These sources, I would urge, reveal Luke’s agenda and they are an agenda of a settled community rather than a community under mental siege by imperial ideology. Indeed, Luke as much as tells us he is only using sources known to him to retell the story differently and for a different reason (Luke 1.1-4).
Overall, Printer does a fine job and showing a developed Gospel with no real need to press against the encroachment of imperial ideology, offering satisfactory answers as to why Rome simply doesn’t seem to matter to our Evangelist.
- If Luke used Josephus, what does this say about imperial criticism and hidden transcripts? ↩
- First, I would recommend Adam Winn‘s fantastic monograph, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel. Follow this closely with my recent work as well. ↩
- Some will point to Philemon, however, other names are listed on the letter, as if Paul intended to be read aloud. 1-2 Timothy and Titus, Deutero-Pauline at best, include the need for the letters to be read aloud, in a congregation as well. ↩
The real slave master, keeping the human race in bondage, is death itself. Earthly tyrants borrow power from death to boost their rule; that’s why crucifixion was such a symbol of Roman authority.
We need to remember this..
People often think that resurrection means “life after death” or “going to heaven”, but in the Jewish worldview of the first century it meant an embodied life in God’s new world; a life after “life after death” so to speak.
By embodied, we mean “in a body” – not floating about in the clouds nebulously playing a harp.. In the end, “heaven” and earth will be the same place, that is, the earth will be renewed. We aint “going away” – we WANT to be left behind.. creation is our inheritance, not “nowhere”.
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit, and stories about him spread all through the area.15 He began to teach in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 Jesus traveled to Nazareth, where he had grown up. On the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue, as he always did, and stood up to read. 17 The book of Isaiah the prophet was given to him. He opened the book and found the place where this is written:
18 “The Lord has put his Spirit in me,
because he appointed me to tell the Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to tell the captives they are free
and to tell the blind that they can see again. — Isaiah 61:1
God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly — Isaiah 58:6
19 and to announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness.” — Isaiah 61:2
20 Jesus closed the book, gave it back to the assistant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue was watching Jesus closely. 21 He began to say to them, “While you heard these words just now, they were coming true!”
22 All the people spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at the words of grace he spoke. They asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
23 Jesus said to them, “I know that you will tell me the old saying: ‘Doctor, heal yourself.’ You want to say, ‘We heard about the things you did in Capernaum. Do those things here in your own town!’ “ 24 Then Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown. 25 But I tell you the truth, there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah. It did not rain in Israel for three and one-half years, and there was no food anywhere in the whole country.26 But Elijah was sent to none of those widows, only to a widow in Zarephath, a town in Sidon. 27 And there were many with skin diseases living in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha. But none of them were healed, only Naaman, who was from the country of Syria.”
28 When all the people in the synagogue heard these things, they became very angry.29 They got up, forced Jesus out of town, and took him to the edge of the cliff on which the town was built. They planned to throw him off the edge,30but Jesus walked (Slipped) through the crowd and went on his way.
All the people were amazed at the words of grace.. no, not that Jesus was a great speaker, but that He was talking about Grace, and most importantly, not grace for Israel, but for everyone, as he goes on to point out how Elijah was sent to a non-Israelite woman, and Elisha was healed an enemy general. This would be a bit like someone (claiming to be a prophet) standing up in America and saying that God was going to save Al Queda.
It would be shocking, and outrageous. God’s grace is for everyone, and He, the Messiah (these words about the Messiah are fulfilled before you today, he says), has not been sent to save Israel – the healthy do not need a doctor – but to save the Gentiles.
So they try to kill him. Ironically, Jesus did not test God to save him when the accuser tested him a little before, and now, miraculously, Jesus slips away through the crowd. “On his way” generally means, in Luke, some form of divine direction or leading, “a path set out before one by God” – so to speak.
Luke Johnson shows in his recent work, that a biblical scholar can retain the prophetic mantle and issue a call to the Church Universal (“I recognize as authentic realizations of church any community where two or three gather in the name of the risen Lord Jesus and both speak and act the truth of the gospel in love.” (p7)) to rediscover the vision of Jesus Christ. Ever present is Johnson’s trademark critique of the search for the historical Jesus who he insists is second to the Christ of Faith. For him, Luke’s Jesus is the Jesus which he examines. It is in this mind set that Johnson sets about, with a solid foothold in the historical critical approach and in the life of a Spirit-filled believer, to tackle the Third Evangelist’s corpus as a single literary unit, contrary to what modern scholarship as to say. But, he goes further. Johnson challenges modern scholarship in setting Acts against Luke as if, to paraphrase the author, the Church in Acts has betrayed the Jesus of Luke. Instead, Johnson see the institutionalized Acts Church as even more radical than the Jesus of the Gospels. This is classic Luke Johnson with his deep concerns for the faith, his call to the Church, and his resilient scholarship.
The first chapter, The Literary Shape of Luke-Acts, deals with four things which Johnson deems needful in reading Luke-Acts as the author intended for it to be read. He will analyze four pieces of the corpus, material, stylistic, genre and structural shape. This is the historical critical approach; this is scholarship. Johnson assumes Markan priority, which, in my opinion, is always the best place to start. One cannot easily grasp the proper analyses of either Matthew or Luke without assuming Markan priority. Throughout the analyses, Johnson is able to demonstrate a careful handling of Luke-Acts and the scholarship which surrounds it. He briefly describes where modern scholarship, perhaps, has gone too far in pitting Luke against Matthew or Luke against Acts. He notes that Luke-Acts is a definitive historiographical apologetic, sharing some traits with Greco-Roman biographies of the age, but written to defend the Church against charges which were commonly presented against it. He notes that these charges, and thus the defenses, are more readily apparent in Acts. (Note, the defense was needed, especially if Johnson was correct, and that one of the charges were that the Jewish movement around Jesus had reached the Gentiles.) He ends the first chapter with the issue of geography in Luke-Acts, noting that this is indeed very much part of the prophetic message of the corpus, a theme he will return too later. With the literary shape of Luke-Acts completed, Johnson moves on the prophetic shape.
The prophetic shape is different than Matthew’s, according to the author, although his statements here seem more like a slight against Matthew rather than a critical reading; however, Johnson pushes the fact that Luke is not Matthew simply redone, but as an author has a unique way of exploring the themes of fulfillment, or actualization, of Israel’s narrative history in the events of Jesus and the early Church. This latter bit is new to me; however, Johnson presents it well enough, along with tacking on to this the use of other Judaisms (Qumran, Hellenists) by Luke. Moving on, Johnson begins to discuss a deeper view of prophecy that the Evangelists employs – the actualization of character in that people in Luke-Acts share character traits of people in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is the meat of this book, I think, which must propel the reader to want to explore the rest of this work. Throughout this section, Johnson draws the literary connections to the Old Testament, and more especially to the narratives in the Kings. This is one of the faults of the book, in that Johnson doesn’t allow that Luke has taken over the use of these narratives from Mark. Over all, however, Johnson is impressive in his meticulous research in connection Luke-Acts to the Septuagint, and establishing the Evangelist as something more than a mere copyist, but one with a distinct theology.
I often find that when an author says, “I have shown thus and thus in the previous chapters,” I laugh to myself because I can, many times, note where they simply didn’t. When Johnson says, however, that he has shown how “prophecy plays a key role” in Luke-Acts at the beginning of the third chapter, I have to agree. The first two chapters read like a brisk commentary filled with solid scholarship and an (re)establishment of what prophecy is and how it serves as a structure for Luke-Acts. This structure, I would have to agree, does unite the two volumes into one book, and more, provides for something more. This chapter, The Character of the Prophet, will focus on prophecy itself, and he begins early on with defining what prophecy actually is, and then, what a prophet is (I note that too many contemporary Christians need to read this book, if for nothing else, the clear establishment by Johnson of these two important concepts which are often times gotten wrong). Something to really consider is Johnson’s mandate that the prophet “embodies God’s Word.” For him, the prophet does not just speak the words of God, nor just live them, but actually acts those things out. This is an important theme, and one expanded in chapter six, becoming almost an axis, in my reading at least, of this book. Here, we can think of Moses and the destruction of the first set of stone tablets or John the Baptist coming out of the wilderness or of Hosea and Ezekiel. He concludes the chapter with the promise to show that the early Church did not deviate from Jesus the prophet, but embodied it completely.
After the critical work is done, Johnson moves into tackling the different aspects of what a prophet is. Chapters 4 through 8 detail the Prophetic Spirit, in which Johnson tackles the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts; the Prophetic Word, in which the author discusses the words of the prophets, or rather, God and God’s vision of humanity; the Prophetic Embodiment, in which the scholar looks at the prophetic character (of Jesus) in terms of poverty, itinerancy, prayer, and servant leadership; the Prophetic Enactment in which the Church stands in opposition to the World Order through actualization of the word; and finally, the Prophetic Witness in which Johnson considers as the culmination of the life of the Church the connection to “persecution and death.” Each of these chapters are developed critically first, establishing Johnson’s foundation from which he springs forth, followed by how this presents a challenge to the contemporary Church. Luke’s Gospel (contained in Luke-Act as we are reminded) is retold through critical study and deep theological reflection based on the structure which Johnson has highlighted for us, that of prophecy.
Luke Johnson has provided the Church a prophetic message based on Scripture, on how to read Scripture while using scholarship and deep theological reflection. His call is indeed needful for the body of Christ today for several reason, but most importantly, because he takes the two hands of God, Scholarship (Logos) and Tradition (Wisdom), and shows us where God is leading us, what his vision for the Church really is. This is a wonderfully, reflective book for the modern Church.