Year C presents us, as preachers, with a new set of challenges, very different from those we encountered in Year B. The author of the Gospel according to Luke has written (including the second volume, The Acts of the Apostles) 25 percent of the New Testament. While Paul doesn’t appear in any of the gospel accounts we will encounter during the year, he looms large over the whole of the work we now call “Luke-Acts.”
We believe that it is Luke’s desire to reconcile the worlds of the Jewish Christian church represented by Peter and James with the Gentile church represented by Paul that caused him to take the other accounts he already knew, and rearrange them and add his second volume, “Acts.”
Luke writes like an historiographer, but he is, for us, fundamentally a theologian. He writes not so much to tell us precisely how things were, but how the Church, truly empowered by the Spirit, could be.
There are several issues we’d like to introduce, which govern our reading of Luke. They include:
1) Luke’s use of sources. We believe that there is no reason to accept the dominant source theories that include the hypothetical document, “Q’”, and we believe that the invention of this document has done great harm to the ability of the Church to preach the Gospel aright. His use of sources also speaks to our understanding of Luke’s relationship to Paul and the churches of Paul.
2) The relationship of Luke-Acts to Judaism. Even though much of Conzelmann’s thesis in The Theology of St. Luke (In Mitte Der Zeit) has been critiqued as inadequate since it was published, the notion of the Church as the “New Israel” in Luke’s theology persists in much Lukan exegesis. We find that grossly inadequate, and are heartened to find a growing body of scholarship that speaks to the “Jewishness” of Luke’s enterprise.
3) The place of the “Travel Narrative” or the “Central Section” of Luke’s gospel in his work. Attention to this issue addresses both numbers one and two above, and gives us a place from which to read much of the gospel as it occurs in our lections.
Luke’s use of sources.
Fundamentally, we need our readers to understand why we reject the “Q” hypothesis as a means of understanding and exegeting Luke. Q is, among all the documents studied by the academy, the only one issued by the academy. Q opened the door for scholars to reexamine Q type literature and the rehabilitation of Christian Gnosticism began. The study of this “document” has allowed scholars to speculate on a “non-Cross centered” Christianity that (they speculate) had a significant impact on orthodox Christianity. We believe that it is absurd to think that any of the apostolic followers of Jesus disconnected the Cross from their personal discipleship.
Instead, we prefer the source solution offered by the research team of the International Institute for Gospel Studies in their book, “Beyond the Q Impasse: Luke’s Use of Matthew.” They have demonstrated convincingly (or so we think) that Luke can be shown to have organized his gospel according to themes, going through Matthew and choosing those portions that appertained, then going through Matthew again for the next theme. In this way he can be shown to have had knowledge of Matthew, thus eradicating any need for an imaginary document to account for materials that he and Matthew share.
This pattern ends at the beginning of the Central Section, whose purpose and genesis we’ll talk about under number three.
When we consider sources, it is also important for us to discuss briefly our take on the “we” sections of Acts. We do not believe that the gospel and its sequel were penned by the companion of Paul who wrote these passages the first time, but we do believe that these passages were part of a diary available to Luke. We are not persuaded that the absence of evidence of Paul’s letters suggests that Luke had very little knowledge of Paul. Rather, we believe that omission of the references to the letters is a part of Luke’s larger project. Indeed, we find ample evidence of Paul’s theology (or Luke’s appropriation of it) in both the gospel and Acts, even if they are rarely articulated by Paul.
Luke-Acts and Judaism
Luke-Acts has been seen for many years as the product of a Gentile, written for a Gentile church. Barbara Reid, in her recent book, “Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke,” (1996) writes.
“Most scholars believe he was not a native of Palestine; or oldest traditions associate him with Antioch. He appears to be a Gentile Christian writing for a predominantly Gentile community.”
While her insights into the roles of women in the third gospel are helpful, this bias toward a Gentile setting causes her to discount the value of women’s representations during the era of “Judaism” as less meaningful to Luke and his audience. This is just one example of the cost of this traditional mis-reading.
Conzelmann’s work, The Theology of St. Luke, broke wonderful new ground in terms of our understanding of the third gospel, but the Christian triumphalism it seemed to support and which still dominates too much teaching on Luke needs to be re-examined. So also the notion that Luke composed an “apology” for Christianity to the Roman world.
We find that, rather than being written for a Gentile audience, and representing the Gentile church that rejected Christianity’s Jewish roots, Luke-Acts begs to be read as a text written by someone intimately familiar with the Septuagint, so much so that he can imitate its style perfectly.
In addition, recent work on the sociology of Luke’s gospel points us to a largely Jewish audience! Indeed, even the Gentiles who convert in Luke’s gospel fall into the category of “God fearers” prior to their conversion. With few exceptions Paul’s preaching to the truly Gentile hearer falls on deaf ears in Acts.
We believe, as we study this “Gospel of the Holy Spirit” that this new understanding of Luke’s purpose and audience offers us a new way of grasping the way that the Spirit worked as reconciler in the church. This will work itself out in greater detail as we go through the lectionary.
The Travel Narrative
Many Lukan scholars have written off this central section of Luke as poorly or loosely organized, only nominally held together by the theme of journeying toward Jerusalem, a weak device badly used by the author.
With David Moessner, we find in this section of the Gospel Luke’s working-out of his understanding of Jesus’ identity as the “prophet like Moses” who journeys with his people, is rejected by them, and finally dies for them in order to permit them to enter into the land of promise. Moessner has shown how this “Deuteronomistic” understanding of history permeates Luke’s Gospel and Acts, and we find that this deeply affects our reading of both.
This argument of Luke’s only makes sense within a fundamentally Jewish thought-world, again leading us to understand the two part work to be fundamentally Jewish in orientation. It also affects the way we understand the place of prophecy in Luke-Acts and the Holy Spirit which inspires it.