Summary Luke Chapter 4

There is a very good chance that this summary will be either 1) rather short; 2) rather different; or 3) both. The most salient feature of this chapter, or at least about the commentary regarding it, is how much is dedicated to the discussion of Q rather than to the text itself. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the discussion of the text has focused on whether or not it supports or undercuts the case for Q. To some degree, this is inevitable. We’re on the third iteration for some of these stories, so we’ve already picked the bones clean (OK, a bit of hyperbole) regarding the content and how it reflects the status of Christian belief at the time of writing. So the triangulation for Q is the most salient aspect of the text in many ways.

Overall, Luke’s content, his arrangement, and even his verbiage is much closer to Mark than to Matthew; however, already there have been significant exceptions. Most notably, there are pieces of the story of Jesus not being accepted in Nazareth that are completely novel, unique to Luke. Most likely, as I see it, this most likely means that Luke created or crafted these stories himself.  In addition, Luke felt no qualms about doing something of a mash of material in Mark’s Chapter 1 with Mark’s Chapter 5. We know that there are a number of novel pieces coming our way, all of them of good literary quality, so we can pretty safely infer that Luke had a high degree of literary sensibility and talent. One aspect of such talent is creativity; from what we’ve read of Zacharias and Elisabeth, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, we should have a good inkling that Luke was a creative talent of some significance. As such, we should see his departures from Mark as very deliberate.

This leads to the question of his relationship, if any, to Matthew. Does this connexion occur only indirectly, via Q, or does Luke have a direct relationship, from having read Matthew’s gospel. That’s the question. So far the evidence seems to be leaning in favour that yes, Luke did know of Matthew’s gospel. Remember, the Q people say that Luke never agrees with Matthew against Mark. Remember, he does this all the time, except they call it Q when he does it. This argument is very close to, if not completely circular. How do we know what’s in Q? Because it’s in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. Why doesn’t Luke ever agree with Matthew against Mark? Because that is Q material. How do we know it’s Q material? Because it’s in Matthew and Luke but not Mark. As I said, not exactly the classic paradigm of a circular argument (which is what “begging the question” actually means), but it’s very close. The other “argument” for derives from the way Luke misarranges the material in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew, it’s so perfect that only a “fool or a madman” would change it, and surely Luke was neither. This is not an argument; it’s the logical fallacy of Complex Question: have you stopped embezzling from your company? The question cannot be answered in any legitimate fashion.

And yet, we have encountered numerous aspects in which Luke does agree with Matthew against Mark. To enumerate, once again:

  • Giving Jesus a “human” father, whose name was Joseph;
  • By telling us Jesus was born in Bethlehem;
  • That Jesus was born of a virgin;
  • That an angel of God announced to one of the two that Jesus had been/was to be conceived by the sacred breath;
  • That Herod was on the throne when all of this started, at least;
  • The creation of a genealogy for Jesus;

There are others, I believe, that escape me at the moment. Even as is, this list is too long to be attributed to mere coincidence.

Speaking of probability, there is the point, proclaimed loudly and often, that Luke never, ever, not once agrees with Matthew against Mark. Except for the six points above. Without realizing it, by insisting on using this argument, the Q people are sort of cutting the ground out from under their own feet. Never implies a perfect correlation; this never (pun intended) happens in reality, except in those cases where it does, but they are very, very infrequent. Since perfect correlation is so rare, it’s existence is always suspect. As such, the perfect correlation posited here is suspect. That’s about as fundamental a syllogism as you’re apt to find in the real world. So if the correlation is so perfect, that implies deliberate choice: Luke chose to agree with Mark against Matthew rather than vice versa.

The last point is that there are times when the verbiage of Luke and Matthew is nearly identical, to the point of using the same unusual word. This can be accounted for one of two ways: First, that they both copied Q almost verbatim; or second, that Luke copied Matthew almost verbatim. Why would a creative genius such as I’ve suggested Luke to be copy Matthew rather than create his own version? Well, why would he copy Q the same way? If you’re going to suggest that he judiciously copied Q, why is it so hard to believe that he copied Matthew? Answer, it’s not hard at all. Beside that, we’ve talked about probability again. How likely is it that two people would copy the same source in almost exactly the same way? Is that more likely, or less likely, than suggesting that  similarity between two authors is because one copied the other, rather than that they both copied some unknown source, one for which there is not a shred of evidence for its existence?

Yes, this is a lot about probability. But that’s what history–good history–is: trying to find the most likely explanation for an event, or series of events. It’s not about creative interpretation; that’s a different branch of the literary art called “fiction”.

The real issue is that the changes Luke made have no real theological impact. Adding the bit about Jesus passing through the midst of the crowd that wants to lynch him is a foreshadow of Jesus after the Resurrection, Or, is thus indicating that Luke is verging on docetism, that Jesus did not actually have a corporeal body? That had not occurred to me before, but now that it has occurred to me, I will pay attention to see if there is any further indication. That would indeed be theologically significance. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the addition of this piece to Chapter 4 does not forward the story line in any significant manner. Theologically, it does reinforce Jesus’ divinity, but that’s already been pretty thoroughly established given the time dedicated to the stories of John, the Visitation (2nd Joyful Mystery of the Rosary), the Heavenly Host at the birth, and all the rest of the episodes added prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But this reinforcement is adding to an already laden wagon. As for the story, I’m not sure what it does, but Luke obviously felt it was important enough to make out of whole cloth.

So this lack of transparent motive is the reason, or part of it, that we’re spending so much time discussing Q. The larger part, of course, is that Q has become a thing for me, and I fear that I spend altogether too much time on the subject; however, whether Q existed or not is of enormous importance to the way the NT is studied. And yet a real debate on the topic has never been held. This even exceeds the “dash on Phaleron” hypothesized by J.A.R. Munro in 1899; he suggested that the Persians were loading their cavalry back into their ships to sail to Phaleron, then the port of Athens, while the Athenian army was at Marathon. This idea held the field until the early 1970s, when the first serious challenges were offered, some seventy years later. Q, in contrast, has held the field , fundamentally unchallenged, for well over a century. That needs to end.

So, more about Q than about Luke, I’m afraid. But Luke is the key to the Q question. There will be more, but I will try to refrain from long-winded explanations of stuff I’ve already explained. Feel free to call me on it before it becomes insufferable.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on April 25, 2017, in Chapter 4, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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