Summary Luke Chapter 9

In a very large part, this chapter is a collection of stories also found in the other two Synoptic Gospels. That’s all fine and good. What differentiates Luke’s versions is that, again, for the most part, they are heavily abridged; in some cases, an entire story is compressed down into a couple of sentences. This leaves the overall impression that Luke doesn’t want to omit the stories, but he doesn’t want to devote too much time to them, either. We are coming upon the section where we get most of Luke’s unique material, much of which is considered defining statements of Christian values and the Christian thought process. So, one might be forgiven in thinking that Luke is sort of trying to zip through this bit of Triple Tradition material in order to get to his own material.

One might be forgiven, but there might just be a little more to it than that. There seems to be a certain amount of selectiveness to the stories that Luke condenses. For example, let’s take the opening story, the Sending of the Twelve. Matthew has the longest version of this story, running to about 13 verses, as compared to the 6 we find in Luke. But here’s the thing: Mark has only has 5. So, technically, this story is not abridged in Luke; rather, it’s been expanded in Matthew. In fact, this section of Matthew has a lot of material unique to Matthew. He gives much more explicit instructions to those sent out, but he also launches into a long and dire prediction about the awful things that are going to happen, to them and to others who follow Jesus. Luke, apparently, felt no need to repeat any of this; of course, the Q people use instances like this to support their argument that Luke was unaware of Matthew, and they are correct to do so; however, they also completely ignore all the times that Luke does agree with Matthew. Such cases, they say, are the proof of Q. That is rather having it both ways.

The next two stories provide a different perspective. They are the Death of the Dunker, and Feeding the 5,000. Both of these stories are covered very well by M&M, and the second event zzwill even appear in John. In both cases, Luke is clearly the shortest version. What comes–or doesn’t c0me–next is even more interesting. Included in this sequence of stories in both Mark & Matthew is Jesus walking on water, the discussion about washing hands, Jesus meeting the Syro-Phoenician woman, Feeding the 4,000, and the Pharisees demanding a sign. Luke omits them all. Why? One thing they have in common is that both M&M have complete versions of all of these. My suggestion is that this indicates that Luke was fully aware of Matthew, that Luke knew these stories had been thoroughly covered, and saw no reason to cover them again. It should also be pointed out that there are two short sections of Mark that are ignored by both Matthew and Luke. The first occurs in conjunction with the question about washing hands. Jesus chides the Pharisees for ignoring the commandments of God and adhering to the traditions of men. The other is a wonder-story, where Jesus cures a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.

Why leave these last out? This cuts against my suggestion that Luke saw no reason to cover things adequately covered by both Mark and Matthew. These were not covered by Matthew. I suspect that Matthew omitted the first one because it was a bit too disparaging of Jewish tradition; as a convert, Matthew probably didn’t want to repeat such a harsh criticism of his adopted tradition. Matthew, I suspect, passed over the second story because this one has a fairly detailed account of the actions Jesus took to restore the man’s hearing and speech. Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears, and Jesus spat on his own hand and then touched the man’s tongue. This is a pretty vivid description of the magical practices Jesus followed, and recall that it’s not the only one in Mark. None of them made it to Matthew, and none of them* made it into Luke, either, So there’s another, albeit negative, instance of when Luke agrees with Matthew against Mark. The authors of the second (chronologically) an third gospels did not want to perpetuate the idea of Jesus as a Wonder Worker, so these accounts of magical practices were lost early. Both Matthew and Luke start with Jesus as the christ from birth, or even before. As such, going too much into the method by which the wonders were worked rather detracts from that interpretation of Jesus. Both Matthew and Luke abandoned it; which, if you’re keeping score at home, is yet another aspect of Luke agreeing with Matthew against Mark. These agreements are often tacit or implicit, but they are no less real for that.

The scene describing Peter’s confession approximates that of Mark, with one notable exception. Luke omits the part where Peter protests when Jesus predicts his death. This leads to the exclamation of “Get behind me, Satan,” from Jesus. In this sequence Matthew also added the “Peter the Rock” speech that is unique to him; or, perhaps, it is the addition of a Bishop of Rome who wanted to exert the Petrine Primacy. This gains a bit more credence, I think, when we realize there is no evidence to show that Peter was ever in Rome. In Galatians, Paul encountered Peter in in Jerusalem, and describes how Peter would eat like a gentile until the henchmen of James the Just showed up, at which point he quickly reverted to the Judaic dietary restrictions. Since Paul is the only attested contemporary to mention Peter, and Paul says nothing about Peter being in Rome, we have no evidence putting Peter in the capital city. There were Christians in Rome in the 60s, as attested by the Roman historian Tacitus and corroborated by the Roman biographer Suetonius, but that’s as far as it goes. But back to the original point, why would Luke omit “Get behind me, Satan”? We noted Mark’s portrayal of Peter is that of a dullard; Matthew rehabilitates Peter, culminating with, “Peter the Rock”. I n Luke, Peter is sort of a nonentity; he’s there, but doesn’t have many lines, or even scene appearances. Perhaps the official word by the time of Luke was that Peter was to be praised and raised in esteem, and so Luke followed that and left out “Get behind me, Satan” to do that. I could suggest that this is another time that Luke omits something already covered, but the omission is so brief as to seem hardly necessary.

As for the Transfiguration itself, Luke adds one truly significant detail. When Elijah and Moses appear, we are told they were discussing the coming plans for going into Jerusalem. This sort of changes the complexion of a lot of things in the biblical scheme. It implies that Jesus is a cosmic figure. It implies that Jesus is of cosmic importance. It implies that Jesus is part of the tradition of the Jews, which was an important consideration for Christians at this time. The antiquity of their religion gave Jews a lever of respect and acceptance from the Romans that helped insulate them from some of the worst impulses Romans felt towards this alien religion that didn’t believe in going along to get along. This divine conference also implies that, perhaps, Jesus was not omniscient; why would he need to discuss what was about to happen if he were omniscient? The path was set, the die was cast, and that would be that. Of course, that smacks of pagan fatalism, so we can’t have that.

The story of the demon-possessed boy occurs shortly after the Transfiguration. The remarkable aspect of comparing the three versions is to note that Luke and Matthew agree against Mark. Of course, per the Q people, this is not supposed to happen. However, when the boy’s father asks why Jesus disciples were not able to cast out the demon, Jesus rails ab out this “faithless generation”. At least, that is what he says in Mark. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus rails against this “faithless and perverse generation”. I’ll be danged if that doesn’t sound like Luke copying directly from Matthew. Of course, he couldn’t have done so per the Q people, but there it is. So Q.E.D. Correct? Well, perhaps not. The copying could have been done in a scriptorium at some later date, and the presence of “perverse” in Luke could be an interpolation by a copyist. If I’m willing to suggest that a later Bishop of Rome inserted “Peter the Rock”, I have to be willing to admit that the presence of a single word doesn’t mean much. In much the same way, I’m pretty much convinced that the opening line of Mark was a later addition. And that would mean that “Jesus of Nazareth” was a later addition. This reduces by 25% the number of times Nazareth is mentioned by Mark. Which means that Luke and Matthew agree against Mark on the place of Jesus’ hometown.

There is also an entirely new episode in this chapter, one unique to Luke. It’s short. Jesus and his entourage are not welcome in a Samaritan town. James and John, blood-thirsty types that they are, ask Jesus if he’s going to call in the Angelic Air Force and nuke the place. Jesus, of course, forbears this action. It’s kind of hard to pin down exactly why this is in the text. I did not realise that it was a reference to an act of Elijah, who actually did call down fire to destroy a town that had mistreated him. And one commentator said that it was appropriate that the suggestion came from James and John, the “fiery sons of Zebedee”, whom Jesus had named the Sons of Thunder. It’s curious to note that a commentator (Ellicott) refers to the pair as “fiery”. For the most part, the sons of Zebedee have been pretty much window dressing. They tag along on all of the good stuff, but they don’t actually say, let alone do, anything. They are scene fillers. If one of the disciples has a line, it’s pretty much always Peter who has it. Just as going up to the Transfiguration, it is he who confessed Jesus to be the Christ. And it is Peter who babbles about erecting three tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. This passivity of James and John makes the designation of Mark more curious. We are, I suspect, dealing with layering. As time passed, some characters in the story gained, and some lost, prominence. The fact that James the Just ran the show for 30 years and receives no mention at all in the gospels is remarkable. There is the reference in Mark 6 to Jesus’ brothers, among whom one is James, but that’s it. Over time, Peter was elevated, James was lowered, as was Mary of Magdala. James is banished to a throwaway line, whilst Mary ends up a prostitute. And this latter tradition stuck, even among Protestants, despite the fact that there is no scriptural basis for it.

And with that, we shall exit, stage left…

* I may need to walk that back later! But then, that’s true about pretty much anything I say here.

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 February 14, 2018, in Chapter 9, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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