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Apocalypticism in Luke? Part II

August 24, 2010

Kirk and Thatcher’s first theory concerning memory suggests it is embedded and produced by an individual only in relation to their larger interpersonal world. The gospel of Luke is particularly interesting in attempting to engage this theory. As opposed to either Matthew or Mark the author of Luke has expressed his motive for producing his work:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1-4 NRSV)[1]

Literarily, the preface is in the style of Hellenistic literary prologues and there are other books from antiquity with similar introductions.[2] However, while different purposes have been argued as to Luke’s preface[3] what is of interest to this present discussion is Luke’s investigation of the events “handed down” from eyewitness reports and servants of the word.  Of utmost importance to recognize is that Luke places himself in a secondary or tertiary position of transmission: first, eyewitnesses; second, servants of the word; and third, Luke. In considering Luke’s place in the chain of transmission a dating for the writing of the gospel is assumed to be post 70 CE here; possibly around 80 or 85 CE. This is the majority view within scholarship,[4] and puts the interpreter considering the social sciences as a methodology on interesting ground. John Nolland fully draws out the implications of these assumptions in his own introduction to his commentary on the gospel:

Luke, and the other Gospel writers whom he mentions, took what was known in the church and formulated it for the sake of their intended readership. Luke neither claims eyewitness status in relation to the Gospel events, nor even that he has them directly from the eyewitnesses. Rather, what Luke reflects is a situation in which it is the early church, as a collective whole, which has the testimony from the eyewitnesses. Luke picks this testimony up from within the life of the church… This is not to say that Luke never met an eyewitness, since almost certainly he did, but it is to say that he quite consciously takes up the material he uses from its place and role in the life of the church. In fact, again and again, the actual form of the materials he gives us reflects the economy of expression, the roundedness of form, and the unity of focus which repeated use has given to them… There is a considerable oral phase separating the Gospel materials as we have them from the original events, and in this oral phase these accounts were shaped and formed to meet the ongoing needs of the church and to function in its life of worship and obedience.[5]

Therefore, the suggestion here is that Luke was writing fifty years after the death of Jesus, twenty years after the death of Paul, and fifteen years after the destruction of the Temple; and his “sources” were the testimony of his church: the Lukan testimony is embedded in the Lukan community and Luke is only able to produce his gospel in relation to this larger interpersonal world.

However, our fourth hypothesis is important here as well. Not only are memories embedded but they are dynamic, and shaped to meet the needs of the remembering community in the present. At this point then, I am suggesting that memories of Jesus underwent a process of shaping to meet the ongoing needs of the Lukan church. It will be argued further that the section of the gospel of Luke under consideration reflects a Christian community who had an apocalyptic religious worldview, but may have been experiencing a “breakdown in tradition” as the expected immanent parousia did not arrive. In attempting to demonstrate this it will be important to answer two questions: can a text be apocalyptic if it doesn’t contain some elements of the genre? Were there formative and normative “nuclear scripts” outside of the Hebrew Bible (HB) that memories were constructed upon in the Lukan community?


[1] Unless otherwise indicated all English Scripture references will be from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989).

[2] John Nolland, Luke 1:1-9:20 (WBC 35a; Dallas: Word, 1998), 4.

[3] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Exeter, England: Paternoster Press, 1978), 38.

[4] Francois Bovon, Luke 1 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 9; Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (AB 28; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 53-57, esp. 57; For an argument supporting an earlier date see Nolland, Luke 1:1-9:20, xxxv11-xxxix.

[5] Nolland, Luke 1:1-9:20, xxviii-xxix.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris E permalink
    August 24, 2010 8:27 am

    What is to stop “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” being two different terms for the same people, or two groups of people living concurrently, rather than necessarily assuming it implies a three level chain of transmission?

    Additionally, would we actually not expect more directly apocalyptic material if it had been written after the fall of Jerusalem?

    • August 24, 2010 8:29 am

      First question: that is why I wrote secondary or tertiary. It could be either. I’m willing to hold it with an open hand.

      Second question: I will get to this.

      • August 24, 2010 3:01 pm

        Bauckham, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, argues persuasively for the terms referring to the same group of people. I would agree, and think this is the most natural reading of the language

  2. WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
    August 24, 2010 3:05 pm

    How much Bauckham have you tackled for this? He seems to have some background in apocalyptic and intertestamental literature. It seemed clear to me that Scott doesn’t pin down Luke as having to have been tertiary but even if we suppose that Luke consulted with Paul extensively Paul, by his own account, could be considered a secondary rather than a primary source about Jesus’ actual life so Luke, depending on who his sources were, could still be tertiary relative to the remembered events even if he was talking to primary sources (i.e. any and all post Pentecost conversions).

  3. August 24, 2010 11:33 pm

    Looks like an interesting series Scott. A shorter, but good recent article interacting with Bauckham’s views on the preface is John N. Collins, “Rethinking Eyewitnesses in Light of ‘Servants of the Word’ (Luke 1:2)” Expository Times 121 (2010): 447-452. My views interacting with a few comments here, but not wanting to spoil the rest of your posts, is that Luke 19:43-44; 21:20-24 is key to post-temple dating and that whether Luke was a companion of Paul or just a later Paulinist depends on how one evaluates the external testimony of Irenaeus and how one judges the “we” literary device that shows up in Acts.

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