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Apocalypticism in Luke? Part VIII

August 29, 2010

All of the texts and elements examined in the posts so far are not intended to suggest that Luke wrote an apocalypse, i.e., apocalyptic genre.  However, in his investigating everything to write an orderly account so that a ‘God-lover’ may know the truth in which they were instructed, his use of sacred texts such as Isaiah the prophet and his deliberate reordering of the Jesus story, it is possible that the Lukan remembrance reflects the interpretations of sacred texts and the worldview of other apocalyptic Second Temple Jewish groups.

Some of these interpretations and worldviews are apocalyptic in nature. This suggestion comports with Kirk and Thatcher’s first theory: memory is embedded and produced by an individual only in relation to their larger interpersonal world. Though there are other apocalyptic elements that deserve more detailed examination in accordance with this line of reasoning, e.g., apocalyptic sayings in Luke 21:25-28; 22:67-69, it is hoped that the few examples offered here are enough to demonstrate the possible apocalyptic beliefs of the Lukan community.

In accordance with the purposes of these posts the question can still be asked: why are they remembering Jesus this way? Let us quickly retrace the story as it has been examined so far in Luke 3-7.

  • First, in chapter three a genealogy possibly reflecting Enochic understandings placing Jesus in a position as the fulfillment of history and as the figure of jubilee.
  • Second, in chapter 4 Jesus defeats the devil in the wilderness.
  • Third, from this victory Jesus enters the synagogue and declares the year of the Lord’s favor.
  • Fourth, as Jesus begins his public ministry he heals sicknesses and defeats demons.
  • Lastly, in chapter seven Jesus raises a dead person to life and further messianic expectations are attached to him.

Therefore, from chapter 3-7 in the gospel of Luke, not only does Jesus literally display all of the characteristics of the messiah that are expected in other Jewish texts, but he speaks them as well in the synagogues and to the disciples of John the Baptist.  This would seem to indicate that the Lukan community was remembering the significance of Jesus on a nuclear script similar to some other groups during the Second Temple period.

With this section of the narrative in mind along with its possible apocalyptic and eschatological influences we can begin to further interact with the theories of Kirk and Thatcher. Their other theories mentioned earlier suggest that in remembering communities scribal technology takes on particular importance in the face of a breakdown in tradition. If this is the case then it can be asked: is the purpose of this section of Luke to address such a situation? Fifty years after the death of the messiah, a community that continually woke up expecting the parousia today eventually might face just such a breakdown in tradition. Perhaps, their community had been well inculcated in the significance of Jesus’ birth in the history of mankind and knew quite well what it meant for him to be the seventy-seventh from Adam. But what happens in the thought world of that community when they suddenly find themselves in the seventy-ninth generation and there is no return? If a date of 80 CE is allowed for Luke’s composition then we must allot for enough time for a “breakdown in tradition.” With this in view, perhaps the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE could be an event that would gradually allow for such a breakdown. Of course, we must walk lightly here and realize that any suggestions are more in the area of speculation, but such is the nature with many attempted historical reconstructions from such limited data.

Unfortunately, it is outside the scope of these posts to fully pursue this suggestion, nevertheless, sections of Luke such as 19:42-44 or 21:5-28 are certainly intriguing to consider along this line of reasoning. In trying to understand the meaning of that event, the destruction of the Temple may have been an important event which signaled to the Lukan community that Jesus was coming back soon. As their daily lives continued, and the events of the Roman destruction became something further and further in the past, there may have been a breakdown in tradition which Luke addresses by collecting the memories of his community and fixing them in a form that ‘reminded’ them of the significance of Jesus’ ministry in way that addressed their present needs.

The final theories of Kirk and Thatcher concerning social memory argue that in commemorating the past a “community impresses its present identity upon its “collective re-presentations” of its past,” and that social memory is constructive. In considering these theories with the above Lukan data two observations can be made. First, the past being remembered is dynamic so it can speak to present needs. One of those possible needs has already been stated: a breakdown in tradition. However, a second reason could be persecution faced by the Lukan community. Of course, Luke would have to be analyzed as a whole to fully realize this proposal but the charismatic ministry of Jesus as a basis for his words, especially an address such as 21:7-19, could function in the present of a community in a normative manner. Ultimately, this may be the best way to understand the use of Enoch traditions, apocalyptic understandings, and the use of the Isaiah in Luke 3-7. As the Lukan community progresses towards commemoration of Jesus and seeks significance from his life for their present concerns stories are told about him constructed on existing nuclear maps that legitimize their beliefs about Jesus the person and encourage the community to continue in their faith in the face of persecution and the delay in the parousia.


The purpose of these posts was to employ more traditional methodologies, source and historical criticism, but to also bring the data from those endeavours into conversation with the social sciences in an effort to posit some of the ways the Lukan community may have been remembering Jesus. This was attempted in full reliance on the hypotheses of Kirk and Thatcher. In doing so it was suggested that Luke 3-7 should be compared and read within a dominant religious meaning-making system of the day: Apocalypticism. Possible apocalyptic influences were demonstrated in Luke 3-7 in the genealogy, Jesus’ synagogue sermon, Jesus’ exorcist and healing ministry, and in his reply to John the Baptist. None of the arguments concerning these sections are conclusive on their own, but the final suggestion offered here is that the sheer amount of possible apocalyptic influences in this section point towards apocalypticism in the memories of the Lukan community: it was a significant means by which they remembered Jesus and understood the meaning of his life at some point in their history.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2010 12:35 pm

    Thanks for this insightful and in many ways fascinating series, Scott! Only 10 years ago I would have dismissed the entire way of trying to understand Luke in this way as irrelevant and historical speculation at best. I would have said, “People are not interested in subjective interpretative contexts of religious communities but in the revelation of absolute, unquestionable truth – in other words: What we need to know is not what Luke and his contemporaries thought of 1 Enoch but that supernatural forces of evil are real and that Jesus has authority over them.”

    I think evangelicalism and pentecostalism to a large degree still frames it in those terms. We somehow have a hard time separating the issues of historicity (and the legitimate inquiry about world views, strains of tradition and their possible influence on biblical authors) and the question of relevance, authority and translation into our own lives and contemporary context.

    Of course, the question CAN still be asked whether an influence of supernatural evil does actually exist or not. Do we believe that Jesus “only” healed diseases but never actually cast out demons (Luke himself and his sources then only interpreted it this way) or are the sources and their arrangement meant to give us insight beyond a merely scientific view of our humanity (now from God’s point of view and in a relevatory sense)?

    And what about demonology today? Is it only the concern of religious whackos? Or do we possibly limit ourselves if we dismiss it all as mere superstition and psychological projection of our worst fears? I think it’s an interesting subject to explore further, particularly from the perspective of a pastor and Christian counselor.

    • August 30, 2010 8:50 am

      Glad you enjoyed Josh. At least someone was reading! 😉

  2. WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
    August 30, 2010 1:02 pm

    Comparable recalibration of eschatological expecations are attested in the pastoral epistles (Thessalonians, obviously) and elsewhere even within the gospels. Adding the influence of Enochich literature is an interesting angle on this subject within NT literature.

    I don’t see that there has to be either one or the other on demonology in Luke. Knowing that Enoch was influential helps provide context to what Luke wrote. Other than Susan R. Garrett’s two books about demonology in Luke and the temptation of Jesus in Mark I’m not aware of a lot of current NT scholarship dealing with the subject so anyone attempting to field this issue is going to get and keep my attention. 🙂 One of the biggest problems I had in my Pentecostal days was I noticed that people said they would stick with just what the Bible said about the devil and demons but it became almost immediately apparent that somewhere, somehow, along the way massive amounts of assumptions about interpretations were imported into texts like Isaiah and Ezekiel that clearly had nothing much to do with the devil in the original text context. When I looked more at Jude I began to slowly figure out that there are reams of ideas in intertestamental literature that Jesus and the apostles via the biblical authors are shown taking for granted. In other words, it turned out that the “just the Bible” approach to spiritual warfare and demonology I saw people going for was self-defeating on its own terms. The solution to the impasse was to integrate intertestamental literature as informing the NT documents. Simple solution, but by that time I was already pretty much not Pentecostal and more Reformed Baptist-moving-Presbyterian.


  1. Week in Review: 09.03.10 | Near Emmaus

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