Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Gospel of Luke
The debate over who actually wrote the Gospel of Luke is one of the most lively exegetic topics in modern theology. Although some scholars insist that Luke, a companion of Paul who was named in Colossians, is highly likely to have been the author, the debate is by no means settled and there are many who believe that the issue of Lukan authorship is very much up for further research. One of the few things that most scholars do agree upon is that the author of the Gospel of Luke is likely to be the same person who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, since there are many philosophical and stylistic similarities between the two. Beyond this, there is very little agreement, with some scholars even doubting that the author of the books was named Luke.
The most common theory is that the Gospel of Luke was written by Luke the physician.
Luke was a companion of Saint Paul the Apostle and is mentioned on a number of occasions in epistles attributed to Paul. Most early Christian documents assume that Luke was the author of the gospel bearing his name, but it is unclear whether this theory gave rise to the title The Gospel According to Luke, or whether the title gave rise to the theory (Green, 1995). Nevertheless ancient source are almost unanimous in their belief (or assumption) that the Luke referenced by Paul must be the same Luke who wrote the gospel in his name. Supporting this belief is the existence of certain passages in the gospel where the term 'we' is used to referred to activities surrounding Paul, strongly suggesting that the author was an associate of Paul's and therefore tying in with the belief that it was Luke.
However in the preface to Luke there is explicit mention on having eyewitness accounts 'handed down to us', strongly suggesting that the author was not present at the time. This raises the question of why the author would then use 'we' in certain parts of the text, but there are numerous possible explanations for this that, although unlikely, cannot be discounted. It is possible that the preface was written after the gospel, by another author, but in this case the subsequent author clearly went to great lengths to copy the style of the rest of the gospel. Again, however, this cannot be ruled out. It is equally possible that the 'we' portion of the gospel could have been from another author and was simply included by whoever was responsible for the majority of the gospel. A small number of critics have advanced the theory that the author of Luke may have been female.
This is based on the fact that the gospel spends considerably more time dealing with the roles and lives of women, affording more time to the lives of Elizabeth, the wife of John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary than is the case in the other gospels (Reid, 1996). However, as evidence of female authorship of the gospel, this is clearly extremely thin: there is no reason to think that the author of Luke may not simply have chosen to cover this because he recognised that females were unfairly underrepresented in the other gospels, and this may have even been the reason for the decision to write this gospel in the first place. There is no specific reason to assume that the author was male, but nor is there any firm evidence to support the idea that the author was female.
Most of the debate over the authorship of the Gospel of Luke returns to the use of the term 'we' when discussing parts of the journeys undertaken with Paul. There are those who suggest that this was a stylistic convention of the time, used to refer to long journeys. However there is little evidence to support this idea. Some believe, instead, that the author used the style in order to add an element of historic accuracy to the gospels and perhaps even to misguide readers into believing that he was present when he was not.
Since such practices do occasionally occur today, there is no reason to assume that they could not have occurred at the time that the gospel was written, which is believed to be between 80-90 CE.
There does seem to be a great deal of evidence to support the idea that the Gospel of Luke was indeed written by Luke the physician. Questions surrounding the question of authorship are a popular topic among theology discussions, and many Religious Studies classes focus on this issue. While the arguments in favour of another author can be made to work, they depend on a number of assumptions that seem to exist primarily in order to challenge the popular assumptions of Lukan authorship.
The Gospel of Luke like the other three Gospels depicts the life, teachings, death and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the largest of the four Gospels.
The Gospel opens with a salutation to Theophilus and proceeds to tell the story of the appearance of Angel Gabriel to Zachariah, whose wife Elizabeth did not have the ability to bear a child. The Angel announces to Zachariah that his wife will bear a child and that “he will bring back many people of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go as God’s messenger, strong and mighty like the prophet Elijah. He will bring fathers and children again; he will turn the disobedient people back to the way of thinking of the righteous; he will get the Lord’s people ready for him”. The dumb founded Zachariah could not believe the words of the Angel Gabriel. Zachariah was spending a long time in the Temple and when he came out he could not speak. He was punished with the dumbness till the miracle was realized by him. People knew that he had seen a vision in the Temple since he was making signs to them with his hands and unable to say a word.
Gabriel then appears before Mary, who was promised in marriage to Joseph and proclaims that the Holy Spirit will come on her and she will give birth to a son who is to be named Jesus. He adds that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God” and that the Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob for ever and his kingdom will never end”.
After a few months Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, and when Mary greeted her, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb “jumped with gladness”. In due course Elizabeth gave birth to a baby boy and he was circumcised and named John. Zachariah regained his speech at that time, as he was filled with the Holly Spirit. The baby grew up into John the Baptist.
Joseph and Mary went to Becklehem to register their names for the census and ordered by Emperor Augustus. There Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in the manger. An Angel announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds. The shepherds visited the Holy Baby and spread the word around.
The baby was named Jesus, as preordained, was circumcised, and was taken for the ceremony of purification. There Simeon, a God-fearing man, filled with Holy Spirit, held the baby in his hand and praised the Lord for bringing glory to the people of Israel.
When Jesus was twelve years old his parents took him for the Passover ceremony as usual, but that year he did not return with his parents, and stayed back in the temple, with the Jewish teachers listening carefully, and asking intelligent questions. Jesus grew into a boy of great wisdom.
While Herod was the ruler of Galilee, John the Baptist was appealing to the people to turn away from their sins and to get baptized. He also preached the Good News that one much greater than him is coming to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. He also spoke critically of Governor Herod and subsequently became imprisoned.
When Jesus was about thirty years old the power of the Holy Spirit started radiating from him very powerfully and he was revered and praised by all. The Devil tried his level best to tempt Jesus through many tricks, but Jesus did not succumb to any of the tricks.
But when Jesus went to Nazareth to read from the scriptures, He was not appreciated there. There is a saying that the darkest place is under the candle. Nazareth was the place where Jesus had been brought up. Yet people failed to recognize the Holy Spirit emanating from Him.
The power embedded in Jesus started performing miracles. At Capernaum, a town in Galilee, He drove away the evil Spirit that had possessed a man. He cured the high fever of Simon’s mother-in-law.
Learning about His miraculous powers, sick people started flocking to Jesus. A touch by his hand cured every one of them. He cured a leper of his leprosy. Once a paralyzed man was carried on a bed and brought to Jesus. He told the man that “your sins are forgiven you, my friend”. The listeners were puzzled by this, thinking that only god can forgive sins. They thought Jesus was impersonating God. The paralyzed man walked back home.
Jesus was unconventional in many of his acts. He kept company with outcasts, supported and eating on Sabbath days, and even cured the crippled hand of a man on a Sabbath day. Gradually anger hatred and fear started building up against Jesus among the Pharisees and the teachers of law.
Jesus went on healing and teaching the people who flocked to him. He even breathed life into a dead man. He assured the poor and the sorrow-stricken that there is a great reward awaiting them in Heaven. He taught them to shun violence. He spread the gospel of love. He warned people against judging others. Through powerful parables Jesus started driving great ideas into the minds of the people.
As time passed, the number of miracles performed by the spiritual power of Jesus grew unbelievably. The fisherman who could not net any fish in spite of a hard day’s labor, caught netfuls of fish at the order of Jesus. A mob of evil spirits had been driven away from a possessed man into a group of swine. He calmed a storm in the ocean with a single command. A woman who had been sick for twelve days touched the robe of Jesus and got cured instantly. He raised from death the daughter of Jairus. Once He fed a crowd of five thousand with just five loaves of bread and two fish.
Jesus had gathered His disciples from among the fisherman. He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases. In due course of time He told His disciples about His impending death and resurrection. He recruited more disciples and sent seventy two of them to different towns with the message of God’s love.
To the skeptical teacher of law, He gave the parable of the Good Samaritan. He advised the Pharisees to keep their minds clean and worthy. He even told them that they “are like unmarked graves which people walk on without knowing it.” When one of the teachers of the law protested saying that Jesus was insulting them, Jesus accused them of holding the keys to the house of knowledge, neither themselves going in, nor allowing anybody else to go in. This infuriated the teachers and they wanted to wreak vengeance on Him.
In the meanwhile Jesus went on enriching the peoples’ minds through the parables of the Yeast, Mustard Seed, the Narrow Door, the Unfruitful Tree, Faithful and the Unfaithful Servant, the Great Feast, Worthless Salt, the Lost Sheep and many more. His healing miracles continued as ever. He taught the people that the kingdom of God is within themselves. He reminded them that it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of the needle.
Jesus drove the merchants from the Temple, and warned people to watch out for the Teachers of Law who take advantage of the weak. They wanted to kill Jesus and finally Judas under the devil’s influence agreed to betray Christ. During the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples saying that it was His body, and gave them the wine as new covenant sealed with His blood. He added that “the one who betrays me is here at the table with me”. Jesus also predicted the denial of Peter.
Jesus was arrested after being kissed and identified by Judas, and Peter three times denied knowledge of Him, as predicted by Jesus. The elders of the Jews, the teachers and the Chief Priests asked Him if He was the “ Son of God “ and He answered “ you say that I am “. For claiming Himself to be God, they decided to punish Him and took Him to Pilate. Pilate sent for Herod. Pilate told the crowd that he did not find Jesus guilty, but the crowd shouted that Jesus must be killed. He was nailed on the Cross along with two criminals.
At Jesus’ death, noon turned into darkness, and the curtain in the Temple tore into two. His body was received by Joseph of Arimathea and some ladies who were with him and He was buried. But the third day Jesus resurrected, as He had foretold earlier. Jesus later appeared before His disciples and then was taken into heaven.
The word Gospel literally means “Good News”. But the Gospels in the Bible are more than “Good News”. They belong to the genre of biography and historiography. As biography it races the birth, growth, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. As historiography it draws a continuous line from the scriptures, from Abraham, through Moses, David, and Isaiah to the age of Jesus.
The gospel of St. Luke, from another perspective, is the exposition of God. Its power as scripture is simply unique.
Green, Joel. The theology of the Gospel of Luke. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Reid, Barbara. Choosing the better part? Women in the Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, The Liturgical Press, 1996.
Andy Gaus The Unvarnished Gospel , 2001.
Rev. Steve Dunkley
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