The Gospel of Luke

“Luke’s accounts of the life of Jesus have resonated throughout the history of the Church.” 

The gospel of Luke is the first of a two-volume record of Jesus’ ministry and the subsequent development of the early Christian communities who learned about Jesus’ life from the apostle, Paul. (The second volume is the Acts of the Apostles.) Te author is clearly a fan of Paul and is likely associated with one of Paul’s early churches in Asia Minor, perhaps Ephesus.

The author had written source material which also informed his writing of Luke. Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was available as well as a collection of the sayings of Jesus. This writer uses this material to construct a gripping story. The Jews were under considerable political pressure at the time this gospel was written; this caused an urgency to convince and edify the reader. That urgency has reached us over the centuries, resulting in some of the most well-known and beloved versions of the stories of Jesus’ life.

Those who were witnesses of Jesus’ birth and death delivered a clear message of joy and hope. Jesus’ teachings and ministry also presents many examples of the way he wants man to live, including the place of women and the use of wealth and earthly goods. He accomplishes this teaching by posing questions rather than answers. Luke presents a wealth of material for us to consider and to guide the way we live.

Meet Our Professors

Harry Attridge

Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament

Harry Attridge has made scholarly contributions to New Testament exegesis and to the study of Hellenistic Judaism and the history of the early Church. He has published numerous books, authored book chapters and articles in scholarly journals, and has edited 11 books, including Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, First-Century Cynicism in the Epistles of Heraclitus, The Interpretation of Biblical History in the Antiquitates Judaicae of Flavius Josephus, Nag Hammadi Codex I: The Jung Codex, and Psalms in Community. Dean Attridge has been an editorial board member of Catholic Biblical Quarterly, the Harvard Theological Review, the Journal of Biblical Literature, and the Hermeneia Commentary Series. Before coming to Yale, Dr. Attridge was Professor of New Testament Studies and Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame. He has served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature since 2001. He holds degrees from Boston College (A.B.), Cambridge University (B.A., M.A.), Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Harvard University (Ph.D.).

David L. Bartlett

David L. Bartlett was the J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor Emeritus of Christian Communication at Yale Divinity School and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches, USA, Bartlett served as the senior minister of congregations in Minnesota, Illinois, and California. From 1990 to 2005, Bartlett served at YDS on the faculty as well as in administrative roles including Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Dean of Academic Affairs. Bartlett has published numerous books and scholarly articles. It is with great sadness that we note his passing in late 2017.

 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

Introduction

The third gospel offers a depiction of the life and teaching of Jesus that anchors him in the prophetic and priestly traditions of the scriptures of Israel while it focuses on compassionate forgiveness as a central feature of the Christian life.

The author, traditionally identified as a companion of Paul, the “beloved physician” of Col 4:14, was probably connected in some fashion to the Pauline churches, although his immediate connection with the apostle is disputed. He certainly revered Paul and saw his ministry as a continuation of the work of Jesus. To give expression to that continuity he composed a two-volume work, united by the matching literary prefaces that introduce each. The first volume, the Gospel, is structured around large temporal and geographical axes. The history of humankind in general, and of Israel in particular, culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus and in the decisive events of his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. The second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, traces the history of the followers of Jesus from their beginnings in Jerusalem through their expansion to Rome and ultimately to the “ends of the earth.” Luke thus sketches a historical outline with a decidedly theological perspective. The Spirit of God is what gives history its meaning and shape and that Spirit was abundantly at work in Jesus and in his followers.

As the preface to the Gospel indicates, the work was not composed from scratch, but had access to sources. Most scholars believe that the major sources available to Luke were the Gospel of Mark in some form, perhaps abbreviated from what we now know as canonical Mark, and a collection of sayings of Jesus, which was also available to the author of the Gospel according to Matthew. Comparison of the text of Luke with its parallels in the other two “synoptic” gospels can be helpful in isolating the distinctive features of Luke’s theology.

The author of the Gospel probably composed his work late in the first century, in the 90’s, after the composition of Mark, around 70 CE, and after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in that same year. We do not know where he worked, but the fact that Acts prominently features the Pauline communities in Asia minor, particularly Ephesus, hints that that city may have been the evangelist’s home.

The events of the Jewish revolt cast a shadow over the Christian movement and called for a response defining the movement in relationship to its Jewish and gentile constituents and to the political power under which it operated. Such concerns are obvious in the book of Acts, and can also be felt within the gospel, particularly when it treats issues of eschatological expectation.

Whatever apologetic concerns Luke may have had, he is concerned above all to tell the story of Jesus and his movement in a way that will instruct and edify his readers. An important tool for that is Luke’s mastery of narrative techniques, particularly evident in the beloved opening chapters with their rich poetry and vivid characterization. Luke’s narrative sensitivity is also evident in the fact that he has preserved so many of the most important parables attributed to Jesus, including the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, both of which appear only in Luke.

Luke’s accounts of the decisive events of the life of Jesus, at the end as well as at the beginning of his life, have distinctive features that have resonated throughout the history of the Church.  The shepherds who watch their flocks by night take their place beside the despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus as bookends of the story of the life of Jesus. All herald the joyous good news that through Jesus the God of Israel has done something new for Israel and for all humankind.

Luke’s gospel also sketches some of the implications of that divine action. The third evangelist offers a prominent place in his story to women, at the beginning, at the end, and at key junctions along the way. They seem to be the focus of Jesus’ special concern. Is this liberation or condescension or some mix of the two? Luke also raises concerns about what responding to Jesus means for the use of wealth and earthly goods. The rich and the powerful are subject to prophetic judgment, and are called to some decisive action, but what is that supposed to be, radical transformation of the economic order, compassion for the widow and orphan, or something in between? The gospel poses questions to its readers rather than definitive solutions, but it strongly suggests that the answers are to be found in a prayerful appropriation of the example of Jesus, the one anointed to proclaim the good news of God’s forgiving love.

Major segments of the Gospel

I. 1-2 The Birth of the Anointed One
II. 3:1-6:11 Jesus Begins to Preach and Heal
III. 6:12-8:55 Jesus Begins to Teach
IV. 9:1-11:54 Jesus Begins to for a Community
V. 12:1-14:35 Jesus Teaches “On the Road”
VI. 15:1-19:27 Lost and Found
VII. 19:28-22:71 In Jerusalem
VIII. 23:1-24:53 The Passion and Resurrection

 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

I. Luke 1-2: The Birth of the Anointed One

The Gospel begins with a carefully crafted literary prologue (Luke 1:1-4), echoed at the beginning of the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1).  This prologue recognizes the existence of other narratives about the life and teaching of Jesus, perhaps the Gospel of Mark.  Our author implicitly claims to present a better version, one that is “accurate” and “in order,” based on the testimony of eyewitnesses. The goal of the narrative is not objective and unbiased reporting.  It is offered to Theophilus, whose name means “Beloved of God,” so that he might be properly instructed (the Greek word is “catechized”).  Whether Theophilus is a real patron or an ideal recipient, the author’s goal is clear. 

Luke then presents a carefully balanced picture of the origins of the Messiah. The following chart displays the careful symmetries.

John Jesus
Birth Foretold 1:5-25 1:26-38
Good News Celebrated 1:39-45 1:46-56 (Magnificat)
Birth 1:57-66 2:1-6
Birth Celebrated 1:67-80 (Benedictus) 2:8-21

___________________________________________________________

Simeon Anna
Presentation 2:22-35 2:36-38
Jesus at 12                                     2:42-52

Angels foretell birth of two prophetic figures. Their proclamations are met with varying degrees of skepticism, but also with a magnificent poetic celebration, the Magnificat, by Mary, Jesus’ mother.  At the birth of both prophets there is celebration.  John’s birth prompts the Benedictus, a prayer of his father Zachariah. The birth of Jesus elicits the acclaim of angels and shepherds.  In fulfillment of the requirements of the Law, his parents present Jesus in the Temple and two prophetic figures, Simeon and Anna, welcome him, but give portents of things to come.

The historical significance of the birth of Jesus is highlighted by the chronological notices that begin chapter 2.  Those remarks also introduce a tension that will run through the whole of Luke and Acts.  Imperial chronology fixes the time of the birth of Jesus; it also reminds the reader of the dominant political power that will stand in judgment over the movement begun by that birth.

The account of Jesus’ trip to the Temple as a youth concludes the overture to the gospel.  The setting for this story of the precocious Jesus is carefully chosen, returning the reader to the venue where Zachariah first heard the good news of John’s birth.  Through such narrative devices, and through the constant echoes of the Old Testament in these chapters, Luke insists on the continuity of the history of God’s salvific will.

The Magnificat

The hymnic pieces in this story, like choral odes in a Greek drama, comment on the significance of the narrated events. Mary’s hymn, the Magnificat, whose name derives from the first word of the Latin verion, is uttered on the occasion of a visit to her cousin Elizabeth.  Like the matriarchs of ancient Israel, Elizabeth has become unexpectedly pregnant in old age.  Mary comes to assist and to celebrate.  Elizabeth’s child kicks in the womb, a sign of joy at his cousin’s arrival. Elizabeth offers a warm greeting.  All this elicits Mary’s elegiac response.

The Magnificat is modeled on the prayer of Hannah, the mother of Samuel in 1 Sam 2:1-10, who in many ways resembles Elizabeth.  The canticle celebrates the surprising turns that God’s providence produces.  In terms that resound in modern “liberation” theologies, God is praised for his “option for the poor.”  The wondrous things that God has done prominently include the exaltation of the lowly and the humbling of the proud.

Scholars have explored various attempts to find a social setting in the life of Israel in which such claims might make sense and it is possible that the poem had a life prior to its use by Luke, a life that celebrated the triumph of Israel over oppressive forces. Whatever its prior history, the poem functions well to give expression to the sense of deliverance and vindication experienced by the two characters, Mary, the young woman who conceived a child out of wedlock, and Elizabeth, the old woman marginalized because she could not produce a child.  The poem’s imagery also foreshadows elements of the plot of the Gospel, in which other lowly folk are exalted and the mighty brought low.  The poem also has a programmatic function: the good news of Jesus is somehow about such radical reversals.

But how, a sensitive reader might ask, is such a theology to be implemented in the here and now.  Should followers of Jesus serve as instruments for the exaltation of the lowly and the humbling of the proud?  Or are there other readings of the poem that are somewhat less radical, less obtrusive into spheres of economics and politics?

Further Reading:

Raymond E. Brown, “The Lucan Canticles in General,” and “The Magnificat,” in idem, The Birth of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1977) 346-68.

Nils Dahl, “The Story of Abraham in Luke-Acts,” in Leander E. Keck and J. Louis Martyn, Studies in Luke-Acts (Nashville: Abingdon, 1966) 139-58.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do the Magnificat and Benedictus relate to one another? Do they present a unified image of the significance of the births of the two boys? If so, what is the focal point of that image?
  2. What do you make of the violent imagery of the Magnificat? Have the “mighty” been brought down from their thrones simply by the announcement of the births of John and Jesus?
  3. What are the major claims made about Jesus by the actions and the dialogue in these early chapters?
  4. What are the major differences between Luke and the other account of the birth of Jesus, in the Gospel according to Matthew?

 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

II. Luke 3:1-6:11: Jesus Begins to Preach and Heal

As we begin chapter three of Luke’s Gospel the stage is almost set for Jesus to begin his ministry (as he will do in chapter four).  Only two characters remain to be introduced, or reintroduced, before Luke can introduce Jesus’ mission.  The first is Jesus’ most important advocate, John the Baptist.  The second is his most significant opponent, Satan.

Each of our four canonical gospels suggests that we can only deal with Jesus by dealing with John the Baptist.  The description of his ministry shifts somewhat from gospel to gospel, the fourth gospel, as usual, being most significantly different from the others.  In each gospel the baptizer fulfills two important functions.  He connects Jesus to God’s history with Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament, and he bears witness to Jesus’ significance as representative of God or of God’s reign.

Luke, because he is concerned with God’s activity in all of human history, stresses John’s (and Jesus’) chronological location in relationship to emperors, governors, and high priests.  Because he is concerned with God’s activity as declared in the Old Testament, he is eager to tie John’s words to the prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.

John warns that genealogy is no guarantee of salvation.  That the people claim Abraham as their father is not sufficient response to God’s inbreaking power.  What is required is repentance and amendment of life.  The amendment of life is spelled out more practically—perhaps more modestly—in Luke than in Mark and Matthew.  There are concrete actions that people can take in the context of the lives they now live.  Tax collectors are not told to give up tax collecting, but to do their job fairly, for example.

What counts is not just repentance but the fruits of repentance—what do people do with the penitence they profess?

It is easy to think of Luke as presenting a contrast between the harsh eschatological words of John the Baptist and the comforting words of Jesus, but Luke alone reports that John and Jesus are cousins. They are also related in word as well as in blood.  The strong message of repentance and judgment that we find in John will find its own echoes and emphases in Jesus’ own preaching.  “His winnowing fork is in his hand.” (3:17)

When Luke portrays John baptizing Jesus he highlights again the lines of continuity between the two.  When the voice comes from heaven saying to Jesus: “You are my son” (See Isa 42:1; Ps 2:7), we see an even stronger link, between Jesus and the one he calls Father.

John prepares for Jesus’ mission; Satan seeks to thwart it.  The Holy Spirit is a major actor both in the Gospel of Luke and in the Book of Acts.  The Spirit, which descends on Jesus at his baptism, now drives him into the wilderness, where Jesus and the Spirit do battle against another spiritual force—Satan.

The three tests Jesus faces in the wilderness are the same three he faces in Matt 4:1-11, though the order of the tests is different.  In each case Jesus outfoxes Satan by proving to be a better scriptural interpreter.  More deeply, Jesus outlasts Satan by proving his own fidelity to his mission, his call

The Sermon in Nazareth.

Now the prologue is over.  Jesus’ work begins (4:14). As Luke explicitly uses the Book of Isaiah to describe John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus explicitly uses the Book of Isaiah to inaugurate his own ministry.  Again the passage stresses both continuity and newness.  Jesus is both the greatest of prophets and more than a prophet.

The continuity is evident when Jesus returns to his home town, his home synagogue, and familiar scripture.  The newness is evident when Jesus uses the scripture as a description of himself and his own mission.  You will see in Sharon Ringe’s book that the text Jesus quotes originally referred to the Jubilee justice that God would work for Israel.  Now, astonishingly, Jesus claims that the promises of God evidenced in the rules for a jubilee observance have come to pass—in him. As in his baptism, temptation, and return to Nazareth, all this is the work of God’s Spirit.

We notice how much continuity there between the Isaiah passage Jesus reads and the hymn Mary sings in Luke 1.  What God is up to in Luke’s Gospel is not only individual forgiveness but historical, political, social, economic redemption.

The annoyance of the neighbors is not because Jesus sounds presumptuous.  Their annoyance is that he does not promise to start his redemptive ministry by doing miracles at home.

Satan’s tests now turn into the people’s opposition.  For the rest of the Gospel we will most often see Satan’s work in the opposition Jesus faced from human beings.  That opposition will reach its peak in the crucifixion, and it may be that when Luke tells us that Jesus walks right through the crowd, he may be hinting that one day Jesus will walk right through death to Resurrection.

Sharon Ringe suggests that the passage that follows the synagogue scene can be titled: “The Good News Enacted: Luke 4:31-44.”  We can say that the rest of chapter four of Luke’s Gospel and all of chapter five represent the good news enacted.  Like the classical prophets of I and II Kings Jesus works out the redemption he declares.

We also see Jesus recruiting, commissioning for the good news, when he starts with Peter and calls other to follow him.  (In Acts, these apostles, too, will enact the gospel they declare). With the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5:17-26 and the calling of a tax collector in Luke 5:27-31 we learn this about the jubilee gospel God enacts: the gospel is a gospel of forgiveness, and those whom Jesus forgives he often also calls, to be servants of that same good news.

Further Reading:

J Severino Croatto, “Jesus, Prophet Like Elijah, and Prophet Teacher Like Moses in Luke Acts,” JBL 124 (2005) 451-65.

John T. Carroll, “The God of Israel and the Salvation of the Nations,” in A. Andrew Das and Frank J. Matera, The Forgotten God: Perspectives on Biblical Theology (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2002) 91-106.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. At the end of John the Baptist’s stringent criticisms and demands, Luke says: “So, with many other exhortations he proclaimed the good news to the people.” What is good about the strong call of John to repentance and reformation?
  2. How do we understand Jesus’ temptation? Are the tests especially shaped to trouble a Messiah, or can we find in them temptations for Christians and Christian churches today?  Luke had no doubt that Satan was a spiritual being running a kind of guerilla campaign against God.  How do we understand the reality and the power of evil today?
  3. What is the relationship between Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4 and Mary’s magnificat in Luke 1?
  4. In Luke 5, Jesus implies that there is a strong connection between forgiveness and healing. In what ways do our own lives and experiences confirm or challenge that?


 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

II. Luke 6:12-8:55: Jesus Begins to Teach

Jesus has now been established as a prophetic preacher and, like prophets of old he has the power to heal.  Yet something more than Elijah or Elishah is involved in the work of Jesus.  From the first days of his ministry he called disciples to his side (5:1-11, 27-32) and distinguished them from other known groups, the disciples of John or the Pharisees (5:33).  The next section of the Gospel continues the story of community formation and begins to sketch a new picture of Jesus.  In addition to proclamation and healing, he is also a teacher of a distinctive way of life into which his disciples are being initiated.

The first major block of teaching consists of a sermon delivered by Jesus “on a plain” (Contrast Matthew’s setting of a similar sermon, “on a mount,” Matt 5:1). The first section of the sermon consists of “beatitudes” balanced by a series of prophetic judgments or “woes.”  The beatitudes here, unlike their counterparts in Matthew which focus on the way people behave (Matt 5:3-11), comment on the conditions that people face. If people are now in a sorry state, poor, hungy, mourning, they will experience a change for the better. If people are now rich, full, and rejoicing, their situation too will change, for the worse.  When? How?  The gospel does not offer a definite answer. Matthew’s Jesus speaks more as a teacher of virtue.  Luke’s teaching Jesus begins his lecture in a prophetic mode, but when and how the prophecy is to be fulfilled remains an open question!

What follows in Luke’s version of the great sermon parallels sayings recorded in Matt 5:36-48, without Matthew’s organizing structure.  Perhaps reflecting more accurately the common source he shared with Matthew, Luke’s gospel focuses on the direct and challenging calls of Jesus to love in the most trying of circumstances, to pray for enemies, to respond to violence with non-violence, to give aid without question.  Following these calls to radical love and non-violence, Jesus challenges his disciples to love without regard to the worthiness of the beloved, to love even enemies.  All of this exhortation reaches its climax in the admonition to be merciful as God is merciful (6:36), a marked contrast to Matthew’s parallel call to perfection (Matt 5:48).

The sermon continues with other known sayings, not to judge, to give, to remove the beam from one’s own eye rather than the mote from the neighbor’s. The sermon culminates with images of the fruitful tree (6:43-45) and the sure foundation (6:4-49).

Luke is probably not responsible for the collection of the sayings of Jesus assembled into this homily, but he puts his own stamp on the collection with the summons to be merciful.  That may even be the way in which the evangelist tries to rationalize the Teacher’s extreme claims.

After the sermon Jesus continues his activity of healing, treating the son of a centurion who utters a famous expression of humility (7:6).  The healing ministry is carried to an extreme in the miraculous resurrection of the widow of Nain’s son (7:11-17), one of the three such reports in the gospels (cf. Mark 5:21-43 for Jairus’ daughter; John 11 for Lazarus).  For Luke, traditional stories of miracles are important, but of equal importance is what Jesus teaches, including teaching about himself.  The next passage shows Jesus responding to questions from followers of the Baptist.  After clarifying the role of John in the grand scheme of things (7:28), Jesus’ final response (7:35) suggests that he, like John, is a “child” of divine Wisdom.  Here Luke gestures toward a major way in which early Christians understood the significance of Jesus (cf. John 1:1-18; Heb 1:1-3), as an embodiment of divine wisdom, one who is indeed worthy to teach.

The story that concludes this section of our study (Luke 7:36-50) offers a teaching through example of a principle at the heart of Luke’s gospel. In this story Jesus encounters an anonymous sinful woman.  That woman will in the tradition of the Church be identified with Mary Magdalene, mentioned in the following passage (Luke 8:2).  A similar story is told of Mary of Bethany in John 12:1-8 and tradition and popular imagination will conflate the two. Luke’s interest, however, is not in the identity of the penitent woman, nor even in the type of her sin (cf. the story of the adulteress in John 8:1-11). Luke rather highlights the attitude of Jesus, willing to forgive and welcome this “sinner” despite the judgmental attitude of Simon the Pharisee. The parable that Jesus tells Simon about the two debtors (7:41-42) suggests how Luke understands parables to work in general, to challenge the hearer reach a deeper insight into fundamental principles.  The story as a whole confronts the reader with a similar challenge: what are the limits, if any, of a forgiving welcome to the repentant “sinner”?

Further Reading:

Alan Kirk, “‘Love your enemies,’ The Golden Rule, and Ancient Reciprocity (Luke 6:27-35),” JBL 122 (2003) 667-86.

Charles A. Cosgrove, “A Woman’s Unbound Hair in the Greco-Roman World, with Special Reference to the story of the “Sinful Woman” in Luke 7:36-50,” JBL 124 (2005) 675-92

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are the major differences you detect between Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain?
  2. What is the relation between the stories of Jesus’ healing activity, however we understand it, and his teachings?
  3. What is the significance of the choice of a woman as the paradigm of a sinner whom Jesus forgives in Luke 7? How does this woman relate to other female characters in the gospel?


 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

IV. Luke 9:1-11:54: Jesus Begins to Form a Community

Much of the material in Luke chapter 9 draws extensively on Mark’s Gospel.  In Luke 9:1-6 as in Mark 6:6-13 Jesus sends the twelve forth to do much of what he has done—to teach and to heal.  Like the prophets of the Old Testament, like Jesus who is both prophet and fulfillment of prophecy, they are entrusted with a ministry both of word and deed.  Only Luke tells us explicitly that when Jesus commissions these disciples he sends them.  The Greek verb he uses is apostello.  Only in Luke’s gospel do the twelve explicitly become the “apostles”—and in Acts even more than in this gospel we watch them fulfill the commission Jesus gives them. 

The confession of Jesus as Messiah/Christ and the story of the Transfiguration come at the very center of Mark’s Gospel.  In Luke they come at the end of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and before his long and convoluted road to Jerusalem. Geography and theology are closely linked in both Luke and Acts, so this junction in Jesus’ itinerary (as he begins to move through greater opposition toward death and resurrection) is also a turning place in the story.

In the story of the confession of Messiahship (Luke 9:18-22) Luke presents Peter as the representative confessor, as do Mark and Matthew.  However Luke’s version lacks Jesus’strong commendation of Peter, that we find in Matthew: “You are the rock.”   Luke also omits Peter’s stupefaction at Jesus’ prediction of his own suffering and death and Jesus’ quick rebuke of Peter—“You Satan”—that we find in both the other synoptic gospels.

One suspects that Luke wants to emphasize that the confession of Jesus’ messiahship is an apostolic confession, not belonging to Peter alone, and that Luke is more willing to display the inadequacy of apostolic understanding than its entire befuddlement.  As in the other synoptic gospels, the issue is not just that Jesus will have to suffer, but that those who follow him will have to suffer as well.  The community Jesus builds is a community of suffering

In the Transfiguration story (9:28-36) Luke picks up on the mix between faithfulness and fragility in the community Jesus is forming.  As in Matthew and Mark the disciples, represented by Peter, do not know quite what to make of the revelation of Jesus shining in glory next to Moses and Elijah.  In Luke alone we learn that the disciples have been “heavy with sleep”—surely a foreshadowing of their sleepiness in Gethsemane (22:45).  Even more or less awake they do not quite get it: this revelation is not about sacred places (building tents) but about a sacred calling.  And Moses and Elijah are not Jesus’ peers but his precursors and inferiors.  As in the baptismal scene it is God’s own voice that makes the point clear:  “This is my Son, my chosen, listen to him.” (9:35)

Sharon Ringe wisely suggests that the “exodus” Moses, Elijah, and Jesus are talking about in v. 31 may not have been Jesus’ exodus in death but the long trip he is about to embark on as he heads toward Zion—his own version of Moses’ exodus and Elijah’s prophetic wandering.  In any case, with Luke 9:51 that journey begins.

One can understand the long journey that follows—from 9:51-19:28 – as an accountant might, toting up the contributions from various sources.  On the whole these chapters are the place where Luke departs from the material he received from Mark and adds material from the source he shares with Matthew and from his own anecdotal treasury.  A more literary way of understanding it is to say that now as the drama intensifies,  Jesus uses this journey to tell his disciples the last things—what they need to know in the light of his own impending passion.

In the first part of chapter ten, Jesus instructs the disciples once again on what they are supposed to do to proclaim and enact the gospel among the neighbors.

The Good Samaritan

In 10:25-37 he suggests that the neighborhood is bigger than they think.  The significance of this parable is far better discussed among friends than argued by a scholar.

Let us just suggest a few features of the story that might enter into the interpretation.

Notice that we have a story within a story within a story.  The inner story is the story we call the story of the Good Samaritan.  The slightly larger story is the story of the lawyer’s dialogue with Jesus.  The largest story is the story of the whole Gospel—which illumines the parable and is itself illumined.  (Finally it is Jesus who finds himself wounded and among thieves).

Ponder whether the lawyer is trying to obey the law or to evade it.  He is testing Jesus—but is this in order to put Jesus down or in order to learn from him?

Notice that Jesus never answers the lawyer’s main question.  To the Samaritan’s question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with a counter question: “Which one acted like a neighbor?”

Remember what you learned in Sunday School, that the Samaritan is the classic example of the “Other.”  Whoever seems most “Other” to your neighborhood, that’s the Samaritan among you.

And notice that the power of the story does not only lie with the Samaritan who chooses to be a neighbor, but with the Jewish man who must be shocked by the discovery that this Samaritan is the only neighborly one in the neighborhood.

And notice what we all know, that apathy takes little time or energy.  Just pass by.  Compassion is complicated.  It takes time, money, arrangements; it is always inconvenient.

Also notice that Luke and or Jesus so often display a kind of “on the other hand” Gospel.  On the one hand the Good Samaritan is praised for doing so much and on the other hand Mary—to the chagrin of her beleaguered sister Martha—is commended for doing so little (Luke 10:38-42).   Perhaps the Gospel is not so much about rules as it is about opportunities for faithfulness—different opportunities, different responses.

Further Reading:

Dale Allison, “Rejecting Violent Judgment: Luke 9:52-56 and its Relatives,” JBL 121 (2002) 459-78.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. We always confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. In fact we tend to think of “Christ” as his last name.  But what do we do with all the talk about suffering obedience that Jesus’ vision of messiahship seems to imply?  And what about suffering in the lives of those who follow him?  Is that a metaphor for the occasional readjustment of priorities, or something tougher—and if so, what?
  2. Who is the “other” in your community, and how do you understand the obligation to love the neighbor as it relates to that person.
  3. In the story of Mary and Martha, why in the world does Martha get the blame for being just the sort of faithful person we have always assumed we are supposed to be?


 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

V. Luke 12:1-14:35: Jesus Teaches “On the Road”

As we saw in the last session, one of the devices that Luke uses to structure his account of Jesus’ teaching activity is his movement toward Jerusalem, where he set his sights in 9:51.  Along the loosely defined pathway (see the notice about movement to Jerusalem at 13:22), he continues to teach and form his disciples.  Accounts of miraculous healings punctuate the teaching (13:10-16; 14:1-6), both concerned with the propriety of healing on the Sabbath.  Otherwise teaching dominates this part of the journey. Some teaching involves generally applicable moral advice: to avoid hypocrisy (12:1-3), not to care about worldly goods (12:22-23), to pay attention to the time (13:54-56) when judgment is imminent (13:22-30), to reconcile with enemies (12:57-59), to repent (13:1-5).

Some admonitions are directed specifically at those who would follow in Jesus’ footsteps. They must be prepared to confess him openly (12:8-12), a saying that suggests that followers of Jesus in fact faced rejection and persecution. But the fallibility of disciples is also recognized. Uttering something against Jesus, the “Son of Man,” can be forgiven, rejecting the “holy spirit” of forgiveness itself cannot (12:10).  Disciples must recognize that their ministry, like that of Jesus himself will be a cause of division (12:49-53).  Even more forcefully, Jesus declares that following him requires sacrifice, “hatred” of father and mother,” and the willingness to take up a cross (14:25-27).  The hyperbole in the saying about hating family members (contrast Matt 10:37-39) drives home the point that discipleship can be costly.

Disciples need to embody detachment from worldly things. Assured that the Father will provide, they must sell their belongings and give to the poor, keeping their treasure and their heart with God (12:29-34).

A small part of Jesus’ teaching has to do with himself. Warned by friendly Pharisees that Herod (Antipas) was looking for him, Jesus responds with a comment that expresses his dedication as a prophet who must go to Jerusalem (13:32-33).

Jesus’ teaching, as usual in Luke, is delivered with stories and vivid illustrations. The antithesis of the lack of concern for wealth is the rich fool who tells himself to eat, drink and be merry, on the eve of his encounter with the divine Judge (12:13-21). The lilies of the field and the birds of the air illustrate the natural trust that disciples should have in God (12:34-27). Disciples are like slaves awaiting their master’s return (12:35-48). The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed or a bit of leaven (13:18-20), small but potentially powerful.  Those who set out to be disciples should, like contractors or generals going to war, make sure they know what the enterprise will cost (13:28-33).

The Parable of the Banquet

Along the way, Jesus must stop to eat and meals provide the context for much important teaching, as they do in Jerusalem both before and after the crucifixion (see 22:7-23 and 24:13-49).  At this point the occasion is a Sabbath dinner at the home of a leading Pharisee (14:1). The meal begins with one of Jesus’ healings, of a man with dropsy, and his defense of that healing as action permitted on the Sabbath.

Table discourse continues with some sage advice, reminiscent of the book of Proverbs, about not being presumptuous about places of honor at table (14:7-11).  Then the conversation takes what would be, from the point of view of polite convention, a strange turn, as Jesus admonishes his host to invite beggars and cripples when he throws a party (14:12-14).  This advice is surely meant for the disciples reading this tale: fellowship with Jesus involves a radical hospitality.

At this point Jesus reinforces his admonition with one of his longer narrative parables, another version of which is found in Matt 22:1-10, which should be read for comparison. (Yet another version is found in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.) In this version, the story features a private individual who throws a great party, invites many people who have various excuses for not coming.  He then sends his servants out, twice, to find others who may take an open place at table. The party giver, like the disciple, is radically hospitable. The parable ends with an ominous word of judgment about those who declined the original invitation (14:24).

Further Reading:

Bernard Brandon Scott, “What if No One Came?” in idem, Hear then the Parale: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989) 161-74.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How does the Lukan version of the parable of the Banquet differ from that in Matthew?
  2. Is the notion of “radical hospitality” really useful in today’s environment?
  3. Is it helpful to think of Jesus’ teaching involving dramatic hyperbole? Or does that undercut the radical character of his challenge to disciples.

 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

V. Luke 15:1-19:27: Lost and Found

Lost Three Times Over

The first thing to notice about everybody’s favorite parable, the Prodigal Son, is that it is the third of three parables that Jesus presents on the same occasion.  Whatever we think Jesus may have “originally” meant by telling this story, Luke shows us quite clearly what he thinks is essential to the tale: the rejoicing in what has been lost and now is found.

In Luke the reason that Jesus tells this parable—and the parable of the sheep and of the coin—is that the Pharisees and scribes have seen Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, and they are grumbling: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  (We remember the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon in 7:36-50.)  We know from our own lives that there is a big difference between having a nodding acquaintance with someone and actually inviting that person over for a meal.

Each of these parables is told to exhort the Pharisees and scribes to stop grumbling and start rejoicing.  In each case something very precious is lost and then found again.  In each case the listener is invited to identify with the one who does the finding—the shepherd, the woman sweeping her house, the father…or is it the father?

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is not just brief metaphorical illustration of lostness and foundness—like the stories of the sheep and coin.  It is a short, short story.  With real characters; real conflict; and three people we could identify with.

We suspect that Luke wants the Pharisees and scribes to identify with the older brother, but most of us who read the story can find ourselves in each of the characters.

Remember that this is a parable and not an allegory.  The Father is in some ways like God, but is not identified with God.  The elder son reminds of the Pharisees, but he is not one.  And the younger son is certainly not a tax collector and maybe not as big a sinner as his older brother thinks.

Notice these features of the story.

Everybody gets his turn.

The Father goes out twice, once to the younger brother and once to the older.   But notice, too, that the father does go out.  Gives up all his fatherly right to wait for the boys to come find him.

At the end of the story—to all eternity—we do not know whether the older brother went in to join the party or stayed outside, grumpily.  Again the parable does not end with a rule but with the opportunity for choice.

This sense of parable as presenting possibilities rather than requirements is evident when Luke presents yet another parable.  Remember that just after Jesus praises the Samaritan for doing good, he praises Mary, Martha’s sister, for (apparently) doing nothing.

Luke 16:1-13.Now after implicitly criticizing the younger son for “wasting his belongings” Jesus tells a story that praises a steward for doing the same thing—the Greek phrase for squandering in Luke 15: 13 and Luke 16:2 is exactly the same.

Luke does not seem quite to know how to interpret the story Jesus tells.  Unlike most parables, which end with one application, the story of the unjust steward ends with four.  “The children of darkness are shrewder than the children of light.”  “Make friends for yourselves by use of unrighteous mammon.”“Whoever is faithful in little is faithful in much,”and “you cannot serve God and mammon.”

Some commentators have argued that Jesus told this parable as a protest against unjust economic practices in his time.  If so, Luke has “spiritualized” the story to say something about the faithful use of riches.

This is not the only passage in these chapters where Luke has Jesus address issues of poverty and wealth. In Luke 16:19-31 a rich man is concerned first for himself, second for his biological family, and not at all for Lazarus, the poor man at his gates.  This parable does not seem counter-intuitive for Christian practice, as the story of the Unjust Steward does.  At the end of that earlier parable Luke has Jesus tell us that we cannot serve both God and mammon.  Now he suggests that one good way to serve God is to serve the person in distress.  This is one of those passages that reinforces the suggestion that the Gospel of Luke is especially concerned with issues of wealth and poverty.  Some have thought that it is written largely to encourage the poor; others that it is written largely to exhort those who are more wealthy.  How we read it may depend in part on who we are.

Other significant themes in this section include instructions and encouragement related to prayer.  Jesus prays consistently in Luke’s Gospel and believers are instructed to do the same.  In different ways we are reminded that if human beings can be nagged into hearing the pleas of the needy, surely the good God will hear the pleas of those who pray.  (See Luke 11:1-13, 18:1-8)

In the story of the ten lepers, only one of whom returns to give thanks to Jesus, we are reminded of the two sided nature of redemption in Luke’s Gospel.  From God, forgiveness.  From those who are forgiven, thanks.  And having read Luke 10 we are quick to notice that the only thankful person is a Samaritan. (Luke 17:11-19)

Further Reading:

John Nolland, “The Role of Money and Possessions in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 18:11-32),” in Craig G. Bartholomew, Joel B. Green, Anthony C. Thiselton, Reading Luke: Interpretation, Reflection, Formation (Scripture and Hermenetuics 7; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) 178-209.

David Landry, “Honor Restored: New Light on the Parable of the Prudent Steward (Luke 16:1-8a),” JBL 119 (2000) 287-309

Timothy A. Friedrichsen, “The Temple, a Pharisee, a Tax Collector, and the Kingdom of God: Reading a Jesus Parable (Luke 18:10-14a),” JBL 124 (2005) 89-119

William Herzog, “A Weapon of the Weak: The Parable of the Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-9),” in idem, Parables as Subversive Speech (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1994) 233-58.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do you understand the story of the Prodigal Son from the perspective of the younger brother, the older brother, the father?
  2. What do we learn about Christians and wealth from the passages about the unjust steward and the rich man and Lazarus?
  3. Jesus continually asserts that prayer affects the way the world goes—affects what God does. How do we understand this in our time and situation?

 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

V. Luke 19:28-22:71: In Jerusalem

For most of Luke’s gospel since 9:51 we have read material that is either unique to Luke or sayings and stories that we also find in Matthew, although in other settings. From this point on, the basic outline of Luke’s story coincides with that of Matthew and Mark.  Most scholars accept the hypothesis that Luke is indeed following Mark’s lead from this point on, although he continues to offer some unique information and perspectives.  It is sometimes useful to read with an eye for those distinctive details, such as the extra acclamation of “peace” and “glory” as Jesus enters Jerusalem (19:38) or the very abridged version of the “cleansing of the temple (19:45-48). The stories of Jesus’ controversies with teachers in Jerusalem follows Mark closely.  In both Jesus defends his own authority (20:1-19), deflects a question about loyalty to Caesar (20:20-26), trades scriptural quotes to defend belief in the resurrection (20:27-40), and challenges a traditional notion of the Messiah as an offspring of David (20:41-44).  He has harsh words for “scribes” (not scribes and Pharisees as in the much longer Matthean parallel, Matt 23:1-36), and kind words for a widow who gives her pennies to the offering box at the Temple (21:1-4)

A Discourse about Final Things

Jesus’ final bit of public teaching is a discourse in the Temple about eschatology, the coming trials and tribulations, final judgment and salvation (21:7-33).  This discourse too closely follows its Markan model, but has distinctive touches which reflect a major Lukan concern.  As the opening chapters of the Gospel indicated, Luke sets the story of Jesus onto a global stage, tying events in Palestine to events on the world political stage. His concern with the broad sweep of space and time is also evident in his second volume, which will carry the story of the movement on into the history of the Roman world. Luke’s perspective thus seems to be far more opened ended than had been that of Mark, for whom the prophecies of end time events had a vital immediacy.  How does this perspective square with the eschatological discourse inherited from Mark?

The discourse begins with the traditional prophecy that the Temple would be destroyed (21:6).  To questions about signs by which one might know when that destruction would happen, Jesus responds with warnings about false prophets, predicting that the end is nigh (21:8).  Various disasters will take place, including prominently persecution (21:10-19), which we suspect the Lukan community had indeed experienced (cf. 12:8-12; 14:25-27).  One important waystation will be the destruction of Jerusalem (21:20-24).  Unlike the Markan version (Mark 13:14-19), this prophecy clearly looks backward to the events of 70 C.E., when Jerusalem was indeed “surrounded by armies” (21:20).  Instead of this being a sign of the end, it is only a sign of the end of Jerusalem (21:20), and the beginning of “times of the Gentiles” (21:24).  By a subtle change, Luke has transformed a prophecy of the imminent end of things into a prediction of the long-term future.  That future will indeed have wars, famines, plagues, and persecutions. It will involves disasters like the destruction of Jerusalem, but the end is not yet. There will, of course, be an “end,” when the Son of Man returns (21:25-28), in imagery derived from Daniel 7:13, and with him will come the disciples’ redemption (21:28).

The Last Supper

The rest of the story of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem continues to move along on the path laid out by Mark 14. Another key point where Luke’s perspective is evident is the account of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples (22:14-23). The sayings over the bread and the cup (22:19-20) resemble the forms that Paul records in 1 Cor 11:23-25, and may come from the same tradition of celebrating the Christian eucharist.  Of equal interest is the fact that Luke prefaces the words over bread and wine with a blessing over a cup (23:17).  Luke may simply be remembering the practice of a Jewish Passover Seder, but he also may have another purpose in mind.  The first saying on the cup is framed by two vows that Jesus would not eat nor drink again until he did so in the Kingdom of God.  This distinctive touch in the account of the meal is relevant to the shift in eschatological perspective evident in the discourse of the previous chapter.   Jesus’ vow and prophecy is in fact fulfilled within the story of the Gospel, at two points, one in the distinctive Lukan story of the encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35) and again when Jesus appears to the assembled disciples on Easter night (24:36-43). Jesus does indeed eat and drink again with his disciples, not in a distant time and place, but in his presence with them as the Resurrected one.  For Luke, the decisive moment in the coming of the Son of Man has already taken place.

Further Reading:

Brent Kinman, “Parousia, Jesus’ “A-Triumphal” Entry and the Fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44),” JBL 119 (1999) 279-94.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Does the treatment of Jesus’ teaching about the last things affect Luke’s portrait of him as a “prophet”?
  2. Are the differences in the accounts of the Last Supper among the Synoptic Gospel significant?
  3. Have you noticed other distinctive Lukan touches in accounts of the last days of Jesus in Jerusalem?
  4. Is Jesus’ remark about giving what belongs to Caesar a principle to guide politics or a clever evasion?

 

 

Yale Bible Study

The Gospel of John

V. Luke 23:1-24:53: The Passion and Resurrection

For much of the last chapters of his gospel, Luke has followed Mark’s sketch of the events of Jesus’ ministry.  In following the traditional outline of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, however, Luke adds many of his own motifs.  We cannot know whether this is because he had sources of information that Mark lacked, or because he had his own theological and practical points to make, or because of some combination of the two.

We begin by noting some of the unique Lucan features of the passion narratives.

Luke 23:6-12

Only Luke includes the details of this game of hot potato between Pilate and Herod, though the other gospels include accounts of Jesus being mocked.  Luke cares about the powers of this world and their complicity in evil doing.  This passage reminds us that among the principalities and powers Pilate and Herod are equal opportunity destroyers.

Luke 23:26-31

Only Luke has the woe that Jesus pronounces on the women who bewail his death.  This sets his death in the larger framework of history and perhaps even of the end of history.  What happens to him is a sign of the judgment that will fall on Jerusalem, and on all human opposition to the purposes of God.

Luke 23:34

In some early manuscripts Jesus speaks the words of forgiveness to those who have crucified him.  The words foreshadow the emphasis on forgiveness on Luke 24:37  and in Acts 7:60.  The claim that the crucifixion was more a product of ignorance than of evil is repeated in Acts 3:17.

Luke 23:39-43

The conversation among Jesus and the two thieves is unique to Luke’s gospel.

In Matthew and Mark both the criminals hanging beside Jesus revile him.  In Luke’s Gospel however, only one thief reviles him and the other demonstrates the two movements of Christian conversion.

He repents: “Do you not fear God, since we are under the same sentence of condemnation, and we indeed, justly.”

And he believes: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus’ assurance may suggest that Luke understands the promise of life after death in ways different from what we generally see in Paul and Matthew—where the promise is for resurrection at the last day.  Jesus’ assurance seems more in keeping with a considerable amount of contemporary funeral practice, at least in North America: “Today you will be with me Paradise.”

The two thieves thus become not simply historical or anecdotal figures but examples for Luke’s contemporaries.  Each reader or hearer of this gospel is also asked to decide whether or not to repent and believe.

Luke 23:44-49

If, as we suspect, Luke had Mark’s version of Jesus’ crucifixion before him when he wrote his own, we see in these verses two ways in which Luke changed Mark’s account.

First, instead of crying out the first verse of Psalm 22, “My God my God why have you forsaken me” as Jesus does in both Mark and Matthew, his last words in Luke are : “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  Again his death foreshadows that of Stephen in Acts 7.  Jesus is no longer the abandoned son of Mark 15 but the obedient martyr who will provide an example for the apostles and those who follow him in their trail.

Instead of proclaiming Jesus “Son of God” the centurion says: “Truly this man was ‘innocent’ or ‘just.’”  This is surely not because Luke doubts that Jesus is Son of God.  It is because the narrative now functions not so much as a description of atonement but as an exemplary model of faithfulness.

In his telling of the resurrection stories Luke also add his own features.

Luke 24:1-12

Luke shares the narrative of women coming to the empty tomb with Mark, but he changes the promise in Mark that Jesus will meet the disciples in Galilee to the reminder that while in Galilee, Jesus had predicted his resurrection.  In Luke Jesus appears to the apostles, not in Galilee, but in Jerusalem.  This may be because Luke had traditions of Jerusalem appearances while Mark and Matthew had traditions of first appearances in Galilee.  It may also be because Luke traces both Jesus ministry and the life of the church from beginnings in Jerusalem to a conclusion, at the end of Acts, in the world’s capital, Rome.  Jerusalem plays a theological as much as an historical role in Luke.

Note too that as in the other gospels women play a crucial role in the discovery of the empty tomb and the proclamation of what they have seen.  Note that the apostles pay them no heed.

Ringe points out that twofold movement of faith that the women display.  They remember, and then they proclaim.  The disciples on the way to Emmaus do the same.

Luke 24:13-35

Sharon Ringe reminds us that “Mary, the wife of Clopas” appears in John 19:25 and wonders whether John’s “Clopas” is the same as Luke’s “Cleopas.”  If so, the companion disciple on the road to Emmaus may be Cleopas’ wife.  Acts has evidence of missionary/disciple married couples on the road, and Paul suggests that Mrs. Peter on occasion accompanied that apostle on his travels.

The story is a sermon.  It is told to remind Luke’s audience of where the risen Lord appears.  He appears when scripture is proclaimed (in this case Jesus is himself the preacher); he appears when the bread is broken.  The story is Luke’s strong insistence that resurrection is not only a past event but a present experience.

Other features also seem true to ongoing Christian experience.  Sometimes God’s mercy arrives incognito.  Sometimes we only know providential activity by looking backwards (“Did not our hearts burn within us.”)

When we do remember and believe we are often sent off in a new direction, or back to the very city or situation we had just so exhaustedly left behind.

Luke 24:36-49

As in Matthew’s gospel and John’s, Jesus appears to the community of the faithful.  As in Matthew 28 and John 21 he commissions them to keep the faith.

They are to keep the faith in three ways.  By reading and interpreting scripture.  By proclaiming repentance and forgiveness (the great themes of good news for Luke) and by bearing witness to what they have seen.

The Spirit that ascended on Jesus in his baptism and drove him through his ministry will now ascend on them (Acts 2) and drive them to bear witness to him—to the ends of the earth, to the end of history.

Further Reading:

N. T. Wright, “Burning Hearts and Broken Bread: Luke,” in idem, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) 647-61.

Charles H. Talbert, “The Place of the Resurrection in the Theology of Luke,” Interpretation 46 (1992) 19-30.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. We have suggested a number of differences between Luke’s telling of Jesus’ death and Mark’s telling. You might want to compare the two stories in detail to see what other differences you can find.  What might be the theological, practical, outcome of these somewhat different narratives?
  2. How do you relate the stories of Jesus resurrection on the third day to the church’s faith that the Risen Lord is present in the life and worship of the community?
  3. We have suggested that a major claim of Luke’s gospel is that those who truly repent will be truly forgiven. What evidence do you find of this motif, and what other motifs are important parts of the encouragement that Luke seeks to provide?