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Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of Luke’

I think the meaning of Luke 18:10-14 remains unchanged even when the roles are reversed. Here’s what I mean: What if Jesus had told the story this way?

… The tax collector stood and prayed thus with himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Pharisee.  I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that comes into my possession.’

But the Pharisee, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.

I doubt any of my readers would argue that switching the lines spoken by the two men has subtracted anything from the essential teaching of Jesus, but I’d be interested to hear.  The idea occurred to me while reading the following in a chapter on Prayer in the New Testament in a now-obscure 1926 book by W.F. Tillett.

“It is well for us to remember that there is no sin in being a Pharisee, and no saintliness in being a publican.  It is that for which one prays that reveals his real character and the quality of his religion… Thanksgiving is often the best kind of prayer, but such thanksgiving as this man offered was nothing but an offensive expression of self-conceit and complacent pride… The one supreme object of prayer is, first of all, to get rid of sin and to be justified before God.  Prayers that are directed toward this end are effectual and saintly, whether they be offered by Pharisees or publicans.” (Providence Prayer and Power, p. 214).

It is just as easy to detect the gist of the divine message when the Pharisee’s lines are placed on the lips of the wealthy publican. Because it’s not merely about the justification of the ‘outcast’ publican (although that element might have appealed to Luke) but about the inefficacious mindset of the self-congratulatory do-gooder at prayer – whoever he may be.

My role reversal does lose the implied criticism of the Pharisee as a religious type, but I doubt such a negative stereotype can explain everything – especially in view of the high probability that there were decent Pharisees among his own followers.

However, I admit that the New Testament version bears a glint of religious genius to which my role-reversal cannot attain – the added irony of the superior wealth of the ‘justified’ in the Gospel account.  The special shock-value contributed to the story by the wealth of the publican was a factor which I think cannot have escaped the mind of Jesus.  I’ve seen uninspired visual portrayals of the story which fail to deliver this irony because they depict the Pharisee as the far better-dressed man.

Wilbur Fisk Tillett  (1854-1936) was dean of the Theological faculty and professor of Christian doctrine at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee.

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In the Empyrean Moses and the Son discuss the transition to the public teaching career and some of the temptations which  might come up – both worldly and other-worldly.

MOSES:  Again, Sire, we know Father will announce his expressed approval of your incarnation in the presence of the Forerunner, but as to timing, he has not revealed whether this will come before or after your teaching mission, or during that mission.

THE SON:  Certainly it cannot come before I have proved my obedience to Father’s will in every aspect of the normal human walk with God.

MOSES:  Whenever it comes, the sign from Father is likely to present something of a crisis for you, Sire, from the perspective of your humanity.

THE SON:  So I understand.  The fullness of my human nature will be so complete that this sign will probably constitute my first real assurance of my divine pre-existence.

MOSES:  It’s going to be a lot to ‘take in’ in one afternoon.

THE SON:  Like I said, I hope to get away for awhile.

MOSES:  You will need both time and wisdom to decide whether to grasp or deny certain innate spiritual rights attached to your divine person.

THE SON:  Even with the dawning of my true self-awareness I doubt I will see the form of divinity as a thing to be grasped.  It should mean only a new phase of Father’s plan for the Incarnation.

MOSES:  The saints believe it will mean the beginning of the end, Sire.  Recognition of divinity will bring more problems than solutions.  Especially if there is resistance from the religious authorities.

THE SON:  We’re projecting a 1 to 3 year mission – probably no longer.

MOSES:  Right.  By the requirement of the No Thrones Rule you should always have in view some kind of fit termination of Father’s plan.

THE SON:  I expect to have this whole question of thrones thrust upon me soon after my recognition of divinity.

MOSES:  Sire, the issue of thrones will come up again and again.  Not only with your own self-recognition but every time somebody else recognizes your divinity – from the lowest demon to your closest follower.

THE SON:  But Moses, by that time, if anyone were to suggest that I go crashing kingdoms and playing messiah or prince, believe me I would get him behind me quickly.

MOSES:  I have no doubt that you will worship the Father eternally, and him only serve.

THE SON:  Even so.

MOSES:  There will also be immense pressure to satisfy human need by resort to your creative power.

THE SON:  Father has expressed a preference for No Bread and Circuses, but has not ruled out my discretionary use of powers.

MOSES:  if you get the people too miracle-minded, Sire, believe me you will lose control of the message in a hurry.  And miracles net you zero in the way of anybody’s saving faith anyway.

THE SON:  Right.  Well I wouldn’t think of it as far as a means of personal protection.

MOSES:  Good.  Don’t tempt the angels to get you out of a jam.  And no spectacles or crowd-pleasers.

THE SON:  It’s the ‘No Bread’ rule that’s going to be tough, Moses – tougher than Thrones, in my opinion.

MOSES:  Men do not live by bread alone, Sire.

THE SON:  Got it.  But I already feel compassion for the hungry and poor, and I’m not even one of them yet.

MOSES:  Look, Sire, if the people get a whiff of anything like mass feedings or the old ‘manna from heaven’ you are done, OK?  After that it’ll be earthly kingdoms all the way down.

THE SON:  You mean Father’s kingdom could be mistaken for a free bread program?

MOSES:  Oh verily, Sire.  And that is sure to pancake right back into Thrones.  You could get a popular groundswell to make you king, after which you won’t be able to show your face in Galilee without political harassment.

THE SON:  It really comes down to “No Circuses” then, doesn’t it?

MOSES:  Miracles and wonders are to be kept to a minimum, yes.  Solve that one and everything else should fall into place.

THE SON:  But Moses, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf..., it’s going to be hard to stay on point.

MOSES:  I can’t tell you what do do with your compassion, Sire.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – the Annunciation

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

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if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

According to Mark, Jesus is heard by bystanders to have spoken from the cross words which are found in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34).  Most commentators will admit (even if they disagree) that an old interpretation of this text claims that Jesus might well have been ‘praying the Psalms’ to himself in Aramaic during that last forsaken hour.

However, Mark further relates that these bystanders believed Jesus was calling Elijah, and offered Jesus a sop of soldier’s wine, waiting to see if Elijah would come for him.  It is not until after this interlude that physical death comes when, as Mark writes, Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last (Mk 15:37).

According to Luke, the addition at Mk 15:37 doesn’t tell the whole story.  Luke has reason to report that the last loud cry which Mark reports on the lips of Jesus just before he breathed his last was in the form of actual words:  “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!”  Unbelieving Jesus scholars won’t like this, but I think Luke’s report of more speech is easier to accept than the idea of Jesus letting rip with one of those hideous screams that actors use when playing the bad guy falling off the cliff – AAAAUUGH!  Seriously?

Luke has given us a beautiful devotional window opening onto the mind of Jesus at the hour of his death.  Because these words reported by Luke are also from the Psalms (31:5).  This means that if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.

For Lent, then, it might be worth a shot to try ‘praying the Psalms’ with Jesus from the cross (Ps 22:1 – 31:5).  In faith imagine that you are experiencing a bit of what was actually passing through the mind of the Christ in the last few minutes of his material existence.  Put a little cheap wine on your tongue somewhere in the middle of it all.

PS – My word-count 2,302 is based on an English version I found online and copied to word processing for tabulation (minus choir directions and verse numbers).  I don’t know what it is in Aramaic.

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In Luke’s story of the Sabbath healing of the woman ‘bent over 18 years,’ the synagogue ruler interrupts the woman’s grateful praise of God with an indignant take-off from the Decalogue, aimed at Jesus: “Six days shall ye labor, and do all your work…” (Ex 20:9)

I enjoyed reading yesterday’s post on this text by Daniel Kirk,  who suggests that we view this disgruntled chazzan as:

“the stand in for the bible-believing Christian in this story… the person who checks everything to see if it’s in line with the word of God, telling the people not to upset the biblical norm for their own convenience or exceptional spiritual experience… the guy who can tell you why this can’t possibly be something that glorifies God because it’s happening in contradiction to scripture… But Jesus calls him on it.”

Yes sir.  And I notice Jesus strikes deep with his response to the chazzan but does not threaten the heart of the commandment – that crashing sound we hear is the fall of a post-Sinai tradition of strict observances which had gradually become painfully binding on the daughters and sons of Abraham.  When this sedimentary slag of unwritten and re-written addendums is dashed to pieces by Jesus, behold, we see the ancient stone of the Law standing forth in its original purity:

“Give rest to my people, comfort my people, water my people.”  This word to the shepherds of Israel is like a refrain running from Sinai, through Second Isaiah, to Jesus.  The law reached into every moment of the people’s life, but Jesus here seems to transform the Sabbath into a jubilee of rest from the sharia of binding and tasking and testing which they endured under the quotidian observance-rituals of man-made religion.

Jesus restored two Sabbath principles to the religion of Israel when he bid this shepherd to allow that his people be loosed, healed, and watered on this day.  First he minimized the ownership of the day by the rulers and scribes and redirected it back to its rightful owners – the congregation of the daughters and sons of Abraham.  “The Sabbath was made for man,” not the other way around.  Second he restores the meaning and value of the Sabbath rest to the congregation as a truth of mercy rather than of judgment.

Note:  Interesting that this story seems to have no place in the three year cycles of readings followed by some of the mainstream churches (I’ve only checked the 1979 ECUSA 3-year cycle in my possession, but I know others are very similar).  Do we wonder why the kinds of high clergy who make such decisions found this story so little inspiring?

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What’s at stake in the challenge mounted by Mark Goodacre and a few others against the hypothetical Q document?  Q is a major theoretical pillar of modern New Testament source criticism, and we can be sure there is a mass of academic ego on the line, and great stacks of painstaking research and interpretation threatened with obsolescence.  In other words, the discussion isn’t going to happen.  Because those stakes are too high.

Modern criticism is now so heavily invested in the Q-romance of an imagined “lost” gospel containing primitive logia of Jesus that any general acceptance of Goodacre’s argument might cause a crisis in NT hermeneutics.  I believe that the gospels would be just fine in the exchange, but I think it would be a long time before the failed theological ties to the imaginary Q were sorted out, and scholars became adept at re-interpreting this double-tradition as simply that portion of material new to the author of Matthew which Luke also saw warrant to repeat in his own Gospel.

I posted in April and again in early May of my general agreement with Goodacre and with Austin Farrer (1955) and Michael Goulder (1989), that I thought Luke’s dependence on Matthew explained the common material between them better than Q-theory.  With the object of fortifying myself in this regard, I have had Goodacre’s book, The Case Against Q (2002), home from the library since early April.  But I have been distracted by the Johannine passion, Historical Jesus, N. T. Wright, reading Kant, priority of Mark, and other interests.

In a comment I made over at Near Emmaus yesterday, however, I cited my rejection of Q in support of a point I was making about the dating of Matthew.  Well I started to feel the need for some study of the problem in depth, because I didn’t want to be hanging out there with nothing but a personal preference for Luke’s dependence on Matthew.

The last straw came this morning, however, when I sat down with Ernst Fuch’s 1960 Berlin lecture, “Jesus’ Understanding of Time” (Studies of the Historical Jesus, SCM Press, 1964, p.104).  I’ve had Fuchs’ book home only a week, wanting to give the post-Bultmann scholars of the New Quest – and Fuchs in particular – a fair turn.  However, from the first paragraph it became apparent that I could not follow the author’s thesis without possessing an utter faith in the existence of Q (a faith which I don’t have).  After four pages, I put the book down and reached for Goodacre.

I want to nail this argument now, and will post a short review series on The Case Against Q in the near future.

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Saturday I had a chance to get back to the seminary for a couple hours and got what I was looking for in New Testament criticism:

Willi Marxsen, Mark The Evangelist (1956/ET1969)

Gunther Bornkamm, et al, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (1956/ET 1963)

Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of Luke (1953/ET1961)

Erhardt Guttgemanns, Candid Questions Concerning Gospel Form Criticism (1970/ET1979)

I figure I need to know the first three thinkers if I’m going to approach the synoptics from square one.  I’m a bit conservative on the method of redaction criticism, and so I want to see where I stand with these three, and depend on Guttgemanns to give me leverage against them.  Oh yeah, and I also grabbed Norman Perrin’s What is Redaction Criticism? (1969), which also more or less starts with Conzelmann, Marxsen, and Bornkamm.

Other books home now: 

Austin Farrer, St. Matthew and St. Mark (1954).  I already like this book after some morning time spent on it.  Farrer is my chief defense against Q theory, along with the late Michael D. Goulder, and Mark Goodacre at Duke.

Michael D. Goulder, Midrash and Lection in Matthew (1974). Goulder stepped back from some of this thesis later, I understand, but I want to get situated with his views on the author of Matthew, whom I see as the first reader of Mark who knew ‘other stuff’ about Jesus.

And lastly, I dumped the Crossan which got me so irritated last week, and took home volume 1 of Raymond E. Brown’s Death of the Messiah (1994) to get help with the Passion analysis I’m working on.  Crossan would see the irony in that, since he pretty much carves out his position in Who Killed Jesus? by constant contrasts to Brown.  Thanks for the tip, Dom.

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Here I want to place Luke and John in closer relation to Mark’s 20 verses on the period between the arrest and the trial before Pilate, and to changes in Mark introduced by the author of Matthew

To me it seems unusual that Mark has recounted everything he has heard about this night as if it happened at a single location.  The confinement of Jesus, the denial of Peter, the first Jewish trial, the spitting, mocking, beating, and taunting, and the second, early morning consultation of the council – everything seems to occur at the same Jerusalem address.  One  reason to doubt the authenticity of this feature in Mark is, as I  suggested in a previous post , the fact that Luke contradicts Mark’s single-location storyline, and is  supported by the author of the gospel of John.

Attention to details of location is a characteristic quality of a good eyewitness report.  If we can believe Luke and John, Mark’s sources have missed an important change of scene. For the purpose of retelling the events which he has in hand, Mark has pretty good control of his ‘collapsed’ singularity of location.  However, when the author of Matthew blithely accepts Mark’s single-location story but attempts to flesh it out with additional facts and assumptions, the results are even less acceptable to John and arguably to Luke as well (For signs of Luke’s knowledge of Matthew’s passion, see Michael D. Goulder, Luke: A New Paradigm,1989, pp. 6-7, etc.).

The Gospel of Matthew adds to Mark’s opening verses two new things (Mk14:53-4/ Mt 26:57-8).  First, in 26:57, is the  assumption that the location to which Jesus was taken immediately after his arrest was the residence of Caiaphas.  This addition, which seems at least to be a  reasonably well-educated guess,  is not confirmed by Luke and is flatly contradicted by John. Next, in 26:58, is the elimination of Mark’s courtyard fire, and the addition of a specific intent of Peter to ‘see’ the result of the trial.  This could be an attempt to raise Peter’s status as eyewitness, but more to the point, the implied darkness and outerness of Mark’s fire-lit courtyard is gone in Matthew – we now appear to be in an indoor court.  I think it is very interesting that Luke and John, who do not follow Matthew in this matter of identifying the residence with Caiaphas, retain Mark’s outdoor fire.

Too often I think modern critics of the gospels ascribe to the apostles and evangelists unworthy aims and ulterior motives in their writing.

Duccio di Buoninsenga - Jesus before Annas/Peter's first denial

But I find three practical and historical inducements for the author of John to make changes in the recorded history of events immediately following the arrest of Jesus: 

(1)  Correction of the tendency  of Matthew’s  additional matter to alter events remembered differently by his own sources;

(2)  Support for Luke’s tradition of a second location for the Jewish trial over the single-location version of Mark (followed by Matthew);

(3)  Introduction of eyewitness material  which builds on Luke’s two-location story by correcting the location of Peter’s denial – in the courtyard of Annas before Jesus is taken to Caiaphas for the official trial.

Note:  The right of Annas to interview Jesus before trial seems indirectly confirmed by the report of the historian Josephus (Ant.xviii.2.1 f) – that the wealthy former high priest was long a power in Judaism after the Romans arbitrarily removed him as high priest (an office traditionally granted for life).  I think Edersheim has evidence that Annas retained rule over the temple trade in animals and coin (I’ll confirm that).

For a treatment of the problem from a strictly synoptic viewpoint, without the help of the Fourth Gospel, see Matthew D. Larsen’s series on the Jewish trials.

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