Lenten Reading Challenge: Luke 1-6
• When and Where
Today we begin Luke/Acts. Scholars and church leaders have long known this is essentially one work in two volumes by the same author. It has thematic unity and equivalent style and language. Luke traces movement from Galilee to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish culture. Acts then traces movement outward from there throughout the provinces and ultimately to Rome, the center of the empire. Because Acts does not mention Paul’s execution, tradition often dated this to the early 60’s – but because it very clearly draws on Mark, which was written close to 70AD, and shares the material thought to come from a “Q” source with Matthew, most scholars date it alongside Matthew about 80AD. Some of you have been in small group settings where I have taught that dating myself.
So why are we just now reading it? This is the one place in his “Evolution of the Word” where Borg departs from the majority opinion (which he uses when there is not consensus). He is one of a “growing number” of scholars to suggest Luke/Acts is much later. We’ll cover some of the reasons for that in future entries. I am intrigued by not entirely swayed by his arguments. But for now, if nothing else, I like how this dating spreads the Gospels out – putting all the letters and particularly Revelation into a better context for us and having us revisit the life of Christ multiple times.
• Key Insights
Luke / Acts is long – so we’ll spread it out over several days. It actually makes up about 30% of the NT – more than the combined letters of Paul and his followers and is about 80% of the length of Mark, Matthew and Luke combined.
Borg writes: “A major theme in both texts is the “Spirit.” In the Gospel, Jesus is conceived by the Spirit; then the Spirit descends on him at his baptism; and the first words of his public activity are, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” His last words from the cross are “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” The Spirit of God that animated Jesus returns to God and the gospel ends with the promise that the Spirit will descend on his followers. That promise is fulfilled in the opening chapters of Acts with the descent of the Spirit upon the community at Pentecost. Throughout the rest of Acts, the “Spirit” guides and leads the expansion of the Jesus movement from the homeland to the “ends of the earth.”
• Big Picture
Luke and Matthew both clearly used Mark as a source, but Luke uses the material differently, and only uses about 65% of Mark as opposed to Matthew’s 90%. Luke also weaves the material together with other sources, rather than lightly editing large blocks. However, the basic sequence is the same, although he expands the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem from 3 chapters to 9.
Luke shares a number of verses with Matthew that are not drawn from Luke, leading scholars to speculate on a “Q” source as mentioned before. Like Matthew, there are also several hundred verses that are only found in this text. Some things unique to Luke include the boy Jesus in the Temple and the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the woman and the lost coin, Pharisee and tax collector, dishonest steward, and the widow and the unjust judge.
Luke begins with two chapters about Jesus birth, as does Matthew. It is common to harmonize the two, but they tell the stories very differently and with different emphasis. Here we will find and emphasis on marginalized people and gentiles explicitly included in the promise. Luke’s story organized around 3 hymns of joy, rather than Matthew’s evocation of the Moses story.
Blessings on your reading!