Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Gospel of Luke

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Luke was known as and called the “beloved physician” by Paul the apostle. Like a good physician, he saw people as they were and loved them just the same. His gospel is the easiest to read because it is written in the first person, and he presupposed that his audience wasn’t familiar with Jewish customs. He was also a Gentile, and is the only New Testament writer who isn’t a Jew. Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles Christians, and a good friend to Luke. It is believed that he might have encouraged him to write this account to a non-Jewish society dominated by Greek culture and language. Luke wrote his gospel in common everyday Greek between 6-70 A.D.

The Gospel according to Luke is the first part of a two-volume work that continued the biblical history of God’s dealings with humanity found in the Old Testament. It showed how God’s promises to Israel had been fulfilled in Jesus, and how the salvation promised to Israel and accomplished by Jesus had been extended to the Gentiles. The stated purpose of the two volumes was also to provide Theophilus and others like him with the certainty and assurance about earlier instructions they had received (Luke 14). To accomplish this purpose, Luke showed how the preaching and teaching of the representatives of the early church were grounded in the preaching and teaching of Jesus. This continuity between the historical ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the apostles was Luke’s way of guaranteeing the fidelity of the church’s teaching to the teaching of Jesus (Shoemaker, 1, p.68).

I chose to write on the Gospel of Luke because I was very intrigued by the way Luke tried to evolve his ideas through early Christian literature. It was a benefactor who commissioned to undertake this huge task. Even though he wasn’t an eyewitness to the events that occurred, he went about his writings very methodically as a good Roman author would do. He sets the stage historically as you would expect in some kind of historical novel, and then told a perfectly wonderful story. In fact, it’s such a good story that many scholars have compared it to the novelistic literature of time, and have interpreted Luke as really an early Christian romance, with all the ingredients of romance, down to shipwrecks and exotic animals and exotic vegetation, cannibalistic natives - all kinds of embellishments that one finds in the romance literature of the time (Cunningham, 17, p 14). It’s done in a very historically disciplined way, or at least one that seems to be historically disciplined, by a very careful author who identifies himself as an artist under the economic sphere of a particular benefactor. So Luke does represent a very interesting stage in the evolution of early Christian literature.

The picture of Jesus that emerged from Luke’s writing was a historical one and dominated his story of Jesus and the church. This history was first of all a story of salvation. It demonstrated how God’s divine plan for human salvation was accomplished during the period of Jesus, who through the events of his life fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies (Luke ). This salvation was now extended to all humanity during the period of the church, and was now becoming a part of human history. Luke related the story of Jesus and the church to events in contemporary Palestinian (Luke 1; 1-). He was concerned with presenting Christianity as a legitimate form of worship in the Roman world, and as a religion that was capable of meeting the spiritual needs of a world empire like that of Rome. At the same time Luke argued in Acts that Christianity was the logical development and proper fulfillment of Judaism and was therefore deserving of the same toleration and freedom traditionally accorded Judaism by Rome (Acts 1).

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The prominence given to the period of the church in the story has important consequences for Luke’s interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. By presenting the time of the church as a distinct phase of salvation history, Luke shifted the early Christian emphasis away from the expectation of an imminent Parousia to the day-to-day concerns of the Christian community in the world. He did this in the gospel by regularly emphasizing the words ‘each day’ in the sayings of Jesus (Luke ; 11).

The context in which Luke was writing was probably based in the latter decades of the first century, and probably in a thoroughly Hellenistic environment. Scholars speculated on whether the gospel was written in Antioch, which would have been a significant Hellenistic city, or in Asia Minor, in places like Ephesus or Smyrna. In either case, Luke would have been in touch with, and very heavily in dialogue with Hellenistic culture and want to portray this fact.

In Luke’s writing, the picture of Jesus that emerged was primarily as a teacher of ethical wisdom. He was someone who was very much interested in inculcating the virtues of compassion and forgiveness among his followers. Throughout the gospel, Luke called upon the Christian disciples to identify with the master Jesus, who was caring and tender towards the poor and lowly, the outcast, the sinner, the afflicted, and towards all those who recognized their dependence on God (Luke 418; 60-; 151-). No other gospel writer was more concerned than Luke with the mercy and compassion of Jesus towards his people (Luke 10-7). No gospel writer was more concerned with the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus and the Christian disciples, and with the importance of prayer, or with Jesus concern for women (Luke 108-4). Jesus called all humanity to repent, he was particularly demanding to those who would be his disciples. Of them he demanded absolute and total detachment from family and material possessions. To all who responded in faith and repentance to the word Jesus preached, he brought salvation, peace, and life (Luke 186-0).

Luke portrayal of Jesus in the gospel was essentially according to the image of the divine man. The people in who divine powers were visible and were exercised, both in his teaching and in his miracle works. The image of the divine man also belonged in Jesus’ travel narrative. The gospel of Luke is the only one that has a long travel narrative of Jesus. The travel motif has been a very important one in antiquity to describe the life of great and divine men, miracle workers, and teachers. The divine man motif was important throughout Jesus’ suffering and death, because Jesus died the perfect martyr’s death, which was an exemplary death. There was no crying, “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?” Instead, Jesus died commending his spirit into the hands of the Father, as a pious martyr would really do in a suffering death. So the image of Jesus was one that was fully developed from the image of the divine human being (Penney. 17, p 04).

Luke’s audience seems to be a much more cultured literary kind of audience. Luke’s Greek is the highest quality in style of anything in the New Testament. It reads more like a novel in the Greek tradition, rather than Mark’s gospel, which has a kind of crude quality at times to the Greek grammar. So anyone on the street of a Greek city picking up Luke’s gospel would have felt at home with it if they were able to read good Greek.

Luke’s gospel was clearly written more for a Gentile audience, because of it’s different thematic concerns. It probably had a different political self-consciousness because it’s writing predominantly for gentiles in the Greek cities of Asia Minor or Greece itself.

Luke’s audience seems to be a much more cultured literary kind of audience. Lukes Greek is the highest quality in style of anything in the New Testament. It reads more like a novel in the Greek tradition, rather than Marks gospel, which has a kind of crude quality at times to the Greek grammar. So anyone on the street of a Greek city picking up Lukes gospel would have felt at home with it if they were able to read good Greek.

Its sometimes suggested that Luke’s gospel should be seen as a kind of an apologetic for the beginnings of the Christian movement, trying to make its place in the Roman world, to say, “we’re okay, don’t worry about us, we are just like the rest of you we keep the peace, we’re law abiding citizens, we have high moral values, we’re good Romans too”

Its also important to recognize that Luke’s gospel has a companion volume. Luke is by the same author as the Book of Acts.

Now the counterpart to the realization that Luke was telling the story for a Greco-Roman audience with a kind of political agenda is what happens to Luke’s treatment of the Jewish tradition. Luke is much more antagonistic toward Judaism. And so the gospel of Luke and its companion volume Acts, also reflected the development of the Christian movement more away from the Jewish roots, and in fact it developed more toward the Roman political and social arena. This political self consciousness and ethnic self consciousness that’s being reflected by Luke/Acts is beginning to say that we, the Christians, the ones who are telling this story, are no longer in quite.

One of the places we see this most clearly is in the way that Luke told the parable of the prodigal son. It’s a very familiar story, and it’s a story about repentance. The younger of two brothers who runs away, squanders his inheritance living a vile life and only after he goes into the depths of depression because he has no money and doesnt know where he’s going to live, he decides to go home and be just a slave in his father’s house. When he returned, his father welcomed him with open arms. Now the older brother who had stayed at home all this time became jealous because he had been faithful to his fathers wishes and desires. He had been doing what his father wanted all along. It’s the younger brother who had squandered everything and gone against his fathers wishes.

To conclude, I would say that this story was really about Luke’s perception of the relationship between the Gentiles and Jews in the household of God. It was Lukes description of the church as being willing to accept both the older brother, the faithful brother, the Jews alongside the Gentiles, the Prodigal son who had lived a terrible life away from his father for so long, and then was welcomed back with open arms. Luke’s main vision was that of a unified humanity in the church that would have brought all of God’s children back together.

The word ‘gospel’ means “good News” and is the good news of Jesus Christ and the freedom he has won for us through his death and resurrection. This gospel is God’s word to us and for us today. It’s a living word that has power to change, transform, and bring freedom and healing to those who accept Jesus as their Savior.

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