Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Luke and the Book of Jubilees

I am not aware that anyone has ever suggested that Luke in any way utilized the Book of Jubilees either by citation or allusion or that the Book of Jubilees served as a model for him or source of ideas and material.[i] The Book of Jubilees, as confirmed by Christiansen, is an important example of Palestinian Jewish writing. Most discussions acknowledge that the dating of it is uncertain but certainly in any event prior to Luke.[ii] Christiansen includes a chapter entitled “Covenant Consciousness in the Book of Jubilees” in her book that I am reading. There are at least four reasons why I will soon be reading the Book of Jubilees.

Christiansen notes that the Book of Jubilees introduces the angel of presence as the writer of the tablets received by Moses on Sinai.[iii] Stephen’s last sermon includes the idea that the laws were promulgated through angels.[iv] Secondly, “... Israel’s identity depends on Jerusalem as its geographical centre of holiness.”[v] The third reason is Jubilees has elevated the importance of the rite of circumcision from a sign of obedience “by adding eternal validity in making it a law written on heavenly tablets (Jub 15:25-34).”[vi] Finally, “It is noteworthy that Jubilees lacks criticism of contemporary religious structures. The established cult is accepted; the present temple is a valid means for atonement and moreover serves as an important centre for holiness and for social and religious identity. Because Jerusalem is a centre of shared identity, it unites the nation and helps to maintain the social structure, and as such it is not questioned.”[vii]

For Luke, Jerusalem is and remains throughout Luke-Acts the center of the action. Jesus tells his disciples to remain in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit directs the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem. When there is a dispute the church in Antioch sends a delegation to Jerusalem for a resolution of the problem and decision as to the proper course of action. Throughout Luke-Acts, Jerusalem is the focal point and centrality of location to which Jesus and Paul return.

Luke is the only New Testament writer to tell us about the circumcision of the Messiah and the only New Testament writer to defend the covenant of circumcision.

In Matthew, Chapter 22, Jesus answers a question about the greatest commandment.[viii] Although the commentators uniformly conclude that Jesus with his answer has done away with the need for sacrifices, the addition Mark makes to this pericope is more pointed: "This is much more important than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."[ix] For the Lucan Jesus, it is not a question of the priority of love over law but of the priority of love within the law. Love is not the only commandment. As noted by Jacob Jervell, Luke can have no summary of the Law in one commandment because for Luke, the law is not altered and is permanently valid.[x] God's laws continue in effect for Jews even when they become followers of the Christ. Luke's position accurately reflects the views of the Jewish Christians and the Jerusalem church in its earliest years and is clearly pre-Pauline. It is a position that the High Priest would have found commendable. After all, “Moses was the first and greatest prophet: all that was communicated to the prophets, who followed him, he had already received. No prophet could contradict him or change or add to what he had proclaimed” (citations omitted).[xi]

I have set forth four ideas found in the Book of Jubilees with parallels to Luke-Acts in EN 4 and the three preceding paragraphs. These four ideas are missing from Matthew and Mark. Matthew and Mark have not adopted the motif of the city. Their Jesus instructs his disciples to wait for him in Galilee. The animal sacrificial system having them condemned by them and the city and temple having been destroyed by the Romans, Jerusalem was no longer significant for them.

In the past I have cited Motyer who stated: “Four Isaianic strands are woven together in the use of the city motif in which Jerusalem, Zion, mount/mountain and city are broadly interchangeable terms: divine judgment, preservation and restoration, the security of Zion (14:32; 28:16) and the centrality of the city in the divine thought and plan (footnotes omitted).”[xii] I now recognize that I need to consider whether or not Jubilees modifies Isaiah and if so, whether or not Luke follows Isaiah or Jubilees or both.

I suspect that some of the unresolved questions concerning Stephen’s last Sermon may be answered by a close study of the Book of Jubilees. I will also be reviewing Jacob Jervell’s book, Luke and the People of God.

[i] James Akin, Deuterocanonial References in the New Testament
[ii] My gut tells me that the Book of Jubilees should not be dated earlier than Demetrios.
[iii] Christiansen, 75; Jub. 1:5.
[iv] Acts 7:35.
[v] Christiansen, 81.
[vi] Christiansen, 97.
[vii] Christiansen, 101.
[viii] Matt. 22:36-40.
[ix] Mark 12:33.
[x] Jervell, Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts, (Minneapolis 1972), 145.
[xi] W.D. Davies, Jewish and Pauline Studies, (Philadelphia, 1984), 7.
[xii] Motyer, J. Alec, The Prophecy of Isaiah, An Introduction & Commentary, (Downers Grove, 1993), 17-18.

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