Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

God fearers II

In yesterday’s blog, I noted that God-fearers appear in the Septuagint with the last reference being the Book of Malachi. The dissident priests of Malachi are challenging the legitimacy of the temple establishment led by priests who are considered to be sons of Zadok. In the time of Luke, including the time from 35 B.C.E. to 66 C.E., four priestly families, who were not of Zadokite descent, dominated the office of the high priest.

Cassidy suggested that a possible explanation for Paul's reply in Acts 23:3 and 5 may be that the “white-washed wall” retort raised the issue of the legitimacy of Ananias in the high-priestly office[i] just as Stephen challenged the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin to try him.[ii]

It may be that Luke, in using “God-fearers”, is letting Theophilus the High Priest know the gospel he has received has come from the remnant who considered themselves to be like the group of people in Malachi, clearly Jewish, who fear God and are described as pious, righteous and loyal to the true God. Luke may also be suggesting, like the dissident priests of Malachi, that the followers of Jesus have challenged the legitimacy of the office holder.

The use of the Malachi material created by a group of dissident priests suggests that there is more than one way to view legitimacy of the office holder. I have been inclined to believe that Luke was objecting to the conduct of the office holder, not his family tree. Modern scholarship has shown that there is no one single view of second Temple Judaism. There were numerous groups and factions with many different views.

[i]. R.J. Cassidy, Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles, (Maryknoll, NY 1987), 64-65, 188-189, suggested that “the white-washed wall” retort based on Ezekiel 13:10-12 raised the issue of the legitimacy of Ananias.
[ii]. Esler, P.F., Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts: The Social and Political Motivations of Lucan Theology, (Cambridge, 1987), 123, has said that Stephen's speech can be understood in modern legal terms as a challenge to the jurisdiction of the court. This could also be understood and expressed as a challenge to the illegitimacy of the officeholder and/or the Sanhedrin.

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