Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The blind and the lame

Luke is really about the failure to understand that God excludes no one. The phrase “the blind and the lame” is a synecdochic for all blemished individuals including such unique stories as restoring to life the son of the widow of Nain (7:11-17), the episode of the healing of the bent woman (13:10-17), the healing of the man with dropsy (14:1-6) and the healing of the ten male lepers (17:11-19). The Lucan Jesus extends his invitation to the messianic banquet to the “poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” (14:15-24) with the warning that none of the original invitees “will taste my dinner.”

I suspect that this invitation to the messianic banquet is intended make clear that the prohibition contained in 2 Samuel 5:8 that “the blind and the lame shall not enter into the house of the Lord” has been nullified by the Lucan Jesus.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blindness in Luke-Acts

Lack of understanding is an important theme in Luke-Acts. It provides an interpretative guide to the work from the beginning to the end.

The Gospel begins with Zechariah, the priest, in the Temple and chapter two ends with Jesus in the Temple. Zechariah is so incredulous that he is sanctioned with loss of speech by the Angel Gabriel but nine months later he delivers his speech in 1:67-80 what we now call the “Benedictus.”

Mary believes the message of the Angel Gabriel but twelve years later, when she and her husband find Jesus in the Temple, “they did not understand” nor did the disciples understand. The two Temple stories of Zechariah the priest and the boy Jesus stand by themselves yet frame the four pairs of stories in between about lack of understanding.

Yet throughout the complex narrative Luke provides clues so that Theophilus might understand.

This lack of understanding appears throughout the gospel [2:50; 8:10; 18:34 and 24:45; Acts 7:25; 28:26-27], and is an important theme in the presentation to Theophilus. These passages are directed to most excellent Theophilus.

Johanna is introduced together with two other women who had been healed and are now traveling with Jesus. Johanna, who must be someone important to Theophilus, if her name occupies the position of prominence, is in fact introduced by two stories which are a pair but have not been recognized as such because they are not next to each other. Theophilus must want to know what kind of person has healed Johanna.

In the one story, the unknown women enters the house of Simon the Pharisee and Simon wonders to himself is Jesus aware what kind of woman is pouring oil on his feet. Simon’s question is not answered. But in the second part of the story, which appears after the first mention of Johanna, the woman who has been bleeding for twelve years touches the fringe of his garment, and Jesus says, “Some one touched me for I perceive that the power has gone from me.” This story answer the question Simon asked himself. Yes, Simon, Jesus did know who had entered the room to pour oil on his feet.

These two stories envelope the very brief mention of Johanna and answer the question for Theophilus, what kind of person is Jesus. The stories in this envelope include, inter alia, the storm stilled, demons cast out, and Jairus’ daughter raised.

Luke tells us that Herod the tetrarch was perplexed using a Greek word διαπορω which does not appear in any of the other gospels. In chapter 24 we read “While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”

The theme of lack of understanding continues into the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 2:12, 5:24 and 10:17, Luke again uses the Greek word διαπορω to describe the reaction of the crowd at Pentecost, the reaction of the captain of the temple and the chief priests and the reaction of Peter to his strange vision.

Luke uses blindness to illustrate the obtuseness of some of the characters appearing on his stage. A blind man near Jericho is healed but there is no suggestion that he is blind because he is obtuse. Elymas will be blinded as punishment. Saul will be blinded on the road to Damascus but he will be guided in his recovery to sight by instructions which he receives from Ananias but the other Ananias mentioned earlier and his wife, Sapphira, received the ultimate punishment. However, the High Priest named Ananias was not punished.

Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Although literal blindness is found in the passages of Luke 7:21-22, 14:13 and 18:35, the programmatic reading of Isaiah has suggested that blindness is more important than these three readings would indicate.

Identifying and using blindness as a synecdochic metaphor for the theme of the lack of understanding makes it possible to recognize the significance of the Isaiah reading as an interpretative guide to the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The captives and the oppressed

The poor, blind, captives and the oppressed are all named when the Lucan Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” A number of the scholars who have examined this passage have noted that the captives and the oppressed are never mentioned again. These scholars failed to recognize the creativity of Luke.

This “programmatic” passage follows the testing in the wilderness wherein Luke highlights his understanding of Satan as “the ruler of this world.” Luke records the centurion saying: “For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” This quotation illustrates the power of Satan. The people controlled by means of sickness and demon possession are under the authority and the oppressive power of Satan. Luke regards Satan as a powerful being controlling individuals by means of sickness and demon possession. Luke who was familiar with the writings of Jubilees and 1 Enoch believed that the advent of the Messiah would coincide with the demise of Satan.

It is thus noteworthy that the first healing in Luke involved an exorcism where the demon cried out to Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” Was the man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit who was healed that day set free? Was he a captive? Was he oppressed? Susan Garrett in The Demise of the Devil stated that after the testing in the wilderness the Lucan Jesus initiated “a series of incursions into Satan’s dominion, robbing him of his captives by releasing them from illness, demon possession and sin.”

To the extent that the Septuagint had created “character types” for “the captives” and “the oppressed” which the First Reader expected the Author to follow, Luke failed to follow the stereotypes. For reasons unknown to us, Luke chose not to explicitly label those with unclean spirits or possessed with demons or mere sinners as “captives” or “oppressed.” Perhaps he did so for irenic reasons or because neither the First Reader nor most first Jewish people would recognize that they are sinners. Luke intended the First Reader, who like so many persons mentioned in his writings had professed or demonstrated a lack of understanding, to identify himself as a captive and/or oppressed person.[i]

Only Luke among the gospel writers understood the power of Satan. Luke provided new meaning to the words “captives” and “oppressed” for his Isaianic reading. His writings turned the world upside down.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] Paul understood and used the newly defined Lucan idea to provide in chapter 6 of Romans that we are no longer “enslaved to sins.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Forgiveness of Sins according to Luke

In the story of the healing of the paralytic, his friends removed the tiles to create a hole in the roof of the house so that they could lower him on his bed in the middle of the crowded room. When the Lucan Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend your sins are forgiven you.”

The miracle the crowd expected to witness was postponed by the dialogue on forgiveness. Judaism had asserted that only God can forgive sins. The dialogue was concluded with the statement by Jesus that he would demonstrate his authority to forgive sins by healing the paralytic.

Bovon summarizes Luke on forgiveness by stating: “the forgiveness of sins is not realized once for all time on the cross, but it is a question of a relationship and the human decision for a renewed relationship with God is constitutive of this. For this reason Luke can write that the forgiveness is sins is announced “through this man [Jesus Christ]” (Acts 13:38) but is simultaneously given (Acts 5:31). Without the salvation historical work of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is impossible, but without human μετνοια (repentance), it can not be realized.”

The dialogue continues.

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Reading Schweitzer Again for the 1st Time

I have also read The Quest of the Historical Jesus and The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity several times. Schweitzer in his last book changed his thinking concluding that the death of Jesus has no atoning value. Schweitzer explained in detail his reasons why.

I agree with Schweitzer that Luke has no theology of the cross.[i] This was not important until I realized that Theophilus was the High Priest and that his lack of understanding was one of the reasons why Luke crafted his masterpiece for him. I later realized that the High Priest believed that his own death had limited atoning value. Once I came to this realization, the reasons why other authors had concluded that Jesus did not believe his death had atoning value and/or that Luke had no atonement theology became important to me. Therefore, rereading them for the 1st time because important.

Conzelmann supplied several reasons based upon his observations that Luke omits Mk 10:45; the cross does not have a role in the proclamation of salvation; and Luke does not include any atonement ideas based on Isaiah 53.

Schweitzer also considered the death of Jesus to be a divine necessity but the reasons advanced by him are complicated and not readily summarized. They are based upon his thorough study of the concept of the Kingdom of God in the Jewish prophetic writings and the conditions that must be satisfied prior to its arrival.

Schweitzer recognized that the need for repentance and its related requirements are very important to Jesus. In fact, the Lord’s Prayer in the Petition that says “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” seems to place emphasis on this so much as that Schweitzer said “Even if the Servant passages suggest it, Jesus cannot regard his death as a sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of sins. His view of the unconditional forgiveness that comes from God’s compassion precludes it.”

This petition of the Lord's Prayer is a demanding one. Not only do we ask God's forgiveness for our daily offenses, but we link God's forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others. Forgiving others is not always easy to do. We need God's help to do it. But it must be done or we ourselves cannot receive God's mercy. There is no indication that Jesus changed this.

Schweitzer emphasized the eschatological aspect of the Lord’s Prayer translating “give us our daily bread” as “Give us to-day, now, our bread for the future” that is to say the bread we will eat at the messianic banquet. This eschatological interpretation suggests to me that the Lord’s Prayer may have been used in a Eucharistic setting in the early church.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] Although his reasons would also apply to Matthew and Mark I agree with Schweitzer only because I believe that Matthew and Mark rewrote Luke to correct his “errors.”

Monday, June 09, 2008

Reading Conzelmann Again for the 1st Time

The Theology of Saint Luke is a book I have read many times. It has influenced my thinking about the writings of Luke and particularly my views about Luke as a historian and also as a theologian. Conzelmann taught me to consider the Gospel of Luke intact. Because I view the Gospel of Luke as intact, I was able to see where and why Matthew and Mark had to rewrite it to correct what they saw as errors. This is probably the most important lesson I derived. This book forced me to state my reasons where I strongly disagreed and caused me to find the evidence to support my reasons.

In agreement with Conzelmann, I believe Luke has no atonement theology. Conzelmann understands the death of Jesus to be a divine necessity and according to Scripture but he argues that nowhere does Luke give the death of Jesus the explanation provided by Paul or even the other gospel writers all of whom relate it to the forgiveness of sins. He says “Conzelmann, there is no direct soteriological significance drawn from Jesus’ suffering or death” and “there is no suggestion of a connection with forgiveness of sins (201).” However, I was challenged to find the reason why Luke had no atonement theology.

Willi Marxsen stated that Mark, the great theologian of the cross, rearranged everything in terms of the redemptive suffering and death of Jesus, the son of God. Conzelmann demonstrated that Luke had no theology of the cross. He further noted that Mark’s gospel was merely a commentary on the kergma of Acts 2:22-24, which existed prior to the Gospel of Mark and provided Mark with his initial outline. However Conzelmann did not conclude that Luke wrote prior to Mark. For me, just as Marxsen’s work (1959) was a response to Conzelmann’s The Theology of St. Luke (1953), the Gospel of Mark was a response to the writings of Luke.

Part I is a detailed discussion of the Geographical Elements of the Gospel of Luke where Conzelmann postulates that Luke presents the mountain and lakes as special places where the public is not seen. Conzelmann also asserts that the Lucan Jesus only visits Jewish places and avoids Gentile places. This he does, for instance, by not naming the place where Jesus asks his disciples: "Who do the people say I am?" or location of the Transfiguration as Caesarea Phillipi as do Matthew and Mark. Conzelmann also recognized that in Mark “the secret is a matter of fundamental principle” and “there is a deliberate discontinuance of miracles in Jerusalem period.” Conzelmann did not discuss the miracle of the healing of the servant of the High Priest or the significance of the last miracle.

Conzelmann did not recognize that the last mention of Satan in Matthew and Mark is the Confession at Caesarea Philippi and that for Luke, Satan is still a force in the world.

Although Conzelmann discussed matters of geographical accuracy, he did not mention that Luke accurately described as a lake what Matthew and Mark identified as the Sea of Galiliee. Conzelmann did not indicate that Luke does not identify the place where the Confession of Peter was made. Matthew and Mark both indicate that this event occurred at Caesarea Philippi. Conzelmann theorized that Luke withheld the name of the location because he did not want to place the ministry of Jesus in Gentile territory. It is more likely that the use of this geographical name would be an anachronism in that the place did not acquire this name until after occurrence of the event. When Josephus mentions in War and Antiquities the construction of a new city by Philip at Paneas, Josephus names the place as Caesarea. The first mention of Caesarea Philippi in Josephus is when Herod Agrippa II is the ruler of the region. Thus Luke did not use the name of Caesarea Philippi to be historically accurate.

A similar problem was presented in a passage by Luke, one which Conzelmann used to demonstrate that Luke was confused about his geography. However, using the same information found in Lk. 17:11, Weissenrieder located the spot being described by Luke in the Valley of Jezreel. Weissenrieder further demonstrated how climatic conditions of this area would cause many inhabitants to be afflicted with a skin condition probably erroneously diagnosed as leprosy.

The NT writings are generally hostile to the relatives of Jesus. Even Luke, as noted by Conzelmann has passages hostile to the relatives. Commenting on Luke 8:19-21, Conzelmann states: “The very position of the scene indicates that the relatives are excluded from playing any essential part in the life of Jesus and therefore the life of the Church.” Yet, we know from the Acts of the Apostles and Eusebius that the early leaders of the church, even post 70, were in facts relatives of Jesus. Conzelmann does not explain how this happened.

In my head, I have already rewritten The Theology of Saint Luke but I suspect I will not attempt to reduce my masterpiece to writing until I can isolate and departmentalize the contributions of the writings and individuals who influenced my thinking.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The theology of correlation

The correlation is a way to measure how associated or related two variables are. We look at things that already exist and determines if and in what way those things are related to each other. The purpose of doing correlations is to allow us to make a prediction about one variable based on what we know about another variable. In a positive correlation, as the values of one of the variables increase, the values of the second variable also increase. Likewise, as the value of one of the variables decreases, the value of the other variable also decreases.

In a negative correlation, as the values of one of the variables increase, the values of the second variable decrease. Likewise, as the value of one of the variables decreases, the value of the other variable increases. This is still a correlation. It is an “inverse” correlation. The word “negative” is a label that shows the direction of the correlation.

An advantage of the correlation method is that we can make predictions about things when we know about correlations. The existence of a correlation is not the same as saying one caused the other. Correlation does not mean causation.

As noted, True Repentance is hard to perform which may explain this saying from Second Clement: “Therefore, almsgiving is a good thing, as is repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer. But almsgiving is better than both. ‘For love covers a multitude of sins.’” Consequently, Matthew and Mark had to rewrite Luke to make it palatable by reducing its significance. Matthew and Mark also introduced the theology of the cross missing in Luke. This suggests that there is a negative correlation between the two doctrines wherein the high values of one are likely to be associated with low values of the other.

One example illustrating the strength of the negative correlation comes from the writings of John Cassian, a monk and ascetic writer who introduced the rules of Eastern monasticism into the West. He was born probably in Provence about 360; and died about 435, probably near Marseilles. He wrote a chapter entitled “Of the various fruits of penitence.”

“For after that grace of baptism which is common to all, and that most precious gift of martyrdom which is gained by being washed in blood, there are many fruits of penitence by which we can succeed in expiating our sins. For eternal salvation is not only promised to the bare fact of penitence, of which the blessed Apostle Peter says: ‘Repent and be converted that your sins may be forgiven;’ and John the Baptist and the Lord Himself: ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand:’ but also by the affection of love is the weight of our sins overwhelmed: for ‘charity covers a multitude of sins.’ In the same way also by the fruits of almsgiving a remedy is provided for our wounds, because ‘As water extinguishes fire, so does almsgiving extinguish sin.’”

I have a lot of reading to do but I strongly suspect that there is no theology of the cross in the writings of John Cassian which is predicted by the negative correlation postulated above.

Copyrighted 2008