Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

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


Blogger LTD said...


Add to those who were blinded and came to understand the two on the road to Emmaus (Lk24.16,31). They came to recognize/know (epiginosko) Jesus, just as Luke had hoped Theophilus would (Lk1.4).

12:02 PM

Blogger Brian Small said...

Are you aware of a recent dissertation that has just been published on this topic?:

Sight and Blindess in Luke-Acts
The Use of Physical Features in Characterization

by Chad Hartsock
Biblical Interpretation Series - BIS 94

Brill Academic Publishers, 2008

12:18 PM

Blogger Richard H. Anderson said...

I have read Roth, The Blind, the Lame and the Poor. Brill is a little too pricey for me.

3:24 PM

Blogger LTD said...


You might also check out John Pilch's Healing in the New Testament (Fortress, 2000). It contains social scientific "Insights from Medical and Mediterranean Anthropology" (so, the subtitle). He has a chapter on Luke-Acts worth reading, highlighting Luke's use of "blindness".


10:22 PM


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