Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lazarus is a priest

A priest whose body is “full of sores” is no longer permitted to serve in the Temple. As a priest, Lazarus had access to the food contributed to the Temple but now that he was been evicted, he is reduced to begging. In Luke 16:20 we read in the KJV version “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,”[i] indicating he was placed in this location. The key Greek word is ἐβέβλητο which can be translated as “had been thrown” or “cast into” the gate. In any event Lazarus finds himself at the door of the House of Annas[ii] where the reigning High Priest resides. The sense of the Greek word ἐβέβλητο is that Lazarus was forcible removed from another location to his present location. If he was a priest, he would have been forcible removed from the Temple when his body became full of sores.

Lee Dahn wondered why Luke included the story of Jesus as a twelve year boy in the Temple.[iii] What was the significance of this event? What allusion was intended? Dahn concluded that Luke intended an allusion to the story of Samuel contained in 1 Sam. 2-3. In 1 Sam. 2:35, Dahn has demonstrated that Samuel meets the conditions of fulfilling the promise to “raise up for myself a faithful priest (2:35).” Dahn then notes that in 1 Sam. 2:36 God says that the destitute will come to his faithful priest begging for a piece of silver or a morsel of bread.

At the beginning of the parable, it is Lazarus who is looking for the crumbs that fell from the table. Then we read in verse 24: “And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz'arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’” Now it the rich man wants to beg from Lazarus and he wants Father Abraham to make this possible as an act of mercy. The rich man dressed in the purple clothing of the High Priest is by allusion compared to the corrupt sons of Eli described in 1 Sam. 2-3. Furthermore the High Priest in hell is now the destitute coming to his faithful priest begging. He does not realize that he is asking that Lazarus assume the role of the faithful priest Samuel.

Is he is asking for Lazarus to be sent because he knows the name of the beggar?[iv] It is more likely that a pun is intended, Lazarus is the abbreviated form of the name, “Eleazar” which in Hebrew means “God helps.” The rich man in purple is really saying “God help me.”

The real irony has not been fully appreciated. The unnamed rich man clothed in purple, now identified as Eleazar the High Priest, goes to Hades while the poor man named Lazarus goes to heaven fulfilling the promise to “raise up for myself a faithful priest (2:35)” where the High Priest asks that Lazarus be the faithful priest that will show him mercy. This Lazarus bears the abbreviated name, not as might be suspected, of second High Priest, but the name of the brother of the Theophilus, the High Priest to whom Luke addressed his gospel. Although not intended by the rich man dressed in purple who has become the destitute, Lazarus is being asked to be the “faithful priest.” This parable may be one of many hints scattered throughout the Gospel of Luke that the Lucan Jesus will fulfill the promise God made to “raise up for myself a faithful priest (2:35).” Jesus will soon become the eschatological priest. Talk about reversals!

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] I prefer the RSV translation but in this instance I think the KJV is more accurate.

[ii] The phrase, “my father's house,” is a reference to the house of Annas. See Lk. 22:54 and Bock, 1771.

[iv] Jerome says the Rich Man noticed the beggar but does he know his name?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Noticing Lazarus

I am studying the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and I could not help but wonder whether or not the rich man had noticed Larazus at his door. Jerome says he did. But did the rich man know the name of the beggar?

In Exodus 28 we find the instructions given to Aaron for making the high priest’s garments; "blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen" (note Exodus 28:5-8,15,31,39). The first audience could not fail to notice that the man dressed in purple and fine linen was the Jewish high priest.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Luke the Priest

As I noted July 9, 2008, Rick Strelan cited an article[i] I wrote in his new book, Luke the Priest (Ashgate Publishing Co., 2008). Naturally I wanted to read the book.

I do not write book reviews. It strikes me as a bit unfair for me to make what of I would call “a curbside appraisal” based upon a quick reading of a book someone spent a long time researching and writing. I have spent a lifetime thinking about who is Theophilus and why did Luke write to him. One day it became crystal clear to me that he was the High Priest. Then I had to explain how it is that a Gentile could write to the High Priest. I quickly concluded that Luke was Jewish. I say this by way of background, which includes four published articles on Theophilus and over 600 postings on my blog, as to why I am uniquely qualified to write this article. Let not call it a book review.

Knowing who the author is helps us to identify the addressee and the knowing who is the addressee helps us to identify the author. In case of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, many people would say we are unable to identify either the author or the addressee. Rick Strelan has written a book explaining why he believes Luke is a priest. His impressive list of publications can be reviewed at

Strelan states: “My simple line is that the authoritative theologians and historians of the day were nearly always the priests, and that Luke is claiming such priestly authority to interpret the scriptures, interpret the gospel (and Jesus) and interpret Paul.” The story line is well presented and supported. This book, which every Lucan scholar should own, contains a wealth of valuable information.

This author states that his “book focuses on the authority and status of the author” and discusses the anonymity of NT authors. Therefore it is somewhat surprising that Strelan did not discuss Pseudonymity and canon: an investigation into the relationship of authorship and authority in Jewish and earliest Christian tradition by David G. Meade (Tubingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1986).

If Theophilus is the High Priest as I contend, it makes perfect sense that Luke would be a priest. It also strongly supports my identification of Luke as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Strelan discusses the blessing by the Lucan Jesus at the Ascension but does not mention that Luke did not tell us the words of the blessing. A priest writing to the High Priest would not need to include the words of the Priestly Blessing. But if Theophilus is not a priest, it would seem to me to be presumptuous not to include the words. Luke does not include the words of the blessing. In fact there are numerous instances in Luke-Acts where Luke writes something without explanation that would not be known by a Gentile let alone the average Jew.

Strelan disagrees with me about the identity of Theophilus because he does not believe that Luke-Acts can be considered to be an irenical writing. Schaff in History of the Christian Church stated: “Thus the whole literature of the New Testament is represented as the living growth of a century, as a collection of polemical and irenical tracts of the apostolic and post-apostolic ages.” My point is that Luke-Acts is certainly irenical when compared the rest of the New Testament. In one of my footnotes in Theophilus: A Proposal, I stated: “In a different context, C.J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, (Tubingen 1989), 185, stated in part: ‘ . . . and an essentially eirenical work like Acts does not deny the sharpness of the present issue.’ Other writers including F.C. Baur, (1860) and D.P. Moessner, The Lord of the Banquet, (Minneapolis, 1989), 315, have noted the Lucan irenic qualities.” Strelan cited Moessner with approval.

Strelan contends Luke-Acts can not be irenical because it includes the horrible deeds committed by high priests although not one horrible deed is said to have been committed by Theophilus and no mention is made of the death of James by the younger brother of Theophilus. It should be further noted that a High Priest and a member of this same family issued letters to Saul but Luke does not tell us the name of this High Priest. Nor does Luke tells the name of the High Priest when Stephen was stoned to death. These people are either Theophilus and/or members of his family such as Caiaphas, brother-in-law of Theophilus and Jonathan and Ananus, brothers of Theophilus, none of whom are mentioned by name in the Gospel of Luke and only Caiaphas is mentioned by name in Acts of the Apostles, although some variant readings have Jonathan in Acts 4:6; but Theophilus would know! Eleazar and Matthias, who both served as High Priests in this same time period, are also brothers of Theophilus. Johanna of Luke 8:3 and 24:10 is the granddaughter of Theophilus the High Priest.[ii] Ananias is the only High Priest mentioned in Luke-Acts who is not a relative of Theophilus. This is an important clue overlooked by Strelan.

Much of what we know about the Bible has been based upon the analysis of polemical and irenical literature to determine the identity of different biblical groups. I am thinking in particular of the writings of Stephen L. Cook.[iii] Many of his “studies have been interested in the writings and arguments of the differing biblical groups, many of them priests, but not all (e.g., Micah was a clan elder, not a priest).” These writings usually by priests attempt to persuade one group, usually priests, to adopt the position of another. The alternating polemical and irenical approaches have been considered valuable rhetorical tools. Luke used these tools in his writings but was quite careful in his criticism so not to personally attack the Theophilus the High Priest, who like all high priests, was considered the “captain of their salvation” and held in high regard by Judaism. For this reason, the writings of Luke is best regarded as irenical and Luke as the first irenical theologian. One day Luke will be properly appreciated for his efforts.

Lee Dahn has recently proposed a rather interesting and possible solution to this question of why Luke made an irenical presentation to Theophilus. An old Arab proverb states: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Felix, Governor of Judea, is believed to have arranged the assassination by the Sicarii of Jonathan, brother of Theophilus and a former High Priest. Dahn proposed that perhaps Theophilus was receptive to an appeal by Luke concerning Paul and willing to lend his assistance because he would be undermining Felix who had “killed” his brother.[iv]

Strelan ends his discussion of my article with this paragraph: “But the theory interests me because I propose that the author ‘Luke’ was himself a priest. I would not rule out the possibility that Theophilus was also a priest. If that were the case – and I acknowledge the sheer speculation on this point – then it means that a priest was writing to a priest. How would Luke-Acts then read? It raises again the issue of how little we really know!”

The last sentence of the paragraph preceding the one I just quoted stated: “In addition, most of the argument that Anderson puts forward would fit any Jewish Theophilus – he would not need to be a priest, let alone a high priest.” When my article was published in 1997, no one had said that Theophilus was Jewish. Strelan says not only is Theophilus Jewish, Luke is also. Strelan said my findings could apply to any Jewish male but this is not true. It can only apply to any Jewish male of high rank and status serving as a Roman appointee bearing the name of Theophilus. What Strelan fails to realize is that there are no examples prior to the third century of a Christian bearing an honorific title.[v] There is only one person meeting that description.

The preceding quotation is also true about Strelan’s book. The argument could be applied to any author of a book of the New Testament, except the 7 letters by Paul, because Strelan has not fully developed his argument showing how different unique pericopes of Luke-Acts support the argument that these pericopes were written by a priest. For instance, the priests in Judaism performed the circumcision ritual and ceremony. Only Luke tells us that Jesus was circumcised and discusses circumcision and the covenant of circumcision.

The language of Luke is quite unique and variegated. Luke uses several hundred words not appearing anywhere else in the New Testament. Hobart attempted to demonstrate that Luke was a medical doctor and Weissenrieder has recently revived this discussion as noted by Strelan. Other writers have shown that Luke could have been an attorney. For instance, Acts 4:20 (cf. 26:10) tells us that “. . . the Apostles as reliable witnesses bear witness only to what they themselves have 'seen' and 'heard'. In the linguistic practice of late Judaism, the terms have 'seen' and 'heard' have a distinctly legal sound.”[vi] These terms are used not only in connection with the witness of events but also of sayings and teachings.[vii] I. Howard Marshall recently noted Luke's use of political and military language for telling about Jesus' mission in Luke 1-2.

Stevan L. Davies wrote that Luke was a female based on her stories about women; Sylvie Chabert d'Hyères proposed that Mary was a co-writer with Luke based on the same evidence.

The use of language does not establish that Luke is a medical doctor, lawyer, priest, “blind guide”, politician, soldier or mariner. Therefore one must exercise caution or we will soon be reading books about Luke the geographer and probably a very good one!

The language of Luke was written in the faultless classical style of one with a strong Greek education. It does establish the fact that Luke is either well educated, a first class wordsmith and/or a savant. There is more evidence external and internal proving the existence of Theophilus the High Priest and establishing this real person of status was the person to whom Luke wrote than there is proving Luke is a priest.

Although Strelan makes much of the priestly interest of Luke, he overlooks the fact that “ideas have to be expressed in terms that are intelligible to their audience” and acceptable to the addressee or the author is wasting his time. Obviously Luke provides the priestly interest he shares with Theophilus and this is the “hook” that grabs the interest of Theophilus the High Priest beginning with chapter 1.

Chapter Nine is the most important chapter in this book. Strelan notes that the priests “taught Torah in their communities and synagogues, they made judgments on legal matters, and they collected the tithes and so on.” Strelan notes the priestly interests in Luke-Acts such matters as Scripture interpretation, teaching, blessing and judging. Strelan noted the interests of priests in the calendar but failed to point out Luke’s interest. Acts begins with a reference to “all the things that Jesus began to do and to teach” and Strelan recognizes that this phrase was used by Ezra the priest in Ezra 7:10. A number of other important observations are made. In fact, a surprisingly strong case is made for Luke being a priest.

Although Chapter 5 is well written, Strelan would have benefited from utilizing the insights provided by Nelson in Raising up a Faithful Priest (1993). If anything, Strelan would have appreciated the significance of the Jesus in the Temple story at the age of 12 as an allusion to Samuel and that Caiaphas and Jonathan may been conceptually alluded to as the “two wicked sons of Eli.” Because the presentation is irenical, we have missed the allusion.

The following quotation from Nelson illustrates this point:

“Precisely because priests were seen as custodians of the faith, the issue of unfaithful and disobedient priests became a recurring literary theme: . . . .”[viii]

Luke adopted this theme but we did not appreciate it because we did not realize that that Theophilus was the High Priest and/or Luke was a priest.

This is not to say the other chapters should be ignored. In fact, they are important to his argument. This book includes discussion about the findings of many authors not usually cited by Lucan scholars. This in itself is of great value.

Initially, and perhaps out of order, it should be that more could have been made about “judging.” Strelan cites Deuteronomy 21.5 [concerning the occasion of finding a dead body lying in a field] but does not discuss it: "The priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord and to decide all cases of dispute and assault." This should remind us of the incident of Luke 12:13ff., where someone asks Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replies, “Man, who appointed me a judge or divider over between you?”[ix]

But a stronger case can be made that Luke is a priest based upon the priestly language he has employed and his sacerdotal concerns. There are numerous examples showing how different unique pericopes of Luke-Acts support the argument that these pericopes were written by a priest that can be added.

Two examples would strengthen the argument that Luke was a priest and will illustrate what I mean. The first example is based upon a blog article written by Lee Dahn about Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve as an allusion to the story of Samuel in the Temple at the age of twelve and particularly to the promise regarding the raising of a prophet like Moses (3.22) and the raising of a faithful priest (cf. 3.26) which Lee Dahn believes Jesus has applied to himself. Expanding on Dahn’s suggestion, I believe that the allusion is also to the sons of Eli.

The second example is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. A number of writers have used the word 'irony' in describing the outcome of reversal depicted in this Parable. The real irony has not been fully appreciated. I suggest that not only was the story directed to the Sadducees, the rich man was a known ranking member of the Sadducees entitled to be 'clothed in purple.' A priest would know that the color purple in this context identifies the person as the High Priest.

The Lucan Jesus instructs his host: “When you give a dinner or banquet, . . . invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”[x] The inclusion of the maimed is significant in that they were banned from full participation in Jewish worship, a matter of concern to a priest.[xi] At the conclusion of the Lucan Parable of the Wedding Guests, “the master said to the servant: Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” The rich man only had to go to 'his gate' to invite Lazarus to his table. Lazarus may be the epitome of the faithful priest!

The High Priest as head of the Temple establishment controlled the Temple commerce and the disposition of the annual tax of one half shekel paid by every Jew to the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple commerce was directly linked to sacrifices in the Temple, a main source of income for the Temple, and the offerings to the Temple treasury that was originally meant for redistribution among the poor. None of this is criticized by Luke who holds the Temple in high regard. Luke's criticism focuses on the use of these resources by the religious aristocracy for their own selfish purpose. This means that the religious authorities controlled tremendous wealth that had been in times past been properly redistributed to the people as part of institutional form of almsgiving. All of the New Testament passages concerning alms and almsgiving are in Luke-Acts except one in Matt. 6:1-4.

I now suspect that knowing that Luke is a priest, if we accept the thesis of Strelan, establishes my thesis that Theophilus is the High Priest because only by identifying Luke and Theophilus in this manner can we fully appreciate the irony of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and why it is appropriate that the rich man be purple be identified as the High Priest.

Strelan acknowledges that Luke does not have a ransom saying or provide the significance of the death of Jesus and does not discuss the limited atonement value of the death of the High Priest. Luke does not connect forgiveness of sins with the death of Jesus. It seems strange that a Christian writing would have no theology of the cross. No explanation is provided. I have provided such an explanation in The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews, Evangelical Quarterly, 71:2, (1999), 127-149. I. Howard Marshall, Editor. As part of this continuing discussion I have noted on my blog that there is an inverse relationship between repentance, which Strelan notes is a matter of importance to priests, and a theology of the cross.

My comments should not be understood as criticism because only by accepting the identification of Luke as a priest and Theophilus as the High Priest is it possible to appreciate the numerous passages in Luke-Acts that scholars have said were enigmatic such as the Parable of the Unjust Steward. These enigmatic passages are now appreciated as being directed to the High Priest.

Strelan discussed blessings as one of the act of a priest but his discussion could have been enhanced by applying the findings of Mekkatukunnel in The Priestly Blessing of the Risen Christ (2001). I suspect this book could have strengthened several parts of his argument.

Strelan identified Ananias, the High Priest as the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest. There is no evidence that the two were related. Caiaphas is the son-in-law of Ananus. Caiaphas served as High Priest for 18 years ending in 37 CE while Ananias served as High Priest from 47-59 CE.

It seems problematic that Luke, a priest with a weak or no atonement theology strong on repentance and a very Jewish outlook, would publish his book supporting temple theology after the destruction of the Temple. Although there is an extensive discussion of date, provenance and authorship, there is no real discussion of how the identification of Luke as priest is consistent with this information. Why did Luke write at this time and why does he have a weak or no atonement theology? An earlier date of publication would make more sense.

Luke the Priest is an easy to read book and one which I can recommend. Strelan intends his book to be a provocative invitation “for others to reject or hopefully to improve or to substantiate better” than he has. It will provoke considerable discussions about identity and occupation of Luke and Theophilus. Anyone reviewing my blog and that of Lee Dahn will now appreciate that there are numerous passages that can now be better explained and properly understood.

This book, Luke the Priest, merely by being published makes a major contribution to Lucan studies and may even establish a new area of New Testament research. This book is a compelling read, one which you will not want to put down until you have completed it.

I plan to make additional comments about the book as I continue to digest it many insights.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] Theophilus: A Proposal, Evangelical Quarterly, 69:3, (1997), 195-215. I. Howard Marshall, Editor.

[ii] D. Barag and D. Flusser, The Ossuary of Yehohanah Granddaughter of the High Priest Theophilus, Israel Exploration Journal, 36 (1986), 39-44.

[iii] Strelan did not cite Cook.

[v] See generally the dissertation of Lucilla Dinneen, Titles of address in Christian Greek epistolography to 527 A.D. (Patristic Studies 18, 1929). See also New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity.

[vi] Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscripts, (Lund, 1961, ET 1998), 221-222.

[vii] Lk.24:49; Acts 1:4f.,8; 2:1ff., 4:8, 31; 8:15ff.

[viii] Nelson, 90.

[ix] Suggested by Lee Dahn.

[x] Lk. 14:12-14.

[xi] Lev. 21:17-23.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A faithful priest

I have been thinking about this phrase we find in 1 Sam. 2:35. Lee Dahn believes the story of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve is an allusion to this verse. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, we read: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

I am now wondering if A faithful priest is the theme of the entire Gospel of Luke!!

The Prophet Samuel is not quite a priest. Therefore this allusion to Samuel does not at first suggest that the Lucan Jesus is the faithful priest.

Lee Dahn noticed a relationship between two Lucan parables based on the use of the word “faithful.” Although the word “faithful” appears 82 times in 74 verses of the KJV including 5 times in Luke and once in Acts, it is apparent that there is special relationship in Luke. The Parables of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants (12:35-48); Unjust Steward (16:1-13; and the Parable of Stewardship (19:11-27) are related.

Lazarus begged for crumbs from the table of the High Priest but the High Priest was not a faithful priest. The Lord did raise up for himself Lazarus but when the High Priest begged for mercy Lazarus was unable to serve him because “a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” This verse about the chasm was probably added so that Lazarus does not appear to be unmerciful. The contrast is stark as are the consequences. The faithful priest is a theme, hidden in the background, throughout Luke-Acts.

But Ezra, who arrived on the scene later than Samuel, is described as “a priest and scribe, a direct descendant of Aaron through Eleazar (Ezra 7:1-5).” As noted earlier, Luke in fact used the Book of Ezra as a source for the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The unjust steward is a priest. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is the story of two priests. In Acts the stories of waiting on tables and Sceva and his sons may also be about priests. Is there a pattern here? See Part 1: and

Part 2:

But it is also interesting that Ezra describes his lineage of “a direct descendant of Aaron through Eleazar” in this way. The question of the legitimacy of the priesthood may also be lurking in the background.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Our religious math is not good

Our religious math ought not to be based upon how well we sow but how faithful we are to the process.

Rev. Dan Bodine

Pastor, Community of Love Lutheran Church

Oxford, PA

Copyrighted 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Priestly Blessing

Contrary to academia, Luke does present Jesus as a priest. Augustine had noted the sacerdotal concerns of Luke but modern scholarship has not investigated this issue until recently. The most notable example is the Priestly Blessing conferred by the Lucan Jesus at the Ascension. Although Luke did not provide the words because he expects that Theophilus knows the words, he was probably alluding to Numbers 6:22-27 where we can read:

And Yahweh spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to Aaron and to his sons saying: ‘Thus you shall pronounce the blessing on the community of Israel, saying to them:

“May Yahweh bless you and guard you. May Yahweh cause his face to shine on you and be gracious to you. May Yahweh raise his face to you, and establish peace for you.”’

And they will place my name on the community of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Luke relies upon the knowledge of Theophilus of the LXX.[i] In 11.20, Jesus uses the phrase, “the finger of God.”[ii] Luke mentions the division of Abijah and the daughters of Aaron and various other examples without any explanation of the priestly regulations of the Torah such as ritual impurity from contact with a corpse[iii], the healing of a leper and circumcision on the eighth day.

Protestants are familiar with the blessing because it was that troublesome monk from Germany, Martin Luther, who introduced these words into the liturgy of the Formula Missae in 1523.

One of the functions of the priests in the Old Testament was to bless the people in God’s name. The Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:22-26 is one of the few examples in the Hebrew Bible of a text intended for liturgical use in the Temple. The Scriptural benediction consists of three short verses, comprising of 15 Hebrew words in all, which was ordained to be recited only by the priests. This priest calls down divine favor on the community so that they may enjoy the benefits of Yahweh's patronage. It is Yahweh who bestows these powers of life and protection, not the priest. The priest acts as the mediator of grace; and this takes place in a liturgical setting.

Notable is the threefold repetition of ‘the Lord’ in the threefold blessing. It is the name by which God was known by his people Israel. This invocation of his name was the invocation of his person, of his power, of his love and peace. The final petition is for a constant awareness of the Lord’s presence. This final petition is thus appropriate at the Ascension because within a short period of time, the Holy Spirit becomes an important narrative character in the life of the community fulfilling this petition of the prayer.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] S. John Roth, The Blind, the Lame and the Poor: Character Types in Luke-Acts, (Sheffield, 1997), 84.

[ii] Woods, Edward J., The 'finger of God' and pneumatology in Luke-Acts, (Sheffield, 2001), takes 261 pages to explain as the Jewish meaning of “the finger of God” within Luke 11.14-26.

[iii] The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I have been cited again

My ears were burning yesterday. A quick google search revealed that Kilgallen cited me in an article in Biblica entitled “Luke wrote to Rome – A Suggestion.” Rick Strelan also cited me in his new book, Luke the Priest. I plan to devote separate book review type articles for these two who caused my ears to burn.

Copyrighted 2008

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Last Pericope

It being the 4th of July, the thunderstorm having canceled my golf outing with my son, I thought I would present some random thoughts on the eschatological high priest that are suggested by the last pericope of the Gospel of Luke.

What seemed so clear and concise to me on the 4th now requires additional explanatory paragraphs to establish my point. These paragraphs explain the anointment at Bethany, why the “son of man” refers to the eschatological high priest, the significance of Sirach 50 for Luke and the irony of Luke’s ascension pericope.

Luke is clear that Jesus is “a prophet like Moses” not greater than Moses as in Matthew and Mark. The unknown woman does not pour the oil on his head; instead she uses the oil to massage his feet. The responses of Jesus to the HP are not offensive. Luke does not include the phrase added by Matthew and Mark: “You will see the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” Thus in omitting this phrase offensive to Theophilus, Luke is consistent in his irenical presentation. Luke does not consider Jesus to be the eschatological high priest. To the extent that Matthew and Mark present Jesus as the eschatological high priest, this is a later theological development.

The anointment at Bethany is an example where Mark has added High Priestly imagery to the passion narrative. According to Leviticus 8, Moses poured some of the anointing oil onto Aaron's head to consecrate him. In Mark, an unknown woman poured anointing oil onto Jesus' head. Aus say this event took place to represent Jesus as the High Priest. Thus it is significant that the head of Jesus is not anointed in Luke. Luke tells the story of the woman who poured oil on the feet of Jesus during his Galilean ministry. The High Priestly imagery is missing from this account. Luke avoids presenting Jesus as a prophet greater than Moses. He also avoids any hints that Jesus is anointed the High Priest or that Jesus has replaced the High Priest.

The real irony would be that the High Priest failed to recognize that the Lucan Jesus is the new eschatological High Priest. The irony would provide the actual reversal that some commentators complain is missing from Luke-Acts since Jesus is, inter alia, a failed insurrectionist whose death had no meaning.

However, there are some interesting aspects of the priestly blessing uniquely conferred by the Lucan Jesus that have caused me to rethink my opinion. Initially it should be noted that Zachariah was unable to bless the people at the conclusion of his priestly duties because he had lost his voice by doubting the words of Gabriel. After John the Baptist was born, his father, Zachariah recovered his voice and delivered a prophecy that has been known as the Benedictus. Luke ends his irenical presentation to Theophilus with the blessing that Zechariah was unable to give at the beginning of his account.

Luke concludes his Gospel with these words:

“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”

It has been suggested that Luke supplies the blessing at the end of the gospel which Zachariah was unable to give. But Zachariah did give the Benedictus in the form of a prophecy after the John the Baptist was born. Consequently it may not be accurate to say Luke supplies the missing blessing. However the fact that the Lucan Jesus raised his hands and gave a blessing is clearly a priestly act worthy of note.

We are not told the words of the blessing Jesus pronounced but whatever he said it was in fact a blessing. Yet when the ascension is described again at the beginning of Acts, no blessing is mentioned. Thus the significance of the blessing is not clear. It is not an act done to provide meaning to the ascension.

Andre Lacocque initially proposed that “the vision in Chapter 7 has the Temple as its framework” and that the “one like a son of man” refers to the eschatological high priest. Fletcher-Louis further develops the idea by first demonstrating that “Daniel 7 is ultimately Temple centred” and that the missing link to the understanding of Daniel 7 is the fact that “one like a son of man” and Enoch are both priests citing Suter, Nickelsburg, Kvanvig and Hemmelfarb.

Fletcher-Louis after his analysis of 1 Enoch 14 states: “We are thus led to the conclusion that Dan 7:9-14 describes the eschatological Day of Atonement (perhaps a jubilee) when the true high priest will come to the Ancient of Days surrounded by clouds of incense.” With this background, “The charge of blasphemy in response to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man now begins to make sense.”

Luke is said to use Ben Sira as a model or source but the ascension pericope can easily be explained by reference to Levitical blessing and the Prophet Elijah. Bock recognized that “Many compare this scene with the action of Simon II, the high priest (Sir. 50:20-21), and note that Jesus is acting like a priest here (Grundmann 1963:453-54; Ernst 1977:672). But Luke lacks an emphasis on Jesus as priest (Fitzmyer 1985:1590; Nolland 1993b: 1227). When Jesus offers beatitudes in Luke 6:20-26, he is speaking as a prophet-teacher, not as a priest.”

Marshall observed that “P.A. van Stempvoort has noted that the doxological motif which characterizes the present account with its stress on Jesus’ priestly action in blessing the disciples and on their praise to God in the temple” but does not develop the idea. Van Stempvoort considers Sir. 50:20-22 to be “the literary background of Luke’s description of the last Christophany.” According to Hamm, the priestly blessing of Jesus in Luke 24 must be understood not only in light of the annual atonement service but also the twice-daily whole offering or the Tamid service.

Dillon noted the appeal of Sir. 50:20-22 to Luke because the passage “exults in the bodily ascensions of Enoch (Sir. [44:16] 49:14) and Elijah (Sir. 48:9)” and places “special emphasis on the endowment of powerful prophecy transmitted through the generations of Israel’s wonder-working viri illustres.” Dillon also relied upon “the “raising” of hands in levitical gesture (only in Lev. 9:22; Sir 50:20: Lk. 24:50), the blessing (ελογω), the proskynesis of those assembled and following the “liturgy”, their praise of God.”

The idea that Jesus is the eschatological High Priest is muted in Luke-Acts for good reason. Luke is making an irenical presentation to Theophilus, the High Priest. Identifying most excellent Theophilus as the High Priest permits us to find new meaning for those verses and pericopes that have previously been unintelligible.

In the last pericope, Luke for the first time refers to worship being offered to Jesus. The frequent mention of worship of Jesus in Matthew and Mark is an anachronism because the recognition of the divinity did not precede the resurrection. An anachronism is “something out of place in time.” Turton's second criterion is “No anachronisms are historical.” Luke has no anachronisms. The act of worship occurred at the moment when the disciples finally realized who Jesus is.

As noted Lucan scholars have not been able to find other instances in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus acts like a priest. There are no instances because he does not assume this role until the ascension. Thus it is not accurate to say that the idea is muted.

The “final irony” is the title of my commentary of the last pericope. In the theatre, the phrase “dramatic irony” refers to those situations whose meanings are understood by the audience but not by the characters. In this instance, Theophilus, the addressee, understood because he is the High Priest. Theophilus recognized that Jesus is now the eschatological High Priest who will be “coming on the clouds of heaven.” The current audience of the Gospel of Luke has not understood the irony because they have not recognized that most excellent Theophilus is the High Priest. As noted, recognition of this fact allows other facts to be appreciated. Consequently, they have not recognized the final irony that the Lucan Jesus is now the eschatological High Priest.

Thus, we have Luke addressing his gospel to Theophilus, the High Priest, wherein Jesus, accused of blasphemy, appears before the High Priest who considered himself the eschatological high priest surrounded on the Day of Atonement by clouds of incense.

Luke’s presentation is the first class use of irony as a tool of rhetoric because Jesus by the power of God is raised from the dead and does appear at the right hand of the power of God as the eschatological high priest.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Blindness as a metaphor

In the past two weeks I received word about two different persons I know who are going blind. I suspect it has influenced the subject of my thinking if not my thinking.

Jesus heals the blind man on the Sabbath of physical blindness making the Sabbath healings and controversies an easy sermon. These days, we are not the least bit concerned about doing work on the Sabbath.

Did we realize that it was the authorities who were blind because they did not recognize that helping others on the Sabbath is not work? In this instance, blindness is a metaphor with a twist since Jesus is addressing spiritual blindness, not physical blindness. This twist is yet another example of Lucan reversal.

In many of the healing performed by Jesus, he forgives the person's sins. Yet none of the biblical accounts suggest that blindness in general is a punishment for sin. In several instances, blindness is inflicted on a particularly defiant person. Saul, while on the road to Damascus becomes physically blind because he is in fact blind to the truth.

Saul had obtained letters form the High Priest to continue his persecution of the followers of Jesus. Both Saul and the High Priest failed to recognize that they were persecuting Jesus who is the Messiah. Saul was fortunate in that he becomes one of the first people to have a “blind guide” assigned to him for instructional purposes. Saul was also fortunate in that the instructions not only resulted in the removal of his spiritual blindness but also his physical blindness. The High Priest also received “information” from a guide.

The Lucan parable of the blind guides (Lk 6:39-40), and the related sayings that follow it, are about the leader and teacher, not the follower and student. It was apparently very important to the early followers of Jesus that those who instructed prospects be properly taught the Word. These instructors were “blind guides” not because the prospects were physically blind but, because they had not been taught the Word, they were spiritually blind. It is also possible that one on one instruction were necessitated during times of persecution to protect the identity of group members from prospects until such time as the prospects become members. Thus Saul was blinded to protect the identity of members of the followers of Jesus until he had been taught and changed from his violent ways.

While we are so relieved that we are not physically blind, in our joy, we failed to realize our spiritual blindness. Only then will we be able to remove the mote from our own eye.

We are all impaired sinners; we, just like the High Priest, just do not recognize it.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008