Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Tradition identifies the author of the Third Gospel with the figure of ‘Luke, the beloved physician’ and companion of Paul (Col. 4: 14; cf. 2 Tim. 4: 14; Phil. 24). Its date again is uncertain, though some place it at the time of the destruction of the temple (70ce), and others near the end of the first century (c.80–100 ce). Luke's gospel is a consciously literary work and begins with a rhetorical flourish, typical of Hellenistic literary conventions, consisting of a single continuous sentence: ‘Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed’ (1: 1–4). While this sentence is ‘ambiguous at several points, and singularly uninformative as a whole’, it is a splendid piece of rhetoric and contrasts sharply with Mark's more cryptic Gospel.109 The reference to Theophilus (1: 4) links Luke's gospel to the Acts of the Apostles (1: 1) and hints at a two-volume work, ‘Luke-Acts’, constituting virtually a quarter of the whole New Testament, which gives an account of the Jesus movement from its beginnings in Jerusalem until the point at which Paul arrived in Rome. Only the intrusion of John's gospel in the canonical order of the New Testament destroys the impression that Luke-Acts is a description of the progress of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah from the holy city of Jerusalem to the eternal city of Rome. The Luke-Acts order of events in the early ‘history’ of the Christian communities set the pattern for the subsequent liturgical calendar of the mainstream Christian year. Luke, like Matthew, has infancy narratives about Jesus (1: 26–2: 52), but it also has material about the birth of John the Baptist (1: 5–80). The gospels all agree in making John the Baptist's movement the matrix of the Jesus movement. However, Luke's account of the relationship of John and Jesus is an integrative one, lacking the hostility of John's gospel. He makes them cousins (1: 36) thereby keeping the origins of the two movements in the one family. Matthew and Luke, with additional material from the apocryphal gospels and infancy stories, provide the basis for the development of the legends of the Christian Christmas story. Luke follows Mark in the order of events in the life of Jesus, but weaves it into a single dramatic narrative which takes Jesus from Galilee (3: 1–9: 50) to Jerusalem (9: 51–19: 27) and then his followers beyond Jerusalem to Rome (24: 49–53; Acts). From the obscurity of Galilee to the centre of the world in Rome—still the centre of Catholic Christianity—Luke employs a symbolic geography which reflects the power of the early Christian movement (24: 49: ‘until ye be endured with power from on high’).

Chapter.  1128 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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