PROPHET AND WITNESS IN JERUSALEM: A Study of the Teaching of Saint Luke by ADRIAN HASTINGS. First published Longmans, Green and Co Ltd., 1958. Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2014.
home | contents | >> |


Holy Scripture is the written word of God, bearing witness to His living Word, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Here the Christian must come to learn of Christ, and here the Church interprets with authority because it is within the Church that the Christian finds scripture; it is a Church book. If the Church's authority interprets the Scriptures, it does not substitute for them; to gain personal knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ—and that is at the heart of our religion-scripture reading is of the utmost importance, indeed 'to be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ' as St Jerome long ago remarked and as Pope Pius XII has recently reaffirmed.← Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, 1943. Today this truth is very adequately recognized, but the difficulty of understanding scripture remains as great as ever. An initial difficulty is the complexity of the New Testament; where the reader expects one book, he finds more than twenty. These are different works, written by different people of varying nationality, language and country, over a period of at least fifty years. Once this fact is grasped, priorities naturally appear, and three peaks come to stand out: first, the synoptics; then, St John; thirdly, Prophet and Witness in Jerusalem St Paul: the first because they seem nearest to Our Lord himself, the other two as the most powerful minds operating within the early Church. Among the synoptics the focal point is undoubtedly Mark, and after him Matthew. The third gospel, of St Luke, tends to fall between two stools: not so ' primitive' as Mark or Matthew, not so profound as John. In consequence, with the exception of the first two chapters and a few parables it is rather neglected. In recent years several books have been published in this country about St Mark, and many others about the theology of St John and St Paul, but there has been no comparable treatment of the doctrine of St Luke. This is a pity. St Luke's writings—the Third Gospel and the Acts—form the largest single coherent literary bloc within the New Testament; they provide a bridge between the earlier gospels and St John; and, as the work of a gentile and Greek-minded Christian, they have a character of their own.

Modern studies of St Luke have either concentrated on paragraph criticism, the examination of the exact literary relationship between his text and the earlier gospels, or they have treated of St Luke the man, doctor and travelling companion of St Paul, together with the cultural milieu of the Mediterranean world in which he lived. The scope of the present work is rather different. Its aim is to give a coherent view of St Luke's teaching as a whole, looked at theologically more than historically, and especially in so far as it is peculiar to himself. Within the common framework of early Christian doctrine, I am concerned with St Luke's particular approach and interests, the special themes to which he keeps returning, the conscious or unconscious preoccupations which made him stress one incident and pass over another. Unless one appreciates the special angle from which each of the gospel writers approached the life of Our Lord, one is bound to miss a large part of his message. The thought of the evangelists is much less simple, less easily appreciated, than one may imagine, for they were gifted men writing about the supreme mystery: inspired by the Spirit, heirs of a unique religious tradition, living in a world quite different from our own and using a literary idiom to which we are not accustomed.

Dr Dodd has remarked that 'it is a great merit of modern critical study of the New Testament that it has made us appreciate the individuality of the great theologians of the apostolic age, and the rich diversity of their teaching'. ← C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures, p. 13. This is of course particularly true of John and Paul, but it must be applied too to the synoptic writers; until we realize this, we shall never understand the gospels. It is not sufficient to admit that there is a 'synoptic teaching', no, there is a Matthaean, a Markan, and a Lucan teaching, and their finer points must inevitably be blurred if, instead of considering them in themselves, we interpret them in terms of their neighbours. Of course we have to go from one to the other, of course they are never contradictory and often mutually enlightening, but they remain distinct works meriting distinct consideration. The theology of the New Testament will be so much the richer when we see it as the vast synthesis of different theological patterns, first understood by themselves, and not simply as the aggregate of a mass of isolated texts indiscriminately selected.

It may be objected that St Luke was the least theologically minded of the New Testament writers, the ' pure historian', and therefore not a good subject for this sort of treatment. But it is a pity to minimize Luke's intellectual powers; the Lucan contribution to Christian thought is not exhausted by describing it as the gospel of mercy or the universal gospel. All the early Christians were theologians, Luke among them, and it is our business, not his, to unravel his theology; it is worth the effort. What we have to look for is sometimes a consciously formulated idea, sometimes a mental presupposition, a way of seeing things taken for granted by the writer and colouring his whole approach, but not always explicitly formulated or even perhaps fully conscious.

The relation of history to theology in gospel writing is a delicate question, only now receiving the serious attention it deserves. No solution of it may sacrifice one to the other: such a course would be a betrayal of both. Evangelical history is only told at all because it is theologically significant; evangelical theology is always theology of what has actually happened, is actually happening, or will certainly actually happen in the future. Luke's theology cannot falsify, but it does interpret history: in his work we see the true Jesus, but we see him through the mind of St Luke.

The early Christians—Luke was no different—were not simply interested in recording the words of Jesus, their work of recording was also a work of interpretation: the fitting of individual incidents and sayings within the whole revealed economy of divine salvation. No one writer then or now could adequately express this economy, and though his work was inspired it remained personal. Some writings are more intensely personal than others; thus one feels that St John managed to 'Joannize' all his material far more completely than St Luke managed to 'Lucanize' his; hence it is easier in the third gospel to penetrate through to the pre-Lucan material than in the fourth to penetrate through to the pre-Joannine.

That brings us to the very important point that St Luke was writing within a tradition; and his book only had value for the first Christians, and was only canonized by the Church, because it was far more than a personal work. It is an ecclesiastical, an orthodox book in which the author has been faithful to the teaching of authority, not a schismatic or heretical one in which the author would propound a private doctrine or revelation. If we are to understand St Luke's work, we have to see it in this way. From the Church and from fellow Christians who had been privileged to witness the events he speaks of, he obtained his factual information and also its basic interpretation.

Before the gospels there was the Gospel, that is to say the apostolic proclamation of good news about Jesus Christ, about God's decisive intervention in the life of the world. The gospels, as we know them, are written statements of this original Gospel, and their central purpose is the same. They proclaim Christ, are never mere biographies or works of history, nor of course essays in abstract theology. Rather do they state facts pregnant with theological meaning for a definite purpose—to produce or strengthen faith. This was the purpose of the original apostolic preaching'and catechesis, and, when oral teaching and tradition were felt to be insufficient, of the written documents as well. The development was wholly natural. In a world where much was written and much read, Christians, even though belonging mostly to the less educated classes, quickly felt the need for written accounts of Jesus' life and work. Doubtless our gospels were not the first writings of this kind, but their predecessors may have been less complete. The surviving gospels drew on these others and soon replaced them. I am not concerned with the details of this process. Sufficient to say that Matthew and Mark had written before Luke, and that while appreciating the value of their work he felt there was room for a further book. He had, as we shall see, his own approach to the life of Christ, and he wanted furthermore to link it with the subsequent growth of the Christian Church; seen in the light of Acts, in fact, Luke's work seems remarkably different from that of the first two synoptics. Again, he wanted something written in passable Greek, adapted in its all-round appearance to the sort of Christians or future Christians he knew in Philippi and Antioch.

The essential historicity of his account of the life of Christ and the origins of the Church is both critically well-guaranteed and absolutely required for the end he had in view. People in those days were as aware as we are of the difference between fact and myth, and Luke wrote of what he believed to be fact; he was indeed unusually concerned with factual precision, especially in his account of those events—such as the Resurrection appearances—which are now most easily labelled myths. He wrote of events which had taken place for the most part only thirty or forty years previously, events which many—both friends and enemies—could still remember without difficulty, public events in which famous public characters had played their part.

The central ideas of the third gospel were in no way special to St Luke. They belonged to common Christian teaching, which took the form of explaining the chief incidents of Our Lord's life in terms of the Old Testament, 'according to the Scriptures'. Without the Old Testament we cannot understand the New; and though it might be thought that that axiom applies far less to the third gospel than to the others, because its author—maybe alone—was a Gentile, someone born outside the Jewish tradition, in fact it applies quite as much. It is no exaggeration to say that this, if any, is the gospel of the fulfilment of scripture, of 'what has been fulfilled among us' (Lk.1:1), from Jesus' opening words at Nazareth to his supreme conclusion 'All that was written of me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, must be fulfilled' (Lk.24:44). In these last years there has been a growing appreciation of the profound inter-penetration of the two testaments; it is one of the most valuable aspects of modern biblical study. Throughout this book I shall try to indicate the Old Testament background to St Luke's thought, the framework into which he fitted the ideas of the new revelation, the texts according to which he interpreted the saving events of the Lord's life. Many of the texts had already entered common Christian doctrine, basic to apostolic preaching and catechesis. Christian teaching was pre-eminently a class in exegesis. Other texts used by Luke were more personal to him and relate more directly to the themes which are special to his own gospel. There is no question here of the mere fulfilment of isolated Old Testament prophecies, but of the weaving of the whole texture of the New Testament out of that of the Old.

There are parts of the New Testament—the earliest parts— which seem to belong in a very special way to the Old Testament tradition; the reason is the continuity of thought existing between the earliest Christian community and the Jewish milieu in which it was born. Our Lord's own teaching can be understood only within that milieu. Among these parts are the first chapters of the third gospel, and I cannot accept them as in origin Luke's own work for this very reason. They are written from within the old Jewish tradition, while his own use of the Old Testament has a rather different character. He knew the Old Testament excellently and used it unceasingly, but as someone culturally outside, not fully at home in the Jewish mental world of the last years preceding Christ; and he wrote for people with the same background as himself. What was substantially the same exegesis required a different form of presentation, and had to make use of somewhat different images and explanatory ideas. Consequently St Luke's own Old Testament exegesis stands already a little removed from the earliest Christian form, found best in Mark. Luke's is moving in the direction of later patristic exegesis, although his fidelity to the materials he had gathered together and his closeness to the gospel events make his work at the same time an invaluable vehicle for some very early Christian thought. It is impossible to distinguish precisely his personal contribution from the traditional doctrine which he received and was trying to illustrate, but without applying this distinction where possible one cannot appreciate Luke's own contribution to Christian theology or the peculiar character and value of the third gospel.

If in writing his gospel Luke was controlled on the one hand by the common teaching of the Church, on the other he was dependent for detailed information on particular sources. As a convert from Antioch, personally unacquainted with the Lord, his information had all to be at least second-hand. He was controlled by his sources; and the great majority of things which Jesus said or did he can never have heard about at all, any more than we have heard of them. But there is no reason whatsoever to believe that he merely collected a lot of traditions and tied them together with a series of 'ands' and 'buts'; his book has unity of style and thought and asserts itself as the work of one author. Evidently he did not write all he had heard, and if his sources controlled him, he also controlled them, selecting and adapting to his own purposes. There are those nowadays who want to make everything in the gospels derive from the corporate tradition or religious imagination of one Church or another. Now doubtless the Churches had established traditions about the great events of the Lord's life, and that Luke and the other evangelists knew of these traditions and learnt from them one can easily admit. But when St Luke set about writing on the life of Jesus it is most unlikely that he would limit himself to a collection of such traditions. Why should he ? There were lots of people about who had known Jesus personally, who had witnessed this event or that one. They were the obvious people to go to. Hence I do not apologize for speaking of John and Joanna and Simeon rather than of different types of folk tradition developing in such-and-such a community.

But we cannot always pin down sources like that, and the chief Christian communities must evidently have possessed and cherished communal memories; hence the traditions of Jerusalem and Antioch can indeed be the source of much in the gospels, and I think furthermore that the third gospel had a definite local colour, that of its author's home, Antioch. Antioch was the mother of gentile Christianity, the starting point for Paul's journeys. Our gospel has the broad interests of this church; a deep Old Testament foundation on the one hand, freedom from Judaist scrupulosity on the other. It is the universal, the Greek, the gentile gospel.

Sources and the author's milieu cannot be ignored then; they are, after all, the cords binding the book to its subject, and their character explains much about its shape and themes. That is why the first chapters of this work are concerned with sources, and only afterwards do I tackle Luke's own theology as an intelligible whole which makes use of, but is not simply identifiable with, the ideas of his informants. What is important is to avoid the sort of either/or which is too common in modern scholarship. Either everything is explained in terms of its sources, or of its dogmatic preoccupations. But this type of dilemma is unnecessary. History and theology are not irreconcilable. It is more sensible to suppose that the gospels derive their character both from their source material and from the minds of their authors, and contain both history and interpretation—even extensive theological symbolism.

Certainly I am more concerned with Luke as a Christian thinker than as a historian, with the interpretation rather than with the narration of fact; also less with common doctrine than with what was personal to St Luke. We cannot separate the two, forming as they do only one living texture of thought, but I do pass rapidly over the great dominical teachings— Jesus' own theology. This centred round the revelation of the Father, of the kingdom, of the last times; and of his own person as revealer of the Father, inaugurator of the kingdom, and central character in the last times begun already with his appearance on earth and to be terminated by his triumphal return. This personal teaching Jesus expressed in terms of the 'Son of Man' of Daniel, the 'Servant of the Lord' of Isaias, and the messianic king of psalm 109. ← References to the psalms follow the Vulgate numbering throughout. These are the fundamental themes of Jesus' teaching, out of which, with the help of the powerful illumination of passion and resurrection, the vast structure of Christian theology has legitimately developed. But I consider them here in their specifically Lucan context and in so far as St Luke gave them a new emphasis.

There are certainly dangers in the new theological approach to the gospels, for example, that of explaining away history as symbolism. Such-and-such a thing never happened but the writer puts it in to illustrate some higher truth. This is nonsense. We are throwing out the baby with the bath water, the essence of the true gospel message with the historical style of a later day which we now know is not to be found in the gospels. Symbolism is there indeed, but symbolism rooted in real events; symbolism implanted not just by man, but by God. If it is the writer's own, it is based on fact; he manifests the significance of words and events by rearranging and adapting, but not inventing or falsifying, the facts of the case. Another danger is to discover too much theology, to read meanings into things which the evangelists never intended. This is also a very real danger, and one which is not altogether being avoided at present. Its worst effect is bound to be the discredit of theological interpretation on account of its excessive or subjective use. I feel, for instance, that the attempt to divide up the third gospel according to the books of Moses and see St Luke's work as a Christian hexateuch is unjustifiable as a forced and artificial comparison, and at the same time gravely obscures the true divisions and thought structure of the book in favour of an a priori arrangement which has in fact very little to recommend it. On the other hand, if we deny that St Luke was a theologian in favour of the 'pure historian' how shall we ever explain his inversion of the Matthaean temptation order or his silence on the post-Resurrection appearances in Galilee ?

A word about St Luke's fondness for duality. It is found all through the structure of his writing, pre-eminently in the relation of Gospel and Acts—two parts of a single whole. They are united by a multitude of common themes, by their internal parallelism and continuity of plot: from Jesus to the Church, but the Spirit in both. The parallel openings are important; in each case the descent of the Spirit, on Jesus in the Jordan, on the disciples at Pentecost; each is followed by an inaugural address, based on an Old Testament text. Jesus gives his at Nazareth and uses a passage from Isaias, Peter at Jerusalem and bases himself on Joel. There are several other examples of dual structure, and in each case the first part is preparatory for the second, in which it finds its achievement. Thus there is the parallelism between the birth of John and that of Jesus; and there is the Galilean ministry, followed by the journey to Jerusalem. In the Acts there is the section centring on Peter and the section centring on Paul. An awareness of this device is useful for understanding more important matters and relating individual parts to the complete literary scheme.

Finally, a word about St Luke himself. The Anti-Marcion-ite prologue', a preface to the gospel written before the end of the second century, says that 'Luke was a Syrian of Antioch, physician by profession, who became a disciple of the Apostles and later accompanied Paul until his martyrdom. Serving the Lord steadfastly, unmarried and childless, he died at the age of 84 in Boetia, full of the Holy Spirit'. ← Luke's Antiocene origin is mentioned by Eusebius and Jerome and seems generally probable. It is also supported by a reading in the 'Western' text of Acts (Codex Bezae and others). The longer readings of this Western text are normally regarded as interpolations, but their origin is at least very ancient. This one, in chapter x 1-28, speaks of the early days of the Church of Antioch. The additional words of the Western text are in italics: 'At this time, some prophets from Jerusalem visited Antioch, and there was great joy. When we were gathered together, one of these, Agabus by name, stood up and prophesied.' As an interpolation, this would seem very pointless. As a genuine Lucan addition, it would indicate, most unobtrusively, the author's Antiocene origin and trustworthiness as a chronicler. Coming from the cradle of gentile Christianity, it is not surprising that St Luke should have been especially attracted by St Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. When they first met we do not know, but the evidence of the Acts shows us that Luke accompanied the Apostle on more than one of his missions. The evidence lies in those intriguing and fascinating sections of the Acts called the 'we' passages, sections of particularly detailed and well-informed narrative written in the first person plural. ← Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:25; 27:1-28:16. The author of these passages, Luke, was with Paul on the second missionary journey when he crossed from Troas to Philippi, where presumably he remained, as we find him there on Paul's third mission. Then he accompanied the apostle via Troas, Miletus and Caesarea to Jerusalem. After Paul's imprisonment at Caesarea Luke was with him again, with Aristarchus the Macedonian, for the journey to Rome; and at Rome Acts comes to an end.

From the epistles we learn that Luke remained with Paul during his first Roman captivity. ' Greetings from my beloved Luke, the physician, and from Demas' (Col. 4:14). Again, ' Greetings to you from Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus; from Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, who share my labours' (Philem. 23-24). Finally in 2 Timothy 4:10-11, written some time later, perhaps during a second Roman imprisonment, ' Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, and Luke is my only companion.' And that is all we know about St Luke. ← We should of course know more about St Luke than we do, if it were possible to follow Dr E. C. Selwyn who in St Luke the Prophet (Macmillan, 1901) charmingly identified him with Silas, Silvanus, and even the Tertius of Romans 16:22. This many-named and phenomenally active personality besides writing the third gospel and Acts, and committing Romans to paper, also Prophet and Witness in Jerusalem wrote both 1 and 2 Peter, with of course St Peter's full permission, in order to reconcile him with St Paul.

Few would now dispute either that the third gospel and the Acts were written by one man, or that that man was Luke. When he wrote is not so clear. Conceived as one work, the two books must have been written at about the same time. As the Acts end abruptly in Rome during Paul's first imprisonment there, it seems most reasonable to conclude that they were written at that time, A.D. 61-63. If they were written after Paul's martyrdom in Rome, it is astonishing that they make no mention of it, for Luke's story could have had no more apposite conclusion. But an argument from silence is never wholly conclusive, and one cannot quite rule out a rather later date. The much disputed issue is whether Luke wrote before or after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and as this question may be thought of special importance for an understanding of Luke's whole work, I shall return to it at the close of the book. Appendix: 'The Holy City'.