Monday, October 20, 2008

What Luke Has to Say

So far we've looked at Mark 13, where Jesus says that the temple will be destroyed, awful events will take place, families will be divided, people should head for the hills (as opposed to joining the ill-fated revolt against Rome), and that after all of these events they will see "the Son of Man coming in the clouds." That language is an explicit reference to Daniel, more specifically to the second half of Daniel, which seems to have been written around 200 years before the Gospel of Mark was written. Both Daniel 7-12 and Mark 13 were written during times when the temple was being destroyed by the prevailing empires of their day.

Following the opinions of most scholars, it seems that Matthew was written 10-20 years after Mark, with Mark as one of his resources. Luke also seems to have been written around the time that Matthew was, and Luke also seems to have Mark as one of his resources. In my opinion, Luke and Matthew had very high regard for Mark's gospel, using it as a reliable resource and following Mark's outline almost exactly (over 90% of Mark's content is included in Matthew and Luke). That is significant, because there were plenty of other resources out there-- both oral and written-- that Matthew and Luke seem to dismiss or ignore or consider downright stupid.

So, here's the deal with Mark's "little apocalypse," that 13th chapter where Jesus is answering the question of when the temple will be destroyed and what are the signs of the end of the age.

Matthew adopts and adapts Mark's 13th chapter in Matthew 24. As we saw last week, Matthew changes some of Mark's tenses, since the destruction of the temple is a done deal by the time Matthew is writing. And, Matthew makes his 24th chapter part of a longer discourse that concludes with chapter 25, and specifically with the story of the judgment of the sheep and goats. The material in Matthew 25 is unique to Matthew, for the most part. He does not get it from Mark or share it with Luke.

This week, we'll look at how Luke takes up the catastrophic events of Mark 13 and see how it fits within his overall scheme of things, as well as how he differs from Mark and Matthew in telling this part of the story.

Today, I want to ask you about your understanding of 'biblical inspiration.' This is a different topic than 'biblical authority,' but a related topic to be sure. How do you understand the phrase, "The Bible is inspired"? The word 'inspired' comes from a greek work that is found in II Timothy 3:16, which reads, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." The greek word is an interesting merger of 'God' (theos) and 'spirit' (pneuma), which can also be 'breath' or 'wind.' A literal rendering might be "All scripture is God-breathed..." But, this letter to Timothy does not explain exactly what it means to say that scriptures are 'God-breathed'.

- Are the Scriptures dictated word for word by God?
This is a very popular understanding, sometimes called the 'verbal plenary inspiration' view. But, it has problems. We'll see one in a minute.

- Are the Scriptures the product of inspired people?
I am more comfortable with this language, recognizing that the people writing the texts that we call Scripture were not just writing on their own accord, but were attempting to represent the truth that had captured their hearts and were meaningful for them. I think Paul's letters tack this direction, when he qualifies certain things as 'this is me talking, not the Lord' and other things as 'this is what I saw in my vision from the Lord.' It is also more like the kind of voice the prophets used, when they would say "Thus says the Lord..." in order to show that they were trying to speak, not their own opinion, but something more substantial and meaningful. The struggle there, of course, is to honor the 3rd Commandment and not to take God's name in vain when speaking that way.

Luke is a very interesting writer, because he is more evident in his self-awareness as a gospel writer than Mark or Matthew. (John has this kind of self-awareness also. It shows up at the very end of his gospel.) Consider Luke's opening statements in Luke 1:1-4 and my observations:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

- Luke recognizes that he is a secondary source at best and more likely a tertiary source. He is not an eye-witness. He has not necessarily even spoken to eye-witnesses. Rather, he is reading texts that were written by people who were informed by eye-witnesses.

- Luke investigates many texts and decides to write an orderly account of "the events that have been fulfilled among us." He does not say, "God told me to write these words..." or anything like that. He does not go into a kind of mindless frenzy, where his hand starts writing and he can't stop it, or his mind starts hearing and he can't tune it out. Nope. He investigates carefully and tries to set the record straight. That means that he was quite deliberate in this process.

- Luke is writing to Theophilus, which might be a real person or a type, because the name literally means "Lover/friend (philos) of God (theos)." This may be an open letter to ... YOU!

- Theophilus has already heard this story; Luke is wanting to "write an orderly account." Luke does not say, "Some of those other writers are whack!", but that is an open possibility.

- Luke's self-aware appraisal of other writings, and his extensive use of Mark, makes me think that he found Mark's gospel to be the most reliable text out there. He had other sources that he finds reliable as well (scholars call one of them "Q". They will tell you that "Q" simply is shorthand for the word "quelle" in German, which means 'source.' I think it is really because all of the cool people in James Bond and Men in Black movies are named after a single letter.)

What are we to make of all of this? Well, to start, Luke is NOT a biblical fundamentalist. He does NOT ascribe to a 'verbal, plenary view of biblical inspiration.' If you want to think that way, go ahead, but remember, Luke is looking at you funny and he sure hopes you aren't pretending that he does!

More importantly, it helps us as we look at how Luke includes the apocalyptic stuff from Mark 13 into his gospel. It comes in Luke 21 and we'll give it a go tomorrow... Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.

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