Monday, September 7, 2009

Author Sketch: "Luke"

Author Sketch: “Luke”
Work Under Consideration: The Acts of the Apostles
Place: Unknown though likely suspects include Rome, Antioch, and Ephesus
Time: widely disputed, likely coordinates include before 60 CE, after 70 CE, and the 2nd century CE

Imagine, if you will, a continuum of authorial identity among early Christian writers that begins with Matthew and Mark, about whom we know very little, stretching through to Paul, about whom we know a great deal. Smack dab in the middle of that line is the author commonly known as Luke.

What we can absolutely verify about Luke is scant and derived from the texts that he (or she) left behind. Though our interest in Luke is focused on the Acts of the Apostles, it is widely assumed even among skeptics that the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same person. Both books open with a direct address to someone named Theophilus (literally, “God-lover”) and share a number of unique theological concerns including the emergence of the Holy Spirit, the universal appeal of Jesus’s message of salvation beyond the borders of Palestine and the relationship of the early church to those on the social margins of the Roman imperial culture.

Early biblical apologists usually associated the author of Luke with Luke the Physician, a companion of Paul who is mentioned explicitly in at least three passages of the New Testament. Acts, in particular, dabbles with curious modulations between the first-person, the first-person plural and third-person reportage that gives the impression, at least, that what we are reading is an eye-witness account. If true, that would clearly date the book as having been written before 60 CE when it is accepted that Paul was taken to Rome for trial. Acts’ failure to report on either Paul’s summary execution or the destruction of the temple and, indeed, Jerusalem itself are given as secondary evidence to support this position. If Luke the Physician is, in fact, the same as Luke the Author, we still know almost nothing about him as the passages wherein he is mentioned identify him only as a companion to Paul who occupied some higher echelon in the early Gentile church.

Others, though, have noted Luke and Acts’ reliance on other historical works of the time (namely by the Roman Jewish writer Josephus) as evidence that they was written considerably later and that Acts, in particular, purposefully omits those two key events in history as a means of obscuring the date of its own creation. Both the Gospel of Luke and Acts seem to grapple with nuances surrounding Jesus’s divinity that were of greater concern to the Church after Paul’s death than during his life. The Acts of the Apostles also becomes decreasingly concerned with the Nazarene sect of Judaism (primarily composed of Jesus’s actual Apostles) and more concerned with Christianity as it spread beyond the borders of Palestine. This makes a strong argument for both Luke and Acts as documents generated by the Gentile church after the destruction of Jerusalem as a means of textually strengthening their direct connection to the source of the tradition.

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