Fletcher-Louis: A Jewish Luke?

“It is traditional to regard Luke as a Gentile author writing for Gentile Christians. Indeed, until recently this was regarded as indisputable. […] However, there is a growing consensus, spear-headed by the work of Jacob Jervell, that accepts essential interaction with Jewish concerns and a Jewish readership. […] there ‘.. is today no serious question about the existence of this Jewishness.”

In his book Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology, and Soteriology, Crispin Fletcher-Louis entertains the idea that Luke is a Jewish writer with Jewish concerns rather than a Gentile writer writing to a Gentile audience with Jewish concerns based on the writing of Jacob Jervel.

Jervel’s reasons are many:

  • Rather than referring to an ekklesia, like Matthew, Luke instead uses laos. This term is used in the Septuagint to describe believing Israel.
  • He views the Torah as fulfilled rather than abrogated in Christ (a view shared with Matthew)
  • Luke does not bother to translate Jewish words, conceptions, and customs to his audience (suggesting that they are already familiar with this work)
  • Paul is an apostle of the diaspora (not to the Gentiles) with a mission viewed from the Jewish perspective.
  • Luke uses, with high familiarity, the Septuagint, showing his relationship with the synagogue.

Fletcher-Louis adds another point to the list: Luke’s unashamed discussions of angels in his Gospel reflects a directly Jewish concern. He shows that Philo, when referring to angels, usually replaces aggeloi with sophia or logoi. Frequently, Philo identifies the Angel of Yahweh as the Logos, or identifies angels as Lady Wisdom. Josephus, writing to a Roman audience, refers to angels as neaniai/neaniskoi or phiantasmata .  

None of these examples should point in any new direction for Lukan studies, yet are treated as ground breaking. If Matthew were the first Gospel written (as Richard Bauckham argues), then it is noteworthy that Luke would reference the people of Israel as the laos rather than the gathering. This may not be conclusive to his Jewishness: rather, Lukan theology shows that the people of God are those who are filled with the Spirit of God rather than those who are circumcised. When Gentiles became part of the New Covenant in Acts, this was shown decisively by the Spirit indwelling them and causing them to speak in tongues. Luke might use laos to refer to the saints as a way to redefine what it means to be the true Israel, rather than using ekklesia to describe the church. (This would be a case of similar points, but different ways of phrasing them.)

We would be hard-pressed to find any writer of the New Testament who viewed the Law as entirely abrogated in Christ rather than fulfilled in his resurrection. Most who study the New Testament point to any positive statement about Torah as “proof” that parts of the early Christian community would claim that the Torah is normative, and that these Christians were a part of what we consider to be Orthodox Christianity today. While we affirm that early Christian writers were dead set on following the law, the unanimous voice of the New Testament draws membership in the New Covenant around Christ rather than Torah. To say that Luke’s “high” view of Torah is found in its fulfillment cannot be conclusive: under the same paradigm, we might say that James sees the Law as entirely binding on the Christian, and utterly overshadows Luke’s conclusions.

There is no arguing the Jewish concerns of Luke. In fact, doing biblical theology correctly adds many more dimensions to the particularly Jewish concerns of Luke. Luke’s theology, in Acts, shows the Church as the New Israel, marching into the New Jericho to conquer the world through the Spirit. The conversion of nations is seen as the entry into the Promised Land as led by Joshua, the new Joshua, Christ. Paul describes his ministry in Acts 20 by contraposing himself to Aachen (cf. Acts 20:33). The message to the men of the Areopagus was couched in prophetic language (cf. Isaiah 55:6; 45:20; 42:5; Exodus 20:11). But this does not prove the Jewishness of Luke: many Gentiles could have been familiar with the Septuagint. The wise men from Babylon were familiar enough with Jewish astrology to follow stars to Bethlehem to meet the newly born Messiah.

Rather than use this post either way, I thought I would do a fun post illustrating the nature of biblical studies these days. When the pressures of academia crack down and ask you to find something “new” to say, some of the results can be less than spectacular. This is why Solomon tells us “there is nothing new under the sun”. To grasp for more is to grasp at…well, not much.


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