Alpha Christian Texts


If Mark is the key to the Historic Jesus, Luke is equally the key to the Synoptics. What the Synoptics together reveal to us is the gradual development and extension of the posthumous Jesus tradition. Luke is one of the first participants in the wave of text activity that followed the end of the Apostolic period, signaled by the deaths of Paul (c60) and Peter (c64), both in Rome.

Luke is usually treated as an integral text, but to the philologist, this is obviously incorrect. (1) Lk 1-2, the Birth and Infancy Narrative, is evidently an addition, preposed on top of an original beginning in the synchronisms of Lk 3:1. Apart from this anomaly of position, it also contradicts later passages in Luke at numerous points. For example, its prediction of a Davidic Jesus is disavowed by Lk 24:21. Of its identification of John as the cousin of Jesus, there is no sign in Lk 3:15f and 3:21f). For a convincing verdict on Lk 1-2, see Fitzmyer Luke 1/310-312. (2) There are also several passages which must originally have occupied in Luke the same position they do in their Markan counterparts, but were moved at a later stage, creating inconcinnities. Perhaps the most striking of these is the Nazareth Rejection scene, which is now symbolically placed at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (Lk 4:14f), but which cannot originally have occupied that position, since it includes an expectation that Jesus would do wonders like those he had done at Capernaum. The trouble with this is that in the narrative as thus arranged, Jesus has not yet been to Capernaum. (Jesus' first visit to Capernaum, identified as such because Capernaum is described as though at first mention, as "a city in Galilee," occurs at Lk 4:31). The Capernaum demand in Luke's Nazareth scene was not copied from Mark, since Mark does not include it. It must thus have been an original addition by Luke, and that addition cannot rationally be imagined to have been written at the same time as the Nazareth Rejection was placed in its present position. It must be a relic of a Nazareth Rejection which followed the visit to Capernaum, as in Mark. (3) Similarly, Jesus' visit to Peter's house, and the healing of his mother-in-law (Lk 4:38f), takes place before we have even been introduced to Peter. (Peter is introduced later in the text, at the Calling of Peter in Lk 5:1f). Again, if these events occurred in their Markan sequence, there would be no inconcinnity.

We must accordingly conclude that Luke was composed in at least two stages, of which the first (Luke A) began at the present Lk 3:1, and had both the Nazareth and Calling of Peter scenes in their Markan order. In the second stage (Luke B), the Birth and Infancy narrative was added in front, and the Nazareth and Calling of Peter scenes were shifted (with certain additions) to the places they now occupy in our canonical Luke.

The Synoptic Problem

The existence of two stages of Luke, which on the above evidence we regard as an unavoidable conclusion, reopens the Synoptic Question, and offers an alternative possibility for the solution of the question of the common nonMarkan material in Matthew and Luke. This has previously been discussed as though all the Synoptic Gospels were integral texts, which could occupy only one point in the diagram, as for instance

Mark > Matthew > Luke

But if there were in fact two stages in the composition of Luke, then Luke has two places on the diagram. If it should happen that they occurred in this sequence:

Mark > Luke A > Matthew > Luke B

. . . then the bidirectionality of the Matthew/Luke common material, which seems to require the hypothesis of an outside source, can instead be explained as Matthew's deriving some material from the earlier Luke A, and Luke B later acquiring other material from Matthew. To this point, the theory here proposed is formally equivalent to the "Q" theory. But it is superior to the "Q" theory because it also explains, as the Q theory cannot, the many so-called Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke as incidents of that mutual contact. The only explanation for these passages available under the "Q" theory is to ignore the Minor Agreements. Can the alternative theory be worked out consistently? The test is to ascribe the Luke common material with Matthean characteristics, or which is better placed in Matthew than in Luke, to Luke B, and the remainder of the Lukan common material, those passages which have Lukan characteristics or are better contexted in Luke, to Luke A. If the resulting construct proves consistent with a hypothesis of rational authorship, if it makes better sense as a text, then the alternative theory holds, and since it is superior in explanatory power (as including more of the material), it should be accepted.

It is this picture which the Alpha enterprise is currently engaged in testing, with the help of persons knowledgeable about both Matthew and Luke, including some adherents of the alternate Q theory of this material. One occasion where this collaboration took place in real time was at the Alpha Seminar at the 2014 meeting of the Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society, on Friday 28 March in Erie, Pennsylvania. Papers and discussion memoranda were posted in advance on the Luke page of the Project's Discussion Forum. Virtual conversation, both before and after the face meeting, took place on the Alpha Christianity E-list. Our retrospective thanks to all who took part on that occasion.

Chronology of Luke and Acts

The whole of the Luke theory also accounts for Acts, as overlapping in time with the composition of Luke in the following way:

Luke A
Luke B ~ Acts I (Ac 1:1-15:35
Luke C ~ Acts II (Ac 15:36-end)

For the argument for dividing Acts in this way, which is not new in the critical literature, see the Acts page. We interpret Acts II, which ends with a rejection of Christianity by "the Jews," as a response to the real-time systematic exclusion of Christians from Jewish synagogue worship, a key event being the insertion of the Birkat-ha-Minim into the daily synagogue prayers, agreed by many to have taken place under Gamaliel II (successor to Johanan ben Zakai at Jamnia) in c85. Noting that Matthew retains the Caligula prediction of Mk 13:14 (which can only have been written in 40, since the threat ended with Caligula's death in early 41) without change except for a more precise identification of the Daniel quote in Mt 24:15 (for a full argument on this passage and related ones, see Gundry Matthew 599-609), whereas Lk 21:20 substitutes, for that verse, an unambiguous description of Jerusalem besieged (in this case, by Titus in 70), we get the following overall chronology

Caligula threatens desecration of the Temple, reflected in Mk 13:14 (summer 40)
Mark (finished c45)
Death of Paul and Peter: End of the Apostolic Age (c64)
Luke A (c66): The Theology of Poverty
Matthew (c68)
Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Titus (70)
Luke B = Acts I (c72): The Gentile Mission / A Revisionist Paul
Birkat ha-Minim: formal separation of Christians from Jewish synagogues (c85)
Luke C = Acts II: The separation also reflected in one addition to Acts I and several to Luke (c89)
(For later reflections of this catstrophic exclusion policy, see the John page)

Structure of Luke

In terms of what Luke adds to his Markan source, the major sections of Luke are:

Prologue and Infancy Narrative: Lk 1:1-2:52
First Markan Section: Lk 3:1-6:19
First Lukan Addition: Lk 6:20-8:3 (Sermon on the Plain and Following Incidents)
Second Markan Section: Lk 8:4-9:50
Second Lukan Addition: Lk 9:51-18:14 (the Sermon on the Way)
Third Markan Section: Lk 18:15-24:11 (the Jerusalem Narrative)
Epilogue: Lk 24:13-51 (Post-Resurrection and Ascension)

As has often been pointed out, it is in the two long Additions that the individual Luke and his personal theology are most clearly seen. That characteristic Luke will be seen all the more clearly when the later Matthean intrusions have been put to one side, and Luke's original text alone remains.

It is often forgotten that Luke was an experienced Christian, and that much of his nonMarkan material may derive from his experience of Antioch preaching over several decades, which was later given literary form by Luke. This would account for some of the otherwise surprising survivals, in his Gospel, of very early Christian expectation and practice.

It is possible, though not required by results so far, that the same "Luke" was the author of all of Luke A/B/C. We find it to be best, with any ancient text, to concentrate at first on the nature of the text rather than the supposed identity or character of the author. It is however valid to note, in the text, any signs of characteristic affinities, aversions, or literary procedures. Some observations of this kind will be found in the Notes.

Contents of This Section

The fundamental studies, published in or scheduled for our journal Alpha, are the following:

Solely for refeence purposes, we have added to this page (2017) some paths not taken in the present analysis:

This Luke section contains these notes and study aids, and a link to the closely coordinated Acts section, as further assistance to the work in progress:

We believe that the above model is generally correct, but there are many points of uncertainty, and suggestions and criticisms will be gratefully received. Use the link below.

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