Luke’s prologue: Six degrees of synoptic separation?

One of the Advent challenges at church this year is to read through the gospels and think about how and why they are different. Not a particularly earth-shattering endeavor, but it gave me an opportunity to read the gospel that I’ve spent the least amount of time in: Mark (who always make me chuckle when I come to Mark 14.51-52). But that’s not today’s post…

After finishing Mark and considering the three or four different ending variants, I turned the page and was confronted with Luke, and especially the prologue (Luke 1.1-4):

NEB REB
The author to Theophilus: Many writers have undertaken to draw up an account of the events that have happened among us, following the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants of the Gospel. And so I in my turn, your Excellency, as one who has gone over the whole course of these events in detail, have decided to write a connected narrative for you, so as to give you authentic knowledge about the matters of which you have been informed. To Theophilus: Many writers have undertaken to draw up an account of the events that have taken place among us, following the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants of the Gospel. So I in my turn, as one who has investigated the whole course of these events in detail, have decided to write an orderly narrative for you, your excellency, so as to give you authentic knowledge about the matters of which you have been informed.
HCSB NASB
Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who afrom the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Now I was reading in the NEB and verse 3 particularly stood out. Compared to the REB, HCSB and NASB, which all include some variant of the word “order”, the NEB’s “a connected narrative” was a show stopper. Especially in consideration of Luke’s opening verse in which he identifies the “many” other gospel accounts available to him.

We are all aware of the synoptic issues of the gospels and especially the hypothesis that Mark’s gospel seeded those of Matthew and Luke, who both presumably drew on other sources as well – well, actually, doesn’t Luke just come out and say that in these opening verses? That is, Luke’s account is an edited narrative of multiple vetted gospel accounts connected together in an orderly fashion. Luke may have drawn on Q, but why not L, M, N, O and P as well?

I recall a session in a Bible study when our instructor made a comment along the lines of “while Paul was being shuffled around Judean jails, Luke certainly would have had an opportunity to interview the primary players and gather materials for a consolidated gospel. Certainly the opening chapters ring with the voice of Mary, she who “treasured these things in her heart” and kept the memory of the infant Son alive until it could be written down and permanently preserved – that is, “the gospel according to Mary.”

(As for Matthew, I tend to read him as a separate narrative line from Mark – his purposes seem so different and prophecy focused in terms of identifying messianic fulfillment of the OT – perhaps, dare I say, less a literal narrative than Mark and Luke and already bordering on allegorical or typological?!)

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2 Comments

  1. Posted December 21, 2008 at 6:49 AM | Permalink

    (As for Matthew, I tend to read him as a separate narrative line from Mark – his purposes seem so different and prophecy focused in terms of identifying messianic fulfillment of the OT – perhaps, dare I say, less a literal narrative than Mark and Luke and already bordering on allegorical or typological?!)

    OMG, ElShaddai, the Evangelical thought-police is going to get you! Didn’t you see what happened to Bob Gundry?!

    😉

  2. Posted December 21, 2008 at 7:36 AM | Permalink

    Hmm… I’m reading more about Gundry now. Interesting. My attitude toward Matthew has been slowly changing in this direction – the latest straw on the camel’s back was the recent article about Herod in the December issue of National Geographic, which included this quote:

    Yet today he is best known as the sly and murderous monarch of Matthew’s Gospel, who slaughtered every male infant in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, the prophesied King of the Jews. During the Middle Ages he became the image of the Antichrist: Illuminated manuscripts and Gothic gargoyles show him tearing his beard in mad fury and brandishing his sword at the luckless infants, with Satan whispering in his ear. Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime, of which there is no report apart from Matthew’s account.