Monday, November 13, 2006

Jesus the Great High Priest

April 28, 2007
Luke 24.50-53

What is the significance of Jesus' raising of his hands and pronouncing a blessing (doubly stated) before ascending into heaven in Luke 24.50-53? Why is this his last gesture recorded by Luke?

Leviticus 9.22 tells of a priestly rite of which Jesus' action resembles: "And Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and came down from offering of the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings." Perhaps Luke means to suggest that Jesus is the great high priest. Or perhaps he means to suggest that Jesus has performed the duties of the high priest in his death and resurrection (namely, given himself as the offerings required as a service to God for his people).

The Apochryphal book of Sirach may help explain Luke's text. Simon son of Onias, the high priest of 220-195 B.C., was a highly reveared historical figure among Jews, especially among those of priestly origin and service. He is most remembered as a leader responsible for the temple restoration (Sirach 50.1-11), a leader of whom Theophilus would have known well. In Sirach 50.20-21, we find Simon completing his duties on the Day of Atonement, after exiting the Holy of Holies:

"Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation of Israelites, to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with him lips, wnd to glory in his name; and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing from the Most High."

In Luke's story, Jesus performs this same rite. Theophilus would have recognized it immediately, for he himself had surely observed (performed?) this rite numerous times, both as a priest and as a Law-observant Jew. This is the very last action Jesus performed in Luke's Gospel - a fitting conclusion to Luke's story of Jesus, the great high priest.

This week's reading is short, but significant. Recall the various ways in which Luke has presented Jesus to Theophilus, the high priest of 37-41 A. D.. Meditate on those aspects of Luke's Gospel examined throughout this study. Has your understanding of Luke's story changed? If so, in what ways? Consider Luke's effort to convince a skeptic of Jesus' story. What can we learn from it?


There is a variant reading in Luke 24.52 which might shed yet more light on the issue. It reads (the variant in italics), "While he blessed them, he parted from them. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." In Sirach 50.21 the people are said to have worshiped "a second time". Though this probably refers to the worship of God, as in the first instance (50.17). But, the language is ambiguous beyond the modifier, "a second time". It is believed among scholars that Israel worshiped the high priest because he was God's representative on earth. Conversely, God often treated the high priest as though he represented the people (such as in the transferring of sins in the rites of atonement). If this notion is a correct one, perhaps Luke's variant (whether original, or as from a scribe recognizing Luke's paralleling of the high priestly stories) might be well received, for it adds strength to the interpretation that Luke is presenting Jesus as the new great high priest, in the fashion of such Jewish figures of lore as Simon son of Onias.

Two Witnesses: Moses and Elijah?

April 15, 2007
Luke 24.4-7; (9.28-36; Acts 1.6-11)

In telling his Jesus story, Luke has often coupled his characters: the sending of the twelve out in pairs (9.1ff.); Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration (9.28ff.); the sending of the seventy out in pairs (10.1ff); the two men at the tomb (24.4ff.); the two on the road to Emmaus (24.13ff.). (Of course, some of these pairings appear in the other Gospels as well. It is not a Lukan phenomenon.)

Many have supposed that the two men (andres duo) of Luke 24.4 and of Acts 10.1 were angels, particularly because of the comment in Luke 24.23 (where angelon is used by the two on the road in recalling the women’s tale, or “vision” as they call it). What can we know about these “two men”? And does it really matter?

I will begin by laying out what we “know” based on Luke’s data. From there, I will attempt to answer the above questions.

We know that the “two men” of Luke 24.4 and Acts 1.10 were dressed in “dazzling white” (estheti astraptouse) and “white robes” (asthesesi leukais), respectively. I suppose this is yet another reason why so many assume these “men” to be angels.

We know that Luke has mentioned in his Gospel “two men” (andres duo) who “appeared in glory” – namely, Moses and Elijah (9.30).

We know that Jesus referred to his own resurrection state in terms of “entering into glory” (24.26; cf. 9.32).

We know that at the Transfiguration Jesus’ appearance was altered, “and his raiment became dazzling white” (leukos exastrapton; 9.29 – compare with Lk24.4 and Ac1.10, of the “two men”).

We know that Moses and Elijah “spoke of [Jesus’] departure [exodon], which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9.31). (I do not think it necessary to recall the details of Moses’ and Elijah’s supposed departures or whereabouts. The connection should be fairly obvious.)

We know that the resurrection account of Luke 24.1ff. and the ascension accounts of Luke 24.50-52 and Acts 1.1ff. all take place in or around Jerusalem.

In light of these “known” things according to Luke’s writings, I submit that the “two men” of Luke 24.4 and Acts 1.10 are not angels, but Moses and Elijah. Jesus had demonstrated (9.29) that the “dazzling” appearance need not be relegated to angels only. The actual term used by Luke, andres, does not forcefully suggests “angels” are meant. For that, he has employed the normative angelon in Luke 24.23; but as I noted above, that reference is (at least) a second hand telling, one which calls the episode a “vision” as well. (I am honestly not sure what to make of this detail yet. I am however sure that it does not eradicate everything I am suggesting. It might also be said, and should be remembered, that a single angel, Gabriel, appears before Mary in Luke 1.26. Why are there not two here? It is because the angel is not having to witness anything, but rather is dispensing news. And again, here Luke calls Gabriel and “angel” [angelos].)

It might perhaps be mentioned that Luke’s Gospel places the ascension in Bethany, not Jerusalem; and that Acts 1 places it at the Mount of Olives “which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away [from Jerusalem]” (Ac1.12), and not in Jerusalem as 9.31 states. And so some may object to my linking Moses and Elijah with the two men present at the tomb and Jesus' "Jerusalem departure". But the remark made in Luke 9.31 is a reference point for Luke, a place at which his Jesus takes a new turn in his journey. Immediately after the Transfiguration, we find that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (9.51). And from this point on Jesus is moving in that direction. So I don't think the reference to Jerusalem in 9.31 should be understood as Jerusalem proper, but as a general geographic reference from which Jesus' finishing work will "be fulfilled/accomplished" in contradistinction to Galilee, where he had ministered up to that point (cf. 4.31; 5.1; 7.1, 11; 8.26).

Last to note, the “two men” appear at the beginning and the end of the forty day period, the period which marks the time of Jesus “departure” as spoken about by Moses, Elijah and Jesus earlier (cf. Lk9.32). It therefore seems quite sensible for Luke to have meant by “two men” in “dazzling white robes” and associated with the state of “glory” the very same individuals he explicitly named beforehand – Moses and Elijah.


A final note:

Moses and Elijah share a unique quality among Old Testament characters. Elijah never died, but was translated into heaven via a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2.11). Moses died, but was buried by God in secret fashion (Deuteronomy 34.5-6). Upon their departures, they left their spirits with their successors: Moses' to Joshua (Deuteronomy 34.9), Elijah's to Elisha (2 Kings 2.9ff.). Should we understand Jesus to be leaving his spirit with his followers in the same way? If Luke means to show Jesus leaving this world and entering his glory just as Moses and Elijah had (recall the Transfiguration), he may very well mean to show that Jesus' followers are empowered in like fashion.

"Coming on the Clouds"

March 11, 2007
Luke 21.5-38

Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple and the end of the age in Luke 21. Much can be said of the details of the predictions. This study focuses on the coming of the Son of Man in 21.27: "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." Was Jesus simply referring to his second coming, or is there something behind these words which gives them a different significance? The prediction refers to Daniel 7.13-14 without doubt. To what in Daniel 7 was Jesus pointing that might have been significant to his initial audience, Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D.?

God ordered Moses to build the tabernacle and its accessories in Exodus 25-40. The accessories are the same ones we later find in the temple. So, the tabernacle was a pre-temple of sorts. Among the accessories is the golden altar of incense before the ark of the covenant (40.5, 26-27), atop which sat the mercy seat. The incense created a "cloud" before God (a picture of God's dealings with his people: 40.34-38). In the cloud of incense mediation between God and man was made. On the Day of Atonement, the priest entered into the Holy of Holies and offered incense over the mercy seat, where God was said to dwell. Leviticus 16.13 reads thus: "Put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat...." While ceremonially significant, the temple scenario actually depicted a greater reality: God dwelling in heaven, before whom sinners were able to come, but only when their sins were eradicated via the high priest.

Daniel 7 is a different kind of picture, a vision of what takes place on the Day of Atonement. What happens in the Holy of Holies over the mercy seat where God dwells as the cloud of incense rises is translated into a heavenly scenario. Daniel 7.13-14:

"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."

The data: 1) This son of man comes with the clouds of heaven. 2) This son of man comes to the Ancient of Days, and is presented before him. 3) This son of man is given the kingdom. 4) This son of man is given power and glory.

Making sense of the data:

1) After the priest burned the incense in the Holy of Holies, atonement was made (Leviticus 16.14ff.). The timing of the son of man's coming is important. Note that he comes "with the clouds" as though the clouds were already en route. Thus, what went on symbolically in the Holy of Holies (the cloud of incense surrounding the mercy seat as atonement was being made) was depicted on a bigger scale in Daniel's vision (the son of man rising with the cloud to God to make atonement). In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to one day fulfill that priestly duty.

2) Many interpreters make the mistake of claiming that Jesus refers to his second coming when citing Daniel; but in Daniel 7 "the Son of Man coming on the clouds" is not coming from God to man. He is going to God, to present himself. This is exactly what the high priest did on the Day of Atonement. In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to be that very figure.

3) The high priest represented both God (before the people) and man (before God). This is why in Daniel 7.13-14 the son of man alone is given the kingdom. As the high priest, he represented the people in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Later, in 7.18, 22, and 27, the people receive the kingdom. Daniel 7.1-14 is a vision; Daniel 7.15-28 is the interpretation of that vision. In other words, 7.13-14 depicts what takes place ceremonially on the Day of Atonement, while 7.18, 22, and 27 describes what actually takes place among the people because of the priestly mediation. In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to one day represent man before God in place of the high priest to receive the kingdom as a representative of God's people.

4) Because the high priest was God's representative to his people, he was said to be glorious (Exodus 28.2, 40; 40.13; Leviticus 16.4, 32). His garments made him a powerful presence before the people (see the previous week's selection: The Rich Man and Lazarus). In Luke 21.27, Jesus is claiming to one day bear the power and great glory previously borne by the high priest.

Simply put, when Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory to bring the kingdom, he was claiming to be the great high priest foretold. He was mediating between God and his people to atone for sin and dispense the kingdom. Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D. would have recognized this claim instantly. (Jesus probably had his death in mind as the means for atonement. Theophilus would not have recognized that at this point in Luke's story. But his understanding of Jesus' death and resurrection, yet to come in the story, would have been colored by the facts laid out thus far - one of which being Jesus is the promised eschatological high priest.)

Consider how we are to understand Jesus' prediction of the end of the age in light of his claim to the the Son of Man described in Daniel 7. Are you relying on his work as mediator between you and God? This week meditate on the reality.


One detail in Luke possibly linking Jesus with the priestly son of man of Daniel 7:

In Luke 1.33, the angel proclaims that Jesus' "will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." In Daniel 7.14, 27 (see also 2.44), the kingdom which the son of man and the saints of God receive "shall not pass away" and is "an everlasting kingdom".

One detail concerning Daniel 7 that might further show that the son of man is the high priest:

The fourth beast of Daniel 7 "was different from all the bests that were before it" (7.7). Later, it is said to be "destroyed and given over to be burned with fire" (7.11). Immediately following is the one like a son of man, who above is suggested to be the high priest, rising to the Ancient of Days. Might that beast be the offering presented by the high priest for atonement of sins? (Recall that Daniel is living under Babylonian rule, during the Babylonian exile. He and his fellow Israelites longed to worship their God as they had in there homeland, namely in the temple. This vision exemplifies the significance of such worship in the life of a faithful Israelite.)

Other New Testament passages linking Daniel 7.13-14 with high priestly significance, and so applied to Jesus:

Revelation 1.7, 13-14: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds; ...and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire." Compare the garments with those of the priest in Leviticus 16.4. Likewise compare physical description of Jesus with the Ancient of Days of Daniel 7.9: "His raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was firey flames, its wheels burning with fire." While John in his revelation is liking Jesus to the Ancient of Days rather than the son of man figure of 7.13, he is clearly pointing to Daniel 7 as a reference point for understanding the exalted Jesus.

Mark 14.61-64: "Again the high priest asked him, 'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?' And Jesus said, 'I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.' And the high priest tore his garments, and said, 'Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?' And they condemned him as deserving death." No one blasphemed the high priest, as he was God's representative before the people. Caiaphas, the high priest of Mark 14, recognized Jesus' claim to be the high priest as an act of blasphemy. In fact, Jesus' answer conflated two Old Testament passages: Daniel 7.13-14, which we have seen probably refers to the high priestly duties; and Psalm 110.1, which refers to the priestly order of Melchizadek. Both Jesus words and the high priest's reaction and behavior demonstrate Jesus' claim to the the new eschatological high priest foretold.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

March 04, 2007
Luke 16.19-31

Luke's story of the rich man and Lazarus has sparked much debate regarding issues of the afterlife. Some argue over whether or not the story is a parable. (If so, this is the only one in which Jesus names a player.) This study hopes to look beyond such debates, to find the kernel of Jesus' presentation based on the given textual data.

As has been asserted throughout this study, Luke wrote to the high priest of 37-41 A.D., named Theophilus. Theophilus was one of five brothers, all of whom served as high priest in the first century. Their father was Annas, the high priest of 6-15 A.D. (see Luke 3.2; Acts 4.6). Theophilus' brother-in-law was the high priest during the time of Jesus' ministry and crucifixion, Caiaphas (again, Luke 3.2; Acts 4.6; and also Matthew 26.3; John 11.49). What relationship could there be between Theophlius' family and Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus?

There are several details in Jesus' story which implicate the priesthood as a corrupt enterprise, and a specific individual of that enterprise:

1. The rich man is said to be "clothed in purple and fine linen" (Luke 16.19). This is a description of the high priestly garments, according to Exodus 39.27-29: "The also make the coats, woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, and the turban of fine linen, and the caps of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twined linen, and the girdle of fine twined linen and of blue and purple and scarlet stuff, embroidered with needlework; as the Lord had commanded Moses" (see also Leviticus 16.4). The apocryphal book of Sirach says likewise: "[The Lord] clothed [Aaron] in perfect splendor...with the sacred vestment, of gold and violet and purple, the work of an embroiderer" (45.8-11). Josephus notes the same: "[In Alexander's presence] The priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple scarlet clothing..." (Antiquities 11.8.5 [331, Whiston]). So, Jesus' description of this rich man matches that of the high priest.

2. In Jesus' story, Lazarus laid "at his [the rich man's] gate" (Luke 16.20). This might very well refer to the gate which guarded the temple. Luke, in Acts 3.2, 10, mentions another beggar at the temple gate, there called Beautiful.

3. Jesus' story may have some close ties to the story told in John 11, in which Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead. If so, Jesus' story in Luke turns John's history into an ironic presentation. First, note the aftermath of the miracle in John 11.47-53. Caiaphas the high priest sought to retaliate against Jesus' raising of Lazarus (11.49ff.). Second, note that Caiaphas was a member of the Sadducees (Acts 5.17). Some of the priests were Sadducees, some were Pharisees (see Acts 23.6). The Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead, angels, and the spirit (Acts 23.8). Jesus' story in Luke 16 includes all three of these elements: allusion to Lazarus' resurrection, angels carrying Lazarus' body away, and several conscious figures after death. Jesus used this data to create an ironic story to show the priesthood's corruption, which shall be detailed below.

4. The rich man in Jesus' story is said to have five brothers (Luke 16.27-28). As mentioned before and above, Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D. had four brothers, one brother-in-law, and a father who each served as high priest in the first century (see Wm. Whiston's editorial note in his transl. of Josephus, War n.635). If Jesus was exposing the priesthood in his story, which is an ironic presentation of the raising of Lazarus (as told in John 11), then Caiaphas would have been the rich man in Luke 16. He had five brothers[-in-law].

So, Jesus used all of these details to present an ironic story to the high priest Theophilus, implicating the priesthood and his family. The irony: Caiaphas the Sadducean high priest, who denied the resurrection from the dead, angels, and the spirit, begged father Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead and send him as a witness to his family, to warn them of the coming judgment. Abraham's reply: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [which they surely knew well], neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead [my emphasis added]." Perhaps the greater irony: Jesus DID raise Lazarus from the dead! It was that fact that Caiaphas scoffed (John 11.49ff.).


One small note:

The rich man appeals to father Abraham, an appeal against which John had preached previously (Luke 3.8). (For more in Luke on Abraham as father, see 1.73; 13.16; 16.24; 19.9.)

Regarding the high priestly garments:

James VanderKam, scholar of Hebrew scriptures, writes: “During the period when the Romans assumed control of Judea, the governor took over [the high priestly garments] and permitted the high priest to have them only during festivals” (An Introduction to Early Judaism, 180). After Herod died, the garments were in the custody of Tiberius (14-37 A.D.). Then, as a favor, Vitellius (governor of Syria) gave the people back the garments. They remained in Jewish control until the death of Agrippa 1 in 44 A.D.. When Rome tried to reclaim the garments, the Jewish people sent a delegation to Rome and were apparently granted custody.

VanderKam concludes, “The garment was thought to convey such a powerful impression that the authorities worried about the political and social effect it might have” (181). The apocryphal Sirach 45.6-13 and chapter 50 indicate that the garments bestowed great splendor upon the high priest, Simon at the time (50.11; see also Wisdom of Solomon 18.24). Philo suggests that the garments had cosmic symbolism (Life of Moses, 2.109-126, esp. 2.117ff.). Josephus also gives an elaborate description of the garments (War, 5.6.7 [231-36, Whiston]). Indeed, he says the high priest was the "captain of [Israel's] salvation" (War, 4.5.2 [318, Whiston]).

If it is true that these garments bestowed such glory and (political) power upon the high priest, perhaps their absence helps explain why temple-defiant groups emerged. Theophilus, high priest of 37-41 A.D., would have been the first in some time to have enjoyed the priestly glory of old. (His father, Annas, high priest of 8-15 A.D., would have been the last to wear the garments before Theophilus.)

The Son of Man

February 11, 2007
Luke 5.18-26; 6.1-11; (7.34; 9.22-26, 44, 56-58; 11.30-32; 12.8-10, 40; 17.22-30; 18.8, 31; 19.10; 21.27, 36-38; 22.22, 67-69; 24.7)

In Luke, Jesus uses the title "son of man" to describe himself on numerous occasions. What does he mean by this? What does this title mean to his immediate audience? In what contexts does Jesus apply the title to himself? And how are we to understand him in light of that context?

Jesus did not make up this title for himself. It is found in the Old Testament, most prominently in Ezekiel and Daniel. It can also be found in other ancient Jewish sources, such as the books of Enoch. So, it was a fairly well-known title among first century Jews.

Two specific contexts prove revealing for understanding why Jesus referred to himself as the "son of man". The first is found in Luke 5.18-26, where Jesus heals a paralytic man. This is also the first instance in which we find "son of man" in Luke's Gospel. Here we see it is apparently significant in its relation to Jesus' ability to forgive sins. Note that Jesus forgives the man's sins first, and then moves to heal him. The healing was a demonstration to the skeptical scribes and Pharisees – a demonstration that proved his ability and authority, as the son of man, to forgive sins (5.24).

Any first century Jew would hardly conceive of forgiveness apart from the sacrificial system sanctioned by God through the temple. So, how can Jesus forgive sins? What about his words or actions revealed to those healed, and to those who witnessed his healings, that his forgiveness was (at least) as legitimate and as authoritative as that sanctioned by the temple priests? The priests were the ones making atonement for the people, thus bringing forgiveness (Leviticus 4.26, 31, 35; 5.6,10, 13, 16).

We have already seen that Jesus associated himself with counter-temple figures (such as John), and that he himself behaved in counter-temple fashion. (See the study on January 14, "Jesus, John, and the Temple".) A citation from that study proves helpful for us here: "Interestingly, in 5.21-24 Jesus links his authority (ezousian) to forgive sins with his being the son of man - a trait possibly linked to the one like a son of man in Daniel 7.13-14 (LXX), who is given dominion (ezousia)." It will be argued at a later time (March 11) that the "one like a son of man" in Daniel 7.13-14 is a high priestly figure, and the event told there corresponds to the priestly duties on the Day of Atonement. If it is true that Jesus' claim to be the son of man is a priestly claim, and that his actions and words are to be understood in some sense as opposing the temple establishment of his day, then perhaps his ability to forgive sins, the authority for which belonged to the temple priests alone, should be understood as a prime example of such opposition to the temple.

So what is Jesus doing? What is he trying to accomplish by this kind of action? Why doesn't he recommend to those healed that they engage in the temple process of atonement, which seemed to be still valid, at least from the days of his youth (Luke 2.21-52), and upon the healing of a leper (5.14)? Again, the priests were the ones making atonement for the people, thus bringing forgiveness. Jesus' claims in Luke 5.18-26 are therefore incredibly bold. He says, though implicitly: 1) "I do apart from the temple what the priests do in the temple. I need no temple." And, 2) that the ruling high priest, Caiaphas, at least has an equal, and at most is illegitimate. Statements like these, made throughout Luke's Gospel, eventually get Jesus in serious trouble (19.47; 20.19; 22.2; see also 6.11; 11.53-54).

The second context proving helpful in understanding Jesus' claim to be the "son of man" is that of Luke 6.1-11, where he asserts that "the son of man is lord of the sabbath". Just as in the previous text, Jesus performs a healing to demonstrate that authority. From this point on, healing on the sabbath becomes a regular event for Jesus (13.10-17; 14.1-6). This is another bold claim – one that enrages and confounds the Jewish leaders.

In Luke 6.1-5 we are told of Jesus' followers plucking grain, rubbing it and eating it on the sabbath – an unlawful deed according to the Pharisees. Jesus answers the accusers' question with the story of David and his hungry men, recorded in 1 Samuel 21.1-6, how they ate the bread reserved for the priests. After relating that story, he concludes somehow authoritatively, "The son of man is lord of the sabbath", to which there is no retort.

What can we learn from Jesus' use of the "son of man" title here? What is he saying about himself by appealing to that title? One implicit detail might prove helpful. In 1 Samuel 21.6, the bread is said to have been hot, suggesting that on the sabbath the priests were responsible for making bread from grain. And so, here in Luke 6.1-5 we find Jesus (and his followers) again doing what priests do, with an authoritative appeal to the "son of man" figure (usually associated with Daniel 7.13-14).

Read through Luke's Gospel, noting the numerous references to the "son of man". What does each of these references tell us about Jesus? Why does he decide to use that title for himself at these specific points in his teachings and ministry?


Two additional comments:

The book of Ezekiel is full of references to a "son of man", God applying this title to Ezekiel (2.1, 3, 6, 8; 3.1, 3, 4, 10, 17, 25; 4.1, 16; 5.1; 6.2; 7.2; 8.5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 15, 17; 11.2, 4, 15; 12.2, 3, 9, 18, 22, 27; 13.2, 17; 14.3, 13; 15.2; 16.2; 17.2; 20.3, 4, 27, 46; 21.2, 6, 9, 12, 14, 19, 28; 22.2, 18, 24; 23.2, 36; 24.2, 16, 25; 25.2; 26.2; 27.2; 28.2, 12, 21; 29.2, 18; 30.2, 21; 31.2; 32.2, 18; 33.2, 7, 10, 12, 24, 30; 34.2; 35.2; 36.1, 17; 37.3, 9, 11, 16; 38.2, 14; 39.1, 17; 40.4; 43.7, 10, 18; 44.5; 47.6). Ezekiel is of the priestly lineage (1.3). Perhaps this is another link between the "son of man" and the office of priest.

Another title ascribed to Jesus in Luke's Gospel in "the holy one of God", given to him by a demon (4.34). This title was somewhat common in the Old Testament. Aaron was called this in Psalm 106.16 (see also Numbers 16). This may or may not bear any weight in understanding Luke 4.34; however, since we have considered Jesus to be the promised faithful high priest, it seemed worth noting.

Jesus and Contagious Impurities

February 04, 2007
Luke 5.12-16; 8.40-56; (17.11-19)

On a few occasions in Luke's Gospel, Jesus heals individuals of certain infirmities which required specific rites. According to the Law of Moses, those infected with leprousy, those having an abnormal bodily discharge, and those unclean through contact with a corpse were to be put out of Israel's camp (Numbers 5.1-4). Specific ritual cleansing were required for each infirmity (Numbers 19; Leviticus 13-15). Those coming into contact with such infirmities were likewise unclean. In the case of each of these specified infirmities, a period of purification or decontamination was prescribed. Anyone contacting a corpse required multiple washings and a one week's time of purification (Numbers 19). Anyone touching a woman with an abnormal discharge required the washing of their clothes and the bathing of their bodies, themselves remaining unclean until the evening (Leviticus 15.27).

Jesus encounters a few individuals bearing these infirmities, and heals them:

1) Luke 5.12-16 tells of Jesus healing a leper. The leper obviously recognizes that Jesus has the power to make him clean (5.12). Jesus heals him and admonishes him to present himself to the temple priest, following the prescirptions of the Law, "for a proof to them [the priests]" (5.14). Recall the study of a few weeks ago (John, Jesus, and the Temple):

"While it might be suggested that Jesus is simply obeying the Law of Moses in sending those healed to the temple, most probably Jesus is demonstrating that what was previously sanctioned by the priesthood (confirming healings) had been transferred to him. Two details of Luke 5.12-15 help exemplify this: 1) Jesus assumes that the rite detailed in the Law remains legitimate (see Leviticus 13.2-17, 49; 14.2-9). 2) Jesus desires to "prove to them [the priests]" that his work is legitimate. He does what priests do, and therefore is in no need of a temple priest. His work is sanctioned by God."

Jesus likewise admonishes ten healed lepers to present themselves to the priests in Luke 17.11-18. He is proving to the priesthood that he embodied the temple-sanctions, and is in no need of the priesthood. He is the new high priest.

2) Luke 8.40-48 tells of Jesus' encounter with a woman having an issue of blood. She contacts Jesus' garment and is healed. Ezekiel 44.19 speaks to this, suggesting that when the Levites exit the outer court of the temple, they are to leave their priestly garments, and put on other clothes, "lest they communicate holiness to the people with their garments." (See Exodus 30.29 for a similar occasion.) Jesus' garment has that very effect, healing the woman's infirmity.

3) Luke 8.49-56 tells of Jesus' contact with a corpse. He took her by the hand, thus seemingly making him unclean. But she was made well.

Jesus may very well have undergone ritual purification for his contact with these infirmities; but we are not told so. The real significance of these instances in Luke's story lies in the demonstration that Jesus' garment has the power previously bestowed upon the high priestly garments alone. It is not that impurity defiles the pure, but that the impure contract Jesus' purity.

Finally, note that Jesus proclaims to those healed that their faith has made them well (8.48, 50; 17.19; [5.12-13]).

Read over these healing episodes this week. Imagine the excitement among those whom Jesus healed, as described in Luke 5.15; 8.56; 17.15-16. Imagine what Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D. might have thought about these events. In what ways has Jesus made you well? Would Jesus compliment your faith as the means of that healing?


Two additional details regarding garments and healing:

1) The story of Numbers 16.41-50 is retold in the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 18.20-25. In Wisdom, Aaron is said to have worn the priestly garments outside the sanctuary while he and Moses make intercession for the people of Israel when God is enraged. Aaron stopped the plague by offering incense and making atonement between God and the people, outside the sanctuary. While Numbers does not contain the detail regarding Aaron's garments, it is interesting that Wisdom speaks to the priestly garments' power to mend or prevent infirmity.

2) Paul's handkerchiefs and aprons help to heal the sick in Acts 19.12. Similarly, though not involving garments of any kind, Peter's shadow affects the sick in Acts 5.15.

[Most of this week's study was taken from an article by Crispin Fletcher-Louis entitled, "Jesus and the High Priest".]

The Temptation of Jesus

January 28, 2007
Luke 4.1-15

Luke's telling of Jesus' temptation sheds great light on the objective in communicating Jesus' story to Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D.. Immediately after baptism, Jesus retreats in the power of the Spirit, readying himself for three years of intense ministry. Much of Luke's story of Jesus is foreshadowed in his temptation account.

There is a striking similarity of Jesus to Moses and Elijah. Jesus, led by the Spirit, fasts for forty days in the wilderness (Luke 4.1-2). Moses fasted for forty days (Exodus 34.28; Deuteronomy 9.9, 18), as did Elijah (1 Kings 19.8). Immediately following each of these forty-day fasts, the respective individual encountered God in a significant way. Moses received the Law from God. Elijah encountered God in the rock, and God assured him of a remnant in Israel. In Luke's story, Jesus begins to usher in the kingdom. This parallel would have been easily identifiable for Theophlius the high priest. (Many parallels can be drawn between Jesus and the pair of Moses and Elijah. For example, Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, which tell of Jesus [see Luke 24.24.27, 44-45; Acts 28.23]. Also, they appear with Jesus at the Transfiguration. We will look more closely at the significance Moses and Elijah in Luke's story in two upcoming studies: The Transfiguration and Two Witnesses: Moses and Elijah?)

A close examination of each of the three temptations proves helpful as well.

Temptation #1: "Turn this stone to bread." Jesus responds by citing Deuteronomy 8.3: "Man shall not live by bread alone." In Deuteronomy 8, God admonishes the people of Israel to diligently keep his commandments (8.1, 6, 11ff.). The Jewish aristocracy was guilty of violating this admonition.

Temptation #2: "To you I will give all authority and the glory of the kingdoms of the world." Jesus responds by citing Deuteronomy 6.13: "You shall worship the Lord you God, and him only shall you serve." In Deuteronomy 6, God admonishes Israel to refrain from going after other gods (6.14), and to diligenttly keep his commandments (6.1-3). Again, the Jewish aristocracy was guilty of violating this. Comparison of the Greek language between Luke's second temptation account and the scene of Daniel 7.13-14(LXX) (which, it shall be seen in weeks to come, bears high priestly significance) reveals a further significance. Satan claims that he "will give all this authority and glory of the kingdoms of the world to you [Jesus, the son of God]." In Daniel 7.14, the Ancient of Days gives to the one like the son of man the authority and glory and kingdom, an eternal kingdom. Is Satan perhaps assuming for himself the role of the Ancient of Days (a role which he knows is not his)? Jesus' responde seems to indicate so. Though citing Deuteronomy, Jesus counters Satan's appeal for Jesus' service with the command that only God is to be served. In Daniel 7.14, "all the peoples, nations, and languages...serve" the one like the son of man. Luke is perhaps implicitly drawing attention to the scene of Daniel 7 as a backdrop for Jesus' refusal to exercise his authority over the kingdoms of the world prematurely - for he knows that one day, as the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days will give all outhority to him. The real temptation was in taking prematurely the authority that was already due him, according to Daniel 7. And Satan, by offering it in these terms, implicitly recognizes that Jesus intended to one day fulfill of Daniel 7.13-14. So, what was so significant about Daniel 7.13-14 for Jesus? That shall be reaveled in weeks to come. For now, we note that Satan illegitimately tempted Jesus in prophetic terms, against which Jesus answered with seemingly prophetic understanding. And further, Theophilus the high priest would have found this parallel with Daniel 7 significant.

Temptation #3: "Throw yourself down [from the temple],that the angels might rescue you [verifying that you are the chosen one of God]." (Satan citied Psalm 91.11-12.) Jesus responds by citing Deuteronomy 6.16: "You shall not tempt the Lord your God." Again, the context of Deuteronomy 6 is one of admonition to refrain from the worship of other gods (6.14), and to keep God's commandments diligently (6.17-19). This temptation would have been quite significant for a high priest because it takes place at the temple. (Luke's account differs with Mathew's in this one detail, Matthew's inverting the second and third temptations: Matthew 4.1-11.)

From here, Jesus continues in the power of the Spirit to begin his ministry (4.14), as foretold in Isaiah (4.18-19).

Read Luke 4.1-15. Consider how significant each of the three temptations were to Jesus, and his mastery over Satan in them. Learn from Jesus' resolve and discipline in personal fasting in the wilderness and responding to temptation with scripture. Memorize scripture. Meditate on it, that you may overcome temptation.

The Teachings of John

January 21. 2007
Luke 3.7-22

As noted last week, John's ministry stands in contrast to the Jewish priestly aristocracy. Looking this week at his teachings, this contrast will become more apparent.

John's message is one of repentance and forgiveness of sins, brought about in baptism (Luke 3.3, 8). He brings a very strong warning, addressed in Luke to the multitudes (3.7-9, 16-17). In Matthew, it is addressed to the Pharisees and Sadducees (3.7-12), the two parties which constituted the priesthood (see, for example, Acts 23.1-10). If Luke is presenting to Theophilus the high priest the story of Jesus, he may have decided to keep his comments regarding John's audience more general than Matthew. After all, the multitudes were surely present at John's setting (Luke 3.10). But John, a pest to the Jewish aristocracy (recall that Herod had him imprisoned and eventually killed because of his warnings regarding Herod's marital life: Luke 3.18-20), would have been well-known and remembered by Theophilus' high priestly family. In fact, Theophilus may have even been among those who visited John at the Jordan. (Note that in Matthew 3, the Pharisees and Sadducees come to be baptized by John.) So, Luke did not need to mention who was present during John's rebuke for Theophilus' to have understood that John was attacking the priestly aristocracy.

In Luke's story, tax collectors and social outcasts come to believe and receive mercy from John and Jesus (3.12; 5.29-32; 7.29; 13.10-17; 15.1-10; 18.9-14; 19.1-10), whereas the Pharisees, lawyers, and the rich aristocracy find condemnation (7.30; 10.25-37; 18.9-14, 18-30). Tax collectors and the outcasts are called children of Abraham (13.16; 19.9), whereas the Pharisees and Jewish elite are condemned for boasting on such grounds (3.8; see also John 8.33, 39). It is the social dregs that respond positively to John's message.

Those who respond to John come to him asking, "What then shall we do?" (Luke 3.10-14). Jesus encounters the same kind of response (10.25; 18.18; as do his followers [Acts 2.37; 16.30; 22.10]). Most often, the answer involves repentance. Throughout Luke's Gospel, Jesus condemns the wealthy and comforts the poor. John does the same. Those who come to him are admonished to repent by taking care of those in need. The poor had been oppressed by the wealthy (see, for example, Zacchaeus' comment in 19.8), the Jewish leaders playing the role of the wealthy. So, John condemns the Jewish ruling class (the priesthood, though not specifically named in Luke's Gospel) and seeks to comfort the needy and the dregs.

Read Luke 3.7-22. Imagine what John might preach in our setting. How might you live out John's admonitions? Consider the church's role in taking care of the poor and the social outcasts.


One detail worth noting:

Jesus' preaching was quite similar to John's. Noted last week were Jesus' "brood of vipers" comments in Matthew's Gospel which mirror John's warnings, as found in Luke 3.7ff.. Jesus also followed John's example in teaching the necessity of repentance for forgiveness of sins (Luke 5.20-24, 32; 7.47-49; 10.13; 11.32; 13.3, 5; 15.7, 10). In turn, his followers were instructed to do the same (Luke 24.47), and obeyed (Acts 5.3; 10.43; 13.38).

John, Jesus, and the Temple

January 14, 2007
Luke 3.21-22; 7.18-35

If Luke's Theophilus is in fact the high priest of 37-41 A.D., what would he have known, and thus recognized in Luke's writings? Some queries and assertions follow:

Theophilus knew Caiaphas, no doubt, being his brother-in-law. Luke 3.2 mentions Annas, Theophilus' father, and Caiaphas as the ruling high priests. Would Theophilus have also known Zechariah, John's father, listed immediately after Annas and Caiaphas in 3.2? Surely Theophilus was very familiar with John's story, his being of the priestly line and a prominent public figure. John, having been put to death by Herod, would have been a familiar subject to both Theophilus and his granddaughter, Joanna, who married Herod's steward, Chuza (see Lk8.3).

For some reason, it is a popular position in NT scholarship to assert that John was NOT associated with the Qumran sect (the community responsible for the Dead Sea scrolls). The reasoning generally rests upon the lack of any explicit reference to John's association with Qumran, and any lack of specific location for John's wilderness and Jordan ventures. But, what if this reasoning is incorrect? We know from the Dead Sea scrolls that Qumran was a counter-temple sect: the people retreated into the wilderness because they thought the priesthood was corrupt. If Luke were to describe anyone coming from the Qumran and south Jordan region doing and preaching the very things we find in the scrolls, then would it have been necessary to explicitly say that individual was from the Qumran sect, especially considering the recipient, Theophilus, was a member of the temple establishment and would have been most familiar with counter-temple movements such as Qumran? Would Theophilus not have recognized John’s behavior and preaching as Qumranic?

Aside from his close proximity to Qumran, there are other elements to John's life which indicate that he would have been considered a temple defiant. His baptism was of repentance and for the remission of sins (Luke 3.3). These ethical standards were sanctioned by the temple establishment, not individual radicals in the countryside or wilderness. These were temple rituals, performed by the priesthood. John's declaration that a person was free from sin because of his baptism in the Jordan river would have been seen as counter-temple to any first century Jew.

Perhaps by beginning his Gospel with John, an implicit counter-temple movement himself who looks like he once belonged to (or still did?) the Qumran sect, Luke is suggesting that Jesus is interested in counter-temple movements. Since John is Jesus' forerunner, it seems that Jesus would be interested with John's agenda. And since John is portrayed as a temple-defiant, might the same be true of Jesus? Indeed, Luke cites Isaiah 40.3-5, a favorite Qumran text, to describe John, the one "preparing the way" for Jesus (Luke 3.4-6). Jesus likewise cited Isaiah to describe his own ministry (Isaiah 58.6; 60.1-2 in Luke 4.18-19). And Jesus contrasted John with those who are "beautifully adorned in palaces" (Luke 7.25), an adequate description of the priesthood (which shall be taken up in this study at a later date). (Luke likewise contrasted John's ministry with the priesthood in 3.2ff..) Jesus' acceptance of John's ministry as a contrasting or competitive effort was widely known. He even employed some of John's language in his own preaching (compare, for example, Luke 3.7ff. [and Matthew 3.7ff.] with Matthew 12.33; 23.33).

Jesus himself behaved like a counter-temple movement. Luke 4.1ff. tells of Jesus' retreat from the Jordan into the wilderness, the wilderness region previously identified with John being the starting point for his own ministry, and to which he returned at times (see 5.16). By saying that Jesus was "led away by the Holy Spirit...into the wilderness", perhaps Luke is suggesting that it was divinely intended or authorized that Jesus become identified with (and eventually assume for himself the role of) a counter-temple movement. Jesus forgives sins (Luke 5.21-24; 7.36-50; 15.11-32; 23.40-43). (Interestingly, in 5.21-24 Jesus links his authority [ezousian] to forgive sins with his being the Son of Man - a trait possibly linked to the one like a son of man in Daniel 7.13-14 [LXX], who is given dominion [ezousia]. The link between Luke's story and Daniel 7 will emerge in weeks to come.) On occasion, after having healed someone, Jesus sent that one to present him/herself to the priests. While it might be suggested that Jesus was simply obeying the Law of Moses in sending those healed to the temple, most probably Jesus was demonstrating that what was previously sanctioned by the priesthood (confirming healings) had been transferred to him. Two details of Luke 5.12-15 help exemplify this: 1) Jesus assumed that the rite detailed in the Law remained legitimate (see Leviticus 13.2-17, 49; 14.2-9). 2) Jesus desired to "prove to them" (the priests) that his work was legitimate. He did what priests did, and therefore was in no need of a temple priest. His work was sanctioned by God. The temple needed cleansing (Luke 19.45-46), and Jesus predicted its destruction (21.5-6). He was, in essense, counter-temple.

There is no doubt that Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D. would have recognized Jesus' efforts to replace the temple establishment. Most probably he was involved in the services of the temple in some capacity during Jesus' life. His father, Annas, and brother-in-law, Caiaphas, were in power (Luke 3.2). He knew of counter-temple communities, such as Qumran, and the effects they might have had on his and his family's work in the priesthood.

Read Luke 3.21-22 and 7.18-35. Why might Jesus have submitted to John's baptism, a rite of repentance and forgiveness of sin? Consider the boldness of Jesus in identifying himself with the radical John. How significant is the 'wilderness' to you?

Jesus the Child

January 07, 2007
Luke 2.40-52

Luke 2.40 and 2.52 act as bookends to the story of Jesus' childhood experience in the temple. At the age of twelve, Jesus accompanied his parents on their customary annual journey (2.42) to Passover. Upon returning to their hometown, Jesus' parents noticed his absence, and turned back to Jerusalem to find him in the temple with the Jewish teachers, who were astonished at his questions and answers.

Why does Luke include this single detail of Jesus' childhood? If he, with his family, made the trip every year, what made this particular year significant, or at least worth mentioning? There a couple of reasons why Luke's audience, Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D., might have found the story significant.

Theophilus was the son of Annas, high priest from 8-15 A.D.. Annas would have been the high priest during the twelve-year-old Jesus' visit. Theophilus would perhaps have been familiar with the story from his own childhood. The fact that "all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers" (2.47) might have resonated with Theophilus.

Secondly, Luke 2.40-52 is a strong parallel to 1 Samuel 2-3. Luke three times mentions the growth of a child: 1.80, of young John the Baptist; 2.40 and 2.52, of young Jesus. Between the latter two we find the story of Jesus in the temple. There are three such comments in 1 Samuel 2-3 as well: 2.21; 2.26; 3.19, all concerning young Samuel. Between the latter two we find a detail of the corruption of the priesthood and God’s plan to make adjustments. Is Luke suggesting that the priesthood of Jesus' day was corrupt just as the priesthood of Samuel's day?

Like Jesus' family, little Samuel's family was accustomed to making an annual trek to make sacrifice (1 Samuel 2.19; see also 1.3, 21). Though the text of 1 Samuel does not give Samuel’s age, Jewish historian Josephus has somehow come to conclude he was twelve at the time of God's calling him to prophesy (Ant. 5.10.4[348]). (There is also a slight parallel of Luke's comment about Jesus' growth with that of a young Moses in Jos. Ant. 2.9.6[228-231].)

A cursory read of the story of 1 Samuel 2-3 will reveal a striking parallel to Luke's story:

After the "growth" comment in 2.26, the writer details why God has turned against the priesthood, blaming Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas (2.12ff.). God promised that they would drop dead, and that he would raise up a faithful priest. (2.34-35). The passage contains four references to "your father’s house" (2.27, 28, 30, 31). Samuel's mother had made for him a "linen ephod" to wear on the annual trips to sacrifice (2.18). This is one of God’s requirements of the priests when "going before [him]" (2.28). Eli had favored his sons more than God (3.29). So, God promised to remove Eli's sons and place his own priest in charge. From 3.1-18, we get the idea that Samuel fits the requirements God had established for the priests, thus seemingly fulfilling the promise to "raise up for myself a faithful high priest"(2.35). Though Samuel did not serve as a priest proper, he did perform many of the priestly duties.

Luke has shown the corruption of the priesthood in Theophilus' day, using the family members of Theophilus as examples of such corruption. (A few hints of this were given earlier: Identifying Theophilus. Many more such examples will emerge as we go.) Jesus' outstanding character before the teachers in the temple demonstrate that God's hand is upon him, that just as young Samuel was called by God for service so God was calling young Jesus. Jesus' question to his parents upon their finding him was, "Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?" (Luke 2.49, emphasis added). Perhaps this is an allusion to God's fulfilling his promise to raise up a faithful priest in "a sure house", "your father's house" (1 Samuel 2.30, 35, emphasis added).

Perhaps Luke told the story of Jesus' childhood to establish to Theophilus, the high priest of 37-41 A.D., that Jesus is the eschatological [high] priest, fulfilling the promise God made in 1 Samuel 2. Luke has subtly pointed to data personal to Theophilus (such as Annas' witness of the twelve-year-old Jesus) to prove his case. The story of Eli's sons is perhaps the best known story of the Jewish priesthood's corruption. For Luke to parallel Jesus' childhood experience to that of Samuel's in a context where the corrupt priesthood is specifically targeted by God, who promises to raise up a faithful priest for his house, would have given his story, addressed to a certain high priest, special leverage.

Contemplate God's judgment upon Eli and his sons in 1 Samuel 2. Contemplate Samuel's innocence in the story following in 1 Samuel 3 (as well as Jesus' in Luke 2). What parallels might there be between your life and Eli's? Consider the ways in which Jesus has mediated those vices or shortcomings. Consecrate yourself this week, ridding yourself forever of those vices.


Four extra tidbits which might help establish a relationship between Luke and 1 Samuel: 1) Hannah, Samuel's mother, after Samuel was born, exalted God (1 Samuel 2.1-10). When Mary visited Elizabeth to share her good news, Mary magnified the Lord in similar fashion (Luke 1.46-55). Just as in Samuel's story Hannah's prayer precedes the story of Samuel's boyhood experience, so also in Luke's story Mary's prayer precedes the childhood experience of Jesus. If Luke were drawing attention by was of parallel, this is yet another indicator to his that he is doing so. 2) There is in both a comment that "this shall be a sign unto you" in close proximity to the stories in question (1 Samuel 2.34; Luke 2.12). 3) There is a formulaic "X blessed X" found in both contexts (1 Samuel 2.20; Luke 2.34). 4) In 1 Samuel 2.36, God says that the destitute will come to his faithful priest begging for a piece of silver or a morsel of bread. Perhaps passages such as Luke 14.1-24; 15.8, 17 (as a negative correlation) mean to fulfill this in some way.

The Birth of Jesus

December 24, 2006
Luke 1.26-56; 2.1-39

"She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2.7).

Jesus was born into a humble, righteous family. Joseph was of David's lineage (Luke 1.27; 2.4). Mary was favored by God (1.30). Joseph and Mary were strict Law-observers, in that they circumcised Jesus on the eighth day (2.21), presented him to the Lord in the temple (2.22), and offered the required sacrifice (2.24), all according to the Law of Moses (2.22, 24). They made the annual journey to Jerusalem for Passover during Jesus' childhood years (2.41). And Jesus himself grew in favor with God (2.41, 52).

Jesus' cousin, John, was likewise born into a faithful family - a priestly family (Luke 1.5ff., 57ff.; see also last week's selection, Zechariah the Priest). Luke introduces other faithful characters who played significant roles in laying the foundation for Jesus' story: Elizabeth, John's mother (1.13, 25ff., 57ff.); Simeon (2.25f.); and Anna (2.36-38). Luke shows that the Holy Spirit was upon these individuals, having empowered them for prophetic utterances concerning Jesus, and for tasks in preparation for Jesus' life: (1.15, [80], 35, 41, 67; 2.25-27; 3.1ff.). Both families of John and Jesus enjoyed the blessing of God given through visitation from God's angel, Gabriel (1.11ff., 26ff.). Angels notified shepherds of Jesus' birth, and glorified God (2.8ff.).

The setting for Jesus' birth was saturated with God's favor.

Read the birth narrative of Jesus in Luke's Gospel. Notice how God was orchestrating everything perfectly. Howe significant is Luke's set-up to his telling of Jesus' story? How does it differ from the other Gospel records? Why do you suppose there is such a difference? What might Theophilus have thought of Luke's presentation thus far?


One more thought to be taken up later:

In Luke 1.33, Mary is told by Gabriel that Jesus will "reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." There are many Old Testament references to which this fact may correspond. For now, compare this text with Daniel 7.14, 27; (2.44). The significance will emerge in a few weeks.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Zechariah the Priest

December 17, 2006
Luke 1.5-25, 57-80

Luke, writing to Theophilus, the Jewish high priest of 37-41 A.D., is careful from the very beginning not to overtly condemn the temple establishment, per se. His concern is with those who have distorted or manipulated the temple system, not with the system itself. And this is most evident in his telling of Zechariah's tale, the very beginning of this story concerning Jesus.

Consider Zechariah's status: a priest of the division of Abijah (1.5, 8; Abijah being the eighth division in rotation according to 1 Chron 24.10, 19); husband to Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron (1.5); righteous and blameless before God, as regards his commandments and statutes (1.6). These are remarkable traits, highly esteemed among first-century Jews, and expected of the temple establishment.

Consider the details of the story: Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the temple and offer incense before God (1.8, 9). While before the Lord, he had a vision, a visitation from an angel of the Lord, Gabriel (1.11ff.). At Gabriel's appearance, Zechariah became afraid (1.12). After performing his service and receiving the vision, he exited the Holy Place to find the multitudes worried (1.21-23).

Consider one detail pertinent but lacking in this story: When the priest would offer incense in the Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, he would say a brief prayer before exiting. If the priest was to die inside, the other priests on duty would hve to retrieve his body without entering the Holy Place. Therefore, the prayer of the priest needed to be brief, lest the people grow concerned about his predicament. Two Jewish texts illustrate this:

Mishnah, Yoma 5.1: "He did not make the prayer long so as to frighten Israel."

Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 42c (regarding an incident that happened to a high priest, Shim'on the Righteous who served as high priest around 200 B.C.): "Once a certain high priest made a long prayer and [his fellow priests] decided to go in after him - they say this high priest was Shim'on the Righteous. They said to him: 'Why did you pray so long?' He said to them: 'I was praying that the temple of your God would not be destroyed.' They said to him: 'Even so, you should not have prayed so long.'"

So, when Zechariah exited the Holy Place in late fashion, the people waiting outside would have naturally been worried. When the angel of God appeared before Zechariah while he was offering the incense, he “was troubled when [Zechariah] saw [Gabriel], and fear fell upon [Zechariah]” (1.12). This was a natural reaction from Zechariah, as any activity out of the ordinary in the Holy Place may have spelled death for the priest. But the angel assured him to not be afraid, that his [customary] prayer had been answered (1.13). Luke does not say that Zechariah prayed. It is assumed by Luke that his reader, Theophilus, would have understood the procedure.

This story is told by Luke to demonstrate a faithful priest's actions, to show that this priest had God's favor, against whom Luke will later contrast the corrupt high priests.

Furthermore, Luke has shown that Jesus' forerunner, John, is of good priestly stock. Though John did not follow in his father's footsteps occupationally, his teachings were rooted in the temple establishment (for example, baptism as cleansing of sin). We will see why this is so important later. For now, let it be noted that at the very beginning of Luke's story about Jesus we find a faithful Jewish priest.

Read Luke 1.5-25, 57-80 and consider how Luke has set up his story about Jesus. Recall or reread the stories of John, and what he taught. Recall the instances in which Jesus behaves in seeming opposition to the temple establishment (such as his cleansing of the temple). Consider what Theophilus, the high priest of 37-41 A.D., might have been thinking after having read this far in Luke's story. Perhaps use elements of Zechariah's prayer as a prayer for yourself and/or your children.

Identifying Theophilus

December 10, 2006
Luke 1.1-4

Luke addresses his two-part story to a man named Theophilus. This name was relatively common among both Greeks and Jews in the first century. Because the title preceeding his name resembles those of other Roman officials' named in Luke's writings (Acts 23.26; 24.3; 26.25), "most excellent Theophilus" is generally assumed to have been a Roman official.

Consider this: Luke's Theophilus was the high priest of 37-41 A.D.. Some clues supporting this notion follow.

Josephus, a Jewish historian from the first century, catalogued the high priests of the second temple period (Wm. Whiston's editorial note in his translation of Josephus, War, n.635). Among them are Annas (8-15 A.D.); his five sons: Eleazar, Mattatthias, Annanas, Jonathan, and Theophilus (37-41 A.D.); his son-in-law (brother-in-law to Theophilus) Caiaphas (the high priest during Jesus' life); and his grandson (son of Theophilus) Matthias (65 A.D., the second-from-the-last high priest before the fall of the temple). An archaeological fact, this same Theophilus had a granddaughter named Yohannana, or Johanna (engraved on an ossuary, a bone box). Several of those named above are mentioned, whether overtly or by implication, in Luke-Acts. Among NT writers, only Luke mentions or alludes to Theophilus, Johanna, and Matthias. Annas is only elsewhere mentioned by John (18.13,24).

Johanna is mentioned in Luke 8.3 and 24.10. In fact, she holds a position shared by no other in Luke's writings: the key eyewitness in the climactic resurrection story. Luke makes certain his reader(s) recognizes Johanna's important eyewitness testimony by using a rhetorical device called a chiasmus. (A chiasmus is a rhetorical tool commonly used by ancient writers, and Hebrews especially. Sometimes there is a center-point for emphasis; other times it is used as a memory device, and there is no center point: for example, Matthew 6.24; 7.16-20.) Johanna is at the center (designated by the letter F) of Luke's chiasmus, a position normally reserved for key data:

A They remembered his words (rhematon).

B Having returned from the tomb, they reported all these things (tauta panta)

C to the Eleven

D and to all the rest/others (loipois).

E Now there were Mary Magdalene

F and Johanna

E' and Mary the mother of James

D' and the others (loipai) with them.

C' They were telling the Apostles

B' these things (tauta).

A' But these words (rhemata tauta) seeemed nonsense to them, and they did not believe them.

This construction is no accident. Because of her place at this crucial point in his story, Luke must have assumed that Johanna was an important eyewitness to his intial reader, Theophilus. Archaeologically verifiable, she was Theophilus' granddaughter.

For these reasons, and others which shall surface in time, it is safe to conclude that Luke's Theophilus was the high priest of 37-41 A.D., the son of Annas the high preist, the brother-in-law of Caiaphas, the grandfather of Johanna, and the father of one of the last high priests, Matthias.

Luke writes to Theophilus: "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to write an orderly account...that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed" (Luke 1.1-4). Theophilus was "informed" by his granddaughter Johanna, an "eyewitness...from the beginning". Apparently he was skeptical of her testimony. Luke therefore sought to confirm it, that Theophilus might come to believe it. This is why Luke wrote his Gospel.

Read Luke's prologue as a declaration of certitude and confidence pitched to a skeptic. Imagine how you might articulate the story of Jesus to those informed yet unbelieving. Consider why, or if, it is significant that Theophilus is identified, or identifiable. Would such an identification change your present understanding of Luke’s Gospel?


Some relevant details involving Acts:

Theophilus' son Matthias was the high priest in 65 A.D.. Phinneas followed him as the last high priest before the fall of Jerusalem. The priesthood was extremely corrupt in the first century. The Romans often appointed whomever they desired in official positions, such as high priest. Phinneas was chosen to be high priest by the casting of lots (Josephus, War 4.3.6 [147-8]; 4.3.7-8 [153-6]). While there is no evidence that Matthias was likewise chosen, it is ironic that Luke in Acts 1.21-26 briefly mentions the Eleven's selection of a man named Matthias via the casting of lots. This is not to say that Luke considers the newly selected apostle to be Theophilus' son. Rather, Luke shows that this new Jesus-movement is God-ordained, for in Acts they prayed to God and asked for his intervention - a detail lacking in Rome's selection process. Here, Luke is demonstrating the corruption of the priesthood and promoting the Jesus-movement to the high priest, Theophilus.

In Acts 4.6, Luke writes, "[gathered were] Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John[athan] and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family." Alexander aside and otherwise unknown (even in Josephus' list), everyone mentioned here is a member of Theophilus' family. The priesthood was seeking to condemn Peter and John for their healing of the lame man at the gate Beautiful (3.1-26), asking by what authority they performed this miracle (4.7). Peter's answer silences the high priestly assembly (4.13-17). Unable to find fault in the actions of Peter and John, the authorities release them with a mild warning (4.18-21). Here is another example of the priesthood's inferiority contrasted with to the work of God through the apostles' ministry. The apostles are victorious, the priesthood defeated. Theophilus would have taken notice here, no doubt recalling the story, received either through family tradition or as himself an eyewitness present in the events of Acts 4.

Luke makes much of Paul's persecution-mission as having been sactioned by the priesthood (Acts 9.1-2,14; 22.5; 26.12). Yet, Paul was converted to the cause which he persecuted. Again, here Luke demonstrates the corruption of the priesthood in contrast to God's victorious campaign through the apostles. What better way to make an example of this than by telling of Paul's conversion from the priesthood's cause to this new Jesus-movement, and in great detail, taking up more than half of Luke's story in Acts.


December 03, 2006
The Gospel of Luke

Who was Luke? Why did he write his Jesus story? And who was Theophilus?

There have been numerous answers to these questions throughout history. Tradition asserts that Luke was from Syria, that he was a physician; that he wrote to demonstrate God's plan to redeem the Gentiles; that Theophilus was a Roman statesman of some kind. It may seem as though answers to these questions really aren't important - indeed, even miss the point of Luke's Gospel: namely, that Jesus came, died and rose again to redeem mankind. This truth is not compromised by the efforts to answer the questions asked above. However, if we could know what Luke's agenda was, why he wrote his Gospel, and to whom he wrote it, we might better understand his perspective on telling of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. This study aims to make particular assertions regarding Luke's Gospel and the details unique to his version.

As you read through the entire Gospel this week, consider the effects those details unique to Luke have on his message. Familiarize yourself with Luke's Gospel, noting whatever of interest.


Welcome. This blog serves as a study guide for the Gospel of Luke. The aim is to draw attention to and make good sense of the details and pericopes unique to Luke's Gospel.

Providence Baptist Church in Pasadena, Tx, will be studying the Gospel of Luke from Christmans 2006 to Easter 2007. The material presented here is intended to suppliment that study. Audio copies of the messages from Providence will be available to anyone desiring them.

The time-stamp for each blog entry will not reflect the week for which that entry is designated. Instead, the appropriate date and selected text will be displayed at the top of each entry. Use the "Weekly Selections" section in the margin of the main page as a guide. Each selection is for one week's study. One may read the given selection prior to the date specified, allowing each Sunday to close out one's week in contemplative worship. Or one may begin reading the given selection on the date specified, allowing each Sunday to open up a new week of contemplative study. Application admonitions are included at end of each entry, written in bold print.

I have been researching Luke-Acts with my friend Richard Anderson for a few years now. He is awaiting publication of his book on Luke's Gospel, entitled In Search of Theophilus. The material presented here is the product of our research.

One final note: Though not essential to this study, I highly recommend accompanying your meditation with song. In particular, I recommend John Michael Talbot's work. He is a Fransiscan monk who has devoted himself to creating a rare musical style where folk meets liturgy, with full orchestration and choral accompaniment. There is a wonderful 2-disc edition of his greatest works, entitled The John Michael Talbot Collection: A Library of 35 Favorite Songs. Please consider purchasing a copy and meditating on the music with your studies.

Feel free to contact me via email: leedahn [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the Gospel of Luke.