Slides: Luke's Historiography

Slide 1

Luke 1:1-4 tells us much about sources available to Luke.

Written sources (1:1)

Oral sources (from eyewitnesses) (1:2)

Luke confirmed this with his own investigations (1:3)

Luke couldn’t “fudge,” since the material was already widely known in the early church (1:4)


Slide 2

Luke wrote between 60 and 90 (perhaps in the early 70s)

By the time he writes, many people have already written (1:1)

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.

This means that many had written about Jesus’ life and teachings within three decades of the events

Are the events of three decades before us shrouded in amnesia?


Slide 3

ORAL Sources (1:2)

Just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.

“handing down” is the technical language of oral traditioning

How accurate could this be?


Slide 4

How accurate was oral transmission?

We must consider memorization in antiquity

Notes; sayings collections

In the Gospels’ evidence for Aramaic rhythm

Prominence of eyewitnesses in the Church


Slide 5


Storytellers (hours!)

Orators (memoria)

Elementary education

Disciples of teachers

Primary responsibility

Pythagorean example

Would learn deeds as well

Gathered into “lives” and sayings collections



Slide 6

Note taking

Rabbis’ disciples mainly memorized (like a cistern that never loses a drop)

But could take notes

Greek disciples’ notes could be quite accurate

Arrian for Epictetus

Quintilian’s students


Slide 7

Aramaic rhythm

Jesus probably often spoke Aramaic

The bilingual Jerusalem church probably fairly quickly moved to Greek (Acts6)

But sayings were often translated so carefully they retain Aramaic figures of speech

When translated back into Aramaic, about 80% have discernable rhythm—as if given in an easily memorized form

One warning: back-translation remains difficult

e.g. one attempt to translate Sirach back into Hebrew was later refuted by a discovery of a Hebrew manuscript of Sirach

The translator was wrong in every verse!


Slide 8

Eyewitnesses remained prominent in the early Church

Leaders of church (Gal 2:1, 1Cor 15)

Would eyewitnesses die for a claim they knew to be false?

The Gospels cite women on the resurrection- despite the prejudice against women’s testimony


Slide 9

Luke also carefully “investigated” or had “thorough knowledge” (1:3)

Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning… (1:3)

Historians used wording to show “thorough familiarity”

Best Hellenistic historians traveled to interview sources

How about Luke?


Slide 10

When could Luke have checked out these sources?

“We” in Acts 16:10- ch.28

some claim “fictional” device

some claim left over from travel journal

but “we” normally means “we” (Nock)

That we would grant the claim to any other ancient historian but Luke says something about our biases

Includes 2 years spent with Paul in Judea



Slide 11

Luke appeals to what was already common knowledge in the Church

So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (1:4)

You don’t make up things that contradict what your hearers already know!

Similarly, Paul cites his audience’s knowledge of his miracles

Paul claims witnesses for the resurrection that anyone could check out (1 Cor 15:6)


Slide 12

Other Evidence:

Later debates central to the church are missing in the Gospels (incl. Lk)

-       Food laws (except Mk 7)

-       Gentiles (except Mk 7, Matt 8)

-       Circumcision (anywhere)

If the Church were making things up about Jesus, wouldn’t they have been a little more relevant to their time?


Slide 13

Paul, the earliest NT writer, sometimes attests what we have in the Synoptics

-       The resurrection tradition and witnesses (1 Cor 15)

-       The Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11)—“passed on”

-       The divorce saying (1 Cor 7)

-       Jesus’ end-time teachings (1 Th 4-5; 2 Th 2)

-       Possibly some of Jesus’ ethics (rom 12; 1 Th 4)

If writers were freely inventing stories

-       We wouldn’t have “Synoptic” Gospels

-       Or various parallels in John (which is mostly independent)

-       Noted, e.g., by E. P. Sanders


Slide 14

Acts Correspondences with External history in 13-28

. Attestation of Sergii Paulii (13:7)

. Iconium ethnically Phrygian (14:6)

. Unlike most towns, Lystra preserved local language (14:11)

. Zeus and Hermes paired in local inscriptions (14:12)

. From south, Derbe before Lystra (16:1)

. Thessalonica’s demo ? politarchs (17)

18:2 fits likeliest time of the expulsion


Slide 15

19:35 title of Ephesus chief officer was grammateus

He theos for Artemis: Ephesian inscriptions

19:38; custom of governor holding courts in assize districts in Roman Asia

20:4; form Beroiaios fits local inscriptions

21:31, 35, 40: archaeology confirms Luke’s topography of the temple

“Claudius” Lysias (23:26) fits recent citizenship-acquisition

Citizenship cheaper toward end of Claudius’ reign (22:28)

Slide 16

Ananias is the correct high priest at the time (23:2)

Felix’s tenure fits narrative date (23:24; 24:27)

Antipatris is the right stop between Jerusalem and Caesarea

. Also, the road is now known (23:31)

. Also the right place (among Gentiles) to relieve the infantry

Cilicia was under the Syrian governor in precisely this period (23:34)

Drusilla was married to Felix at this time (24:24, though he had two previous marriages)


Slide 17

Arrival of Porcius Festus at the right time (24:27)

Bernice was with Agrippa II at precisely this time (vs. her marriages; 25:13)

They were known to visit new officials (25:13)

In Act 27:1- 28:15:

. the itinerary, weather conditions, and sailors’ actions

. correct often down to minute details


Slide 18

Adolf von Harnack: Paul’s letter corroborate Acts (39 examples)

E.g., Jerusalem as starting place (Gal 2, Rom 15)

Persecution of Judean churches (1Th 2:14)

Judean churches kept law (Gal 2:12)

Paul wondered how Jerusalem church would accept him (Rom 15:31)

Twelve led Jerusalem church (Gal 1:17; 1Cor 15:5)

Barnabas as apostle, but not one of the Twelve (1Cor 9:5-6, 15:7)


Slide 19

Among 12, esp. Peter and John (Gal 2:9)

Peter as leader (Gal 1:18; 1Cor 15:5)

Peter made journeys (Ac 9; Gal 2:7-8, 11)

Lord’s brothers (not =12) (1Cor 9:5)

James heads “Lord’s brothers” and is important leader (1Cor 15:7; Gal 2:9, 12)

Barnabas as Paul’s chief coworker in earliest mission (Gal 2; 1Cor 9:6)

Mark closely connected to Barnabas (Ac 15:37; Col 4:10)

Silas as Paul’s companion, Timothy as subordinate (1Th 1:1; 2Cor 1:19)


Slide 20

Many members of Jerusalem at early period (1Cor 15:6)

Baptism used for initiation

Signs and wonders with apostles (2Cor 12:11-12)

Paul persecuted Christians (Gal 1:13-14; 1Cor 15:9; Phil 3:6)

Paul on par with Peter (Gal 2:7)

Paul converted near Damascus by revelation of the Lord (Gal 1:12; 1Cor 15:8)

Paul escaped Damascus in a basket from the wall (2Cor 11:32)



Slide 21

Paul went to Jerusalem afterward (Gal 1:18-19)

Paul ministered in Jerusalem (Rom 15:19)

Cities of Paul’s ministry in Acts 13-14 fit 2 Tim 3:11

Ac 13:38-39: fit Paul’s teaching about justification by faith

But not just Harnack……


Slide 22

Thomas Campbell’s chronology of Paul (slightly augmented)

Persecution (Gal 1:13-14)

Conversion (Gal 1:15-17a)

To Arabia (Gal 1:17b; not in Acts)

To Damascus (Gal 1: 17c)

To Jerusalem (Gal 1:18-19)

To Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:21)

To Jerusalem 14 years later (Gal 2:1-10)

Antioch (Gal 1:11)

To Philippi (1Thess 2, Phil 4:15-16)

To Thessalonica (1Thess 2:1-2)


Slide 23

To Athens (1Th 3:1-3)

To Corinth (2Cor 11:7-9)

To Ephesus (1Cor 16:8-9)

To Troas (2Cor 2:12)

To Macedonia (2Cor 2:13;8-9)

To Corinth (2Cor 9:4; 7:5)

To Jerusalem (Rom; 22-25)

To Rome (Rom 15:22-25)


Slide 24

Vielhauer’s critique of Luke “non-Pauline” theology

All agree that Luke wrote up the speeches in his own words

But students’ emphases may differ from teachers

Moreover, natural theology in Acts 17/Rom 1 close (Bruce, Porter, others)

Acts 9:20 (Son of God); 13:38-39 (justification)

Acts 20 even includes wording (“we” material)

Major problem in Vielhauer: Paul keeps law

But reflects Vielhauer’s theological misreading of Epistles (as often noted now)

Also 1Cor 9:19-23


Slide 25

Observations on Lukan historiography

Challenges where we would expect them

-       Acts 5:36-37 (speech behind closed doors)

-       Cf. Acts 25

Most accurate where we would expect for an ancient historian

-       Accurate and detailed in we-narratives

-       Fits chronological sequence wherever available in Paul’s letters

-       Preserves the substance of Mark (and “Q”) in the Gospel


Slide 26

The Speeches in Acts

About one-quarter of the book’s content

Many are apologetic:

- Answer Jewish charges (Acts 7)

- Paul’s defense speeches (Acts 22-26)

Others are evangelistic:

-       Synagogue sermon (Acts 13)

-       Proclamation to farmers (Acts 14)

-       To Philosophers (Acts 17)


Slide 27

Historians used speeches

To summarize likely speech-events

To communicate different points of view (practicing prosopopoiia)

To provide perspective on events


Slide 28

How accurate were speeches?

That depends on who wrote them and how much information they had:

Josephus on the speech at Masada

But usually followed basic thrust when available (Thucydides)

Later historians often simply rewrote earlier historians’ speeches

-       Hence substance put in new way


Slide 29

- Dibelius: historians rhetorically composed speeches

- yet even Livy follows basic substance

- truth somewhere between:

notes if they were present; gist

prosopopiia: knowledge (when available) of the speechmaker’s style and proper speechmaking technique

historical verisimilitude- get as close as possible

authentic by ancient standards

different genre than modern historiography


Slide 30

Compare Jesus’ sayings in Luke

Luke does edit to emphasize consistent themes (apostolic message)

But should have had access to the substance of those speeches

Speeches themselves considered historical events worthy of memory

Rhetorical historians elaborated- vs. Luke’s speech summaries.

Last modified: Sunday, April 7, 2019, 2:37 PM