March 26, 2023


Luke as Historian (Paul Krause, 3/26/23, Voegelin View)

The world of biblical analysis seems to have two poles in the public imagination. One popular, generally atheistic, and horribly ignorant: the gospels were written--this analysis goes--long after the death of Jesus and passed through oral transmission and are incredibly garbled and unreliable in their final composition. Moreover, they have the trappings of mythopoetic construction. The other analysis, deeply scholarly and scholastic, built on a multitude of familiarity with ancient texts, asserts that while the synoptic gospels were written several decades after the life of Jesus, they fit the genre of ancient biography (and history) and are modeled on the writings of the ancient historians, and are generally reliable texts concerning the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In his newly published and eminently readable introduction to the vexing questions of Lukan historiography, John J. Peters provides the best cursory introduction to the multifaceted issues that face graduate students and biblical scholars on matters of New Testament historiography. Moving beyond the now largely discredited form criticism of the Rudolf Bultmann and his disciples, Peters provides a readable and well-argued case for Lukan historiography as part of the Greco-Roman literary genre of biography and eye-witness history. Luke among the Ancient Historians, in no qualified terms, argues that the author of Luke "represented himself as a historian of contemporary events." While this is a generally well-known and accepted position in biblical studies, it may come as a surprise to some, skeptic and faithful alike. Wasn't Luke reporting hearsay passed down through multiple generations of oral transmission whose work detailing the life of Christ mirrors mythological poetry as the indoctrinated Neanderthals of the New Atheism like to claim? And wasn't Luke "divinely inspired" and not writing like the ancient historians who shun the muses and God-breathed inspiration as most of the innocently faithful have likely been told? No, and no!

To understand the genre of Luke's gospel, one must understand the various hermeneutical approaches to the New Testament. Further, one must understand how these approaches change over time. The once dominant school known as form criticism, which asserted the New Testament writings based on their literary tropes and patterns were synthesized from preceding generations of oral transmission, is now largely abandoned by most historical critical scholars. While the typical graduate student in biblical studies will be introduced to form criticism in their studies (as I was at Yale), which Peters does for the reader in his opening pages, this introduction to form criticism is simply meant to provide some background to broader New Testament historiographical debates and not meant to be taken as the dominant scholarly paradigm. "Luke-Acts," Peters writes, "belongs to the broad genre of Greco-Roman historiography." Our eminent guide then proceeds to provide the brief history of how the acceptance of the gospels as biography akin to the writings of the ancient historians came to predominate biblical studies and supersede the old form criticism of the past.

Posted by at March 26, 2023 12:00 AM