This blog is a series of reflections on Luke’s gospel. The author – let’s call him Theophilus – is not a New Testament scholar. He claims no particular authority as a commentator on Luke, except to the extent that any of his reflections may make sense to the reader.
A chart showing the relationship between Luke’s gospel and those of Matthew and Mark is available by clicking here: Synopsis A. An explanation of the chart can be found by clicking here: Explanation of Synopsis A. The chart is a work in progress. Please do not copy or distribute the chart without the author’s permission.
In previous blogs I illustrated Luke’s method of repeated iterations of working forwards through Matthew by means of a table of textual units. I have now made a coloured chart of this relationship available via the link above, together with an explanation of the chart via a separate link. In what follows I will be referring to the coloured chart in my continuing explorations of the relationship between Luke’s gospel and Matthew’s. Because the chart gives the chapter and verse references to the passages I will be mentioning, I won’t clutter things up by repeating the references below.
To summarise the last few blog-posts in terms of this new chart, the blue sequence is about Jesus’s preparations to speak. This includes his temptation in the desert and his preliminary statement in the Nazareth synagogue. The purple sequence is about Jesus preparing his disciples to listen, and includes all the main stories of the calling of the disciples. The pink sequence is about Jesus speaking, and about listening to the Word. It starts with the Sermon on the Plain and ends with the Parable of the Sower, the latter being all about listening to the Word. After the Parable of the Sower Luke inserts some sayings by way of commentary on the parable, including Jesus’s admonition (unique to Luke) to “pay attention to how you listen.” All of this has been covered in my earlier posts.
We now come to the yellow (or cream) sequence. Like the previous sequences, Luke has constructed the yellow sequence by jumping back in Matthew and then moving gradually forwards, choosing what to use and what to omit from Matthew, always guided by the particular theme that he (Luke) wishes to emphasise. The pink sequence had taken Luke up to Matthew Chapter 13. To start the yellow sequence he now jumps back to the stilling of the storm (in Matthew Chapter 8). As we shall see, the yellow sequence will eventually take Luke all the way forward to Matthew 17 (including the Transfiguration) and slightly beyond into Matthew 18. I am going to suggest that the main theme of the yellow section is that Jesus himself (not just what he says or does) is the Word of God.
In the lead up to presenting Jesus as the Word, Luke chooses three stories that illustrate the power of Jesus’s word. The first of these is the stilling of the storm. Jesus and the disciples set out in a boat to cross the lake (Lake Galilee). On the way a squall of wind gets up, threatening to swamp the boat with water. Jesus wakes from his doze, “rebukes” the wind and the waves, and all becomes calm. The disciples ask one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!”
A key feature of this story is that it is Jesus’s word (his “command”) which causes the wind and waves to be stilled. It is this responsiveness of the forces of nature to Jesus’s word that prompts the disciples to ask “Who is this?” Interestingly, in Matthew’s version of the story, which is identical in most other respects, the disciples ask, “What kind of man is this?” Luke, it seems, wanted to emphasise that there is more at stake in the disciples’ question than merely “what is he like?,” or “to whom should we compare him?”. With that in mind it is surely significant that a consequence of Luke’s method of selecting from Matthew is that the disciples’ question, “Who is this?,” in response to the stilling of the storm, is brought much closer to Jesus’ later question, “Who do the people say that I am?” The latter question comes at a central point in the yellow sequence, and leads to Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Christ of God.” The one whose word has power over nature must have a very special relation to the One whose Word created nature.
In Matthew the stilling of the storm is followed by the story of Jesus ordering the demons out of two demon-possessed men into a herd of pigs, causing the pigs to rush down a steep bank into the sea. Luke retains this story but makes a significant change to it. In Luke, Jesus meets just one demon-possessed man, not two, and when he asks the man his name he replies “Legion,” because “many demons had gone into him.” In Luke’s version, therefore, Jesus confronts not just an unspecified plurality of demons but an army of them. In the same way that the preceding story showed the power of Jesus’ word over nature, Luke thus emphasises the power of Jesus’ word over evil. And not just power over individual instances of evil, but power over the forces of evil in their fully organised might.
The next two stories in Matthew are the healing of the paralytic and the call of Matthew/Levi, which Luke (for reasons outlined in a previous blog) had already chosen to include in the ‘purple’ section, the theme of which was being called and made ready to listen. The next story in Matthew concerns the healing of two women: Jairus’s daughter and (on the way to that healing) the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak. Luke makes some additions to Matthew’s version of the latter incident. One is that we are told that the woman had spent all her money on physicians in the hope of a cure, a detail perhaps weighted with some irony if Luke was, as tradition has held, a physician himself! Another difference is that in Luke’s version Jesus turns round and asks who touched him. When Peter points out that the crowd are pressing round him, Jesus replies, “Someone touched me, for I know that power has gone out of me.” I suggest that Luke’s reason for adding this detail is that it points to the fact that Jesus embodies a certain kind of power; a power that we have just seen used to exercise authority over the forces of nature and the forces of evil.
After this, Luke skips two short stories of Matthew’s, the healing of two blind men and a man who was mute. He also skips the sayings about the people being like sheep without a shepherd, and about the harvest being plentiful but the workers few. This brings Luke (in his walk through Matthew) to the calling of the twelve disciples. Luke had already used the call of the disciples in his purple (calling) section. However, he does now pick up the story of the sending of the twelve. Significantly, where Matthew reports Jesus sending the disciples to preach and to heal, Luke says that Jesus, “called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and power to cure diseases.” Note: power and authority.
Again, then, Luke seems to have made a subtle alteration to Matthew’s version of the story in a way that ties in with the theme he has been drawing out of the whole yellow sequence so far, namely the power of Jesus’s person and word. Having found that he (Luke) was able to use this sequence of fairly closely connected passages from Matthew, with minor additions, to bring out the theme of Jesus’s power, he now jumps a full three chapters ahead in Matthew to the story of Herod’s perplexity:
“I beheaded John,” Herod said, “but who is this man I hear such things about?”
In the next post I will suggest that the remainder of Luke’s yellow sequence amounts to an answer to the question, “who is this man?”