Luke’s (Almost Scribal) Portrait of Jesus image

Luke’s (Almost Scribal) Portrait of Jesus

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Everybody knows the Gospel writers have different interests, and present their portrait of Jesus accordingly. Matthew is into the Torah and fulfilment of Jewish prophecy, Luke loves Gentiles, the poor and women, and so on. But I admit to never having noticed the differences between Luke's portrait of Jesus, in which Jesus is portrayed as having an almost scribal level of scriptural expertise, and Mark and Matthew's rather simpler, more everyday carpenter. That difference, and its relationship to Luke's famous comment in Acts 4:13, was the subject of a very interesting research seminar I've just been to, by Professor Chris Keith from St Mary's Twickenham.

The paper was entitled, “The Oddity of the Reference to Jesus in Acts 4:13b.” (I believe it has already sold out in paperback, before you ask.) As often happens with research seminars, I found the statement of the problem more compelling than the proposed solution, and continue to take Acts 4:13 in the same way many of you do: as a statement about the surprising boldness that comes from having been with Jesus, rather than (as many scholars take it) a statement about the similarity between the disciples’ and Jesus’ lack of education. But the central premise - that Luke deliberately adapts Mark’s (and Matthew’s) account to emphasise Jesus’ competence in the scriptures - was firmly established. I’d never even thought about it before. For instance:

-  When commenting on the authority of Jesus, Luke removes the phrase “and not as their scribes” which appears in the other Gospels (4:32; cf. Mark 1:22; Matt 7:29).
- In Mark and Matthew, Jesus is rejected on the basis that he is a carpenter, or a builder (Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55), a career which is closely linked to the charge of ignorance (Sirach 38:24-39:2 contrasts the tektōn with the scribe, explaining that the former “do not attain eminence in the public ekklēsia”; see also 4Q266 5.2.1-4). In Luke, on the other hand, Nazareth takes offence at Jesus as the son of Joseph, rather than specifically as a carpenter, and at the content of his message. In fact, from Luke alone, you wouldn’t even know Jesus was a carpenter, probably because carpenters were non-scribal by definition.
- Luke begins his Gospel with a priestly family who are related to Jesus, and begins the story of Jesus with him mastering the scriptures in the temple as a boy, which the other Gospels omit (2:46-47).
- Luke ends the story of Jesus with him teaching the disciples everything in the scriptures, and marvelling at their inability to grasp it (24:25-27, 44-47), which the other Gospels omit.
- Matthew and Mark have the scribes implying that Jesus has no biblical training. By contrast, Luke 4:16 says that Jesus had a “custom” of teaching in the synagogues.

In other words, Luke adapts Mark whenever Mark draws a sharp distinction between Jesus and other religious teachers. Mark emphasises the dissimilarities; Luke emphasises the similarities. Mark cares about the uniquely stand-alone nature of Jesus’ teaching authority; Luke cares about his biblical expertise and competence. Chris Keith’s proposed explanation for this fact is that, in writing Acts, Luke was repeatedly confronted with the scribal and scriptural expertise of Paul, and he therefore wrote his Gospel in such a way as to stress that Jesus was an even better interpreter of the Bible than Paul was. But whatever the explanation, the observation - that Luke presents Jesus as an expert in the scriptures - seems accurate. Fascinating, right?

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