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ClassicsOnline Home » NEW TESTAMENT (New Jerusalem version), Set 6: The Acts of The Apostles
The Spoken Word
Set One: The Early Letters of Paul – Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians
Set Two: The Mature Letters of Paul – Romans, Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon
Set Three: The Gospel according to Mark
Set Four: The Gospel according to Matthew
Set Five: The Gospel according to Luke
Set Six: The Acts of the Apostles
Set Seven: Letters and Documents
Set Eight: The Revelation to John
Set Nine: The Gospel according to John: 1 John
The scriptures, Old and New Testaments, were shaped into their present form over centuries. From a range of documents, first the Hebrew and later the Christian community selected certain writings authorised for reading in public liturgy. That is the whole point of the canons of scripture. The Christian Church adopted the Hebrew canon in its entirety as being part of its own canon. In arriving at their choice, our forebears also made decisions about the order in which the documents were to be placed within the canon. The New Testament possesses a rationality in its order, placing the story of Jesus first, followed by Luke’s account of the missionary growth of the church, then the body of letters and concluding with Revelation—a broad chronology of events.
I have chosen to arrange the recordings in the order of composition, so far as that order is generally agreed upon by scholars. The letters of Paul were written before any of the gospel accounts. Mark’s gospel was followed by Matthew, then Luke, a book in two halves, the second half being the Acts of the Apostles. John’s gospel can be read as a reflection back on the entire tradition.
My objective in making these recordings is to present the scriptures to my contemporaries in a manner that will, I hope, capture their imagination and attention. Most of the biblical books are finely nuanced, and it can take the art of reading to bring out those nuances. Through nuance we capture imagination. Each of these documents was a response to a need that passionately involved both the writer and their readers. We are able today, in some measure, to recapture what those circumstances were, and therefore approach the texts with a light unavailable in the past. In commencing with 1 Thessalonians, for example, we can listen as a people for whom there was nothing at all in writing relating to their new-found faith. In the letter, Paul’s own thinking is far from mature. Thessalonians shows us a community of faith just beginning to grapple with themes that have occupied Christians ever since.
Even by the last of Paul’s letters to be written, not one of the gospels has appeared. Paul knows little of the details of Jesus’ life and teaching. Even in the Judea of that period the stories of Jesus’ life must have been little known or little valued, since otherwise Paul would have been instructed during his times in Jerusalem. When Mark was published, it may have come as a shock and revelation to the whole church. By reading Mark after hearing Paul, we can enter in some measure into the experience of learning about the earthly life of Jesus against the background of the significance Paul has assigned to the man.
Mark presents a picture of Jesus that fits the Pauline theology of justification by faith. Matthew, writing a decade later, appears to shape his account to contradict Mark and show Jesus as the man of the Law, the establishment man. By reading Matthew after Mark and possibly as a reaction to Mark we bring new light to our understanding of both.
This arrangement of texts also allows the connection of Luke and Acts into the continuous narrative they were originally intended to be and which the placement of John’s gospel between them destroys. John’s gospel, and the first Letter of John, is placed at the end of this collection not only because they were written around the turn of the century, with just a few of the New Testament documents subsequent, but principally because this gospel provides a supreme reflection upon the whole tradition and makes a fitting climax.
Here, then, is an invitation to listeners to bring new life and understanding of the scriptures that I believe will, in turn, invigorate our engagement with the scriptures in all our manners of approach.
The New Jerusalem Bible translation
I use the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) for these readings and I am grateful to the publishers (Random House (US) and Darton, Longman & Todd), for their permission to read from their translation. There are a number of good translation options available but, to my ear, only one, the NJB, captures the sound of words with vividness. Others are essentially literary compositions, their focus being upon the printed page. The NJB is not without its weaknesses but, on the basis of the sound of its words, it stands head and shoulders above other contemporary translations.
Any gift that I may have which is expressed in these readings is just that—a gift received from the Spirit through the person of others. I owe an inestimable debt to my speech tutor of student days, John N Thompson, and to Dr Raymond Foster, whose enthusiasm for Jeremiah and Ezekiel set me on the path of a love for the scriptures. To my son, Jonathan, I owe all my skills with the computer, enabling the technical side of these recordings, while my wife Barbara and daughter Ruth have been my unfailing support, encouragement and critics. Strangely, the centrepiece of this acknowledgement belongs to five children, my grandchildren,
for whom I ventured into recording in order to create for them disks of stories and music.
The manner of the gift
How did it come about that I created these recordings? The story commences in mid-2006 as I was emerging from a long period of illness. During this period the daily morning and evening prayer offices of the church were my sustaining support. I began to record these offices and publish them on my website and on podcast, receiving considerable affirmation and support from many for the initiative.
The early broadcasts were poor in quality, both from the standard of equipment and my technical inexperience, but these gradually improved and the standards rose. Initially, I recorded each day’s office as a complete entity, but found that this consumed an immense amount of time—recording, editing and making ready for broadcast—and also brought variable quality, dependent as it was on my pressure, health and well-being on each day.
The logical next step was to record whole books of the Old and New Testaments and then break up the recordings into the tracks corresponding to the daily lections and that is what I proceeded to do. From that point it became a near-inevitable step to conceive the publication of the recordings in themselves, while a parallel development of conceptualisation took place regarding the philosophy behind the recording and their ordering, as recounted above. And so these recordings came to be. They remain for me indelibly planted in the spirituality of the prayer offices; for me, a gifting of the Spirit through me to the church.
For the prayer offices: www.genesis.net.nz.
David Guthrie, 2009
The Acts of the Apostles and The Gospel according to Luke
The Acts of the Apostles – Part II of the Gospel according to Luke
The church of the first centuries followed a logic in presenting the four gospel stories of Jesus, then the story of the early church. Likewise it followed a logic in grouping the three gospels that utilise the Markan text together then John’s gospel. The arrangement that became canonical, however, did violence to Luke’s work in that it divided his gospel in half, separated by the Gospel according to John. The Acts of the Apostles is in reality not a separate ‘book’ at all but simply the continuation of the Gospel according to Luke. It ought not even to be given a separate title for Luke’s ‘gospel’, that is to say, his message, is found in the whole story from its beginning in the nativity to its end in Rome.
Luke in the unfolding of the New Testament writings
The Spoken Word (TSW) records the New Testament over nine sets, of which the Gospel according to Luke is the fifth set, the midway point in physical production but also midpoint in the apostolic writings. The first of the these, Paul’s initial letter to the Thessalonians, appears in 50AD and the last of the writings (excluding the late 2nd century letters to Timothy and 2 Peter) are those of John (100AD for the gospel and probably 112 for the first letter of John). Luke’s gospel appears in the AD80s. In another sense, too, Luke appears as a midpoint in that all the earlier writings are absorbed in one way or another in the issue of the relationship of Jesus and his followers to Judaism. With Luke, that phase passes and new issues arise for the Christian community, most importantly, the relationship of Christianity to the Roman Empire.
So it can be helpful to see the place of Luke in the sweep of the New Testament writings and the dynamics of the apostolic church so far as it is possible to reconstruct this.
Paul and the early church
The first writings that have been preserved for us in the canon are the letters of Paul (TSW Sets 1 & 2), covering largely the years 50AD to 60AD. (The crucifixion probably occurred about 29AD.)It appears from Paul’s writing that neither he himself nor the early church generally had much knowledge of or concern for the details of Jesus’ life and teaching apart from his death and resurrection. Paul’s Jesus was essentially a mythic figure—though he had no doubt at all about his physical existence.
Mark’s gospel, (TSW Set 3) emerging in 64AD, probably after the death of Paul, and comes as a new development for the church, a focus on the concrete life and teaching of Jesus. even so, this was not a factual account of his life in any modern sense but a presentation of Jesus in the light of Paul’s theology of the gospel. Mark’s gospel was followed a decade later by Matthew’s parallel account though presenting a very different vision of Jesus and his teaching. (TSW Set
What marks all of these writings is that they were centrally concerned with shaping the way the gospel was to be proclaimed to the gentile world, but at the heart of the concerns throughout is the issue of how this gospel relates to the religion of Judaism from which it has emerged. The apostolic church was deeply divided on this issue, reflected in the polemical tone of Paul’s letters and in the radical difference between the two gospels of Mark and Matthew.
The appearance of Luke/ Acts
Roughly a decade after Matthew, the Gospel according to Luke appears. This gospel is a two-volume work, unfortunately split in the traditional canon by the interposition of the Gospel of John between Volume 1 (The ‘Gospel’) and Volume 2 (the Acts of the Apostles (TSW Set 6).
Who was Luke?
We have no idea who wrote this gospel under the name of Luke. It is unlikely that it was ‘Luke the physician’ mentioned by Paul, as a generation has passed between them, though he remains a possibility. All we can say is that Luke was a gentile and an educated man with a fine command of Greek. When he writes he uses Mark’s gospel as the basis of his text and almost certainly knows Matthew. He also has sources of stories about Jesus that owe nothing to either of the previous accounts.
What differentiates Luke from Mark and Matthew however is, first, his scope of story, which covers from the birth of Jesus to the imprisonment of Paul in Rome some 60 years later; second, the entire cultural milieu for which he is writing and his radically different objective.
Reason for writing
The prologues to each volume state that Luke is writing for a Roman official and recounting the story of Jesus and the early Church. We are left tantilised by these words for we do not know anything about who this official was or why he would want to read this account. There are many conjectures. The most likely scenario, judging from the tenor of the whole two-volume work, is that this was a Roman official of influence as to how the Christian community would be treated by the empire. Luke writes his account to convey the message to the empire that Jesus and the followers who now comprise the church were and are good citizens of the empire: that Christianity was a religion worthy of support and encouragement by the authorities. The teaching of Jesus is portrayed in a manner that projects it as socially responsible and creative of good relationships and healthy society. In very respect, Jesus was an influence for good and for healing.His death was at the instigation of the Jewish authorities and against the judgement of a wise Roman governor. Paul’s whole ministry was that of a good Roman citizen and at every point in his missionary work he was protected by the Roman authorities who recognized his quality and innocence. The Christian communities springing up around the empire are focused on moral behaviour in contrast to the rampant immorality of pagan society.
If this interpretation of Luke is correct, then his writing stands, as noted earlier, at the point of transition between the Christian community’s preoccupation with its relationship to Judaism and its later focus on its relationship with the empire. In the short term it would seem that Luke did not succeed in his aim for the empire was to turn against Christianity and persecute the church, the situation vividly captured in the Revelation to John (TSW Set 8). Perhaps, though, it played a real and subtle part in the eventual acceptance and embrace of Christianity by the empire.
How accurate is Luke’s account of the church and Paul’s life in the Acts of the Apostles?
When we come to assess the accuracy of Luke’s story in Acts we do come up against some problems, most particularly because his account of Paul’s life following his conversion differs markedly and importantly from Paul’s own words in his letter to the Galatians. This is not just idle scholarly interest but a question that goes to the heart of how Paul arrived at and developed his unique approach to the gospel. At a factual level the two accounts cannot be reconciled but it is possible that Paul was ‘foreshortening’ his life-story to make a point and that Luke does tell the factual account. Luke, however, seemed to have been unaware of the Galatian letter.
It would appear that Luke had access to an extraordinary document covering the last period of Paul’s life for the account, much of it, is in the first person and reads as a fully credible story witnessed at first hand.
Why does not Luke record what happened to Paul?
For a modern reader, Luke’s two-volume gospel concludes anti-climatically. He gives us a long and detailed account of Paul’s arrest, trial and dangerous journey to Rome, his greeting by the Jewish elders in Rome—and there leaves the story, hanging in the air. It may well be that his first-person source account finished at this point for some reason. Did Luke know what happened to Paul and chose not to tell us? Or did he not know what became of Paul? It is only late tradition that informs us that Paul was martyred: it nowhere states this in the New Testament or in any reliable source from the era. Indeed, one strand of the tradition has Paul going on to complete his mission to Spain.
If Luke did know that Paul was executed, it is possible that he chose deliberately not to include this because of the nature of the message of his work as communicating to the empire Christianity’s ‘good citizen’ profile. He may have considered that to end the story with an execution of Paul would destroy the credibility of the message to the Roman authorities. Or he may have considered that to narrate Paul’s death would take away from the central passion narrative of Jesus’ death. We simply cannot know and must live with the puzzle.
Luke for us
The four gospel accounts that have come to us in the canon were not the only first and second century efforts at recording a life of Jesus. The significance of the four ‘chosen’ gospels is that it was the judgement of the church, arrived at over several centuries, that these accounts were as close to authentic as possible. Each of them portrays Jesus in a different light, governed by their objective in writing and their theological and cultural framework of thinking.
In many respects, Luke, the Greek gentile, lies closer to the Western cultural frame than do either Mark or Matthew and, indeed, his concern, if the above conjecture is close to the truth, is closer to our concerns also as Christians living in the modern world and especially as we endeavour to reconnect modern scientific society with its spiritual roots in Christianity and indeed commend Christianity to the wider world as the foundation for a global culture. At a personal level, Luke provides a firm foundation for responsible Christian living in society.
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