Friday, January 05, 2007

Luke and Inspiration

This is a continuation, in a way, of what I wrote earlier today on “Interpreting Jesus.” Since the summer, I have been slowly reading Walter Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament (having come out of a long theological and biblical slumber). So far, I have been intrigued by the vision of the OT as a complex conversation (debate, disputation?) about the God of Israel - a conversation we, in our own way, continue. The point, I think, is not that there is no truth, but that the truth is complex, dense, thick. There is no knock down argument to once and for all win the argument. Perhaps, then, the point is to continue the conversation honestly, faithfully, openly.

The interpretation of the Older Testament as a conversation about God holds also, I believe, for the Newer Testament. This week, I have been studying Luke chapter 1. Read Luke’s preface to his account of Jesus in Luke 1:1-4:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.


Here are some points that strike me about this passage.

First, “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” Numerous people have written Gospels, accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Every Gospel is unique, and every Gospel was written by a different person with a different voice, a different perspective, and different sources. When you read the four Gospels, especially in the original Greek, you are struck by the truth of this.

Second, these accounts record what was “ handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” Luke and the other Gospel writers are for the most part second or third generation followers of Jesus, putting in writing what was handed orally to them.

Third, by his own testimony, Luke’s Gospel is a human work, a product of the author’s careful investigation. Luke is testifying to the truth of what he has written down. His intention as an author is to convince Theophilus (‘friend of God’) of the truth of the narrative he is beginning. See also the beginning of his sequel to Luke in Acts 1:1-2 - “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Who wrote the first book? “I” did, says the author.

I believe that the Bible is inspired testimony, by many authors, of God’s character and actions in the world. But for a Christian view of biblical inspiration, you have to look to scripture itself. I believe Luke’s testimony, that he actually wrote Luke and Acts. If you could go back in time and find the author of Luke and ask him, no doubt he (?) would tell you that he wrote it. He would also tell you that he believes in what he wrote, and believes it is an accurate account of Jesus’ life and ministry. He might even tell you he was inspired to write it. What he probably would not express to you is a belief in the inerrancy of what he wrote, or a belief that he was nothing but a tool in God’s hand, a word processor for God.

In any case, a view of divine inspiration of Scripture has to respect the nature of the works of Scripture. You misread Paul’s letters, for example, if you deny that they are actually letters, by Paul, to other Christians.

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