Theology in 3D

Luke’s Redaction and the Holy Spirit

Greg Stiekes | September 28, 2018
New Testament

My previous post, “Redaktionsgeschichte in the Gospels” suggested that redaction criticism may be used as a heuristic tool in determining the theological emphases of the men the Spirit led to write the Gospels. In response to a few questions that this idea raised, I would like to illustrate how I used redaction criticism in preaching through a series in Luke-Acts. For example, in Luke 3:21–22, Luke writes,

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Because we are dealing with Luke we can be reasonably confident that Luke has his eye on previous gospel material as he composes his own gospel. Besides the critical arguments that can be made for Luke’s dependence upon Mark and, for many, Matthew as well, there is also the fact that for most of church history it has been assumed that Luke was third to compose a Gospel. Furthermore, Luke actually tells us at the beginning of his gospel that he is using sources from “many” (polloi) who have undertaken the same project of setting down the ministry of Jesus in writing. This boosts our confidence that a comparison between Luke and the other Synoptic Gospels can be fruitful in terms of what Luke may have changed.

When we place Luke’s account of Jesus’s baptism alongside that of Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts we note several striking differences. First, we see that Luke’s account is the shortest. The brevity of Luke’s account is in itself is no theological discovery; but it should at least make us curious to discover why, if Luke has the longest Gospel account, he has contributed the fewest amount of words to this important event compared to the other evangelists. Second, we notice that when compared to the other two accounts Luke has effectively marginalized the ministry of John the Baptist. John does not appear in Luke’s story. If we had only Luke’s Gospel, in fact, we would be left only to infer that John had baptized Jesus and we would not know for certain that he had done so. Third, in Matthew 3:13–17 and Mark 1:9–11 it appears that the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus immediately after he is baptized (both accounts use the word euthus). For example, Mark says, “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove” (Mark 1:10). But in Luke, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus after he is baptized and is praying (Luke 3:21). Luke is the only author who mentions that Jesus is praying when the Holy Spirit comes upon him. In addition, Luke emphasizes the tangibility of the manifestation of the Spirit, saying that the Holy Spirit descended “in bodily form.”

Because I am simply illustrating a process I am going to stop there and analyze these baptism account differences only. But let me add to the baptism account one other contrast between Matthew and Luke regarding a different pericope. In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus states,

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:7–11).

But when Luke uses this same material in a different context, there is a noticeable difference in a single detail:

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9–13).

Matthew’s “good things” becomes Luke’s “Holy Spirit.” Furthermore, Luke is obviously emphasizing the Holy Spirit in his context. Following this statement by Jesus we find Luke’s account of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:14–23), followed by the account of the return of the unclean spirit (Luke 11:24–26).

So, how do these observations inform a theology of Luke? Briefly put, it is obvious based on these and other instances of redaction in Luke that Luke is making theological observations about the giving of the Holy Spirit that go beyond what the other evangelists emphasize.

First, regarding the absence of John from this account, it seems to me likely that Luke is leaving John out of the picture for a particular reason. And the only reason that makes sense to me is that Luke is writing his account in a way that is consistent with the setting aside of John’s baptism in favor of the baptism of Christ in connection with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Luke will illustrate this very idea again in Acts 19:1–7, his account of Paul’s coming to Ephesus and meeting the disciples of John who had been baptized with John’s baptism.

[Paul] said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:2–6).

So, in his account of Jesus’s baptism, Luke prepares the way for the emphasis that he will place in his writing on the baptism of Christ and the receiving of the Holy Spirit.

Also, with reference to Jesus’s praying Luke is setting up what he will recount for us in Acts 2. For, in Acts 2 we find a scene analogous to Jesus’s baptism. In Luke 3, Jesus is praying when the Holy Spirit anoints him in a very visible form. In Acts 2, the disciples of Jesus are praying when the Holy Spirit anoints them in a very visible form. Luke, then, is making a direct connection between what happened to Jesus and what has happened to the followers of Jesus.

Furthermore, the idea of praying and receiving the Spirit is augmented in Luke 11:9–13 as shown by the contrast with Matthew 7:7–11.

In preaching through Luke-Acts, therefore, it seemed very clear to me by comparing Luke to the other evangelists that Luke is heavily emphasizing the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and that the changes Luke makes in the gospel material he has inherited are designed to augment that emphasis. For instance, it struck me when studying for this sermon series for the first time that Acts is not merely about the spread of the gospel, but also the spread of the Spirit. It caused me to see Peter’s invitation more clearly in Acts 2:38. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will …” have a home in heaven? Realize that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? No, “… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Going back to the discussion that ensued from the previous post, then, could I have noted these differences between Luke and the other authors without any reference to redaction criticism? The answer is, of course, yes. The differences between the Gospel pericopes have been noted as early as the four Gospels were published together in the second century. But I would make two other observations in favor of exercising the tools of redaction criticism on the Gospels. First, if I were not comparing Luke to the other evangelists with a redaction critical approach, I wonder if I would have noted these differences in the first place and attached appropriate significance to them. Second, without a theory that assigns theological motivation to the evangelists, our observations about the differences between gospel pericopes can be nothing more than a study about how to reconcile them historically or perhaps to fill out the story in our preaching. But redaction criticism is not about merely noting and reconciling differences, but about assigning theological motivation to an evangelist for purposefully changing the way a gospel tradition came to him, telling the story in a way that emphasizes or deemphasizes the elements of an account, or adds or subtracts information. The question, then, is not whether I would have noticed these differences but what I should make of them.

4 responses to “Luke’s Redaction and the Holy Spirit”

  1. William Bump says:

    I have found these last two posts very fascinating. As an “old” pastor I remember the concern we had concerning the critical use of redaction history in their attempt to undermine the authority of the Bible. How do you keep from slipping down that slope while properly using this method, especially while using critical resources?

    • Greg Stiekes says:

      As an “old” pastor, you’re actually more contemporary with redaction criticism than younger pastors! Your question is of the utmost importance for anyone trying to use a study tool that was produced by those who looked at the Bible more as a historical document that needed explaining than first and foremost the Word of God that needs to be understood by faithful believers and followed. To answer briefly, we make sure we are not misusing the idea that an author used his material differently than another by keeping in mind that we are merely trying to understand how the Lord led the human authors to write the very word of God. In other words, we are treating the Bible as a divine book written by human authors led by the Spirit, not as a merely human book. That’s the key difference. In Hans Conzelmann’s introduction to his commentary on Luke that he wrote from a redaction critical viewpoint, he asks the question, “Did Luke imprint on this Gospel his own views?” And, “What in this Gospel comes from Luke’s sources and what belongs to him alone?” Those are merely the questions of a historian that he might ask of any other book. And I do not have a huge issue with those questions, however, as long as whatever Luke does he does through the leading of the Holy Spirit as an orthodox Bibliology teaches. If we maintain that viewpoint, our inquiry into how an author may have emphasized a theological point in the way he authored his gospel can be fruitful. So it’s not so much the methodology of redaction criticism that determines the outcome as it is the presuppositions.

  2. […] William Bump on Luke’s Redaction and the Holy Spirit […]

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