Reviews of

John Moles, “The Lukan Preface”

In Durham, Greek Prologue, John MOLES, Justin A. Mihoc, Luke-Acts, New Testament, SEMINAR REPORTS on May 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm

This is a report on a paper presented by Professor John Moles, Professor of Latin in the School of Historical Studies, Newcastle University, at the New Testament Research Seminar at the Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, 9th of May 2011.

The list of forthcoming papers in the NT Research Seminars at Durham University can be found here.

In a very engaging and interesting presentation, Prof Moles assessed the highly problematic and complex preface of Luke’s Gospel and its homologous secondary preface in Acts. The Lukan preface is relevant not only in the attempt to identify the genre of the work, but also to discover the author’s intention and objectives. The Lukan preface shows a unified piece of text, showing unity of theme and treatment at the same time, and it is detached from the diegesis. The two books are pieces of historiography, incorporating elements of biography and philosophy.

Prof Moles commences his study with two basic assumptions: the unity of Luke-Acts and the double prologue (the preface to Luke is continued in Acts with a second preface). Following them, he addressed the long disputed question of genre of the Lukan writings. Luke-Acts does not belong to merely one literary genre, but is characterised by boundary-crossing and interpenetration between the Classical types. A close analysis of Luke 1:1-4 shows many standard elements of Greek prose preface, denoting Luke’s competence and knowledge of Classical literature. Also, clear religious elements can be seen: the name Theophilos, which can signify both ‘loving God’ and ‘loved by God;’ the ‘eyewitnesses and servants of the word,’ clearly meaning God’s Λόγος; Theophilos is named ‘most powerful’ (after a plain literal translation of κράτιστε Θεόφιλε), contrasting with the (corrupt) political power. Luke’s work is a word about the Word of God, and Theophilos (who is also in contrast with the ‘God-fighters’ in Acts 5:39) refers to every Christian reader of Luke-Acts.

Analysing the structure of the preface, Moles sees the basic structure of Greek governmental decree and identifies three fundamental elements: the initial ‘since’ clause (1:1); ‘it seems good’ main clause (1:3); and the final ‘so that’ clause (1:4). The use of this type of structure by the author could only indicate a claim of authority. Following Charles Talbert’s view (Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts, SBLMS 20, Missoula: Scholars, 1974), Moles relates to the Gospel as the foundation text, Acts being the succession text. He substantiates that the text is concerned with political and philosophical dogmas, and that the strong philosophical side of Acts is already overshadowed in Luke’s preface.

A point of great interest for the author of Luke-Acts seems to have been the use of road imagery. Thus, the words ‘having closely followed’ (1:3) lead the reader into the narrative. The text is presented as a road to salvation, Christianity is a safe road (see Jn 14:6: ‘I am the road, and the truth, and the life…’). The narrative is full of roads: philosophical, theological, Christological etc. In Greek literature a road doesn’t always signify something else, but as Moles observes ‘a road in Luke-Acts is hardly only a road.’ The road imagery is common in both Classical philosophy and historiography. Also, Moles emphasises the ‘upness and downness’ pattern; everything in Luke-Acts seems to follow this model (buildings, people, roads etc.). Following this, the author draws attention to the ‘little and big’ pattern: little history with big impact, a little preface for a long narrative, a little hero (Paulos) that does great things. The key word in Lk 1:1-4 seems to be ἀσφάλεια (translated by Moles with truth/ security/ safety/ un-slipperiness) and represents the telos of the prologue. Luke-Acts begins with the Creation and ends with the Eschaton (cf. Acts 1:1: ‘all that Jesus began to do and teach’). ἀσφάλεια, which can be a legal/financial term, can mean both ‘truth’ but also that this is a ‘true account of the truth’ (Christianity seen as the truth).

In the attempt to define the literary genre of Luke-Acts, Moles pays special attention to comparisons with Greek/Classical historiography and Biography. He sees clear parallels with Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy and, possibly, Polybius. With Herodotus ‘(besides inscriptional imagery): “equation” of theme and treatment (L.’s “word about the word”, “road about the road”; H.’s History a “demonstration of deeds demonstrated”); use of Λόγος for “historical account”, characterisation of the theme as neuter “things”, followed by a middle/passive verb; use of verb “become”; concern with “beginnings”; use of αὐτόπται; “road imagery”, including the idea of text as journey; claim to represent the Truth; and inversion of “big things” and “small things”.’ (from Prof Moles’ handout) There seem to be even more parallels with the prefaces of Thucydides, as the author observes; ‘(besides inscriptional imagery): “equation” of theme and treatment (Thuc. 1.1.1); epexegetic ὡς-clause (Thuc. 1.1.1.); emphasis on eyewitness testimony (Thuc. 1.22.3); “it seemed to me” formula (Thuc. 1.22.1-2); emphasis on completeness (Thuc. 1.22.1-2; emphasis on ἀκρίβεια (Thuc. 1.22.2); emphasis on truth; claim to represent the Truth; notion that history consists of deeds and words (Thuc. 1.22.1-2); idea that the reader “looks” at the historical work; visual element emphasised in two contexts: the testimony of the original eyewitnesses and the “visualness” of the final text (Thuc. 1.22.3-4); contrast between the oral/aural and the written in favour of the latter; use of παρα-compounds; and concern with “beginnings” (Thuc. 1.23.4). Also parallel from Thucydides’ “second preface” in Book 5, are epexegetic ὡς-clause (5.26.1); “writing … in order” (5.26.1); a series of events from beginning to end (5.26.4); and a direct relationship between “all” of them and the historian, productive of ἀκρίβεια (Thuc. 5.26.5).’ (from Prof Moles’ handout) Other parallels include an unresolved ending and a lot of travel narratives. Thucydides is a historian of civil strives, as Luke intends to be also (cf. Acts 17; 24/ status upheaval). With Livy, Luke shares among other elements the ‘notion of falling or not-falling’. When such a comparison is made, one could easily conclude that Luke writes historiography (of the type of res gestae) and that he situates himself among the historians of his time.

There are also some traces of biography such as the ‘word’ as Jesus and the addressee. At the same time the biography of Jesus continues in Acts and beyond (Acts 1:1: ‘Jesus began to do and teach’). Therefore, it can be said with a high level of certainty that the preface of Luke is a mix of historiography and biography. Acts, however, seems to have more historiographycal elements than Luke. In the case of Luke-Acts, we are dealing with a Christian appropriation of classical literary genres.

Finally, Prof Moles raises the questions of title and authorship of Luke-Acts, stating that in that period the titulus along with the name of the author were written on the exterior (binding) of the book. The title must have been derived from the first lines, as it was customary in Greek literature. Moles’ reconstruction of the title includes the author, the addressee and the purpose of the writing (‘Luke to Theophilus τὴν ἀσφάλειαν’). It is unlikely that the writing was anonymous if there was an external title. Therefore, Luke’s name confirmed by the late-second century tradition must be the accurate name of the author. This idea is supported by the dating of Acts suggested by Moles, post A.D. 93 (implying that Luke presumably read Josephus) and most probably around A.D. 105. Consequently, he believes that Luke must have been known by the second-century Church Fathers as the author of Luke-Acts.

(Questions, remarks and suggestions were raised among others by Prof Francis B. Watson, Prof John Barclay and Dr William Telford.)

For a more detailed discussion on Luke’s preface, watch also for J. Moles, ‘Luke’s Preface: the Greek Decree, Classical Historiography, and Christian Appropriation, Redefinition, Oppositionalism and Reward’, forthcoming in New Testament Studies (2011).

Justin A. Mihoc,
Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University

  1. […] on the Deuteronomistic Historian’s IdeologyJustin Mihoc @ Biblical and Early Christian StudiesJohn Moles, “The Lukan Preface”CultureJames F. McGrath @ Exploring Our MatrixThe Most Pure Bible?Overview of Part One of Earl […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: