A report on a paper given by Richard Hays (Dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke University in Durham, NC), 23 January 2012. Professor Hays is delivering this year’s Gunning Lectures at New College, University of Edinburgh, on the topic “Israel’s Scripture Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers.” I should note that Professor Hays has let me know that he is preparing a book for publication based upon these Gunning lectures.
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Continuing in his investigation of the ways the Gospels use the Old Testament, Professor Hays turned, in his fourth Gunning lecture, to the Gospel of Luke. The launching point for Hays’ discussion was Jesus’ post-resurrection interaction with the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. Focusing on the disciples’ ironic statement “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” as a hermeneutical key to the narrator’s understanding of Jesus’ significance, and on Jesus response which took them through “Moses and all the Prophets” explicating himself, Hays identifies redemption as a recurrent theme in Luke and asks what is it in “Moses and all the Prophets” that points to Jesus as that redeemer.
Once again, Hays contests the rather common view that Luke represents a low or primitive Christology. On the contrary, Hays asserts, a careful reading of Luke’s Gospel reveals a subtle but insistent portrayal of Jesus as Israel’s Lord and God. He accomplishes this through repeated evocations of Israel’s scripture, in part through direct citation (almost always in the mouths of characters rather than overt authorial commentary, unlike the Gospels of Matthew and John), but more often through implicit correspondences suggested through allusion and echo (perhaps more akin to the strategy of the Gospel of Mark). These correspondences are fragmentary and fleeting rather than a sustained and explicit (not at all like allegory). Seemingly as soon as one correspondence is begun it ends and another takes its place.
Hays began demonstrating his points with the Lukan description of Jesus as “the coming one,” found, for example, in Luke 7:18-23 where John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is the coming one. This term recalls Psalm 118:26 (“Blessed is the one coming in the name of the LORD”), which is understood in this context to be referring to the king of Israel (this is confirmed by the addition of “the king” in Luke’s version of the Triumphal Entry story where Psalm 118:25-26 is quoted). Thus, the term is a politically loaded one. Jesus’ answer recalls Isaiah 35:5-6 (the context of which is God himself leading Israelites returning to Zion through the wilderness) and Isaiah 61:1-2, and in so doing offers a scriptural narrative framework which affirms but reshapes Israel’s political expectations. Jesus is, in Luke (as in Mark), acting in a role played by God in the Old Testament.
Luke is the only one of the four Gospels that uses the term kyrios (lord) for Jesus (and Acts, the presumed sequel to Luke, is even more explicit in this regard). In Luke 1:16, the term refers to God, but at least 15 times elsewhere it refers to Jesus, occasionally in an ambiguous way. This ambiguity, Hays asserts, is not editorial sloppiness. It is well-known that the LXX generally translates the tetragrammaton YHWH with the word kyrios (Hebrew adonay, whose vowel markings are usually attached to the tetragrammaton in the Masoretic Text). The resulting ambiguity in the term kyrios, which can still refer to a human “lord,” is exploited by Luke to subtly attribute divine identity to Jesus.
The theme of visitation in the Gospel of Luke also accomplishes this blending of roles. In the Old Testament, God visiting his people occurs on two kinds of occasions: salvation and judgement. Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son from death in Luke 7:11-17 not only identifies Jesus with the prophet Elijah through a typological connection (7:16b “they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’”) but with God himself through the idea of visitation (7:16c “and, ‘God has visited his people!’”). The use of the term επισκεπτομαιis conspicuous here because of its connection with the activity of God in the LXX of Exodus 4:27-31, Psalm 105, and Psalm 79 (see also Luke 1:78). On the other hand, Luke 19:44 uses the word in the context of a divine visitation of judgement.
Within this context of divine visitation Hays noted the striking similarity between Luke 13:17a and the LXX’s reading of Isaiah 45:16a. Both verses contain the a form of αισχυνω/καταισχυνω followed by παντες οι αντικειμενοι αυτω (“they oppose(d) [him and] all were/shall be put to shame”). The interesting thing, once again, is that, in light of this Isaianic subtext, Jesus is depicted in the role of God.
At his ascension at the very end of Luke 24:52, Jesus’ disciples are said to worship him before returning to Jerusalem (this phrase is omitted in Codex Bezae, a member of the Western text family known for omissions). The verb for worship, προσκυνεω, is used in Luke elsewhere only in 4:7-8, where Satan tempts Jesus to worship him, and Jesus responds with a reference to Deuteronomy 6:13 affirming that God alone is the proper object of worship. The use of the verb directed toward Jesus either affirms quite explicitly Jesus’ divine status, or it is a rather careless mistake on the part of the author of Luke. A presumed low Christology in Luke requires the latter, but Hays affirms the former.
Finally, Hays turned to Luke 13:34 where Jesus expresses his sorrow over Jerusalem saying, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” This image recalls Old Testament imagery associated with God, like Deuteronomy 32:11-12 (“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone did lead them”) and Psalm 91:4 (“[The LORD] will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge”). Furthermore, Jesus’ phrase “how often did I wish” describes repeated past action which points beyond Jesus’ own limited life span back into Israel’s past.
Hays concluded by returning to the disciples’ hopes that Jesus was going to have been the one who would redeem Israel. Repeatedly in Isaiah (41:14, 43:14-15, 44:24-26, 49:7) the redeemer of Israel is God himself as he leads the people out of exile back to Zion. In light of all of this data drawn from Luke’s subtle use of Old Testament, as in the Gospel of Mark the typical characterisation of Luke’s Gospel as containing a low Christology cannot be maintained, being an artificial result of the negligence Old Testament allusions.
University of Edinburgh