Reviews of

Luke in His Own Words

In Bloomsbury, Jenny Read-Heimerdinger, Kendall A. Davis, Luke-Acts, Manuscript Studies, Manuscripts, Textual Criticism on October 31, 2022 at 12:00 pm
cover of book

2022.10.08 | Jenny Read-Heimerdinger. Luke in His Own Words: A Study of the Language of Luke-Acts in Greek. LNTS 672. London: T&T Clark, 2022.

Review by Kendall A. Davis, University of Edinburgh.

As anyone who looks at a critical apparatus for the New Testament knows, a significant number of textual variants involve subtle differences like the presence of an article, the order of words, and so on. Many readers will gloss over such variants as being merely “stylistic,” by which they mean to say, “relatively unimportant and meaningless.” Jenny Read-Heimerdinger’s new collection of previous published essays, Luke in His Own Words, challenges this assumption through a thorough analysis of Luke’s Greek as it is preserved in the Alexandrian text (as represented by Codex Sinaiticus [א01] and Codex Vaticanus [B03]) and Codex Bezae (D05). Read-Heimerdinger combines text-criticism, discourse analysis, and New Testament interpretation to argue that many variants between D05 and the Alexandrian text that are often perceived to be merely stylistic are in fact intentional and meaningful. Read-Heimerdinger further argues that the Bezan text of Acts is not necessarily a later expansion of Acts, as frequently assumed, but may preserve a form of Acts that is earlier than the version preserved in the Alexandrian tradition.

Read-Heimerdinger focuses primarily on the text of Acts with some analysis of Luke’s Gospel. These features include the following: the article before nouns (chapter 2); sentence connectives, such as καί, δέ, and γάρ (chapter 3); word order (chapter 4); expressions used to refer to the Holy Spirit (chapter 5); the use and omission of pronouns in multi-verbal sequences (chapter 6); and parallel terms and phrases, such as different ways of introducing a character’s name (chapter 7). Chapter 8 examines how some of the features surveyed in earlier chapters, especially connectives and word order, help readers discern the structure and divisions in Luke’s work. A short conclusion summarizes her arguments and applies them to the question of the value of the Bezan text for our understanding of Acts.

While the material in the present volume is previously published elsewhere with the exception of the introduction and conclusion, Read-Heimerdinger has successfully reworked the material so that it fits together coherently and seamlessly. The introduction helpfully introduces the reader to the state of the question, Read-Heimerdinger’s methodology based in discourse analysis, and how this technical material will be presented. Read-Heimerdinger argues convincingly that the differences between the manuscripts calls for the use of discourse analysis. Some examples of the tenets of discourse analysis as used by Read-Heimerdinger include the idea that language is to be treated as it is used by native speakers instead of being judged in comparison with theoretical rules of grammar, that a speaker’s choice to say something in one way and not another is necessarily meaningful, that default or “unmarked” usage of language is to be distinguished from “marked” language or language use intended for “special effect,” and that such markedness cannot be discerned from frequency of usage (pp. 10–11).

Chapters 2–8 largely follow a similar pattern. First, she discerns an intentional pattern in Luke’s choices of saying something in one way or another in particular passages. Second, she examines how this pattern varies between D05 and א01/B03. Third, she explores how the variation between these two textual traditions represent different perspectives on the narrative of Acts. For example, in chapter 5 Read-Heimerdinger analyzes how Luke refers to the Holy Spirit in the Gospel and Acts. First, she catalogues every time the Holy Spirit is referenced in the texts of א01/B03 and D05 and presents this information in a table (pp. 137–138). After setting aside a few forms which only occur once (e.g., τὸ πνεῦμακυρίου [Acts 5:9]), she is left with four recurring expressions: (1) τὸ πνεῦμα, (2) πνεῦμα ἅγιον, (3) τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, and (4) τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα (p. 139). The author then reviews the principles established in earlier chapters for Luke’s use or non-use of the article with names (chapter 2) and the word order of adjectives (chapter 4) and applies them to Luke’s use of these different expressions for the Spirit. For example, when the article is used and the adjective comes first (expression four), “the adjective is not highlighted, but expresses an intrinsic quality of holiness.” When the article is used and adjective is second (expression three), “the adjective is highlighted; the expression is frequently found in the context of an explanation” (p. 144). Read-Heimerdinger then proceeds with an exhaustive analysis of the use of these four expressions in Acts, noting when one version of Acts uses one expression instead of another, for example every instance when א01/B03 has τὸ πνεῦμα while D05 has τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον and so on for every category of variation.

In her conclusion Read-Heimerdinger emphasizes that the variation observed between D05 and א01/B03 cannot be attributed to merely “scribal fantasy or carelessness” (p. 235). Because the variants in question are intentional, she goes on to identify a few characteristics of the Bezan and the Alexandrian text of Acts based on her preceding analysis. She concludes that D05 presents a version of Luke’s narrative that is more anchored in Jewish concerns and tradition and more critical of the apostles (p. 236). She argues that it is more plausible that the Bezan text was modified into the Alexandrian text than the other way around, as is typically assumed.

One of the most obvious strengths of Read-Heimerdinger’s analysis is its thoroughness. Read-Heimerdinger commendably presents her data as exhaustively as possible. The sheer amount of data can be overwhelming at times and render the writing quite technical, but Read-Heimerdinger cannot be faulted for not showing her work. Additionally, the author capably shows how discourse analysis can be a useful tool for biblical scholars that can deliver fresh insights. Read-Heimerdinger’s work should serve as a model for future scholars who seek to engage in the close reading of biblical texts with linguistic sensitivity. The dynamics she uncovers are indeed subtle, but they are no less real or demonstrable even to non-native speakers.

The subtlety does give me some pause, however. I was not always convinced that the overarching characteristics Read-Heimerdinger identifies of the relevant manuscripts necessarily followed from the data she analyzes. The variations in question may be meaningful, but their force is still subtle. To what degree can we perceive overarching perspectives or agendas from such subtle features? Furthermore, Read-Heimerdinger is generally persuasive that the features she analyzes are intentional and meaningful, though at times one wonders whether there are at least some variants that are indeed “stylistic.” By what criteria might linguistic variation be determined to be merely stylistic? Are there any such examples in the Lukan corpus and manuscript tradition? Answering such questions would strengthen Read-Heimderdinger’s analysis. 

All the same, Read-Heimerdinger’s new collection of essays is a welcome addition to Lukan studies, text criticism, and the study of linguistics in the New Testament. Scholars with interest in any of these fields will find her arguments worth engaging.

Kendall A. Davis
University of Edinburgh
K.A.Davis-3 [at]


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