SBL 2019 Review

I had a great time catching up with a number of friends, colleagues, and bloggers at the latest Society of Biblical Literature conference in San Diego in November 2019. I enjoyed listening to the papers in my session about whether Luke’s rewriting of Matthew’s text has any parallels with how other non-canonical Gospels treat Matthew, about the history of the oral gospel hypothesis among Synoptic Problem specialists since the nineteenth century, about whether the Patristic references to the lost “Gospel according to the Hebrews” should be identified with Matthew’s and Luke’s shared non-Markan source, and about whether the author of Luke was dependent on John’s Gospel. I received some great feedback from Mark Matson, whose source-critical analysis of the story of the woman who anointed Jesus has influenced my own approach.

I also attended a few book review sessions on Joel Marcus’s John the Baptist in History and Theology and Matthew D. C. Larsen’s Gospels before the Book. The latter book encourages readers to reconsider the nature of the Gospels as discreet, finished, literary texts and compares them to the genre of hypomnēmata or commentarii that were more like unfinished pre-literary texts open to continuous expansion and revision. The panelists and audience members were receptive to the thesis, but they did offer some push-back about how Mark’s sophisticated literary techniques or the reception of Mark’s Gospel in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke may indicate that Mark’s text was more “bookish” than Larsen gave it credit for, but I found it striking that I had noted in my book on Mark that various Patristic authors judged Mark’s text to be like a rough draft without literary taxis or “order” (Papias) and made for private circulation among Mark’s Roman hearers (Clement of Alexandria). Finally, I caught a Paul and politics session where my friend Ralph Korner was reading a paper on his work on ekklēsia.

The last thing to note is that we were all made aware of the sad news about the passing of Larry Hurtado. There are a number of excellent online tributes to him from Helen Bond, Chris Keith, Bart Ehrman, Greg Lanier, Michael Kruger, Holly J. Carey, Tommy Wasserman, Eldon Jay Epp, and Carey Newman. I had the pleasure of briefly interacting with him online and by email about my engagement with the early high Christology paradigm (see here, here, and here) and we chatted after I presented at an SBL session on the Christology of Mark a few years ago. He was a brilliant scholar who made a lasting contribution to the study of Christology by shifting the focus to the devotional practices that the Christians directed towards the risen Jesus and he was extremely generous in providing constructive and critical feedback to my own work. He has undoubtedly had a huge impact on colleagues, students, and Christian laypeople and he will be missed.


The Synoptic Gospel Session at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego

Here is the online program book for the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Diego on November 23-26, 2019. I am greatly looking forward to my session on the Synoptic Gospels and here is all the information if you would like to attend it:

1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Cobalt 501C (Fifth Level) – Hilton Bayfront

Theme: Neglected Solutions to the Synoptic Problem

Michael Whitenton, Baylor University, Presiding

Rebecca Runesson Sanfridson, University of Toronto
Accounting for Matthean Reception in the Farrer Hypothesis (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels – Matthew (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels – Luke (Biblical Literature – New Testament)

Alan Kirk, James Madison University
Orality, the Synoptic Tradition, and the Traditionshypothese: A Critical Examination (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Oral Traditions (History of Interpretation / Reception History / Reception Criticism), Orality Studies (Interpretive Approaches)

David B. Sloan, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
A Better Two-Document Hypothesis: Matthew’s and Luke’s Independent Use of Mark and the Gospel According to the Hebrews (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Gospels (Early Christian Literature – Apocrypha), Source Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)

George van Kooten, University of Cambridge
“Eyewitnesses of the Logos”: The Inclusion of John’s Gospel among the “polloi” of Luke’s Preface (30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)

Michael Kok, Vose Seminary
The Literary Relationship between Luke and John: Luke 7:36–50 and John 12:1–8 as a Test Case(30 min)
Tag(s): Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament), Source Criticism (Interpretive Approaches), Redaction Criticism (Interpretive Approaches)

This is the abstract that I submitted, when I initially saw that at least one session was on the relationship between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics. I would like to take the paper in a slightly different direction than I had in mind when submitting the abstract, so come attend the session if you would like to find out more.

We can isolate a range of sources behind the Lukan pericope of the sinful woman. First, Luke redacted the Markan pericope of the woman who anointed Jesus (Mark 14:3-9; cf. Matthew 26:6-13), relocating the scene to an earlier point in Jesus’s ministry, preserving the detail about the alabaster flask of ointment, and identifying the host Simon as a Pharisee rather than a leper. Second, Luke was probably familiar with a second pronouncement story about how Jesus refused to issue a judgment against a woman that had been brought before him by the religious elders. Papias of Hierapolis (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.17) and the Disdascalia Apostolorum 7 attest to the most primitive form of this oral tradition. However, there is also a striking agreement between Luke 7:38 and John 12:3 concerning how the woman anointed Jesus’s feet. If this was John’s redactional change to the Markan source, a case could be made that Luke has included an element of Johannine redaction into his narrative and thus exhibits literary dependence on John’s Gospel. On the other hand, if John was relying on an oral variant to the Markan pericope, then Luke may have had contact with the same pre-Johannine tradition. In either scenario, Luke has edited the source by accounting for why the woman was wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair, namely because she had been crying and wanted to wipe the tears off Jesus’s feet.

My Colleague’s New Book “The Spirit at the Cross”

My colleague Dr. Carolyn E. L. Tan is an exceptional instructor in New Testament Greek. She has also published her revised PhD thesis entitled The Spirit at the Cross: Exploring a Cruciform Pneumatology for the Australian College of Theology Monograph Series. Her PhD advisor and my theological colleague Dr. Michael O’Neil has also noted the many strengths of this book as it engages with both New Testament exegesis and systematic theology. Here is the abstract if you are interested in checking out the book:

What was the Holy Spirit doing at the cross of Jesus Christ? Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to God’s reconciliation with humanity. Does the Holy Spirit’s work pause between Gethsemane and the resurrection? What does the phrase “through the eternal Spirit” in Hebrews 9:14 mean? In this book, Tan examines the perspectives of John Vernon Taylor, Jürgen Moltmann, and John D. Zizioulas, from whom three views of the Spirit’s role at the cross are discerned: the Spirit as the “bond of love” between the Father and the Son; the Spirit as the Son’s coworker, enabler, and power; and the Spirit as the unifier who unites humanity to the Son. In addition, Karl Barth provides the intriguing concept of the Spirit as divine Judge (along with the Father and the Son) and specifically the one who carries out God’s judgment in Jesus Christ, the Elect. Integrating these theological perspectives with an in-depth examination of the manuscript and exegetical and hermeneutical history of Hebrews 9:14, Tan offers another way of understanding the role of the Spirit at the cross: Christ as the Father’s “pneumatic crucible” in whom sinful humanity is judged, destroyed, and reborn through the power of the Holy Spirit.


New Review of my Book “The Beloved Apostle?”

I am grateful for the following review of my book The Beloved Apostle: The Transformation of the Apostle John into the Fourth Evangelist by Kory Eastvold in the Stone-Campbell Journal 21.2 (2018): 312-313. He provides an excellent summary of the chapters and I would like to quote his concluding paragraph on page 313:

This volume treats the evidence from the NT and tradition evenly, tracing a coherent development from the fourth Gospel’s anonymity to its traditional identification. He demonstrates mastery of the pertinent secondary material but does not depend on others for his own conclusions. Kok could have given more space to the first three chapters and shortened his discussion of hermeneutics and canonicity relegating it to the conclusion. Although this book surveys relevant scholarship, introduces the primary evidence, and transcribes all Greek words for non-specialists, the arguments are unavoidably complex and assume some familiarity with higher criticism. This book would serve well as a case study for a seminary course on the canon, but it will be useful primarily to Johannine scholars.

For closely related work, I have written on the identity of the “Elder John” for an article for the online journal Bible and Interpretation and another article on Cerinthus, the opponent of saint John, for an article for the Journal of Early Christian History.

Gospels & Acts Research Conference and Journal

I just attended the conference put on by the Centre for Gospels & Acts Research (CGAR) entitled “The Future of Gospels & Acts Research: Discerning the Trends” at the Sydney College of Divinity on Thursday, October 3 and Friday, October 4. The keynote speakers were Professors Craig Keener and Dorothy Lee, and there were a number of other papers from scholars and students on their research on the New Testament Gospels and Acts. The goal is that some of the papers will be published in an edited volume. CGAR has also established the new Journal of Gospels and Acts Research. Check out the link if you want more information about the purpose of the journal, the members of the editorial board, the contents of the previous volumes, and the guidelines for contributors.

The Evangelist Luke: A Bibliography on the “We” in Acts

There are a few bibliographies about the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts available online. Several of these sources include discussion of the “we” in Acts. I would like to add some more sources not included in the bibliographies above and I will continue to expand this bibliography as I come across other English sources on the “we” in Acts:

  • Campbell, William Sanger. The ‘We’ Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character. SBL 14. Atlanta: SBL, 2007.
  • Campbell, William Sanger. “The Narrator as ‘He,’ ‘Me,’ and ‘We’: Grammatical Person in Ancient Histories and in the Acts of the Apostles.” Journal of Biblical Literature 129.2 (2010): 387-407.
  • Campbell, Douglas A. Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018.
  • Ehrman, Bart D. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Jewett, Robert. A Chronology of Paul’s Life. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.
  • Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary. 4 Volumes. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015.
  • Pervo, Richard I. Acts. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009.
  • Porter, Stanley. “The ‘We’ Passages.” In The Book of Acts in its Greco-Roman Setting. D.W.J. Gill and C.H. Gemph, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) 545-574.
  • Rothschild, Clare K. Luke-Acts and the Rhetoric of History: An Investigation of Early Christian Historiography. WUNT 2.175. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.
  • Robbins, Vernon. “By Land and By Sea: The We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages.” In Perspectives on Luke-Acts. C. H. Talbert, ed. Perspectives in Religious Studies, Special Studies Series, No. 5. Macon, Ga: Mercer Univ. Press and Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1978: 215-242.
  • Schmidt, Darryl. “Syntactical Style in the ‘We’-Sections of Acts: How Lukan is it?” SBLSB 28 (1989): 300-308.
  • Sterling, Gregory E. Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography. NovTSup 64. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
  • Strelan, Rick. Luke the Priest: the Authority of the Author of the Third Gospel. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008.
  • Vielhauer, P. “On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts.” In L.E. Keck and J. L. Martyn, eds., Studies in Luke-Acts (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 33-50.

The Evangelist Luke: An Introduction to the Theories on the “We” in Acts

In my reading of the scholarly literature, there are four major theories that attempt to account for the “we” passages in the book of Acts, but let me know if there are other options that I have not considered.

  • The instances where the “we” appears in the latter half of Acts signal that the author was an eyewitness and firsthand participant in the events that were narrated. The arguments in favour of Lukan authorship, as noted by Irenaeus, are that 2 Timothy 4:11 claims that only Luke remained with Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome and Luke is not named in the book of Acts in keeping with the anonymity of the book. However, it is also possible that the book was written by another co-worker of Paul.
  • The presence of the “we” in Acts was a residue on the author’s use of an earlier source or a travel diary from one of Paul’s co-workers. Since the “we” sections seems consistent with the literary style of the rest of the narrative, it may seem surprising that the author would not just change the first-person in the source to the third-person when editing it, but perhaps the author retained the “we” to signal the use of an eyewitness source. There is debate about the extent to which this hypothetical source can be reconstructed.
  • The inclusion of the “we” in Acts reflects some sort of dramatic literary device. Vernon Robbins has put forward the argument that the first-person plural was conventional in narratives of ancient sea voyages here. Alternatively, the narrator becomes a character in the story through the use of “we” or the “we” puts the reader in the middle of the dramatic action.
  • The book of Acts uses the “we” to advance a “pseudonymous” or a fictional claim that it was written by an eyewitness of Paul’s missionary activities and thus provides verisimilitude for the events that were recorded.

The Evangelist Luke: Every Verse where the “We” Appears in Acts

Usually, the book of Acts is narrated in the third-person (i.e. he, she, it, his, him, its, they, their) by an omniscient narrator who knows the motivations of all of the different characters. However, at select points in the narrative, we find the use of the first-person plural pronoun (we, us, our). Here are all of the verses where the narrator switches from the third-person to the first-person:

  • Acts 16:10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17
  • Acts 20:5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15
  • Acts 21:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18
  • Acts 27:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 15, 16, 18, 20, 27, 29, 37
  • Acts 28:1, 2, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

The Evangelist Luke: The Book of Acts as the Sequel to Luke’s Gospel

In order to understand why scholars turn to the use of the first-person pronoun “we” in the Acts of the Apostles to determine the authorship of the Gospel of Luke, you have to realize that the former is the sequel to the latter. For instance, compare the prologues to both books:

“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4 NRSV)

“In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2 NRSV)

In addition to these prologues, there are solid grammatical, stylistic, and theological reasons to argue for the common authorship of these two New Testament books. I am not sure that there are any biblical scholars who deny this, though I am willing to be corrected on the matter (note: I have added one book below that does challenge the common authorship). There is some debate about whether the evangelist intentionally planned to write a two-volume work from the beginning or whether some time had passed before the evangelist got around to writing a sequel for the Gospel of Luke. There is also some debate over whether or not the author of the canonical texts of Luke and Acts had revised an earlier proto-Luke. This latter debate is tied in with the debate over the identification of Marcion’s Gospel and whether it represents either a later edited version of the canonical Gospel of Luke, or an alternate or even earlier version of Luke’s text, since Marcion was frequently charged with corrupted the text of Luke (e.g., Tertullian, Against Marcion). But this is a discussion for another day. The point here is that whoever wrote the canonical book of Acts also wrote the canonical Gospel of Luke.

Sources on the Unity of Luke-Acts

Bird, Michael F. “The Unity of Luke-Acts in Recent Discussion.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 29.4 (2007): 425-447.

Gregory, Andrew F. and Rowe, C. Kavin, editors. Rethinking the Unity and Reception of Luke and Acts. Columbia, SC: The University of South Carolina Press, 2010.

Parsons, Mikeal. “Reading Acts as a Sequel to the Fourfold Gospel.” Christian Reflection (2015): 19-26.

Parsons, Mikeal and Pervo, Richard. Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.

Tannehill, Robert C. The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation. Vol. l: The Gospel According to Luke. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.

Verheyden, Josef. “The Unity of Luke-Acts.” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 55.4 (1999): 964-979.

Sources on the Relationship of Canonical Luke-Acts and Marcion’s Gospel

BeDuhn, Jason. The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon. Oregon: Polebridge, 2013.

Hays, C. M. “Marcion vs. Luke: A Response to the Plädoyer of Matthias Klinghardt.” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 99 (2008): 213-232.

Hoffman, R. Joseph. Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century. Chicago: Scholars Press, 1984.

Klinghardt, Matthias. “Markion vs. Lukas: Plädoyer für die Wiederaufnahme eines alten Falles” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 484-513.

Klinghardt, Matthias. “The Marcionite Gospel and the Synoptic Problem: A New Suggestion”, Novum Testamentum 50 (2008): 1-27.

Lieu, Judith. “Marcion and the Synoptic Problem” in New Studies in the Synoptic Problem. Edited by P. Foster, A. Gregory, J. S. Kloppenborg, J. Verheyden. BETL 279; Leuven: Peeters, 2011, 731-51.

Lieu, Judith. Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Knox, John. Marcion and the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.

Moll, Sebastian. The Arch-Heretic Marcion. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010.

Roth, Dieter T. The Text of Marcion’s Gospel. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

Vincent, Markus. Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.

Vincent, Markus. Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels. Studia Patristica Supplement 2, Louven: Peters, 2014.

Von Harnack, Adolf. Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God. Durham: Labyrinth, 1989.

Challenging the Common Authorship of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts

Walters, Patricia. The Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts: A Reassessment of the Evidence. SNTSMS 145. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

The Evangelist Luke: Irenaeus’s Explanation of the “We” in Acts

Why does the first-person pronoun “we” appear in select instances in the latter half of the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles. Here is the explanation of Irenaeus, the late second-century bishop of Lyon, in his famous treatise On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-called Knowledge or Against Heresies 3.14.1:

“But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John who was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, we came to  Troas and when Paul had beheld in a dream a man of Macedonia, saying, Come into Macedonia, Paul, and help us, immediately, he says, we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, understanding that the Lord had called us to preach the Gospel unto them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we directed our ship’s course towards Samothracia. And then he carefully indicates all the rest of their journey as far as Philippi, and how they delivered their first address: for, sitting down, he says, we spoke unto the women who had assembled and certain believed, even a great many. And again does he say, But we sailed from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came to Troas, where we abode seven days. And all the remaining [details] of his course with Paul he recounts, indicating with all diligence both places, and cities, and number of days, until they went up to Jerusalem; and what befell Paul there, how he was sent to Rome in bonds; the name of the centurion who took him in charge and the signs of the ships, and how they made shipwreck and the island upon which they escaped, and how they received kindness there, Paul healing the chief man of that island; and how they sailed from thence to Puteoli, and from that arrived at Rome and for what period they sojourned at Rome. As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: Demas has forsaken me, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. From this he shows that he was always attached to and inseparable from him. And again he says, in the Epistle to the Colossians: Luke, the beloved physician, greets you. But surely if Luke, who always preached in company with Paul, and is called by him the beloved, and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him (Paul), as has been pointed out from his words, how can these men, who were never attached to Paul, boast that they have learned hidden and unspeakable mysteries?” [1]

[1] Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>. I have removed the insertions of the biblical references.