Friday, August 11, 2006

The Unity of Luke-Acts

The unity of Luke–Acts has been an axiom of modern scholarship ever since Henry Cadbury’s work on the subject The Making of Luke-Acts in 1927. Monographs abound on Luke-Acts tackling issues diverse as Luke's view of the Jews, the Law, Gentiles, and especially the Holy Spirit (I believe that the NT guild should demand a 10 year moratorium on Ph.D's on Luke and the Spirit - it is being done unto death!). In every case Luke-Acts is treated as a single literary unit with two-parts and authors simply assume the literary and theological unity of Luke-Acts. But what if the unity of Luke-Acts is a modern invention?

Mikael Parsons and Richard I. Pervo challenge this assumption in Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts (1993). They draw attention to the differences in genre, narrative, and theology between Luke and Acts and highlight a number of authorial and canonical questions posed by Luke and Acts. At stake is whether we link Luke and Acts with a hyphen (Luke–Acts = a close connection) or with a forward slash (Luke/Acts = a loose connection). Gregory writes:

A second-front against the unity of Luke-Acts has opened up from studies in reception history. Andrew Gregory's book The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period Before Irenaeus (WUNT, 2.169; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2003) argues that Luke and Acts were not read together in the second century with the exception of the Muratorian fragment and Irenaeus. Luke was normally read with the tetraevangelium (four Gospels) and Acts was read in the company of the Apostolos (collection of catholic letters).

Behind this question lies the modern assumption that Luke and Acts are two volumes of one longer work, each of which was written by the same author. Therefore it is important to realise that Luke–Acts as an object of study, two separate texts linked by a hyphen, is in fact a modern construct. Of course this is not to deny that Luke wrote two successive volumes – and perhaps even set out to write two successive volumes – each of which largely coheres with and informs the other. Rather, it is simply to note that for much of their subsequent history Luke’s two volumes have not been read in this way and, consequently, that it is not possible to assume that the knowledge and use of one of these texts by a subsequent reader or text need in itself require or indeed make probable the knowledge and use of the other. Nor do we know if ever they circulated together in this period, for once Luke released each volume he would have had no control over its circulation and copying.
I see two primary questions emerging from all this:

(1) Literary critics frequently assume that Luke and Acts were written as part of the one work, but were separated early in the second-century. Is this assumption valid? Does the fact that Luke and Acts were rarely (if ever) read together count against a unity of Luke and Acts?

(2) To what extent do we allow the second and third century authors to inform us of the authorial intention, initial reception, and interpretation of a first century writing? How close is Irenaeus to the mind of Luke and is the absence of evidence the evidence of absence regarding their being read together? How much continuity should we posit between first century and second century readings of these documents?

Such is the topic of my paper at the BNTC later this month.


Matthew D. Montonini said...

Sounds interesting, Mike. Besides the obvious, it would be interesting to see Lukan distinctives in Acts vis-a-vis the Gospel of Luke and vice-versa.
Continue on as a generalist. It always makes your blog interesting.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Part of our answers to your question has to do with how much weight we give to the canonical shape of the NT. If the author of Luke-Acts intended a unity, this might be how the books should be read as documents in the academy. But as Scriptures in the Church, they must be read separately because the canon groups the 4 Gospels together and places Luke as a bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles.

Unlike with the OT, we do not have rival canons. The canonical shape of the NT is the same for Eastern and Western churches, for Protestants and Catholics and Anglicans.

Now, I happen to believe reading Luke-Acts in the academy is legitimate. So is reading Luke and Acts as Scripture in the church. Our interpretational guidelines, however, depend on knowing which we are doing at what time.

Richard H. Anderson said...

Since I am the 100,000 th visitor, I will be waiting my prize. Will it be a book? I do really like your wines! sacramental of course.

Having reread your post, I think I better understand your thinking about unity. I have always felt that Luke is very early and that Acts may be in the sixties as much as twenty years later. My views were included in Theophilus: A Proposal published in 1997. In Two Stange Incidents, it may be, although not part of my posted article, that these incidents is evidence that they were written by two different authors. I do not consider this likely but it is certainly a possibility.