Jun 16, 2010

Luke's View of the Law Driven by Sociological Concerns

Many interpreters have noted at least some tension in Luke-Acts with how Luke presents the Mosaic Law. Some passages present it positively and others negatively or with a measure of ambivalence. Many interpreters also attribute the tension in Luke's view to an apologetic desire to present a unified church. However, Daniel Margeurat has presented an intriguing alternative explanation (see below). I am not sure that I am convinced, but I think it is worth thinking about.

"To break with the Law creates the risk that Christianity may appear as a religion without custom, without a past - illegitimate, according to Roman convention. By contrast, the maintenance of customs legitimated by the antiquity of the Torah, and relieved of any excess, assured Christianity a politically acceptable exterior. That is the reason why, at the risk of making himself misunderstood, Luke counterbalanced the soteriological suspension of the Torah by the recurring affirmation of the maintenance of its ethos by the Jewish Christian branch of the movement."

Daniel Marguerat, “Paul and the Torah in Acts,” in Torah in the New Testament: Papers Delivered at the Manchester-Lausanne Seminar of June 2008, ed. Michael Tait and Peter Oakes, Library of New Testament Studies 401, ed. Mark Goodacre (London: T & T Clark, 2009), 117.


Richard Fellows said...

Sounds interesting, Charles. I will have to take a look at this work.

What does Marguerat assume was the motivation for Luke to present the Christian movement as politically acceptable? Was Luke trying to convert roman officials to Christianity, or was he simply trying to protect the church from persecution? Was this tendency in Acts designed to influence the intended audience, or was it designed to mislead the unintended audience of Roman authorities?

Charles Savelle said...

Hi Richard. Thanks for stopping by.

Actually, it seems that Marguerat is motivated by his own preference. On p. 116 Marguerat writes:

"The continuity between Christianity and Israel that Luke is deeply committed to stress has, accordingly, a fundamentally theological reason. It also has a cultural dimension: for the Romans, a religion is valued for the antiquity of its traditions. Luke was not unaffected by this trait, and this is why he was keen for Paul to display his attachment to the customs of the forefathers (Acts 22.2; 28.17)."

I would love to know what you think of the essay if you get around to reading it.

Charles Savelle said...


My statement should read: "Actually, it seems that Marguerat is suggesting that Luke is motivated by his own preferences."