Friday, February 19, 2010

Handed Down

Even as they delivered [handed down] them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;
Luke 1:2

In the preface to his Gospel, Luke uses two standard terms from the vocabulary of philosophical schools. First, he speaks of a succession of teaching from the teacher. He will record the deeds of Jesus, “even as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us” (Luke 1:2). This word is the same one that Josephus used to describe Moses’ “handling down” of the laws to the succession of priests, and the Pharisees’ tradition, which was “handed down” from the fathers.

By Luke’s time of writing, the deeds of the revered founder of Christianity have become a tradition that must be carefully guarded from error. This recalls the concern of the Greco-Roman philosophical schools to preserve their various traditions through successions of teachers.

Another interesting term in Luke’s preface is asphaleia [“certainty” Strong’s # 803]: Luke writes so that Theolophilus might come to realize the “secure basis” of what he has been taught. Although this word is characteristic of historical prefaces, as we have seen, philosophers also used the term to describe their efforts. Their goal was to provide a sure basis for ethical action.

The philosopher Plutarch (ca. A.D. 100) distinguishes philosophy from superstition on the ground that only philosophy offers a way of seeing the world that is “secure(On Superstition 171E). Justin Martyr (mid-second century), having set out to find a “philosophy which is secure and profitable(Dialogue 8.1), finally became a Christian.

Although he uses a different Greek word, Justin’s contemporary Lucian has one of his characters turn to philosophy in order to find a “plain, solid path in life (Menippus 4). These words had numerous other applications, but their appearance in the preface to Luke fits the notion that he wanted to present the religion of Jesus as a philosophy.

Mason, Steve. 1992. Josephus and the New Testament. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers., pgs 216-217)

[ NOTE: the use of the words “secure basis” is interesting because the term philosophers use today to establish a given concept is “grounding.” Luke was written to the gentiles, so it figures that he would use an approach that would appeal to their sensibilities. Justin Martyr especially was concerned as a Christian apologist with reconciling Christianity with the popular philosophy of his day.]

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