Manual Lukes Jesus in the Roman Empire and the Emperor in the Gospel of Luke

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The bearers took advantage of this; mounting on the roof, they broke it up, and let down the couch through the hole which they thus made.

A modern writer might have explained all this to his readers. But Luke, although he interprets a single Semitic word occasionally, would not spare time and space enough for a more elaborate description of details, which were, in his estimation, unimportant.

His readers were familiar with a different kind of house, covered with tiles, and having a hole impluvium in the roof of the principal chamber atrium , where the company would be assembled. To turn aside from his proper subject and describe differences of architecture would have distracted attention from the really important facts. As has been often pointed out, [14] Luke never describes such features, but leaves his readers to imagine for themselves from their own knowledge the surroundings amid which his story was enacted.

Accordingly, he preserves all the essential features -- the dense crowd preventing access to the Master by the proper approach the taking of the bed with the sick man in it up on the roof the letting down of the bed through the roof before the Savior's eyes. But he does not tell that the bearers broke a hole through the roof. A tiled roof, such as his readers were accustomed to, is strong; a hole cannot easily be made through it; and when it is broken, it is a long and expensive operation to repair it. It would seem unnatural that a hole should be violently made in such a roof; and Luke leaves his readers to apply their own knowledge, and to understand that the bearers let the man on his couch down through the opening in the tiles.

Matthew, again, regards all these details about the manner of bringing the man as unimportant, and omits them. Corresponding to Mark and Luke , 19, he has only these words, " And behold they brought him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed". It was only the words and acts of the Master that he considered worthy of space.

Luke and Mark and Matthew all say that Jesus, "seeing their faith," told the man that his sins were forgiven. He saw that the man had the same "faith able to receive cure and salvation" as the lame man at Lystra, Acts But Luke and Mark explain how the special circumstances made evident the faith of the bearers and the man, while Matthew leaves the reader to gather from Jesus' words, that he saw some special evidence of faith in the case before him, Matthew relates the story as one long familiar; and it would not be thoroughly intelligible to us without the proof of eager faith which Luke and Mark relate.

The latter stand on an earlier stage than Matthew. We notice that Luke's account here is not suited to a Greek house, but only to a Roman house.

The Greek house was of totally different construction from the Roman; and, if Luke had been writing primarily for a public resident in the great Greek cities of the Aegean lands, he would probably have either related the incident in its original Palestinian form, or imparted to it a turn that would suit the style of house usual in those cities. It happens, fortunately, that we can illustrate and prove this point by a series of analogous cases.

The Roman comic dramatists, Plautus and Terence, adapted Greek plays to the Roman stage, modifying the plot and incidents in some respects to suit the tastes and the knowledge of a Roman audience. When some incident in the Greek play turned on a peculiarity in the structure of a Greek house, the Roman playwright often modified the facts, so as to suit the style of house that was familiar to his audience. Thus, a Greek dramatist wrote a play called "The Braggart," in which the relation between two lovers is discovered by a slave resident in the neighboring house.

In adapting this play, Plautus describes this discovery in the form that the slave, pursuing an ape which had escaped from his master's house, clambered over the roof of the atrium of his neighbor's house, and in this way was able to look through the hole in the roof or impluvium into the atrium, and saw the lovers sitting side by side. As Lorenz has observed, [15] this could not have been the form which the incident had in the original Greek play. The Greek house had no atrium with its impluvium, nor anything corresponding to it.

The ordinary house in the Greek cities contained an open court or aula, to which access was gained by a passage leading from the front door. This court was surrounded, sometimes simply by the house walls, sometimes by a narrow stoa or portico, [16] resting on the house walls and supported inside by columns. The covered chambers of the house opened off the back of this court, and the part of the mansion which contained these chambers was usually of one or, at most, two stories and covered by a flat roof.

As the houses in these Greek cities were usually built close together, divided from one another by the house wall which was common to both , it was easy to look from the flat roof or from the windows of the upper story of one house into the court of the next; and thus the slave in the Greek play saw the lovers in the aula of the neighboring house. In this same way Thekla at Iconium sat at a window in the house of her mother Theokleia, and heard Paul preaching in the court of the house of Onesiphorus, her neighbor.

See note 2 at the end of this chapter. Luke uses even the Roman form of expression. The regular term for "the roof" regarded from the outside was in Latin "the tiles"; [17] but in Greek the collective singular form "the tiling" was used. In a similar way, Terence in the Phormio, , speaks of a snake as having "fallen from the tiles i. In a review in the Theologische Litteraturzeitung, , p. Johannes Weiss says: "When Mark writes they uncovered the roof, and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed, ' but Luke on the other hand says they let him down through the tiles, ' the former thinks of the Palestinian style of building, while the latter thinks of the roof of the Graeco-Roman house".

Was Luke a Historian?

This expresses practically the same view which has been advocated in the preceding pages, but the word Graeco-Roman seems to require modification. Luke writes with a view to the Roman house alone; and his language would not suit the Greek style of house.

Luke must have adapted his expression to suit either a circle of readers, or more probably the single reader, Theophilus, for whose instruction he composed his History; and, in giving to his narrative the form seen in , he evidently felt that Theophilus was used to the Roman and not the Greek house architecture. Taking this in conjunction with the use made of the Market of Appius and the Three Taverns, we find a distinct probability that Theophilus was a citizen of Rome. Moreover, Theophilus is addressed by an epithet, [19] which, under the empire, was peculiarly appropriated to Romans of high rank, and which became during the second century a technical title indicating equestrian as distinguished from senatorial rank.

Examples are numerous in the Imperial Greek inscriptions; and those who have made themselves familiar with the usages of Roman and provincial life under the empire, will recognize the high probability that Luke uses this adjective in , as in every other place Acts , and [20] to indicate the official probably equestrian rank of the person to whom he applies it. Luke, then, was adapting the form of his narrative either to a single Roman or to a Roman circle of readers. The frequency and emphasis with which he mentions matters that are specifically Roman must impress every reader.

In regard to Roman officials of high rank, the favorable judgment which they always pass on Christ and on his followers is so marked a feature of Luke's work, that it must have been prominent before his mind. Luke mentions formally the charge which the Jews vainly made, that Jesus had been guilty of disloyalty and treason against the Roman emperor, John mentions it very informally John Luke records the thrice repeated judgment of Pilate acquitting Jesus of all fault before the Roman law; John mentions the acquittal once in similar terms; Matthew represents Pilate as disclaiming all responsibility for his death, but not as formally pronouncing him innocent of all fault.

In Luke's Second Book this feature is still more marked. The Imperial officers stand between Paul and the Jews to save him from them. The Proconsul of Cyprus was almost converted to Christianity. The Proconsul of Achaia dismissed the Jews' case against him as groundless before the law. Festus, the Procurator of Palestine, found in Paul nothing worthy of death -- he had difficulty in discovering any definite charge against him, which he could report in sending him up to the supreme court of the empire.

Even Felix, another Procurator, one of the worst of Roman officials, was affected by Paul's teaching, and to some extent protected him, and did not condemn him, though to please the Jews he left him in prison. Among inferior Roman officials, Claudius Lysias, Julius, Cornelius, even the jailer in the colony of Philippi, were friendly to the Christians, or actually joined them. In the few cases in which the magistrates of a Roman colony took action against Paul, their action is shown to have been in error as at Philippi , or is passed over in silence and the blame is laid on the jealousy and hatred of the Jews as at Pisidian Antioch and Lystra.

The praetors of Philippi scourged Paul, but they apologized, and confessed they had been in the wrong.


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The magistrates of the Greek cities, like Iconium, Thessalonica and Athens, were far more severe against Paul than those of Roman colonies. Compare, for example, the "publicans and sinners" in the house of Levi or Matthew. Both Mark and Matthew designate the company by this name; but Luke calls them "publicans and others," and confines the more opprobrious phrase to the mouth of the scribes Matthew ; Mark ; Luke , cp. Luke alone sets the publican and the Pharisee over against one another as good and bad types, It is true that several sayings of Christ in favor of publicans are given also by Matthew and Mark; they were too characteristic to be omitted; but Luke has more of them.

The Roman Census

It is not unconnected with this character in his work that Luke records with special interest the acts and words of Christ implying that the Gospel was as open to the Gentiles as to the Jews. Similar examples are found in all the Gospels, because no one who gave a fair account of the teaching of Christ could omit them; but in Luke they are more numerous and more emphatic.

But in that story occurs the saying, "I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," Matthew ; and in view of such sayings as Luke -- and Luke alone -- records in see Luke paralleled by Matthew , and Mark , the historian might doubt whether the incident was not likely to give a mistaken impression of the Savior's mission.

The Gospel of Luke

As to the passing in silence over a visit to Phoenicia, it is pointed out below, [24] that Luke deliberately refrains from describing the journeys and movements of Christ. It is, therefore, plain on the face of Luke's History, that he has taken pains to connect his narrative with the general history of the empire, and that he has noted with special care the relations between the new religion and the Roman state or its officials.

Elsewhere I have tried to show that Luke thought of his work, from one point of view, as "an appeal to the truth of history against the immoral and ruinous policy of the reigning emperor; a temperate and solemn record by one who had played a great part in them of the real facts regarding the formation of the Church, its steady and unswerving loyalty in the past, its firm resolve to accept the existing Imperial government, its friendly reception by many Romans, and its triumphant vindication in the first great trial at Rome.

The book was the work of one who had been trained by Paul to look forward to Christianity becoming the religion of the empire and of the world, who regarded Christianity as destined not to destroy but to recreate the empire. But the accusation which we have to meet is that it grossly misrepresented the character of Roman procedure, and was inaccurate in fact.

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