Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Unity of Luke-Acts and Second Century Gospel Collections

Recent studies on the unity of Luke-Acts have drawn attention to the use of Luke and Acts in the second century (i.e. Andrew Gregory, Markus Bockmuehl, C. Kavin Rowe, F. Bovon). With a few exceptions (Irenaeus, Muratorian Fragment, and possibly Justin Martyr) it seems that Luke and Acts were not read together as one literary unit in the second century. Instead, Luke was read as part of the tetraevangelium and Acts was either read beside the Pauline writings or with the Apostolos or Catholic Epistles. Furthermore, if we look at the various NT codices and papyri we notice that Luke and Acts rarely occur in physical proximity. As far as I can tell, based on my UBS4, the only manuscripts where Luke and Acts are together are:

p45 p53 05

(We could include 01, A, B, and C but these usually comprise the whole NT [i.e. eacpr], so the co-existence of Luke and Acts together there is not significant either way.)

In fact, p53 contains Mt. 26.29-40 and Acts 9.33-10.1. (How about a case for the narrative unity of Matthew-Acts based on this manuscript?)

What do the NT manuscripts tell us about the unity of Luke-Acts? If Luke and Acts were rarely found together in the one manuscript/codex, does that provide further evidence that Luke and Acts were not read as a narative unity by second and third century Christians? Does the dislocation of Luke and Acts assail the coveted assumption of literary critics that Luke-Acts was written as a narrative-unity and read that way by its first-century readers? Or, do we have a situation more analagous to that of Josephus' Antiquities and Against Apion, where the preface to Apion (like that of Acts) refers to a previous work but without actually being an extension of it? After all, Luke ends his Gospel with an ascension narrative, while Acts commences his historiography of Christian Origins with an ascension 40 days after the resurrection. Is the assumption that Luke and Acts were originally one literary unitk, but were separated early in the second century, a valid assumption?

Whether TC can shed any light on this topic is one question. What the significance might be to the unity of Luke-Acts is, however, another.


  1. Perhaps we should begin with what textual criticism can NOT tell us. Contra Kirsopp Lake (and the various versions of this argument by Amos Wilder, Hans Conzelmann, and Phillip Menoud)there is no manuscript evidence to support the contention that the ascension narrative in Luke 24 was added after the two works were separated (Menoud actually argued that both ascension acocunts were interpolations after Luke/Acts were divided upon acceptance into the canon).
    The evidence of collections also fails to support an original unity. In addition to P45, Acts also occurs, of course, in Codex D. THis ms is striking since D follows the Western order of Gospels: Matthew, John, Luke, Mark. Whatever the reason for this order (does, e.g., as some suggest, this order reflects the notion of the gospels attributed to apostles preceding those attributed to 'disciples' of apostles?), then a great opportunity was missed to place Luke last in the order and alongside Acts, preserving both the tetraevangelium and the unity of Luke and Acts. Two fourth-century lists, the Cheltenham Canon and the stichometry of Codex Claromontanus place Luke last among the Gospels, but Acts comes after the Pauline epistles in the former and at the end of the NT books in the latter.. P74 puts Acts with the General epistles.
    This evidence led Cadbury to this(in my opinion tortured) opinion:
    "Perhaps the nearest we come to evidence that Luke and Acts were ever copied in juxtaposition is to be found in the fact that in Codex Bezae the name John (Greek Johannes) is spelled with one "n" regularly in these two books, but with two "n's" in Matthew, John and Mark . . . . It has been suggested that this is due to the fact that in an ancestor of Codex Bezae the same scribe copied these two books and that they were in such order that Luke came just before Acts." (Acts in History, 144, 161-162).
    I am of course citing evidence already published elsewhere (see ch. 1 of Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts). I would not say Luke and Acts are rarely found together; I don't know of ANY manuscript evidence where they ever are.
    For my own subsequent two cents worth and at the risk of proferring more 'piffle' what do you think of this view (which serves as a backdrop to a commentary i am writing on Acts)?
    I do not think these two documents were "published" together as one volume or even published at the same time, only later to be separated from one another with the emergence of the four-fold Gospel. Rather, I am arguing, on the basis inter alia of Luke's preface itself, that a plurality of Gospels (polloi)was already a reality by the time the Third Gospel was written (in the 80s?). Though critical (on rhetorical grounds) of previous 'attempts' to write a narrative (a well formed rhetorical narrative, a diegesis) about Jesus, I do not think Luke thought his version of the Jesus story would totally replace these other versions (or not all of them, Mark [and Matthew?]. And even if he did, by the time he wrote Acts, he knew this was not the case. His account of the things accomplished had taken its place alongside other versions. Thus, when Luke writes Acts, I think he does so in the full knowledge that it would be read as a 'sequel' , not just to Luke, but to the plural-form of the Gospel that later became the Tetraevangelium, a move toward a "four-fold Gospel" culminated by the publication of the Fourth Gospel. But at the least these Gospels were already being read together in Christian worship by the time Acts was published. It was a short(ish) step from a plurality of Gospels to the notion of one Gospel in four versions, indirectly attested by the longer ending of Mark which several are now arguing presumes a four-fold Gospel in the early second century (see Kelhoeffer) and further supported by late second and third century biblical papyri like P64/P67/P4, P45, and perhaps P75 (in other words, the Tetraevangelium did not emerge in a vacuum). When canonizers/collectors placed Acts after the four-fold gospel (whichever order, Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn or Mt, Jn, Lk, Mk), they were actually fulfilling Luke's intention that Acts be read as the sequel to the 'Gospel' (in multi-form) and not somehow distorting it. (Thus, one could argue that if Justin was reading Luke and Acts together [I'm not convinced yet of this], as opposed to Gospel 'acc. to Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn) and Acts together, he is no closer to authorial intent than Irenaeus, and perhaps even farther away.

    Thus, from the point of view of the authorial audience, Acts is read and heard as a follow up to the Gospel. Acts is written BEFORE the Fourfold gospel is 'textualized' (collected and published) but AFTER the liturgical/public use of multiple Gospels in worship ( a kind of nascent or proto-tetraevangelium, if you will). In other words the fourfold gospel is the written expression of an earlier liturgical and theological reality of multiple gospel usage in local congregations (which explains for me at least in part how the fourfold gospel emerged).
    In sum, I actually think the question of Luke's intent and the audience's reception are much closer than we have allowed. I would certainly resist the conclusion that some have reached that the 'canonizers' 'botched' the job.
    Mikeal Parsons
    p.s. i realize these closing comments probably move outside the purview of a strict text-critical discussion.I apologize if so and will relent from making similar comments in future posts.

  2. I'm skeptical that the evidence of patterns of textual transmission can help much in telling whether Luke and Acts were originally one work or two.

    First, even if it was two works, then they could still be naturally grouped together by some scribes on the basis of their common authorship and the fact that Acts is at least a sequel of sorts to Luke.

    Second, even if Luke himself considered his gospel and Acts to be two parts of one work, he still apparently wrote them each on separate scrolls, each having enough coherence to stand alone. In fact, Luke could have written and published them at different times and still considered them a single work (if this assertion is not compatible with what is known about book publishing of that time, somebody please correct me). The resulting transmission history in such a scenario might be no different than if he viewed them as two works.

    Of course these concessions don't mean that the whole question is moot, only that it is primarily going to involve fields other than TC.

  3. Yes "they could still be naturally grouped together by some scribes on the basis of their common authorship and the fact that Acts is at least a sequel of sorts to Luke" but the point is they were not (insofar as we know).

    The question as Michael Bird puts it (or as I have interpreted) involves understanding the reception of Luke and Acts and whether or not that reception is in continuity with or discontinuity to authorial intent and the implications of that? Granted TC plays a smaller role in this issue, but it does seem to me to play _some_ role.
    Mikeal Parsons

  4. "The question...involves understanding the reception of Luke and Acts and whether or not that reception is in continuity with or discontinuity to authorial intent"

    For most the idea that Luke had any intention at all regarding how people would receive and circulate his works a century after publication is highly doubtful. In such a view, the question about dividing the works being in continuity with his intent is moot.

    But as I reflect on that point I am compelled to disagree with that majority and believe that Luke (along with all other NT authors) was fully aware that he was writing inspired, canonical books (or possibly one book)--books that would over time be collected together with the rest of the NT. In this point of view I admit that it is a worthwhile question to ponder how the apostolic circle wanted their Gospels, Epistles, Acts, and Apocalypse eventually to be grouped and passed on to future generations. Furthermore, the early reception of these books even a century after publication could well be admissible as important evidence to help us look into the apostles' plan for the NT.

  5. Eric Rowe wrote:
    "For most the idea that Luke had any intention at all regarding how people would receive and circulate his works a century after publication is highly doubtful."
    To clarify: I am suggesting that Luke (based on the prologue) intended Acts to be read IMMEDIATELY upon publication in conjunction with a plurality of Gospels (of which Luke was first among equals?). What happens a century later is an outgrowth of Acts as a sequel to the (multiform) Gospel and not in discontinuity with it.