Gospel according to St. Luke chapters 1-6 from a Paradigmatic Reader’s Point of View

Posted: December 14, 2011 in General

Luke 1: (1) Luke writes: after carefully ‘investigating/researching’ (‘parekolouthekoti’), an ‘orderly/systematic account’ (‘akribos kathexes’), dedicated to ‘Most Excellent/His Excellency’ (‘kratiste’) Theophilus (vv. 1-4). (2) Makarisms: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (v. 42), “… blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (v. 45), “surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48b) and “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel…” (v. 68a). (3) A ‘Chaire’: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you…” (v. 28). (4) Occasions of ‘joy’: “you will have joy and gladness” (v. 14a), “many will rejoice at his birth” (v. 14b), “the child in my womb leapt for joy” (v. 44), “my spirit rejoices in God” (v. 47) and “they rejoiced with her” (v. 58b). (5) Mary’s Magnificat (vv. 46-53) is a ‘Theo-rhetoric’: “My soul magnifies the Lord… my spirit rejoices in God… my Saviour… looked with favor… mighty one… holy is his name… his mercy… he has shown strength… he has scattered… he has brought down… lifted up… he has filled… sent… he has helped… promise he made to our ancestors…”. (6) Zechariah’s Benedictus (vv. 68-79) is another ‘Theo-rhetoric’: “Blessed be the Lord… he has looked… redeemed… he has raised up… he spoke… he has shown the mercy… has remembered…”.

Luke 2: (1) An irony: Narrator says, “…there was no place for them in the inn…”; but the angel says, “…I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (vv. 10-11). A paradigmatic reader sees the angelic utterance in ‘inverted commas’ and ‘present continuous’/’active voice’ forms as a message not only for the historical readers but also for the contemporary readers. The ‘here’ and ‘now’ effect of the utterance units is conspicuous here. (2) Gloria Excelsis: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (v. 14). Its ‘utterance’ format makes sense for readers ‘everywhere’ and ‘ever’. A community in struggles receive this peace-statement as a paradigm message. (3) Nunc Dimittis: “…for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (vv. 29-32). The universal scope of salvation is not merely intertwined to the First Century context; but narrator’s dynamic presentation of the utterance makes it an ever-present activity/an ongoing process. (4) The use of ‘historic presents’, ‘active voice’ forms, and ‘simple present’ and ‘present continuous’ tenses has more chances of readability than the pure narrative sections in the contemporary context.

Luke 3: (1) The narratorial of the chapter not only dialogues with the original readers but also with the paradigmatic readers. A narrator-reader dialogue beyond the time and space is conspicuous here. John the Baptist’s utterances in vv. 7-9 are sharp and harsh and they pierce the conscience of the readers for ‘bearing fruits worthy of repentance’. (2) Reader can notice the way John the Baptist speaks: (a) “whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none” (v. 11a); (b) “whoever has food must do likewise” (v. 11b); (c) “collect no more than the amount prescribed for you” (v. 13); and (d) “do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (v. 14b). A faith-constrained reader may take challenges from the text over against the imbalanced, poverty-stricken and corrupt systems and practices of her/his society. (3) An irony: while John the Baptist (‘one who proclaimed a baptism of repentance’ and ‘forgiveness of sins’, declared about ‘bearing good fruits’, ‘exhorted’, and preached ‘the good news to the people’) is imprisoned, Herod (one who ‘killed his own brother’, ‘lives with another one’s wife’, and ‘does all the evil things’) is the ruler. A paradigmatic reader may ask questions to her/his own context with inspiration from the text: “How many innocents are imprisoned?” and “How many culprits are ‘free’ today? (4) Resounding/echoing the divine utterance: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well-pleased”. Father’s utterance to the Son echoes/resounds in the life and actions of the reader. (5) While Matthew places his genealogy at the very beginning of his Gospel, Luke places it by the end of the third chapter. The ‘narratorial note’ in v. 23 (i.e., “as was thought”, NRSV) is powerful as that diverts reader(s)’s attention from Joseph’s fatherhood to God’s fatherhood. In that case, an ‘inclusion’ is formed between v. 23 and v. 38: ‘Jesus the Son of God’ at the beginning of the genealogy and ‘Adam the Son of God’ at the end.

Luke 4: (1) “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (v. 1). According to Luke, the driving force behind Jesus’ public ministry is the motivation of the Holy Spirit. Luke chapter 4 is not only a narratorial intended to argue for “material liberation”, but it also is a driving force for “spiritual transformation”. While liberationist interpreters of Luke attribute importance only to their favorite text (i.e., the “Nazareth Manifesto” pericope, vv. 18-19), the narrator of the Gospel beckons the attention of a paradigmatic reader so that the rest of the chapter be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ dialogue and victory over the devil. (2) Luke portrays Jesus not merely as a “liberationist reader” of the scriptures in vv. 18-19; but, rather a “paradigmatic reader”. Jesus begins his mission theology not merely from the “context”, but from the “text” itself, i.e., Isaiah 61:1-2. He also reads scriptural stories of Elijah, widow of Zarephat in Sidon, Elisha and Naaman the Syrian paradigmatically (cf. vv. 24-27). He reads the scriptures in chapter 4 and fulfills his social commitment in the succeeding chapters of the Gospel. Jesus begins with the reading of the scriptures and goes on for the contextual application; not from the context to the text.

Luke 5: (1) In paradigmatic reading (PR), a reader has greater responsibility to establish connectivity among the past, present and future linguistic phenomena. Mostly, the activity of reading is done in present tense. For doing that, ‘simple present’ and ‘present continuous’ talk-forms are often used. ‘Present perfect’ and ‘present perfect continuous’ are also used in order to bridge the text and the contemporary reader(s)/social situations. In PR, the activity of reading fulfills a transfer of meaning from the ‘past’ to a ‘living reality’. (2) In Luke 5:1-11, the miraculous catch of fish incident confirms Jesus’ position as one ‘from above’, Son of God, Messiah, and the universal Savior. But, still Jesus is down to the earth, sitting on a boat as a teacher who converses with people face-to-face, and interacting in natural human form. While he represents the ‘from above’ world, he identifies totally with the ‘from below’ world. Readers of the New Testament must take up the concerns of past-present-future connectivity considerably. (3) A paradigmatic reader may take up the following things seriously: (a) Jesus’ down-to-earthness (i.e., a leper is healed by his ‘very touch’… Jesus is touchable, one who is ‘near to’ and ‘dear to’ the people around… so also to the ‘live’ reader and her/his context); (b) People’s utterance in v. 26b (i.e., “We have seen strange things today”) is rhetorical for a today’s reader; and (c) Interactive/approachable nature of Jesus (i.e., tax-collectors and sinners are sitting, dining, and freely talking with him).

Luke 6: (1) Paradigmatic reading is faith-constrained reading. One approaches the text by faith and the activity of reading leads her/him to relate the message to the ‘live’ contextual realities. While the text exists as a ‘paradigm’, the activity of reading leads one to the level of anticipation, participation, efficiency and praxis-orientation. (2) Jesus and Pharisees/scribes dialogue//’lawful’ and ‘not lawful’ conflict: Pharisees asked: “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (v. 2). Jesus answered: “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? … which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” (vv. 3-4). Pharisees and scribes watched to see whether he would care on the Sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him (v. 7). Jesus said to them: “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy” (v. 9). A paradigmatic reader may understand that religious laws, dogmas and creeds are secondary to ‘human life’. Human life is not for ‘mere religiosity’; but, Christianity as a religion must exist for and value ‘human life’ (both physical and spiritual). (3) ‘Makarisms’ (vv. 20-22) and ‘Woes’ (vv. 24-26) are ‘direct speeches’ from Jesus’ own mouth. They ‘resound’ and make ‘echo effects’ in the activity of reading and may lead the reader from the ‘reading spot’ to the ‘action spot’. (4) A paradigmatic reader reads: (a) “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (v. 35); and (b) “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (v. 37). In multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-racial societies, a reader finds the efficacy of these sayings. (5) Jesus says: “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher”. A paradigmatic reader’s attempt will be to be “fully qualified” and to become “like the teacher” in her/his own ‘live’ context.                                                                                                                                                                      (will be continued…)

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

  1. Franklin Samraj says:

    very perceptional and conceptual analysis of the Majestic Events and Ideas in Luke both in Constructs and Exhibits in historical time frames

    Franklin Samraj
    Spicer College Pune India

  2. Thanks for your comment, Prof. Franklin Samraj. Paradigmatic Reading is ‘faith-constrained’, ‘scripture-centered’, ‘praxis-oriented’ and ‘scholarly’ in every sense. Do you think that ‘paradigmatic reading’ is an ideal way of reading the scriptures in the current global scenario, especially in the Indian context?

  3. Franklin Samraj says:

    When we start reading and if we start with some understanding it is because it is always paradigmatic initially, it is with further reading that we gather other possible perceptions- as others may understand and see the broader picture that unfolds, When we construct the understanding with the total scripture we then understand the global scenario, which includes the Indian context.

    In the beginning was the Word the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became Flesh and dwelt amongst us, every human being included here– The Greatest Paradigmatic statement possible- God with us.

  4. That’s a good observation. I love to suggest ‘paradigmatic reading’ over against the ‘liberationist reading’. In liberationist reading, text is reckoned as secondary to the context; but, in paradigmatic reading, text is the powerhouse that strengthens a reader to get involve in societal application. What is the role of ‘Holy Spirit’ in your activity of reading?

  5. Franklin Samraj says:

    In any text words are the” powerhouse” because of the meaning that I know and the intended content of the word calibrated with my experience in understanding the word both in context of the writer who is communicating through the text and the context and content of what the writer is trying to communicate with me – the the reader. This transfusion of thoughts from the writer to the reader through the word medium is simple and complex, depending on the content, capability, connivance factor etc.of the writer and the reader

    In view of the fact that one is deficient is many respects to sort out and find the Truth in any text, the guidance of the Holy spirit is not only useful but fully practical for the text to be societal in application – no man is an island

    I would like to substitute for the ” liberationist reading ” with oriented reading as another view of having the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  6. Nice to hear again. “Text words are ‘powerhouse'”. I like that. Only a paradigmatic reader can say that.

  7. Franklin Samraj says:

    What factors do you have to differentiate ” text words” from other groupings of words ?, do you favor an hierarchy in the usage of texts, to other grouping of words ?

  8. For me text is the starting point of interpretation. But, meaning does not limit within the textual framework. It rather interlocks with the contextual realities of the reader. If textual words remain within the textual horizon, there is no sense for reading the text. It must transcend to the level of the reader and provoke, influence, and persuade for praxis and liberation.

    • Franklin Samraj says:

      I like the phrase “it rather interlocks with the reader” to emphasize the interlink with the reader on a connecting basis, which is the reason for the text in the first place. The Textual horizon does not necessarily grow bigger with every reader – but an inspired reader does perceive more. However let us also know that many conceive unwanted or needless paths of divergence leading to either some forms of ascension or descension levels that does not correspond to the intended transcended level possible for the inspired reader

      How do react to speculation in context, logical illumination – are they both just imagination? How much imagination can one interject to a text for interpretation

  9. “Speculation in context”, “logical illumination” and “imagination”… nice. Imagination alone may not help us; but, “imagination” coupled with “logic” may make sense. As the scriptures are written once upon a time and context, we need as much knowledge as possible for exegesis and interpretation. In the process of interpretation, we may have to use both biblical and extra-biblical sources. On many occasions logical imagination is inevitable.

  10. Franklin Samraj says:

    I agree.

    For me a text is hardest to understand when it is literal and factual . When it is poetic etc, there is a given freedom to think along a wider spectrum.

  11. That’s a good finding. Unless one is trained in the activity of reading, reading is tiresome. Reading requires training. Whether in the prose-text or in poetical literature, this principle is important to consider. I call it “Readology”.

  12. Franklin Samraj says:

    Nice term Readology – could be readealogy, but if you would like to have some tricks and frivolous aspects in the training to either understand correctly or misunderstand incorrectly I would suggest Readiatrics

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