Χριστός in Luke (Part 3)

by James Dowden

1. Summary of what’s gone before

In Part 1, we examined Luke’s use of χριστός. A consistent pattern emerged of its being a title, rather than another name for Jesus.

In Part 2, we looked at how Luke had redacted his sources. Although individually the data may look like mere selection of material, or influenced by differing eschatologies, the overall tendency to omit conflicting usages or modify them (e.g. with “of God”) looks like a redactional pattern.

Now, if the gospels were the only potentially relevant documents in determining Luke’s usage of a word, then that would be that. But traditionally — based on the prefaces and on being in good Greek deploying a wide vocabulary — Luke is also thought to have written the Acts of the Apostles.

2. A boring note about text types

Looking at any word in Acts quickly runs into the issue of divergent text-types: the Western text is about a tenth longer than the Alexandrian one. The Western text is particularly characterized by concatenating κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, which makes the use of χριστός in that version of Acts look extremely divergent from Luke. Critical opinion tends to favor the shorter Alexandrian text, and it is that text that is represented by the SBL edition that I have used for this post — this should be the less divergent of the two from Luke.

3. Let’s get on with it

Χριστός appears in Acts 25 times — or about twice as frequently as in the gospel. Let’s jump in with a simple scorecard for our four criteria:

Generic 12 (including 2 ambiguous instances)
Byname 13

Definite Article 12 (including 1 ambiguous instance)
No Article 13

Part of a Copula Predicate 5 (including 1 instance where εἶναι is understood)
Other 20 (including 1 instance as the direct object of ποιέω)

Genitive Modifier 1 (τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ at 4.26, quoting Psalm 2.2)
No Genitive Modifier 24

The potentially ambiguous instances are those at 3.20 and 5.42, and they bear some similarity to one another:

3.20 καὶ ἀποστείλῃ τὸν προκεχειρισμένον ὑμῖν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν
and that he might send the Messiah appointed for you, Jesus
OR: and that he might send the one appointed for you, Christ Jesus

5.42 καὶ εὐαγγελιζόμενοι τὸν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν
and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah (this is that understood εἶναι)
OR: and proclaiming the good news of Christ Jesus

At once, this is a very different picture from the one seen in the Gospel. God’s anointed has completely disappeared, apart from a solitary Old Testament quote. And although the identity of the Anointed still occurs, it is lost in a sea of other uses.

The groups with and without the article near-perfectly align with generic/byname usage (2.31 and 2.36 flip). So let’s look at how χριστός is used in each group:

With the definite article (total 12):

  • 5 as part of a copula predicate (5.42; 9.22; 17.3(ii); 18.5,22)
  • 3 that the Anointed should suffer (3.18; 17.3; 26.23), cf Luke 24.26,46
  • 2 royal proclamations (3.20; 8.5)
  • 1 quote from Psalm 2.2 (4.26)
  • 1 allusion to Psalm 16.10 (2.31)

Without the article (total 13):
11 instances of Ἰησοῦς Χριστός:

  • 4 baptism in the name of (2.38; 3.6; 8.12; 10.48)
  • 3 healings and exorcisms (4.10 (name of); 9.34; 16.18 (name of))
  • 1 peace through Jesus Christ (10.36)
  • 3 instances of {the|our} Lord Jesus Christ (11.17 (believing in); 15.26 (men risking lives for the name of); 28.31 (teaching about))

2 other instances:

  • the object of ποιέω, to make, at 2.36
  • faith in Χριστός Ἰησοῦς at 24.24 (as this is reporting speech by Paul, maybe this is deliberately adopting an obvious Paulinism)

The former group looks relatively similar to the Gospel, albeit a bit more apt to introducing quotations, and for the absence of God’s anointed; this could, however, be the result of imitation, or even a Lucan school. The second group is characterized by totemic use of Ἰησοῦς Χριστός at baptisms, healings, and exorcisms; but the other, narrative uses of this combination are more problematic for maintaining the identity of the author of Acts with the author of the Gospel (or at least of most of chapters 3-24).

4. Conclusion

There is a real problem with the use of χριστός in Acts being inconsistent with that of Luke. It’s almost as if Luke is the Farrer Theory’s careful redactor in the Gospel, then becomes the Two-Source Theory’s comedy dim-witted bodger, the Reverend Mr Luke, in the Acts. Rather than drawing a firm conclusion, let me throw out some alternative hypotheses:

  1. that there were two redactors: one who carefully fashioned most of the gospel, and another who adopted the gospel and various other things he liked virtually wholesale, giving us Luke-Acts as we know it;
  2. that proto-Western corruptions are already present in the Alexandrian text of Acts;
  3. that there is some literary significance in the use of χριστός changing after the Ascension.

Of course, this isn’t the only argument for the first of these positions. Perhaps I’ll get onto some of the others some time. But for now, I’ll just leave this as a problem that arises from taking Luke’s redaction seriously.

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