Luke 4:16-30 as Programmatic for the Gospel of Luke

The following is a paper submitted to Dr. Joshua W. Jipp in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course NT 6211, Synoptic Gospels and Johannine Literature, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, September, 2014.

This paper seeks to prove that Luke 4:16-30 is programmatic for Luke’s presentation of Jesus. This will be accomplished by overviewing Luke 4:16-30, providing an initial case for Luke 4:16-30’s programmatic role, investigating textual matters in Luke’s citation of Isaiah 61:1-2, and tracing key themes from 4:16-30 throughout the entirety of Luke’s gospel.

Overview of Luke 4:16-30

Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry begins with Jesus’ synagogue activity recorded in Luke 4:16-30. “As was His custom,” Jesus enters the synagogue. He then reads Isaiah 61:1-2 and interprets it by applying it to Himself in fulfillment categories (4:16-21).

Isaiah 61 occurs in the second major section of Isaiah, the ‘book of comfort’ (chs. 40-66). The ‘book of judgment’ (chs. 1-39) vividly presents God’s judgment of the nations, including Israel. In the ‘book of comfort’ the tides turn as Isaiah foretells of the restoration of God’s people. In Isaiah 61 the proclamation of this reversal of Israel’s fortunes is to be accomplished by a Spirit anointed messenger of God. Jesus interprets this agent as Himself.

The crowd reacts in astonishment (v.22).[1] Due to familiarity with Jesus, they are skeptical (v.22). Jesus responds with words of rebuke (v.23). A prophet is not accepted by those most familiar with him (v.24). Jesus illustrates this truth by citing prophets of old—Elijah and Elisha—who, although prophets of Israel, had significant ministry among Gentiles (vv.25-27). Upon receiving this lashing of words, in fury the congregation turned mob attempts to kill Him (vv.28-29). However, Jesus is able to escape (v.30).[2]

A Preliminary Case for Luke 4:16-30’s Programmatic Role in Luke’s Gospel

At the forefront, it will be helpful to establish a case for the programmatic role of Luke 4:16-30 in Luke’s gospel account. The following evidences are provided.

When compared with parallel gospel accounts (Mt 13:53-58; Mk 6:1-6),[3] a certain uniqueness of Luke 4:16-30’s function becomes apparent. In other words, the redactional purposes of Luke evidence Luke 4:16-30’s programmatic role in his gospel.

First, whereas both Matthew and Mark place this material in the midst of Jesus’ ministry, Luke locates this material as the opening scene of Jesus’ impending ministry (even despite Luke’s recognition of Jesus’ preceding ministry in Capernaum; Lk 4:23). This fronted location suggests that this account will set a precedent for the rest of the gospel.[4]

Second, whereas Mark (most likely the literary origin of this material for Matthew and Luke; cf. Markan priority) and Matthew’s accounts are relatively stable and similar, and although Luke’s account overlaps significantly with Mark and Matthew (e.g., Jesus teaching in his home town, astonishment at Jesus teaching, the crowd recognizing Jesus as Joseph’s supposed son, rejection of Jesus, Jesus’ interpretation that prophets are without honor in their nearest settings, etc.), Luke’s account contains significant differences.[5] Luke’s account contains attention-focusing details. In vv.16-21 the reader is forced to slow down as he or she wades through Luke’s meticulous details about Jesus’s activity in the synagogue (e.g., Jesus’ standing, receiving the scroll, opening the scroll, locating the passage, etc.). One senses an increased level of suspense until the intensity climaxes with Jesus’ statement, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21).

Further, Luke seems to present such details in a chiastic structure (synagogue setting [v.16, 20], standing/sitting [16, 20], giving/returning of scroll [17, 20], opening and closing of scroll [17, 20]) which focuses the readers attention on his most significant expansion of Mark and Matthew’s account. At the center of this chiasm, and thus highlighted by the chiastic structure, is Luke’s addition of Jesus reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 in application to Himself and His subsequent ministry. These redactional differences are the first of evidences indicating a unique programmatic role Luke gives to this material.

This Isaianic citation (Lk 4:18-19) further bolsters the programmatic role of this passage in Luke’s gospel. Isaiah’s prophetic message is widely recognized as paradigmatic for Luke’s gospel (this will be substantiated later). Therefore, by citing Isaiah 61 at the outset of a narrative full of further Isaianic citations, allusions, and theology suggests the programmatic nature of this initial precedent-setting account. In addition, later in the gospel, in response to John’s disciples, Jesus alludes to this passage Isaiah 61 to summarize His messianic mission and ministry (Lk 7:22). This further distinguishes Isaiah 61:1-2, and by extension Luke 4:16-30, as programmatic for Jesus’ mission as presented in Luke’s gospel.

Finally, although Jesus appears preaching in synagogues at other points in Luke’s gospel, Luke 4:16-30 is the only place in the gospel where Luke presents content of that preaching. As such, Luke likely expects the reader to interpret Luke 4:16-30 as paradigmatic for Jesus’ subsequent ‘gospeling’ activity (e.g., Lk 4:43-44).

An Investigation of the Text of Luke 4:18-19’s Citation of Isaiah 61:1-2 (LXX)

Luke’s citation of Isaiah 61 is somewhat complicated by textual differences between Isaiah 61:1-2 (LXX) and Luke 4:18-19. These are presented in the chart below. Because this paper argues that this citation is particularly significant for Luke 4:16-30’s programmatic function, space here is dedicated to a brief investigation of these textual issues.

Luke 4:18-19 (NA27) Isaiah 61:1-2 (LXX)
18 πνεῦμα κυρίου ἐπʼ ἐμὲοὗ εἵνεκεν ἔχρισέν με

εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς,

ἀπέσταλκέν με,

κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν

καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν,

ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει,

19 κηρύξαι ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτόν.

1 Πνεῦμα Κυρίου ἐπʼ ἐμέ,οὗ εἵνεκεν ἔχρισέν με·

εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς

ἀπέσταλκέν με,

ἰάσασθαι τοὺς συντετριμμένους τὴν καρδίαν,

κηρῦξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν

καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν,

 2 καλέσαι ἐνιαυτὸν Κυρίου δεκτὸν…

* Differences are marked by italics.

First, Luke omits ἰάσασθαι τοὺς συντετριμμένους τὴν καρδίαν. Since Jesus has a definite and significant healing minstry in the gospel of Luke, it seems more likely that this omission is due to textual reasons (e.g., Luke’s access to manuscripts) than Lukan theological purposes. Second, Luke’s use of κηρύσσω instead of καλέω may have to do with Luke’s preferential use of κηρύσσω in Luke-Acts. Third, Luke follows the LXX’s translation of וְלַאֲסוּרִ֖ים פְּקַח־קֽוֹחַ as καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν. Although these two readings are clearly different in meaning, the idea of reversal of fortunes remains intact in both; differences should not be exaggerated. Further, the LXX’s “sight to the blind” likely better fits Luke’s purposes. Fourth, and most interestingly, Luke includes Isaiah 58:6’s ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει. This deliberate inclusion is most assuredly due to Luke’s theological purposes. As will be demonstrated below, this ‘fortune reversal’ theme is prevelant in Luke’s gospel. Finally, Luke’s citation concludes before mention of ἡμέραν ἀνταποδόσεως (Isa 61:2, LXX). Luke may intentionally end with mention of “the year of the Lord’s favor” to emphasize the nature of Jesus’ ministry as a time of God’s gracious visitation.[6] In conclusion, these textual difference are either relatively trivial are can be explained by Luke’s purposes.

An Exposition of Key Luke 4:16-30 Themes Throughout Luke’s Gospel

The remainder of this paper seeks to demonstrate Luke 4:16-30’s programmatic role by presenting the pervasiveness of its key themes throughout the rest of the gospel.

Fulfillment of Scripture. In Luke 4, Jesus interprets His person and ministry as the fulfillment of Old Testament expectation, specifically, Isaianic eschatology (4:18-19, 21). This theme—Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament anticipation and prediction—saturates Luke’s entire account.[7] Specifically, Luke presents the person and the ministry of Jesus, as well as that of John the Baptist, within an Isaianic Paradigm (7:18-23; 22:37).[8]

Spirit Anointing. In Luke 4, Jesus’ claims the identity of God’s Spirit-anointed agent (4:18, 21), an identity that then pervades His entire ministry in Luke’s gospel. Having received the Spirit at His baptism (3:21-22), Jesus ministers with the Spirit’s power (4:14).[9] Other figures that carry forth God’s mission are also presented as filled with the Spirit.[10]

Preaching and ‘Gospeling.’ Jesus defines His mission as one of preaching the gospel of God’s eschatological intervention (4:18). And throughout Luke’s gospel He does just that, declaring the good news of God’s saving visitation in Himself and preaching to the people the ways of this inbreaking kingdom of God.[11]

Reversal of Fortunes. Jesus announces in His saving activity the reversal of fortunes (4:18-19).[12] This reversal of fortunes is evident in (1) His healings, which are signs and manifestations of the inbreaking of God’s fortune reversing kingdom,[13] (2) His reception of the marginalized and/or sinners,[14] and (3) His teaching on the values of His kingdom.[15]

Fate of a Prophet. Although, as in Luke 4:22, crowds respond to Jesus with marvel,[16] Jesus places Himself within a long trajectory of rejected prophets of God.[17] Although some receive Jesus by God’s grace (8:10; 10:21-22), the reaction He receives in Luke 4 serves as a general pattern (7:31-35) culminating in His crucifixion (22:47-23:49).[18] In contrast, the unexpected receive and are received by Jesus (14:15-24). As Elijah and Elish went to Gentiles (4:24-27), the inclusion of Gentiles in this new Jesus community is anticipated.[19]

This paper has demonstrated the programmatic role of Luke 4:16-30 in Luke’s presentation of Jesus. In Luke 4:16-30, the paradigm of Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s gospel is presented—Jesus as the scripture fulfilling, gospel proclaiming, fortune reversing, Isaianic Spirit-anointed prophet of God who is rejected by God’s people.


* No sources were used in the making of this paper.

[1] The language describing the people’s reaction in v.22 is rather ambiguous. The verb ἐμαρτύρουν can be understood positively as “witness to” or negatively as “witness against,” αὐτῷ as a dative of advantage (“to him”) or disadvantage (“against him”), and ἐθαύμαζον could be taken positively as “amazed” or “astonished” in a negative sense (cf. Jn 7:15, 21). Given Jesus’ negative reaction to the crowd (v.23-27), a more negative understanding seems more natural, although Jesus is not unknown to rebuke crowds expressing superficial positive reception of Him (e.g., Jn 6:26). Either way, this matter is not decisive for the thesis of this paper.

[2] Whether or not a miraculous escape is intended is not decisive for the thesis of this paper.

[3] Snippets of parallel material exist in various places in John’s gospel as well (compare Lk 4:22 and Jn 7:15, Lk 4:22 and Jn 6:42, Lk 4:24 and Jn 4:44, and Lk 4:29-30 and Jn 10:39). However, since John’s parallel material (1) is spread out across his work and (2) is composed later than Luke’s, and (3) may or may not be composed with access of knowledge of Luke, it is less helpful in analyzing Luke’s unique redactional purposes.

[4] In a similar way, Luke seems to present Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-40) as programmatic for the church’s ‘gospeling’ mission through the book.

[5] Whereas the following discussion focuses on Lukan additions to this material, one might also note certain Lukan omissions, e.g., Luke lacks the mention that Jesus ceased (generally speaking; Mk 6:5) his healing ministry as a result of the people’s unbelief.

[6] Nonetheless, in light of Simeon’s earlier comment in Luke 2:34 that “this child [Jesus] is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” and the nature of John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministry, which clearly demarcate those who align themselves with God’s inbreaking kingdom and those who do not (Lk 3:7-9; 12:49-53), it seems unlikely that Luke’s theology of Jesus’ earthly ministry intentional excludes ideas of judgment.

[7] 1:32-33, 54-55, 68-75; 2:4, 11, 38; 3:23-38; 9:20; 10:23-24; 11:47-51; 18:31, 38-39; 19:28-38 (cf. Zech 9:9), 45-46; 20:17-18, 42-43; 21:22, 69; 24:25-27, 44-47.

[8] See also 1:17, 76; 2:32; 3:4-6; 7:27.

[9] See also 4:1; 5:17; 6:19; 8:46; 10:21; 11:20; 12:10.

[10] 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27; 11:13; 12:12; 24:49.

[11] 4:43-44; 6:20-49; 7:22; 8:1; 9:11; 13:10, 22; 16:16; 20:1; cf. 2:10; 3:18; 9:2, 6; 10:9-11; 19:44.

[12] Cf. 1:5-7, 13, 19, 24-25, 36, 48, 51-53; 2:8-20; 16:19-31.

[13] 4:33-35, 38-41; 5:12-13, 18-25; 6:6-10, 17-19; 7:12-15, 21; 8:2, 26-33, 41-56; 9:11, 38-42; 10:18; 11:14, 20-22; 13:11-13, 32; 14:2-4; 17:12-19; 18:35-43; 22:51; cf. 9:1-2, 6; 10:9, 17-19.

[14] 5:29-32; 6:13-16; 7:34, 36-50; 8:2-3; 14:15-24; 15:1-32; 19:1-10.

[15] 6:20-26; 8:19-21; 9:24, 46-48; 10:30-37; 11:28; 13:30; 14:11, 12-14; 17:33; 18:9-16, 22, 24-25, 29-30; 21:1-4; 22:24-27.

[16] 2:47; 4:14-15; 32, 36-37; 5:9, 26; 7:16-17, 49; 8:25, 37; 9:43; 13:17; 20:26; 24:12.

[17] 11:29-32, 42-51; 13:33-35; 20:9-15; 22:64; 24:19-10; cf. 3:20; 7:30.

[18] 5:21, 30; 6:7, 11; 9:22, 44; 10:13-16; 11:15-16, 53-54; 12:50; 16:14; 17:25; 18:31-33; 19:14; 20:19-20: 22:2, 15; cf. 9:4-5; 10:5-12; 21:12-17.

[19] 7:2-10; 8:26-39; 17:12-19; 20:16; 23:47; cf. Acts.