As I was preparing for an upcoming exegetical paper in my hermeneutics class, I noticed an interesting pattern in our assigned text of Acts 8:26–40. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch follows precisely the same formula as the episode in Luke 24 in which Jesus chats with a couple disciples on the road to Emmaus:
1) Both narratives occur on a road leading out from Jerusalem (Emmaus/Wilderness Road);
2) Both involve a perplexed reader (two disciples/Ethiopian eunuch);
3) Both feature a enlightened authority who helps the reader reinterpret the Jewish scriptures to explain the Messiahship of Jesus (Jesus/Philip);
4) Both narratives feature an epiphany (disciples’ eyes are opened/eunuch desires to be baptized);
5) Each of the episodes culminates in a sacramental demonstration (eucharist/baptism);
6) Finally, if this weren’t enough, both passages end with the mysterious disappearance of the enlightened authority figure.
I think the key to both examples is the re-interpreting of Jewish scripture to account for ideas that aren’t necessarily in the text. When Jesus chides the disciples on the road for not knowing that it was “necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26), he fails to mention that in fact no such prophecy or interpretation of Jewish scripture in which the expected Messiah was supposed to suffer existed at the time. This interpretation requires a reorientation of the Jewish hermeneutical lens.
Unfortunately, this realization is a bit too broad to include in my short exegetical paper which will be strictly limited to the Acts 8 text. But I was wondering if anyone has read anything else about this literary cycle, or noticed its appearance elsewhere in Luke/Acts? I would love to read more about it.
 See Andy Johnson, “Our God Reigns: The Body of the Risen Lord in Luke 24,” Word & World 22/2 (2002) 136.
I have nothing to add, but I don’t think I have noticed this parallel until now. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it slipped my attention completely. Once again, Acts shows the Church continuing the work of Christ, even as authoritative interpreters of Scripture.
It certainly does seem obvious in retrospect. This is one of the reasons I think that there has to be more research out there on this kind of parallel in Luke/Acts. Somebody had to have noticed this before.
These specific parallels are pretty interesting to me, and actually reinforce what I’ve already found or been taught about Luke-Acts. The author specifically sets out to demonstrate how the Church continued to do what Jesus did – proclaiming the arrival of kingdom of God in the person of Jesus – which is highlighted by making the narratives parallel to one another. (This makes Acts more than just an account of early Church history… Acts is, in fact, a Gospel, just like John, Mark, Matthew, and Luke.)
In other words, Acts follows the same structure as Luke, and on two different levels. The parallels can be laid out as follows:
1. The whole narrative of Luke.
2. The whole narrative of Acts.
3. The narrative focusing on evangelism ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria’ (Acts 1-12, primarily following Peter and the Twelve).
4. The narrative focusing on evangelism ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 9-28, primarily following Paul).
Parallels are between 1 and 2, or 1 and 3, or 1 and 4. The parallels mentioned in your blog post would be parallels between 1 and 3 specifically. However, the narratives of 3 and 4 occasionally overlap with overarching narrative of 2. Some of the parallels include:
a. Opening metaphor of ‘baptism of the holy spirit’ in the context of God’s king / kingdom (Luke 3.16; Acts 1.5; 11.16).
b. Evangelism including social outreach, miracles, exorcisms.
c. Repeated conflict with the Jewish authorities.
d. Protagonist (Jesus / Paul) heads toward Jerusalem, is welcomed in, goes to the temple, which is ultimately what leads to the climax of the narrative.
e. Protagonist arrested (Luke 22.54; Acts 6-7; Acts 12.3-4; 23.10), to face the Jewish and Roman rulers (Jesus faces both in Luke 22-23; Peter faces Herod in Acts 12; Paul faces both in Acts 23-28).
f. Protagonist (Jesus / Paul) is slapped when facing the high priest (Luke 22.63; Acts 23.2).
g. Protagonist’s presence is first made known to a woman, who tells others but is not immediately believed (Luke 24.1-11; Acts 12.12-15).
That is a great list.
Excellent observations and outline, Mark. I was an English major in my undergrad, so I’ve always been a sucker for literary parallels. I’m wondering if there are any other occasions in Luke/Acts which follow the particular formula I mentioned above?
Another one based on geography would be Jesus to Jerusalem and Paul to Rome. Jesus must go to Jerusalem. Paul must go to Rome. The end of the Gospel is obsessed w. Jesus’ movement to Jerusalem while the end of Acts is the same concerning Paul and Rome.
Very interesting, Brian. There’s even a parallel between Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem to be killed and Paul’s journey to Rome for presumably the same purpose.
I love that I have found others who enjoy the same geeky stuff I do. I love that Luke/Acts and John/Revelation have many chiastic structure parallels as well. Have you ever read anything by Warren Gage? His dissertation was on the chiastic structures in John/Revelation and was EXCELLENT! It really opened up the scripture in a deeper way for me. The patterns that run throughout scripture are indeed another way the Holy Spirit teaches us about the Lord. I can’t find a link to the Dissertation but if you would like to read it, I can send it through email, just let me know. It also has an Appendix to the Concentric and Parallel Correspondence in Luke-Acts.
These are fascinating parallels. As investigation has delivered these insights one may wonder how a hermeneutical lens may obscure the obvious. Does the provision of skins to hide nakedness, the sacrifice of the innocent and very best, or Isaac suffering the intentions of his father before deliverance provide examples of suffering? Do not these indicate suffering that would be understood without need for explanation? The explanation may have been necessary to reorient thinking to realize that which was accomplished as foretold, to draw back the lens from immediate concerns to recognize the whole. Suffering and expiation was a concept familiar to all ancient peoples.
After 30 years in Pastoral Ministry, I am now able to pursue a Ph.D. dissertation on an issue that created intrigue for too long: the hermeneutical pupose of the 1000’s of parallels between Luke and Acts, Jesus-Peter, Peter-Paul, and Jesus-Paul. These parallels are more technically called “recursions”; Recursions occur at the micro level, tying stories together with as many as 40 links per story.Recursions also occur at the macro level. Paul’s life and ministry is patterned precisely after Jesus’ life and ministry. The recursions that depict Paul re-enacting Jesus numbers into the 1000’s.
In fact, every single story in Luke has its “twin” story in Acts. Everything that Jesus did in the first account (Luke), Paul re-enacts in the second volume (Acts). It all started for me years ago when I took the phrase “Jesus began…” seriously in Acts 1:1.
The larger question to pursue is ‘why’? What was the writer’s purpose for these endless number of recursions? I am finding that the answer is rather profound and church-changing in many ways.
I agree, Tim. The larger question for me (particularly in the case of this story) is why the author would link these two stories to begin with. What do they have to do with one another? What is the significance of both stories ending with a sacramental demonstration?
To answer your good question, one would need to examine both contexts; for example, when the context for Genesis 3:8ff (“their eyes were opened”) is compared with the context of Luke 24: 13ff (“their eyes were opened”), one quickly can see that man and woman in paradise is the key that opens the lock (Luke is only Gospel that mentions paradise).
Yet another curious parallel: the author’s use of the Greek verb ἀρξάμενος, translated in the NRSV as “beginning (with)” and “starting (with)” in Luke 24:27 and Acts 8:35, respectively.
It appears that in shifting the Jewish hermeneutical lens, the author of Luke/Acts sees it necessary to “go back to the beginning” to fit the story of Jesus into the metanarrative of Jewish history. Interestingly, however, Luke 24 depicts Jesus starting with “Μωϋσέως καὶ ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν προφητῶν,” while in Acts Philip chooses to begin “ἀπὸ τῆς γραφῆς ταύτης,” i.e., the Isaiah passage the eunuch was reading when he and Philip first met.
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