The Anonymous Disciple

29 Mar
Road to Emmaus

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Near the end of his Gospel narrative Luke tells us of an event whereby the resurrected Lord appeared to perhaps the first two male disciples (Luke 24:13-33). While it is possible that the Lord appeared first to Peter (Simon, cf. Luke 24:34), certainly Jesus’ appearance to the two in route to Emmaus came soon after he appeared to the women. One of the two was Cleopas (Luke 24:18), but the other remains anonymous. Therefore, the story of this appearance of Jesus comes from one of these two men. If we owe it to Clopas, it is odd that he doesn’t name the other disciple. If we owe this record to the unidentified disciple, it is odd that Luke doesn’t name his source. What can be said of these things?

The idea that Luke may be this disciple comes to us from the 10th and 11th centuries AD, and its treatment by the 10th century Menologion implies a much earlier source.[1] This argument, of course, cannot be proved with certainty, but there are several interesting circumstantial events that could be viewed as supporting the idea that Luke is the anonymous disciple in the final chapter of his narrative. The Gospel of Luke makes use of the chiasmus as a literary tool. For example, “And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last” (Luke 13:30). The chiastic structure is simple:

A–there are last
……B–which shall be first
……B–there are first
A–which shall be last

The chiasmus can be quite complex incorporating many verses and, at times, several chapters in the Bible. I am uncertain that the entire book of Luke could be shown to be a large, complex chiasmus, but for many years I have wondered about its beginning and ending. Luke begins and ends with prayer in the Temple. My point in mentioning this and the chiasmus is that Luke points to himself in the preface of his narrative, and, if the anonymous disciple in Luke 24 is the Gospel writer, this would be fitting as far as the chiasmus is concerned. Nevertheless, I lack the expertise to say with certainty that Luke’s entire Gospel is made up of one great chiasmus.

Another interesting point is that Peter is the leading disciple, but the circumstances of the Lord’s appearance to him is virtually nil and receives only a mention in Luke 24:34. Nevertheless, Luke describes the experience of the two on the way to Emmaus as though he is describing the event of Jesus appearance as an eyewitness: we trusted (Luke 24:21), didn’t our heart burn within us and while he opened the Scriptures to us (Luke 24:33). Why would Luke give so much space to Cleopas and an unidentified disciple and so little to Peter, the leading disciple, unless Luke is describing his own experience? Luke could be telling us of his witness of the resurrected Lord, which qualified him to write his Gospel and at least imply that his Gospel should be received with the same gravity as that of the eyewitnesses of Luke 1:2 which were the Apostles (cf. Luke 1:3). However, if Luke’s Gospel is a secondhand account offered from his research and interviews with various eyewitnesses, how could his Gospel be of equal value as that of the eyewitnesses themselves?

Finally, although it cannot be proved one way or another, it does make perfect sense that Luke is describing his own privileged experience in Luke 24:13-34. Think about it, if you were one of the first two male disciples to see the risen Christ, wouldn’t you want to tell others about it? What significance, that the Lord singled these two out of so many to be the first males to witness his resurrected state. It seems odd that the Lord would do this for two insignificant men.[2] Yet, it would be very significant if one of the two was the author of this Gospel and Acts and arguably the most prolific writer of the New Testament.


[1] See John Wenham’s Identification of Luke, Evangelical Quarterly 63:1 (1991), 3 – 44, from which my argument here is based.

[2] Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene and unidentified women can be explained in that it was to add status to women in general, which went against the culture of the day.

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Posted by on March 29, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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