Christianity is distinguished by a book. The New Testament is the basis for all Christian thought and practice. For the Christian, these ancient writings of the early church disclose the complete revelation of Jesus Christ. The New Testament must be read, studied and interpreted for the purpose of understanding, communicating and adhering to the principles found therein. In the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the reader comes across a compelling narrative. The scene of the story takes place on the very day in which the Lord Jesus Christ tossed off the shackles of death and resurrected from the grave. Just outside of Jerusalem on the road to the village Emmaus, Christ encounters, engages and reveals Himself to two followers that had been overwhelmed by the significant events surrounding the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection. Within the descriptive dialogue declared in Luke’s Gospel, the Christian believer of today has yet one more definitive piece which helps complete the Gospel account of Jesus Christ. Therefore the aim of this paper is to explain and example why and how to appropriately expound a particular passage of interest.
The Context of the Gospel of Luke
The focus of Luke’s account took place over two thousand years ago. Luke wrote to ancient people in an ancient culture with an ancient language. Therefore the modern reader must be familiar with these cross cultural and epoch-spanning dimensions. Today’s believer must recognize that the Bible has come secondhand through others who lived in different times and in different places. Therefore, for one to have a valid biblical interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture, it must be consistent with the historical-cultural context of that text.
Historical-cultural context helps the reader to understand text by identifying just about anything outside the text that helps to relate. Let’s face it, the difference between living in the United States of America in the year 2010 compared to living in Jerusalem in the days of Christ are enormous. The preunderstandings that the modern day reader bring to the task of interpretation as he approaches Scripture are significant. D.S. Ferguson has defined preunderstanding as “a body of assumptions and attitudes which a person brings to the perception and interpretation of reality or any aspect of it.” Before one can study a text in detail, the interpreter brings with him a culture, a life experience and a worldview. Thereby preunderstandings come from things such as exposure to music, art, literature, and life circumstances whether from secular or Christian perspectives. The information that one already possesses about a subject, the disposition or prejudice one brings, the frame of reference or point of view and the actual approach in explaining a subject is how preunderstandings come about. Therefore, it is the task of every interpreter to establish the historical-cultural context of the passage one is studying. Exercising this discipline will enable the interpreter to compare and contrast modern day preunderstandings and the true intent of the biblical text.
Early tradition verified by second century witnesses and the early title of the book favors Luke, the traveling companion of Paul, as the author of the Gospel of Luke. The titles of the Gospels, which have been attributed to particular authors, circulated throughout the Roman world from an early period of time. Although the titles are not inspired, their wide circulation in the ancient world indicates that the tradition is early and there is no evidence against this attribution. The Muratorian Canon (c. a.d. 180) lists Luke as the author of the third Gospel, and so do Irenaeus (c. a.d. 175) and Marcion (c. a.d. 135). Therefore, Luke is the most likely candidate for the author of the Gospel of Luke.
As a person, Luke’s entry into biblical record is somewhat unannounced and unexpected that casual readers seldom noticed his arrival. Unlike many of the characters of Scripture, Luke came into view from obscurity. John the Baptist was announced by an angel. Matthew, Mark, and John had many things written of them. However, Luke was introduced to the readers of Scripture by a mere personal pronoun in a manuscript which he himself wrote.
From the beginning of the Christian era, two books, Luke’s Gospel, and The Acts of the Apostles, have been credited to Luke, yet nowhere in these writings does the author’s name appear. All the information known of Luke comes from seven brief passages of scripture: Colossians 4:10–14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11; Luke 1:1–4; Acts 16:10–17; Acts 20:5–21; Acts 27:1–28:16. Much speculation has been made regarding his nationality, but it remains extremely doubtful whether any man can write authoritatively on this subject. However, there appears to be a great amount of support that Luke was a Gentile physician. Colossians 4:14 indicates that Luke was a physician. This is supported by the use of extensive medical terms throughout his writing. Carson and Moo write, “The third Gospel betrays considerable interest in Gentiles and may point to a Gentile author. He was quiet clearly an educated man, and he writes very good Greek.” As a Greek physician, Luke was an educated man and in touch with the science of his day. Greek medicine is the beginning of the science of medicine. Tradition calls him a painter, but of that we know nothing. Luke was a man of culture and a man of compassion. He was the first genuine scientist who faced the problem of Christ and of Christianity therefore it is important to see him as one who wrote his gospel with an open mind and with an insatiable thirst for truth.
Look wrote his gospel account with a unique purpose. Luke was greatly indebted to his companions for which made his gospel possible. Luke certainly profited by listening to Paul’s exposition of the Word of God, but Paul could not have supplied all the facts revealed in Luke’s writings. With the meticulous care of a doctor who recorded details in case histories, this man went in search of facts and found them. There is reason to believe that Luke was indebted to Paul, not for the facts he recorded, but for the flaming evangelistic zeal which the apostle breathed into the soul of the author.
So as Luke gathered information, he realized he was in possession of facts which had never been told; he held a priceless treasure would help reveal Christ as the Savior of the world. Perhaps when Luke shared his thoughts with Paul, the apostle would recognize the need for an authentic record, and encourage his companion and friend to produce the Gospel in written form. It is almost certain that Matthew and Mark had by this time published their gospels, yet neither of these satisfied Luke’s analytical mind. Luke clearly states his purpose for writing his gospel account:
In as much as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
Luke opens his gospel by stating his purpose and recognizing his addressee, Theophilus. Theophilus is the transliteration of a of a Greek word meaning “lover of God”. Therefore some scholars suggest that Luke’s address is “generic” meaning that Luke is writing to anyone that is a lover of God. However, most believe that Theophilus is a real person. Luke may have been writing and using an alias to protect one’s identity but he is addressing someone specific. However, although he is specifically writing to Theophilus, it is clear that Luke understood that others would read his account. Luke seems to position Theophilus as the representative of a class of people in whom Luke intended to reach.
From his own writings we come to understand the fact that Luke first met Paul in the thriving seaport town of Troas. This town was the important gateway between the civilizations of West and East. Ships were constantly arriving daily from distant parts of the world from the trade routes of Asia and merchantmen brought their goods to this export center. It was from this port city that Luke traveled with Paul into Macedonia effectively bringing the gospel of Christ to Europe. When Luke writes his gospel, the church had separated from Judaism and was experiencing hostility from the Jews. This period of time is a time in church history when believers needed to find their place. Christian Jews struggled to free themselves from the law while Gentile believers wrestled with how to fit into a religion embedded with a rich Jewish traditions. Aided by the conquest of Alexander the Great, the Greek culture known as Hellenism dominated this period of time in the ancient world. Just like today in American culture, the people of this ancient time period thought like and reflected the culture in which they lived. Their form of government, city plans, architecture, styles of clothing, entertainment and language came by Greek influence. This of course instilled cultural priorities, values, philosophy, religions and norms for behavior. There are several things noteworthy about the Greek culture. First, the Greeks did not have a uniform type of government, rather each city state had its own king or council. Therefore, when Rome became the reigning authority by the time of Christ, hostility and resentment is clearly evident to Roman rule. Second they sought to provide everything necessary for a good life in which the Greek cities were the focus of political, social and economic life. Third, gymnasiums were of special importance for it acted as the center for communal life, business and learning. This would initially assist in organizing the Jewish synagogue to do the same which would ultimately be the model for the local church. Finally, education was critical for it enabled the citizen to function well in politics or courts of law. Although most in were illiterate in early Christianity, Christianity was a highly literary religion.
Literary Context Examined
In Luke chapter 24, the author continues his chronological structure. Considering the authors structure we can better understand Luke’s theme. Luke contrasts the death of Christ with the deliverance of Christ. As one reads Luke’s gospel account, the reader is moved from the noticeable absence of Christ to the visible appearance of Christ. Of course, this is consistent with the Luke’s purpose as he writes his gospel along with his other writing (the book of Acts) and the rest of Bible.
Every text in the Bible is labeled in a particular form or category of literature as it is found in Scripture. “Literary genre” is an expression referring to the different categories or types of literature found. These genres shape our expectations in approaching a particular passage of Scripture. Also, each literary genre in the Bible comes with its own rules for interpretation. Therefore, before one tackles the task of interpreting a single passage of Scripture, literary context must be established.
The Gospel of Luke reveals the biblical genre in its name for the Gospels are its own category in Scripture. The Gospels are first stories. Specifically, the Gospels are the stories of Jesus drawn from the personal experience of the apostles. They are not intended to be merely biographies for they prove to be uniquely Christian. Therefore some suggest that the Gospels are best called theological biographies. The Gospel of Luke, as previously stated, was to reveal the facts about Christ; the man, His message and His ministry.
Luke’s second great piece of writing is the continuation of the ministry of Christ after His ascension to Heaven which is recorded in the book of Acts. Once again Luke structures his book chronologically and sets out to reveal the “acts of the Apostles” as Christ reveals Himself through the power of His Spirit. These mighty acts of the early church once again authentically reveal Christ to those that read, but this is the theme of all the Scripture. It should be duly noted that the Bible is a book given to reveal His story to man. From the opening pages of Genesis to the final words of Revelation, the Scripture centers the reader squarely upon Christ.
The Content of the Passage
The Resurrection of Christ: Verse 13
Chapter 24 of Luke begins on Sunday “the first day of the week”, but this is not simply any ordinary Sunday. This Sunday is unlike all others in history. This is the resurrection day of Christ. In the previous chapter, Christ had just been crucified. In the closing verses of chapter 23, the body of our Lord was prepared for burial and then placed in a borrowed tomb. The narrative discloses that two of Christ’s followers were walking from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus. This was about a 7 mile journey. Many have speculated as to who these two were. Of course in verse 18 one name is given, Cleopas. The other is not mentioned in the text. Some have suggested that this Cleopas is the one John mentioned in his gospel in chapter 19 verse 25 spelled “Cleophas”. If this was the case, then the other likely traveler would have been Mary his wife who is mentioned in the same verse in John’s gospel. We could then picture the two returning home after the trial and death of Christ. However, there is not enough evidence to conclude on this matter, but regardless the context immediately following this passage reveals that these two were welcomed in the circle of the original disciples.
The Demonstration of Christ: Verses 14-16
As one reads Luke’s account concerning the events surrounding the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, one can reasonably understand what must have been dominating the hearts and minds of His followers. As they were talking about the things they had experienced together, Christ appeared as a common man traveling in the same direction but they could not recognize Him for “their eyes were prevented.” Thayer defines the Greek word for the English word “prevented” as “hold”. Therefore, in essence, what Luke describes the two travelers eyes were unable to hold on and grasp that Christ had just met up with them. However, Luke’s reason for Christ not being recognized is a subjective one, and his narrative affords no support to the theory of a change in our Lord’s appearance regarding His resurrection body.
Perhaps in our modern day, many would not appreciate a stranger joining up with them while they traveled. However it would not be an uncommon scene in the days of Christ. Jewish travelers would not consider it unusual for a stranger, who is also a fellow Jew, to join their small company walking for some distance, especially if they assume him to be a Passover pilgrim on his way home.
The Question From Christ: Verse 17-19
As Jesus approaches the travelers He doesn’t waste time in engaging the couple. In essence He asks, “What are you talking about?” Obviously, with Jesus pretending not to know about the things they were conversing does not mean that He did not know the answer. In other places of Scripture we see God asking questions in an attempt to expose man’s condition. For example in Genesis 3:9 and 11, while Adam is hiding due to his sin, God questions where he is and who deceived him. Likewise, when Cain slew Able God inquired what had happened to Able. In both cases, God was pointing out the obvious by causing man to answer the pointed question. Once again in this case, Christ has made a point by exposing the two traveling. These travelers, although cognizant of the events that had transpired over the weekend, do not know who Christ is.
Although not like in today’s society in which info is transmitted globally instantly, news spread quickly by word of mouth in those days and with the news of public executions at a religious feast would have been widely communicated. No matter where a Greek-speaking pilgrim visiting Jerusalem for the feast was from, he or she would probably have heard something about these matters. It was a reasonable expectation for Cleopas to expect the news of the crucifixion of Christ to have traveled fast.
The Communication About Christ: Verses 19-24
Cleopas’ words reflect a state of confusion. All of Jesus’ followers must have been overwhelmed by the competing emotions. The Old Testament period strongly emphasized the fate of the Jewish nation. Within the heart of Jewish believers there could be found a Messianic hope. The nation of Israel was looking for one that would deliver them from worldly oppression and usher in deliverance from worldly tyranny. Jewish literature relating to this subject did not suggest that the Messiah was divine nor did it focus on his suffering for human beings. Most Jews believed that God would rise up a man to bring deliverance from Rome by military force.
During the intertestamental period of Judaism, the testing of the individual became a growing emphasis and the doctrine of individual resurrection emerged. Most Palestinian Jews believed that God would resurrect the bodies of the dead of the righteous at the end of the age. In Psalm 16 and in Isaiah 26:19 the suggestion of resurrection is found. However, although many believed that God would resurrect the righteous one day, the doctrine of the resurrection was not a clear emphasis. Therefore, the account of Jesus’ resurrection was rooted in a Jewish hope, which in turn was rooted in notions of God’s covenant, His promise and His justice from early in Israel’s history. There was, however, never any thought that one person would rise ahead of everyone else; thus Jesus’ resurrection, as an inauguration of the future kingdom within history, caught even the disciples by surprise.
Culturally, Jews often considered the witness of women nearly worthless, because they regarded women as unstable and undependable. This only added to the disciple’s confusion once the testimony of the woman who arrived early at the Lord’s sepulcher came forward. The two travelers heading to Emmaus were deeply distraught as their whole Jewish worldview was being actively challenged.
The Instruction of Christ: Verses 25-27
Christ quickly points out their lack of understanding and proceeds to expound the Old Testament Scripture concerning the prophecies of the promised Messiah. No doubt the Lord used passages like Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and Isaiah 9, 11 and 53 and many others in the Old Testament to preach to them the good news. Rabbinic literature regularly praised interpreters with the deep insight into Scripture that Jesus clearly demonstrated here with these two travelers. The mind’s eye can clearly see the penetrating gaze of the wayward travelers eagerly and gratefully attuned to every word that proceeded from the lips of the Master. They were mesmerized as they hung on to every word which was full of the hope of Christ.
The Communion with Christ: Verses 28-30
Hospitality was a crucial obligation. It was polite for Jesus to continue on His journey unless He would have been invited to stay. Inviting Him to stay could have been a test for their hospitality. True Godly hospitality in this culture demanded no less than the lodging which is what these disciples offered Christ. The sun was going down and night travel would prove to be particularly dangerous especially the further one traveled from Jerusalem due to robbers that preyed on such the sort. It was not uncommon for Jewish people throughout the ancient world to welcome fellow Jews who were traveling to spend the night and insist on their staying. Insistence was also a big part of their culture’s hospitality. It was also part of hospitality to offer bread to a guest, no matter how late in the evening. The host would feel the obligation to feed the guest who had graced the home. Although many homes would have used up their day’s bread by nightfall, in a small village people would know who still had bread left over. In certain villages of that region, bread might last for several days, but one was pressed to serve a guest a fresh unbroken loaf as an act of hospitality. After the long walk, these travelers would be hungry anyway. It is interesting to note that Jesus takes the role usually held by the head of the household in giving thanks and giving bread to those at the table. This of course is how He exercised among his disciples.
The Revelation of Christ: Verses31-32
Just after the Lord blessed the bread and distributed it among those around the table, the eyes of the travelers were opened and they finally recognized Christ for who He was. This was testimony enough to the resurrection. Jesus was alive. Angels were sometimes said to come in disguises and reveal themselves only at the end of their mission as exampled by Raphael to Tobit and Tobias in the book of Tobit, but this was not the case with humans. Although one reason these disciples did not recognize Jesus may have been that their eyes were blinded, Jesus’ subsequent disappearance also seems to indicate that He has a new kind of body. This is the sort of body promised to the righteous in the future resurrection.
Application of the Passage
Luke intended his readers to have an accurate understanding of the person and ministry of Christ. As a theological biography, Luke discloses his narrative as a historian in an attempt to share the facts surrounding the events of Christ’s death burial and resurrection. The original audience would read this account and add it to the others occasions in which Christ revealed Himself after His resurrection. Apologetically, this would aid in mounting evidence in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ for there were witnesses to these facts.
Upon further reflection, the original audience would also find it interesting that the two travelers were unable to recognize Christ. No doubt they would have had questions to why they did not recognize the Lord until He blessed and broke the bread in their home. One can only imagine the reasons why because these facts our left without explanation, but nevertheless these questions would have been provoked by the story just as they are today.
Upon careful consideration, the original audience would have been challenged to search the Scriptures. The Lord’s use of the Old Testament to carefully explain and educate His followers would have been a clear example to all that read this account. Without hesitation, the ancient readers would have wondered to which passages the Lord spoke of when confirming the events of that day. Authentic followers of Christ would have looked upon the Scriptures with a revitalized perspective. They would have wanted to diligently search the Scriptures to confirm the prophecies given concerning the promised Messiah.
In applying this passage today, the modern reader can appreciate Luke’s original purpose for writing. The story the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is not a legend or folktale. The gospel story of Christ is not a fabricated myth to promote an ancient ideology. The death, burial and resurrection of Christ are historical facts that were witnessed and established by many. Luke carefully laid out the evidence before the reader and no other conclusion can be possibly made. Jesus is alive and in that truth hope is born!
In like manner much speculation can be made concerning the fact that the travelers did not recognize Christ. Perhaps many will decide to spiritualize that event and suggest that Christ had a change in His physical body post resurrection or that the travelers focus were on their own troubles and not focused on the Lord’s work. However, these can only be speculations at best because the text does not indicate dogmatically these conclusions. However, what the reader does know is that they “once were blind but now they see.” The Lord opened their eyes and gave them understanding in ways they did not or could not perceive before meeting Him. The truth is this; Jesus Christ can cause the blind to see.
Finally, modern readers can also embrace the challenge to search the Scriptures. The lesson is learned. The written word reveals the Living Word. If one wants to know Him and the power of His resurrection, then he must read and study the book of books. Christianity has always been a literate religion. There has always been a focus on the Word of God in order to minister to the soul of man. Today’s modern readers must learn to discover the timeless Truth that has been presented in the Scriptures.
Indeed, Christianity is distinguished by a book. The ancient writings of the early church disclose the complete revelation of Jesus Christ. In the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the reader comes across a compelling narrative that offers another definitive piece of evidence which establishes the historical fact of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, the modern reader must embrace Luke’s original purpose and intent of producing an accurate and authoritative account of the gospel of Christ. Understanding Luke chapter 24 helps bring clarity to his gospel account in which affirms the historicity of the New Testament and credibility to the entire Bible. Therefore, the New Testament does become the basis for all Christian thought and practice and must be read, studied and interpreted for the purpose of understanding, communicating and adhering to the principles found therein.
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Klein, William, Blomberg, Craig L. and Hubbard, Robert L. Jr., Introduction to Biblical
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Scott, J. Julius Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
Thayer, Thayer’s Greek Definitions, El Cajon: Institute for Creation Research, 1999. Quick
 William Klein, Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson),1993, 229.
 J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, second edition, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan), 2005, 100.
 Ibid., 100.
 Klein, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 154.
 Duvall, Grasping God’s Word, 89.
 Klein, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 155.
 Craig S. Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press), 1993. Quick Verse e-book.
 Jd. Douglas, New Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Testament Volume. (Wheaton, Tyndale House), 1998, Quick Verse e-book.
 Acts 15:9-10 (NASB)
 Ivor Powell, Luke’s Thrilling Gospel. (Grand Rapids, Kregel), 1997, Quick Verse e-book.
 D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament. Second. (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan), 2005, 204.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol 2: Luke. (Hiawatha, Parsons), 1997, Quick Verse e-book.
 Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 103.
 Luke 1:1-4 (NASB)
 Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 210.
 Ibid., 211.
 Acts 16:10-12 (NASB)
 Powell, Luke’s Thrilling Gospel, e-book
 Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 212.
 Ibid., 217.
 Julius Scott, Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Baker), 2007, 112.
 Ibid., 113-114.
 Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 38.
 Duvall, Grasping God’s Word, 120.
 Ibid., 121.
 Ibid., 244.
 See Acts 1:8.
 Luke 24:1 (NASB)
 Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament, e-book.
 Luke 24:16 (NASB)
 Thayer, Thayer’s Greek Definitions, (El Cajon: Institute for Creation Research), 1999. Quick Verse e-book.
 Alexander MacLauren, Epositions of Holy Scripture: Gospels and Acts (Omaha, Quick Verse), 2006, Quick Verse e-book.
 Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament, e-book.
 Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament, e-book.
 Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, Second Edition, (Nashville, Broadman and Holman), 2003, 57.
 Ibid., 57.
 Daniel 12:2
 Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament, e-book.
 Gen 19:2
 Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament, e-book.
 Keener, IVP Background Commentary: New Testament, e-book.
 Duvall, Grasping God’s Word, 29.