Journey to Emmaus: A Study in Critical Methodology

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George R. Brunk III§

→203# The primary purpose of this essay is to demonstrate the exposition of historical-critical methodology as it is used in biblical interpretation. Experience has shown that generalization in the complex material of biblical texts tends to generate problems and confusion along with the attempted solutions. Specificity is an aid to communication and to evaluation. Rather than develop a descriptive summary of what the method seeks to do, this study will illustrate how it works by means of a specific case study. Furthermore, the choice of the Emmaus account for the study has the added benefit of contributing by its own subject matter to the question of biblical understanding and use by the believing community.[1]

As a result of the particular purpose of this paper the following characteristics should be taken into account:

1. The approach will be more descriptive than normative. This is not an attempt to show how historical-critical exegesis should be done, but ways in which it is being done. Evaluative remarks may be introduced where deemed appropriate.

2. The style will be methodological rather than confessional and apologetical. Since the text being studied is a resurrection narrative, the Christian interpreter feels spontaneously drawn into the latter issues because of the centrality of the fact for faith. We are not obligated to pursue these dimensions here.

3. The result will be open-ended more than definitive. The intention is to create an experimental model for exploration of issues and the discovery of options. Vulnerability will not be evaded.

Orientation in Methodology

Due to the variable in definition of history and historiography, historical criticism has had no fixed definition. Ulrich Wilckens has described its use in →204 biblical interpretation as

that investigation of the biblical texts that, with a methodologically consistent use of historical understanding in the present state of its art, seeks via reconstruction to recognize and describe the meaning these texts have had in the context of the tradition history of early Christianity.[2]

Here the changing meaning of historical understanding is taken into account. In a broad sense, “historical” points to that which is seen truly and correctly in its place in time and space. The historian reconstructs the facts of the past in narrative form with the goal of right understanding. In so doing he weighs the veracity of his sources in order that these sources may determine the outcome of the reconstruction. In biblical interpretation this is known as the literal sense, i.e., the meaning as originally intended in the historical context and conveyed in normal language of the time (historico-grammatical exegesis).[3]

The aspect of “critical” which is involved in the methodology points to the function of the human mind, exercising intelligent judgments and discerning appreciation in the interrogation and evaluation of the sources. Both aspects, the historical and the critical, raise complex issues for theology. These matters will not be taken up systematically in this paper.

Just as no final definition of historical-critical method is available, so also there has existed no consensus on the specific methodological procedures. With respect to the synoptic Gospels, from which our text is taken, Joachim Rohde can observe: “The history of the study of the synoptic gospels is . . . the history of the changing methods used in the endeavor to obtain fresh knowledge.”[4] The methods of research have completed something of a full circle: from the critical reconstruction of the narrative text (textual criticism or lower criticism), through the critical assessment of the integrity of the documents (source criticism and literary criticism) and the attempted restoration of the real history behind the sources (historical criticism in the narrow sense) with then the aid of pre-literary genre study (form criticism), to the renewed appreciation of authorial purpose and →205 interests (redaction criticism) and finally to the analysis of the literary units, large and small, from the viewpoint of universal structures of human thinking apart from historical milieu (structural analysis) or within the historical context (architectural or genre criticism). This is the picture of movement from direct contact with the narrative as such to interest in what lies behind the narrative (original documents, historical facts, primitive beliefs or theology, acts of God in history) to renewed attention to the narrative in its own right.[5] In a general way, the use of the Bible in the life of the church has benefitted by the return to canonical narrative as the locus of primary interpretative work. This restores the narrative to the general reader and student, and narrows the gap between the church’s view of Scripture as authoritative revelation and the scientific forms of historical-critical study. However, in spite of the structuralist’s escape from history (presaged by existentialist hermeneutics which retreated from history into historicality or by von Rad’s contrasting of history and confessional history), the rootage of Christian faith in historical event and incarnational theology means that the questions of history intrude into biblical 5interpretation and must continue to be given attention.[6]

Consequently, the work of historical-critical interpretation must be open to a wide variety of specific methodologies due both to the varied nature of the biblical material and to the wholeness of truth that is served by the widest range of data. The history of interpretation illustrates the dangerous results of narrow pursuit of one method through which too many problems are forced to pass at the cost of “forced conclusions.”[7] Method can be tyrannical when exclusive and totalitarian.

A degree of standardization for critical procedure has developed from which, at least, additions and corrections take their departure. It is represented by the formula adopted for the Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament: Text, Form, Ort, Wort, Ziel (text, literary form, historical situation, meaning of words and sentenges, theological purposes or kerygmatic intention).[8] George Eldon Ladd of Fuller Theological Seminary advocates a similar approach and defends its compatibility with evangelicalism when the presuppositions of faith are →206 as respectable as the presuppositions of non-faith.[9] This study will follow this five-phase method, except Form will come fourth, in order to illustrate and provide a basis for discussing and evaluating the method (see Miller’s essay to follow).

I. Text: Text Critical Problems

The pericope of the Emmaus Appearance contains few major textual problems. This is due, in all probability, to the fact that it is without parallel in the older gospels (no harmonization tendencies) and it is basically in narrative style with implicit theological meaning (no theological tendencies). The manuscripts show a wealth of stylistic improvements of no consequence to the meaning,[10] but of interest to the study of sources where one must distinguish redaction and tradition. Another type of textual variant is motivated by attempted historical improvement.

The Emmaus narrative exemplifies a rather important variant of this type (v.13). Some manuscripts read 60 stadia, others read 160. The text tradition has likely been influenced by the historical problem of the location of Emmaus. Thus the problems of textual criticism and historical criticism overlap. However, care must be taken to give proper weight to the various types of evidence. The temptation is strong to fix one side of the evidence and then to make other data conform to it. This is a temptation both for scientific work and for theological interpretation, especially where a high view of Scripture might appear to be served by harmonization.

A brief statement on the historical problem of the village of Emmaus will be given later. Here one must weigh the textual evidence on its own. External evidence (manuscript variant readings) is decidedly stronger for 60 stadia. Internal evidence (dynamics which explain variation) is more complex. Have scribes changed 160 to 60 (deletion of one Greek word) in order that the round trip journey in one day be more reasonable? Or conversely, did the knowledge of the important village of Emmaus (Nicopolis) at the edge of the Shephelah plain cause a scribe to add the word for one hundred in order to harmonize with that location? On balance, the rule of preferences for the more difficult reading would point to 60, since the patristic evidence prefers the more distant Nicopolis →207 site and shows no problem with the longer journey for the two disciples late in the day. The persistence of 60 in the greater number of manuscripts (as well as the better ones) in spite of the patristic preference of Nicopolis is evidence for its originality in the known text.

An example of how textual criticism can contribute to the history of interpretation is found in the codex D reading of oulammaous instead of Emmaous (Emmaus) in verse 13. This appears to be a reading taken from Genesis 28:19 (LXX) and suggests that a scribe is seeing Bethel as the location and probably connecting the account of Jacob’s dream with the Emmaus appearance in a Christological interpretation of the O.T. (cf. Gen. 28:16): “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it;” note the non-recognition of Christ in Luke 24.

The omitting or including of verse 12--”But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen clothes by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened” (RSV omits the verse)--is an important decision connected to the Emmaus text (vv.13-27) by common subject matter. Among text critics this is known as an example of Westcott’s and Hort Is Western non-interpolations, i.e., the Western manuscripts did not add the reading where the generally more reliable Alexandrian (Neutral) manuscripts did. Verse 12 is then seen as a borrowing from John 20:3-10 to explain and harmonize--poorly, in critical judgment--with the group visit to the empty tomb of v. 24 and Peter’s seeing the Lord, v. 34. But this evidence can be turned around to argue that this “poor” integration of these three tomb visits/appearances was the cause of the Western deletion. With respect to the external evidence, the present tendency is to accept as genuine these longer readings, the so-called Western non-interpolations, since the more recently published second century p75 papyrus contains them (so Aland, Metzger). Moreover, it is possible to explain v. 12 as an example of Luke’s affinity to the Johannine tradition (oral or written) and his literary device of using flash-backs from the Emmaus story to the empty tomb section (vv. 1-12 ) . Finally, it is easier to explain the apparent discrepancies between v. 12 and the larger context by Luke’s concession to redactional interests than by a scribe’s harmonizing interests since the latter fails to bring the second disciple →208 from John 20 in order to harmonize with the plural (“some”) of v. 14.[11]

II. Ort: Historical Situation and Its Problems

Having established the correct text, or better, the text as near to that of the original as our manuscripts permit, we move into the content itself. Sometimes this has been seen as a qualitative leap as in the older distinction between lower and higher criticism - one could critically evaluate the historical vicissitudes of the sacred text after it was written in order to return to the pure text, but to probe into the inspired text with the tools of rational investigation was irreverent and inappropriate. Many conservative believers still make this the line of demarcation; a marginal few reject even textual criticism (the Authorized Version is infallible, etc.). Today the more debated issue is whether the use of the critical method to recover meaning in the text includes also a critical evaluation of the expressed meaning--does Paul here say what is consistent with his best theological insight (Sachkritik, or content criticism)? Does Luke destroy the original meaning of salvation by historicizing it? Is there early Catholicism already in the canonical writings.[12]

The various methods for interrogating the text do not follow a rigorously logical order because of their interaction and overlapping. The order is best determined by the nature of the material in a given passage. We begin by taking note of several historical problems raised by the Emmaus account. Critical commentaries of another generation gave large place to such matters, even at the expense of theological explanations, and little new evidence has been gained toward the resolution of the problems in more recent research. The distance of 60 stadia corresponds to no location of a village named Emmaus attested in biblical times. Josephus speaks of an Emmaus, 30 stadia from Jerusalem, known as Qualoniyeh or Colonia in Latin. The only other Judean site named Emmaus in sources from the period is Amwas or Nicopolis about 160 stadia from Jerusalem at the eastern edge of the hill country. During the patristic period this was the place identified with Luke 24:13, and this would explain the tendency “to correct” 60 stadia to 160. →209 Since the Middle Ages, another site, exactly 60 stadia from Jerusalem and known as El-Qubeibeh, has attracted attention. During the Crusades the name Castellum Emmaus appears in connection with the site, but no evidence is available to confirm the designation as being prior to the Crusaders who sought out the holy places, sometimes disregarding local tradition (Amwas in our case) in preference for convenience and/or biblical data (60 stadia of Luke 24:14). Consequently, the more probably historical solution (Amwas) must stand in tension with the best manuscript reading (60 stadia). The location of Emmaus cannot be solved with finality.

The identification of Cleopas and his companion is of considerably greater interest for understanding the Emmaus appearance narrative. The possible explanation, however, is as uncertain as it is fascinating. Cleopas is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, but he may be identified with the Clopas of John 19:25, the brother of Joseph and uncle of Jesus, according to Hegesippus.[13] Cleopas would be the Greek form of the Semitic Clopas. Cleopas was the father of Simon (Simeon), the leader of the Jerusalem church after James (see Hegesippus). If this identification were correct, then the significance of the Emmaus appearance would be illuminated. Several additional lines of projection suggest themselves. Might the appearance of Cleopas be included in the i Corinthians i5:5-8 list under the category of “To all the apostles,” v. 7?[14] It is clear from the New Testament material that a recipient of an appearance tended to play a significant role in the life of the church. In fact, an additional question is raised as to whether the unnamed companion of Cleopas was not his son, Simeon, who was chosen to succeed James precisely because of his sharing in an appearance experience. Unfortunately, Eusebius does not mention any connection with Luke 24 nor give as reason for Simeon’s election his having seen the Lord. Yet it is of interest that James, the Lord’s brother, has received an appearance (1 Cor. 15:7) and this certainly explains, along with his kinship to Jesus, his prominence in the church. If this reconstruction is true, in part or in whole, we could conclude that the Emmaus appearance began as a legitimation formula and belongs to a group of appearances to relatives of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:14).[15]

→210 A major area of historical inquiry centers around the place and time of the resurrection appearances in relation to their sequence. The general problem has to do with the Galilean versus Jerusalem setting. Matthew and Mark, indirectly, place Jesus’ appearances to the disciples in Galilee. Luke and John portray Jerusalem as the area (except for Jn. 21). Matthew has an appearance to the women at the empty tomb (Jerusalem) but Luke recounts none; he implies, in fact, that there was none at the tomb. In the Emmaus narrative the appearance takes place on the day of the resurrection (v.13) and was preceded on that day by the appearance to Peter (v.34)! Mark is explicit that Galilee is the place for the first appearance (16:7). Much help is found for these differences by recognizing the theological significance of the time frame in Luke 24 and John 20. Luke seems to depict an ideal “day” of salvation history, a time of unified, unique revelation, because all of the appearances came on one day, by implication, but in Acts 1 he speaks expressly of forty days. John appears to underscore the connection of the Lord’s presence in the appearances and the day of worship--Sunday (20:1, 19, 26). Luke may also be interested in the “first day of the week” motif. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that Luke is interested in a schematic interpretation of history which makes Jerusalem the hinge between the Galilean ministry and the mission of the church from Jerusalem to the end of the earth (symbolized by Paul in Rome). The center of the story takes place in Jerusalem where Jesus is crucified and is raised. As a result of these features the way is open to posit a longer length of time in Jerusalem in Luke 24--and thus possibly relocate the appearance to the twelve in Galilee. These comments are not meant to defend the Galilee setting as primary, but simply to illustrate the openness of the narratives to revision for whoever feels pressed to make an historical harmonization of the appearances.[16]

With this qualification on the historical, precision of the narrative, we note also the evidence for the historical realism of the account. The following features are illustrative: (1) the disciples have no preconditioning to expect a resurrection and are still in the state of trauma and sorrow; (2) the “Christology” which they confess is minimalist, for Jesus was a prophet and the bearer of nationalistic hope; (3) the disciples identify with →211 the Jewish people--”our chief priests and rulers.” It is also widely accepted that the place name Emmaus, the indication of distance, and the specific name of Cleopas can only be explained by the rootage of the basic Emmaus event in historical memory. The extent to which this historical character covers the entire narrative is a problem spoken to by literary critical and form critical investigation.

III. Wort: Philological Analysis (Linguistic Criticism)

The analysis of the specific text of a document so that the language becomes transparent, disclosing the meaning of the author, is a microscopic and important part of interpretation. The central focus is on the lexical, grammatical, and stylistical characteristics of the text. It is a highly significant aspect in the case where the document is in a foreign language and from an ancient period of history. This exegetical procedure has been well known and widely practiced, especially since the Reformation’s emphasis on the literal sense of the Scripture demanded historico-grammatical study. Space prohibits more than several illustrations of level of interpretation in the Emmaus account.[17] We choose an example from each of the two main moments of the account: the interpretation of Scripture “in the way,” and the revelation at the meal. Verse 27 has been the center of speculative attention regarding the exact references to the Messiah in all of Scripture. Examination of the language as Luke uses it suggests a quite different perspective. In parallel to Acts 8:35 (“and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news of Jesus”) the statement points to a movement not from reference to reference in the Old Testament but from Old Testament promise to fulfillment in “the things concerning himself.” The sense would be: “Taking as starting points passages from both Moses and all the prophets. . . .”

Furthermore, the use of the word all in Luke and in this verse cannot be pressed too literally in a quantitative sense. Rather the usage is certainly related to Luke’s emphasis on the unity and continuity of salvation history, i.e., the Old Testament in its entirety can be used to explain the meaning of what has happened to Jesus. In fact, this is strengthened by the phrase “beginning with Moses and all the →212 prophets,” in which we see the arch of redemptive purpose from the beginning to its end in Jesus’ death-resurrection. Luke invites us not primarily to look for specific passages but to see the sweep of divine purpose (cf. the words, “it was necessary,” in v. 26, which reflect the same interests).

Nor should one miss the unusual fact that the object of interpretation is not Scripture (although v. 32 and v. 45 use the word to specify the object); the object is “the things concerning himself.” Here, it is not the Scripture which needs explanation but the enigmatic events of Jesus, the hoped-for Messiah. Even when in vv. 32 and 45 the expression is “opening the Scripture” or “opening the mind to understand the Scripture,” it is the enigma of Jesus’ death that needs explanation. The Scriptures were not explained per se but only inasmuch as they are able to clarify the fulfilled will of God in Jesus. This is reflected in the Christological use of Scripture by the early church. The central event was the act of God in Jesus; the right understanding of the event was determined in the light of the revealed purpose as discovered by correctly understanding the Scripture. Along this line, one can suggest that the third inflection “in all the Scriptures” (locative), might be translated better as, “by all the Scriptures” (instrumental).

The description of the meal, during which the recognition of the guest takes place, raises the question of whether a normal meal or the Lord’s Supper is signified. A comparative study of the language shows a striking parallel with that of the feeding miracles in Luke and the agape meals of the early church in Acts (cf. especially the “breaking of bread” of v.35 with Acts 2:42,46; 20:7,11). It appears certain, therefore, that on the redactional level Luke is linking the meal experience at the various stages of his historical period. The lesser similarity with Luke’s Last Supper narrative is due apparently not to a distinction from the other meal scenes but to his use of a different tradition, which Luke has not conformed to the Lord’s Supper language. The objection, that the two disciples at Emmaus had not been in the Upper Room, certainly means that they did not see in this meal the full meaning of the Last Supper, but it hardly answers the question of whether the church and Luke saw in this meal a point of contact with Christ’s being-among-us at the early →213 church’s fellowship meals which carried on the Last Supper tradition.[18] That the traditional language of these meals has influenced the Gospel narrative of Luke, as noted above, points in this direction.[19]

Although nineteenth century biblical studies tended to treat literary criticism as source criticism (date, authorship, origin, and integrity of the documents--unified or composite), more recently trends regard “source criticism” as the proper description of this narrower interest; the term “literary criticism” then is used in the classical sense as “the study and evaluation of literature as artistic production.”[20]

A primary element in source criticism is the analysis of word usage. Language is an indicator of the author’s style and serves to detect the unified or composite nature of the narrative. It may seem an act of irreverence to inquire into the literary unity of the Emmaus account since its artistic unity is conspicuous; yet recent critical study has often insisted on dividing the story into two strata. This separation results in an account of the trip to Emmaus and the meal (vv.13,15b,16,28-31) as one strata, and the conversational element as a second strata (vv.15a 17-27) which is considered to be Lucan redaction.[21] In point of fact, the conversation is related to Lucan concerns both in the references back to 24:1-12</ref>It would be easy to attribute vv. 22-24 to Luke’s hand because they appear to be a summary of Luke’s empty tomb account. and in the development of a strong theological motif in Luke-Acts, the role of Scripture in Christian faith. However, a detailed analysis of the language does not confirm this division. The distribution of Lucanisms and non-Lucanisms does not correspond to the literary dissection. It follows that Luke has used a source or sources which have been so carefully reworked that no literary tool can separate redaction from tradition or one traditional source from another.[22] This editorial procedure is recognized as characteristic of Luke.

If the Emmaus story has been expanded by later additions, this will have to be determined not by conventional source criticism but by form and tradition criticism (see below). An exception here is probably to be made for v. 34. The confessional statement of resurrection faith based on the appearance to Peter is apparently secondary in its present setting in the Emmaus narrative, for it breaks the flow of the narrative and can be explained as a way to retain the priority of Peter as witness to the resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5). →214 The broader interests of literary criticism can be illustrated by an analysis of the structural aspects of the narrative. In this regard our narrative is very sophisticated. The final verse indicates the two streams of the narrative’s emphasis: “in the way” and “in the breaking of bread.” Here also the unifying theme (Leitmotif) is alluded to in the word “known” which appeared previously in v. 16 and v. 31. These latter two contexts display a literary similarity (cf. the Greek) and stand at the head of each of the two parts of the narrative:

While they were talking and discussing		   When he was at table with them (v.30)
together (v.15) 						 
Their eyes were kept from 			        Their eyes were opened and they 
recognizing [knowing] him (v.16)		 	 recognized [knew] him (v.31)

A part of this structure is the appearance of Jesus (15b) and his disappearance (31b). The appearance motif is placed in chiastic order to the recognition motif, as follows:

      v.15	appearance	non-recognition
      v.31	recognition	disappearance

The entire account can be seen in chiastic form: departing from Jerusalem and returning there, with the center point (the low point where the tide turns) between vv. 24 and 25. Such literary analysis could be greatly extended but this suffices to demonstrate the high form of art which the narrator successfully pursues. This is not art for art’s sake, but art at the service of communicating spiritual truth at the existential level. In that respect, literary devices and style itself are not without theological relevance.

IV. Form: Form Criticism and Tradition History

Strictly speaking the form critical question does not apply to the canonical shape of our narrative. Form criticism is based on the typical forms of expression characteristic of oral tradition and the setting they have in popular, unselfconscious communication. As noted above, the Emmaus story is as highly developed artistically as any biblical passage. In the event that Luke had received the story directly from an eyewitness (Cleopas), no stage of oral tradition would exist (so Ellis). But the →215 literary analysis has shown the high probability that Luke used a traditional source whether in literary or oral form. Therefore one can speak of a form tradition stage behind the present account.

A definite feature of this form (genre or Gattung) is the recognition motif. The structural observations show that this is the mark of the Lucan shape of the account. In all probability it was the center of the account at all levels of the tradition. If any feature of the account is traceable to an historical bedrock, it is the appearance experience at Emmaus when Jesus is recognized as present with Cleopas and his companion. We have seen a possible historical place for such an appearance in the discussion on historical criticism. Luke’s confidence in the historical rootage of the event receives some indirect support from his reliance on the early tradition of the appearance to Peter (v.34) and from the fact that Luke tends to narrow the time in which the official appearances were given and the persons to whom they were given (the forty-day resurrection period leaves Paul’s appearance outside the normative period.)

The recognition form definitely excludes the comparison of the story with the wandering deity or unknown traveler type found in a variety of cultures. This had been the definition used in older form criticism (Gunkel, Bultmann), and, although Gunkel compared it with the accounts of theophany in Genesis, the usual conclusion was to place the setting of the Emmaus account in a Hellenistic milieu and, therefore, to see it as legendary and secondary. Unfortunately, the term legend has been undifferentiated by most exegetes who apply it to our account. Under the influence of Bultmann this has resulted in a definite bias against historical correspondence. The legendary feature is said to obscure the real, primitive picture of the rise of Easter faith.[23] It must be noted, however, that legend is a matter of literary form and is not an expression of historical value. [One can take note in passing that this is only one example of the tendency for one method to trespass beyond its proper realm]. In point of fact, the term may, with propriety, be used for the Emmaus account in the sense that the primary interest of the narrative is not historical documentation but edifying narration in which historical precision is of subservient interest. →216 This point is demonstrated by recognizing that the Emmaus narrative follows quite closely the anthropomorphic theophanies of the Old Testament and intertestamental literature (Gen. 18; Judg. 5, 13; Tob. 5, 12; Testament of Abraham).[24] Here the recognition motif is prominent because God presents himself as man or angel but must be understood as God. The divine being appears in a natural manner and disappears mysteriously. On the other hand, these stories use the recognition only as preparation for giving a message or assistance. In the resurrection narrative of this type (cf. Jn. 20: 11-18; 21:1-14), the recognition is the main point, the climax of the theophany. The theophany has become resurrection-Christophany.

It follows that the use of this “medium of expression” for an Easter appearance can be placed better in the earliest Palestinian tradition than in a late Hellenistic context. At the same time one must recognize that, unlike the list of witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15 or Paul’s testimony to the resurrection, the purpose is not apologetic, but paranetic. Even in new Testament times the confusion of human and divine forms was recognized (see Acts 12:12-17; Heb. 13:2). The recognition here used did not lend itself to “proof” but to “interpretation” of an event. The story is not designed to witness to the reality of the resurrection but to its significance.[25] Ellis notes, for example, that Genesis 19 and Tobit 12 indicate that eating (cf. Emmaus!) does not prove “materiality!”[26] The consequence of this situation is that the Emmaus event slips through the fingers of the historian qua historian but speaks to his understanding of the nature of resurrection faith. At the same time there is no reason to doubt the occurrence of an Emmaus appearance in essentially the manner described, but we cannot demonstrate what the actual event was. The anthropomorphic theophany form finds it connection with the larger appearance tradition (and therefore its legitimacy) in the “appearance of a divine being” language and in the eschatological otherness of the resurrected One in the mysterious non-recognition and the transient presence of the divine being.

This history of tradition for the resurrection appearances supports the primitive nature of the meal motif which stands at the heart of the account. Less demonstrable is the journey motif and the →217 conversation. The longer sojourn of Jesus on earth and extended discourse is more typical of late stages in the tradition including the post-canonical writings. Recent studies have shown that the movement of the tradition is probably not simply either from spiritual to material representation or from material to spiritual but a mixture of both Palestinian realistic descriptions and Pauline-like spiritual statements which develop in different ways. Luke appears to use older realistic traditions.[27]

The results of this stage of research are minimal with respect to historical certainty. We have good reason to suggest either an apostolic or “private” appearance at the base of our account. This, it would appear, suffices to root the account in history. On the other hand, the form of the narrative is a signal to the interpreter to look for its real intention elsewhere. This intention is what attracted Luke and what he developed in his unique way. Luke’s literary method is to take old traditions, preserve their original intent, but press them into Lucan style and schemes (cf. the speeches in Acts and the same, old motifs in the conversational material of the Emmaus account).

V. Ziel: Redaction Criticism or Lucan Perspective

The mere observation that the Emmaus account is unique to Luke is clear indication that it holds a particular interest for him. In part this is an aesthetic interest as evidenced by the number of longer narratives which are typical and unique to Luke--Good Samaritan, Rich Man and Lazarus, Prodigal Son, etc. But just as clear is the theological intention served by the account. The process of discovering this intention is redaction (or composition) criticism.

Within chapter 24 one can detect several themes conspicuously elaborated by Luke.

1. The role of Scripture is significant. This is a major element in the Emmaus passage itself (vv.25-27; 32) and is taken up again in the appearance to the twelve (vv.44-47). The manner in which Scripture functions in the life of the community is highly developed. Scripture is seen as a necessary but not exclusive or even culminative factor in the formation of Christian faith (cf. v.27 with vv. 31,32). The Scripture is the key to determining the →218 legitimacy and meaning of contemporary events as a part of God’s unfolding purpose (vv.26-27,44). So all of the essential characteristics of New Testament faith and practice--the saving work of Christ and the saving ministry of the church to the world--are rooted in the historical revelation of the divine purpose, Scripture (vv.4 6-47). Already the words of the historical Jesus are being drawn into the canonical circle (vv.6,44). Jesus’ own word confirms the continuing authenticity and authority of the written word (vv.26,44) and his presence mediates its right understanding (vv.32,45).

2.'The community atmosphere is very strong. The entire disciple band is already bonded together as a group of men and women (vv.9, 13, 22, 33, 36, 50, 53). The language of Christian assembly is present - “gathered together,” “in the midst” (vv.33, 36). It was observed that Luke certainly relates the meal experience at Emmaus with the breaking of bread celebration in the church (vv. 30, 35). The picture is already present just as one finds it in Acts 1:13, 14 and following. The fact that two disciples participate in the Emmaus journey becomes important then for the Lucan scheme, for the two disciples represent the two or three in whose midst Jesus is present (Mt. 18:20). Although the theme is not explicitly developed, the picture is that of the “hermeneutical community” where the Scripture is interpreted along Christological lines and with Christological assistance. On the other side, the point is made that resurrection faith itself originates in relationship with the community and its life where Jesus is present.

3. The purpose of the Emmaus account is to show the dynamic by which faith in the resurrected Lord is acquired. The dynamic field contains the elements of Scripture and fellowship in the breaking of bread (not in a sacramental, eucharist fashion) with the catalyst of Christological presence. This demonstrates emphatically that Luke has not objectivized the gospel, for he has placed at the heart of his resurrection narrative the Emmaus account which communicates the existential dimension of faith, not an external, objective apologetic for the resurrection. Luke shows himself to be a pastoral theologian as well as a theologian of salvation-history (see below). →219

4. The presence of our narrative in the resurrection chapter preserves the mysterious aspect of the resurrection event as well as the historical aspect. The typical Lucan balance and inclusiveness is shown by his setting side by side the Emmaus experience and the appearance to the disciples with its motif of material evidence (vv.39,42-43). In this way Luke avoids a one-sided view of the resurrection event as a crassly material and natural event (Jewish apocalyptic tendency) or as a spiritual event with no historical effect and open to docetic dissolution. He maintains this balance at the price of appearing exaggerated on each of the two points.

This investigation of Lucan insight could be amplified yet another step by placing Emmaus within the context of the entire literary corpus of Luke-Acts. The different elements mentioned above all have their counterparts in the earlier material (life of Jesus) and the later (life of the early church). One can call chapter 24 the bridge between the historical Jesus and the church. In contrast to Conzelmann we must see the division of these periods as secondary to the primary concern of demonstrating the continuity of saving history. The resurrection period is a special divine act--the probable meaning of the forty days--in which Jesus himself leads the church from the pre- to the post-resurrection situation (Acts 1 : 2 , 3). Jesus, for example, models the church’s interpretation of Scripture. The problem of the contemporaneity of Jesus is solved in John’s Gospel by dissolving the temporal distinction of time (without total loss of eschatology or historicity, however). Luke chooses to retain the temporal distinction by his two-volume work and then works out the issue of continuity by a bridging period in which the earthly fellowship is restored in a form of glorified epiphany, which in turn prepares for the presence of Christ in the Spirit and in his Name in the church. The table fellowship is a specific example of this trajectory.[28]


The preceding material serves to illustrate the wide interests of historical-critical study. The range of issues posed by this approach to biblical interpretation has surfaced. The first question is simply whether our example has been pressed as far as is proper to historical investigation. We have →220 entered the area of theology in the redaction-critical section but merely as descriptive theology, not prescriptive. Neither have we pursued Sachkritik (content criticism), whose legitimacy is more questionable. Nor have we pursued the latest methodologies such as structuralist analysis, architectural criticism, genre criticism, et al. Certainly the range is inexhaustible.

Ultimately, for those who stand in the believing community the burning issue is whether the fruit of this study leads straight and meaningfully to proclamation. As Thielicke says of theology, so perhaps we can say of critical exegesis: “If it cannot be proclaimed, it is not legitimate.”


§ This essay was published in Essays in Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives, ed. Willard M. Swartley (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1984), pp. 106-114. Copyright © 1984 Institute of Mennonite Studies. All rights reserved. Published online by permission of Institute of Mennonite Studies.

# These numerical notations indicate the page breaks in the published book. When citing this essay, please cite the appropriate page number(s) in the published book.

  1. The use of the Emmaus narrative was favored more particularly because of the author’s doctoral dissertation on the passage. “The Concept of the Resurrection according to the Emmaus Account in Luke’s Gospel,” ThD dissertation, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 1975.
  2. Translated and cited by Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Phila.: Fortress, 1975), p. 33.
  3. Krentz (p. 39, n. 18) makes the interesting observation that historical criticism, while it has the reputation of destructiveness for the church, is “a most conservative process, since historical research conserves the textual data.”
  4. Joachim Rohde, Rediscovering the Teaching of the Evangelists (Phila.: Westminster Press, 1968), p.1.
  5. See Hans Frei, The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative. Cf. B. S. Child’s call for canonical criticism, i.e., accepting the canonical shape as the legitimate context for interpretation.
  6. “Biblical Criticism, N.T.” IDB, Supp. Vol., p. 102.
  7. See W. G. Kümmel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972).
  8. Krentz, p. 2. A similar list of steps was suggested by the Ecumenical Study Conference of Wadham College, Oxford (1949).
  9. G. E. Ladd, New Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967).
  10. This stylistic freedom of the early scribes may be significant in the sense that it reveals a state of mind that does not understand authoritative, sound writing as letter-bound, mechanically determined.
  11. See further in Brunk, p. 32ff.
  12. G. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 355: “In all analysis of ‘criticism,’ a radical view of this kritikos of God’s Word must be preserved, whereby a sharp distinction is made between criticism of the word and by the Word.” As Berkouwer goes on to show, the relationship between the two must not be missed. Some feel that avoiding criticism of the Bible enhances the freedom of the Bible to criticize. The opposite is just as possible--without criticism one inevitably reads one’s prejudices into the Bible with the result that the reading is no truer to Scripture than that of the reductionistic critic. The appearance of fidelity to the Scripture is there because of a confessed faith in Scripture as revelation and because the interpretation is per force consistent with a theological tradition.
  13. Cited by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. This would mean that John 19:25 says: his [Jesus’] mother’s sister-in-law, Mary the wife of Cleopas. So E. Meyer, Ursprung and Anfänge des Christentums, p. 74.
  14. See Brunk, pp. 97-105 for the problems and the implications of this connection between 1 Cor. 15 and Emmaus.
  15. Bede Rigaux, Dieu l'a ressuscité (Gembloux: Duculot, 1973) 225, note 4. A variant reading in v. 35 (légontes for légontas) would make the reference to Simon refer to the unnamed disciple with Cleopas. Although nongenuine, it seems to indicate an attempt to make Luke’s account conform to the historical reconstruction suggested above. Perhaps someone has corrected the story on the basis of good information but contrary to Luke’s intention. Origen may be responsible here as in the case of the 160 stadia in v. 13.
  16. For the most recent suggestion of harmonization see George Eldon Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 91. But he does not succeed fully and suggests the scheme with tongue in cheek.
  17. See Brunk, pp. 141-334 for extensive work on this level.
  18. Ladd, p. 97 and Klostermann, Das Lukasevangelium, p. 238 as well as others.
  19. See Hermann Patsch, “Abendmahlsterminologie ausserhalb der Einsetzungsberichte,” ZNW 62 (1971), 210-31; Brunk, pp. 279-94.
  20. Krentz, p. 49.
  21. Especially P. Schubert, “The Structure and Significance of Luke 24” in Neutestamentliche Studien für R. Bultmann (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1 9 54), pp. 165-86 and H. D. Betz, “The Origin and Nature of Christian Faith according to the Emmaus Legend,” Interp 23 (Jan 1969), 32-46.
  22. Brunk, pp. 141-334 and also Rigaux, pp. 225-27.
  23. See the documentation in John Alsup, The Post-Resurrection Appearance Stories of the Gospel Tradition (Stuttgart: Calwer-Verlag, 1975), p. 216, notes 617, 618.
  24. For exposition see ibid., pp. 239-65 and Brunk, “Resurrection,” pp. 395-405. Both of these dissertations were done at the same time and reached similar, independent conclusions.
  25. Riqaus, 231 and Brunk, 414f.
  26. Gospel of Luke, 279.
  27. See the dense but comprehensive discussion and bibliography in J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (Phila.: Westminster, 1975), pp. 114-22.
  28. Brunk, pp. 416-41. It must be stressed that the present exposition of Lucan theology is representative, not exhaustive.