There is no biblical author who matches the brilliance of Luke. To describe him as a physician and historian is grossly inadequate; he was a hermeneutist. Long before Hans-Georg Gadamer and the conventionally-regarded philosophical turn in hermeneutics that occurred in the twentieth century, Luke set forth a philosophical hermeneutics. Luke turned on its head the conventional notion that hermeneutics from the beginning of time has teleologically progressed from methodology to philosophy. While Hillel was playing tic-tac-toe with his seven rules of interpretation, Luke was playing three-dimensional chess as he wrote Luke-Acts. Luke’s brilliance is so other-worldly that his hermeneutical insights are nowhere attested to in the literature. Readers, including Christendom’s greatest theologians, have failed to grasp what lies under the surface of his writings.
Luke, the hermeneutist of Scripture, grapples with the problem of understanding, as suggested by the bookends of Acts in which the disciples non-understanding of when Christ would establish His kingdom is mirrored by the non-understanding of those addressed in Paul’s final oration. In Luke’s Gospel, he models his Christology on the liminal and marginal Hermes, the messenger of the gods. In a nutshell, Luke’s philosophical hermeneutics is the simple but profound idea that all understanding is mediated.
The Prodigal Son does not understand what his return home means. The older brother does not understand what the Father’s actions toward the Prodigal Son mean. The father mediates understanding to both of them. This is just one of Luke’s many comparisons, which I don’t have time and space to discuss, between Jesus and Hermes. Not knowing what all of those comparisons are, you might say, “Big deal.” Well, let’s go deeper.
Hermes is a trickster and patron god of thieves. He mediates in the liminal and marginal space between the lawful world and the criminal world, between the holy and the profane. Therefore, Luke recognized the importance of having Jesus occupy that same liminal and marginal space. But Jesus is not set forth merely as similar to Hermes but superior to Hermes in Luke’s many comparisons. So we see that Jesus defies numerous conventions and is regarded as a sinner, but He does not actually sin. Like Hermes, Jesus is a thief in the night, but whereas Hermes takes, Jesus bestows. The story of the boy Jesus is a mimesis of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, but whereas Hermes steals Apollo’s cattle, the accused boy Jesus is not guilty of wrongdoing. Jesus by conventional standards sins by befriending tax collectors and prostitutes, but we readers correctly discern that He does not actually sin. The father in the parable does not by conventional standards act appropriately, but we correctly discern based upon his explanation that he does. Jesus is like a tightrope walker who never falls off the wire. It is not enough that Jesus is fully divine and fully human; his humanity must mediate the liminal and marginal space between the godly and the profane in order to mediate understanding to sinful humanity.