Not Peace but a Sword! Luke 12:49-53 and other Hard Sayings on the Family in Early Gospel Literature

Dugger Griffith, Sheila Marie, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Gamble, Harry, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

When read at face value, Luke l2:49 - 53 and the other "hard sayings" on the family attributed to Jesus in the early Gospel literature suggest that the standard practice among the early Christians was to reject one's family in order to associate with the Christian community. History points to another story, however - a story in which families play a foundational role in shaping the early Church (as in Acts). This study sifts through the literary evidence from early Gospel literature for reflections of the authors' expectations for their communities and/or their communities' approaches to balancing family relationships and discipleship commitment. The material in Mark, Q, and the Gospel of Thomas reflects the on - going practice of the anti - family ethic attributed to Jesus. The material in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke indicates a shift away from the urgent application of the message of family renunciation. In these Gospels the hard sayings on the family are domesticated and made palatable to the more family - friendly members of the later communities. In the case of Matthew, two tiers of discipleship are established, only one of which requires the renunciation of family and wealth. In the case of Luke, however, all of the demands for renunciation are placed in the historical past and, as a result, are binding only on the initial disciples who followed Jesus. Acts then sets the new, pro - family standard for the Christian community. Taken together, the literary evidence suggests that the earlier communities (Mark and Q) and those where anti - social behavior is linked to anti - sexual behavior (Thomas) lived by the radical standards of the hard sayings; the members of the believing community renounced their families to become disciples, often suffering persecution in return. Later, as the Christian community established itself and membership expanded, the hard sayings attributed to Jesus had to be adapted and appropriated to continue to remain relevant to the community. Matthew and Luke rose to the challenge and incorporated these hard sayings in ways that modified them without obliterating them, simultaneously altering and expanding the tradition to encompass the growing pro - family elements of the Church.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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