Legitimation Theory and the Narrative of Luke 7:36–50

Recent interpretations of Luke 7:36–50 fall into three categories in terms of their approach: (1) ideological approach that focuses on gender issues; (2) literary/narrative approach; and (3) historical-critical approach.

Each of these approaches has its own value to some extent, as it sheds light on a certain dimension regarding the meaning of the text. However, despite their enduring importance, such approaches to the text may not resolve all the problems that may arise, particularly by those who focus on the sociological aspect of the text. The New Testament was written to and for the early Christian communities to meet their diverse socioeconomic and cultural needs. Thus, it is often essential and helpful to take into account the ordinary relationships and values that characterized the life of ancient Christian societies in the process of interpreting the text.

In this regard, the purpose of this study is to demonstrate how sociological analysis of the text might contribute to a novel and profound reading of the Gospel’s stories. The study focuses on how meaning is created by socially determined systems and patterns of communication. This will be accomplished by applying legitimation theory, a sociological approach pioneered by Berger and Luckman, and developed by Philip Esler, to a specific narrative unit in the Gospel of Luke (7:36–50). This theory is combined with a narratological method to identify the socio-narratological features represented in the setting, the characters, and the events of the story. This approach will demonstrate its efficacy by answering questions regarding social and cultural dynamics mirrored in the text. My study reveals that the central theme of Luke 7:36–50 is the social and cultural competition between the two groups (Simon/Pharisees versus woman/Jesus). The social dynamic of this narrative occurs in four stages: (1) the representation of the symbolic universe of the dominant group (vv. 36-39); (2) the initiation of conflict between the dominant group and the sect (vv. 40-41); (3) the superiority and legitimation of the sect as demonstrated by Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman; and (4) a complete separation between the two groups (vv. 48-50).

My thesis is that Luke 7:36–50 is primarily designed to explain, justify, and sanctify Jesus’ symbolic world as well as that of Theophilos (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), which is characterized by the love for Jesus. In other words, I propose that Luke wrote the story of the so-called “sinful woman” (Luke 7:36–50), in order to (1) disrupt the already established symbolic universe characterized by Pharisaic ritual and (2) legitimate the core value of the new social order which is characterized by the love toward Jesus in response to his forgiveness of sins.

4 thoughts on “Legitimation Theory and the Narrative of Luke 7:36–50”

  1. burried thesis!
    This was a long abstract, and we arrive at the thesis at the final paragraph. If this is indicative of the presentation, it may be a hard one to sit through…

  2. Not Recommended at This Stage
    The method and argument are tedious. This student seems to be working out his methodology, but all the theory and method discussion crammed into the paper would make for a difficult paper to follow. I love the articulation of a clearly defined method that reveals fresh insights into the text, and this isn’t quite there yet.


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