What Has the Prague Linguistic Circle Contributed to Our Understanding of the Purpose of Acts

Since the first half of the nineteenth century, New Testament scholars have argued that the use of parallelism in the Lukan writings directly relates to and clarifies their communicative purposes. However, interpretations have long varied on what purpose Luke’s use of parallelism serves, ranging from conciliatory to apologetic to edifying and even to comforting purposes, among others. While this history of research focuses more on the book of Acts, arguments about the relationship of parallelism to the purpose of the Third Gospel are recurrent throughout the history of Lukan scholarship as well. Scholars today still hold various views on the purpose of the Lukan writings, and the role of parallelism remains a relevant question, although its consideration in this discussion has waned in recent years.

In this paper, however, I will demonstrate how the linguistic and literary insights of the Prague Linguistic Circle have led to a reconceptualization of parallelism in Lukan studies over the past two decades, enhancing the interpretation of Luke’s writings and their purposes. To contextualize this shift in orientation, I begin with a brief review of the history of research, starting with the first major critical treatment on the purpose of Luke’s writings, published by Matthias Schneckenburger in 1841, before summarizing the nineteenth-century contributions of F. C. Baur, the Tübingen School, and Dutch radical critics, and relevant twentieth-century contributions, particularly the redaction-critical and literary approaches that address Luke’s use of parallelism. Finally, I will turn attention to the evaluation of three recent monographs on Luke’s writings that utilize linguistic-stylistic tools and models derived from the Prague Linguistic Circle. This review reveals a shift in understanding parallelism in Lukan studies around the turn of the twenty-first century, largely due to the delayed yet no less significant influences of Russian Formalism and the Prague Linguistic Circle as mediated through Systemic Functional Linguistics and its adaptation for analyzing the Greek of the New Testament. These influences, I argue, are not widely recognized among New Testament scholars, but the convergence of Lukan scholarship and stylistics in terms of the role accorded to parallelism results in a major step forward in evaluating the purpose of Luke’s writings from a modern linguistic perspective. To illustrate the impact of such a shift, I show how stylistics can provide fresh insights and critique traditional views in Lukan studies, using the works of Gustavo Martín-Asensio and Todd Klutz, as well as my own work as examples.