“Ethnic Language” in Luke-Acts and the Construction of a Transethnic Social Identity

This paper will examine Luke's deployment of "ethnic language" in his pursuit of a common superordinate identity that simultaneously affirms yet chastens existing ethnic identities in Luke-Acts. The paper will feature a detailed examination of the use of the key terms Israel, Ioudaios, ethnos, and adelphoi in Josephus, the Synoptic Gospels and in Acts. The contrast in usage between Luke and his rough contemporaries will demonstrate both that Luke is keenly aware of the ethnic freight and the correlate conceptualizations of the social context carried by these terms and also that Luke deploys these terms uniquely and strategically in an effort to shape the identity of the early Jesus-movement. It is Luke's subtle and nuanced use of "ethnic language" that allows him slowly to shift his hearers away from the primacy of ethnicity but still to affirm the value of ethnic identity nested within a superordinate trans-ethnic social identity. The new identity anticipated by Luke"s use of "ethnic language" is the key to intergroup reconciliation in Luke-Acts and is formed by the rhetorical influence of no less a figure than the Holy Spirit. Finally, the paper will contrast Luke"s portrait of the relationship between ethnicity and identity with the common view of the early apologists that characterized Christianity as a "third race" standing alongside "Jews" and "Gentiles". For Luke, the community of Jesus-followers forms not a "third race" akin to other ethnic identities but a new social category that allows existing ethnic identities to remain intact, though at a penultimate level.