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Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts: Purity and Healing in Luke-Acts

Pamela Shellberg
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Cleansed Lepers, Cleansed Hearts
    Book Description:

    Illnesses are perceived and understood differently across cultures and over time. Traditional interpretations of New Testament texts frame the affliction lepra (“leprosy”) as addressed either by ritual cleansing or miraculous healing. But as Pamela Shellberg shows, these interpretations are limited because they shift modern ideas of “leprosy” to a first-century context without regard for how the ancients themselves thought about lepra. Reading ancient medical texts, Shellberg describes how Luke might have perceived lepra and used the language of “clean” and “unclean” and demonstrates how Luke’s first-century understandings shaped his report of Peter’s dream in Acts 10 as a warrant for Gentile inclusion. For Luke, “cleansing” was how the favor of God announced by Isaiah was extended to Gentiles, and the stories of Jesus’ cleansing of leprous bodies in the Gospel are the pattern for the divine cleansing of Gentile hearts in Acts. Shellberg illuminates Luke’s understanding of “cleansing” as one of his primary expressions of the means of God’s salvation and favor, breaking down and breaking through the distinctions between Jew and Gentile. Shellberg’s conclusions take up the value of Luke’s emphasis on the divine prerogative to declare things “clean” for discussions of inclusion and social distinction today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9431-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles reports the deliberations of the Jerusalem Council regarding Gentile believers: what was to be required for their full identification with the first-century Jewish sectarian movement proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, and what was to be required for their salvation? At a climactic moment in those deliberations Peter makes an appeal that circumcision not be required of male Gentile converts on the grounds that “God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit” and “made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts...

  5. 2 Lepra in Ancient Contexts
    (pp. 29-94)

    In the passage above, a part of the gospel tradition Luke received from Mark, the references to examinations by priests, declarations of being clean, and allusions to Moses and levitical legislation situate the cleansing of the man “coveredwithlepra” in a decidedly cultic context. Herelepraappears as an affliction requiring priestly examination and an offering, an affliction identifying one as unclean until the proper purification rituals are carried out, until that time rendering a person unfit to live in a home shared with others or to enter temple precincts. Whenleprais considered in this cultic context, judgments...

  6. 3 Dektos and Katharizō
    (pp. 95-148)

    The thesis of this book is that Luke is doing something remarkable in his narrative presentation of the deliberations among Jewish Christians concerning the place of Gentiles in believing communities and that this remarkable thing is disclosed in the relationship betweendektosandkatharizō, words judged to be particularly significant for Luke. The purpose of this chapter is to secure the argument that Luke intends the two terms to be mutually interpretive. These two words command attention for several reasons.

    First,dektosis rarely used in the whole of the New Testament, and three of its five occurrences are in...

  7. 4 Katharizō Texts in Luke-Acts
    (pp. 149-196)

    The thesis of this book is that Luke employs the language of cleansing/katharizōin his Gospel in service of its ultimate use in his second volume (Acts) to describe the means by which Gentiles have become an authentic realization of God’s saving purposes. To be more precise, Luke’s understanding ofkatharizōreceives a unique articulation in the multiple references tolepraand stories of people who are afflicted with it. A closer study of Luke’s use ofkatharizōin thoseleprastories is the primary focus of this chapter. But it is also necessary to take measure of the wider...

  8. 5 Reading the Peter-Cornelius Story Again “Their Hearts were Cleansed by Faith”
    (pp. 197-218)

    Prompting this study was Peter’s appeal to the Jerusalem Council that Gentile believers not be bound to the requirement of circumcision (and the Torah obedience implied) in order to identify fully with the Jewish movement that proclaimed the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth as its messiah. Peter’s appeal was stated on these grounds: “God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit” and “in cleansing their hearts by faith . . . made no distinction between them and us” (Acts 15: 8-9). The original question of the book focused on Peter’s appeal as a distillation...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-244)
  10. Index of Authors
    (pp. 245-248)
  11. Index of Scripture Passages
    (pp. 249-258)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)