A visit with Luke Scholar, Dr. Mikeal Parsons

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By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Mikeal ParsonsA while back I sat down with Luke scholar Dr. Mikeal (pronounced Michael) Parsons. We met at Baylor’s Tidwell Bible Building, where he offices, then rode over to the Indigo Hotel for lunch with my wife Susan, who had been enjoying the Magnolia Farms Market.

Mikeal was raised in the mountains of North Carolina. He discerned a call to ministry at the young age of 16. He has taught New Testament at Baylor for 30 years. He has his B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Campbell University and his M. Div. and Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Dr. Heidi J. Hornik, who is a professor of Italian Renaissance Art History at Baylor. They have written three books together, including:

Illuminating Luke: The Infancy Narrative in Italian Renaissance Painting. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003.

Illuminating Luke: The Public Ministry of Christ in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International, 2005.

Illuminating Luke: The Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International. November 2007.

Since we are in a Lukan year in the Revised Common Lectionary, I have been using his Commentary on Luke, from the Paideia series. You can read excerpts from this commentary in Working Preacher for the upcoming Luke texts.

While visiting, he gave me a copy of Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity.This book explores the belief in antiquity that ones physical appearance revealed inner truths about ones soul. So short Zaccheus, the bent-over woman, and the Ethiopian eunuch would have been assumed to be flawed internally or perhaps even evil. Luke’s gospel, however, subverts this. Zaccheus turns out to be generous. The eunuch converts.

Dr. Parsons laughed easily, inquiring about my family and the work of a bishop. He is very passionate about Luke/Acts, which has been his central area of study for decades. While being interested in the minute details of Luke/Acts, he also teaches Bible courses to undergraduates of all majors. He enjoys the interaction with young, inquisitive minds and differing opinions. He said he learns things with every class.

We chatted on quite a bit about Luke and Acts. He regaled me with information about number symbolism in the Greek: Iota and eta, with a line over it, is not only an abbreviation for Jesus in p57, but it’s also the way one writes the number 18 in Greek; 70 or 72 for the Septuagint (sometimes just seven), and therefore the mission to the Greek world (Gentiles); 12 for the twelve tribes of course. This is why in the two feedings of the multitudes, there are seven baskets left over when it happens in Gentile territory and 12 baskets when it happens in Jewish territory. He reminded me how uninterested first century writers were in actual counts, and how important number symbolism was. This ties to the Sending of the Seventy (Luke 10), as a mission to the Gentiles.

He also chatted about the curious triangular numbers in the Bible. Triangular numbers are what you get when you add consecutive numbers. Hence,


A list of triangular numbers is as follows: 0, 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45, 55, 66, 78, 91, 105, 120, 136, 153, 171, 190, 210, 231, 253, 276, 300, 325, 351, 378, 406 …

In John 21:11, the disciples catch 153 fish: a curious number, a triangular number. In Acts 27:37, Luke tells us 276 were shipwrecked. And so on.

Okay, so we’re Bible geeks. I couldn’t help but feel I’d met a soul mate. And it occurred to me, I didn’t feel like I was talking to a Baptist. I was talking to a Bible scholar, who shared my love for the Scriptures, and transcended denominational identification. Once again, I felt the denominational organization of Christianity melting away.

As you continue to delve into Luke, I encourage you to use Parson’s commentary as an insightful guide.