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Jesus as the Son of God in Mark

I am set now to return to my thread on the changes in our surviving manuscripts of the New Testament that were made in order to make the text more amenable to the theological agenda of orthodox scribes and to help prevent their use by Christians who had alternative understandings of who Christ was. I have been arguing, in that vein, that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel originally said “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (as in some manuscripts) but that it was changed because scribes were afraid that the text could be too easily read to mean that it was at this point that God had adopted Jesus to be his son.  These scribes believed that Christ had *always* been the son of God, and so God could not say that he “made” him the son on the day of his baptism.  Their change was remarkably successful: the vast majority of manuscripts have their altered text, in which the voice says (as it says also in Mark’s version): [...]

2020-04-03T13:10:36-04:00October 30th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Public Forum|

Reader’s Mailbag on Virgin Birth: 10/29/15

  Many thanks to everyone who responded to my queries about how we could make the Blog better.  I received some very good ideas, and one in particular that I want to implement, starting with this post.  That involves a weekly Reader’s Mailbag.  I get a lot of questions each week, and usually can only devote an occasional post to them.  Otherwise, all I can do is give a one-sentence or so response in my Comments.   But the idea that several people suggested was:  why not have a feature where, in a short directed response, I address interesting questions people raise?  I could do this every week.  The comments would not be as long as a full post, let alone a thread, but much fuller than I can make in my Comments section. I think it’s a great idea.  So I’m gonna try it.  My idea is that the questions should be short and to the point.   They can be on any topic involving the New Testament, the history of early Christainity, or any related [...]

An Irritating Criticism: My View of Paul’s View of Christ

QUESTION: Below is one Christian's comment about your position on Galatians 4:14.  How would you respond to this criticism:    "The question to ask of this is why make Galatians 4:14, with an interpretation not readily accepted by even non-Christian scholars, the lynchpin? What was it about this verse that made it the focal point, especially when Paul isn't really making a Christological argument there? Why not statements like Philippians 2 which is quoted? Note also that Philippians ends with every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. That was reserved for YHWH alone. It also has Jesus being in the form of God, and that's a pretty clear statement about where Jesus ranks."   RESPONSE: I have to say, this kind of criticism REALLY gets under my skin.  You would think I’d have thicker skin by now. Just to unpack what is going on here a bit.  The (unnamed) critic is objecting to my view that the apostle Paul understood Christ, before coming into the world, to have been the great angel [...]

2020-04-03T13:11:00-04:00October 28th, 2015|Bart's Critics, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Really??? Stories of Jesus’ Virgin Birth

COMMENT: When I bring up the possibility that the original Luke did not have the first two chapters which include the virgin birth narrative, Christians say to me:  "How could such a new twist to the story of Jesus have developed so soon in the first century if some of Jesus' family, disciples, and friends were still alive to verify its accuracy?  If Jesus had truly been Joseph's son, wouldn't SOMEONE have said, "Hey. Wait a minute.  Jesus nor his mother ever claimed that he was the virgin-born son of Yahweh.  This virgin birth story is bogus nonsense."   RESPONSE: This is an interesting point and one that we should reflect on.  As it turns out, it's one I’ve reflected on it for some thirty years now!  (And it is related to what I discuss in my next book on how memory affected the oral traditions circulating about Jesus before the Gospels were written.)   It is one of those points that on the surface sounds really convincing: of *course* that’s the case!  No one could [...]

2020-04-03T13:14:20-04:00October 26th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Taking the Pulse of the Blog

The blog has now been in existence three and a half years now, and as I like to do a couple of times a year, I would like to take its pulse, to see if it is still alive and well among us, and to find out what, if anything, we can do to make it better.  I don’t think it is sick and in desperate need of hospitalization; in fact, from where I sit, it seems to be doing very well (see below).  But I want to know what *you* think, since you’re the ones who matter here.  I have some specific questions, set out in what follows. Since we started in April 2012, I have posted – every week, 52 weeks of the year – five or six times a week.   That’s a lot, but I still feel that I’m going strong and have lots to say (on that, see the specific questions).   I have to admit, over the past six months I have tended to move more toward five times a week [...]

2015-10-25T14:07:24-04:00October 25th, 2015|Public Forum|

Is Luke’s Christology Consistent?

Does Luke present a (strictly speaking) consistent view of Jesus throughout his two-volume work of Luke-Acts? I raise the question because of the textual problem surrounding the voice at Jesus’ baptism.  I have been arguing that it is likely that the voice did NOT say “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (as in most manuscripts; this is what it clearly does say in Mark’s version; Matthew has it say something different still); instead it probably said “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” In the past couple of posts I’ve suggested that this wording – found in only one ancient Greek manuscript, but in a number of church fathers who quote the passage (these fathers were living before our earliest surviving manuscripts) – makes particular sense if the Gospel did not originally have chapters 1-2, the accounts of Jesus’ birth.   In yesterday’s post I gave the evidence for thinking that originally the Gospel began with Jesus’ baptism. But if I’m wrong about that (and hey, it won’t be [...]

Arguments that Luke Did Not Originally Have the Virgin Birth

In discussing the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism in Luke – where he evidently spoke the words of Psalm 2:7 “You are my Son, today I have begotten you – I have mentioned the possibility that originally Luke’s Gospel did not begin with the account of Jesus’ birth, as found now in chapters 1 and 2.  I have broached that topic on the blog before, a couple of years ago (if you want to see that discussion, just search for “Did Luke Originally Have”).  But my sense is that most people on the blog either weren’t on it back then or possibly don’t remember what I said (as, well, I myself didn’t remember till I looked it up!).  So let me summarize some of the issues. The first thing is to re-emphasize that it would not be strange for Luke to lack an account of Jesus’ birth to a virgin mother in Bethlehem.  That account is also lacking in Luke’s source, the Gospel of Mark, as well as in the Gospel of John.   Moreover, [...]

2020-04-03T13:14:38-04:00October 22nd, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Did Luke’s Gospel Originally Have the Virgin Birth?

I have been discussing the intriguing textual variant found in Luke 3:23, where Jesus is said to be baptized.  When he comes out of the water the heavens open up, the Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and voice then comes from heaven.   But what does the voice say?  In most manuscripts the voice says exactly what it does in Mark’s Gospel: “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.”  But in a few ancient witnesses it says something slightly but significantly different:  “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (or: “given you birth”). I am arguing that the latter may in fact be the original text of Luke, but that it was changed by scribes who were alert to the problems it posed.  But if that’s what the voice said, then doesn’t that indicate that it was at that moment (Note:  “Today”!) that Jesus became the Son of God? You may be able to figure out one objection to thinking that this is what Luke [...]

2020-04-03T13:14:45-04:00October 21st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Scribes Who Changed the Voice at Jesus Baptism?

I have been discussing views in the early church that asserted (or were claimed to assert) that Christ was not a divine being by nature, but was only “adopted” to be the Son of God, for example at his resurrection or, more commonly, at his baptism.   Some such views were allegedly held by the Jewish-Christian Ebionites and by the Roman-gentile Theodotians.  Whether these Christians actually held to such views is a bit difficult to say, since we don’t have any writings from their hands.  But it is clear that they were *thought* to hold these views, and for my study of the changes made in the texts of the Bible by Christian scribes, that is all that matters.  Scribes sometimes changed the text in light of “aberrant” views thought to be held by others. (Whether these others actually held such views or not.) We have seen instances in previous posts of changes made in order to oppose “docetic” Christologies, which had just the opposite problem (in the eyes of the proto-orthodox): these held that Christ [...]

2020-04-03T13:14:53-04:00October 19th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Some Flak (Already!) Over My New Book

This week there was a brief but rather fervid flurry of posts on a Facebook discussion page I belong to over the announcement of my new book, due out March 1.  The reason it was brief is that after about twenty or twenty-five rather intense (and some of them rather insulting) posts, the moderator of the list took down the whole discussion.  And he was right to do so.  The comments had nothing to do with the purpose of the page. The page is a very useful site for discussing issues related to “New Testament Textual Criticism.”  That, as most of the readers of this blog will know, is the technical field of study that tries to determine what the original text of the New Testament was based on the fact that we do not have any originals, but only copies made by later scribes, all of which have mistakes in them.  The page is devoted, then, to Greek manuscripts and closely related topics. And what does my upcoming book have to do with any [...]

2017-11-27T20:20:52-05:00October 18th, 2015|Book Discussions|

Other Christians Who Denied that Christ was Divine by Nature

In my previous post I discussed on group of early Christian “adoptionists” – that is, followers of Christ who maintained that he was not really a divine being (by nature) but was a human who had been “adopted” by God (at his baptism) to be his Son.  To be sure, from that point on he was in some sense divine; but he was not born of a virgin and he did not pre-exist his appearance in the world.  The group I mentioned yesterday was the Jewish-Christian Ebionites. There was another group known (or thought) to have a similar Christological view that was not in the least Jewish, but was from start to finish gentile.  This is a gropu that emerged in second century Rome called the Theodotians, named this because the founder of their sect was named Theodotus.  He was a cobbler by trade.  But he obviously didn’t work making shoes 24/7; he must have had time for some serious theological reflection as well. Here is what I say about Theodotus and his followers in [...]

Was Christ God? The View of Jewish-Christian Ebionites

We know of several groups and individuals from the first three centuries of Christianity who were known, or at least thought, to support an “adoptionistic” Christology, one that said that Christ was not by nature a divine being but was, instead, a fully and completely human being, one who had been “adopted” by God to be his son (and therefore divine for *that* reason).  He was the Son of God, then, by adoption or election, not by nature.  He did not pre-exist his birth, and his birth was normal – his parents had sexual relations and he was the offspring.  But later God made him his own son. When I say that some persons were known or thought to hold some such view, I mean that in many instances it is difficult (impossible, actually) to show that they really did hold such views.  All we have, in virtually every case (not quite) are what their proto-orthodox opponents said about them.  In other words, we have to take their enemies’ word for it.   That is not [...]

Adoptionistic Christologies

For some posts now I have been talking about “docetic” Christologies in the early church – views of Christ that said he was so much divine that he was not really a human – and about how these influenced proto-orthodox scribes who changed their texts of scripture in order to show that, by contrast, Christ really was a flesh and blood human being.   I would now like to shift to the other end of the theological spectrum to discuss Christological views that insisted on the contrary that Christ was fully human, so much so that he was not actually, by nature, divine. Sometimes these Christologies are called “adoptionistic,” because in them Christ is portrayed not as a divine being who pre-existed before being born of a virgin, but as fully and completely and utterly human, a very righteous man who was born like everyone else and who was by nature like everyone else, but because of his special devotion to God was “adopted” by God to be his son and, as the one who had [...]

Are Their Any Completely Anti-Heretical Manuscripts?

READER COMMENT/QUESTION: The whole thread on the “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” is really really great! Thanks!! QUESTION: are the shorter version in Luke 22:19-20 and the “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:44 documented by the same manuscripts? Or do these variants appear in different manuscripts? In other words: do we have an “entirely docetic” manuscript of Luke? (incidentally, I see that both variants are in chapter 22 very close to each other). Thank you very much!!!   RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question.   The answer to the first question is no.   The manuscripts that contain the shorter reading in Luke 22:19-20 (that is, the form of the text in which Jesus does NOT say that the bread represents his body “given for you” and that the cup is “the new covenant in my blood poured out for you”) are not the same ones that contain the shorter reading in Luke 22:43-44 (the “bloody sweat”; in this case the manuscripts with the shorter reading do NOT have the account of Jesus’ sweating great drops of [...]

Luke’s Last Supper and Orthodox Corruptions of Scripture

I can now wrap up my discussion of the textual problem of Luke 22:19-20 and the intriguing question of what Jesus said at his Last Supper (according to Luke).  I have argued so far that the longer (more familiar) form of the text, found in most surviving manuscripts, is actually a change made by scribes, not what Luke originally wrote (this is where Jesus indicates that the bread is his body given for others and that the cup is the new covenant in his blood shed for others). I set *up* that discussion by referring to one of the debates over the nature of Christ in precisely the time period when the change was made: the second century, when Christians were debating whether Jesus was so completely divine that he was not actually human.  Various Christians that scholars call “docetists” said the answer was no. The label for these Christians comes from the Greek word doceo, “to seem,” or “to appear,” because these people said that Christ “appeared” to be human and “seemed” really to [...]

The Striking Conclusion: Jesus’ Last Supper in Luke

This sub-thread about the Last Supper and the death of Jesus in the book of Luke (and Acts), part of a longer thread on The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, has (itself) taken a rather remarkably circuitous route.  Let me remind you how we started this little side-trip. First the biggest picture.  I am describing my book – originally written over twenty years ago now (my God, how does this happen???) – about how scribes in the second and third Christian centuries changed their texts in order to make them more obviously “orthodox” and less susceptible to use by Christians who held Christological views deemed “heretical.” The current sub-thread has all been on one textual variant, a passage in Luke 22:19-20, the account of Jesus at his last supper.  If you recall, there are two forms of the text, one much longer than the other.   We are asking whether Luke originally wrote the longer version of the text (so that scribes shortened it by taking out a verse and a half) or if he wrote the [...]

Luke’s Understanding of Jesus’ Death

I have been dealing with the question of Jesus’ death in the Gospel of Luke and have been arguing that Luke does not appear to have understood Jesus’ death to be an atonement for sins.   He has eliminated the several indications from his source, the Gospel of Mark, that Jesus’ death was an atonement, and he never indicates in either his Gospel or the book of Acts that Jesus died “for” you or “for” others or “for” anyone.   Then why did Jesus die? It is clear that Luke thought that Jesus had to die.  For Luke it was all part of God’s plan.  But why?  What is the theological meaning of Jesus’ death for Luke, if it was not a sacrifice that brought about a right standing before God (which is what the term “atonement” means)? You get the clearest view of Luke’s understanding of Jesus’ death from... The Rest of this Post is for Members ONLY!  If you don't belong yet, JOIN!! It costs less than a dime per post, and every one of [...]

2020-04-03T13:16:19-04:00October 9th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of Luke

In my previous post I argued that in the narrative of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has to die for a rather specific reason.  In Luke, more than in his predecessor Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a great prophet (like Samuel, like Elijah, etc.), and in Luke’s understanding, that is why Jesus had to die.  The Jewish people, in his view, always reject their own prophets sent from God.  Jesus was the last of the great prophets.  He too had to be rejected and killed at the hands of the Jewish people. Some scholars have argued that because of this denigration of the Jewish people for always rejecting the prophets and Jesus, Luke is probably to be seen as an “anti-Jewish” Gospel.  In my judgment there is a lot to be said for this view.  The only Jews that the Gospel appears to approve of are the ones who recognize Jesus as a great prophet and son of God (his mother, Symeon and Anna, John the Baptist, his own disciples, etc.).  The other Jewss seemed to be [...]

2020-04-03T13:16:28-04:00October 8th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

Jesus’ Death as a Prophet in Luke

In my previous post I argued that the author of the Gospel of Luke had changed the view that he found in his source, the Gospel of Mark, so that Jesus death, in Luke, is no longer an atoning sacrifice for sins.  I’ve always found this to be extraordinarily interesting.  Both the source for Luke’s Gospel, and the hero of his book of Acts – the apostle Paul – portrayed Jesus’ death as an atonement.  But Luke does not. I’ve had several readers ask me: if Jesus’ death was not an atonement for Luke, then why did he die? It’s a good question, but a complicated one.  There are several approaches to take in answering it.  Let me present two, which happen to coincide with one another at the end of the day.  The first has to do with the narrative plot of Luke’s Gospel, and the second has to do with his theology (as found in both his Gospel and Acts). First, the plot.  It is beyond any doubt that Luke understands that Jesus *had* [...]

2020-04-03T13:16:36-04:00October 7th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

My Big Day Appeal

I am taking executive privilege today with this posting.  It is a big day, not for the blog, but for me personally.  To my shock and amazement, today is my 60th birthday.  60 years.  How did this happen???  I’m glad it did, but still, I’m just askin’. So I want to use the occasion to make a shameless appeal.   I had a big birthday bash two nights ago, with friends and family flying in from such far-flung places as California and New Hampshire.  It was a terrific time, a friend from high school, friends from graduate school, friends I know professionally, friends who once-upon-a-time were my students, friends from my department, my daughter and son and son-in-law,  my granddaughters.  It was an amazing time. I made one request of everyone (in addition to the request to come to a party to enjoy good food, very good drink, and fantastic company): No presents! A couple of people stretched the rule a bit, and gave me a present.   They wrote a check for the Bart Ehrman Foundation [...]

2015-10-05T14:08:11-04:00October 5th, 2015|Public Forum|
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