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Church Fathers and the Voice at Jesus’ Baptism

In my previous post I argued that the quotations of the New Testament in the writings of the later church fathers can help both to establish the earliest form of the text and to determine when and where the text came to be changed in the process of its transmission. I indicated that I might give an example of how that works, and that’s what this post is all about. I have taken a couple of paragraphs from my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to illustrate the point. The passage I am discussing here is a very important one. It has to do with what the voice said from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

In virtually all the Greek manuscripts of Luke – hundreds of them – the voice says “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.”  But in one – count them, one – manuscript of the early fifth century the voice instead says “You are my beloved Son, Today I have begotten you.”  (This reading is found in a manuscript familiar to textual scholars, known as “Codex Bezae.”)  Since this odd reading – which makes it sound as though God is making Jesus to be his son at this point of his career (and so is thought of as embracing what is called an “adoptionist” christology: God “adopted” Jesus as his son; Jesus wasn’t *originally* his son, let alone a pre-existent divine being) – is found in only one Greek manuscript, historically most textual critics have not given it much thought, but assumed that it was simply the aberrant alteration of the text by this scribe.   But in what I argue below, one should not be so sure.   This alternative view is advanced largely on the grounds of the Patristic evidence that we have.


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More Arguments over Luke 3:22
Patristic Evidence: Why Time and Place Matter



  1. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  August 10, 2013

    Is the Didascalia also called the Didache? I assume no. Could you do a post on the Didascalia please?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 11, 2013

      Nope, a completely different document. I’ll add it to my (long and growing) list of things to talk about.

  2. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  August 10, 2013

    Another question, how many of the most reliable manuscripts have you actually seen in person? Or do you rely on pictures? I know you have held P52

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 11, 2013

      Most of us in the field rely on transcriptions, collations, photographs, and so on. There is no reason, most of the time, to reinvent the wheel and transcribe a manuscript if it has already been reliably transcribed. The main reason to *see* the manuscript is if you want to engage in serious palaeographic or codicological work on it — which is something I never do. (I have seen Sinaiticus — both in London and at St. Catherine’s monastery — Alexandrinus, and a few others here and there)

  3. Avatar
    bobnaumann  August 10, 2013

    Do we know if the codex Bezea is earlier than the other texts that do not say “today I have begotten you”?

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    bobnaumann  August 10, 2013

    What about Hebrews which says “5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

    “You are my Son;
        today I have begotten you”?

    Does this imply that somewhere God must have said about Jesus “today I have begotten you”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 11, 2013

      No, it wouldn’t imply that; but it would imply that a Christian scribe may well have *thought* it would imply that! (And therefore would be inclined to change the text to make it say that)

      • gmatthews
        gmatthews  August 20, 2013

        I buy what you’re saying with regards to Heb 1:5. I wanted to see the context of that verse and checked a site called biblehub.com and they have a bible version called the New Living Translation and it says just that!

        New Living Translation
        For God never said to any angel what he said to Jesus: “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.” God also said, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.”

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    SJB  August 10, 2013

    Prof Ehrman

    Doesn’t the presence of an “adoptionist” theology in the earliest version of Luke also hint that there might have an early version without the Nativity story? Could you perform the same kind of analysis on the Nativity story in Luke that you do with the Voice at Jesus’ baptism in this post? Is there a detectable parallel between the suppression of the original Lukan “adoptionism” and the development of the Nativity story?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 11, 2013

      Yes, if this were the text of Luke 3:22, it would make sense that Luke originally lacked chs. 1-2 (for which there are reasons to think anyway).

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    lfasel  August 10, 2013

    When in your opinion do you think a strong bias started to occur with text and transmission with the NT writings? I know Prof Charlesworth has said that the Book of John especially JN1 underwent a number of changes/ additions.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 11, 2013

      Yes, Charlesworth is relying here on scholarship advanced by others (e.g. Ray Brown in his magesterial commentary). I agree with this view. Some texts were changed even before they were put in the shape that became the foundation of our surviving manuscripts.

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    TomTerrific  August 10, 2013

    How useful is the Roman Catholic Vulgate when it comes to studying sources like this example?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 11, 2013

      The Vulgate was based on earlier Latin versions in circulation (as Jerome tells us). So these earlier ones that survive are somewhat more valuable.

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    RonaldTaska  August 10, 2013

    Fascinating and I follow your reasoning. I will read some online about Codex Bezae. This well illustrates the point about how quotes from the patristic fathers can shed light on what text is most likely to be most like the original text.

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    dmthliana  August 11, 2013

    While your arguments are charged with positivity, it will take an open mind to even digest what you’re suggesting – that writers (or copiers?) of the Bible changed the text to suit their own purpose, doctrinal or whatever. In my home state of Mizoram (in North East India), any talks about the Bible being wrong or manipulated would instantly be labeled as heresy. The Gospel entered Mizoram in 1894 through two Welsh missionaries and the Mizo people, who were previously animists, converted as a community into Christianity within 50 years of their coming. If anybody can be called Christian extremists, it would be us Mizos. I would love to propagate your views within the Mizo community so as to have a more open mind towards Christianity, in particular the Holy Book. However, financial constraints is a problem as translation of your works would need to be taken up. Anyway, I truly appreciate your views and scholarship and will keep being a member of this blog. I deliberately don’t log onto your blog on a daily basis as I find the daily inputs too short. I normally log on once a week so that I would have more to read. Keep up the good work.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 11, 2013

    This is very interesting. But…can I ask a question about something else? (Well, come to think of it, there are two things I’ve been wondering about.)

    1. What is your opinion of the passage in The Lord’s Prayer typically translated as “Give us this day our daily bread”? Do you agree with the idea that the Greek word rendered as “daily” is better translated as something like “future”? And the passage may really *mean*, in an apocalyptic context, something like “Give us this day the spiritual sustenance you’ve promised to give us upon the arrival of the Kingdom”?

    2. I just read in one of your books that when Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas supposedly denounced something he’d admitted as “blasphemy.” You said that was hard to understand, because whether he’d admitted believing he was the “Messiah” or the “King of the Jews,” neither of those claims would constitute blasphemy. What if he’d actually called himself the “Son of Man”? I’m not saying I believe he did – I realize we can’t know anything about that pseudo-trial. But would calling oneself the “Son of Man” have been considered blasphemous, since the “Son of Man” was thought to be divine?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 12, 2013

      1. It’s much debated and has been from the days of the early church! (It’s a weird Greek word) My view is that it means “bread that will suffice for today,” and the assumption being the apocalyptic notion that the end is coming soon so there is no reason to store up provisions for tomorrow.

      2. The problem is that he doesn’t *call* himself the son of man. For the blasphemy to *work* the reader has to assume that he is referring to himself. That makes sense in the context of Mark’s Gospel, where he is in fact portrayed as the son of man. but it would not have made sense in the context of Jesus’ own life, where he appears to have spoken of someone *else* who was the son of man. And so I don’t think we know what happened at the historical trial.

  11. cheito
    cheito  August 11, 2013

    In virtually all the Greek manuscripts of Luke – hundreds of them – the voice says “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.” But in one – count them, one – manuscript of the early fifth century the voice instead says “You are my beloved Son, Today I have begotten you.”

    Not only was it the reading of the ancestor of codex Bezae and the Old Latin text of Luke, it appears also to have been the text known to Justin, Clement of Alexandria, and the authors of the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Didascalia. It is certainly the text attested by the Gospel according to the Ebionites , Origen, and Methodius. Somewhat later it is found in Lactantius, Juvencus, Hilary, Tyconius, Augustine, and several of the later apocryphal Acts.

    What about the other writings that quote the voice as saying, “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.” Writings such as 2 Peter 1:17. As for the preexistence of Christ: In Jesus prayer: John 17:5 He clearly states that HE existed before the foundation of the world and also in other earlier verses in John where HE says that before Abraham was he already existed.

    Clement of Alexandria according to Metzger in his ‘CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT’ (p 131) also had the Gospel of John which he considered “the spiritual Gospel”. So He was well aware of the preexistence of Christ.

    Justin Martyr (100 Shechem, Samaria-165 CE, Rome) also quoted from the Gospel of John.
    I Apol. 61.4-John 3:3-Christ also said ‘Unless you are born again you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven’. Justin also knew that Jesus was referred to as the word:That Christ is the firstborn of God, being the logos of which every race of people have been partakers, we have been taught and have declared. (I Apol. 46.2, c.f. John 1:1,9)

    Origen also acknnowledge the Gospel of John.

    The beliefs of Arius ( c. 250– c. 336) a priest of Alexandria started the cult “Arinism”, an influential heresy denying the divinity of Christ. Arianism maintained that the Son of God was created by the Father and was therefore neither co-eternal with the Father, nor co-substantial. This accounts for the interpolations to Luke altering the originals words of Luke.

    So this argument can go either way according to you preferences and conclusion as to which books of the bible are or aren’t penned by the original apostles of Christ Jesus.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 12, 2013

      These other passages do not assist us in knowing what *Luke* may have written.

      • cheito
        cheito  August 12, 2013

        True that the passages I quoted don’t assist us in knowing for certain what Luke actually wrote but they do offer insights as to what Luke likely wrote considering he was a contemporary of of the men who were actually eyewitnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection and whom i quote here. Also as you said, Dr Ehrman “the codex Bezea Is earlier than most, but not all”.

        The idea that Jesus was pre-existent was spoken by the writer of 1 john 1:2 who calls Jesus the Eternal Life which was with the father. This idea also is repeated by the writer of the Gospel of John 5:8 where Jesus says that He existed before Abraham was born. In John 6:38 Jesus also says that he came down from heaven. Paul also believed in the pre-existence of Jesus: Phillipians 2:7. Also Peter 1:20.

        The prophet Micah 5:2 of the old Testament declared that the Christ who would be born in Bethlehem to be ruler over Israel; has been around from Eternity. Note: He would be born yet he had been around from eternity

        So I think that the scribe of codex Bezea was most likely a follower of Arianism, and deliberately altered this passage:Luke 3:22

        I also think the scholars who hold to the reading of the majority of the Lucan manuscripts, in Luke 3:22 are most likely correct.

        True that this other passages

  12. Avatar
    FrankBrierton  August 14, 2013

    What happened to the last post? Seems to have stopped mid-sentence(?)

  13. Avatar
    acts238willy  August 12, 2014

    Forgive me… but-

    How does a member ‘search’ for topics?

    I’m trying to find evidence for a weekly observance of the Lord’s supper.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 13, 2014

      On the upper-right hand of your screen is a magnifying glass. Click that and you have a search function.

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