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Did Luke Originally Have Chapters 1-2?

Now that I have finished my unusually deep (for this blog) set of harder-hitting posts on the text of Luke 3:22 I want to move on to other things – very soon to get back to the question of the problems of using Patristic evidence.  But I want to pause first and given the scholarship a rest, and ask a question for those of you who are paying your hard-earned money to belong to and support this blog (but let me stress yet again:  the money all goes to charity – so you should feel good about how it is being spent!).

So here’s the deal.  As a result of this set of posts, I have had a number of people ask me – either in the comment section or via email – if I thought that Luke 1-2 was in fact NOT part of the original version of the Gospel of Luke, but was added on after a version of Luke had originally been published, a version that *began* with what is now chapter 3 (since Jesus becomes the son of God at his baptism, it seems, given what the voice says in 3:22 – so why have a virgin birth narrative?).  I’m going to answer that question below, briefly, in the rest of this post.  But here’s my question to all of you.   As it turns out, I have posted on that question before, in December (Dec. 22 and 23).  But a lot of members were not members then.  And, frankly, until I looked, I hadn’t (clearly) remembered that I had posted on it.  But I had.

And so, in cases like this, what is best for me to do for the greatest number of readers?   Should I simply not post on it again and let the matter go, assuming that people can look up the old post if they want to?  Should I refer readers to the old post as soon as I find it?  Should I assume that many readers will not have read the post and post on virtually (not exactly) the same topic in different words, and possibly a different approach, from the first one?  Or something else?  Let me know what you think.


But for now, let me say a few words (again, it looks like) on what I take to be the original version of Luke.   The first think I want to stress is that the *reason* we need hard-hitting scholarship such as the previous set of posts (and lots more like it on similar topics), is because it is only by dealing with the difficult issues at a deep level is it possible to draw historical and literary conclusions that are intellectually satisfying and ultimately persuasive (I’m not saying I’ll be providing a lot of posts like that.  I won’t be – just on rare occasions).  If I simply indicated that scholars have good reasons to think that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke originally said “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” there would be very little indeed to make someone convinced.  It is only by doing the hard work of scholarship that a convincing cumulative argument can be made, and only then can conclusions be drawn.  This is another way of saying that scholars aren’t just guessing when they draw their historical and literary conclusions.

The question of how an original version of Luke began hinges on lots of little pieces of scholarship of that sort (scholarship that I will *not* be providing here on the blog!  So don’t worry!).   It includes a careful analysis of the language of Luke 1-2, which shows that the writing style seems to differ from the rest of the Gospel; an assessment of the relationship of that portion of Luke to the Septuagint (the Greek OT) in comparison with the rest of the Gospel of Luke (these two chapters appear much more Septuagintal in character); and especially an assessment of a range of literary features of chs. 1-2 in relationship to ch. 3.  Here there are several important points that scholars have made:

  • The beginning of ch. 3 reads like the *beginning* of a narrative, not the continuation of a narrative.
  • The beginning of ch. 3 is the same, in substance, as the beginning of the source of Luke’s Gospel, Mark (they both begin with Jesus being baptized).
  • Some of the central themes of chs. 1-2 are never referred to elsewhere in either the rest of the Gospel or the book of Acts (e.g., Jesus having come from Bethlehem; his mother being a virgin), even though lots of other themes from early chapters (e..g, the baptism by John) *are* referred to later.
  • The voice at the baptism (“today I have begotten you” as “my son”) does not seem to make sense given the narrative of chs. 1-2 (where, according to 1:35, Jesus is the son of God because God made his mother pregnant)
  • The genealogy that is given in ch. 3 doesn’t make sense if the Gospel already had chs. 1-2.  The genealogy is given *after* the baptism.   But the natural place for a genealogy is at the point in which a person is *born* (since the genealogy traces the bloodline up to the time of birth), not at the point of baptism (as a 30 year old!).   Without chs. 1-2, however, the genealogy makes sense at the baptism, since it is at the baptism that Jesus is made the son of God according to the voice from heaven, and so immediately afterward the genealogy is given, in which Jesus’ family line is traced not only to Adam (so that he is the son of Adam) but from Adam to God (so that he is the son of God).


All of these factors contribute to a scholarly view (I don’t know if it’s a majority view; I somewhat doubt it.  But I think it *should* be, since the evidence strikes me as being so significantly in favor of it) that there was a first edition of Luke that began with what is now chapter 3.  If that is right, then what is now 1:1-4 would still have begun the Gospel, but the narrative would then have moved directly from 1:4 to what is now 3:1.

That would make sense of one other historical datum: one of our earliest witnesses to the Gospel of Luke is the “arch-heretic” Marcion, who notoriously “edited” his Gospel of Luke so that it did not have chs. 1-2 (since Marcion did not think that Jesus was born of a virgin, or born at all, but that he appeared as an adult at the beginning of his ministry).   But what if Marcion didn’t “edit” the two chapters by getting rid of them?  What if he knew a version of Luke that simply did not yet have them?  That would change how we evaluate Marcion’s “editorial” approach to the Gospel.


Now that I’ve written up these various lines of thought, I return to my initial set of questions to readers of the blog, and say that in my opinion, the best option is for me not to worry if I posted on this topic eight months ago, or a year ago, or a year and a half ago, but simply to do so again if there is something worth talking about.  But I’m open to all your opinions on the matter.

Problems with Patristic Evidence
A Final Post (!) on Luke 3:22



  1. Avatar
    JamesFouassier  August 15, 2013

    When a subject already has been covered I suggest a reply to the question that simply advises the inquirer to see your post of that previous date. No need to address it in the main section of your blog, Professor.

  2. Avatar
    toddfrederick  August 15, 2013

    I have been away for about a week and missed reading your last few entries. I need to catch up.

    ***This is off topic:

    While away, I have been reading Aslan’s book “Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth.” I am not concerned if he is a scholar or not or if all his facts are perfect.

    I find it riveting. It paints a picture of the human Jesus even more radical than I find in most scholarly works that seek the historical Jesus. I have not finished the book, but, in short, it views Jesus as one of the many Zealots who came before and after his appearance…a man who is not totally peace loving as many of us “progressives” tend to picture…but a man who told his disciples to buy a sword and to be ready to do battle with the enemy. He puts Jesus’
    peaceful” sayings in a totally different light.

    For example, “Love your enemies…” not meaning all your enemies but only your Jewish enemies. The picture is a Jesus who is a hard core Jew who believe that God gave the Hebrews their land and the Romans must be removed by any means to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus tells his disciple to “take up their cross…” not meaning to sacrifice oneself for the love of your neighbor but the cross will be the result of the battle with the Romans, and to “Love your neighbor” doesn’t not mean all people in the world but to love your Jewish neighbor only. Jesus wanted nothing to do with non-Jews.

    Jesus entered Jerusalem to bring the revolt to a head, was convicted of sedition and executed. End of story.

    Then came Paul and the advent of the Christian religion giving a very different picture of Jesus as the risen Christ (or as Paul claims, given through visions to him by the Spiritual Christ)….to accommodate and assimilate with the non-Jewish world.

    Paul’s view was NOT the Jesus of history.

    Bottom line…have you or are you planning to read Aslan’s book? I am saying that he paints a very radical picture of the historical Jesus which I think sounds quite realistic and accurate.

    If you do read it, I would be interested in your thoughts on Aslan’s thesis….not on his scholarship but on his thesis.

    Thank you.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      Thanks for this. I have no plans to read the book, but who knows? Like most scholars, I almost never a read book written by someone outside a field writing for a popular audience. (Too much scholarship to read; too few hours in the day to read it!) Of course, I may make an exception, but I have no plans. I should say that his basic thesis has been around for a very long time — it’s the view set forth in the first book about the historical Jesus ever written, by Reimarus, in the mid 1770s! It’s most recent proponent has been S. G. F. Brandon — who *is* an expert. Few scholars have ever been convinced.

      I should also say that it’s very hard to evaluate the thesis without evaluating the scholarship, since for the thesis to be convincing it has to be based on convincing scholarship!

      • Avatar
        toddfrederick  August 18, 2013


        Thank you for your direct and open response to my thoughts and questions.

        My primary concern with scholarship, as you and others are doing, is not with the quality and depth of your studies, but that such insights are not always filtered down to the “popular audience” in very direct and simple terms. I think it is vital for non-scholars to be exposed to the findings that scholars produce, and one way, besides TV documentaries, is through popular, controversial, and well promoted books written in the language of non-scholars (as long as what is written is based on good scholarship and a solid thesis) (which is often hard to determine since even scholars don’t always agree). This is what you do with your trade books, and that is a great benefit to us all.

        I think Aslan is providing a service here, and is, hopefully, getting interested readers to a view of Jesus in a light that is more down to earth than a celestial deity floating on a cloud somewhere in the heavens or just believing in fairy tales….you even succumb to this in the sound-bites on many TV documentaries….and it is important that you do share your thoughts in that way.

        After a few years of delving into your scholarship and that of others who a tops in their field, I come away with the feeling that I have stated many times…”All that I know is that I don’t know”. That is my agnostic perspective and it allows me to be open to new ideas and perspectives.

        Thank you again for you being you and working as hard as you do to share your ideas and scholarship with us.

        Also, please let us know when your text book on the full Bible will be ready to purchase.

        Blessings, Todd

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2013

          Oh, yes: my book can be pre-ordered now from Amazon. Title: The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction

          • Avatar
            toddfrederick  August 19, 2013

            Bueno…Will buy. Thank you

  3. Avatar
    DonRuth  August 15, 2013

    I would prefer you just reference where the answer can be found in the archives.

  4. Avatar
    Jim  August 15, 2013

    For me it’s great that you re-post, because after gaining more insights I usually have an updated perspective on the re-post compared to the first time around (and I rarely do a search to go over an older post). It’s also been awhile since I read your Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures, and since I’m not the sharpest knife, I found the excerpts from this book were extremely helpful along side your blog commentaries and answers to comments.

  5. Avatar
    SelfAwarePatterns  August 15, 2013

    As always, fascinating stuff!

    ” Should I simply not post on it again and let the matter go, assuming that people can look up the old post if they want to? Should I refer readers to the old post as soon as I find it?”

    I think standard blogging practice is to refer people to the older entry and provide a link to it. That can be via a reply email or reply comment for one random query, or by a brief separate new blog entry if you’re getting a lot of people asking about it again.

  6. Avatar
    ncarmstrong  August 15, 2013

    Yes, comment again if it is an important subject. Some of us weren’t members since day one and even those who are would find a refresher useful.

  7. Avatar
    dennis  August 15, 2013

    Two questions posed ; here are my two replies :
    1 ) How about a subject index page for members ? Yes , I know that it would involve more unpaid work on your part , but remember your members are lifelong students and are therefore lazy and fully expect to be catered to well into their dotage .
    2 ) Terrific post on first two chapters of Luke . How about this : what we now have as ” Luke ” is the final product of a community of early Christians who had first been ” turned on ” to Jesus by an individual named Luke . The community’s shared beliefs developed over time ?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      1) Ah, students….
      2) The problems are that (a) it’s hard to imagine a community (rather than a person) writing a book and (b) there is nothing connecting the book to someone named Luke for over a hundred years….

  8. Avatar
    jhague  August 15, 2013

    Can it also be said that Matthew 1-2 was an add on since Matthew 3 begins with John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      Not for that reasons (since there’s no reason every Gospel has to begin the same way); but I think there may be reasons for thinking so. I’ll consider posting on it at some point.

  9. Avatar
    dewdds  August 15, 2013

    Some heavy stuff of late, but very engaging. I think about how I read the Bible (and probably how most other folks do) and would never have the sharp eye, discipline, or depth of learning to pick out these fine details. That and my only exposure to Greek was memorizing the alphabet as part of my fraternity pledging!

    As far as repeat questions on the blog, I have no problem with you referring to the old post and perhaps adding any new information. I don’t always get to every post on the blog, so such cases are ‘new’ material in any event. And it’s also nice to have a refresher on the same topic and may get me thinking about new questions that I hadn’t considered before.

  10. Avatar
    EricBrown  August 15, 2013

    I’d say do it again, (feel free to cut and paste extensive quotes), or if you rereally completley covered it (such as this recent treatment of Luke 3:22), then reasser the findings and direct the reader to the more complete “proof.”

    I don’t beleive you have asearch function or an index to the posts here on the site, so the fact that you’ve covered it bvefore doesn’t mean it is necessarily highly accessible to new readers (or readers like me, who forget some of the things we learn).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      Yes, there is a search function: upper right hand side of the screen, click on the magnifying glass.

      • Avatar
        Sami  August 22, 2018

        It’s not available in the mobile version.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 22, 2018

          Really? Should be!! Send me an email and we’ll try to figure out what the deal is.

    • ArtiosMedia
      ArtiosMedia  August 22, 2018

      About the search. We are projecting to replace the current framework with a new interface toward the end of the year, one that will be much more mobile compliant. Currently we use the rather antiquated Karma theme, although kept current and was the best choice years ago, no longer provides a quality user experience. That said, since the advent of the responsive interface, the blog has included a mobile dedicated page here: https://ehrmanblog.org/mobile-member-content/ On that page, at the top of the links, you will find a search bar that provides search results quickly due to SearchWP search tables.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 15, 2013

    1. I vote for just referring readers back to a previous blog although it was helpful for me to read about the first two chapters of Luke again so I don’t disagree with what you did here. I like that you asked us about the matter.
    2. I think the best argument regarding the first two chapters of Luke is the one about how a genealogy fits better in a first chapter like it is in Matthew.
    3. I think “hard-hitting scholarship is very important and an occasional overly complicated blog is helpful, especially if such a blog illustrates, as your recent blogs did, how certain problems are addressed, and as long as these complicated blogs are not too frequent. So keep plugging away with your current mixture of stuff. Your writing a blog almost every day means that not every blog is going to be for every reader. I personally prefer the blogs where you discuss your personal decisions regarding religion.
    4. Having spent decades in a church where all questions are solved by quoting a Bible verse or two, I now have trouble when points are made by quoting a verse or two. I still think that if a Gospel author wanted to make a point about exaltation Christology, be it at the birth, the baptism, or the Resurrection of Jesus, then the author could/should/would have developed such a point in considerable more detail to be convincing of anything.

  12. Avatar
    maxhirez  August 15, 2013

    My vote is that you just point new members to old material unless the new questions cause you to muse on the subject in new ways.

  13. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  August 16, 2013

    Bart, I think you could/should simply refer them to the original post. Except if the original article needs to be enhanced/changed for some reason, then you could post it again as a kind of 2.0 version?

  14. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  August 16, 2013

    I would assume this could be another example of “Farrer hypothesis” of Luke coping Matthew. If Luke used Mark and Matthew and kept their order (most of the time), then Luke chapter 3 (original beginning??) could be using the same style of Mark’s beg. and Matthew’s genealogy in chapter 1. Example, Luke has a different genealogy and went a different direction, but kept the three temptation’s from Matthew.

    I know, I know, the reasons Luke relied on Q! LOL. But this may add to that theory.

  15. Avatar
    Scott F  August 16, 2013

    “the writing style seems to differ from the rest of the Gospel; an assessment of the relationship of that portion of Luke to the Septuagint (the Greek OT) in comparison with the rest of the Gospel of Luke (these two chapters appear much more Septuagintal in character);”

    These two issues intrigue me. I suppose it might be because they are the least accessible to one not trained in ancient languages.

  16. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 16, 2013

    Oh yes, please, do post again on topics you’ve previously addressed, if someone is asking about them or you’ve thought of something else to say! And maybe, while you’re at it, you could *also* point us to the original discussion. I remember once hunting for something (I forget what) that I thought you *must* already have addressed, but I couldn’t find it.

    What you say about the opening of Luke…I’m imagining how shocked a Catholic friend of mine would be. I remember her saying “Luke” was undoubtedly acquainted with “the Blessed Mother,” and got his information directly from her. “How else could he have known?” Never imagining for a moment that it might *not* be factual!

    • Avatar
      Pofarmer  August 23, 2013

      “I’m imagining how shocked a Catholic friend of mine would be. ”

      Uh, huh. I have patiently tried to explain to my Catholic wife that she is trying to live a theology, that is not, uhm, maybe, uhm, strongly reality based, to put it nicely. Unfortunately, most Catholics are heavily brainwashed to accept no criticism of “The Church.”

  17. Avatar
    Scott F  August 16, 2013

    Boy, you NEVER here about this in church! Google is not much help either. Are there good lay sources to explore this subject – aside from some rather excellent blog posting that I could name, but won’t 🙂

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      You might look at Raymond Brown’s commentary, The Birth of the Messiah. I believe he deals with the issue there, at a scholarly level.

  18. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 16, 2013

    I can’t help wandering off to other topics (scatter-brained?).

    Re someone’s suggestion on the previous page, about a way in which linkage with John the Baptist might have *helped* early Christianity…I’ve also had the thought that Jesus’s followers might, at an early date, have spread that story (true or not) in the hope of *attracting John’s followers*, with John himself being dead. Possible?

    Also, I’ve been thinking about Judas’s possible motive for betraying Jesus, and his fate. Could it be that Judas had been in total agreement with everything Jesus said back in Galilee, but was himself truly shocked and scandalized by Jesus’s behavior in the Temple? Turned against him over that? And…it served early Christians’ purposes to make the pious claim that Judas had killed himself out of remorse. Isn’t it at least as possible that he was either killed by Jesus’s followers (perhaps by our sword-wielding friend Peter), or went off and had a long and happy life?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      Yes, all these things are *possible*. The question is how to establish any of them as probable, or more probable than the alternatives….

  19. Avatar
    andrejs.vanags  August 16, 2013


    I think you could refer to the old post unless you think it is worth to make a new one, for example due to the new facts or different perspective of the question or something else you find important. IMHO, it is better to cover as much topics as you can.
    Keep up the good work, by the way! A cup of coffee and your new blog post on top of it make my morning perfect 🙂

  20. Avatar
    Elisabeth Strout  August 16, 2013

    As someone who joined this year, my biased opinion would be to request a repeat of the topic, rather than digging through the archives – I wasn’t even aware whether we could view older posts from before we were members.

    Thanks again for all your great work on this blog – it’s hugely appreciated.

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