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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

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Yvonne  August 16, 2013

    This makes it clear enough for me.

  2. Avatar
    gavm  August 17, 2013

    A quick question on Luke
    Luke seems to have alot about selling everything and giving to the poor that isnt in Mark. do you think its from Q? it is a specifically Luke theology that was common at the time? do you think Jesus thought that way?
    Thank you Prof

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      To tell if something is from Q, you simply need to see if it is in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark.

      Luke does have this emphasis more than either Matthew or Mark. But there’s enough in the other Gospels as well to make me think that Jesus held to some such views.

  3. Avatar
    bobnaumann  August 17, 2013

    Is it generally thought among NT scholars that Luke was actually a traveling companion of Paul’s and wrote Acts some years later, or did he reconstruct the accounts of Paul’s travels from other sources?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 18, 2013

      Depends whom you ask. I’d say most *critical* NT scholars (i.e., outside of conservative Christians) think that the author of the third Gospel was *not* a traveling companion of Paul.

  4. Avatar
    Eric  August 18, 2013

    If I go through your older post and ask questions on that topic will you respond,some time I don’t read your post right away.

  5. cheito
    cheito  August 19, 2013

    I’ve suspected for sometime that the genealogy of Jesus was added. Luke is focusing on the Baptism of Jesus. I think that immediately after Luke3:22, the natural flow should continue to Luke 4:1,2. It should read as follows:

    3:21-Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, 22-and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” 4:1-Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2-for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

    Also since Jesus was born without a human father, tracing His genealogy through the descendants of Joseph doesn’t make any sense. If we could analyze a sample of Jesus DNA we would only find Mary’s DNA and not a trace of Joseph’s.

    Paul warned about endless genealogies 1 Tim 1:4. And Paul Himself said in Roman 1:3: that Jesus was born a descendant of David according to the flesh, and left it at that.

    I will ask the question: Whose DNA or what flesh? Mary’s of Joseph’s?

    So I believe Chapters 1 and 2 of Luke belong there. The genealogy does not belong in that book but was later added as also the rest of the book was altered for the purpose of changing and confusing the true nature of who Christ is.

    Regarding Marcion: He most likely edited 1 and 2 of Luke just as he edited Galatians and removed all the passages that spoke about Abraham.

    Luke was not an eyewitness of the life and ministry of Jesus. The Apostles were the ones that related all the information to Luke. Luke wrote down what he was told by them. Therefore understanding what the Apostles of Christ taught about the person of Christ and who He truly was is the better approach at arriving at a more reasonable and satisfying conclusion as to what Luke most likely wrote, and if the first two chapters and the genealogy of chapter 3 were added later on.

  6. Avatar
    Pofarmer  August 23, 2013

    Well, it depends on what you think. a new post and new thread will generate new comments. New comments on an old thread won’t generally be found. The easiest thing for you to do would just be to put up a post, and link to the old thread, and then have comments on the new thread. The easiest thing for US, and it’s all about us, right? Would be for you to do a new comprehensive post completely rehashing the subject with new information added. I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to do that every time something like this came up. d;0)

  7. Avatar
    toejam  August 22, 2014

    Your dot-points make a pretty good case I feel. That said, what is the reasoning for thinking that 1:1-4 were still part of the original?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 22, 2014

      They are stylistically different from the rest of the two chapters and do appear to introduce the book.

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