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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 the first time), then don’t we have an irreconcilable problem on our hands?  Because that would mean that Luke first says that Jesus is the Son of God because of his miraculous birth, where God is literally his father (this is explicitly stated in 1:35) but then says that he is the Son of God because God adopted him to be his Son in 3:22.

My view is that even if …

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Really??? Stories of Jesus’ Virgin Birth
Arguments that Luke Did Not Originally Have the Virgin Birth

24

Comments

  1. Avatar
    stephena  October 23, 2015

    Luke’s accounts are inconsistent because the text has been manipulated, first by Anti-Adoptionists (and I’m glad you’re finally remembering that you’ve written about this manipulation before in your earlier works) and then by the addition of layer upon layer of fantasy, including a virgin birth and flight to Egypt – which I’m not even certain ancient writers would have taken that seriously, or literally. And even if they did, clearly those who walked with Jesus and his SIBLINGS knew his parents were human beings, as did Luke in early Acts when he imagined Peter say that Jesus was a “man.”

  2. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 23, 2015

    You wrote, “But in Acts 2:38 we are told that Jesus became the Lord when he was raised from the dead.”

    Acts 2:38 King James Version (KJV)

    38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    I don’t get it?

  3. Avatar
    Paul  October 23, 2015

    Could it be that Luke, while compiling all the writings and oral stories he had known of to compose his writings, just used what he liked? Regardless of how it blended together in those instances?

  4. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  October 23, 2015

    Hello Bart

    i have problem understanding your comment about how Mary get pregnant in Luke gospel

    In your post : Miraculous (Not Virgin) Births in Ancient Pagan Texts
    You replied to a question by saying : Yes, the overshadowing does sound a bit physical, I agree. But for Luke, evidently, there was no physical penetration.

    In your recent post : Did Luke’s Gospel Originally Have the Virgin Birth?

    You said : In Luke 1 it is clear that Jesus is the son of God – literally – at the time of his conception, because it is God himself who makes Mary pregnant

    So in luke God makes Mary pregnant without physical penetration , is that your conlusion ?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 25, 2015

      I don’t think that the author of that story imagines that God has genitals, if that’s what you’re asking.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  October 23, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, the only way I can even begin to wrap my head around this verse is with a side-by-side comparison with other references.

    The MT Psalm 2:7
    יְהוָה אָמַר אֵלַי בְּנִי אַתָּה אֲנִי הַיּוֹם יְלִדְתִּיךָ
    The LORD said to me, my son you are, I today sired you.
    (This Psalm is possibly a reference to King Josiah seeking God’s favor as encouragement to go out and confront the Egyptian Pharaoh at Meggido, where which Josiah was subsequently killed in battle. God calling the king his “son” whom he has “sired”, to the ancient Israelite mind, would imply (metaphorically) God’s favor as from a father to his son. In other words, in the topsy-turvy world of Near East geopolitics, Yahweh has chosen to support the king, his “son”, over the interests of the kings and emperors of the region. At least that’s how I interpret it.)

    The LXX Pslam 2:7
    Κύριος εἶπεν πρός με Υἱός μου εἶ σύ, ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε
    The Lord said to me, Son my are you, I today have sired you.

    Acts 13:33
    Υἱός μου εἶ σύ, ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε
    Son my are you, I today have sired you.

    Hebrews 5:5
    Υἱός μου εἶ σύ, ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε
    Son my are you, I today have sired you.

    Now, right off the bat, I see that all the NT references are directly lifted, word for word, straight from the LXX. This suggests very strongly that whoever first committed this line to paper in the NT wasn’t translating from a Hebrew or Aramaic original, but actually pulled it straight out of the LXX. To me, this suggests that this is an after-the-fact attempt at finding a scriptural explanation to Jesus’ relationship with God. The early followers probably assumed that Psalm 2 (as with most Psalms) are prophetic descriptions of the Messiah, and hence Jesus. So the Greek speaking Christians noticed this verse in Psalm 2, in the LXX, and they retconned it into the life of Jesus itself, inserting it, where convenient, into any NT passage in which it could bolster a specific christology. In that respect, I certainly see what you’re talking about, Dr. Ehrman.

    The strange thing, however, is that the Acts 13:33 citation has Paul supposedly speaking to a synagogue full of diasporic Jews, all of whom would have likely been more familiar with the LXX Greek version than the MT Hebrew. Now, of course, the Jews in that synagogue would have been completely familiar with that Psalm passage as it relates to the Davidic royal line of the Messiah. Indeed, the rest of Paul’s speech is exactly such an attempt to like Jesus to David, with the only exception being that David died and rotted in the ground, while Jesus died and came back to life before his body could begin to decay. In other words, when Paul was citing this passage it wasn’t to suggest in the slightest that Jesus was ACTUALLY the son of God, in the real sense of an offspring. Paul is metaphorically describing Jesus’ resurrection as a re-birth, a re-begetting–“today I have begot you”–a re-favoring, if you will. And in that sense, ALL of the faithful, at the coming mass resurrection will, likewise, become children of God!

    Now, if we follow that logic, then it quickly becomes clear that Jesus was supposed to become the son of God at his resurrection (i.e. his re-birth) and not at his baptism, let alone his actual, physical birth decades earlier.

    So with all that being said, I’m concluding that A) the “Today I have begotten you” passage was originally lifted straight from the LXX by Greek speaking diasporic Christians who originally applied it as support for Jesus’ resurrection, and B) since this suggests a lower christology then presupposed by modern theologians, it was probably lifted relatively early, maybe as early as the 5th and 6th decades, and C) this passage was only later applied to previous periods in Jesus’ life, primarily his baptism and actual birth to Mary.

    Dr. Ehrman, is my conclusion off or on?

  6. Avatar
    Stephen  October 24, 2015

    Just out of curiosity has anyone ever seriously proposed that Luke and Acts were independent of each other?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 25, 2015

      Yes indeed — some important scholars! Though a tiny minority.

  7. Avatar
    dragonfly  October 24, 2015

    I think Luke used a number of sources- we know he used mark and either Q or matthew, and more- and he was a sloppy editor.

  8. Avatar
    godspell  October 24, 2015

    Not to project Aquinas’ ideas backwards in time, but you could argue that for God, every day is this day. 😉

    What makes the most sense to me is that Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth was slightly changed by someone who wanted to make it consistent with Matthew’s version (and more distinct from John the Baptist’s miraculous birth). The virgin birth would have been very controversial, particularly with those Christians who still considered themselves Jewish. Luke’s account of it is so much more detailed than Matthews’, includes so many elements that don’t exist in other versions.

    However, it still conflicts with Matthews’ story regarding the Nativity. There’s no indication that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth before their return from Egypt after Herod’s death. So they approach the problem of how to acknowledge Jesus being known to be a Gallilean, while still having his birth take place in Judea, from opposite directions. The dispute is not that something amazing occurred, but what story will best reconcile the conflicts between what they know and what they want to believe, and of course what Jews expect from the Messiah (that he will be born in Judea).

    What Luke does, in modern genre fiction parlance (movies, comic books), would be known as ‘retconning’. Fixing problems perceived in the hero’s origin story by adding new elements the audience has not previously been aware of. Successful retcons are generally accepted at face value by newer members of the audience, and scorned by those were reading/watching earlier.

    Classic example (so ironic in this case) would be Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father. Nobody who watches the original Star Wars film (Episode IV now) can think George Lucas meant for that to happen, or for Leia to be Luke’s sister (because there is clearly going to be a romantic triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han). And Obi-Wan refers to Vader as ‘Darth’, like it’s his first name, instead of a title. And we all understand this (if we give a darn in the first place), and we just say “Okay, that’s how the story used to go, this is what it is now.” And of course some of us will never stop arguing about it online, an option that did not exist in New Testament times.

    The thing about retcons is that they get retconned in turn. Dan Brown is now a millionaire because of retcons he borrowed from a work of pseudo-scholarship. And some people still believe that crap.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 24, 2015

    Fascinating that these terms were applied by Luke at multiple different moments.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 24, 2015

    I admit I’ve never been able to force myself to read all the Gospels, Acts, etc. But…if an author was this sloppy, this inconsistent, how can you believe they have value as *literature*? (I don’t doubt their *historical* value…though I suspect very few of the authors’ Christian contemporaries were interested in anything beyond the “afterlife” promise.)

    • Bart
      Bart  October 25, 2015

      Some of the world’s greatest literature has problems like this! (E.g., Homer!)

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 24, 2015

    Could these inconsistent times of exaltation have resulted from Luke having spliced together different sources?

  12. Avatar
    Theonedue  January 14, 2016

    Do you think Peter’s denial of Jesus is historical?

  13. Avatar
    Theonedue  January 14, 2016

    Do you think that the apostles thoughts that Jesus did miracles? If so, what kind of miracles did they think he could do (exorcise demons, heal people, raise people from the dead)?

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