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Luke’s First Edition

In my previous post, ostensibly on the genealogy of Luke, I pointed out that there are good reasons for thinking that the Gospel originally was published – in a kind of “first edition” – without what are now the first two chapters, so that the very beginning was what is now 3:1 (this is many centuries, of course, before anyone started using chapters and verses.) If that’s the case, Luke was originally a Gospel like Mark’s that did not have a birth and infancy narratives. These were added later, in a second edition (either by the same author or by someone else).

If that’s the case then the Gospel began with John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus, followed by the genealogy which makes better sense here, at the beginning, than it does in the third chapter once the first two are added.

But is there any hard evidence that a first edition began without the first two chapters? One of the reasons it is so hard to say is because we simply don’t have much hard evidence. Our two earliest manuscripts of Luke, P75 and P45, are fragmentary, lacking portions of Luke, including the first two chapters. We can’t say whether they originally had them or not. Our first manuscript with portions of the opening chapters is the third-century P4. But our earliest patristic witness is over a century earlier. As it turns out, the witness is the heresiarch Marcion, and as is well known he didn’t have the first two chapters!

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As early as Irenaeus’s Adversus Haereses (1. 27. 2) Marcion was accused of excising the first two chapters of his Gospel because they did not coincide with his view that Jesus appeared from heaven in the form of an adult man in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar – that is that he was not actually born into the world.  But who is to say that Irenaeus, Tertullian, and their successors were right, that these are chapters that Marcion excised from his account?  It is at least possible, has occasionally been recognized, that the version of Luke in circulation in Marcion’s home church in Sinope, on the coast of the Black Sea, didn’t have these chapters, and that his view that Jesus simply appeared on the scene as an adult was surmised from the text as it was available to him.

Marcion interpreted his Gospel in such a way as to suggest that Jesus was a divine being but not a human being (hence he did not have a birth narrative).  But there were other Christians at his time – and earlier – who insisted just the opposite, that Jesus was a human being but not a divine being.   These Christians are often called “adoptionists” because they thought that Jesus was not by nature the Son of God, but that he was a human who was adopted by God to be his son.

I used to think that an adoptionistic Christology was more or less second-rate: Jesus only was adopted, he wasn’t the “real thing.”   But a recent book that I’ve read by Michael Peppard, and that I’ve mentioned on this blog, The Son of God in the Roman World, has made me rethink the issue.  Peppard points out that in the Roman world, adopted sons frequently had a higher status than natural sons; if an emperor had sons, but adopted someone else to be his heir, it was the adopted son who would become the next emperor, not the natural sons.  The adopted son was seen as more powerful and influential, as indeed he was.   So for Jesus to be adopted to be the son of God would be a big deal.

I mention this because without the first two chapters, in particular, Luke can be read as having an adoptionist Christology.   In part, that hinges on how you understand the voice that comes from heaven to him at his baptism (the first think that happens to him in this Gospel).  In most manuscripts the voice says: “You are my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased” (an allusion to Isa. 42:1, probably).  But in a couple of manuscript witnesses the voice says something completely different: “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (a quotation of Psalm 2:7).

I have a lengthy discussion of this passage in my book Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, where I argue (at some length) that this latter quotation of Ps. 2:7 is what the text originally said, and that it was changed by scribes who did not like its adoptionistic overtones.   If that’s right, and if that was the beginning episode of this Gospel, then it is indeed easy to see how an adoptionist would have read it in line with his or her particular theological views.

I’m not saying that the first edition of Luke was adoptionist.   I’m simply saying that it would have been particularly amenable to an adoptionistic reading.  Once that is said, though, one does need to wonder: was Luke himself an adoptionist?[/private]


Reflections on the Season
Luke’s Genealogy

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  December 23, 2012

    Speaking of the Romans and their Sons of Gods, here’s an interesting thesis from Duke University: “What Led Jesus to be Called the Son of God? An Historical Investigation of how an Appellation of Alexander the Great and of the Roman Emperors came to be used of Jesus.” PDF link here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/lesw5zyrhso88wv/Son%20Of%20God%20-%20Alexander%2C%20Romans%20and%20Jesus.pdf

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      I can’t seem to access this, and I’m not familiar with it (even though I’m and Adjunct Professor in the Duke Department of Religion and work with the students there). I assume this is an old thesis. Can you tell me the author and the date?

      • Robertus
        Robertus  December 24, 2012

        BROAD, WILLIAM,E,L (2012) What Led Jesus to be Called the Son of God? An Historical Investigationof how an Appel lation of Alexander the Great and of the Roman Emperors came to be used of Jesus. ,Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/3585/

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 24, 2012

        Hi Bart,
        Hm, weird Dropbox problem then … You can download it here from here: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/3585/ (the thesis is from 2012 but it’s from Durham University in the UK, not Duke University, my mistake!)

      • Avatar
        dmthliana  December 25, 2012

        I accessed this one and downloaded it. Here is the heading –

        Abstract of a Master of Letters Degree, Durham University
        What Led Jesus to be Called the Son of God? An Historical Investigation of
        how an Appellation of Alexander the Great and of the Roman Emperors came
        to be used of Jesus.
        The Reverend Canon William Ernest Lionel Broad M.A., Durham University

      • Avatar
        GeoffW  December 26, 2012

        I found a link to the thesis at DURHAM University: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/3585/

  2. Avatar
    Jdavis3927  December 23, 2012

    Reading so many of your books, and now being aware of the different beliefs in the time of Jesus, a lot of scenarios from the bible pop in my head at times, and I will think, “man that makes a lot of sense if you look at it that way” This is one of those instances Bart. History makes the bible so interesting, theology is boring. Historical criticism. to me, extracts more of the truth of the bible, compared to theology-what I believe about God-ignoring what history has to say…boring!

  3. Robertus
    Robertus  December 23, 2012

    It is a very interesting idea, but there seems to still be a problem of coherence. Do you also think that the oriiginal proto Luke geneology considered Joseph to be the actual father of Jesus and not the ‘supposed’ father of Jesus, as the text now reads? All extant mss seem to contain the word nomizo.

    Another sense of this word nomizo might actually indicate that Jesus was legally considered to be the son of Joseph, thus adopted by Joseph. Would Luke have considered Jesus to have been adopted by both Joseph as well as God? But this still begs the question, that the use of nomizo in Luke’s geneology fits in well with the virgin birth recounted in Luke 1-2 but not with an adoptionist christology.

    Or did God’s adoption of Jesus somehow mean that Jesus was no longer truly the son of Joseph but now merely supposed to be such. Either way, he is still a son of God, either through Adam or more directly through God’s adoption at his baptism.

    Most people see the standard text to be an allusion to Psalm 2,7 anyway; thus the idea that a copyist would make the allusion into a more exact quotation seems like a very likely explanation of the textual variants.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      It’s a good question. I think the “supposedly” was probably there originally, but it would be interesting to argue that it wasn’t, that it was added by th eperson who appended the first two chapters. If it wasn’t there originally, that would certainly change everything! But if it was there, it would mean that there wsa some sense in the authors original community that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. The stories then would be tacked on later by someone who explicated the idea into a full-blown story.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  December 24, 2012

        So the adoptionist views of the proto-Luke community were already starting to dissolve into a more miraculous view of Jesus’ earlier origins. This is what I mean by a problem of coherence. Not a clear answer to whether or not proto-Luke was an adoptionist or not. Less hypothetical is simply to view the adoptionist Proto-Luke as the actual gospel of Mark, which Luke largely absorbed, ‘though reworking it with a clear vision or plot line. The more Septuagintist style of Luke 1-2 is simply the style of one who is writing his own imiginative ‘scriptural’ stories, a prequel to Mark, just as he also wrote a much more extensive sequel with the resurrection appearances, ascension, and Acts. This Luke was quite an industrious and creative author. A Steven Spielberg of his times.

  4. Avatar
    samchahal  December 23, 2012

    Hi Bart , a question I wanted to ask (off key the genealogy topic) , I have just been doing a bit of research of my own and came across Dan Unterbrink and his idea that Jesus was based upon the figure of Judas the Galilean who had a long career as a “Messiah type” and was also the founder of the fourth philossophy the zealots? any strength in this claim , your view please ?? thanks

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      I don’t think it’s plausible really. Different names, different times, radically different perspectives.

  5. Avatar
    Jim  December 23, 2012

    What do you feel is a good range for the dating of Irenaeus’s Adversus Haereses? Some have suggested a date for the gospel of Luke (2nd edition?) in the early second century. This could place these two documents around the same time. How do you feel about this dating?

    If the first edition of Luke started with chapter 3 (and the first four verses of chapter 1), then the Quirinius census would not be in the original edition and whoever added this section in the 2nd edition might be the culprit for some misinformation.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      They can’t be contemporary documents — since Irenaeus quotes Luke. Irenaeus was almost certainly writing 180-85 CE, and the recent attempts to re-date Luke place it about 60 years earlier than that.

  6. Avatar
    Jim  December 23, 2012

    Sorry for all the year-end last minute questions, must be the rum punch talking. Re texts available to Marcion – the Diatessaron doesn’t seem to have any genealogies for Jesus (at least from a quick glimpse of the first few chapters) does it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      Unfortunately, we do not have the Diatessaron, so it is very hard to say what was, and especially what was not, in it.

  7. Avatar
    nichael  December 23, 2012

    If an earlier “edition” of Luke was missing the first couple of chapters, then another notable difference is the absence of the dedication to Theophilus.

    Is it reasonable to wonder whether a putative earlier edition of Luke might be one of the sources to which “our” Luke alludes in describing how he collected material for his version?

    (Or, for that matter, whether there were other portions of “our” Luke missing –i.e. other than the first two chapters– in an earlier edition?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      Interesting idea. But as I think I said in an earlier repsonse to another question, 1:1-4 probably went at the beginning of the first edition (since it parallels the beginning of vol. 2 in Acts, 1:1-2).

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  December 24, 2012

      Speaking of ‘Theophilus’, what were the odds that ‘Luke’ was indeed writing this for a person with that name!? It rather seems to be a metaphor, Luke addressing this story to all the ‘friends of God’?

  8. Avatar
    hwl  December 23, 2012

    By what stage in the Patristic period did the Greek title “Son of God” attributed to Jesus, came to be understood as a divine figure instead of as a human figure (e.g. past Israelite kings, Adam) in 1st century Jewish thought? Did the 2nd century Adoptionists understand the title in the divine sense?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      It really depends what one means by “divine” figure. But I do think there is a difference between saying Jesus is the Son of God and saying that he is God. As Son of God he would have the authority and power available to him from his “father”, but he would not be God. (Just as the son of the Emperor was bound to become emperor and could exercise great authority even before then, but is not yet the emperor). By the second century Christian authors (as early as Ignatius) are calling Jesus God, so it didn’t take long….

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 24, 2012

        Bart, isn’t it clear from a lot of verses in the NT that The Son is inferior to The Father? It’s the Father who send the Son and not the other way around. It’s the Father who has decided about the date of the Second Coming, not the Son; the Son does not even know that date! etc.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 27, 2012

          Depends which interpreter you ask!

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 28, 2012

            How can it depend on the interpreter though? The facts (the Father sends the Son, not the Son the Father, etc) remain the same! The Father is always the ultimate reference, not the Son.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  December 28, 2012

            YOu obviously haven’t read enough interpreters. 🙂

  9. Avatar
    nichael  December 23, 2012

    Could one argue in favor of an earlier, more adoptionist edition of Luke (say LkI) which was redacted into a later, less adoptionist version (say LkII) along the following lines?

    As we know, most of the NT writers who mention anything about Jesus’ life start their stories at the point at which, in their respective view, Jesus becomes divine.

    For example:
    — Paul, for whom Jesus became Christ at his resurrection, has little to say about the actual life or teachings of Jesus.

    — Mark, arguably the most adoptionist of our gospels, begins his story precisely at Jesus’ baptism.

    — Matthew, for whom Jesus became divine at his conception, starts his story with the events leading up to this. (And, perhaps notably, has little to say about the birth itself.)

    — And of course John, with his view of the pre-existent, divine Christ/Logos, starts his story “In the beginning….”

    Proceeding along these lines: If LkI originally had a more adoptionist point of view –and started its sory of the life of Jesus at his baptism (“…today I have begotten you.”)– this would certainly bring it more in line with, say, Mark’s way of telling the story.

    On the other hand, if the later LkII wanted to move away from an adoptionist position, it would make sense that 1] the words of the Voice at the baptism would be changed as described above, but 2] more signficantly, the editor of LkII might add a “preface” which began this new version at the time, in his view, at which Jesus became divine; i.e. at his birth (“…for unto you is born this day a Savior…”)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      Yes, that is normally how the move to a higher Christology is sketched. The only major issue to be concerned with: one cannot think of the development as strictly chronological, since Paul has a “higher” Christology in places than, say, Mark, and yet wrote before him? (I’m thinking of the Philippians hymn 2:6-11, e.g.)

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 24, 2012

    What kind of evidence do people cite to support the theory that the genealogy in Luke is the genealogy of Mary? According to these people, why is the genealogy in Luke more likely than the genealogy in Matthew to be that of Mary?

    The theory that the first two chapters of Luke were added “later” is quite interesting. Thanks.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      It’s because in Matthew almost all the attention is on Joseph (his dreams, e..g., missing in Luke) and in Luke it is on Mary (the annunciation, etc., all missing from Matthew). So if Luke is focused on Mary, it makes sense — according to this theory — that his genealogy is of Mary. But, the major drawback: Luke *says* it is the genealogy of Joseph!

  11. Avatar
    dmthliana  December 24, 2012

    Dear Bart, This is to inform you that I’ve been following yours posts in this blog for the past few months and that I have been greatly enlightened by the information you have imparted. I am from North East India from a state called Mizoram which is predominantly Christian where all Mizos (the natives of this state) are born and bred into Christianity. So what you’ve been talking about here and in your books (I am trying to read several of them electronically and am currently reading ‘Forgery’) would be instantly labeled as ‘liberalism’ and anti-Christian. However, the Mizo society/community, being Christianized only from the fag-end of the 19th century (1894 to be precise), the public does have not any deep knowledge of Christianity’s birth. So for me, your writings are like beacons of light in a dark world as I’ve had many questions I used to have answered.

    Thank you for the valuable information you have imparted to me which I hope to pass on to members of my community ( which is not going to be an easy task!) maybe in a book form using materials from your writings and other learned Bible scholars. If this is going to create copyright problems, please inform me and how I can rectify this. Of course, if this intended book ever sees the light of day it would be in the Mizo language.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 24, 2012

      You are of course free to write your own book, based on what you’ve learned from other scholars, so long as you acknowledge the other scholars as the source of your information. If what you want to do is publish portions of books by other scholars, you would need to get permission from the publishers of those other books. I hope this helps!

      • Avatar
        dmthliana  December 25, 2012

        Thanks for the reply. My intention is to use your and others’ materials as references which would, of course, be acknowledged

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 24, 2012

    Thanks for your explanation regarding the reasoning behind thinking that Luke’s genealogy is the genealogy of Mary. I have heard that preached over and over again, even on the radio, but never really understood the reasoning although I have noticed people’s ready acceptance of the idea.

  13. Avatar
    James Dowden  December 27, 2012

    It’s certainly curious how interested in John the Baptist the first two chapters of Luke are (even if the “et ait Elisabeth” variant is just scribal incompetence), given how Luke tries to minimize that element at 3:21 and deflect the attention onto the Baptist’s (i.e. Luke’s) teaching about having two coats.

    And presuming for a moment that we are dealing with L1 and L2 layers:
    1) do we have any linguistic clues for distinguishing between them?
    2) was the author of L2 the same person as the author of L1?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 28, 2012

      1. Some have thought L2 was more influenced by Septuagintal style
      2. No way to know for sure!

      • Avatar
        James Dowden  February 24, 2013

        Apologies for dredging, but I was reading some of Luke in Greek yesterday (trying to brush up my language skills!) and think I’ve noticed something relevant to this. The use of the word Χριστος is different in Luke 3-24 from Luke 1-2 and Acts. In the former, it is always used as a title (“the Christ/Messiah/Anointed”) and is never combined with Κυριος or Ιησους; in the latter, it’s always in combination and sounds suspiciously like a name (“Christ the Lord”, “Lord Jesus Christ”).

        I think this is quite a good argument that there are two authors of Luke-Acts, as it seems unlikely to me that someone would go from being pedantic about Χριστος being a title in their first edition (to the point of turning Mark 15.32’s “Christ the King of Israel” to the clearer “God’s Anointed/Messiah/Christ, his Chosen One” at Luke 23.35) to treating it as a name in their second (and indeed being unconcerned enough with this even being an issue so as not to modify it in first-edition passages).

        Presumably this has been noted several times before, but it’s horrendous to search for and I thought this might be of interest, especially with the Christological bent to your blogging of late. 🙂

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