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?[/mepr-show]