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More Arguments over Luke 3:22

Yesterday I posted some comments that were designed to show why knowing the Patristic evidence is so valuable in establishing what the oldest form of the text of the NT was. My illustration was from Luke 3:22, where the voice from heaven says different things, depending on which witnesses you read. The fifth century manuscript Codex Bezae is the *only* Greek manuscript that has the reading “You are my son, Today I have begotten you.” The Greek manuscripts that were produced before Bezae, and all those produced afterwards, have a different reading, the one you will find in most Bible translations, “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.”

The point of my post was not to give conclusive evidence that the reading found in virtually all the manuscripts is the *wrong* one; it was to show that Patristic evidence is valuable because it shows that in the second and third Christian centuries, it was the *other* reading (the one that eventually came to be found in Codex Bezae) that was most widespread and popular. Unfortunately, virtually all the manuscripts that once had that reading no longer survive. This is demonstrated almost conclusively by the Patristic evidence (and principally by that evidence). That means that even though the reading is found in only one manuscript, it used to be very different, and that this reading is our best attested reading from the earliest period.


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Luke 3:22 — What Luke Himself Would Have Written
Church Fathers and the Voice at Jesus’ Baptism



  1. Avatar
    bholly72  August 11, 2013

    Beautiful logic!

  2. Avatar
    nichael  August 11, 2013

    A comment and a question:

    First, I can only thank you for this article and others like it.

    Even setting aside the nature of the basic question here (i.e. the original reading of Lk 3.22), this sort of detailed “guided tour” of how scholars go about exploring these issues –these insights into the mechanics, if you will– is absolutely fascinating. It is a primary reason I have subscribed to this ‘blog since the beginning.

    Thank you again.

    Now a question:
    Clearly the game here would be somewhat different if Codex Bezae did not exist. Are there other examples for which a compelling argument for a variant reading can be made _purely_ from the Patristics sources –i.e. for which no corresponding manuscript evidence exists?
    (Or would the absence of manuscript evidence simply make it unfeasible to make a case for the variant reading?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 12, 2013

      There have been passages where this has been tried (e.g., the “trinitarian formula” as it is called, in the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20 — it’s in all the manuscripts but there is some Patristic evidence often alluded to as arguing against it). But it’s very hard indeed to make a compelling case if there’s not a single manuscript with the reading. I’m not saying that’s good, but it’s more or less the reality: scholars on the whole are very reluctant to accept readings not found in any manuscript.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 11, 2013

    1. With regard to harmonization, it is quite apparent to me that the translators of the NIV often made changes to harmonize the Gospels or to fit a certain theology.
    2. Having never thought about using Patristic evidence to find the most reliable text, this technique is quite interesting to me. I am surprised, however, that quotes from the Patristic fathers are still available because this means, that, like with the Bible, scribes had to makes copies of copies of copies, etc. and I am surprised that this was done over the centuries with writings that were not of major significance. I wonder how long a typical first, second, third, or fourth century copy of something lasts without disintegrating?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 12, 2013

      Yes, I hope to be getting to these questions in a few posts from now. (BTW: We have papyri still today from the first century — and earlier; so they can survive for a very long time. But if a book was used a lot, it would usually wear out of existence.)

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