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Why Would a Scribe Change Luke’s Account of the Last Supper?

In my previous post I started to discuss a textual variant that I covered in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, a very important variant for understanding Luke’s account of Jesus’ last days, for grasping Luke’s view of the importance of Jesus’ death, and for seeing how scribes occasionally modified their texts for theological reasons. The passage has to do with what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper.  Here is the form of the text as found in most of the manuscripts.  (I have put verse numbers in the appropriate places) 17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  20  Likewise after supper (he [...]

The Last Supper in Luke: An Important Textual Problem

The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture argues that there are textual variants still preserved among our manuscripts of the New Testament that were generated by scribes who were trying to oppose various kinds of “heretical” Christologies, including the one I discussed yesterday, which said (at least which its opponents said that it said) that Christ did not have a real flesh and blood body, and that as a result he did not really experience pain and death, but only appeared to do so. The proto-orthodox theologians who responded to this view insisted that Jesus really was human, and they argued that it was precisely the bodily, human nature of Christ that allowed him to bring salvation.  By shedding his (real) blood and experiencing a (real) broken, crucified body, Christ brought about salvation for the world.  The docetists (those who claimed that Christ only “seemed” to have a body that could bleed and die), in the opinion of their opponents, had gone way too far in asserting that Christ was a divine being.  If he wasn’t human, [...]

Did Scribes Add the Passage of the Bloody Sweat?

In my previous posts I’ve been puzzling over the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44, the so-called “bloody sweat” passage, where Jesus, before his arrest, is said to have been in such deep agony that he sweat drops “as if of blood,” so that an angel came down from heaven to minister to him.  These verses are found in some manuscripts of Luke, but not others.    So which text is “original”?  The version of Luke with the verses or the version without them? In previous posts I have argued that the verses run contrary both to the structure of Luke’s passage and to the theology of Luke, who worked to *eliminate* any sense of Jesus actually suffering from his Gospel.    In my last post I began to ask, not which of the two texts the author Luke himself would have written (scholars call that kind of question “intrinsic probabilities”: what is more intrinsically likely to go back to the author?) but which of the two texts scribes of the second century, when the passage came to [...]

The Bloody Sweat and the Scribes Who Changed It

I have been talking about the famous passage in Luke 22:43-44, the account of the so-called “bloody sweat,” where we are told that prior to his arrest, Jesus went into deep agony and began to sweat great drops “as if of blood,” and to be so deeply disturbed that an angel had to come down from heaven to support him. These verses can be found in a lot of manuscripts, including those used by the translators of the King James Bible, which is why the passage became so familiar to English-Bible readers over the years; but they are absent from many or our earliest and best manuscripts, which is why some modern translations put the verses in a footnote or, more commonly (as in the NRSV), in double brackets, indicating that in the opinion of the translators, the verses were not original (the translators keep them – bracketed --  in the text because they knew they are familiar and judge that they are very ancient). In my previous posts I have given two reasons for [...]

Jesus’ Lack of Agony

Did Jesus feel deep agony in the face of death, in virtual despair up until the end?  Or was he calm and collected, confident in both himself and God’s will?  It depends which Gospel you read. And that is one of the reasons (not the only one, as we will see!) that the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44 – the passage that narrates the “bloody sweat” --  is so important.   If the verses were originally in Luke, then Jesus in Luke, as in Mark, is in deep agony looking ahead to his crucifixion.  If the verses were not originally in Luke, then there is no evidence of any agony in Luke’s entire account.  Just the contrary.   So were the verses originally in Luke or not?  It’s a question that really matters. It is worth stressing what I showed yesterday, that in this passage, Luke has changed Mark (his  written source for the account) in significant ways.   Many of these changes achieve one overarching purpose: Luke has eliminated every reference and hint to Jesus’ agony.   No [...]

2020-10-16T22:18:59-04:00August 21st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

When I First Realized the Importance of Textual Criticism: The Bloody Sweat

I think I first came to see precisely why textual criticism could be so important my first semester in my PhD program, during a seminar I was taking that had almost nothing to do with the study of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  It was an “exegesis” course (i.e. focused on interpretation) on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke – studied, of course, in the Greek).  My realization of the importance of text-critical issues was not even connected to my own research.  It had to do with what a friend and colleague of mine had discovered. For that seminar we had to make a class-presentation of our study of a passage in the Synoptics.  My fellow-first-year student Mark Plunkett (who later went on to teach at Ohio Northern University before deciding to scrap the academic thing and become a gynecologist) (really!) was devoting his term paper to the prayer of Jesus before his arrest as found in the Gospel of Luke. As many readers of this blog know, Luke had as one [...]

2020-04-03T13:24:03-04:00August 20th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Why Was the Gospel of Luke Attributed to Luke?

So far I have tried to explain why, in the proto-orthodox church of the second century, the Gospels of Matthew and John came to be attributed to two of the disciples of Jesus.  My thesis is that an edition of the four Gospels appeared in Rome sometime in the second half of the century and that it differentiated the four Gospels by indicating which was “according to” whom.  I now can address the question of how the other two Gospels were given their names, and why they were not assigned to disciples of Jesus but to companions of the apostles, Luke the companion of Paul and Mark the companion of Peter. Luke is the easier of the two to explain, and in some ways is the easiest of all four Gospels.   That’s because the author provides hints of who he is – or at least hints of whom he wants his readers to *think* he is. The hints do not come in the Gospel of Luke itself.  As I have already pointed out, the author [...]

2020-04-03T14:17:26-04:00December 4th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, History of Christianity (100-300CE)|

Our Anonymous Gospels, Starting with Luke

Over the past few weeks I’ve had several people ask me about why the Gospels of the New Testament are attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   It’s a great question, and one that I want to do some more intense thinking and reading about myself.  So I thought I would lay out some of the basics here in a series of posts, and think aloud a bit about why I think the Gospels got the names they did. To begin with, it’s important to recognize that the Gospels themselves are completely anonymous.   None of the authors identifies himself by name.  The Gospels are all written in the third person about what “they” – other people – were doing (including, of course, and principally, Jesus). There are only a couple of exceptions to the third-person narratives of the Gospels, and even in these cases the authors do not given their own names.   The first is in the Prologue to Luke’s Gospel, Luke 1:1-4, where the author says: Just as many have attempted to write a [...]

2020-04-03T14:21:20-04:00November 14th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

The Bloody Sweat and Historical Plausibility

QUESTION: The following question was raised by a reader on the blog, based on my discussion of the so-called “bloody sweat” passage of Luke 22:43-44, which I maintained was not originally part of Luke’s Gospel (or any Gospel) but was added by later scribes.  Here’s the question Even if this event of Jesus sweating, as it were, great drops of blood was in the original manuscript, one must wonder how the author knew of it. Luke 22:41 tells us that Jesus left his disciples and went off on his own to pray. Then, after his agony and the angelic assistance, he rises up and goes back to his disciples only to find them sleeping (v.45).  And, according to V.46, “while he was yet speaking” he was betrayed by Judas and arrested. How then, did the author know what had happened? When I was a believer, such questions never occurred to me. They do now. A lot.   RESPONSE: This is a great question.  It reminds me that with any passage in the New Testament, there [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:09-04:00October 22nd, 2014|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Discrepancies That Pay Rich Dividends

This will be the last post in the hiatus I have been taking from responding to Craig Evans’s critique of my view of Jesus’ burial.  I had thought this hiatus would be one, maybe two posts; but as often happens on this blog, once I get going on something I realize that I have to say more -- or else what little I have to say will not make much sense.  So my couple of posts have turned into four, all on the question of whether the historical-critical approach that I take to the Gospels is “trashing them,” as a lot of people seem to think, or if, instead, it is a valuable tool for understanding what these books really are – literary attempts to teach important theological lessons about Jesus based on stories about his life – rather than what they are not – historically accurate, objective biographies of the things that Jesus said and did. In the last post I argued that the two portrayals of Jesus going to his death in Mark [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:31-04:00July 16th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Why the Critical View of the Gospels Matters Theologically/Religiously

In my two previous posts I’ve been trying to explain that the historical-critical view of the Gospels, in which they are recognized not always to represent historically accurate information about Jesus, is not necessarily a view that “trashes” them.  Instead, it is a view that tries to understand what they really are instead of insisting that they are something else.   Accepting them for what they are is surely a good thing; making them into something they are not can’t be good. In this post I want to do something highly unusual for me.  I want to explain, for those of your who are Christians (or for anyone else who is interested), why this critical view of the Gospels is in fact *theologically* valuable, far more theologically value than a view that would insist that the Gospels have no discrepancies between them or errors of any kind, but are historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus. When I was a Christian, once  I came to the conclusion that the Gospels in fact [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:44-04:00July 15th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Ancient Forerunners of Modern Gospel Critics

In my previous post I argued that critical scholars who insist that the Gospels are not historically accurate accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus – even though they do contain some historically accurate information, which needs to be carefully and cautiously ferretted out of their narratives – are not trashing the Gospels.  They are trashing unfounded fundamentalist assumptions about the Gospels.  In this post I’d like to argue that this view -- that the Gospels are not sacrosanct-historically-accurate-to-the-very-detail accounts of what really happened in the life of Jesus -- is not merely a modern notion that emerged during the Enlightenment.  It is that, to be sure; but it’s not merely that.   In fact, I would argue that this is the earliest attested view of the Gospels from earliest Christianity. Let’s assume for this argument a view that most scholars hold and that I could demonstrate if I wanted to spend a lot of time doing so, that Mark was the first of our Gospels and that Matthew and Luke both had access [...]

2020-04-03T16:44:52-04:00July 14th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Canonical Gospels|

Jesus’ Birth: Some Comparisons

Here is another illustration of how the Comparative Method works with Luke, as described in my textbook on the New Testament. A personal anecdote. It was precisely the differences between Matthew and Luke in the birth narratives that led me to formulate the comparative method. Unlike the other methods I discuss in my book, this is one that is not widely discussed in scholarship. In fact, I had never heard of it until, well, I came up with it. But it occurred to me while thinking of the birth narratives (and genealogies) that it didn’t *matter* if Matthew and Luke had the same source for their narrative. If they did have, one could do redaction criticism on them; but they don’t have. Does that mean comparing their two accounts cannot yield results? I decided that in fact interesting results *did* matter. Their similarities and differences were important in and of themselves, and that this could be formulated into a method of study. (It may be that others had come up with a similar approach before: [...]

2020-04-03T17:17:48-04:00March 5th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

The Comparative Method and Luke

In this post I continue discussing the “comparative method” of analysis (see yesterday’s post), by showing how it works in relation to the Gospel of Luke, again, as taken from my textbook on the NT. ********************************************************************* A Comparative Overview of the Gospel We begin by rehearsing several basic points that we have already learned about Luke's Gospel, in relationship to Matthew and Mark.  Like them, it is a kind of Greco-Roman biography of Jesus.  It too is anonymous, and like them appears to have been written by a Greek-speaking Christian somewhere outside of Palestine.  He evidently penned his account somewhat later than the Gospel of Mark, perhaps at about the same time as the Gospel of Matthew.  In the second century, the book came to be attributed to Luke, the traveling companion of the apostle Paul; we will consider the merits of this attribution in the following chapter. Perhaps the most obvious difference between this Gospel and all others from antiquity (not just Matthew and Mark) is that it is the first of a two-volume [...]

2020-04-03T17:17:55-04:00March 3rd, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

The Comparative Method

With this post I am returning to my discussion of methods available for studying the Gospels. I will devote probably three posts to a method that I call the “comparative method.” Like the other two methods I’ve discussed (the literary-historical method and redaction criticism) this method is not *at all* concerned with establishing what really happened in the life of Jesus. It is a method meant to help one understand a Gospel as a piece of literature, to see what its *portrayal* of Jesus is. In my textbook on the New Testament I show how the method works by applying it to the Gospel of Luke. It could obviously be used for any of the Gospels – or for any other literature, for that matter. Here is how I describe it in the book, in relation to the method that it most resembles, redaction criticism (remember: in redaction criticism one sees how an author has changed his source – by what he has added, deleted, or altered – so as to determine what his overarching [...]

2020-04-03T17:18:01-04:00March 3rd, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Jesus at the Movies: Infancy Narratives

I’m having a terrific time with my undergraduate course this semester, a first-year seminar that I call “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.” Last month I posted my syllabus for the class on the blog. This past week was the first time we’ve done any film in the class, and it was very interesting. For the class I had the students do a writing assignment, in which they compared the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in detail (Mark and John, of course, don’t *have* anything about Jesus’ birth). They were to find both similarities and differences, and then they were to decide if any of the differences were irreconcilable. This was to set up what they were going to see in the film clips that I was set to show. The similarities are pretty interesting if you come up with a full list: Jesus is born in Bethlehem; his mother Mary is a virgin; after his birth he is visited by a group of men (shepherds in Luke; wise men in Matthew) who have been [...]

2020-04-03T18:10:24-04:00September 27th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Jesus and Film, Public Forum|

Summing Up: Was Luke Luke?

I started this thread over a week ago on the authorship of the Third Gospel, and would like now simply to bring some closure to it before moving on to other things. To sum up: there is a kind of interpretive logic that can lead one to think that this Gospel was written by Luke, a Gentile physician who was a traveling companion of Paul. This is what I myself thought for years, and it was based on this logic, that: The author of Acts also wrote the Gospel of Luke That the author of Acts, and therefore of Luke, must have been a traveling companion of Paul (since he speaks of himself in the first person on four occasions) That this author was probably a Gentile because he was so concerned with the spread of the Christian movement among Gentiles (the whole point of the book of Acts) Paul himself speaks of a Gentile among his traveling companions in Colossians 4, naming him as Luke the beloved physician. Therefore this person was likely the [...]

Problems with Luke as the Author of Luke

In my previous post I gave the logic that can be adduced for thinking that the Third Gospel was probably written by Luke, the gentile physician who was a companion of Paul for part of his missionary journeys. The short story, in sum: the author of Luke also wrote the book of Acts; the book of Acts in four places talks about what “we” (companions with Paul) were doing; both books were therefore written by one of Paul’s companions; Acts and Luke appear to have a gentile bias; only three of Paul’s companions were known to be gentiles (Colossians 4:7-14); Luke there is a gentile physician; Luke-Acts appears to have an enhanced interest in medical terminology; therefore Luke the gentile physician was probably its author. Now, for a couple of posts or so, I’ll try to explain why, in my opinion, this logic is flawed. In this post and the next (at least) I’ll deal with a lynchpin of the argument, that we know that Luke the gentile physician was a travelling companion of Paul. [...]

Why Luke is Thought To Have Written Luke

I made an off the cuff comment in a previous post that there was a certain logic that has led readers over the years to identify “Luke” as the author of the Third Gospel.   Let me stress again that the book itself is written anonymously; the author never identifies himself in any way. Moreover, we do not have the identification of the author as Luke until some 100 years after he wrote, in a statement by Irenaeus in his book Against Heresies, where he names the four Gospels as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So why Luke?  Irenaeus doesn’t tell us, but there appears to be a kind of “exegetical logic” that led to this decision.   The way it works is a bit complicated, but it goes like this: I mentioned in the previous post that the author of this Gospel also wrote the book of Acts.  It too is anonymous.   But in four passages in the book of Acts, when the author is describing some of the journeys and activities of the apostle Paul, [...]

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 [...]

2017-12-31T19:45:59-05:00August 15th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|
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