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Jesus Christ

January 13 — The Baptism of Jesus

By | Biblical Criticism, Note of the Day | No Comments

The Octave of Epiphany (that is, seven days after Epiphany), January 13, is the traditional date (in the West) for celebrating the Baptism of Jesus by John; although more recently, it has been commemorated on the Sunday after Epiphany. All four Gospels contain accounts of the Baptism (Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; and, in a roundabout way, John 1:29-34), and it was a keystone reference in early preaching (Acts 1:1-15; 10:37; 13:24-25), primarily as a way of marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. However, very quickly it became a fundamental Christological text—the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Divine Voice declaring Jesus to be the Son of God; and it is perhaps not surprising that major textual variants are associated with both of these elements.

Nearly all Christians, then and now, have believed that Jesus Christ is the “Son of God”; however, the problem has always been exactly how, or in what way, this is to be understood—that is, what does the title and attribution actually entail?

To begin with, in the early Church there would seem to be four principal ideas associated with the “birth” of Jesus as God’s “Son” (I cite them roughly in chronological order of development—at least, in so far as they appear in the New Testament):

  1. By the resurrection, God glorified Jesus, declaring/appointing him as His Son: Rom 1:3-4; Acts 10:33f; also (later) Hebrews 1:5. The last two references specifically cite Psalm 2:7.
  2. At his baptism, God declared Jesus to be His Son: Mark 1:11; Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22; also John 1:34; and cf. Acts 10:37-38. The language used by the Divine Voice seems to echo Psalm 2:7 (see on the key variant at Luke 3:22 below); see also the parallel occurrence in the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35; and 2 Peter 1:17).
  3. The incarnation proper: Jesus was “born” in human flesh as God’s Son: Matthew 1:20, 23; see especially in the Lukan Infancy Narrative—1:31-32, 35, 43; 2:11, 40; see also Gal. 4:4; Rom. 8:3; and (perhaps) the variant reading of John 1:13.
  4. Begotten in eternity as pre-existent Son of God: John 1:1-18 (esp. vv. 14, 18); 3:16-18; and elsewhere in the gospel and epistles of John. For other possible references to pre-existence, see Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:2-12; for the pre-existence of Christ, without specific reference to sonship, see esp. Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20.
    (For the moment, I am excluding other references in the Gospels: confessions of disciples, statements by hostile witness, the devil and demons, etc.)

Today, certainly, we tend to think of Jesus as Son of God, in terms of #3 and 4 above; whereas it is clear that, for many in the early Church, #1 and 2 were at least as important. In fact, according to theologians and apologists of the second and third centuries, there were a number of “Gnostics” and Jewish Christians who held rather a different view of the person of Christ on this basis:

(1) Some apparently held that Jesus was an “ordinary” human being (yilo$ a&nqrwpo$) who was raised by God to the status of Divine Son, either at the resurrection/ascension, or at his baptism. This Christological view is generally referred to, somewhat inaccurately, as Adoptionism (i.e, Jesus was ‘adopted’ as God’s Son). It was claimed that Jewish-Christians such as the so-called Ebionites, and several prominent arch-heretics (Theodotus, Artemon, Paul of Samosata, etc.), along with their followers, held Adoptionist views. See Irenaeus Against Heresies I.26.2; III.21.1; V.1.3; Origen, Against Celsus V.61; Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies VII.22-23 [35f]; X.18-19 [23f]; Eusebius, Church History III.27; V.28; VII. 27-30; Epiphanius, Panarion 54.

(2) Other “Gnostic” believers seem to have thought in terms of a two-person union: the unique human being Jesus (possessing a kind of divine, purified flesh) joined together with the Divine Christ (to make the combined being “Jesus Christ”). This conjunction took place at the baptism, and ended (was separated) at his death on the cross. According to the essential Gnostic/dualistic worldview, the Divine could have no real contact with the evil, corrupt material order; this particular Christology (Separatism) allowed for only marginal connection with human nature—just enough for the Christ to bring the necessary knowledge of salvation to humankind. The arch-heretic Cerinthus, as well as the Valentinians, are generally described as espousing a Separatist Christology. See Irenaeus Against Heresies I.7.2, 21.2, 26.1, 30.12-15; III.16; Tertullian, Against the Valentinians 27; Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies VI.26-30, 46; VII.15, 21-24; X. 17; Eusebius, Church History III.28; Epiphanius, Panarion 28.

Many of the scripture passages cited above could be interpreted along the lines of these Christological (Adoptionist and Separatist) ‘heresies’. It was perhaps the passages describing Jesus’ Baptism which were most problematic, as a number of the patristic citations will attest. In this regard, I point out two major variant readings, one from Mark’s account, the other from Luke:

Mark 1:10:

Here it states that the Holy Spirit w($ peristeran katabai=non ei)$ au)to/n (“coming down as a dove into/unto him”), which is the reading of many of the best manuscripts (B D f13 2427 pc), and is probably original. However, the majority of witnesses (a A L W Q f1 33 Byz lat syr) read instead w($ peristeran katabai=non e)p’ au)to/n (“coming down as a dove upon him”). The preposition ei)$ can mean “in(to)”, or more generally “unto”, often with a sense of direction implied (“to/toward”). However, in the more concrete sense, the phrase could be taken to mean that the Spirit came down “into” Jesus, i.e., to empower/join with him—an idea perhaps susceptible to a Gnostic interpretation. I am not aware of any Church Father who cites this variant, though Irenaeus does suggest that those who “separate Jesus from Christ” prefer the Gospel of Mark (Against Heresies III.11.7), and could well make use of the verse. Matthew and Luke, if they make use of Mark’s Gospel, have changed the preposition; in any event, they both read e)pi instead of ei)$ (a few MSS of Matthew actually read pro$ [“toward”], which softens the image even further).

Luke 3:22:

In the majority of Manuscripts, the Heavenly Voice states: su ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaph/to$, e)n soi eu)do/khsa (“You are my beloved Son, in you I have [good] pleasure”), which is identical with the Majority text of Mark (1:11), and similar to that of Matthew (3:17, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I have [good] pleasure”). However, in Codex D [Bezae] and a number of Old Latin MSS (a b c d ff2, l, r1) and quite a few Church Fathers, the reading is: ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/, e)gw/ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be [born] [i.e. begotten you]”)—a quotation from Psalm 2:7. The primary patristic citations for this reading are as follows: Justin Martyr [Dialogue with Trypho 88, 103], Clement of Alexandria [Paedagogus I.25], Origen [Commentary on John I.29 {32}], Methodius [Symposium VIII.9], the Didascalia [93], Lactantius [Institutes IV.15], Hilary of Poitiers [On the Trinity VIII.25], Augustine [Harmony II.14, Enchiridion 49, Against Faustus 23], and so forth; it was also, apparently, the text found in the so-called Gospel According to the Hebrews [cf. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 11, 12] and Gospel of the Ebionites [cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13], which may be derived from Luke’s reading, and in the Apocryphal Acts [e.g., Acts of Peter and Paul sect. 29]. It is sometimes difficult to know when a Church Father is citing a specific Gospel, but most of these references would seem to be from Luke.

Normally, when a reading is found in just a single Greek manuscript (and in only one language among Versions), that would be enough to mark it clearly as secondary; however, when the reading is also attested by such a wide range of early Church Fathers and writings, it should give one pause. In terms of transcriptional probabilities, it does seem more likely that scribes would harmonize according to a parallel passage in another Gospel, than to a quotation from the Greek OT. Yet, there can be no doubt that early Christians would have read and understood the Heavenly voice in the Markan (and Matthean) account largely in terms of Psalm 2:7—clearly it was a popular Messianic (and Christological) passage, for it is cited on at least three other occasions (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5) in the New Testament. So, the textual evidence remains divided, and a number of scholars do accept the minority reading as original (for a good summary and defense of this position, see Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture pp. 62-67, and notes).

However, even if the minority reading does not represent the original text, most of the Church Fathers who cite it (see above) certainly thought that it did, and realize how it could be misconstrued or misunderstood. They take pains to clarify that Jesus did not “become” God’s Son at his baptism—that he was already Son of God at his birth (and before). In so doing, the text had to be explained to avoid the metaphysical implications of the passage. Today, most commentators do not labor under the heavy weight of Psalm 2:7 as a Christological passage—rather, the second Psalm is recognized, in its historical context, as primarily referring to the ordination/inauguration of the (Davidic) king, utilizing common Near Eastern symbolism of king as “son of God”. As such, it still retains all of its Messianic force applied to Jesus, but it is not meant to bear the full burden of Orthodox Christology. A thoughtful, balanced understanding of Jesus Christ as Son of God, takes into account the entire witness of the New Testament (and Early Church)—including the Baptism narratives; and I would suggest that both readings of Luke 3:22 are worthy of consideration.

  DidYouKnow_icon2  The Greek word ba/ptw properly means to “dip” (prim. into a liquid, such as cloth into dye); the intensive verb bapti/zw by extension means to “sink, submerge, immerse” or, metaphorically, “overwhelm”. So, instead of “John the Baptist”, one would translate more literally as “John/Yoµanan the Dipper [or Immerser]” and the Baptism of Jesus would be referred to as “the Dipping [or Immersing] of Jesus/Yeshua“. However, this does not necessarily mean that the first ‘Baptisms’ (either by John or early Christians) were properly full-immersions. The commonly received image is of a person standing (or kneeling) partly submerged, with water lifted out and poured over the head; and this may well be what was done, at the historical level, for Jesus. And, while it is hardly worth fighting over, I would suggest that there is value to the ancient symbolism of “entering the waters” (meaning at least a partial immersion), which ought to be preserved (or restored) in congregations today.  JesusBaptism_1

January 10 — The Boy Jesus in the Temple

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This Sunday (the first Sunday after Epiphany), is traditionally the date commemorating the Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), although more recently churches have celebrated it on the Sunday after Christmas. The episode—usually considered part of the Lukan Infancy Narrative (1:5-2:52)—is the only narrative in the New Testament depicting the boyhood of Jesus. Very soon many more stories would surface, with increasingly spectacular and (no doubt) fictional details, such as can be found in the surviving extra-canonical “Infancy Gospels”—the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, and so forth. The narratives in these Gospels have perhaps more in common with Saints’ Lives from the early Medieval period than with the ancient Jesus traditions. Although the boy Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is depicted as a most precocious child, he is far from the wonder-working prodigy of later tales (see for example the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, c. 2, and throughout).

In fact, there is very little in the Lukan Infancy Narratives which would suggest that Jesus experienced anything other than normal growth and development (in his human nature)—cf. Luke 2:40 and the parallel/doublet of 2:52. Whether, or to what extent, Jesus actively possessed (and exercised) the Divine Attributes (such as omniscience, et al.) as a child is probably an unsolvable Christological question. One is reminded of the Kenosis/Krypsis debate among Lutheran theologians—whether the incarnate Christ ’emptied’ himself (kenosis) of the divine attributes, or ‘hid’ (krypsis) their use through most of his life. It is a fascinating, but highly speculative area of study, and should be approached with caution.

With regard to this particular narrative, it is best to pay attention to what Luke records Jesus himself as saying about his identity. When his parents (and relatives) left Jerusalem to return home from the feast, Jesus remained behind, somehow without his parents knowing it. When they do find him at last, in the Temple, Mary says to him:

te/knon, ti/ e)poi/hsa$ h(mi=n ou%tw$; i)dou o( path/r sou k)agw o)dunw/menoi e)zhtou=me/n se.
“Child, what [i.e. why] have you done thus to us? See, your father and I, being in pain, search [for] you”

This passage raises all sorts of questions for modern readers—logistical (‘how could Mary and Joseph set off on such a long journey not knowing Jesus was missing?’), psychological (‘how did Mary and Joseph feel when their son was missing?’), and ethical (‘how could Jesus let his parents worry about him that way?’)—which are far removed from Luke’s purpose: he says nothing at all about such matters. The entire story, as Luke tells it, leads up to a profound revelatory moment—Jesus’ pronouncement in response to his mother’s question:

ti/ o%ti e)zhtei=te me; ou)k h&|deite o%ti e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$ mou dei= ei@nai/ me;
“What that [i.e. why do] you search [for] me? Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be e)n toi=$ tou= patro/$?”

The precise meaning of the portion I have left untranslated is still disputed. Literally, it reads: “in [i.e. among] the [ones/things] of my father”. There are three main possibilities for interpretation (see J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke V1 [Anchor Bible 28], pp. 443-444, for a more detailed summary):

  1. “among the people of [i.e., belonging to] my father”—presumably referring to the teachers of the law, temple personnel, or perhaps more generally to those studying and expounding the Scriptures. This would seem to be the most literal rendering, and is certainly possible, though, I think, unlikely.
  2. “in the affairs of my father”—that is, the things in an abstract sense, again referring, one would assume, to the teaching of the Torah and temple activity. Sometimes cited supporting this basic meaning is Luke 20:25, but better Mark 8:33/Matthew 16:23. Again, this is possible, but I would prefer a more concrete sense of the expression (see below).
  3. “in the house(-hold) of my father”—the expression e)n toi=$ tou= {person} (“in/among the things/people of {so-and-so}”) can have the wider sense of “in/among the possessions of …”, translated conventionally as “in the house(-hold) of…”. Such a basic meaning is attested in the Greek version of the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 41:51), and elsewhere in Greek texts of the period; a close parallel is found in Josephus (Against Apion I.118: e)n toi=$ tou= Dio$ “in the house-(hold) [i.e. temple] of Zeus”).

This last meaning is certainly close to the mark; however, I would say that the standard translation “in my Father’s house”, is still somewhat inappropriate. If Luke (or Jesus as the speaker) had wanted to emphasize the Temple building as God’s house, he could have used oi@ko$, where the Temple is commonly referred to as God’s house (oi@ko$ qeou). I rather prefer a more general (literal) translation: “in/among the things of my Father”; this, for two reasons:

1) the translation emphasizes “my Father” rather than “house” (the Temple), which better preserves the (intentional) juxtaposition between Joseph and God as Jesus’ “father”. In her address to Jesus, Mary specifically states “your father and I…search for you”, to which Jesus responds “it is necessary for me… things of my father“. Interestingly, in the manuscript tradition, a number of scribes modified “your father” to read “Joseph” or “your relatives”, presumably in an effort to safeguard the idea of the Virgin Birth (on this, see in an earlier post for the Christmas season); however, this is a prime example of misguided orthodoxy at work, for the change completely ruins the parallel (and the actual Christological point!).

2) I think it possible that here with e)n toi=$ tou=… there may be a reference relevant to the historical context, which Luke preserves. Travel in the Ancient Near East, such as from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, would have involved a caravan (sunodi/a, “[those] together [on the] way”)—groups of persons, often relatives, travelling together (for safety and protection), along with any necessary possessions for the journey, pack/travel animals, and the like. It is not straying too far from Luke’s narrative context to imagine, in his parents “anxious searching” (to which Mary refers), they would first begin searching among the people and possessions in the caravan train. In essence, Jesus might be saying—by an expanded paraphrase—”why were you searching for me [among the things in the caravan], didn’t you know you would find me among my Father’s things?”

In any event, the comparison between the possessions of his (legal human) father Joseph, and those of his (Divine heavenly) Father God, would seem to be at the center of the Christological message, which is the point of the story. At the same time, the Temple setting, the teachers of the Law/Scripture (didaskaloi), the Passover feast, all retain the Old Testament connection so prominent to the setting of the Lukan Infancy Narrative. The central (self-)revelation of the Incarnate Christ as being the Son of God (even as a youth) takes place right in the middle of (e)n me/sw|) the history and religion of Israel, symbolized appropriately by the Temple (and the teaching therein) as e)n toi=$ tou= qeou=.

DidYouKnow_icon2 The traditional image of the Boy Jesus teaching the Scribes, so familiar from Christian art and commentary, is a pious interpretation (or exaggeration), influenced in part, it would seem, from the extra-canonical legends mentioned above (see the Infancy Gospel of Thomas [chap. 19] for an amplified version of the same narrative).  Luke, however (2:46-47), describes nothing of of the sort: it is merely stated that Jesus was in the temple e)n me/sw| tw=n didaska/lwn (“in the middle of the teachers”) and a)kou/onta au)tw=n kai e)perwtw=nta au)tou/$ (“he gave ear [i.e. listened] to them and inquired after them”), much as would any young pupil to a Rabbi. The teachers were “astonished” (e)ci/stanto) by young Jesus’ understanding (su/nesi$) and responses (a)po/krisi$); but nowhere is it stated, or even really suggested, that Jesus acted as their teacher. BoyJesusTemple

What the Angelic Chorus Said…and other Notes on the Christmas Story

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The Christmas Story (that is, the so-called Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke) is perhaps the most widely read and beloved portion of the entire Bible. Every year in the Christmas season, believers and non-believers alike hear and read those words, sing them in popular carols, present them visually in all manner of decoration, and so forth. In this article I will be discussing some notable textual variants, along with a few interesting critical and interpretive issues, from the Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2) and several additional passages related to the Birth of Jesus.

It is generally thought that the Infancy Narratives are among the latest portions of the Gospel tradition to develop, after the Passion and Resurrection Narratives, collections of Sayings of Jesus, accounts of the Miracles, etc. Only two of the canonical Gospels contain such narratives, and, somewhat surprisingly, the Birth of Jesus is hardly mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. However, that it quickly gained importance in the Early Church is clear from: (1) the Extra-canonical gospels from the second-century (and later), (2) its place in apologetic and polemical writings of the second and early third centuries (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen), and (3) variant readings in the New Testament MSS, most of which must have occurred in this same period (by the early third century).

As a matter of fact, the original text of the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives is reasonably well-established, with fewer substantive textual variants than in many other portions of the Gospels. However, in at least two areas scribes were prone to introduce variant readings:

1. The high density of Old Testament citations and allusions in these passages resulted in a range of variants. Besides the explicit quotations in Matthew, the annunciation and birth narratives clearly draw upon Old Testament forms and imagery to tell the story. Luke uses what has been called a highly “Semitized” Greek, especially in the canticles, patterned after Old Testament, and perhaps later Jewish(-Christian) poetry. Occasionally Greek-speaking scribes had difficulty understanding the language, and modified the text in the process. Of course, there was always a tendency to make OT quotations conform to the standard Greek version (LXX) as well.

2. An interest to clarify and safeguard the reality of Jesus’ birth and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. These modifications—intentional, or at least purposeful—occur in several different contexts, and will be discussed below. Not surprisingly, in virtually every instance in the New Testament where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ “father” (or Mary and Joseph as his “parents”), the text was altered by at least one scribe, in order to avoid any misunderstanding as to the nature of Jesus’ birth.

I will begin with the Matthean Narrative, then the Lukan, and will close with a few supplemental passages.

Matthean Infancy Narrative (Matt. 1-2 [includes the Genealogy, 1:1-17])

Matthew 1:16

For the majority of witnesses, this verse reads:  )Iakwb de e)ge/nnhsen ton  )Iwshf ton a&ndra Mari/a$, e)c h!$ e)gennh/qh  )Ihsou=$ o( lego/meno$ xristo/$ (“…and Jacob caused to be [born] Joseph the man/husband of Mary, out of whom came to be [born] Jesus, the [one] said/counted to be [the] Anointed”), and it is almost certainly original. Matthew’s alteration from the regular formula used in the genealogy seems specifically intended to avoid misunderstanding Joseph’s role in Jesus’ birth. However, a number of witnesses (Q f13 788 1346 l547, and some Old Latin MSS, etc) read:  )Iakwb de e)ge/nnhsen ton  )Iwshf w! mnhsteuqei=sa parqe/no$ Mari/a e)ge/nnhsen  )Ihsou=$ ton lego/menon Xristo/n (“…and Jacob caused to be [born] Joseph, to whom being betrothed Mary caused to be [born] Jesus the [one] said/counted to be [the] Anointed”). Here Mary is specifically called a virgin (parqe/no$) and her relationship to Joseph is stated more precisely (as “betrothed”).

A more peculiar reading is found in the Old Syriac (Sinaitic) MS, which reads, in conventional translation: “…and Jacob begot Joseph; Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begot Jesus who is called the Anointed”, seemingly implying that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus. Some slight additional Syriac and Arabic support has been attested for this reading, but, most likely it is a singular reading. Nevertheless, a few critical scholars have suggested that this represents the original text, which scandalized scribes subsequently altered—a scenario which is highly unlikely. More plausibly, the Sinai MS scribe was either careless, or sought to bring the text into conformity with Matthew’s overall genealogical formula. From the ancient Near Eastern (Semitic) perspective, in the context of a genealogy, the term “beget / cause to be [born]” could be understood to apply symbolically to legal (rather than biological) paternity. Cf. the ancient custom of “levirate” marriage, which is likewise a popular solution advanced for the discrepancies in the Matthean (1:1-17) and Lukan (3:23-38) genealogies. For a good, detailed discussion of this variant, see the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek NT (2d edition, pp. 2-6).

It worth mentioning one further sub-variant in this verse: a few witnesses (64 [d] k, the Curetonian Syriac, and the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila) omit the participle (and article) o( lego/meno$. The Greek can be variously translated “the (one) counted/said/considered to be…” or, following the Semitic idiom “the (one) called…” Possibly these words fell out by accident; but, if omitted intentionally, it could be a product of the Christological climate in the 2nd-3rd centuries—scribes may have sought to avoid misunderstanding, by emphasizing that Mary truly bore the incarnate Son of God (Christ) rather than a man who was merely “called” Christ. For more on the idiom “to call / be called…” see on Luke 1:32, 35 below.

Matthew 1:18

There are two significant variants in this verse:

(1) The majority of manuscripts and witnesses read tou= de  )Ihsou= Xristou=, but a few Greek MSS and Church Fathers read tou= de Xristou=  )Ihsou= (B Origen Jerome) or tou= de  )Ihsou= (W), while tou= de Xristou= is read by a number of Church Fathers, Old Latin and Syriac MSS. The fact that Ihsou appears in different positions is an indication that it might be secondary, while the compound name Ihsou Xristou with the article is peculiar; therefore is possible that Xristou alone was present originally. Whichever way the alteration occurred, it is conceivable that there were doctrinal reasons involved. The compound name occasionally was emphasized against “Gnostics” who ‘separated’ the divine Christ from the man Jesus (there is a similar variant at Matt. 2:1 in a few MSS). On the other hand, the title “Christ/Anointed” (Xristo$) early on became a kind of shorthand for referring to the incarnate Son of God; so a change from the compound name to Xristo$ alone could help emphasize the idea that the Son of God was truly born in human flesh (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.16.2). In any case, there is much interchange and confusion between all these divine Names and titles of Christ in the manuscripts, which was only increased by the use of abbreviations (the so-called nomina sacra) to represent them.

(2) Many of the early and best manuscripts (Ë1 a B C P W D Q f1 syrh, pal copbo arm etc.)  read ge/nesi$, while the majority of witnesses read ge/nnhsi$. Now both Greek words—nearly identical in sound and spelling—ultimately derive from gi–g—nomai (prim. meaning “come to be, become”), with ge/nnhsi$ from the causative verb gennaw (lit. “cause to be”, primarily in the sense of “generate, engender, give birth”: to “beget” when a man is the subject, to “bear” when a woman). Both words could indicate a coming-to-be (i.e., a “birth”), but the latter word (ge/nnhsi$) more commonly was used for a biological birth. Ge/nesi$ can more broadly refer to something made, created, produced, or generally as the “beginning” of something. For this reason, apart from the solid textual evidence, it is more likely that ge/nesi$ was changed to ge/nnhsi$ than the other way around; and, while the change may have been accidental, or conventional, it is widespread enough to suggest a possible doctrinal motive or purpose. Two possibilities: (a) ge/nesi$ could be interpreted as a “beginning” for Christ (that he was created, or made), susceptible to an Arian point of view; (b) ge/nnhsi$, as the more common term for a human birth, would also make clear that the Christ was truly born.

Matthew 1:19, 20, 24, 25

In a few instances in the versional witnesses (Old Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Diatessaron), references to Mary as Joseph’s “wife” (1:20, 24) or Joseph as her “husband” (1:19) are altered, again to avoid any misunderstanding about the Virgin birth, but also most likely to safeguard the tradition of the perpetual virginity of Mary. This belief was already well-established by the mid-second century (cf. the Protevangelium of James), as also seem clear from changes made to v. 25 in both the Old Latin and Old Syriac tradition—the Greek clause kai ou)k e)gi/nwsken au)thn e%w$… (“and he did not know her [i.e., have sexual relations with her] until…”) is omitted, probably to avoid the suggestion that Mary and Joseph did have sexual relations (and children) after the birth of Jesus. The Diatessaron reads “he lived with her purely [i.e., chastely] until…”. Virginity, celibacy, and encratite purity (celibacy in marriage) were especially emphasized in the Syrian Church.

 Matthew 1:23

The citation from Isaiah 7:14 is interesting because, like many quotations from the Old Testament, it does not correspond precisely to any known Greek version (or Hebrew text). Here Matthew is set parallel to the LXX (according to B [Vaticanus] and the Lucianic recension):

i)dou h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri e%cei kai te/cetai ui(o/n, kai kale/sousin to o&noma au)tou=  )Emmanouh/l i)dou h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri lh/–m—yetai kai te/cetai ui(o/n, kai kale/sei$ to o&noma au)tou= Emmanouhl

The differences (highlighted) are minor: Matthew has e)n gastri e%cei (“shall have in [the] womb”), the LXX e)n gastri lh/–m—yetai (“shall receive in [the] womb”). It should be noted that other LXX MSS (a A) also read e%cei, but these may be harmonizations (by Christian scribes) to Matthew.  Also Mt. reads “they will call his name…” instead of “you [sing.] will call his name…”, though a few manuscripts have harmonized the text to the LXX. Again, the Hebrew (MT) is not quite the same, among other differences, it reads “she will call his name…” (though this is not absolutely certain for the consonantal text, it is most likely). How are these differences to be explained? Generally there are four possibilities in such instances: (1) the NT author is working from a different Greek version, (2) the author is working (translating) from a different Hebrew text, (3) it is a free/faulty quotation (from memory?), or (4) the quotation has been adapted to the context in which he is writing. In nearly all instances, I believe this last is the best explanation, and is so here with the quotation from Isa 7:14. e)n gastri e%cei is the more common Greek (and LXX) idiom for conception, and was already used by Matthew in 1:18. For the second difference, the LXX is probably a (mis-)translation of the Hebrew, but there are also variants among the Dead Sea Scrolls including 1QIsa, which could be translated “he will call his name…” or “his name will be called…”, in which case it generally corresponds in meaning to Matthew’s Greek. More to the point, since the angelic announcement is to Joseph, who has just been told “…you will call his name Jesus” (1:20), it perhaps would have been confusing in context to hear “…you will call his name Immanuel”, as though it were being addressed to Joseph; the more generic form “…they will call…” fits better.  For a good discussion on all this, see R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 143-153.

Matthew 2:18

Quite a few MSS and witnesses have, it would seem, harmonized Matthew’s klauqmo$ kai o)durmo$ to the LXX (qrh=no$ kai klauqmo$ kai o)durmo$) in the quotation from Jer. 31:15 [38:15 LXX].  This sort of harmonization occurs quite often throughout the NT. It is sometimes difficult to determine which direction the change occurs, though more often than not, the reading that corresponds more closely with the LXX is secondary.

Matthew 2:23

Matthew’s quotation here is not from a single Old Testament passage, but appears to be a combination of at least two verses:
1) Isaiah 4:3: “He will be called holy” (LXX: “They will be called holy”)
2) Judges 16:17 (of Samson): “I have been a Nazîr (Nazirite) of God”—but note especially the LXX variants:
LXX B: “I am a holy one of God”  LXX A: “I am a Nazirite (Nazirai=o$) of God”

The exact reference and meaning of Nazwrai=o$ here is still debated. The principal context clearly indicates that it refers to Nazareth (i.e., a “Nazarene”). There are two forms used in the NT: Nazwrai=o$ and Nazarh=no$. But it is also very possible that Matthew draws on the allusion to a N¹zîr (Nazirite)—not that Jesus was a Nazirite in the technical sense, but the idea of dedication to God, with the parallel to being “called holy” would make such an association appropriate. Also possible, but less likely, is that there is an echo of the term n¢ƒer (“branch”), which had become an important Messianic term (cf. the key passage Isaiah 11:1 ff). Several centuries later, Jerome (Epistle 57 to Pammachius) cites this verse in relation to Jesus (“…from his root will grow [the] Nazorean”). For a good overall discussion see Brown, Birth of the Messiah, pp. 209-213, 223-225.

Lukan Infancy Narrative (Luke 1:5-2:52)

Luke 1:15, 17, 76

Here in the angelic announcement to Zechariah (1:15, 17) and in the canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus) (1:76), it is prophesied of John that he will be e)nw/pion (“before”, lit., “in the sight of”, “in the face of”) the Lord (ku/rio$). The textual witnesses show some confusion here, and, in part, this is an interpretive question which remains for commentators today: who is the kurio$ (“Lord”) mentioned here—God the Father (Yahweh), Jesus Christ, or both? In the Old Testament passages alluded to (esp. Mal. 3:1, 23), it is clearly Yahweh whom the Messenger/Elijah “goes before”. However, in the Gospels, with the familiar role of John preceding and baptizing Jesus, Luke probably understood the “Lord” here as Jesus. Here are the three passages:

1:15: e&stai gar me/ga$ e)nw/pion [tou=] kuri/ou (“for he will be great before/in-the-sight-of [the] Lord”). This is the majority reading, and is most likely original. But a number of MSS (Q Y f13 157 700, etc.) read …e)nw/pion tou= qeou= (“…before/in-the-sight-of God”)

1:17: kai au)to$ pro[s]eleu/setai e)nw/pion au)tou= (“and he will go before him”, lit., “and he will go before in his face/sight”). In addition to a variant in the verb (proeleu/setai, “go before” is more likely original), at least one MS (D) specifies e)nw/pion kuri/ou (“before/in-the-sight-of [the] Lord”).

1:76: Kai su de/, paidi/on, profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|: proporeu/sh| gar e)nw/pion kuri/ou e(toima/sai o(dou$ au)tou= (“And you, child, shall be called prophet of the Highest; for you shall go before in-the-sight-of the Lord to prepare his ways”). Again, in addition to a small variant (pro prosw/pou vs. e)nw/pion), at least one MS (Palestinian Syriac) reads “before your God” instead of “before the Lord”).

There are two possibilities for the change from kuri/ou to qeou= (assuming it is an intentional/purposeful change): (1) to make clear the OT context that the “Lord” is Yahweh (God); (2) to identify the “Lord” (Christ) with Yahweh (God). Only in v. 15 is there anything like solid textual support for the reading qeou=, and, given the commonplace confusion and interchange regarding these divine names/titles, the variants here may simply be accidental.

Luke 1:32, 35

In the angelic announcement (Annunciation) to Mary, at 1:35 the most reliable text reads dio kai to gennw/menon a%gion klhqh/setai ui(o$ qeou= (“and therefore the [child] coming to be [born] shall be called holy, [the] son of God”; or, alternatively, “and therefore the [child] coming to be [born] shall be holy, he will be called [the] son of God”). However, a number of MSS (C* Q f1 33 pc ita, c, e, r1 vgcl syrp, and various Church Fathers) have the variant to gennw/menon e)k sou (“the [child] coming to be [born] out of you”). While this variant may simply be a natural accretion to the text, a doctrinal motive for adding it is at least possible. Second-century apologists such as Irenaeus and Tertullian fought hard to define the reality of Christ’s birth against various Gnostic-Docetic beliefs; in numerous places in their writings they emphasize that Jesus Christ was born “from/out-of” (e)k) Mary’s flesh, and did not merely “pass through” (dia/) her (cf. especially Irenaeus Against Heresies I.7.2; V.1.2; also Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 20).

Note should also be made here of titles used of Jesus in the Annunciation, at v. 32 and 35: me/ga$ui(o$ u(yi/stou and ui(o$ qeou=, since they have appeared together in a fascinating text from Qumran—the so-called “Son of God” text (4Q246). Surviving only in a few fragments, it is an apocalyptic work, influenced by the book of Daniel or perhaps part of a wider (Pseudo-)Daniel tradition. Of a coming king or princely figure it is declared (in Column 1, line 7) “[…he shall be] great upon the earth”; (Column 1, line 9) “…he shall be called [the holy one] of the [G]reat [God/King], and by His name he shall be named”; then (in Column 2, line 1) “He shall be hailed Son of God, and they shall call him Son of the Most High” (modified translation from J. A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 2000, p. 45). Though it is sometimes questioned whether this is a “Messianic” figure (or a non-Messianic Jewish ruler, even a wicked anti-Messiah), the general context seems clear enough, for this person appears to parallel the rise “of the people of God… His kingdom (shall be) an everlasting kingdom, and all his ways (shall be) in truth” (see parallel in v. 33). It is doubtful that Luke borrowed from this text, rather the angelic announcement uses messianic language and imagery already current in Palestine in the first century.

Luke 1:46

Who spoke the famous canticle of Lk 1:46-55? In the vast majority of witnesses, it is Mary. However, in a few Old Latin MSS (a b l*) and Latin translations of the Fathers Irenaeus, Origen, and Nicetas of Remesiana (and the Armenian transl. of Irenaeus), the song is attributed to Elizabeth. Despite its meager textual support, this would seem to be the more difficult reading—would not later scribes be more likely to change the attribution to Mary, rather than the other way around? Scholars such as Loisy and Harnack defended such a view more than a hundred years ago, and others have followed suit. And yet the textual evidence for Mary is so overwhelming, that it really is hard to justify. More plausible, and tempting, is the idea that no name was originally present, but simply read kai ei@pen… (“and she said…”). It is perhaps worth mentioning in this regard, the growing critical view that the Lukan canticles (especially the Magnificat and Benedictus) were pre-existing (Jewish-Christian?) hymns which Luke inserted in context in the narrative to give expression to the thoughts and feelings of Zechariah, Mary, etc. The more traditional-conservative view, on the other hand, assumes the canticles are recorded more or less as actually spoken, the poetry being the product of an inspired utterance.

Luke 1:67

I should note in passing that here (in the context of Zechariah’s inspiration prior to the Benedictus), that the words “Holy Spirit” (pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou) are without the definite article. Similar anarthrous forms occur throughout the Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25; and Matthew 1:18, [20]). Some commentators have sought to translate this as “a holy Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit”, prior to the development of the doctrine of the Spirit in the early Church. However, given the prominence of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, it seems all but certain that Luke intends it here in the Infancy Narrative as well (similarly for Matthew). It is hard to imagine an early Christian understanding it any other way.

Luke 1:78

The textual evidence is fairly evenly divided between the aorist (e)piske/yato) and future (e)piske/yetai) forms of the verb. Since elsewhere here aorist forms are regularly used, it is perhaps more likely that the future form was changed to the aorist. The preponderance of aorist verb forms in the Magnificat and Benedictus are perhaps deserving of comment, since to a large extent these canticles (particularly the Benedictus) are presented as prophecy. It would seem natural, in context, to take them as prophetic aorists (describing future events), or perhaps as gnomic (regular or timeless actions). However, two points should be noted: (1) If Luke is indeed utilizing pre-existing (Jewish Christian) hymns (see note on Luke 1:46 above), then there is no problem understanding these as ‘ordinary’ aorists—they give expression to things God has already done for believers in the person and work of Christ; (2) They may simply refer in a general way to God’s salvific work overall, which would primarily include all that he has done to help His people.

There is also a small interpretive crux in this verse: the word a)natolh/ (“rising”) seems in context to refer to the sun (or light) rising in the sky, coming to those who are in darkness. However, the word is also used in the LXX to translate jm^x# (ƒemaµ, “branch, shoot”), cf. Zech 3:8; 6:12. Parallel to the word rx#n@ (n¢ƒer, see the note on Matt. 2:23 above), both of which were already familiar Messianic terms at the time of Luke’s writing. Is it possible that Luke (or Zechariah as inspired speaker) is playing on both meanings?

Luke 2:4

The majority text reads that Joseph went to Bethlehem (with Mary) dio to ei@nai au)ton e)c oi@kou kai patria=$ Dau[e]i/d (“…because [of] his being out of the house and family of David”). However, at least two MSS (348 1216) instead read the pronoun au)tou$ (“they/their”), implying that Mary also was from the line of David (there is a similar reading “both” in the Old Syriac [Sinaitic] version). This came to be a common belief in the early Church, even though the Lukan narrative itself states that Mary’s relative Elizabeth was from the priestly line of Aaron (Lk. 1:5). Most likely the tradition of Mary as a Davidid developed as a way to strengthen Jesus’ own Davidic origin—Rom. 1:3, for example, would seem to suggest an actual biological (rather than a legal paternal) connection.

Luke 2:14

What did the Angelic Chorus say? The first line is uniform in the textual tradition:

Do/ca e)n u(yi/stoi$ qew=|
“Glory in the highest [places] to God”

However, there is a major variant in the second line:

kai e)pi gh=$ ei)rh/nh e)n a)nqrw/poi$ eu)doki/a[$]

Is the final word the genitive (eu)doki/a$) as read by many of the oldest and best witnesses (a* A B* D W pc vgst copsa etc), or is it the nominative form (eu)doki/a) as read by the majority of witnesses (ac B3 K L P D Q C Y f1, 13 et al.)? The former has traditionally been translated “and on earth peace among men of good will”, while the latter as the familiar “and on earth peace, good will to men”. The external textual evidence would tend slightly to lean toward the genitive, and so most modern commentaries and translations understand it, especially now that the argument in favor of it has more or less been clinched by the manuscript discoveries at Qumran. A similar phrase occurs (in Hebrew) in the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns): wnwxr ynb (b§nê r§ƒônô, “sons of his favor” 1QH 4:32-33) and hknwxr ynb lwkl (l§kôl b§nê r§ƒôn§k¹, “for all [the] sons of your favor” 1QH 11:9), and more precisely in Aramaic [h]twur vwnab (be°§nôš r¢±ût[¢h], “in/among men of [his] favor” 4Q545 [Visions of Amramc] column II frag. 3,5). The Greek word eu)doki/a is virtually a product of the LXX, used to translate Hebrew /oxr* (r¹ƒôn, “favor, pleasure, acceptance, will”). Eu)doke/w literally means “to think well of” someone or something, and may have both emotional (“desire, pleasure, satisfaction”) and volitional (“accept, determine, decide, select, will”) connotations. However, it is clear from the Old Testament and Jewish examples, that it is not human beings, but God who is the subject of eu)doki/a//oxr*, and so here should be translated “…men of (His) favor”, as in the examples from Qumran above. And while onoxr= (“his favor”, with pronominal suffix) would properly be translated into Greek as eu)doki/a au)tou=, it can also be translated without the pronoun (as in Sirach 15:15; 39:18). The English translation “good will” is rather misleading, and is better rendered as “favor” or “(good) pleasure”—”men of his good pleasure” or “men of his favor” indicates those whom God favors or with whom he is pleased (lit. those he “thinks well of”), and, judging from the Qumran examples, probably carries the sense of gracious election. How did the textual change occur (from eu)doki/a$  to eu)doki/a)? Most likely the idiom with genitive came to be poorly understood by scribes, and was replaced early the history of transmission; however, it is also possible that the final sigma dropped out by accident, particularly if it occurred in the MS at the end of a line (see Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary, 2d ed. p. 111 for a visual demonstration).

Luke 2:22

Here the majority text reads kai o%te e)plh/sqhsan h(me/rai tou= kaqarismou= au)tw=n… (“and when the days of their cleansing were filled up [i.e. fulfilled]”), and is likely original. Note the plural pronoun (au)tw=n), which is certainly peculiar, since it would indicate that the purification ritual applied to both Mary and Joseph (or Mary and the child Jesus). Many critical scholars attest this as one (of a number) of Lukan inaccuracies, since the rite of purification following childbirth (both in the Mosaic covenant and later Jewish tradition) only applies to the mother, not to the husband or child. However, the plural pronoun here may simply be grammatical (not strictly factual), since the plural is used in the following clause to indicate that both parents “brought him [Jesus] up into Jerusalem…”. In any event, some confusion seems to have prompted several scribes to modify the text: a few MS (D 2174* syrs copsa ms) read au)tou= (“his” – Jesus? Joseph?), at least one MS (76) reads au)th=$ (“her”), while the Old Latin and Vulgate could read “his” or “her”.

Luke 2:27, 33, 41, 43, 48

As indicated earlier, scribes variously modified instances where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ “father” or where Joseph and Mary are called Jesus’ “parents”. Most of these occur in the Lukan Infancy Narratives 2:21-40 and 2:41-52 — the Presentation at the Temple and the Episode of the Boy Jesus in the Temple.

2:27: kai h@lqen e)n tw=| pneu/mati ei)$ to i(ero/n: kai e)n tw=| ei)sagagei=n tou$ gonei=$ to paidi/on  )Ihsou=n tou= poih=sai au)tou$ kata to ei)qisme/non tou= no/mou peri au)tou= (“and he [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple; and (as) the parents brought in the child Jesus, for them to do according to that which is customary of the law about him…”)
This passage was modified far less frequently, perhaps because they are not specifically called “his parents”. Still “the parents” was omitted in a few MSS (245 1347 1510 2643 ?), and altered (to “Joseph and Mary” or simply “they”) in minor versions of the Diatessaron.

2:33: kai h@n o( pathr au)tou= kai h( mh/thr qauma/zonte$ e)pi toi=$ laloume/noi$ peri au)tou= (“and his father and mother were wondering/marvelling upon the [things] said about him”)
In the majority of MSS and versions o( pathr au)tou= was modified to [o(]  )Iwsh/f (A K X D Q P Y 053 f13 23 33 565 892 et al.). Despite the strong attestation, this reading is most likely secondary, as o( pathr au)tou= is by far the more difficult reading, as it could easily be (mis)understood to imply that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father. A few Vulgate MS instead read oi( gonei=$ au)tou= (“his parents”).

2:41: kai e)poreu/onto oi(  gonei=$ au)tou= kat’ e&to$ ei)$  )Ierousalhm th=| e(orth=| tou= pa/sxa (“and his parents would go up according to [the] year into Jerusalem, to the feast of the Pascha [Passover]”)
One Greek MS (1012) and a few Old Latin (a b c ff2 g1 l r1) read, with some variation, o(  )Iwshf kai h( Maria/m, “Joseph and Mary” instead of oi( gonei=$ au)tou=.

2:43: ...u(pe/meinen  )Ihsou=$ o( pai=$ e)n  )Ierousalhm, kai ou)k e&gnwsan oi( gonei=$ au)tou= (“…Jesus the child remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know”)
A wide range of witnesses (A C E P Y 0130 565 f13, along with the majority Byzantine MSS, Old Latin, syrp, h, copbo pt) read  )Iwshf kai h( mh/thr au)tou= (“Joseph and his mother”), instead of oi( gonei=$ au)tou=.

2:48: …i)dou= o( path/r sou ka)gw o)dunw/menoi e)zhtou=me/n se (“…see, your father and I, [being] in pain, search for you [i.e., anxiously search for you]”)
A few MSS have altered o( path/r sou ka)gw/ similarly to oi( suggenei=$ sou ka)gw/ (“your relatives and I”), while the Old Latin (a b ff2 g1 l r1) and the Curetonian Syriac read simply h(mei=$ (“we”).

Additional Passages

In conclusion, I will very briefly mention a few other New Testament passages related to the birth of Jesus:

Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4

These two verses are among the only references to the birth of Jesus outside of the Infancy Narratives. They both use the aorist middle participle of gi/–g—nomai (“come to be, become”), in the sense of “being born“.

Rom 1:3: peri tou= ui(ou= au)tou= tou= genome/nou e)k spe/rmato$ Dauid kata sa/rka, (“…about his son the [one] coming to be out of the seed of David according to the flesh…”)
Gal 4:4: o%te de h@lqen to plh/rwma tou= xro/nou, e)cape/steilen o( qeo$ ton ui(on au)tou=, geno/menon e)k gunaiko$, geno/menon u(po no/mou (“but when the fulness of the time came, God sent his son, coming to be out of [a] woman, coming to be under [the] law”)

For both of these verses, a few witness (61* pc syrp, and apparently some Old Latin MSS, for Rom 1:3) and (K f1 etc. for Gal 4:4) read the (passive) participle of genna/w (causative stem derived from gi/[g]nomai), which is the more common verb for bearing/begetting a child. See the discussion under Matthew 1:18 above, and the references to Irenaeus and Tertullian (both of whom specifically cite these verses).

Luke 3:22

At the baptism of Jesus, instead of the majority text (su ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$, e)n soi eu)do/khsa, “you are my son, in you I have [good] pleasure”), some Western witnesses (D a b c d ff2 l r1) and quite a few early Church Fathers read ui(o$ mou ei@ su/, e)gw gege/nnhka/ se (“you are my son, today I have caused you to be [born] [i.e., begotten you]”). The first reading generally harmonizes with the account in Mark (and Matthew), while the latter reading quotes the second Psalm (Ps. 2:7). While this passage in Luke does not relate to the Virgin Birth as such, it is important in terms of understanding how the early church viewed the ‘birth’ of Jesus as the Son of God. I will be providing a more detailed discussion in a later note.

John 1:13

The majority text reads: oi^ ou)k e)c ai(ma/twn ou)de e)k qelh/mato$ sarko$ ou)de e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro$ a)ll’ e)k qeou= e)gennh/qhsan (…”the [ones] not out of blood[s] nor out of the will of the flesh nor out of the will of man—but out of God—have come to be [born]”), and this reading is almost certainly original. However, an interesting variant developed in the early Church, found in the Old Latin MS b and in a number of early (Western) Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustine, etc): here there is a singular relative pronoun (o^$) instead of plural, with a corresponding change in the final verb (to e)gennh/qh)—”…the [one] not out of…but out of God has come to be [born]”. Instead of referring to the spiritual birth of believers, this Western reading apparently refers to the (supernatural) birth of Jesus. I have discussed this variant in more detail in a separate post.

 

How Well Do You Know the Story? Part 1

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Textual Issues in the Passion & Resurrection Narratives

The Gospel accounts of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are among the most familiar and widely-read of all the Scriptures. Indeed, to judge from the early preaching in the book of Acts, along with other historical evidence, these were probably the first Gospel narratives to take shape — as such, they stem from the most ancient layers of the New Testament witness. And yet, any careful, unbiased study of these remarkable passages reveals a range of surprising and fascinating detail: Read More