Monthly Archives: March 2017

Luke Chapter 3:15-38

This will conclude Chapter 3; however, it’s going to be a very short section. The last fifteen verses or so are the genealogy of Jesus. I am not going to translate a list of names; it seems rather pointless. Of course the real question about this genealogy is why it differs from that recorded by Matthew. In particular, if Luke had read Matthew, why not just record the genealogy provided by the earlier writer? This would seem to be a telling argument against my position that Luke knew Matthew. I did bring this difficulty up in the corresponding section of Matthew, and I admitted that I do not have a truly strong argument to explain this. (As an aside, it’s less embarrassing for me than it is for proponents of a an inerrant scripture, but the point remains.) One thing I would like to use in my favour is that there is still the fact that only Matthew and Luke provide such a genealogy. Are we to assume, or simply accept, that they both had the idea independently of one another? Sure, it’s possible, but does that seem more likely than the possibility that Luke was well aware of Matthew’s list, thought it was wrong, and decided to correct it? Somehow, that seems more plausible to me. This also conforms to the fact that Luke followed Matthew in naming Joseph as the (apparent) father of Jesus.

Perhaps we will have more on this later.


15 Προσδοκῶντος δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ Χριστός,

16 ἀπεκρίνατο λέγων πᾶσιν ὁ Ἰωάννης, Ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς: ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑπο δημάτων αὐτοῦ: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί:

17 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ διακαθᾶραι τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ καὶ συναγαγεῖν τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην αὐτοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.

18 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο τὸν λαόν:

The people expecting and all debating in their hearts about John, whether he might be the anointed, (16) John responded saying to all, “While I dunk you with water, but he who comes is mightier than I, nor am I worthy to loosen the strap of his shoe. He will dunk you in the sacred breath and fire. (17) Is not the winnowing fan in his hand to clear the (“threshing” is implied) floor and gather the grain into his barn, but the chaff he will burn in the unquenchable fire”. (18) For many things thus and other things calling forth he preached to the people. 

To a large extent this last verse is word-for-word from Matthew; the words rendered as “winnowing fork” and “(threshing) floor” occur here and in Matthew and nowhere else in the NT. Oh, but of course, they both copied them from Q. That is a distinct possibility. But which is more probable: that two sources copied the same source? Or that a second person writing will copy from the first? I can tell you straight out that the latter scenario is the more likely, since it only involves a single act of volition, rather than two. And it’s hard to over-stress the identity of the two passages; Matthew has an extra “and”, Luke has an extra “his”, and twice Matthew uses a future tense where Luke goes with an aorist infinitive. The verb tenses imply that one or the other deliberately chose to deviate from Q while the other chose to retain Q; IOW, two choices were made. Or, Luke chose to change Matthew; IOW, one choice. That Luke copies Matthew has a much higher level of probability than both of them mostly copying but changing the verb tenses.

I suppose we could/should get into a discussion of what the subtle differences are between the future indicative active vs the aorist infinitive. The aorist, after all, is a past-tense, while the future tense is the, well, future. And yes, there are subtle differences between the two, and why one is used rather than the other; however, I don’t think this is one of those distinctions that make a whole lot of difference. Yes, you could easily read a commentary or some other learned tome that goes into great detail about the difference, but I honestly doubt that. The obvious implication of Matthew’s future tense is that something will happen. The happening is both real, in the future, and to be expected, pretty much without fail. The aorist infinitive, OTOH, shifts the idea to the past tense, although the distinctions between the aorist and the present in literary usage is not as clear-cut as it would be in English. There is really no way to translate an infinitive into past tense in English; I’ve tried a dozen different methods, but none of them really capture the real nuance of the aorist infinitive. For example, the KJV, NIV, ESV, and NASB all render Luke’s infinitives as “he will”; that is, they all revert to Matthew’s future tense because that’s the only way to make sense of this in English. And note that I did exactly the same thing. Because it’s the only way to make this make sense in English. 

That is probably the most salient point about this passage. Mark has the disavowal of John that he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal, and Luke includes Matthew’s bit about dunking in the sacred breath and fire, so there’s not much there. All three also have the idea that many, supposedly, wondered if John were the Christ. But notice how “baptizing in the Holy Spirit and fire” invokes a very different set of images than “dunking in the sacred breath and fire”. The thing is, translating as “to baptise” really is no more than a transliteration. It’s as if I translated  <<καὶ>> as “kai” and left it. It means “and”; believe me when I say that the two are interchangeable inside my head; I will sometimes write the Greek word when translating, and use the English when copying the Greek. [Note, however, that there are times when “kai” can mean “also”, “or”, and even “but”. As such one does need to be vigilant; however, the context pretty much gives it away in most cases.] The point being that we are so comfortable with “baptizo”  that we don’t even consider the word as meaning anything other than “baptise”. That is really a bad way to approach the word. Same with “Holy Spirit” (especially when capitalised”) and “sacred breath”. Both are completely legitimate. It’s just that we are the heirs of Latin Christianity, in which “spirit” has come to mean something other than “breath”. The words are more or less divorced from each other, which is simply not the case in Greek.

15 Existimante autem populo et cogitantibus omnibus in cordibus suis de Ioanne, ne forte ipse esset Christus,

16 respondit Ioannes dicens omnibus: “ Ego quidem aqua baptizo vos. Venit autem fortior me, cuius non sum dignus solvere corrigiam calceamentorum eius: ipse vos baptizabit in Spiritu Sancto et igni;

17 cuius ventilabrum in manu eius ad purgandam aream suam et ad congregandum triticum in horreum suum, paleas autem comburet igni inexstinguibili ”.

18 Multa quidem et alia exhortans evangelizabat populum.

19 ὁ δὲ Ἡρῴδης ὁ τετραάρχης, ἐλεγχόμενος ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ περὶ Ἡρῳδιάδος τῆς γυναικὸς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησεν πονηρῶν ὁ Ἡρῴδης,

20 προσέθηκεν καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πᾶσιν [καὶ] κατέκλεισεν τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐν φυλακῇ.

21 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ βαπτισθῆναι ἅπαντα τὸν λαὸν καὶ Ἰησοῦ βαπτισθέντος καὶ προσευχομένου ἀνεῳχθῆναι τὸν οὐρανὸν

22 καὶ καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ’ αὐτόν, καὶ φωνὴν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ γενέσθαι, Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα.

Herod the Tetrarch, having been exposed by him (John) regarding Herodias, the wife of his brother, and regarding all of the wicked things which Herod did, (20) he imposed upon him upon all and locked John under guard. (21) It happened in the to dunk all the people also that Jesus having been dunked and prayed to have opened the sky (22) and descended the sacred breath embodied in form like a dove upon him, and a voice from the sky became, “You are my son, the beloved, in you I am pleased.” 

The Greek for this is interesting. It tells us how the sacred breath was embodied, actually taking on a physical body as opposed to being a non-corporeal emanation taking a coherent shape. Now, what Luke says does not necessarily gainsay what 2M described; rather, it takes the description a bit further, confirming that an actual corporeal presence was…present.

However, I’ve jumped the gun a bit here. The passage tells us that John was imprisoned by Herod, for reasons apparently too well-known to need explaining. And the passage then says Jesus was baptized, but it does not specify that he was immersed by John. It’s interesting to speculate on why Luke wrote himself into a corner like this, so he had to be so vague about who did the baptizing. Just a bit too much compression? But what, we only got a first draft here? He couldn’t revise this? It’s really rather odd, don’t you think? He got the baptism and John’s arrest taken care of and out of the way pretty darn quickly.

Now, once again, think about Luke’s story in relation to that told by 2M. Does Luke compress so many things out existence because he believed that they had been adequately covered by 2M? As such, there was no need to tell the story of Salome again? Or even the whole story of the baptism? Although we do hit the highlights. This may be something to watch for as we progress: does Luke tend to syncopate material when both Mark & Matthew have provided full accounts? Wouldn’t that be an interesting observation.

However, far and away THE most interesting aspect of this passage comes via a different mss tradition. Variant manuscripts say that the voice from the sky said “You are my son, this day I have begotten you”. Whoa. That is a really serious variation. First, it totally disagrees with what 2M report, but, beyond that, it throws an entirely different light on the whole episode here. “Today I have begotten you?” This is blatant Adoptionism. As such, it hearkens back to Mark and then amplifies what Mark maybe kinda sorta implied about the heritage of Jesus and his relation to God. However, for once, I think I have to downplay the potential controversy and hold for the dominant reading and tradition. This alternative reading simply flies too flagrantly, and violently, in the face of everything Luke has told us to this point. It completely undercuts the whole virgin birth, the Annunciation, the stories of Simeon and Anna when Jesus was presented for circumcision. It just does not fit with any of that. As such, I have to believe that the alternative ending was a later interpolation, probably something that the Adoptionists, or maybe even more likely the Arians added to the text. Of course, one has to wonder why, if the Arians went to such lengths, why only this one bit of an attempted re-direction of the text remains. Or are there more? I don’t know. I did not know of this alternative text until last Sunday, when I was reading through Luke in church, before mass began. It was a footnote in the NSRV that the church as so thoughtfully placed in a number of the pews, which is wonderful for someone like me. So, perhaps there are more. I’ll have to check.

19 Herodes autem tetrarcha, cum corriperetur ab illo de Herodiade uxore fratris sui et de omnibus malis, quae fecit Herodes,

20 adiecit et hoc supra omnia et inclusit Ioannem in carcere.

21 Factum est autem, cum baptizaretur omnis populus, et Iesu baptizato et orante, apertum est caelum,

22 et descendit Spiritus Sanctus corporali specie sicut columba super ipsum; et vox de caelo facta est: “Tu es Filius meus dilectus; in te complacui mihi”.

23 Καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα, ὢν υἱός, ὡς ἐνομίζετο, Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἠλὶ,

24τοῦ Μαθθὰτ τοῦ Λευὶ τοῦ Μελχὶ τοῦ Ἰανναὶ τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ…

And Jesus was leading so many as thirty years, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph son of Heli, (24) son of Matthew son of Levi son of Melchi son of Jannai son of Joseph…(etc…)

One point: I read in a commentary that 30 years was more or less the time priests came into their full duties. So it was a situation not unlike that of Hobbits; only after they had passed through their riotous tweens (teens & twenties) were they deemed to be entering into full maturity. This is when you became an elder, someone who deserved the respect of experience. Now, I won’t go into the actual math; I’ve mentioned it. If Jesus were 30 in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, then he must have been born in the year One. The problem is that Herod was four years dead at that point, and Quirinius was still lacking about six years before becoming the governor of Syria. So the math does not work. Although, Jesus could have been older than 30, if he had been born under Herod, but that messes with the census of Quirinius. There is simply no way to make all of this work.

But let’s talk about this genealogy. We’ve mentioned some of the problems it presents, all of them predicated on the fact that it does not match the one found in Matthew. I’ve been doing a bit of checking on this, and a lot of people want to claim that this is actually the genealogy of Mary rather than Joseph. Obviously, if Joseph were not Jesus’ actual father–which both Matthew and Luke tell us he wasn’t–Jesus was not of the lineage of David. Or, the only way he could have been of David’s lineage would be if Mary were part of that family tree. So, presto-changeo, that’s what a lot of people have concluded. The only problem is that there is not really any evidence for this. The text simply does not say that Heli was the father of Mary. It’s supposed that this means Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli, but that’s not what the text says. I was sort of saving this genealogy of Mary business to complete the discussion of many of the stories that we have read.

Throughout Chapters 1 & 2, we have had a lot of focus on Mary. First it was her cousin Elisabeth who gave birth to John the Dunker; then we have the Annunciation story, where the messenger tells Mary, rather than Joseph. And the stories of Jesus’ childhood pretty much focus on Mary, who treasures or ponders these things in her heart. Given this Mary-focus, one could make a definite case for putting her genealogy in here. And it’s a very attractive idea, regardless. I just wish there were something more definite about it, something a bit more concrete. But we also have the example of the baptism: did John do it or not? So here we have, is this Mary’s genealogy or not? I don’t have an answer to this, but neither does anyone else. That this is the genealogy of Mary seems to be the prevailing or consensus opinion, but that’s really all it is: an opinion based on not a whole lot. Or, perhaps it doesn’t even constitute an opinion; perhaps it should be called something closer to “wishful thinking”.  

But now for the real killer. Back when we read (or skipped) Matthew’s genealogy, I said that the fact that Luke had a different one was a real problem for my idea that Luke had read Matthew. Now, however, I’m not so sure about that. In fact, I think that the different lineage actually supports my contention that Luke knew about, and and read Matthew. Think about it. We have exactly two of these. Did both the evangelists suddenly and independently get the idea for a genealogy? Perhaps. It could happen. But let’s think about why Matthew added his: because there were accusations that Jesus was a bastard. To counter these, Matthew both had to come up with a father for Jesus, and provide a lineage that traced back to David. Matthew fails on both counts. For he gives us the name of Joseph, who was Mary’s husband, but he was not Jesus’ father. And so to say that Jesus traced his ancestry back to David through Joseph pretty much just wrong. So what does Luke do? Recall, Luke is trying to be as specific as possible, by pinning John’s conception to the reign of Herod, and Jesus’ birth to the Roman governor, and John’s ministry as beginning in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. To be consistent with this, here we have Luke correcting the record by providing the accurate genealogy of Jesus. In fact, if we only had some really concrete evidence that this was supposed to be the lineage of Mary, we would have definitive proof that Q did not (have to) exist, because we would know that Luke read Matthew because Luke was very consciously trying to correct Matthew’s faulty genealogy.

If only.

It must be acknowledged, however, that this absence of definitive evidence does not torpedo my contention about Q, or the lack thereof. Not necessarily, or not completely at least. No one suggests that Q had a genealogy. The Q people absolutely cannot suggest this, because the disagreement would seriously cripple their rationale for Q. So if the idea for a genealogy didn’t come from Q, where did it come from? Did Luke arrive at the idea independently. Sure, it’s possible, but how likely is that? And if there were an independent third source, then why the discrepancy? No, the most likely explanation is that Luke was fully aware of Matthew and Matthew’s genealogy, and was fully aware that it was faulty. So Luke decided to correct the record. To do so, he decided to trace descent–not through Joseph, who had no part in Jesus’ existence–but through Mary. To bolster the reasoning for doing this, Luke came up with some stories about Mary that took place before and shortly after the birth of her son. We get her cousin as the mother of the Baptist, and the angel coming to talk to her, rather than the cipher to whom she would be married. IOW, the importance of Mary in the story has been increased. Dramatically. Because she is the vessel that carried the line all the way back, not just to David, but to Adam himself, emphasizing, as one commentary put it, that Jesus was the Second Adam. This would all be so apparent if the text only said, Joseph, son-in-law of Heli. But even this is not insuperable. After all, we saw how some mss traditions changed the words from the sky to “today I have begotten you”; how much easier is it to change the text from son-in-law to son? Even granting that the two words in Greek do not have the affinity that they do in English, this would hardly strain credulity to posit this as an emendation.

So, far from being fatal to my case, I believe that the different genealogies actually support, reinforce, and further my argument. As always, feel free to disagree.

23 Et ipse Iesus erat incipiens quasi annorum triginta, ut putabatur, filius Ioseph, qui fuit Heli,

24 qui fuit Matthat, qui fuit Levi, qui fuit Melchi, qui fuit Iannae, qui fuit Ioseph,..[ etc….]

Luke Chapter 3:1-14

From Chapter 2 we move on to Chapter 3, which is generally how the progression works. The first story is John the Baptist, leading up to his baptism of Jesus, which is followed by the temptations. All of these are in Mark; however, Matthew expands on John, and Luke has much the same expansion. But Luke did not follow Matthew; they both copied the nearly-identical passages from Q. Now, here’s the thing about that. If Luke is writing because he has things that need to be said, why does so closely replicate Matthew at so many points if he was using Matthew? That is a legitimate question, and one that I have an obligation to acknowledge and to answer. How well I respond to that question will help determine whether my insistence of Luke using Matthew, thereby relegating Q to the dustbin of history, carries any weight of conviction. Of course, we also have to ask the same question about why Matthew stuck so closely to Mark.


1 Ἐν ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς ἡγεμονίας Τιβερίου Καίσαρος, ἡγεμονεύοντος Ποντίου Πιλάτου τῆς Ἰουδαίας, καὶ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Γαλιλαίας Ἡρῴδου, Φιλίππου δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Ἰτουραίας καὶ Τραχωνίτιδος χώρας, καὶ Λυσανίου τῆς Ἀβιληνῆς τετρααρχοῦντος,

2 ἐπὶ ἀρχιερέως Αννα καὶ Καϊάφα, ἐγένετο ῥῆμα θεοῦ ἐπὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν Ζαχαρίου υἱὸν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, in the governorship of Judea of Pontius Pilate, and while Herod was tetrarching in Galilee, and Philipp his (Herod’s) brother was tetrarching in the territory of Ituraia and Trachontis, and Lysanias was tetrarching in Abilene, (2) in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God was upon John, son of Zacharias, in the desert.  

Luke is really pinning things down here in a very specific way. The fifteenth year of Tiberius would put us into the period 29/30 CE. This means that if Jesus was born in the governorship of Quirinius, he was only in his mid-twenties when these events took place. Now again, at the moment, we are talking about John and not Jesus. So this initial even could have occurred when Jesus was in his mid-twenties. It depends on whether time elapsed between the outset of the gospel and the baptism of Jesus. Now too, bear in mind that we do not exactly know how much older John was than Jesus. We know that Elisabeth was pregnant when Mary visited, but per the text Mary had not yet conceived. I think this detail frequently sort of gets lost in the shuffle of the story. Gabriel tells Mary that Elisabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy, but we are not told that Mary had actually conceived yet. The way the story was told to me as a kid in Catholic school, Mary was already pregnant, so the two boys in utero sort of had a hoedown together when Mary visited. But the text does not say that. It’s interesting that, for all his precision here, Luke is decidedly–probably deliberately–vague about the time between the visitation (The Visitation, if you’re counting Joyful Mysteries) and the birth of Jesus. And just so, he is rather vague here.

Note that we have three tetrarchs named. That’s remarkable because the “tetra” part means “four”. The kingdom of of Herod the Great, the final King of the Jews had been broken into four parts. The lesser parts were doled out to Herod’s children and grandchildren–I believe this Herod, Antipas, was the grandson of Herod the Great. But he may have been a son. In any case, the fourth part was Judea, which was retained by Rome as the seat of the Roman governor for the area, although strictly speaking Pilate was the governor of Syria, to which Judea was appended. Annas and Caiaphas were the local collaborationist puppets of the Romans. While their authority was actually religious, the secular and the religious powers had been thoroughly mixed up since the time of the Maccabees a century before. So, while his title was high priest, Caiaphas had secular authority as well. He was charged with keeping the peace. The Romans found it useful to interpose a buffer of a puppet regime between themselves and the subject population for the first period after annexing a new territory. Thus Herod the Great was what is known as a “client king”; he retained the title of king, but only at the sufferance of the Romans. Really, the time for this intermediary rule had gone past, but the Romans maintained it to some degree here. I am honestly not sure why they retained this arrangement. In the grand scheme of the Empire, Judea was sort of an afterthought, so the rationale behind the arrangement is not well explained in our sources. Josephus’ account is very Judeo-centric, so I don’t know how far it is to be trusted. The point of all this is that Annas and Caiaphas did have limited secular power, largely because Pilate spent most of his time in Caesarea. So Pilate delegated the local policing to the Jewish religious authorities with the help of  a detachment of Roman soldiers who had considerable latitude to act independently to step in and quell any sort of disturbance. One thing that is important to realize is that there was not a lot of cooperation between the high priest and any of the tetrarchs. Indeed, that was largely the point of fragmenting the area like this: to prevent cooperation between the native parties. So the idea that the high priests in Jerusalem were in communication and/or collusion with Herod about Jesus–or anything else–really doesn’t hold much water.

1 Anno autem quinto decimo im perii Tiberii Caesaris, procu rante Pontio Pilato Iudaeam, tetrarcha autem Galilaeae Herode, Philippo autem fratre eius tetrarcha Ituraeae et Trachonitidis regionis, et Lysania Abilinae tetrarcha,

2 sub principe sacerdotum Anna et Caipha, factum est verbum Dei super Ioannem Zachariae filium in deserto.

3 καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς πᾶσαν [τὴν] περίχωρον τοῦ Ἰορδάνου κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν,

4 ὡς γέγραπται ἐν βίβλῳ λόγωνἨσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου, Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.

5 πᾶσα φάραγξ πληρωθήσεται καὶ πᾶν ὄρος καὶ βουνὸς ταπεινωθήσεται, καὶ ἔσται τὰ σκολιὰ εἰς εὐθείαν καὶ αἱ τραχεῖαι εἰς ὁδοὺς λείας:

6 καὶ ὄψεται πᾶσα σὰρξ τὸ σωτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ.

And he came to all the countryside surrounding of the Jordan (River) announcing dunking of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, (4) as is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “A voice shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the lord, make straight the paths of him. (5) Every valley will be filled and every road and hill brought low and will be the crookedness to straight, and the rough to smooth roads. (6) And all flesh will see the salvation of God.

This excerpt of Isaiah is common to all three gospels. What is unique to Luke is the last verse about salvation of the flesh. This word, in this sort of context, is not really used by Mark & Matthew (2M). In fact, Luke only uses the word twice himself. in 2M, it occurs only in the apocalyptic prophecies of Jesus (Mk 13; Mt 24) combined with the idea of salvation. The one who does use this word frequently is Paul, but he doesn’t necessarily use it combined with salvation. So the salvation of the flesh shows up once in each of the Synoptics; 2M use it by saying it is good that the times of tribulation will be cut short, else no flesh would be saved. Luke uses it here.

But now we need to ask if what Luke is saying here is actually the same concept of saving the flesh, in the sense of saving a physical life. This is very difficult to assess, because there really is no explanation for this, no elaboration, nothing to give us any real sense of what John might mean.Two things strike me. First, the words of V6 are not in Isaiah; they have been added by Luke. The second thing is that it occurred to me that this might relate to whether the kingdom John was preaching was of this world, in which case “saving the flesh” could and probably should be taken quite literally. But then I noticed that John does not preach about the coming kingdom. At least, not in those terms, using that word. Both of these concepts, the salvation of the flesh and the kingdom of God are very ambiguous throughout the gospels; does salvation mean eternal? is the kingdom of this world, or the next? The use of salvation in this spot does not help us clarify the answer to that question. But then, by later Christian usage and understanding, “salvation of the flesh” almost has to refer to the physical life, since the belief developed that it is the soul, not the body, that is saved. Except in Paul, we all have a resurrection body, but that is probably a red herring. So why is this term inserted–deliberately–here? What does it mean? These questions are difficult to answer, especially since this is one of only two times that Luke uses the word “sarx”.

Just to note, each time I read this, my take changes a little bit. On this last iteration, I feel pretty certain that Luke is indeed talking about salvation in the later Christian, and Pauline, sense of the term, especially in Rom 11:11 and 13:11. I realize this is cheating a bit, since we haven’t covered Romans in this blog, but it’s also present in 1 Thess 5:8-9. Since we know that Luke was aware of Paul’s career, and probably some of Paul’s writings–Romans among the most likely–we are probably justified in this understanding.  

3 Et venit in omnem regionem circa Iordanem praedicans baptismum paenitentiae in remissionem peccatorum,

4 sicut scriptum est in libro sermonum Isaiae prophetae:

“Vox clamantis in deserto: / ‘Parate viam Domini, / rectas facite semitas eius.

5 Omnis vallis implebitur, / et omnis mons et collis humiliabitur; / et erunt prava in directa, / et aspera in vias planas:

6 et videbit omnis caro salutare Dei’ ”.

7 Ἔλεγεν οὖν τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ὄχλοις βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς;

He said to those crowds having come to be dunked by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the intended destined wrath?   

Have to stop here. I used the same translation “brood of vipers” for this passage in Matthew. Apologies, but “offspring of serpents” doesn’t pack nearly the emotional wallop of my preferred phrase. Although after taking a peek, it appears that “brood of vipers” is the preferred translation in my three modern crib translations (NIV, ESV, NASB). The KJV is the sole dissenting vote, giving us “generation of vipers”. Regardless, I’m reasonably certain that I’ve heard this as “offspring of serpents”. But apparently, the base meaning of the Greek”echidna” is, actually, “viper”. And the “dunked” is a pretentious reminder that the Greek word/verb for “baptize” is not a special word. It’s is a common word, used for many different, ordinary, quotidian affairs. It pays to remember that; otherwise we get caught up in this sense of Christianity, and start thinking of “baptize” in terms that are wholly anachronistic. We start to assume that the word meant the same for John as it does for us. This is emphatically not true, and must be borne in mind.

But the really juicy part of this verse is the “intended“, as in “intended destined wrath”. No doubt we touched on this when discussing Matthew, but the verb “mellow” has several layers of nuance to it. First and foremost, it means “destined”, rather than intended, in the sense of “I intend to do…” No doubt that the two meanings merged, or split from the idea that something happened because Zeus intended it to happen, or it was destined because Zeus intended it to happen. (Editor’s note: this is not exactly proper Greek theology; destiny was the province of the Fates, rather than Zeus, and there is a real question about whether Zeus was bound by destiny/fate or not.) My four crib translations, three modern & KJV, render this as “coming” wrath. This simply will not do. I hate to say a translation is wrong, but “coming” completely obscures the idea of some sort of will, whether it’s the will of Fate, or of a god, or even of God. This has to happen, and “coming” merely states that it will happen. Interesting, this translation as “coming” starts with the Vulgate, for it renders this as “coming wrath”.

Now, the reason for this fudging is very clear. The Christians were very sensitive to the idea of pagan fatalism, and they took pains to deny this, which is why they invented the concept of Free Will. In this way they sought to escape from things like astrology. Or from astrology. The problem is that a British monk named Pelagius took this a little too far, and said that Free Will meant we could merit our own salvation. To which Augustine took great exception, which led him to interpret certain sections (but by no means all) of Romans to entail Predestination. Of course, that is simply another word for “fate”. And so the circle comes complete and we’re back at pagan fatalism, except we won’t admit it, so even St Jerome starts to weasel by rendering this as “coming” wrath. And the NT Greek dictionary I use gives the base meaning of “shall”, with “coming” as the third definition. This is what happens when you start to believe that there is such an animal as “NT Greek”. This goes along with translating “baptizo” as “to baptize”. The circle becomes closed and self-referential and we end up thinking we know more than we actually do. It’s really another example of epistemic closure, self-reinforcing and cut off from outside points of view. This is what I’m doing my very small part to change.

Now, it’s very interesting because in 1 Thess 1:10, Paul talks about the “coming wrath”, and that is exactly the verb he uses: coming. It would really be useful to know where Paul got this. Was this the general expectation for all the communities following Jesus? Or was this part of Paul’s personal revelation. From reading something like the Didache, one gets the impression that this idea of coming wrath may not have been universal to all the various assemblies around the Eastern Mediterranean. There were, after all, other gospels. OTOH, Mark had picked it up in Chapter 13. Here’s an interesting thought: Paul talks about the coming wrath, as if it’s imminent at any given moment. What if the transition to “intended”, or even “destined” represents a stepping back from this immediacy? Yes, the wrath is coming, it’s been scheduled, but for some point in the indeterminate future, rather than hanging there, waiting to spring like, RIGHT NOW. 

7 Dicebat ergo ad turbas, quae exibant, ut baptizarentur ab ipso: “ Genimina viperarum, quis ostendit vobis fugere a ventura ira?

8 ποιήσατε οὖν καρποὺς ἀξίους τῆς μετανοίας: καὶ μὴ ἄρξησθε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Πατέρα ἔχομεντὸν Ἀβραάμ, λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ.

9 ἤδη δὲ καὶ ἡ ἀξίνη πρὸς τὴν ῥίζαν τῶν δένδρων κεῖται: πᾶν οὖν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται.

“So produce fruit worthy of repentance; and do not start to say among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’, for I tell you that God can from these stones raise up children to Abraham. (9) Indeed the axe lies at the root of the trees. All trees not making good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 

This whole section of John’s rant is supposed to be from Q. Which means it dates from a period very early in the time after Jesus. Except this little tidbit does not really fit into that timeframe. Here we have a piece of rhetoric the aim of which is to explain why the Jews did not convert to become followers of Jesus. Here we see that John is warning the Jews that they will be superseded in the succession to the kingdom (a term that John does not use in Luke.) That they are the descendants of Abraham will avail them naught. As such, it most likely does not date to the 30s or even the 50s; rather it’s more like it dates from the 70s, or even the 80s. Considerations like this are why I get so frustrated with the Q “argument”; in their epistemically closed world, they just consider the overlapping content, and not whether this content is anachronistic to the 50s, when Q was supposedly written. And attributing this to John makes the early date even less likely.

Now it occurs to me that the image of the axe already lying at the root of the tree does make it sound like the wrath is coming soon. However, Luke got this from Matthew, and Matthew did also describe the wrath as “destined”, rather than “coming”. This means we have to look at this in the context of Matthew’s time, rather than Luke’s.  Part of the problem is trying to push the meanings of some of these words too hard, and this may be an excellent example of me trying to do this. It’s a question of how carefully did the evangelists choose their words, and how did each of them understand and use specific words. Given this, I probably should back down from my position about the transition to “scheduled at some non-specific time in the indeterminate future”. That did happen; it’s still happening as groups continue to predict the coming of the Beast and all the other imagery found in Revelation. It’s just a question of when this attitude became the norm. Was it the 70s? 90s? Sometime in the Second Century? The answer is probably “yes”; it happened a little bit, and bit-by-bit probably starting with Mark. After all, why write a gospel if the world is coming to an end any moment?

One other point of interest here is the fire. This is not a word Luke uses very much at all. In fact, this is more or less the only time he uses it in conjunction with the idea of hellfire. And it appears that John uses some form of the word only once. IOW, the whole bit about burning in hell becomes de-emphasized with time. But then another check shows that it doesn’t appear frequently in Paul, either. It does reappear in Revelation. This ties in with the discussion we had above about sarx and salvation. If we are not being saved from hellfire, what are we being saved from? It’s situations like this that demonstrate the layers of the NT. This idea of the fire is vestigial, preserved from an earlier account. Most biblicists would say thus earlier account is Q; I say it’s Matthew. Either way, it has been retained when some of the surrounding theology has sort of slipped between the cracks. Does this mean Luke doesn’t believe in hellfire? No, we cannot draw that inference safely. It may just mean he doesn’t feel it necessary to stress the point, that it’s become well enough ensconced in the message, perhaps because both Mark and Matthew deal with the topic. Here, perhaps, is another point at which the absence in Luke may be seen to result from Luke’s understanding of, rather than ignorance of, Matthew.

No doubt I’ve brought up this analogy before, but it’s worth repeating. Ernest Hemingway was famous for his very short stories; he would write ten pages and then cut it down to three. His theory was that as long as the author knew what was missing, the story would reflect, would imply the parts that had been removed. It’s only when the author doesn’t know what is in those other seven pages that the readers feels there is a hole in the story. That is how Luke feels so far: there are no real holes because he is aware of what parts of Matthew he’s leaving out. Unfortunately, this is a very subjective “argument”, but I think it’s less so than saying that “Luke would never have messed up Matthew’s ‘masterful’ arrangement of the Q material”. That’s more than subjective; it’s speculative, with no real basis in anything other than the conviction that Q existed because…because we want it to exist. 

8 Facite ergo fructus dignos paenitentiae et ne coeperitis dicere in vobis ipsis: “Patrem habemus Abraham”; dico enim vobis quia potest Deus de lapidibus istis suscitare Abrahae filios.

9 Iam enim et securis ad radicem arborum posita est; omnis ergo arbor non faciens fructum bonum exciditur et in ignem mittitur ”.

10 Καὶ ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ ὄχλοι λέγοντες, Τί οὖν ποιήσωμεν;

11 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Ὁ ἔχων δύο χιτῶνας μεταδότω τῷ μὴ ἔχοντι, καὶ ὁ ἔχων βρώματα ὁμοίως ποιείτω.

12 ἦλθον δὲ καὶ τελῶναι βαπτισθῆναι καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν, Διδάσκαλε, τί ποιήσωμεν;

13 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Μηδὲν πλέον παρὰ τὸ διατεταγμένον ὑμῖν πράσσετε.

14 ἐπηρώτων δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ στρατευόμενοι λέγοντες, Τί ποιήσωμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς; καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Μηδένα διασείσητε μηδὲ συκοφαντήσητε, καὶ ἀρκεῖσθε τοῖς ὀψωνίοις ὑμῶν.

And the crowd answered him, saying, “So what shall we do?” (11)  Answering he said to them “Let the one having two tunics give to the one not having, and let the one having victuals do likewise.” (12) There came also tax collectors to be dunked and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” (13) And he said to them, “Not more beside the designated amount keep”. (14) And also asked him soldiers, saying, “What shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do you nothing violent nor make accusations, and be content with your wages”.

I have heard–but cannot specify where, exactly, that Luke is particularly concerned with the poor. I cannot verify this, but the change of “blessed are the poor in spirit” to “blessed are the poor” would seem to support this contention. Assuming this observation to be true, the passage here would be the first example of theme in Luke. Here’s the odd part: the injunction that the person with two coats, or having should share with the person having none seems to be unique to Luke. I was certain that this was also found in Matthew, at least; apparently, that is not true. So what we have here is a situation where Luke is using Q material, but is adding to it. So it’s another instance of Q material being defined so broadly that it becomes difficult to know what, exactly, is supposed to be in Q, and to know what, exactly, the Q material is supposed to represent. Q is supposed to be sayings of Jesus; well, here we have stuff said by John in the Q material. Then we have stuff in Luke that’s not in Matthew in a section that’s supposed to be from Q, and the stuff in Luke is supposed to be an angle that is peculiar to Luke, and it comes hard on the heels of something that really seems anachronistic to the time when Q was supposedly written. Given all this, it gets to be very hard to find a consistent definition of what Q is supposed to represent, which makes it difficult to assess the likelihood of Q’s existence. In short, Q seems to be whatever it is required to be at any given moment. In fact, not only does the previous section seem anachronistic; in the last verse we supposedly have soldiers asking about how they should behave. It’s probably worth pointing out that soldiers, by and large, were pagans rather than Jews. So again we have an outreach to the pagan crowd, which is more likely to be appropriate to the 70s or 80s than to the 50s, when Q supposedly was recorded.

But wait, there’s more! It appears that the questions posed by the tax collectors and the soldiers are also unique to Luke. Thematically, it’s very important and very significant that this is John saying these things. Thematically, these injunctions fit in very nicely with things Jesus has said in previous gospels (and presumably will say later in this gospel). This has at least a couple of implications. First, this is yet more indication of how, far from being embarrassed about the connexion to John, this connexion became more and more important as time went on. Each subsequent evangelist tied Jesus and John closer together, to the point that here in Luke they are first cousins. The idea that John was an embarrassment to the later church. Perhaps maybe by the Second Century some of this set in, but to this point, from Mark to Luke the connexion has become stronger and more prominent. 

The next aspect is to ask if these are not political statements? Tax collectors and soldiers represent the apparatus of oppression of the Empire. As such, is John not telling them to stop oppressing the subject population? To govern fairly rather than viciously? This is possible. Since it’s possibly a political statement, then is it best to put this in the mouth of John? Or, OTOH, had the political situation de-pressurized from the period in which Mark wrote, so that this sort of mild chiding would be tolerated by the Roman authorities? This would also give a later date for this particular passage, being set at a point more than a generation removed from the Troubles of the late 60s.

Finally, let’s think about this in terms of the “brood of vipers” & trees with bad fruit. Those were directed towards Jews; here he has shifted to pagans. And the pagans are asking what they must do, whereas the Jews are condemned more or less out-of-hand, and without any redeeming aspects. This really reinforces the date of the 80s, or to the period when the assemblies had more or less given up on converting Jews. Now, this part of Luke does not appear in reconstructions of Q, so this largely a moot point. 

10 Et interrogabant eum turbae dicentes: “Quid ergo faciemus?”.

11 Respondens autem dicebat illis: “Qui habet duas tunicas, det non habenti; et, qui habet escas, similiter faciat”.

12 Venerunt autem et publicani, ut baptizarentur, et dixerunt ad illum: “Magister, quid faciemus?”.

13 At ille dixit ad eos: “Nihil amplius quam constitutum est vobis, faciatis”.

14 Interrogabant autem eum et milites dicentes: “Quid faciemus et nos? ”. Et ait illis: “ Neminem concutiatis neque calumniam faciatis et contenti estote stipendiis vestris”.

Summary Luke Chapter 2

This chapter includes the birth narrative, the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Jesus’ adventure in Jerusalem at the age of twelve. The birth narrative is the more famous of the two, with most of the details that we think of as surrounding the birth of Jesus: the journey of Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the manger, the shepherds who were sore afraid, and the heavenly host. The only details missing from the popular iconography of Christmas are the star and the Magoi; the Slaughter of the Innocents and the flight to Egypt do not play a large role in Christmas pageants around the country. In fact, we are told that all of Matthew’s themes are completely absent from Luke, so obviously Luke never read Matthew.

Or did he?

This bears repeating: thematically, Luke is very, very closely tied to the elements that Matthew added. To list them once again, Luke accepts the idea of a virgin giving birth, that the child conceived to the virgin was by way of the sacred breath, the announcement of this news came by angel-messenger, that Mary’s husband’s name was Joseph, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Even the timing of the birth is correlated to Matthew by putting the story of the birth of the Baptist in the reign of Herod, even though Jesus was born in the governorship of Quirinius. All of these details are found ony in Matthew. But it goes beyond even these details. Matthew is very keen to tell us that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was a world-historical event, heralded by a star. Well, Luke says that Jesus was the son of God, and that his birth was heralded by a heavenly host. And what is a star if not a different sort of heavenly host? Instead of magoi from the East, Luke gives us prophets in the Temple of Jerusalem. It is in this way that Luke conveys the prophecy of Jesus’ birth, but to the Jews rather than pagans. The shepherds in Luke fill the role of the Magoi in another way: in Matthew, people travel great distances, but the locals pretty much ignored the event. In Luke, both the locals (the shepherds) and the prophets (in Jerusalem) were aware of Jesus’ birth. So in both accounts it’s clear that the coming of Jesus was a world-historical event, presaged, foretold, and recognized and having been fulfilled.

In fact, if you tally up the different aspects of the story, pretty well all of them are found in Luke, but in altered form. But the alterations seem to dovetail very nicely and in complement, like a very well-crafted piece of furniture, with joints that are precise to the point of being invisible. What I am saying is that it feels, like Luke took the story of Matthew, digested the elements, took a step back, and then reconstituted these elements in a way that they carry the implication–and much of the fine detail–of Matthew and convey the message while providing an entirely different context for the different elements. The apparently complete lack of overlap between the two is more apparent than real, which, to my mind, signifies deliberate intent rather than creating an account that is wholly unaware of its predecessor. This is a very crucial point.

Much of the minimal argument that is put forth for Q rests on two things. The first is that Luke is completely unaware of places that Matthew added to Mark. Second is that Luke never, not once (well, except the “brood of vipers” thing from the Baptist) puts a story from Mark in the same context as Matthew does. Well, if Luke did follow Matthew in adding to, or changing Mark, that becomes Q material pretty much by definition; after all, Q is exactly that stuff that Matthew and Luke have that Mark doesn’t. So strike #1. As for #2, just by sheer dumb probability, Luke should have put at least one story from Mark in the same context that Matthew did. That this did not happen at all defies probability. If Luke’s choices were made completely independently of Matthew, there should be at least a couple of places where Luke used the same context as Matthew. The implication then becomes that, since he did not make the same placement, it’s because Luke chose not to make the same placement because he knew exactly where Matthew put the same stories. This fits in very nicely with what I’m saying about the nativity story, and Chapter 2 as a whole: Luke very nicely works around Matthew, he supplements and complements Matthew, but he also knows exactly where not to go. Matthew has pagan Magoi; Luke has Jewish prophecies. Matthew has a star; Luke has a multitude of the heavenly host. In each case, they announce the birth of Jesus. Luke’s placement, so far, has been very strategic.

There is one further aspect of this that needs to be mentioned. It has been pointed out numerous times that the story of Paul’s conversion that he provides in Galatians is very different from the more familiar version we find in Acts. The latter has the whole Road to Damascus immediacy and flamboyance. However, if you think about the experience being described, and think about what Paul says and take it allegorically, with a large dollop of drama added, the two descriptions are not dissimilar in their fundamentals. Yes, the outward appearance is very different, but the interior experience…maybe not so much. Both describe a revelation, a sudden and violent shift in perception; that one occurs while Paul is riding a horse and involves a blinding light, both of which are external events, or events perceived through the outward-facing senses, doesn’t change the inner experience. A sudden insight of life-changing proportions can certainly seem like a blinding flash of light; or, perhaps that’s a particularly effective way to describe the sensation to someone else.

Whether or not this is convincing or not will depend, I believe and to some extent, on whether one is willing to concede that a host of angels in the sky is another metaphor for the sudden appearance of a star. Both are miraculous; at least, the sudden appearance of a star would seem miraculous to someone unfamiliar with the concept of a supernova, which can cause a star to appear quite suddenly. And so the angels came and went. Suddenly. I believe there is a connexion, how each is a metaphor describing a celestial phenomenon meant to herald the occurrence of an event of great significance. If we notice that Luke does this on a consistent basis, then we have at least the potential for an argument that this is, indeed, what Luke was doing. And if he’s doing this, then he was bloody damn well aware of Matthew. And if Luke does this to Paul as well, then the case becomes stronger. In each case, I think, what Luke adds is the element of drama, in the sense of both stage direction and character development, but also heightened expectations and even dramatic tension. That is certainly true about Paul’s conversion.

So, in short, Chapter 2 is the backstory of Jesus. It’s about his birth in some detail, it adds episodes from Jesus’ early life. It also expands the role of Mary, something that I’ve been meaning to mention, but the time has not seemed ripe. Joseph remains a cipher; for whatever reasons, the cult of Joseph did not start to blossom until much later, to the point that he ended up the patron saint of Italy. But even then, he was not a truly popular figure who attracted tales and adventures. I suspect this is because he disappears so early in the story. He appears only in Chapter 1 of Matthew, and then only at the beginning. In Luke he makes it to Chapter 2, but that’s only after being wholly absent from Chapter 1. And it also occurs to me that Luke was very careful to tell his audience about the divine conception even before Joseph makes an appearance. Here is yet another way that Luke continues the story, retaining the character of Joseph, but also supplementing the story introduced by Matthew, smoothing out the rough edge of Joseph considering divorce. Matthew “corrected” the “problem” of Jesus having no father, leaving him open to charges of being illegitimate. Then Luke “corrects” the account of Matthew, eliminating completely the whole illegitimate thing. After all, Mary was pregnant when she was betrothed to/married to Joseph; the presumption was that the child had been fathered by another man, which was grounds for “putting her aside”. With Luke, that whole possibility of embarrassment is proactively eliminated by having the messenger Gabriel announce her impending conception before it happens. We do not know how the news was broken to Joseph, but that’s not really important; remember, Luke is not writing an account that he expects people to take seriously in all the details.

The point is, much is made of how different the birth stories are; why would Luke change Matthew? Answer: I’m not sure he did. He adds to Matthew, but nothing he says contradicts Matthew. He even retains most of Matthew’s additions to Mark: Joseph, virgin birth, annunciation by angels, reign of Herod, the birth heralded by celestial phenomena, Jesus’ identity understood by wise people, and probably a few other things that I’ve forgotten. Personally, I believe that I’m building a pretty decent case that Luke was very well aware of Matthew.