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….]


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 25, 2017, in Chapter 3, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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