Category Archives: Chapter 3

Summary Luke Chapter 3

About two-thirds of this chapter is devoted to John the Dunker; another quarter is devoted to the genealogy (getting really tired of that word). That leaves something under ten percent to the immersion of Jesus.

The real significance of this chapter, IMO, is its relevance to the issue of Q. We have the first extensive overlap of Matthew and Luke; they both add a section on the railings of John towards those who came out to see him. This is the famous “brood of vipers” passage, with its warning that the axe is at the root. Both evangelists give their accounts in much the same language, with several key phrases repeated. This repetition is so striking—to the point that one Verse (15) pretty much exactly verbatim—that these sections are obviously from a common source. Conventional wisdom is that both evangelists derived this section from Q. This should immediately cause you to sit back and question this. After all, Q is supposed to be the sayings of Jesus. Last time I checked, John and Jesus were different people. Did I miss the memo updating that? That comment is not simply facetious; it points to the way the Q argument engages in a certain amount of sleight of hand. One moment, Q is “x”; the next it’s also “y”. This lack of consistency should be our first red flag about the existence of this mythical document. Perhaps it was written by unicorns dipping their horn in ink. Seriously, if Q is the stuff Jesus said, why is John quoted the way he is? And it’s not a short quote.

The simple answer is that this has to be part of Q; otherwise, the entire “argument” for its existence more or less collapses. If this is not in Q, that means that Luke and Matthew both got it from another separate source. This would bring the tally of source documents that have disappeared without a trace up to two. Ockham is turning in his grave as we keep inventing these extraneous sources. Even the Q people realize what a problem this would be which inhibits them from every having suggested it. So if it’s not from Q, or some unidentified other source, then the only other possible solution is that Luke copied it from Matthew. But that simply won’t do. And I admit the elegance of their solution: simply include this piece of John in Q. Never mind the logistics of how this happened. It’s bad enough that pretty much everything Jesus said pretty much missed Mark, who was supposedly a disciple of Peter, who supposedly heard almost everything Jesus said, but now we have to come up with some explanation for how this saying of John also bypassed Mark but boomeranged back to a point where the author of Q picked it up.

Let me just remind us of something: without Q, then we are faced with the very real, very likely possibility that Jesus didn’t say most of what he said. Which puts him in the same category as Yogi Berra. If these sayings of Jesus were not recorded in the period between his death and the time that Mark wrote, that means they were either transmitted orally for forty years, or they were composed at some point well after Jesus died. The most likely time would be when Matthew wrote. Since we know what forty years of oral transmission can mean (blessed are the cheesemakers), in either of these solutions we are probably dealing with sayings that, at best, may only kinda sorta maybe resemble things Jesus said; at worst, they were made up out of whole cloth because someone else decided that these were things that Jesus would have said, or perhaps should have said. That is to say, the link to Jesus becomes very, very tentative and diffuse, to the point of non-existent. This is why the existence of Q cannot be questioned. Without Q, the basis for calling ourselves “Christians” becomes extremely shaky. We can argue, of course, that these are wonderful things that Jesus said, so the actual author doesn’t matter. While true, this sort of misses the whole “divine” aspect of Jesus. If he wasn’t God incarnate, he’s just another prophet, like Elijah. Or Mohammed.

In short, there is a lot at stake if Q does not exist. So much so, in fact, that it appears that scholars are willing to overlook a fairly large body of contraindications to hold onto the ragged hopes of a dream.

It potentially gets worse. In this chapter we were compelled to face the problem presented by the genealogy. Why do both Matthew and Luke have one, but no one else? Why is Luke’s different? What does this say about Q? Well, we can rest assured that no version of Q ever reconstructed ever contained a genealogy, so we can’t ascribe Luke having one to a common source in Q. If not from Q, there are two choices: either Luke came up with the idea independently, or he got the idea from Matthew. Obviously, the fact that Luke’s is different from Matthew’s would seem to throw the weight of the argument towards independent development. That is a legitimate position. If we are being intellectually honest, however, we then need to come up with a probability that Luke came up with the idea on his own. How likely, really, is it that these two men, engaged in essentially the same endeavour, separated by a dozen (?) years and however many miles, came up with the same idea? Stranger things have certainly happened; parallel development is hardly all-that unusual an occurrence.

If it were just this one thing, that argument might seem to be the best option to explain the existence of genealogy in both gospels. It would explain the differences. But this is not an isolated incident. So far, we have seen a similar pattern with the birth narrative. Luke followed Matthew on Joseph, the Annunciation (but to Mary, rather than Joseph), and especially the virgin birth, but he changed most of the other details. But still, the themes mentioned are only found in Matthew; no one else mentions these things, just as no one else comes up with a genealogy. Are we to infer that Luke arrived at all of these ideas independently? Bear in mind that the addition of each theme decreases the probability of independent arrival by significant amounts. So I suggest the idea of the genealogy fits in rather nicely with Joseph, virgin birth, angels, and I neglected Bethlehem the first time around.

Then comes the question of why are they different? There is no fer-sure answer to that, of course. The simplest answer is that Luke was not aware of Matthew and so came up with his genealogy independently, and concocted his lineage according to his own principles, or “research”, or creativity; as mentioned, however, this comes with it’s own set of problems. The other possibility is that Luke correcting Matthew’s genealogy. Many of the commentaries suggest that this is Mary’s heritage, that Joseph was the son-in-law, rather than the son, of Heli. After all, Luke does not properly say “son of”; rather, it’s just Joseph of Heli (tou Eli), the “tou” indicating the genitive case which shows possession. So, it’s Joseph of Heli, with “son” understood. This is a standard practice in Greek writing that dates back centuries before the NT. So the suggestion that it’s “son-in-law”  is speculative, of course, with no real evidence to support it. There is inferential evidence, however. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, not to Joseph as in Matthew. Mary is a major figure in Chapter 2. And Jesus is only “thought to be” the son of Joseph. Which is accurate if Jesus was conceived by the sacred breath and not by a human male. So why didn’t Luke just say “son of Mary, daughter of Heli”? After all, Mark refers to Jesus as “son of Mary” in Chapter 6. One can only speculate, but the whole idea of Jesus-as-illegitimate has to be borne in mind; after all, this is the most likely reason that Matthew came up with Joseph and the genealogy to begin with. If forced to guess, I would say that Luke probably did intend us to take this as Mary’s lineage, and the emphasis he put on her was to be our clue of this intent. This way, he’s more or less covered either regardless. 

The final aspect of the Q discussion concerns the reported speech of the Baptist (or Dunker. Another possible translation is John the Plunger). Why are John’s words recorded in Q, which is supposed to be the sayings of Jesus? Answer: they have to be; otherwise, the only way to account for the remarkable similarity between the gospels is to conclude that Luke copied Matthew. Seriously. That is the only way to explain why these words of John are supposedly in Q. And this is what I meant when I said that <<One moment, Q is “x”; the next it’s also “y”>>. In other words, Q is the sayings of Jesus, except when we need it to record the words of John. That really feels intellectually dishonest. And the two accounts are remarkably similar, except that in Matthew John is excoriating the Pharisees, while in Luke the condemnation is leveled at everyone who comes out to be baptised. And that leads to the “winnowing fork” passage. The two accounts of Matthew and Luke are virtually identical, differing on exactly four points: Luke changes the verb tense of two verbs from future indicative to infinitive, and one has an extra “and” while the other has an extra “his”. Both of these latter could easily be later interpolations, but they don’t have to be for the point to hold. The likelihood that two people copied these words almost verbatim from Q is much smaller than if Luke simply copied them from Matthew.

The result is that, in the first couple of chapters, we have a significant number of instances where Luke did follow Matthew against Mark. We have Joseph, the annunciation by an angel, Bethlehem, the virgin birth, and the need for a genealogy. Remember: the Q people will state, flatly and with great conviction, that Luke never ever follows Matthew against Mark. But in the first three chapters we have five separate examples. And none of these appear in any reconstruction of Q. Then we come to the winnowing fork/threshing floor analogy, and we have a passage that is copied virtually verbatim in both accounts. Historical proof on controversial topics is never conclusive; that’s why they’re controversial. No one debates the Battle of Hastings and 1066; aspects of the battle can be debated and argued about hotly for generations, but the fundamental fact remains. So an argument on a controversial topic has to be pieced together, one small bit at a time. In three chapters, we have six separate indications that Luke used Matthew. What do the Q people have? That Luke never agrees with Matthew against Mark (against which we have the first five examples), and that Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is so masterfully wrought that only a fool or a madman would mess with the construction. That’s pretty much it. Notice, however that the first is wrong and the second is not an argument, but a value judgement about literary style. Personally, I did not find the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount to be all that masterfully arranged. I found the whole thing rather jumbled together, a bunch of unconnected sayings that were thrown into the same hopper. One, of course, can disagree, and come up with textual and literary arguments for the masterful handling; but those are textual and literary arguments, and the latter is highly subjective and subject to taste and fashion. I prefer historical arguments; I believe I’ve found the very strong foundation of a case against Q. I don’t expect to topple the prevailing academic consensus, but you heard it here first.

But perhaps the most remarkable part of the Q debate is that its proponents do not feel the least bit compelled to prove Q existed. In fact, they have–somehow–managed to manoeuvre the discussion so that, in effect, the non-Q people have to prove it didn’t exist. They claim that the non-Q people have to explain every single instance that Luke disagrees with Matthew, and that the combined cases have to be an editorially consistent rationale. This is errant nonsense. The fundamental principle of any kind of rational endeavour is that, if you say something exists, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate this. The two premises I laid out above do not create any such proof. They never attempt to explain how and why Mark missed Q completely, nor why Luke does agree with Matthew against Mark on the topics found in Chapter 3.

OK, this is turning into a rant.

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 Matthew Chapter 3

The whole chapter reads like a single piece which is why I couldn’t find a reasonable place to break.

This could be called the “Chapter of John the Dunker”. This chapter contains his story, and he is the main character in the piece, despite Jesus’ eventual appearance.  In many ways, the story is very similar to that told by Mark, including the quote from Isaiah, the call to repent, and the the camel-skin clothes; I just realized the diet of locusts and wild honey was omitted. Why? And the call to repent was significant because of the way it was mistranslated by St Jerome, with enormous consequences for the development of the western church.

But the big thing I noticed was that the story was considerably longer than in Mark. The reason for the added length is John’s railing at the Pharisees and the new villain, the Sadducees.  Where did this come from? Burton Mack says it came from Q. Never mind that Q was supposedly the sayings of Jesus. This is part of Q. And, even more, Mack can detect that this is from a later stratum of Q; it’s not part of the original material. He probably explained all of this in The Lost Gospel of Q, but I read that a number of years ago, long before I had enough background for it to make sense. Or to be able to explain why it did not make sense. As for why this is part of Q, well, the main reason is that it wasn’t in Mark. So it had to be Q.


There is an enormous circularity about the Q argument. How do we know it’s Q? Because it wasn’t in Mark. Why wasn’t it in Mark? Because it was part of Q. I can think of almost no reason to suppose that the Q people (as he calls them) added a saying of John the Baptist. That does not make sense from an historical point of view. Per Mack, the Q people are the true heirs of the historical Jesus, who was a sort of counter-cultural sage, on the model of Diogenes the Cynic (the guy with the lantern and staff looking for an honest man on the inside of the Led Zeppelin IV album cover, among other places). This being the case, why would they be interested in the doings of the Baptist, who was firmly in the Jewish tradition, which the Q people rejected. Rather, this is a great example of how Matthew expanded the role of John; he flat-out makes John the herald of the mightier one. Mark implied this, but Matthew makes it explicit. If I were to do Mark again, knowing what I know now, I would have spent a lot more time on this.

But the story was in Mark; that Matthew found it there and took it from Mark is made very clear by the camel-skin clothes and leather belt and the quote from Isaiah.  The details are too exact to be the result of tapping into the same oral tradition. Matthew then puts words into John’s mouth to make sure that we are well aware that John was Jesus’ herald, and that John was well aware of his role, that he accepted it, and that he was pleased to fill that role.  That is a clear example of Matthew tying Jesus into the ancient Jewish tradition. Now, Matthew may have done this because he was a Jew himself, and he wanted to feel that he was fulfilling his ancestral destiny, and not abrogating it.  I have often thought of Mark as a journalist, Luke as a novelist, John as a theologian, and Matthew as a rabbi (an anachronism for the first century, but you get the idea). As such, I believe it would have been important for Matthew to make the connection more explicit, and he does exactly that.

And let’s face it: “Brood of vipers” is a great line. It’s high drama, pungent, and nasty in a good way.  And here we have a bit of a contradiction: if Matthew wants to affirm his Jewish roots, why condemn these exemplars of that tradition? This leads us through a very sticky wicket. Since I’ve been reading Mack’s book, I’ve been thinking about this whole thing a lot. Part of it, I believe, has a lot to do with the timing. Both Mark and, to a lesser extent, Matthew portray an idea that had areas of contention with the established Judaism of the day. However, both of these men wrote after the fall of Jerusalem, when the world of Jesus no longer existed. I think, to no small extent, the “anti-establishment” aspects of Jesus, or here John, are a function of the fact that the tipping point had been reached and more new converts were pagans, so there was a conscious distancing of the Jesus movement from at least the Jewish establishment that had gone into open revolt from Rome. We talked about this in Mark: he did everything he could to cover up the fact that Jesus was executed by the Romans. And so here John, as a proxy for Jesus, has to have his shot at the establishment figures.

I’m going to toss something out here. I said I’ve often thought of Matthew as a rabbi; Mack, and others, also stress Matthew’s Jewish roots, his care to insist that not one iota (jot) of the Law had been abrogated. What if Matthew wasn’t a Jew by birth, but one of the God-fearers, the pagans who congregated in synagogues to learn about Judaism. What we could be seeing is the enthusiasm of a convert as Matthew became fascinated with the Jewish tradition as encapsulated in the Torah and the Prophets. We need to keep in mind that there is what Mack calls the Christ cult, of which Paul is the best example. As a pagan, Matthew would have been comfortable with a lot of the pagan ideas we discussed while reading 1 Corinthians; as a God-fearer, the joining of the two traditions could easily have been exciting for him. Recall my suggestion that it was the idea that the Law had been superseded by faith that may have been Paul’s “road to Damascus” moment. Perhaps something similar was true for Matthew.

Because let’s be absolutely clear about this: by the time we get to Matthew’s gospel, the Christ myth, the Christ cult–as opposed to Jesus followers–has won out.  The joining of the two was Mark’s goal; he was, perhaps, only partly successful in his day. For Matthew, OTOH, the question has been answered: Jesus was the Christ, from the moment–or even before the moment–of his birth. Think about Paul claiming that God had chosen him from the time he was in his mother’s womb (Gal 1:15).  So, too, was Jesus, having been conceived by the sacred breath entering into Mary. So the divine is at work, as we noted in Chapters 1 & 2. I suppose the similarity between Paul and Jesus in this case is most likely coincidental; however, we will be wise to keep it in mind as we go forward.

Have we gone far enough? One theme that needs to be mentioned is the idea of the “destined wrath”. The interesting thing is that this was not mentioned in Mark, with all his apocalyptic premonitions. He did not talk about a day of wrath, or a coming wrath. But Paul did. He brought it up in Thessalonians 2:16, and the word appears frequently in Romans, which we have not read. So, we get two semi-Pauline references in the first three chapters. The one about the mother’s womb is admittedly tenuous; the idea of coming wrath is pretty clear. Now, this shows up in Luke, and so Mack includes it in “The Complete Book of Q”. My apologies, but I find it very hard to accept that this was in Q. The theme is simply used too frequently in Paul; as such, the likelihood is much greater that Matthew would have encountered it via the Christ cult than from the Q people. And this latter assumes that both Q and Q people–as Mack calls them–existed, neither of which are in any sense proven. Mack seems prone to these sorts of conjectures-taken-as-fact.

IMO, the existence of Q is highly suspect, which means that there were no Q people, either. At some point in the fairly near future, I am going to have to stop and assess possible progression sequences that will take us from Jesus to Matthew. A big part of this will be related to Q.  For now, let’s register my skepticism that the idea of a coming wrath came from Q and leave it at that. And let’s move on to Chapter 4.

Matthew Chapter 3 in toto

We start Chapter 3. This offers the choice of one post that’s too long, or two that are too short. I’m also going to try doing two verses together when they’re very short and/or have an awkward break in the middle of the sentence.

1 Ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις παραγίνεται Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτιστὴς κηρύσσων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τῆς Ἰουδαίας

2 [καὶ] λέγων, Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

In those days, there appeared John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, [and] saying, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven approaches”.

Right off the bat there’s a lot to get us started. Working in reverse order, we have “Repent…” In Greek, this is an intransitive verb, used as it is here. However, the Vulgate below us renders this as “Do penance”. The verb is transitive; so John is actually telling us to change our outlook and be pentitent; however, the western church, working from the Latin version, invented the sacrament of Reconciliation, better known as Confession. The rediscovery of the original Greek meaning of this sentence in the 15th Century sent a shock wave through the western church. Had it been misinterpreting the NT for 1,500 years? Seems like it. What else, people began to wonder, had it gotten wrong? [Note: papal infallibility did not become official doctrine until the 19th Century. But still…] I won’t say this re-translation caused the Reformation, but it was an important part of the process that did lead to the Reformation.

In all of the QHJ material, and the discussions of Q, and all the other scholarship, a great deal is made of the order in which things are placed. The sequence of the events described is a great clue to deciphering the mysteries of the text, that then help us determine the more primitive readings, and a host of other arcane topics. Sorry, don’t buy it. Take a look back at how Mark arranged this, vs how Matthew does here. Mark starts with the quote from Isaiah; Matthew gets right to the Baptist. Is this significant? No. Matthew was re-writing Mark; he wasn’t copying Mark. Matthew made different editorial choices. He moved things around. There is no deep significance. Now, I realize that the different order in these first few verses is different from a change in the sequence in which episodes are placed. Like, whether Jesus healed the leper before or after he told the parable of the mustard seed [I made that up]. We have to stop thinking about the traditions coming down to the evangelists as if the evangelists were given stone tablets that came down from Mt Sinai. The stories were told in chunks. One at a time. In no particular order, but according to the need of the moment. Then, as time went on, when the story became more fully fleshed out, then perhaps a certain sequence appeared, or was settled upon.

It is important–crucial–to understand that another order would have been possible (to an extent, of course), and this different order would not have mattered. These stories evolved. They changed. Words were substituted for other words. Sentences changed structure. Some stories were dropped completely. Others were added, made up at later dates. It was only after Mark wrote that a certain sequence was settled, but this sequence was, to some degree, arbitrary. It has been noted that Mark is written in discreet chunks, bridged, barely, by sequence words like “and then”. Or even just “and”.  I noted that at some point. What this (over)use of “and” as a bridge between stories indicates is that many–most?–of these stories existed as quasi-independent blocks that could be told in any order whatever, because they were just stories, not a continuous narrative that was intended to follow a particular order.

I am currently reading Who Wrote The New Testament? by Burton Mack. He is so certain that Q existed, and as a document, and as a document that was written very early that his whole understanding of the situation is warped. I’ll talk about the book more as I read more (about 100 pages in at the moment), but he takes the Q document as an absolute given. This means that the stories of Jesus have a fixed and specific and meaningful order for him. He is so set on seeing Q as a document–of the sort he is accustomed to reading–that he doesn’t understand the nature of Q as a collection of stories. And that many–most?–of these stories had existed semi-independently of each other for decades.

So no, there is no significance to the fact that Matthew changes the order here. Perhaps he felt that leading with the Baptist instead of Isaiah had more of the feel of ‘in medias res’, in the middle of things, which is how a good novel is supposed to start because that makes it more interesting and lively. 

Now, what does matter is that here, John says “the kingdom of heaven is nigh”. In Mark, it is Jesus who says, “The kingdom of God is nigh”.  It does not matter that this pronouncement is made before Jesus is baptised here, and after Jesus is baptised in Mark. First why the change from “God” to “heaven”? Does it matter? I don’t think so. Rather, I suspect the choice of words was artistic, and not theological. But why did Matthew put the words into John’s mouth? Would there not have been more dramatic impact to leave them for Jesus?

While the answer to that last question is probably affirmative, I think the reason for the change has to do with the expanding role of John. I have suggested, many times, that the later followers of Jesus were eager to strengthen the ties of Jesus to the Baptist, and were not at all interested in playing this connection down. Here is a great example. By having John announce the coming kingdom, the recognition of this cosmic event is pushed back more firmly into the Jewish tradition, thereby lengthening the pedigree of the Jesus movement by several hundred years. As I have argued, John stayed within the boundaries of traditional Judaism, thereby diminishing his potential as an emissary to non-Jews. But his deep roots still mattered. By having John say this, Jesus was no longer an innovator, but the fulfillment of something that even John had recognized and understood. Jesus, thus, became the completion of the story of Israel, and not someone knocking over the house of Judah. Thus the cosmic scale is shifted, the rift between Jesus and the Jews becomes less abrupt, is more a continuation rather than a disruption. And remember: if the intended audience for this is pagans, rather than Jews, there would be less chance that the degree of disruption would be noticed; a Jew who was versed in his or her tradition would have felt the change; a pagan, perhaps not so much. And if that pagan were told that John saw the kingdom coming, he or she would have been more easily convinced of the continuity.

1 In diebus autem illis venit Ioannes Baptista praedicans in deserto Iudaeae

2 et dicens: “ Paenitentiam agite; appropinquavit enim regnum caelorum ”.

3 οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ῥηθεὶς διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ.

For this was what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “A voice (is) crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths’.”

The quote from Isaiah is verbatim. Now, if you want proof that Matthew was copying from Mark, and not directly from the LXX, this seems pretty conclusive. Instead of just “make straight his paths”, the LXX adds “of our God”. It’s kind of an odd thing; why did both Mark and Matthew leave it off? Matthew, presumably, because Mark did, but why didn’t Mark add the three extra words << του θεου ημων >>? I’m not sure there is a real, or a good answer to that. As for why Matthew did, it’s likely because he’s taking it from Mark. The question in this case is, “why”? Again, the answer is mostly likely stylistic, so we could argue our way around the cobbler’s bench and never catch the weasel.   

3 Hic est enim, qui dictus est per Isaiam prophetam dicentem:

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

4 Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰωάννης εἶχεν τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τριχῶν καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, ἡ δὲ τροφὴ ἦν αὐτοῦ ἀκρίδες καὶ μέλι ἄγριον.

For John had (as) his clothing the skin of a camel and a leather belt around his waist, his food was locusts and wild honey.

Again, the part about the camel-skin clothes, leather belt, and John’s diet is pretty much verbatim from Mark. 

4 Ipse autem Ioannes habebat vestimentum de pilis cameli et zonam pelliceam circa lumbos suos; esca autem eius erat locustae et mel silvestre.

5 τότε ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ πᾶσα ἡ Ἰουδαία καὶ πᾶσα ἡπερίχωρος τοῦ Ἰορδάνου,

6 καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν.

And Jerusalem came out to him, and all Judea, and all the land surrounding the Jordan, and they were dunked in the River Jordan by him for the forgiveness of their sins.

Once again, still following Mark basically word-for-word. But what about the implications. Recall, Josephus tells us that John did the submersion for the cleansing of the actual physical body, and specifically says that the immersion was not for the removal of sins. The repentance had occurred before the submersion. This means that the baptism was pretty much what gets called a ritual lustration. Pilate washing his hands, literally, was meant to symbolise something very similar. And given First Century religious practice, both Jewish, pagan, and other, such washing of the exterior was a pretty standard feature of religious practice. Some of this was practical. Remember, washing one’s hands before eating was not necessarily common practice in a world without running water. As such, washing one’s outer body before participating in a religious ritual meant that one was going off the normal path to mark the occasion. But both Mark and Matthew (the latter in the words of the former) specify that this immersion was done for the forgiveness of sins. 

Now, what did they mean by “sins”? The Greek word, at root, means “fault”, or failing, which is more or less the meaning of the term used in Latin, “peccatus“. Interestingly, the Latin root for our word “sin” means “guilt”, in the sense of “criminal”. OK, that’s all great, but what did this mean to the people who wrote it? In Jewish terms, Mack says that a sinner was one who did not live according to Torah. And that will actually do, for the Greek and Latin have a similar implication, that of “failure to meet a standard”. Having been raised in a Christian culture, the idea of everyone being a sinner is pretty much part of the wallpaper. I don’t get the impression that this was a deeply-held attitude before the advent of Christiandom as a geo-political/religious concept. But still, it was there. People fell short, expiation was needed, the wrong had to be set right. But what we need to do is get a better handle on what the authors of the works that became the Christian NT. After three of Paul’s letters and a previous gospel, I still don’t feel like this has been set out all that clearly. What that means, of course, is that the Christianity I was taught by the Dominican sisters may not have exactly been what was in the NT. No wonder the Roman tradition doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on laypersons actually reading the Bible.

5 Tunc exibat ad eum Hierosolyma et omnis Iudaea et omnis regio circa Iordanem,

6 et baptizabantur in Iordane flumine ab eo, confitentes peccata sua.

7  Ἰδὼν δὲ πολλοὺς τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων ἐρχομένους ἐπὶ τὸ βάπτισμα αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, τίς ὑπέδειξεν ὑμῖν φυγεῖν ἀπὸ τῆς μελλούσης ὀργῆς;

8 ποιήσατε οὖν καρπὸν ἄξιον τῆς μετανοίας:

Seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for the baptism by him, (John) said to them “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the intended wrath? Therefore make fruit worthy of repentance.

Generally, it’s rendered as the “coming wrath”, and that is a perfectly suitable translation. However, it misses the implication of being willed, or of intention. Even more, the base meaning of the word in Greek has the sense of “being destined”, per Liddell & Scott. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that sort of changes things a bit. “Destined” is a word with lots of conflicting implications. One one hand, it suggests pagan ideas of fixed outcomes that can be predicted by astrology. OTOH, it can refer to divine intention. Jews, and especially later Christians had a real problem with the idea of astrology, especially with the idea that the future was knowable. But then, what is a prophet? Someone who can foretell events to come. Here, I suspect, it refers to divine intention. As such, this should be related to the idea of the coming kingdom, no? If it’s approaching (as per above in 3:2), then wouldn’t we expect the destined wrath to be part of the deal? This is, of course, related to whether Jesus had a message about End Times, whether he was a preacher of apocalypse, as JD Crossan believes. And this is the problem. There are a number of little clues like this that seem to indicate one thing or another, but they don’t seem to be consistent throughout the gospel, so that we can still be arguing about this fifty or a hundred or five hundred years later. 

Now, this is not in Mark. This is one of the “sayings” that was supposed to be in Q. Frankly, I find that hard to swallow. First, it’s not something Jesus said. Second, it’s something the Baptist said, and I do not believe that the earlier traditions were all that keen on the Baptist. For notice how John’s role has been expanded here. Yes, it could be due to Mark’s ignorance of Q, but that’s one thing that has never been explained. It is just assumed that Mark was ignorant of Q. How do we know this? Because the “Q material” (which we know for a fact was in the document that we know existed that we have chosen to call Q) is not in Mark. Why wasn’t it in Mark? Because Mark didn’t know about it. Personally, I’m beginning to suspect that some of these bits and pieces, these scattered clues got inserted after the fact, that they don’t date back to Jesus at all. As such, they couldn’t have been part of Q, even if such a document ever existed. So tracing something like this to Q because it’s in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark is a bit…how to put this? Well, wrong.

You see, if you google the term “begging the question” (petitio principii), you will find an example like that which I just presented. This book is popular because it’s good. How do we know it’s good? Because it’s popular. This is also called a circular argument, and it’s the proper use of the term “begging the question”. Because the Q proponents–like Mack–find the argument and/or evidence for Q to be entirely self-evident, I have never really seen a good case presented for why Mark was unaware of Q. On one hand, it was, according to Mack, an incredibly early document, probably composed by about 40 CE, and it was so widespread that both Matthew and Luke used it, but Mark somehow missed it. Because he lived in Rome. (I guess). And Paul makes not even the vaguest allusion to anything that could possibly have begun to be taken as a document like Q. This is why the issues of Markan priority is usually bound up with the case for/against Q. If Mark is held to be a later summary of Matthew, the problem of Mark’s ignorance of Q simply goes away: he didn’t include the Q material because he chose not to. Because he wanted to tell the story of Jesus, but didn’t want to include much that Jesus actually said. And he was less convincing, and less convinced that Jesus was divine and was the Christ than previous gospels because…well, just because. 

No. This wording about the brood of vipers was the invention of Matthew. Why? Because Matthew shows himself capable of introducing other issues as well. Like what? Like the Sadducees. Mark makes reference to this group exactly once, in Chapter 12, to tell us that they did not believe in the resurrection of the body. Matthew introduces them here (and forgets about them until Chapter 16). Why did Mark ignore them, but Matthew didn’t? Is it because this group became more prominent in the minds of the Jesus communities between the time Mark wrote and the time Matthew wrote? Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body. As the story of Jesus’ being raised from the dead took hold among more of the Jesus communities, did they increasingly invoke the scorn of the Sadducees? That is an interesting thought. Can’t be proven, but interesting. But then, it’s as likely as a lot of other things suggested. 

 7 Videns autem multos pharisaeorum et sadducaeorum venientes ad baptismum suum, dixit eis: “ Progenies viperarum, quis demonstravit vobis fugere a futura ira?

8 Facite ergo fructum dignum paenitentiae.

9 καὶ μὴ δόξητε λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς, Πατέρα ἔχομεν τὸνἈβραάμ, λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ.

“And do not say amongst yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as a father’. For I tell you that God is able from these stones to raise up children of Abraham.

Let’s see: this bit about children of Abraham is in Matthew, it is in Luke, it is not in Mark. Are we to take it that it’s part of Q? As it turns out, Mack, in his The Lost Gospel of Q does not put this in the lowest, earliest stratum of the Q document. He does, however, put it in the second layer, which means that it existed before Matthew. However, based on content,  I feel pretty confident to say that this is a later addition to the corpus. The point here is that Jews have lost their position of preference amongst God’s creation. They are no longer the Chosen People. Now, children of Abraham could just as easily be rocks that get turned into people. From what I have read so far in Who Wrote The New Testament. I believe he would suggest that this sentiment developed early; indeed, it was part of Jesus’ message of the kingdom. In contrast, it seems much more likely to me that this was added at that point when most new followers of Jesus, and probably most followers of Jesus were of pagan, rather than Jewish heritage. This sentence, and this sentiment were meant to express that the Jews had been superseded by pagans, by Gentiles who had thereby become the “True Israel”. A lot of this is tied in with his interpretation of the Jerusalem Community. I will probably have more to say on this as we go along, but, for now, let me leave it at that. I believe that the sentiment expressed here was a new one, and that Matthew was the first to put it so definitively in writing.

9 et ne velitis dicere intra vos: “Patrem habemus Abraham”; dico enim vobis quoniam potest Deus de lapidibus istis suscitare Abrahae filios.

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

Already the axe lies at the root of the tree. So all trees not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Is this a reference to the “coming” destruction of Jerusalem? Seems like it, especially when coupled with the idea from the last verse about rocks becoming the children of Abraham. In these two verses Matthew is telling us that the Jews have been supplanted and their claim to primacy is about to be destroyed. The Jews rejected Jesus, so they did not bear good fruit, so they were cut down and thrown into the fiery destruction of the Roman crucible. Now Matthew was most likely a Jew by heritage, but I don’t think this exempted him from feeling a certain…self-righteousness given what had happened to the city and its Temple. As such, he could say that the axe was already at the root. And note, this was image was also missing from Mark. I believe that the ideas expressed in this verse and the previous reflect developments that occurred long after Q, with all its strata, had been “written”.

10 Iam enim securis ad radicem arborum posita est; omnis ergo arbor, quae non facit fructum bonum, exciditur et in ignem mittitur.

11 ἐγὼ μὲν ὑμᾶς βαπτίζωἐν ὕδατι εἰς μετάνοιαν: ὁ δὲ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἰσχυρότερός μού ἐστιν, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς τὰ ὑποδήματα βαστάσαι: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί:

I immerse you with water towards repentance. The one coming after me is mightier than I am; I am not worthy to carry his sandal. He will immerse you in the sacred breath and fire.

Here’s a thought: the reference to fire, I think, may be the source of Luke’s tongues of fire that appeared on  Pentecost. Think about it: the combination of the sacred breath and fire…I think that Luke took some of the images and suggestions of Matthew and re-interpreted them in a more poetic fashion.

But, for Matthew, I suspect that the fire is another reference to the “coming” destruction of Jerusalem. Mark also referred to the mightier one; but note how Matthew has changed the description of John’s unworthiness. In Mark, John was not worthy to loosen the strap of Jesus’ sandal; here, John is not worthy to carry Jesus’ sandal. Why the change? Because Matthew is re-working Mark, not making a new copy. Because Mark says that the mightier one will baptise with the sacred breath; Matthew adds the “and with fire”. Luke follows Matthew and adds the fire. So was this in Q? Which? The holy spirit, or the holy spirit and fire? If the first, why is it in Mark? If the second, why is the part about the holy spirit in Mark? Does it not make more sense that Matthew added the part about the fire, and then Luke copied Matthew, because Luke used Matthew as well as Mark? This completely eliminates the need for Q altogether. Matthew and Luke agree on stuff that’s not in Mark because Luke used Matthew, rather than using Mark and some hypothetical Q.

This is the crux of the debate: were there three sources, or only two? I’ve been doing some research on this, but I’m still not entirely sure why Q is necessary. Now, it may be that I’m obtuse (highly possible), or it may be that the “argument” for Q simply doesn’t carry much water. I can’t figure it out because there’s really nothing there to grasp. It’s a tough call. Either scenario (obtuse or obscure?) is very possible.

11 Ego quidem vos baptizo in aqua in paenitentiam; qui autem post me venturus est, fortior me est, cuius non sum dignus calceamenta portare; ipse vos baptizabit in Spiritu Sancto et igni,

12 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ διακαθαριεῖ τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ, καὶ συνάξει τὸν σῖτον αὐτοῦ εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.

“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and he will gather together his grain in his barn, but the chaff will be tossed in the unquenchable fire.”

The fact that Matthew and Luke don’t always follow the order of Mark, IIRC, is supposed to be proof for the existence of Q. The thinking goes something like this: if Matthew or Luke doesn’t follow the order of Mark, then the one deviating from Mark’s order is following Q. Mark, of course, can’t follow Q because he’s not aware of it. So the fact that he, apparently, does follow the order of Q most of the time is just one of those things. It’s never really discussed. I bring this up at this point because of the term “unquenchable fire”. Matthew and Luke both use the term once, and in the context of reporting the speech of the Baptist to the Pharisees and/or Sadducees. Mark uses the term twice, both of them in Chapter 9, in conjunction with the lesson on cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin. So, the question is, if changing the order of events is significant, what about taking a very specific phrase like “unquenchable fire”, one that is used exactly four times in the NT, out of the context in which Mark used it? What, if anything, does this signify? Or did Mark deviate from the usage in Q because he wasn’t aware of it, while Matthew and Luke were faithful to Q? Or did Matthew move the usage to the speech of the Baptist because he thought it had more impact here, and Luke followed suit because Luke follows Matthew pretty faithfully for the most part?

This is. I suppose, a bit of a reductio ad absurdem.  I am not a textual scholar; I do not come from a background of analysing and comparing Scripture. I am not a theologian. Exactly because I’m not, I believe that I look at the problem very differently than Burton Mack, or JD Crossan, or Bart Ehrman. I find a lot of their textual analysis to be a bit thin on the convincing scale. Yes, there are differences. But are all the differences significant? If not, what is the criterion, or what are the criteria that make a difference significant? Too often it seems to be when the scholar has a very firm conviction about what the Evangelist would have done given a particular set of circumstances. “Why of course Luke wouldn’t have ignored that, given his interest in…” I would bet that Matthew took the phrase “unquenchable fire” from Mark, even though he changed the context. Why isn’t that significant? What am I missing here?

But enough of this. Let’s talk about the meaning of the phrase. To us, after 2,000 years of discussion, we immediately assume that the term refers to the fires of Hell. And they may very well do so. But, at this stage of the game, we don’t know that. Remember that Mark’s allusions to damnation were incredibly vague, and maybe only made sense because we could fill in the blanks with our developed Christian knowledge. The fact is, if we were to read (or hear) this passage in isolation, without a lot of background. chances are we would not quite know what to do with this expression. What unquenchable fire? Perhaps new initiates to the faith were given background on this, just as any Christian received in Sunday school or religion class. This is yet another of those threads that need to be watched as we proceed.

My point hereis simple: A lot of the stuff that we know about the NT, about Christianity owes a lot–an awful lot–to several hundred years of inference and inductive reasoning. The leaders of the Reformation understood that, and tried to strip away a lot of the extra-scriptural doctrines that had accumulated, Purgatory being the classic example. The thing is, they still did not question a large body of buried assumptions. Purgatory was nulll and void, but Hell was accepted without question.

 12 cuius ventilabrum in manu sua, et permundabit aream suam et congregabit triticum suum in horreum, paleas autem comburet igni inexstinguibili ”.

13 Τότε παραγίνεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰορδάνην πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.

14 ὁ δὲ Ἰωάννης διεκώλυεν αὐτὸν λέγων,Ἐγὼ χρείαν ἔχω ὑπὸ σοῦ βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ σὺ ἔρχῃ πρός με;

Then Jesus came out of Galilee to the Jordan, towards John the Baptist to be baptized by him. But John refused, saying “I have need to be baptized by you, and you have come to me”.

Why did Jesus get baptized? Why did he seek out John to have this ritual performed?  Presumably, this implies that Jesus was, in some way, disciple of John’s. However, saying that assumes that John had disciples. Yes, there was a scene in Mark, or will be a scene in Matthew or Luke where John’s disciples come to Jesus, but there is about a zero probability that this story has any historical value. Really, based on this tale, it doesn’t sound like John had disciples; he was more the hermit-type, and people came out to him. But, in the least, that Jesus sought out this ritual implies that he was on board with John’s message.

Of course this assumes Jesus actually did get baptized by John. Now, Josephus tells us about John, so there is good reason to believe John was historical, and he did baptize people. The question becomes, did Jesus undergo the ritual. Now, there are those who say that having Jesus start out as a disciple of John is embarrassing to the later church, so it seems more likely to be true. However, I disagree with this assessment that it was embarrassing. The story here is longer than the story in Mark. That is not what would happen if the later followers of Jesus–like Matthew, were embarrassed to admit Jesus’ relationship to John. That Matthew expands the story tells me that Matthew wanted to increase the connection to John. This actually mitigates against–albeit in a minor, or marginal way, Jesus being baptized.

However, the decisive point in favor of the baptism is that this is where Mark’s story starts. Yes, Mark had reason to tie Jesus to John, just as Matthew did, in order to put Jesus firmly in the Jewish tradition. The very old, very respected Jewish tradition. But then Mark also has the point about Jesus beginning his ministry when John was arrested, as if there is a causal connection there. As such, I think there was a relationship, with John in the role of the mentor. (And, incidentally, this relationship puts a hole in Mack’s argument that Jesus was a cynic-like sage, more Greek than Hebrew; how big that hole is, however, is a matter worthy of some discussion).

Finally, of course there is John’s demurral. Now, I see absolutely no reason to take this as anything other than later  propaganda foisted upon us by Matthew. Yes, Matthew wanted to stress the connection; no, Matthew did not want to leave it that John was the superior, the mentor. Rather, John is only the herald, a relationship that is underscored by this demurral on the part of John. That Jesus insisted that the ritual occur probably indicates that the tradition of Jesus’ baptism was too strong to be ignored–although John the Evangelist does exactly that. 

13 Tunc venit Iesus a Galilaea in Iordanem ad Ioannem, ut baptizaretur ab eo.

14 Ioannes autem prohibebat eum dicens: “ Ego a te debeo baptizari, et tu venis ad me? ”.

15 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Ἄφες ἄρτι, οὕτως γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην. τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτόν.

But Jesus responding, said to him “Let it happen now, for in this way by us it is seemly to fulfill all righteousness.” The he allowed him.

That translation is a bit awkward, but the sentence is a bit awkward. It gets the point across well enough. Of course it opens (but does not beg) the question of why this is seemly and righteous. This is an innovation of John, so what is being fulfilled. Really, it’s just another little flourish for Matthew to have Jesus put his stamp of approval on the act. On second thought, it’s a bit more that. Perhaps quite a bit. The point here is to let us know that there is some divine purpose being acted upon here, that this has to be done because it’s God’s will, and that this act is about cosmic balance. In this way, we are to realize that Jesus does what he does because it’s God’s purpose that he do it. 

15 Respondens autem Iesus dixit ei: “ Sine modo, sic enim decet nos implere omnem iustitiam ”. Tunc dimittit eum.

16 βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὐθὺς ἀνέβηἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν [αὐτῷ] οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν [τὸ] πνεῦμα[τοῦ] θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν [καὶ] ἐρχόμενον ἐπ’ αὐτόν:

17 καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα.

Jesus having been submerged (dunked), immediately he came up out of the water, and lo! the heavens opened and he saw the spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. And lo! a voice from the heavens said, “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I delight”.

16 Baptizatus autem Iesus, confestim ascendit de aqua; et ecce aperti sunt ei caeli, et vidit Spiritum Dei descendentem sicut columbam et venientem super se.

17 Et ecce vox de caelis dicens: “Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui ”.

It’s important to understand that John did not baptize Jesus; rather, he submerged Jesus completely in the water. Thus our Baptist brethren (and sisteren) practice full-immersion baptism, rather than the symbolic dripping of water as practiced by the Roman Rite, and the Episcopalians (and probably others).

Second, I still haven’t figured out what to do with << ἰδοὺ >>. There just really is not English equivalent.

Finally, we have the heavens opening and the voice. One interesting change in detail is that Matthew calls this the spirit of God, rather than just the spirit, or the sacred breath. The form of the dove again brings to mind Zeus taking the form of a bull or a swan. Granted, when Zeus did this, he had an actual physical body, rather than what is probably meant to be taken as just a general form without physical substance because it’s “as a dove”. That at least leaves it ambiguous. Mark’s language is virtually identical; Luke will be a bit more clear that it’s just a shape.

Now, unlike in Mark, there is no surprise that Jesus is the son. In Mark, that was the first time we were told this; hence, the Adoptionist heresy. Here, we have already been told that Jesus was conceived by the sacred breath of God, so no surprises here.