Luke’s Paradox in Light of Titus 3:9
In the New Testament we find an interesting paradox that affects Biblical inerrancy on the whole. Paul is said to have had scribes write on his behalf, these individuals are known as amanuenses (meaning that Paul would speak and these men would write on his behalf). One of these men is said to be Lucian, known today as Luke. Sean Adams, a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow in New Testament and Ancient Culture writes:
One of the recurring suggestions for a relationship between Paul and Luke is that Luke was Paul’s amanuensis or secretary and assisted in the writing of some of his letters, most notably the Pastoral Epistles.
Indeed, historical sources do refer to Luke’s association with Paul, as is also noted by Eusebius (4th century CE) in his Church History, Book 3, Chapter 4, titled, “The First Successors of the Apostles.” Though it should also be noted that scholars do agree the New Testament works are primarily anonymous and these are but later attestations from Church history with apologists assuming that these later titles are likely “accurate”:
All four gospels are anonymous, but ancient tradition holds that their titles—the gospel of Matthew, the gospel of Mark, the gospel of Luke, and the gospel of John—accurately indicate their authors.
The book of Acts is also anonymous. But the first two verses state that the author had previously written a gospel addressed to Theophilus, to whom the gospel of Luke is addressed (Luke 1:3). So there is a clear link between the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, and ancient Christian tradition held that Luke is the author of both.
Working from the assumption that Christian history is accurate is highly problematic, but useful for inquiry of the New Testament, we are presented with the curious case of Titus 3:9 which is a letter of Paul to Titus, written by one of Paul’s amanuenses, likely Luke. This is what the passage reads:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. (NIV)
This is where the paradox begins, Paul speaks and Luke writes down the above verse. Years later, as tradition holds, Luke authors the Gospel According to Luke. The problem? He includes a genealogy in chapter 3 from verse 23 to verse 38 (NIV):
23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph,
the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat,
the son of Levi, the son of Melki,
the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph,
25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos,
the son of Nahum, the son of Esli,
the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath,
the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein,
the son of Josek, the son of Joda,
27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa,
the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel,
the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melki,
the son of Addi, the son of Cosam,
the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,
29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer,
the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat,
the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon,
the son of Judah, the son of Joseph,
the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim,
31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna,
the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan,
the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse,
the son of Obed, the son of Boaz,
the son of Salmon,[d] the son of Nahshon,
33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram,[e]
the son of Hezron, the son of Perez,
the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob,
the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,
the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu,
the son of Peleg, the son of Eber,
the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan,
the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,
the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch,
the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel,
the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh,
the son of Seth, the son of Adam,
the son of God.
This is how the line of reasoning is to be laid out:
- A genealogy of Jesus is in circulation.
- Christians are arguing over this genealogy.
- Paul is inspired by God.
- Paul has a scribe Luke.
- Luke is a believer in Paul and Jesus Christ.
- Paul commands Luke to write the letter to Titus.
- Luke writes down that Christians should not argue about genealogies.
- Luke is inspired by God.
- Luke later writes a Gospel.
- Luke includes a genealogy that disputes with a genealogy already in circulation.
If we assume that Luke was indeed the scribe of Paul as some Christian history attests to, then we have a problem stacked upon another problem. This would mean that the same God who inspired Paul to have Luke write that arguments about genealogies were useless, also later inspired Luke to write a competing genealogy that to this day causes a great deal of controversy due to it contradicting the genealogy found in the Gospel According to Matthew. If we assume the Gospel According to Matthew was also inspired by the same God, then we have God at first saying disputing about genealogies is unprofitable and useless, then the same God inspires Luke and Matthew to write competing genealogies that are equally unprofitable and useless. This does not bode well for inerrancy.
There are solutions however, though they provide their own sets of problems. If we assume that the Luke which wrote for Paul was not the same Luke who wrote the Gospel, we still have the problem of the same God inspiring two different people with a contradicting message (Paul and Luke), this is then compounded by the author of the Gospel According to Matthew writing another competing genealogy.
If we assume that the Luke who wrote for Paul was also not the same Luke who wrote the Gospel, then we have a later author directly contradicting Paul and choosing to disobey him (since this later Luke is writing after Paul and should have known about the prohibition in Titus 3:9), thus indicating that Paul should be rejected.
If we assume the two Lukes are the same, then not only do we have this Luke writing for Paul and then choosing to later contradict him openly, but this also means that he would have rejected Paul’s authority and therefore also rejected his letter to Titus as scripture.
Whichever way we choose to examine Titus 3:9, we are left with options that lead us to reject Paul, to reject Luke, to reject Matthew and to reject the writings of the New Testament as internally inconsistent and confusing, for as 1 Corinthians 14:33 (KJV) states:
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
The problem is further compounded by the idea that the authors of the New Testament should be considered Prophets, this includes Paul, Luke (or the Lukes) and Matthew:
Like the authors of the Old Testament, the New Testament authors should also be considered prophets. But more specifically, they were either apostles or closely related to an apostle. An apostle is a person who is sent out as a spokesperson and is given the authority of the one who sent him. A present-day example is the secretary of state, who is sent to speak to world leaders as the representative of the president with the very authority of the president. The apostles of the New Testament were sent out by Jesus Christ to speak for him with his delegated authority. That makes this responsibility an immensely important and influential one.
However, Deuteronomy 18:22 (NIV) forewarns (emphasis mines):
If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.
Given that both the warning in Titus 3:9 and the genealogies found in Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3 contradict each other in message, wisdom and meaning (the prohibition on genealogies was not adhered to by the New Testament authors), then we can conclude from Deuteronomy 18:22 and 1 Corinthians 14:33 that the works and their authors were not speaking on behalf of God.
and God knows best.
1 – Sean, A. (2013). The Relationships of Paul and Luke: Paul’s Letters and the “We” Passages of Acts (p 126). Brill.
2 – Aaron, D. (2012). Understanding Your Bible in 15 Minutes a Day (pp. 76–77). Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publisher.
3 – Aaron, D. (2012). Understanding Your Bible in 15 Minutes a Day (p. 78). Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publisher.
4 – Titus 3:9 (2011). Biblica.
5 – Luke 3:23-38 (2011). Biblica.
6 – Aaron, D. (2012). Understanding Your Bible in 15 Minutes a Day (p. 76). Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publisher.