Tag Archives: luke

The Birth Narratives of Jesus in the New Testament – Part 1

Have you ever read the birth narratives about Jesus in the New Testament? They are generally a lot later than people know them to be (in terms of manuscript dating). Generally only Papyrus 4 is said to be earlier than Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in the 4th century CE, but it is still generally dated from the late 2nd century to the early 4th century CE. That is roughly between 150 to 300 years after Jesus’ time on earth. Regardless of these facts, the narratives themselves are difficult to follow and understand, they are often in direct contradiction to each other and have almost no overlap. There are important textual variants present in both groups of passages, but this is not meant to be an article focused on textual criticism. Our goal is to read these narratives and then to point out any difficulties we see with them.
Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Luke 2:1-22 (ESV)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

The narrative in Matthew tells us that it took a special sign from God, a star, in order for the wise men to find Joseph, Mary and Jesus. There is no mention of these wise men in the narrative which Luke gives us. Do note, I’m not saying “Matthew” or “Luke” as in reference to historical persons, but as for simple titles to refer to their various stories as presented in the New Testament. Interestingly in Matthew, these wise men first go to Jerusalem to inquire about the location of the Messiah, yet when they reached Jerusalem all the chief priests and scribes of the people (Matthew 2:3-6) were already aware that the Messiah was to be found in Bethlehem. At the outset this first piece of information presents us with the problem of the wise men being not so wise, if all the chief priests and scribes already knew this information (which is a quote from the Old Testament), then how is it possible that the only people to visit baby Jesus are the very people who don’t know how to find him?

What makes this worse is that all of Jerusalem was troubled alongside Herod regarding the news of the birth of the Messiah. If that is the case, then most people in Jerusalem would have known this information, so it was not only all the chief priests and all the scribes, but also most of the people who knew where to find the Messiah. Yet, Herod tasks the wise men to find the Messiah, yet if he already knew they were in Bethlehem and wanted to kill the Messiah, why not send Roman soldiers? Instead, it seems to appear that the authors of Matthew found it sensible to write that the wise men were to go to Herod and ask him information that was widely and publicly circulated, then they were to go to Bethlehem and find him, then they would travel from Bethlehem back to Jerusalem to inform Herod. Such a circumstance allows for only one conclusion, that the authors of Matthew had to provide a window of time for Joseph, Mary and Jesus to fear for their safety and flee out of Bethlehem.

Yet, if we look at the narrative in Luke 2:7, Mary gives birth to Jesus. In Luke 2:8-20, an angel appears to native shepherds who reside near Bethlehem and gives them the news about the Messiah. These shepherds and the angels, along with their conversation is totally absent from Matthew’s version. Luke 2:17-18 then says:

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

The Shepherds then announce the news of the angels and the news directly about Jesus. There is no warning about their safety, no concern about Herod wanting the Messiah to be killed, the shepherds made the news “known” and specifically that “all” who heard the news, wondered about it. Had they been concerned about the Messiah’s safety, why would they make the story “known”? The narratives here have very little overlap, indeed there is no fleeing to Egypt as Matthew recounts, but in the story of Luke, Jesus and his family venture into Jerusalem where Joseph and Mary are to present Jesus in the Temple, as Luke 2:22 says.

There is a simple explanation to all this. If Herod wanted to kill the Messiah, and he knew the Messiah had to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem for presentation before the Lord, then why not have the soldiers present within and throughout Jerusalem, wait at the Temple in secret and then kill every boy who is brought forth?

If one were to read the story of Matthew in isolation, it would be a suspenseful drama, filled with prophecies, fear, intrigue, mystery, violence and a great escape!

If one were to read the story of Luke in isolation, it would be filled with no suspense, no fear, no violence and no great escape, but rather it would appear to be a happy story without any worrying, anxiety or concern.

As Christmas comes closer, we will compare and contrast the various stories, try to make sense of them and even try to solve the contradictions without compromising on the text themselves. If it is possible to find an alternative version which perfectly harmonizes these two narratives, I would love to read it. Unfortunately, I’ve read from Tatian’s to modern authors such as Dr. Licona in an effort to find atleast one version that manages to combine these two narratives without having need to omit or add one element or another. What curious problems do you see in these narratives?

Part 2 can be found here.

and God knows best.

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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)[4]

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.[5]

This is how the line of reasoning is to be laid out:

  1. A genealogy of Jesus is in circulation.
  2. Christians are arguing over this genealogy.
  3. Paul is inspired by God.
  4. Paul has a scribe Luke.
  5. Luke is a believer in Paul and Jesus Christ.
  6. Paul commands Luke to write the letter to Titus.
  7. Luke writes down that Christians should not argue about genealogies.
  8. Luke is inspired by God.
  9. Luke later writes a Gospel.
  10. 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.[6]

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.

Sources:

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.

The Criterion of Embarrassment and the Women of Luke

The Criterion of Embarrassment is an oft-used historical tool by those who seek to authenticate and validate the New Testament Gospels insofar as they are understood as historical literature. However, a thoughtful review of this historical tool in light of the Gospel attributed to Luke presents with it a convincing counter-argument to the usefulness and authority of this tool. The role of women in antiquity, especially those in the Graeco-Roman period within Jerusalem and its surrounding area presents with it a complexity that is not always readily understood or consistent.

Women are revered and respected in the Hebrew Bible’s narratives, Jerusalem itself has had a woman ruler in the century previous to the time of Jesus the Christ.The presuppositional understanding then that the testimony of the women at the tomb were taken to be less authoritative and thus embarrassing for the Gospel authors to include due to their sex ignores the intra-Gospel narrative framework attributed to Luke and the normative gender standards during the first century of the common era.

Alternatively, the paper can be read on Academia.edu or downloaded here.

and God knows best.

Textual Criticism Versus Evangelical Beliefs

There has been a trend of late where evangelical apologists are trying to normalize the cc-2018-sitenews-clashingheadsuse of textual criticism in their understanding of the New Testament. This however, leaves them in an untenable position trying to balance the divergence of textual critical axioms, arguments and evidences with those of their normative faith. This can be seen with apologists such as Dr. White, Dr. Licona and Dr. Wallace. All three are studying or have studied textual criticism to some degree and there stands a myriad of obvious issues that need be sorted out.

Consider the case of the nature of revelation itself. On a recent Dividing Line program Dr. White along with Dr. Brown chose to argue that the Greek Septuagint was stronger in its wording than the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls were when it came to prophecies about Jesus (John Calvin notably argued the same for Paul’s use of the Septuagint and its associated divergences). The obvious issue here is that according to their own classical beliefs, the Old Testament was not revealed (and written) in Greek. Surely then, according to the confessions, it is traditionally understood that inerrancy primarily refers to the autographs. In other words, God chose the men who wrote the “books” of the Old Testament in a specific language. God chose men, again, according to their beliefs to word scripture to the best degree of accuracy and understanding possible. How is it then possible that a translation by unknown people can represent scripture better than the people that God chose to represent His teachings for Him? That does not make sense. Yet this is the position they now hold to, a position that is absolutely advantageous for Muslims doing da’wah.

Then there is the other argument of the Old Testament (as per the program responded to here), that it descended to us in various streams and that different scribes (as well as copyists) chose one variant over another because they completed the exposition of a verse better, as Dr. White referred to it, “sermonic expansion”. So there was addition to the text, addition not by the initial authors whom God chose, yet somehow this is not corruption. Odd reasoning here. Clearly cognitive dissonance at work. What then do we make of the claim that there were different streams? Yes, we agree, but did God intend to give authority to each stream? If that was the case then the later Masoretic Text would have authorial primacy and importance, rather than a translation in the form of the Septuagint that came before it, if we were to consider it with respect to chronology. Yet we find most Christian apologists referring and giving importance to the Septuagint while wholly ignoring the Latin and Samaritan texts, are those too not viable streams? Who then, gave the scribes authority to choose from those streams? Those anonymous and unknowable scribes? Again, problems arise.

What then do we make of the claim that there existed actual men within the first century by the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who would be considered the initial authors? Isn’t it the case in New Testament Textual Criticism through stemmatics and philology that each Gospel is a composite work, the result of more than one author in various periods throughout history? How then can Matthew be one man and yet many, not existing at one time, but many simultaneously? Yes, I do recognize such thinking to be absurd, which is why I find it almost impossible to take anyone seriously who argues for a singular, inspired authorship, yet still accepts – at the same time – that there were multiple authors to one text as is the standard position. Yes, you are right in asking that no right thinking evangelical would accept composite authorship, yet today in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, the standard critical text that the aforementioned men believe in, contains conjectural emendations. These are instances where the textual critic has decided that their version of a passage best represents the original without any manuscript evidence for their version ever having existed. Surely, today’s evangelicals don’t hold to the position that the folks on the Nestle-Aland committee are inspired by God, so wouldn’t that then confirm they accept the words of multiple people for one Gospel, rather than one individual from the 1st century? It does, yet again we arrive at a problem.

So while I am happy that today’s Christian apologists are becoming more liberal towards the New Testament and affirming the Qur’an’s claims about their attitude to Scripture, I also mourn for the aloofness that abounds otherwise.

and God knows best.