The Spirit and the Birth of Jesus: Part 4 (Luke 3:22)

The Birth of Jesus as the Son of God
(The example of Psalm 2:7)

In the concluding notes of Part 3, we looked at Galatians 4:1-7 (and the similar passage in Romans 8:12-17), where the birth of Jesus is connected to the sonship of believers. There is thus an implicit parallel established between Jesus’ incarnate birth (as a human being) and believers’ divine birth (as sons/children of God). In Galatians and Romans, Paul uses the idiom of adoption, rather than birth per se, but he is quite capable of referring to believers being “born” (cf. 4:23, 29). This “birth” takes place through the Holy Spirit, when believers receive the Spirit (Rom 8:15f).

Traditionally, the receiving of the Spirit occurred during (and was symbolized by) the baptism rite. In this regard, believers follow the type-pattern of Jesus’ own baptism, when the Spirit descended on/into him (Mark 1:10 par). This brings up an important point of Christology.

We have already examined how, from the standpoint of the earliest Christology, Jesus’ identity as God’s Son was understood primarily in terms of his resurrection and exaltation (to heaven). In this regard, he could be said to have been “born” as God’s Son as a result of the resurrection and exaltation. This is demonstrated quite clearly by the use of Psalm 2:7 in Paul’s Antioch speech in the book of Acts (13:33, cf the context of vv. 30-37). As it happens, the same Scripture-verse is cited, in the context of Jesus’ baptism, in the ‘Western’ text of the Lukan version (3:22).

Luke 3:22

In the majority of manuscripts, the words of the heavenly voice (3:22b) match those of the other Synoptic versions (Mark 1:11 par):

“You are my Son [su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou], the (Be)loved One [o( a)gaphto/$]; I have good thought/consideration in you [e)n soi eu)do/khsa]”

There is probably an echo of Isa 42:1 here, a Messianic passage for which the parallel is even closer in the Lukan version of the voice at the Transfiguration (9:35, cf. my earlier discussion). In the opening lines of that prophetic poem, God declares that He has put His Spirit upon the servant-figure (“I have given my Spirit upon him”). Moreover, the figure of a young servant (db#u#), beloved by his master, is not that far removed from the figure of a son. This is all the more so, when we consider that the word used by the LXX (pai=$) to translate db#u# can mean both “servant” and “child”. It is easy to see how the Greek version could take on a subtle interpretive shift to approximate the message of the Heavenly Voice—

my child [o( pai=$ mou]…my soul thinks good [e&dwka] of him…”

all in connection with the act of God “giving” His Spirit to be “upon” the beloved child/servant. For further study, cf. my article in the series on “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition,” as well as the supplemental note on Isa 42:1-4; see also the exegetical note (on Isa 42:1 and 61:1) in the series on the Spirit in the Old Testament.

However, in the ‘Western’ Text of Luke 3:22b—in Codex D [Bezae] and a number of Old Latin manuscripts (a b c d ff2, l, r1)—and in the writings quite a few Church Fathers (cf. the footnote at the end of this article), the heavenly voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7:

“You are my son; today I have caused you to be (born)”
ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/ e)gw\ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se

This verse, of course, came to be a primary Messianic reference as applied to Christ, though usually in connection with the resurrection, not the baptism (Acts 13:33 [cf. above]; Heb 1:5; 5:5). While a number of scholars do accept this minority reading in Lk 3:22b as original (for a good summary and defense of this position, see Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture pp. 62-67, and notes), it is usually regarded as a secondary (variant) reading. I would tend to agree with this opinion, and would point to the very usage of Psalm 2:7, in connection with the resurrection, as an indication that its association with the baptism (in Lk 3:22 v.l.) reflects a measure of the Christological development that took place in the first century. This point deserves to be discussed a bit further.

Christological Development

There are two lines of early Christian tradition in which Jesus was identified as God’s Son, connected with the presence and work of God’s Spirit. The first is the resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation to God’s right hand in heaven (cf. above). The second involves the Messianic identity of Jesus, connected in the early Gospel tradition with the Isaian prophecies in 42:1ff (cf. above) and 61:1ff, and located, in the Gospel narrative, at the beginning of his public ministry—that is, at his baptism (and thereafter).

As the prophetic context of Isa 42:1 and 61:1 makes clear, the earliest strands of the Gospel tradition identified Jesus primarily as a Messianic prophet-figure, rather than the royal Davidic Messiah. Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophet figure-types is well-rooted in the Gospel tradition, but is hardly to be found at all in the remainder of the New Testament, and by the 2nd century the idea of Jesus as an Anointed/Eschatological Prophet had virtually disappeared from Christian thought. Even in the New Testament period, the Messianic identity of Jesus soon was understood primarily in terms of the Davidic Messiah, but also (and increasingly) through the figure of a Divine/Heavenly Savior who would appear at the end-time. I discuss all of these Messianic figure-types at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”; on the Prophet-types, cf. Parts 2 and 3; the royal/Davidic figure is discussed in Parts 6-8, and the Heavenly Deliverer (Son of Man, etc) in Part 10.

Early on, as Jesus’ Messianic identity came to be defined increasingly in terms of a royal Messiah (from the line of David), it is easy to see how Psalm 2:7 might have been cited in the context of Jesus’ baptism, in place of the allusion to Isa 42:1. This could have been done by the Gospel writer (trad. Luke) himself, in which case the quotation of Psalm 2:7 by the Heavenly Voice would be the original reading. But it is just as likely that Psalm 2:7 could have been included subsequently by a copyist, whether intentionally or mistakenly, perhaps inserted by way of a marginal gloss. Just as the Israelite/Judean king could be regarded as God’s “son”, with his coronation as a “birth”, in a figurative and symbolic sense, so could one speak of the royal Messiah as having been born as God’s son (on this, cf. my earlier series on “The Birth of the Messiah”). The prophetic motif of being “anointed” by God’s Spirit (Isa 61:1) could easily be understood in the sense of a royal anointing (for the Davidic Messiah).

Gradually, of course, early Christians came to realize that Jesus must have been the Son of God, in the sense of his exalted and Divine status, even prior to his resurrection—that is, during the time of his earthly ministry. In this regard, the announcement of the Voice at his baptism, declaring that he is God’s Son, would go far beyond the Messianic sense of sonship, implying that Jesus possessed an exalted/Divine position (and nature) even from the beginning of his earthly ministry (i.e., at his baptism). Here, the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 in terms of the resurrection is significant, when it is applied to an earlier point in Jesus’ life. 

In the next section of this article, we will turn to another use of Psalm 2:7, by the author of Hebrews, to see how the Christological aspects surrounding the idea of Jesus’ “birth” (as the Son of God) underwent further development in the later 1st century.

The primary patristic citations for the ‘Western’ reading of Luke 3:22b (cf. above) are as follows: Justin Martyr [Dialogue with Trypho 88, 103], Clement of Alexandria [Paedagogus I.25], Origen [Commentary on John I.29 {32}], Methodius [Symposium VIII.9], the Didascalia [93], Lactantius [Institutes IV.15], Hilary of Poitiers [On the Trinity VIII.25], Augustine [Harmony II.14, Enchiridion 49, Against Faustus 23], and so forth; it was also, apparently, the text found in the so-called Gospel According to the Hebrews [cf. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah 11, 12] and Gospel of the Ebionites [cf. Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13], which may be derived from Luke’s reading, and in the Apocryphal Acts [e.g., Acts of Peter and Paul sect. 29]. It is sometimes difficult to know when a Church Father is citing a specific Gospel, but most of these references would seem to be from Luke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *