Today, January 6, traditionally called Epiphany, was the date associated with Jesus’ birth in the Eastern Church by the late-3rd century, corresponding to December 25th in the West. During the 4th century, a kind of ‘cultural exchange’ took place, whereby each Tradition adopted the date of the other—in the West, Jan 6 came to be associated with the visit of the Magi (Matt 2:1-12), and with Jesus’ baptism in the East. The Greek word e)pifa/neia (epipháneia) is derived from e)pifai/nw (epiphaínœ)—”shine forth upon”, i.e., upon earth (or upon us)—often in the sense of the manifestation or (sudden) appearance of someone (in Greek usage, this could include the appearance of a deity). The root meaning clearly relates to the shining of light; and, it is in this context that I wish to examine light associated with the “Birth of the Son of God”—briefly, according to three aspects:
Jesus as light
Light imagery in the Infancy narratives, principally the star of Matt 2:1-12
2. Light in the Infancy narrative—the Star of Matt 2:1-12
The main image of light associated with the birth of Jesus, is the famous “Star of Bethlehem” in Matt 2:1-12 (see vv. 2, 7, 9-10). The wording of these references is worth noting:
V. 2: “Where is the (one) produced [i.e. born] (as) King of the Jews? For we saw [ei&domen] his star [au)tou= to\n a)ste/ra] in the rising up [e)n th=| a)natolh=|] and came to kiss toward him [i.e. worship, give homage to him]”
V. 7: “Then Herod, calling the Magoi privately, sought (to know) exactly alongside [i.e. from] them the time of the star’s shining (forth) [tou= fainome/nou a)ste/ro$]”
V. 9: “…and see [i)dou/]!—the star [o( a)sth/r] which they saw [ei@don] in the rising up [e)n th=| a)natolh=|] led (the way) before them until, coming, it stood [e)sta/qh] over above where the child was”
V. 10: “And seeing [i)do/nte$] the star [to\n a)ste/ra], they were extremely glad (with) great gladness”
As discussed in a previous note, in the ancient world, according to tradition (and/or superstition) a star or other celestial phenomena were often thought to accompany (and mark) the birth of great persons, such as a king or ruler. For a 1st-century A.D. belief that a world-ruler would arise from the Jews, cf. Josephus, Jewish War VI.310-12, and Tacitus, Histories V.13. In all likelihood, this latter idea stems from Messianic expectation of the period—that is, for an end-time king from the line of David who would restore the kingdom to Israel (cf. Acts 1:6ff; Luke 2:25, 38, etc). For the 1st-century B.C.—prior to the time of Jesus himself—our best information comes from the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls). Among the Old Testament passages which were given a Messianic interpretation, one of the most prominent was Balaam’s oracle in Numbers 24:15-19, especially the parallel couplet of verse 17:
la@r*c=Y]m! fb#v@ <q*w+ / bq)u&Y~m! bk*oK Er^D* “a star will march from Ya’aqob / and a staff/branch will stand up from Yisrael”
Both the verbs Er^D* (“walk, tread”) and <Wq (“stand, rise”) in context would seem to indicate dominion or rule. The noun fb#v@ is the branch or stick (i.e. “staff, scepter”) which a ruler wields. In the Greek (the LXX) this verse is rendered as:
a)natalei= a&stron e)c Iakwb / kai\ a)nasth/setai a&nqrwpo$ e)c Israhl “a star will rise up out of Ya’aqob / and a man will stand up out of Yisrael”
The peculiar use of “man” (a&nqrwpo$) in place of fb#v@ (“staff”) in the LXX could conceivably be an interpretive gloss, i.e. on the “star”, to specify that a (human) ruler is meant, as in the Aramaic Targums. We find a quasi-Messianic interpretation of Num 24:17 in the Damascus Document (CD 7 [MS A]), where the “star” and “staff” seem to refer to separate figures. There is a relatively clear “Messianic” allusion (connected to Isa 11:1-5) in 1QSb 5:27, and it is also cited in an eschatological context in 4Q175 and 1QM 11:6-7. That Num 24:17 was understood in a definite Messianic sense by the early 2nd-century is indicated by its use in the Testament of Judah 24:1-6 and by the revolutionary leader Simeon bar-Kosiba who was called bar-Kokhba (“son of the Star”).
Interestingly, Num 24:17 is not used in reference to Jesus in the New Testament, apart from a possible allusion to it here in Matt 2:1-12. I have discussed this possibility in a note last Christmas season. Apart from the common reference to a star, consider the linguistic parallels (marked by italics in the quotations of vv. 2, 7, 9-10 above):
Repeated references to seeing (Greek ei&dw) the star—Num 24:17 beings by Balaam declaring “I see him…” (LXX “I will show/point [to] him”); Balaam was a seer whose “eyes were open” (vv. 15, 16)
In Num 24:17, the star “will rise up” (a)natalei=, from a)nate/llw); the Magi saw the star in the “rising up” (related noun a)natolh/), which sometimes is meant in the directional sense of “east” (i.e. the sun’s rising), but here probably should be rendered literally—they followed the star from the time of its rising.
There is (perhaps) a faint echo in the star standing (“it stood” [e)sta/qh]) where the child was (v. 9); in Num 24:17, the staff (or man in LXX) stands (up) (Greek a)nasth/setai).
In both Matt 2 and the LXX, the star is identified specifically with a man (or a male child)—”his star” (Mat 2:2, cf. also v. 9 “…where the child was”)
It should also be pointed out that, in Jewish tradition at least as early as Philo (Life of Moses I.276), and thus contemporary with the New Testament, Balaam was referred to as a magos (ma/go$, plur. ma/goi [“Magi”]).
There are two other passages, in the Lukan Infancy narratives, which utilize similar light imagery:
These are the last lines of the “Song of Zechariah” (the Benedictus); to preserve the immediate context, I include verse 77:
“…77to give knowledge of salvation to his people, in (the) release [i.e. forgiveness] of their sins 78through the inner-organs of (the) mercy of our God, in which a rising-up [a)natolh/] out of (the) height will look upon us, 79to shine (forth) upon [e)pifa=nai] the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death, to put our feet down straight into (the) way of peace”
Note the use of a)natolh/ (“rising up”) and the verb e)pifai/nw (“shine [forth]”), similar to that in Matt 2:2, 7 (above) and Isa 60:1-2 LXX (also mentioned above). The specific meaning of a)natolh/ here is not entirely certain, but it would seem to refer to the sun or a great light generally. Though verses 76ff relate primarily to the child John (uttered by his father), vv. 78-79 evince a Messianic application or interpretation of the (Deutero-)Isaian verses Isa 60:1-2; 42:6-7; 9:2 (also perhaps Mal 4:2 [3:20]), and, in context, clearly refer to Jesus.
This is the concluding couplet of the brief “Song of Simeon” (the Nunc Dimittis, vv. 29-32). As with Lk 1:78-79, the canticle draws upon the language and imagery of several (Deutero-)Isaian passages—namely, Isa 40:5; 42:6; 46:13; 49:6; 52:9-10 (cf. above). Simeon’s prophetic oracle identifies the child Jesus with salvation—”my eyes saw [ei@don] your salvation, which you [i.e. God] prepared according to the face [i.e. before] all the peoples” (vv. 30-31). On the use of ei&dw (“see”) in Matt 2:2ff and Balaam seeing the future figure (Num 24:15-17), cf. above. At the start of v. 32, this salvation is described as light (fw=$), followed (and qualified) by two purpose phrases governed by the preposition ei)$ (“into/unto”):
“uncovering [a)poka/luyin] of the nations” [i.e. Gentiles]
“esteem [do/can] of your people Israel”
The light does two things: (1) it shines upon the people (from the nations) who are in darkness (cf. Lk 1:79), and (2) it gives glory to God’s people Israel. In the Lukan context, this esteem/glory (do/ca) involves the joining of the Gentiles with the people (lao/$, sing.) of God to form “the peoples” (laoi/, plur.), v. 31. For a similar idea in Luke-Acts, see esp. Acts 26:18, 23.
Four times in the New Testament, believers are described as “sons of light” (including once “children of light”):
Luke 16:8—”…the sons of this Age are intelligent/thoughtful over [i.e. more than] the sons of light [tou\$ ui(ou\$ tou= fw=to$]…”
John 12:36—”as you hold the light, trust into the light, so that you might come to be sons of light [ui(oi\ fwto/$]”
1 Thess 5:5—”for you are all sons of light [ui(oi\ fwto/$] and sons of (the) day [ui(oi\ h(me/ra$]; we are not of (the) night and not of darkness”
Eph 5:8—”for then (previously) you were darkness, but now light—(so) walk about as offspring [i.e. children] of light [te/kna fwto/$]”
The expression “sons of light” (Heb. roa yn@B=b§nê °ôr, Aram. ar*hon+ yn@B=b§nê n§hôr¹°) is known from the Qumran texts (1QS 1:9; 2:16; 3:13, 24-25; 1QM 1:1, 3, 9, 11, 13; 1QFlor  frag 1 vv. 8-9; 1QCatena  frag 11-10 v. 7, 12-13 v. 11; 4Q544 frag 3 v. 1; 4Q548 frag 1 vv. 9-10ff), and so was presumably already part of traditional Jewish religious language adopted by the New Testament writers. In Semitic idiom, “sons of…” often indicates belonging to a particular group, especially among those who possess a certain attribute or characteristic. In the Qumran texts, strong dualistic imagery is used—the contrast with “sons of darkness, sons of Belial”—and it was the faithful Community that saw itself as “sons of light” (par. “sons of justice”, ” sons of truth”, “sons of heaven”, etc), just as for early Christians the expression would relate to faithful believers. Within the New Testament, sonship for believers is metaphorical and spiritual, depending on our union with Christ (through the Spirit)—I have already discussed the idea of believers as “sons of God” in prior notes, and will do so again, in more detail, in an upcoming note.
It is in the Gospel of John that we find the (reciprocal) relationship between Christ (the Son) and believers (the “sons”) defined and described in terms of light:
John 1:4-9—Jesus as the true (Divine) Light (cf. 1 Jn 1:5) coming into the world [e)rxo/menon ei)$ to\n ko/smon] (v. 9)
John 3:19-21—Light has come into the world [e)lh/luqen ei)$ to\n ko/smon], but people love darkness rather than light (contrast of light vs. darkness established, cf. John 1:5)
John 8:12 (and 9:5)—Jesus: “I am the Light of the world [tou= ko/smou]”—believers following Jesus will walk in light, not darkness (1 Jn 1:7; 2:8-10), and will have “the light of life”
John 11:9-10; 12:35-36—the emphasis is on believers walking in light, with the contrast between light vs. darkness; note the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection/exaltation: the Son (of Man) being lifted high Jn 12:36 is the climactic reference: “that you may come to be [ge/nhsqe] sons of light”—see the similar use of gi/nomai in Jn 1:12-13 (“he gave them authority to come to be [gene/sqai] offspring/children of God”)
In John 12:46 Jesus again identifies himself as the Light that has come into the world
In Eastern Tradition, the baptism of Jesus (commemorated Jan 6) involves an interesting (and beautiful) light motif:
According to at least one strand of early tradition, when Jesus was in the river, at the descent of the Spirit, a great light appeared in the water. This detail was part of the 2nd-century Diatessaron (Gospel harmony) of Tatian, according to commentators Isho’dad and Dionysius Barsalibi (9th and 12th centuries), and is found in two Latin manuscripts (at Matt 3:15), as well as being mentioned by Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho §88) in the mid/late-2nd century (cf. also Epiphanius’ Panarion 30.13.7). The baptismal tradition of the Eastern (Syrian) Churches expresses the idea that, during Jesus’ baptism, he left something of his glory and presence in the water—at the spiritual/mystical level—which believers then receive when they are baptized. Even though he does not mention it in his Commentary on the Diatessaron, Ephrem the Syrian makes much of this image, drawing upon the parallel between the glory lost by Adam that is restored to humankind through Christ. He mentions it several times in his Hymns on the Nativity, in connection with Jesus’ birth (e.g. Hymn 1.43, 16.11, 22.39, 23.13, also the Ps-Ephrem Epiphany Hymn 4.19-20, 12.1, etc). In stanzas 21-22 of Nativity Hymn 6, Ephrem juxtaposes the light of the star at Jesus’ birth (cf. above) with the light at Jesus’ baptism:
…the star of light cried out in the air, “Behold the King’s Son!” The sky was opened, the water sparkled; the dove hovered over; the voice of the Father, more weighty than thunder said, “This is My Beloved”… (translation Kathleen E. McVey, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns [Paulist Press:1989])
December 28th traditionally commemorates the “Massacre of the Innocents” as narrated in Matthew 2:13-23. In the series “The Old Testament and the Birth of Jesus” I examined the use and influence of the Old Testament in this passage, especially the citation of Jeremiah 31:15 in verse 18. Today I will be looking specifically at the citation of Hosea 11:1 in verse 15, according to the theme for this Christmas season of “The Birth of the Son of God“.
Matthew 2:15 (Hosea 11:1b)
The citation of Hos 11:1b punctuates the flight into Egypt (vv. 14-15a), following the angelic appearance in a dream to Joseph, warning him (v. 13). The citation-formula follows in verse 15b:
“…(so) that it might be (ful)filled, the (thing) uttered by (the) Lord through the Foreteller [i.e. Prophet], saying ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son'”
The Gospel writer cites Hos 11:1b in a form closer to the Aquila version rather than the Septuagint (LXX), and is generally an accurate rendering of the Hebrew:
yn]b=l! yt!ar*q* <y]r^x=M!m!W “and from Egypt I called ‘My Son'”
e)c Ai)gu/ptou e)ka/lesa to\n ui(o/n mou “out of Egypt I called my Son”
The Hebrew verb ar*q*, like the Greek kale/w, can mean “call” either in the sense of summoning a person or giving a name to someone; it is possible that both meanings of arq are played on in Hosea 11:1, as I indicate above with the use of quote marks.
In considering the expression “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=), as well as the plural “Sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=), in the New Testament, early Christians appear to have drawn upon the three primary ways it is used in the Old Testament and ancient tradition:
Of divine/heavenly beings, especially in the plural (“Sons of God”)
Of the king as God’s “son” in a symbolic or ritual sense
Of the people of Israel (collectively) as God’s “son”
The first two uses will be discussed further in upcoming notes; here I focus on the third—Israel as the “son of God”. There are several passages in the Old Testament where Israel is referred to (collectively) as God’s son, most notably in Exod 4:22, but see also Isa 1:2f; 30:1, 9; Jer 31:9; Mal 1:6, and here in Hos 11:1. Admittedly the title “son of God” does not appear in the Hebrew Old Testament in such a context, but the Greek ui(o\$ qeou= is used of Israel in the deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom (Wis 18:13, for more on this passage cf. below). Interestingly, the Prophetic references above draw upon a basic thematic construct:
Israel as a disobedient son
Disobedience brings punishment (i.e. exile)
God ultimately will restore his son, bringing him (repentant/obedient) back out of exile
This is very much the context of Hos 11. A number of the oracles in Hosea are messages of judgment couched in brief and evocative summaries of Israelite history, such as we see in chapter 11:
Israel/Ephraim as a disobedient child (vv. 1-4), with disobedience understood primarily in terms of idolatry, involving elements of pagan Canaanite religion
Disobedience leads to punishment (vv. 5-7), understood as a return to “Egypt”, i.e. conquest and exile into Assyria
(verses 8-9, in colorful anthropomorphic terms, depict God as being torn between whether or not to proceed with the judgment)
God ultimately will bring his son back out of exile (vv. 10-11)
All of this, of course, is foreign to the Gospel writer’s use of the passage, except in terms of the general framework of Exodus and Return from Exile. Certainly, he would not have seen Jesus as a disobedient son, though he may well have in mind a connection with Jesus (as Savior) and the sin of disobedient Israel (Matt 1:21). It would seem that the author (and/or the tradition he has inherited) really only has first verse of Hosea 11 in view, taking it more or less out of context and applying it to Jesus. There are four elements in the verse which might lead to it being used this way:
Israel as a child—Jesus is a child (infant)
The context of the Exodus narrative, especially the birth and rescue of Moses (Exod 1:15-2:10), for which there is a clear historical/literary correspondence and synchronicity with Matt 2:13-23
The mention of Egypt—coming out of “Egypt” is symbolic of both the Exodus and a Return from exile (in Assyria); note the exile context of Jer 31:15 as well—these themes have been applied in Matt 2:13-23 and influenced the shaping of the narrative
Israel as God’s son (“My Son”)
It is also possible that the birth of Israel (as God’s people, i.e. his “son”) is implied in Hos 11:1b. If we consider v. 1a as a kind of setting for the oracle—literally, “For Israel (was) a youth [ru^n~] and I loved him”, however the force of the syntax is best understood as a temporal clause: “When Israel was a youth/child, I loved him…” The context of vv. 2-4, as in Isa 1:2ff; 30:1, 9, suggests a child being raised (by God), who comes to be disobedient, unwilling to heed the guidance and authority of his Father. If so, then v. 1b could indicate the initial stages of life, i.e. the birth and naming of the child, in a metaphorical sense. Israel was “born” in Egypt (cf. Exod 4:22 and the death of the firstborn motif), passing through the waters (i.e. crossing the Sea), into life (the Exodus), being “raised” during the wilderness period and thereafter. It is in just such a context that God calls Israel “My Son”. Consider, in this regard, the naming associated with the conception/birth of Jesus in the angel’s announcement to Mary:
“he will be called ‘Son of the Highest’ [ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai]” (Lk 1:32)
“(the child)…will be called…’Son of God’ [klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou=]” (Lk 1:35)
“I called (him) ‘My Son’ [yn]b=l! yt!ar*q*e)ka/lesa to\n ui(o/n mou]” (Hos 11:1 / Matt 2:15)
There is an interesting connection here with the reference to Israel as “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=) in Wisdom 18:13, mentioned above. There, too, the setting is the Exodus, and specifically the death of the firstborn motif—beginning with the rescue of Moses (v. 5a), which is set in parallel with the tenth plague, involving the Passover celebration and the death of the Egyptian firstborn, which directly precedes and initiates the Exodus (cf. Exod 11-12). This is narrated in Wisdom 18:5b-12, after which we find the statement in verse 13b:
“upon the destruction of their first(born) offspring, as one [i.e. together] they counted (your) people to be (the) son of God”
The death of the firstborn is narrated again, even more powerfully, in vv. 14-19. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, verses 14-15 came to be associated with the incarnation and birth of Jesus, the Latin (Vulgate) rendering of Wis 18:14f becoming part of the Roman Catholic liturgy (Introit for the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas). On the one hand, this may be the ultimate example of Christians taking a Scriptural passage out of context, since, originally these verses referred to the coming of the (Messenger of) Death out of heaven (cf. Exod 11:4; 12:29). In the Exodus narrative, it is YHWH himself who comes bringing death, traditionally understood as taking place through a Messenger (“Angel”) of Death. In Wis 18:14-15, it is the personified “Word” (lo/go$) of God that comes out of heaven, and this is certainly the main reason for its application to the person of Christ. The highly evocative midnight setting was doubtless what caused it to be associated specifically with the night-time birth of Jesus. More properly, of course, Wisdom 18:5-19 would be better applied to the episode narrated in Matt 2:13-23—the “Slaughter of the Innocents”—but only insofar as both passages deal with the “death of the firstborn” motif from Exodus. In any event, it is striking that there are three different passages which combine: (a) the Exodus setting, (b) the death of the firstborn motif, and (c) Israel as “son of God”—Exodus 4:22; Wisdom 18:13; and Hosea 11:1 (as used by Matthew).
The Christmas Story (that is, the so-called Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke) is perhaps the most widely read and beloved portion of the entire Bible. Every year in the Christmas season, believers and non-believers alike hear and read those words, sing them in popular carols, present them visually in all manner of decoration, and so forth. In this article I will be discussing some notable textual variants, along with a few interesting critical and interpretive issues, from the Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2) and several additional passages related to the Birth of Jesus.
It is generally thought that the Infancy Narratives are among the latest portions of the Gospel tradition to develop, after the Passion and Resurrection Narratives, collections of Sayings of Jesus, accounts of the Miracles, etc. Only two of the canonical Gospels contain such narratives, and, somewhat surprisingly, the Birth of Jesus is hardly mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. However, that it quickly gained importance in the Early Church is clear from: (1) the Extra-canonical gospels from the second-century (and later), (2) its place in apologetic and polemical writings of the second and early third centuries (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen), and (3) variant readings in the New Testament MSS, most of which must have occurred in this same period (by the early third century).
As a matter of fact, the original text of the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives is reasonably well-established, with fewer substantive textual variants than in many other portions of the Gospels. However, in at least two areas scribes were prone to introduce variant readings:
1. The high density of Old Testament citations and allusions in these passages resulted in a range of variants. Besides the explicit quotations in Matthew, the annunciation and birth narratives clearly draw upon Old Testament forms and imagery to tell the story. Luke uses what has been called a highly “Semitized” Greek, especially in the canticles, patterned after Old Testament, and perhaps later Jewish(-Christian) poetry. Occasionally Greek-speaking scribes had difficulty understanding the language, and modified the text in the process. Of course, there was always a tendency to make OT quotations conform to the standard Greek version (LXX) as well.
2. An interest to clarify and safeguard the reality of Jesus’ birth and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. These modifications—intentional, or at least purposeful—occur in several different contexts, and will be discussed below. Not surprisingly, in virtually every instance in the New Testament where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ “father” (or Mary and Joseph as his “parents”), the text was altered by at least one scribe, in order to avoid any misunderstanding as to the nature of Jesus’ birth.
I will begin with the Matthean Narrative, then the Lukan, and will close with a few supplemental passages.
Matthean Infancy Narrative (Matt. 1-2 [includes the Genealogy, 1:1-17])
For the majority of witnesses, this verse reads: )Iakwb de e)ge/nnhsen ton )Iwshf ton a&ndra Mari/a$, e)c h!$ e)gennh/qh )Ihsou=$ o( lego/meno$ xristo/$ (“…and Jacob caused to be [born] Joseph the man/husband of Mary, out of whom came to be [born] Jesus, the [one] said/counted to be [the] Anointed”), and it is almost certainly original. Matthew’s alteration from the regular formula used in the genealogy seems specifically intended to avoid misunderstanding Joseph’s role in Jesus’ birth. However, a number of witnesses (Qf13 788 1346 l547, and some Old Latin MSS, etc) read: )Iakwb de e)ge/nnhsen ton )Iwshf w! mnhsteuqei=sa parqe/no$ Mari/a e)ge/nnhsen )Ihsou=$ ton lego/menon Xristo/n (“…and Jacob caused to be [born] Joseph, to whom being betrothed Mary caused to be [born] Jesus the [one] said/counted to be [the] Anointed”). Here Mary is specifically called a virgin (parqe/no$) and her relationship to Joseph is stated more precisely (as “betrothed”).
A more peculiar reading is found in the Old Syriac (Sinaitic) MS, which reads, in conventional translation: “…and Jacob begot Joseph; Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begot Jesus who is called the Anointed”, seemingly implying that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus. Some slight additional Syriac and Arabic support has been attested for this reading, but, most likely it is a singular reading. Nevertheless, a few critical scholars have suggested that this represents the original text, which scandalized scribes subsequently altered—a scenario which is highly unlikely. More plausibly, the Sinai MS scribe was either careless, or sought to bring the text into conformity with Matthew’s overall genealogical formula. From the ancient Near Eastern (Semitic) perspective, in the context of a genealogy, the term “beget / cause to be [born]” could be understood to apply symbolically to legal (rather than biological) paternity. Cf. the ancient custom of “levirate” marriage, which is likewise a popular solution advanced for the discrepancies in the Matthean (1:1-17) and Lukan (3:23-38) genealogies. For a good, detailed discussion of this variant, see the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek NT (2d edition, pp. 2-6).
It worth mentioning one further sub-variant in this verse: a few witnesses (64 [d] k, the Curetonian Syriac, and the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila) omit the participle (and article) o( lego/meno$. The Greek can be variously translated “the (one) counted/said/considered to be…” or, following the Semitic idiom “the (one) called…” Possibly these words fell out by accident; but, if omitted intentionally, it could be a product of the Christological climate in the 2nd-3rd centuries—scribes may have sought to avoid misunderstanding, by emphasizing that Mary truly bore the incarnate Son of God (Christ) rather than a man who was merely “called” Christ. For more on the idiom “to call / be called…” see on Luke 1:32, 35 below.
(1) The majority of manuscripts and witnesses read tou= de )Ihsou= Xristou=, but a few Greek MSS and Church Fathers read tou= de Xristou= )Ihsou= (B Origen Jerome) or tou= de )Ihsou= (W), while tou= de Xristou= is read by a number of Church Fathers, Old Latin and Syriac MSS. The fact that Ihsou appears in different positions is an indication that it might be secondary, while the compound name Ihsou Xristou with the article is peculiar; therefore is possible that Xristou alone was present originally. Whichever way the alteration occurred, it is conceivable that there were doctrinal reasons involved. The compound name occasionally was emphasized against “Gnostics” who ‘separated’ the divine Christ from the man Jesus (there is a similar variant at Matt. 2:1 in a few MSS). On the other hand, the title “Christ/Anointed” (Xristo$) early on became a kind of shorthand for referring to the incarnate Son of God; so a change from the compound name to Xristo$ alone could help emphasize the idea that the Son of God was truly born in human flesh (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.16.2). In any case, there is much interchange and confusion between all these divine Names and titles of Christ in the manuscripts, which was only increased by the use of abbreviations (the so-called nomina sacra) to represent them.
(2) Many of the early and best manuscripts (Ë1a B C P W DQf1 syrh, pal copbo arm etc.) read ge/nesi$, while the majority of witnesses read ge/nnhsi$. Now both Greek words—nearly identical in sound and spelling—ultimately derive from gi–g—nomai (prim. meaning “come to be, become”), with ge/nnhsi$ from the causative verb gennaw (lit. “cause to be”, primarily in the sense of “generate, engender, give birth”: to “beget” when a man is the subject, to “bear” when a woman). Both words could indicate a coming-to-be (i.e., a “birth”), but the latter word (ge/nnhsi$) more commonly was used for a biological birth. Ge/nesi$ can more broadly refer to something made, created, produced, or generally as the “beginning” of something. For this reason, apart from the solid textual evidence, it is more likely that ge/nesi$ was changed to ge/nnhsi$ than the other way around; and, while the change may have been accidental, or conventional, it is widespread enough to suggest a possible doctrinal motive or purpose. Two possibilities: (a) ge/nesi$ could be interpreted as a “beginning” for Christ (that he was created, or made), susceptible to an Arian point of view; (b) ge/nnhsi$, as the more common term for a human birth, would also make clear that the Christ was truly born.
Matthew 1:19, 20, 24, 25
In a few instances in the versional witnesses (Old Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Diatessaron), references to Mary as Joseph’s “wife” (1:20, 24) or Joseph as her “husband” (1:19) are altered, again to avoid any misunderstanding about the Virgin birth, but also most likely to safeguard the tradition of the perpetual virginity of Mary. This belief was already well-established by the mid-second century (cf. the Protevangelium of James), as also seem clear from changes made to v. 25 in both the Old Latin and Old Syriac tradition—the Greek clause kai ou)k e)gi/nwsken au)thn e%w$… (“and he did not know her [i.e., have sexual relations with her] until…”) is omitted, probably to avoid the suggestion that Mary and Joseph did have sexual relations (and children) after the birth of Jesus. The Diatessaron reads “he lived with her purely [i.e., chastely] until…”. Virginity, celibacy, and encratite purity (celibacy in marriage) were especially emphasized in the Syrian Church.
The citation from Isaiah 7:14 is interesting because, like many quotations from the Old Testament, it does not correspond precisely to any known Greek version (or Hebrew text). Here Matthew is set parallel to the LXX (according to B [Vaticanus] and the Lucianic recension):
i)dou h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri e%cei kai te/cetai ui(o/n, kai kale/sousin to o&noma au)tou= )Emmanouh/l
i)dou h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri lh/–m—yetai kai te/cetai ui(o/n, kai kale/sei$ to o&noma au)tou= Emmanouhl
The differences (highlighted) are minor: Matthew has e)n gastri e%cei (“shall have in [the] womb”), the LXX e)n gastri lh/–m—yetai (“shall receive in [the] womb”). It should be noted that other LXX MSS (a A) also read e%cei, but these may be harmonizations (by Christian scribes) to Matthew. Also Mt. reads “they will call his name…” instead of “you [sing.] will call his name…”, though a few manuscripts have harmonized the text to the LXX. Again, the Hebrew (MT) is not quite the same, among other differences, it reads “she will call his name…” (though this is not absolutely certain for the consonantal text, it is most likely). How are these differences to be explained? Generally there are four possibilities in such instances: (1) the NT author is working from a different Greek version, (2) the author is working (translating) from a different Hebrew text, (3) it is a free/faulty quotation (from memory?), or (4) the quotation has been adapted to the context in which he is writing. In nearly all instances, I believe this last is the best explanation, and is so here with the quotation from Isa 7:14. e)n gastri e%cei is the more common Greek (and LXX) idiom for conception, and was already used by Matthew in 1:18. For the second difference, the LXX is probably a (mis-)translation of the Hebrew, but there are also variants among the Dead Sea Scrolls including 1QIsa, which could be translated “he will call his name…” or “his name will be called…”, in which case it generally corresponds in meaning to Matthew’s Greek. More to the point, since the angelic announcement is to Joseph, who has just been told “…you will call his name Jesus” (1:20), it perhaps would have been confusing in context to hear “…you will call his name Immanuel”, as though it were being addressed to Joseph; the more generic form “…they will call…” fits better. For a good discussion on all this, see R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 143-153.
Quite a few MSS and witnesses have, it would seem, harmonized Matthew’s klauqmo$ kai o)durmo$ to the LXX (qrh=no$ kai klauqmo$ kai o)durmo$) in the quotation from Jer. 31:15 [38:15 LXX]. This sort of harmonization occurs quite often throughout the NT. It is sometimes difficult to determine which direction the change occurs, though more often than not, the reading that corresponds more closely with the LXX is secondary.
Matthew’s quotation here is not from a single Old Testament passage, but appears to be a combination of at least two verses: 1) Isaiah 4:3: “He will be called holy” (LXX: “They will be called holy”) 2) Judges 16:17 (of Samson): “I have been a Nazîr (Nazirite) of God”—but note especially the LXX variants: LXX B: “I am a holy one of God” LXX A: “I am a Nazirite (Nazirai=o$) of God”
The exact reference and meaning of Nazwrai=o$ here is still debated. The principal context clearly indicates that it refers to Nazareth (i.e., a “Nazarene”). There are two forms used in the NT: Nazwrai=o$ and Nazarh=no$. But it is also very possible that Matthew draws on the allusion to a N¹zîr (Nazirite)—not that Jesus was a Nazirite in the technical sense, but the idea of dedication to God, with the parallel to being “called holy” would make such an association appropriate. Also possible, but less likely, is that there is an echo of the term n¢ƒer (“branch”), which had become an important Messianic term (cf. the key passage Isaiah 11:1 ff). Several centuries later, Jerome (Epistle 57 to Pammachius) cites this verse in relation to Jesus (“…from his root will grow [the] Nazorean”). For a good overall discussion see Brown, Birth of the Messiah, pp. 209-213, 223-225.
Lukan Infancy Narrative (Luke 1:5-2:52)
Luke 1:15, 17, 76
Here in the angelic announcement to Zechariah (1:15, 17) and in the canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus) (1:76), it is prophesied of John that he will be e)nw/pion (“before”, lit., “in the sight of”, “in the face of”) the Lord (ku/rio$). The textual witnesses show some confusion here, and, in part, this is an interpretive question which remains for commentators today: who is the kurio$ (“Lord”) mentioned here—God the Father (Yahweh), Jesus Christ, or both? In the Old Testament passages alluded to (esp. Mal. 3:1, 23), it is clearly Yahweh whom the Messenger/Elijah “goes before”. However, in the Gospels, with the familiar role of John preceding and baptizing Jesus, Luke probably understood the “Lord” here as Jesus. Here are the three passages:
1:15: e&stai gar me/ga$ e)nw/pion [tou=] kuri/ou (“for he will be great before/in-the-sight-of [the] Lord”). This is the majority reading, and is most likely original. But a number of MSS (QYf13 157 700, etc.) read …e)nw/pion tou= qeou= (“…before/in-the-sight-of God”)
1:17: kai au)to$ pro[s]eleu/setai e)nw/pion au)tou= (“and he will go before him”, lit., “and he will go before in his face/sight”). In addition to a variant in the verb (proeleu/setai, “go before” is more likely original), at least one MS (D) specifies e)nw/pion kuri/ou (“before/in-the-sight-of [the] Lord”).
1:76: Kai su de/, paidi/on, profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|: proporeu/sh| gar e)nw/pion kuri/ou e(toima/sai o(dou$ au)tou= (“And you, child, shall be called prophet of the Highest; for you shall go before in-the-sight-of the Lord to prepare his ways”). Again, in addition to a small variant (pro prosw/pou vs. e)nw/pion), at least one MS (Palestinian Syriac) reads “before your God” instead of “before the Lord”).
There are two possibilities for the change from kuri/ou to qeou= (assuming it is an intentional/purposeful change): (1) to make clear the OT context that the “Lord” is Yahweh (God); (2) to identify the “Lord” (Christ) with Yahweh (God). Only in v. 15 is there anything like solid textual support for the reading qeou=, and, given the commonplace confusion and interchange regarding these divine names/titles, the variants here may simply be accidental.
Luke 1:32, 35
In the angelic announcement (Annunciation) to Mary, at 1:35 the most reliable text reads dio kai to gennw/menon a%gion klhqh/setai ui(o$ qeou= (“and therefore the [child] coming to be [born] shall be called holy, [the] son of God”; or, alternatively, “and therefore the [child] coming to be [born] shall be holy, he will be called [the] son of God”). However, a number of MSS (C* Qf1 33 pc ita, c, e, r1 vgcl syrp, and various Church Fathers) have the variant to gennw/menon e)k sou (“the [child] coming to be [born] out of you”). While this variant may simply be a natural accretion to the text, a doctrinal motive for adding it is at least possible. Second-century apologists such as Irenaeus and Tertullian fought hard to define the reality of Christ’s birth against various Gnostic-Docetic beliefs; in numerous places in their writings they emphasize that Jesus Christ was born “from/out-of” (e)k) Mary’s flesh, and did not merely “pass through” (dia/) her (cf. especially Irenaeus Against Heresies I.7.2; V.1.2; also Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 20).
Note should also be made here of titles used of Jesus in the Annunciation, at v. 32 and 35: me/ga$, ui(o$ u(yi/stou and ui(o$ qeou=, since they have appeared together in a fascinating text from Qumran—the so-called “Son of God” text (4Q246). Surviving only in a few fragments, it is an apocalyptic work, influenced by the book of Daniel or perhaps part of a wider (Pseudo-)Daniel tradition. Of a coming king or princely figure it is declared (in Column 1, line 7) “[…he shall be] great upon the earth”; (Column 1, line 9) “…he shall be called [the holy one] of the [G]reat [God/King], and by His name he shall be named”; then (in Column 2, line 1) “He shall be hailed Son of God, and they shall call him Son of the Most High” (modified translation from J. A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 2000, p. 45). Though it is sometimes questioned whether this is a “Messianic” figure (or a non-Messianic Jewish ruler, even a wicked anti-Messiah), the general context seems clear enough, for this person appears to parallel the rise “of the people of God… His kingdom (shall be) an everlasting kingdom, and all his ways (shall be) in truth” (see parallel in v. 33). It is doubtful that Luke borrowed from this text, rather the angelic announcement uses messianic language and imagery already current in Palestine in the first century.
Who spoke the famous canticle of Lk 1:46-55? In the vast majority of witnesses, it is Mary. However, in a few Old Latin MSS (a b l*) and Latin translations of the Fathers Irenaeus, Origen, and Nicetas of Remesiana (and the Armenian transl. of Irenaeus), the song is attributed to Elizabeth. Despite its meager textual support, this would seem to be the more difficult reading—would not later scribes be more likely to change the attribution to Mary, rather than the other way around? Scholars such as Loisy and Harnack defended such a view more than a hundred years ago, and others have followed suit. And yet the textual evidence for Mary is so overwhelming, that it really is hard to justify. More plausible, and tempting, is the idea that no name was originally present, but simply read kai ei@pen… (“and she said…”). It is perhaps worth mentioning in this regard, the growing critical view that the Lukan canticles (especially the Magnificat and Benedictus) were pre-existing (Jewish-Christian?) hymns which Luke inserted in context in the narrative to give expression to the thoughts and feelings of Zechariah, Mary, etc. The more traditional-conservative view, on the other hand, assumes the canticles are recorded more or less as actually spoken, the poetry being the product of an inspired utterance.
I should note in passing that here (in the context of Zechariah’s inspiration prior to the Benedictus), that the words “Holy Spirit” (pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou) are without the definite article. Similar anarthrous forms occur throughout the Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25; and Matthew 1:18, ). Some commentators have sought to translate this as “a holy Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit”, prior to the development of the doctrine of the Spirit in the early Church. However, given the prominence of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, it seems all but certain that Luke intends it here in the Infancy Narrative as well (similarly for Matthew). It is hard to imagine an early Christian understanding it any other way.
The textual evidence is fairly evenly divided between the aorist (e)piske/yato) and future (e)piske/yetai) forms of the verb. Since elsewhere here aorist forms are regularly used, it is perhaps more likely that the future form was changed to the aorist. The preponderance of aorist verb forms in the Magnificat and Benedictus are perhaps deserving of comment, since to a large extent these canticles (particularly the Benedictus) are presented as prophecy. It would seem natural, in context, to take them as prophetic aorists (describing future events), or perhaps as gnomic (regular or timeless actions). However, two points should be noted: (1) If Luke is indeed utilizing pre-existing (Jewish Christian) hymns (see note on Luke 1:46 above), then there is no problem understanding these as ‘ordinary’ aorists—they give expression to things God has already done for believers in the person and work of Christ; (2) They may simply refer in a general way to God’s salvific work overall, which would primarily include all that he has done to help His people.
There is also a small interpretive crux in this verse: the word a)natolh/ (“rising”) seems in context to refer to the sun (or light) rising in the sky, coming to those who are in darkness. However, the word is also used in the LXX to translate jm^x# (ƒemaµ, “branch, shoot”), cf. Zech 3:8; 6:12. Parallel to the word rx#n@ (n¢ƒer, see the note on Matt. 2:23 above), both of which were already familiar Messianic terms at the time of Luke’s writing. Is it possible that Luke (or Zechariah as inspired speaker) is playing on both meanings?
The majority text reads that Joseph went to Bethlehem (with Mary) dio to ei@nai au)ton e)c oi@kou kai patria=$ Dau[e]i/d (“…because [of] his being out of the house and family of David”). However, at least two MSS (348 1216) instead read the pronoun au)tou$ (“they/their”), implying that Mary also was from the line of David (there is a similar reading “both” in the Old Syriac [Sinaitic] version). This came to be a common belief in the early Church, even though the Lukan narrative itself states that Mary’s relative Elizabeth was from the priestly line of Aaron (Lk. 1:5). Most likely the tradition of Mary as a Davidid developed as a way to strengthen Jesus’ own Davidic origin—Rom. 1:3, for example, would seem to suggest an actual biological (rather than a legal paternal) connection.
What did the Angelic Chorus say? The first line is uniform in the textual tradition:
Do/ca e)n u(yi/stoi$ qew=| “Glory in the highest [places] to God”
However, there is a major variant in the second line:
kai e)pi gh=$ ei)rh/nh e)n a)nqrw/poi$ eu)doki/a[$]
Is the final word the genitive (eu)doki/a$) as read by many of the oldest and best witnesses (a* A B* D W pc vgst copsa etc), or is it the nominative form (eu)doki/a) as read by the majority of witnesses (ac B3 K L P DQCY f1, 13 et al.)? The former has traditionally been translated “and on earth peace among men of good will”, while the latter as the familiar “and on earth peace, good will to men”. The external textual evidence would tend slightly to lean toward the genitive, and so most modern commentaries and translations understand it, especially now that the argument in favor of it has more or less been clinched by the manuscript discoveries at Qumran. A similar phrase occurs (in Hebrew) in the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns): wnwxr ynb (b§nê r§ƒônô, “sons of his favor” 1QH 4:32-33) and hknwxr ynb lwkl (l§kôl b§nê r§ƒôn§k¹, “for all [the] sons of your favor” 1QH 11:9), and more precisely in Aramaic [h]twur vwnab (be°§nôš r¢±ût[¢h], “in/among men of [his] favor” 4Q545 [Visions of Amramc] column II frag. 3,5). The Greek word eu)doki/a is virtually a product of the LXX, used to translate Hebrew /oxr* (r¹ƒôn, “favor, pleasure, acceptance, will”). Eu)doke/w literally means “to think well of” someone or something, and may have both emotional (“desire, pleasure, satisfaction”) and volitional (“accept, determine, decide, select, will”) connotations. However, it is clear from the Old Testament and Jewish examples, that it is not human beings, but God who is the subject of eu)doki/a//oxr*, and so here should be translated “…men of (His) favor”, as in the examples from Qumran above. And while onoxr= (“his favor”, with pronominal suffix) would properly be translated into Greek as eu)doki/a au)tou=, it can also be translated without the pronoun (as in Sirach 15:15; 39:18). The English translation “good will” is rather misleading, and is better rendered as “favor” or “(good) pleasure”—”men of his good pleasure” or “men of his favor” indicates those whom God favors or with whom he is pleased (lit. those he “thinks well of”), and, judging from the Qumran examples, probably carries the sense of gracious election. How did the textual change occur (from eu)doki/a$ to eu)doki/a)? Most likely the idiom with genitive came to be poorly understood by scribes, and was replaced early the history of transmission; however, it is also possible that the final sigma dropped out by accident, particularly if it occurred in the MS at the end of a line (see Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary, 2d ed. p. 111 for a visual demonstration).
Here the majority text reads kai o%te e)plh/sqhsan h(me/rai tou= kaqarismou= au)tw=n… (“and when the days of their cleansing were filled up [i.e. fulfilled]”), and is likely original. Note the plural pronoun (au)tw=n), which is certainly peculiar, since it would indicate that the purification ritual applied to both Mary and Joseph (or Mary and the child Jesus). Many critical scholars attest this as one (of a number) of Lukan inaccuracies, since the rite of purification following childbirth (both in the Mosaic covenant and later Jewish tradition) only applies to the mother, not to the husband or child. However, the plural pronoun here may simply be grammatical (not strictly factual), since the plural is used in the following clause to indicate that both parents “brought him [Jesus] up into Jerusalem…”. In any event, some confusion seems to have prompted several scribes to modify the text: a few MS (D 2174* syrs copsa ms) read au)tou= (“his” – Jesus? Joseph?), at least one MS (76) reads au)th=$ (“her”), while the Old Latin and Vulgate could read “his” or “her”.
Luke 2:27, 33, 41, 43, 48
As indicated earlier, scribes variously modified instances where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ “father” or where Joseph and Mary are called Jesus’ “parents”. Most of these occur in the Lukan Infancy Narratives 2:21-40 and 2:41-52 — the Presentation at the Temple and the Episode of the Boy Jesus in the Temple.
2:27: kai h@lqen e)n tw=| pneu/mati ei)$ to i(ero/n: kai e)n tw=| ei)sagagei=n tou$ gonei=$ to paidi/on )Ihsou=n tou= poih=sai au)tou$ kata to ei)qisme/non tou= no/mou peri au)tou= (“and he [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple; and (as) the parents brought in the child Jesus, for them to do according to that which is customary of the law about him…”) This passage was modified far less frequently, perhaps because they are not specifically called “his parents”. Still “the parents” was omitted in a few MSS (245 1347 1510 2643 ?), and altered (to “Joseph and Mary” or simply “they”) in minor versions of the Diatessaron.
2:33: kai h@n o( pathr au)tou= kai h( mh/thr qauma/zonte$ e)pi toi=$ laloume/noi$ peri au)tou= (“and his father and mother were wondering/marvelling upon the [things] said about him”) In the majority of MSS and versions o( pathr au)tou= was modified to [o(] )Iwsh/f (A K X D Q P Y 053 f13 23 33 565 892 et al.). Despite the strong attestation, this reading is most likely secondary, as o( pathr au)tou= is by far the more difficult reading, as it could easily be (mis)understood to imply that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father. A few Vulgate MS instead read oi( gonei=$ au)tou= (“his parents”).
2:41: kai e)poreu/onto oi( gonei=$ au)tou= kat’ e&to$ ei)$ )Ierousalhm th=| e(orth=| tou= pa/sxa (“and his parents would go up according to [the] year into Jerusalem, to the feast of the Pascha [Passover]”) One Greek MS (1012) and a few Old Latin (a b c ff2 g1 l r1) read, with some variation, o( )Iwshf kai h( Maria/m, “Joseph and Mary” instead of oi( gonei=$ au)tou=.
2:43: …u(pe/meinen )Ihsou=$ o( pai=$ e)n )Ierousalhm, kai ou)k e&gnwsan oi( gonei=$ au)tou= (“…Jesus the child remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know”) A wide range of witnesses (A C E P Y 0130 565 f13, along with the majority Byzantine MSS, Old Latin, syrp, h, copbo pt) read )Iwshf kai h( mh/thr au)tou= (“Joseph and his mother”), instead of oi( gonei=$ au)tou=.
2:48: …i)dou= o( path/r sou ka)gw o)dunw/menoi e)zhtou=me/n se (“…see, your father and I, [being] in pain, search for you [i.e., anxiously search for you]”) A few MSS have altered o( path/r sou ka)gw/ similarly to oi( suggenei=$ sou ka)gw/ (“your relatives and I”), while the Old Latin (a b ff2 g1 l r1) and the Curetonian Syriac read simply h(mei=$ (“we”).
In conclusion, I will very briefly mention a few other New Testament passages related to the birth of Jesus:
Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4
These two verses are among the only references to the birth of Jesus outside of the Infancy Narratives. They both use the aorist middle participle of gi/–g—nomai (“come to be, become”), in the sense of “being born“.
Rom 1:3: peri tou= ui(ou= au)tou= tou= genome/nou e)k spe/rmato$ Dauid kata sa/rka, (“…about his son the [one] coming to be out of the seed of David according to the flesh…”) Gal 4:4: o%te de h@lqen to plh/rwma tou= xro/nou, e)cape/steilen o( qeo$ ton ui(on au)tou=, geno/menon e)k gunaiko$, geno/menon u(po no/mou (“but when the fulness of the time came, God sent his son, coming to be out of [a] woman, coming to be under [the] law”)
For both of these verses, a few witness (61* pc syrp, and apparently some Old Latin MSS, for Rom 1:3) and (K f1 etc. for Gal 4:4) read the (passive) participle of genna/w (causative stem derived from gi/[g]nomai), which is the more common verb for bearing/begetting a child. See the discussion under Matthew 1:18 above, and the references to Irenaeus and Tertullian (both of whom specifically cite these verses).
At the baptism of Jesus, instead of the majority text (su ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$, e)n soi eu)do/khsa, “you are my son, in you I have [good] pleasure”), some Western witnesses (D a b c d ff2 l r1) and quite a few early Church Fathers read ui(o$ mou ei@ su/, e)gw gege/nnhka/ se (“you are my son, today I have caused you to be [born] [i.e., begotten you]”). The first reading generally harmonizes with the account in Mark (and Matthew), while the latter reading quotes the second Psalm (Ps. 2:7). While this passage in Luke does not relate to the Virgin Birth as such, it is important in terms of understanding how the early church viewed the ‘birth’ of Jesus as the Son of God. I will be providing a more detailed discussion in a later note.
The majority text reads: oi^ ou)k e)c ai(ma/twn ou)de e)k qelh/mato$ sarko$ ou)de e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro$ a)ll’ e)k qeou= e)gennh/qhsan (…”the [ones] not out of blood[s] nor out of the will of the flesh nor out of the will of man—but out of God—have come to be [born]”), and this reading is almost certainly original. However, an interesting variant developed in the early Church, found in the Old Latin MS b and in a number of early (Western) Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustine, etc): here there is a singular relative pronoun (o^$) instead of plural, with a corresponding change in the final verb (to e)gennh/qh)—”…the [one] not out of…but out of God has come to be [born]”. Instead of referring to the spiritual birth of believers, this Western reading apparently refers to the (supernatural) birth of Jesus.