Saturday Series: Acts 1:1-2ff

After a brief hiatus this Spring, the Saturday Series returns. Beginning here with the weekend of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of studies dealing with some important critical issues in the Book of Acts, focusing especially on passages dealing with the Holy Spirit.

One cannot conduct a critical analysis of the Book of Acts without having to grapple with the two different versions, or recensions, that exist for this work. On the one hand, there is the Majority version, reflected in most critical editions of the Greek text, as well as nearly all English translations. The Majority version, in its ancient form, is represented by the Papyri 45 and 74 (Ë45 Ë74), the uncial manuscripts a A B C Y, and the minuscules 33 81 104 326 1175. It is typically referred to as the Alexandrian version. Then, on the other hand, there is the minority or ‘Western’ version, represented principally by the Codex Bezae (D), the fragmentary Papyri Ë29 Ë38 Ë48, the Old Latin MS h, the marked/marginal readings of the Harclean Syriac version, and by quotations in the Latin authors Cyprian and Augustine. For a good introduction, see Metzger, pp. 222-236.

Acts 1:1-2ff

As an example of the different recensions of the text of Acts, we can consider the prologue/introduction in 1:1-5. There is no real difference in the opening verse, but there are noticeable differences in verse 2. Here is a translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, as reprented by the Nestle-Aland (NA) critical text:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], he was taken up

Here is the Greek of verse 2 (including transliteration):

a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$ e)nteila/meno$ toi=$ a)posto/loi$ dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou ou^$ e)cele/cato a)nelh/mfqh
áchri h¢¡s h¢méras enteilámenos toís apostólois diá pneúmatos hagíou hoús exeléxato anel¢¡mphth¢

Now, here is a translation of vv. 1-2 in the Codex Bezae (D):

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message

The points of difference with the Alexandrian/Majority version are indicated in italics above: (1) the verb form a)nelh/mfqh (anel¢¡mphth¢, “he was taken up”) occurs at an earlier point in the verse, making for a somewhat smoother syntax, and (2) the inclusion of an additional clause:

kai\ e)ke/leuse khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
kaí ekéleuse k¢rýssein tó euangélion
“and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

Both of the points of difference can be explained as improvements to the text, and thus would argue in favor of the Alexandrian version as being more original (based on the principle lectio difficilor potior, “the more difficult reading is to be preferred”). As mentioned above, the placement of “he was taken up” (anel¢¡mphth¢) in that earlier position makes for a smoother (and less awkward) syntax. As for the additional clause, it serves to clarify the charge/duty Jesus laid on the disciples (vb entéllomai)—namely, that it was to proclaim the Gospel. While this, of course, is central to the narrative of Acts (Acts 1:8; see Lk 24:47), it is worth noting that the noun euaggélion (“good message,” i.e. Gospel) is actually quite rare in Luke-Acts, never being used in the Gospel of Luke and only twice in Acts (15:7; 20:24); see Fitzmyer, p. 197. These factors tend to confirm the secondary character of the ‘Western’ version.

In several ‘Western’ witnesses (gig, quotations in Augustine and Vigilius), there is no reference to the ascension of Jesus in v. 2, with the Latin equivalent of anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) being absent (or omitted). It is possible that the word was omitted to avoid any possible contradiction with Luke 24:51, where it seems that Jesus ascends on the same day as his resurrection appearance. As it happens, the words kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón (“and he was carried up into the heaven”) are also absent from some key Western manuscripts (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac); the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*). For further discussion on this particular textual issue, see my earlier article “Where Did Jesus Go? Critical Notes on the Ascension”.

Several scholars (e.g., F. Blass, J. H. Ropes) have, in the past, attempted to reconstruct an original Greek version that underlies the Latin variants of the ‘Western’ text of verse 2. The following has been proposed (see Metzger, p. 238):

e)n th=| h(me/ra| tou\$ a)posto/lou$ e)cele/cato dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou kai\ e)ke/leusen khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
“…on the day (when) he gathered out [i.e. chose] the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles] through the holy Spirit, and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

In many ways, this syntax is far superior to that of the Alexandrian/Majority version, being much clearer and more straightforward. In this case, the phrase “through the holy Spirit” refers to Jesus’ choosing of the apostles, rather than his instruction of them. The place of the same phrase in the Alexandrian/Majority version is less clear. Given the thematic role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts, we would perhaps expect that the phrase is to be connected here specifically with the verb entéllomai, and the duty/mission of the apostles (to preach the Gospel), i.e., “(hav)ing laid on (them) a duty to complete…through the holy Spirit” (see verse 8).

The textual and syntactical issues surrounding verse 2 are further complicated by the fact that verses 1-5 essentially read as a single long sentence (compare the Gospel prologue, 1:1-4). The placement of the verb anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) at an earlier point in the verse certainly helps to alleviate the cumbersome syntax. Below, I continue the translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, but with the ‘Western’ modification of the repositioned anel¢¡mphth¢:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], 3to whom also he stood [i.e. presented] himself alongside, living, after his suffering, with many (sure) marks, (hav)ing been seen by them through(out) forty days, and giving account (of) the (thing)s about the kingdom of God; 4and, being gathered with (them), he gave along a message to them (that they were) not to make space away from Yerushalaim, but (were) to “remain about (for) the announced (promise) of the Father, which you (have) heard of [i.e. from] me, 5(how) that Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit (after) not many (of) these days”.

Most English translations naturally break up vv. 1-5 into a number of shorter sentences. However, I think it is worth retaining a sense of the continuity of narration intended by the author. Note, in particular, the way that he shifts from the opening point of the prologue-sentence, where he (the author) is speaking to Theophilus (“Friend-of-God”, “Dear-to-God”), to the end point, where Jesus is now speaking to his disciples. In its own way, the shift is a deft and clever literary achievement.

With the prologue still firmly in mind, next week we will turn to consider the place of verses 6-8 as marking the beginning of the Book of Acts proper. There are a number of significant historical and literary-critical issues that must be discussed. I hope that you will join me in this study next Saturday.


Saturday Series: Luke 24:50-53

Here in the Saturday Series, I will be beginning a set of studies on the Book of Acts, looking at various critical issues and how they relate to a thorough and accurate interpretation of the book. Acts is essentially a history—of the early Christian movement, and the missionary activity of the apostles and other early believers. As such, there are many important historical-critical questions and issues to be addressed. These involve the historical background of the narrative, the historical reliability of the episodes recorded, and how that history is presented within the religious and literary framework of the book.

Of special importance are the sermon-speeches that appear throughout the book of Acts, featuring prominently within the narrative structure. The nature of these speeches raise a number of challenging critical questions. I have addressed most of these in considerable detail in my earlier series “The Speeches of Acts,” and will only be touching on a few of them in the current studies. The sermon-speeches are part of a complex literary and artistic structure, and can only be explained fully by commentary that takes into account the literary-critical scope of the work. Such analysis examines the composition of the book—how the narratives were put together, the style and rhetoric used, the development of the principal themes, the theological points of emphasis, and so forth.

With regard to the text of Acts, there is one major text-critical issue which all scholars and students of the book must confront. The book of Acts exists in two versions, or recensions: one represented by the majority text (including the “oldest and best” manuscripts), and the other by the so-called “Western Text”. The label “Western” refers primarily to the great uncial manuscript D (the Beza Codex, or Codex Bezae), along with a large number of Latin (and various other) manuscripts. There are important differences throughout the New Testament that mark these manuscripts as “Western”; however, they are much more pronounced in the book of Acts. The differences are often so great that one can rightly speak of a separate version or recension of the text.

Scholars continue to debate the nature and origins of the two ‘versions’ of Acts, with most commentators holding that the Bezae/Western version represents a secondary development. The Western text (of D, etc) tends to be much more expansive, and so is considered to be secondary, on the basis of the general critical principle that the shorter reading is more likely to be original (lectio brevior potior). However, in a few key instances, the ‘Western’ text has a markedly shorter reading; B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, in the notes to their critical edition to the New Testament, identified a number of these and referred to them by the rather confusing label “Western non-interpolations”. An interpolation is a technical-critical term for a secondary addition to the text. Westcott and Hort held that, in these selected occurrences where the Western text has the shorter reading, the Western reading is to be considered original, against the weight of evidence from the (longer) majority text.

Nearly all of these “Western non-interpolations” are in Luke-Acts, with most occurring in the Passion and Resurrection narratives of the Gospel of Luke. Previously, many critical commentators accepted the Westcott-Hort evaluation of these shorter readings; in more recent decades, however, the situation has changed, and most modern commentators now tend to accept the longer ‘majority’ text in these instances. Papyrus discoveries (such as the Bodmer Papyri) have added important manuscript support for the originality of the longer readings.

In this week’s study, as a way of introducing this area of critical analysis (of Luke-Acts), I wish to focus on the variant readings at the close of Luke’s Gospel.

Luke 24:50-53

Luke’s Gospel concludes with a scene (apparently still on Easter day) which, in the “oldest and best” manuscripts (Ë75 a B C* L 1 33 579 etc), reads as follows:

50  Ex¢¡gagen dé autoús [éxœ] héœs prós B¢thanían kaí epáras tás cheíras autoú eulóg¢sen autoús. 51 kaí egéneto en tœ¡ eulogeín autón autoús diést¢ ap’ autœ¡n kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón.
“And he brought/led them out[side] until toward Bethany, and lifting over (them) his hands he spoke well to them [i.e. blessed them]; and it came to be, in his speaking well to them [i.e. blessing them], he stood (apart) from them and was carried up into the heaven.”
52 Kaí autoí proskyn¢¡santes autón hypéstrepsan eis Ierousal¢¡m metá charás megál¢s 53 kaí ¢¡san diá pantós en tœ¡ hierœ¡ eulogoúntes tón Theón.
“And they, kissing toward him [i.e. worshiping him], turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy, and they were through all [i.e. continually] in the sacred place [i.e. temple] speaking well to [i.e. blessing] God.”

(The Majority text differs slightly, primarily in reading eis B¢thanían [“unto Bethany”] instead of prós B¢thanían [“toward Bethany”] in v. 50, and adding kaí ainoúntes or ainoúntes kaí [“blessing and praising God”] in v. 53.)

There are, however, two major variants (omissions) in the key Western MSS (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac):

    1. Verse 51 reads: kaí egéneto en tœ¡ eulogeín autón autoús diést¢ ap’ autœ¡n “and it came to be, in his blessing them, he stood (apart) from them” (without kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón “and he was carried up into the heaven”). In other words, it relates that Jesus simply “parted” from them, without any reference to an ascension into heaven.
    2. Verse 52 continues: kaí autoí hypéstrepsan eis Ierousal¢¡m metá charás megál¢s “and they turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy…” (without proskyn¢¡santes auton “worshiping him”).
      See how this shorter version of vv. 50-53 reads, in context, in conventional translation:
      “And he led them out toward Bethany, and raising his hands over (them) he blessed them; and it came to be, in his blessing them, (that) he parted from them; and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple, blessing God.”

These are both so-called Western “Non-Interpolations” (see above). The first of the two (in v. 51) is far more significant, especially since, in addition to the Western MSS, the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*).

How is one to explain this variant? As indicated above, the vast majority of MSS, including all the early/best Greek MSS (Ë75, a [corrected], A, B, C, K, L, W, X, D, etc.) contain the words “and he was carried up into the heaven” (kai anephéreto eis ton ouranón). The manuscript evidence would seem to be decidedly in favor of the longer reading, but internal considerations make it a bit less certain. In which direction did the change occur? There are a number of possibilities:

Reasons for Omission (in support of the longer text):

    1. To avoid contradiction with the chronology in Acts. It is certainly possible that scribes, noticing the apparent discrepancy between v. 51 and Luke’s own account of the Ascension in Acts 1:1-11, deleted the words. In the Gospel, it would seem that the Ascension takes place on the same night as the Resurrection, whereas in Acts (v. 3) it occurs 40 days later. This is probably the most popular explanation.
    2. A scribal mistake. A scribe may have skipped from a)p’ au)twn kai in v. 51 to ou)ranon kai au)toi at the end of v.51 & start of v. 52 (homoioarcton: each has the segment nkai). However, this would require that (the precursors of) a and D both made the same mistake, which is rather unlikely.
    3. Theological reasons. Some scholars have thought that the so-called “Non-Interpolations” (involving the Resurrection appearances and “Ascension”) exhibit a purposeful tendency in the Western text (in Luke-Acts) to eliminate concrete references to the resurrection body of Jesus, and physical nature of the Ascension, etc. With regard to the Ascension in particular, see especially Eldon J. Epp’s article “The Ascension in the Textual Tradition of Luke-Acts”, in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981, pp. 131-145.
    4. The support of Acts. Acts 1:2 would seem to indicate that the Gospel referenced the Ascension (áchri h¢¡s h¢mérasanel¢¡mphth¢, “until which day…he was taken up”). Assuming this is the case, it could be (rightly) argued that the author would not say he described an event which he in fact did not record. It should be noted that several Western witnesses also omit reference to the ascension (anel¢¡mphth¢) in this verse.

Reasons for Addition (in support of the shorter text):

    1. Literary or Theological reasons. Although Luke-Acts may have been published together as a ‘two-volume’ work, by the mid-second century (at the latest), the Gospel of Luke was being copied and distributed bound together (in codex form) with the other Gospels; meaning that, as in nearly all printed New Testament editions today, it was separated from the book of Acts. The shorter reading, if original, would close the Gospel with the suggestion that Jesus simply “parted” from the disciples—a rather unexciting and possibly misleading conclusion. The scribal tendency was always to add Christological details, rather than remove them; it would have been natural to add the few extra words (both in v. 51 and 52), in order to exalt the portrait of Christ.
    2. The shorter text removes the chronological difficulty with Acts. This argument cuts both ways (see above), for the longer text could be said to be the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior potior). However, since Luke explicitly records the Ascension taking place at least 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3ff), would he (the same author of Luke-Acts, by general consensus) have created the confusion by recording the Ascension (apparently) taking place on the day of the Resurrection (Luke 24:50-53)?
    3. Additional support from Acts. It is possible that the phrase áchri h¢¡s h¢mérasanel¢¡mphth¢ (“until which day…he was taken up”) in Acts 1:2 should not be taken to imply that the Ascension was narrated in the Gospel, but only events which took place prior to that day. In this regard, to note the reference (v. 22) in Peter’s subsequent address (Acts 1:15-22), where nearly similar language is used. Could the author of Acts simply be reproducing the phrasing from v. 22, as part of his “prologue”, without specific reference to details in the Gospel?
    4. Evidence from the Church Fathers. The Ascension is referred to numerous times in writings of the 1st-3rd centuries, for example:
      Epistle of Barnabas 15; JUSTIN: 1 Apology 26, Dialogue with Trypho 82, 87, On the Resurrection ch. 9; IRENAEUS: Against Heresies I.10, III.17, IV.33.13, 34.3, V.31, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 41, 84; CLEMENT: Stromateis VI. ch. 15; ORIGEN: On First Principles Pref §1, II.6.1, 7.2, On Prayer §23, Against Celsus VII.8; TERTULLIAN: Against Marcion V.8, Against Praxeas 25, 30, Prescription Against Heretics 13, On the Resurrection 51; The Muratorian Canon; Epistle of the Apostles 18; Cyprian On the Lord’s Prayer §8, etc. (by no means an exhaustive list). Most of these references are to the narrative in Acts 1:9ff; Ephesians 4:9-10, or to the belief generally; however, I have not been able to find a single clear reference to the long text of Luke 24:51-52 cited in any writing up through the third century (outside of the Diatessaron [§55], a work with a singularly difficult textual history). Moreover, in Tertullian’s fourth book Against Marcion, in which he goes over many details of Luke’s Gospel, up through the Resurrection appearances (chapter 43), he does not cite the long text of v. 51 or 52, and makes no reference to the Ascension (cf. Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 257-8).
    5. The Western Non-Interpolations. Despite protests from scholars on both sides of the argument, it is hard to avoid the notion that the 9 key “non-interpolations”, eight of which are all found together in the same set of MSS (D a b d e ff2 l), stand or fall together—most likely, they are all original, or they are not. If one accepts the shorter text in the previous 7 Lukan instances, then one really ought to do so here as well.

Clearly, intrinsic/transcriptional arguments can be made for both sides. Ultimately, it is difficult to ignore the overwhelming textual evidence. If the longer reading is, in fact, original, I suspect that the apparent discrepancy (with Acts) may be the result of Luke compressing/conflating the narrative, thereby giving the impression that it all happened on one night. This sort of handling of historical narrative was quite common with ancient writers, as unsatisfying as it might be to our modern sensibilities. On the other hand, the clear scribal tendency was to add significant Christological details to the Gospel narrative, rather than omit them (even when there are apparent discrepancies involved); it seems to have been much more acceptable to modify (instead of deleting) difficult words in the text. The presence of the longer reading(s) in the Bodmer Papyrus (Ë75, c. 200) have turned the tide decisively; however, I am by no means so certain the shorter reading(s) can be dismissed as easily as many commentators do today.

May 26: Acts 6:10; 8:38; 11:17, etc

No survey or study of the references to the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts is complete without some mention of the unique passages in the so-called ‘Western’ text of Acts. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, in New Testament textual criticism, ‘Western’ refers to manuscripts and versions which share a specific set of textual readings (or tendencies), distinct from other text-groupings (Alexandrian) and/or the ‘Majority’ text (the reading of the majority of manuscripts). In particular, it refers primarily to the readings common to the Codex Bezae [D] and a good number of Old Latin manuscripts. However the term “Western” is something of a misnomer, since ‘Western’ readings are also shared by various Greek MSS presumably covering a relatively wide/disparate geographical range, as well as by Syriac, Coptic (Egyptian), Georgian, etc, versions. While ‘Western’ readings are attested in the Gospels and other New Testament books, the distinctive readings in the book of Acts are extensive (and different) enough to constitute an entirely separate recension, or version, of the book. The relation of this recension to the Alexandrian/Majority text has been the topic of discussion and debate among commentators and textual scholars for decades. The ‘Western’ version is longer and more extensive, containing more (and more verbose) literary/historical detail, especially in the introductory and summary portions of the narrative episodes. Of the many theories scholars have put forward, the most noteworthy (and interesting) are:

    • The Alexandrian/Majority text is the original (or more closely so), while the ‘Western’ text represents a secondary expansion by scribes or an author/editor
    • The ‘Western’ text is closer to the original, while the Alexandrian/Majority text is a truncated or redacted version (by a later scribe or author/editor)
    • The original author (trad. Luke) produced two versions or drafts of the book, each of which (somehow) was published or came into circulation
    • The original work was incomplete, surviving in a draft form which included notes/annotations by the author; subsequent scribes/editors created the two versions working from this draft text

The last theory is especially intriguing and offers an attractive explanation for several especially difficult passages; however, it remains highly speculative. Most scholars today would opt for the first theory, that the ‘Western’ text is a secondary expansion. Generally, this would seem to be correct, since the scribal tendency was to expand/add to the text rather than reduce/omit from it—hence the text-critical rule of thumb lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferred”). Also, many of the longer narrative sections seem to have the purpose of clarifying the context in detail, to the point of becoming excessively redundant and pedantic.

Some scholars have also thought that the ‘Western’ version shows distinctive doctrinal/theological tendencies (including an anti-Jewish bias); this has been discussed in a number of studies, most notably in Eldon J. Epp, The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis in Acts (Cambridge: 1966). One feature of the ‘Western’ version of Acts is an increased emphasis on the Holy Spirit—including at least 10 distinct references, in addition to the 50+ in the Alexandrian/Majority text. It has been argued that this difference is theological as well—e.g., (a) the ‘Western’ author/editor wished to give greater prominence to the role of the Spirit (perhaps under Montanist influence), or (b) the Alexandrian/Majority text may have wished to reduce the role of the Spirit due to an anti-charismatic (or anti-Montanist) tendency. Matthew Black expounds this latter point in his article “The Holy Spirit in the Western Text of Acts” (in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, eds. Eldon J. Epp & Gordon D. Fee [Oxford: 1981], pp. 159-70). I find such theories to be rather unlikely. Most of what I see in the ‘Western’ version can be explained simply as the result of a tendency to clarify and (over)explain the narrative context. If anything, there may have been a pious interest to enhance the role and prestige of the apostles by including reference to the Holy Spirit whenever possible.

Below I summarize the unique/distinctive passages in the ‘Western’ text which mention the Holy Spirit. I have made use of Black’s study as it provides a convenient compilation of the passages (the Western ‘additions’ are in italics):

  • Acts 6:10 (of Stephen)—”and they did not have strength to stand against the wisdom th(at) was in him and the holy Spirit in which he spoke” (D et al). The shorter text could be taken to mean “the wisdom and spirit“, but the Western version makes clear that this is a reference to the (Holy) Spirit; also the phrase “that was in him” likely is meant to emphasize the divine inspiration which resides within the early believers through the presence of the Spirit. There is a similar variant involving the specific adjective “holy” in Acts 8:18.
  • Acts 8:38—”and when they stepped up out of the water, the holy Spirit fell upon the chamber-official, and the Messenger of the Lord snatched up Philip” (Ac 1739 [and other minuscules] p w, the Harclean Syriac, and other versions/witnesses). It is perhaps incorrect to categorize this as a ‘Western’ reading, since it covers a rather wide and diverse range of textual witnesses. As noted previously, baptism in the book of Acts is always connected with believers receiving the Spirit, so the lack of any such reference in the Majority text of 8:38 is somewhat unusual. This could easily be the reason why a scribe or editor might have added it here; but it also could be an argument in favor of the longer text.
  • Acts 11:17 (Peter speaking)—”who was I powerful (enough) to [i.e. how could I possibly] cut off [i.e. block/prevent] God (so as) not to give (the) holy Spirit to them, the (one)s trusting in Him?” (D p vgms syrh etc). The longer text is curious in that it seems to misunderstand the context and central issue of the narrative in Acts 10-11—the inclusion of Gentile believers as part of the Christian Community. I.e., since the Holy Spirit came upon them miraculously (as a work of God), they certainly should be allowed admission to baptism and entry into the Community. Possibly the sense of Peter’s words underlying the longer reading is, “If I could not prevent God from giving them His Spirit, how could we (other Jewish Christians) dare to prevent them from being baptized?”
  • Acts 15:7—”Peter, standing up in the [holy] Spirit, said…” (D et al)
    Acts 15:29 (The decree)—”…from which [i.e. the things prohibited in the decree] watching (over) yourselves carefully, you (will) perform well carrying (yourselves) in the holy Spirit” (D etc)
    Acts 15:32 (of Judas/Silas)—”…and they, being Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] full of (the) holy Spirit, called the brothers along [i.e. encouraged them] with many words” (D)
    These additions (if such they be) presumably were intended to enhance the status and Spirit-inspired character of the Jerusalem Council, so central to the book of Acts and the account of the early mission to the Gentiles.
  • Acts 19:1—”Paul was wishing to travel unto Jerusalem according to his own plan/counsel (but) the Spirit said to him to turn back into Asia, and coming through…” (Ë38 D syrh mg etc). This is an example of the more expansive narrative introductions typical of the Western text; here it emphasizes the Spirit’s direction (and intervention) in Paul’s travels.
  • Acts 20:3 (of Paul)—”he wished to take up sail into Syria but the Spirit said to him to turn back through Macedonia…” (D syrh mg etc). A similar expanded introduction emphasizing the guiding direction of the Spirit.
  • Acts 26:1—”then Paul stretched out the hand, giving an account of himself, {confident and receiving help/encouragement in/by the holy Spirit}…” (syrh mg [the underlying Greek text is uncertain])

For more on the ‘Western’ version of Acts, consult any reputable critical Commentary. One of the earliest (and best) is The Beginnings of Christianity (5 vols), eds. F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (1920-33), also available from Biblesoft in electronic form. A popular, compact and very readable modern Commentary is that of J. A. Fitzmyer in the Anchor Bible [AB] series (Vol. 31, 1998). Cf. also the commentaries by E. Haenchen (Westminster/Oxford: 1971) and F. F. Bruce (Tyndale: 1951, and in the NICNT series, 1954/1988), among others. There is a convenient summary of the topic in the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition), pp. 222-36.

Where Did Jesus Go? – Critical Notes on the Ascension, Pt 2

In the first part of this article, I discussed the critical passage which closes the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:50-53), comparing the “longer” reading (Majority text) which narrates the Ascension, with the “shorter” reading (Western text, but significantly also a*) which omits reference to his being “carried up into heaven”. Assuming for the moment that the longer reading is original, it does seem to conflict with the situation in Acts: for Luke 24:50-53 suggests that the Ascension took place late on Easter day, while Acts 1:2-11 records it occurring at least 40 days after the Resurrection. By scholarly consent, the same author (traditionally Luke, physician and companion of Paul) wrote both the Gospel and Acts—why would he create such an apparent discrepancy? A number of solutions have been offered to explain this:

    1. The Gospel and Acts record different events—an ‘intermediate’ ascension followed by a final departure into heaven 40 days later. I would regard this has highly unlikely. There is nothing to suggest that the ascension in Luke 24:51-52 is any other than Jesus’ ‘final’ departure from his disciples. A better solution in this regard would be to adopt the shorter reading—then separate events (but not separate ascensions) could be involved.
    2. After composing the Gospel, the author discovered the “correct” chronology (Ascension after 40 days), which he recorded in Acts, without altering the Gospel narrative.
    3. The author of Luke-Acts records separate traditions, without necessarily attempting to harmonize them. Admittedly, ancient (and/or traditional) authors may have been less bothered by apparent inconsistencies than modern readers and commentators; however, it is hard to gloss over such a glaring difference, in such relatively close proximity, within the same 2-volume work. Luke’s statement in the prologue of the Gospel (1:1-4) shows he was conscious of the need to narrate the traditions “accurately” (a)kribw=$) and in order (a)nata/casqai, v. 1; kaqech=$, v. 3), though we should not read too much into this. Prior to Augustine’s Harmony of the Gospels (III.25.77ff), there seems to be little (if any) comment on the apparent discrepancy by early Christian writers.
    4. The same event is consciously set in two different chronological contexts, without necessarily a regard for establishing which one is historically “correct”. This is a variation of #3, though with greater emphasis on the creative freedom of the author in setting the inherited tradition. In other words, while early tradition clearly believed in the exaltation/ascension of Jesus into heaven, specific details on location, timing, etc. may have differed as the story was told.
    5. In the Gospel, Luke has compressed the narrative so that events which may have occurred days apart are recorded as taking place at the same time. In my view, this is by far the best explanation. Many examples could be cited of this phenomenon in biblical (and other ancient) literature. Narrative episodes and sayings of Jesus are often connected together in the Gospels for many different reasons; one should not always read it as a simple historical/chronological sequence without further ado.

Acts 1:1-11

This is the opening section (1:1-11) of the book of Acts; some would extend it to include verses 12-14, but I believe these are best treated as transitional to what follows (the first days of the Church). In order to see how the Ascension fits into the structure of this passage, I provide a detailed outline below. Verses 1-5 can, and I think should, be read as a single long sentence: beginning with an address to Theophilus, shifting into a rather awkward (and textually difficult) narrative summary, and ending with direct discourse of Jesus to his disciples. Already here we see signs of the textual problems related to the “Western” text of Acts, which is different enough to be regarded as a separate recension of the book. I will likely be discussing possible solutions and explanations for this peculiar textual situation in an upcoming post.

Outline of Acts 1:1-11

Opening sentence: Verses 1-5

A. Verse 1: (secondary) Address to Theophilus (cf. Luke 1:1-4), referencing the “first account” (prw=ton lo/gon), i.e., the Gospel, about all (peri\ pa/ntwn)

Content of the Gospel: “Jesus began to do (poiei=n) and also to teach (dida/skein)”

B. Chronological summary (verse 2):
a&xri h!$ h(mera/$ “until which day…”

e)nteila/meno$ toi=$ a)posto/loi$ “having commanded the apostles

dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou “through the holy Spirit

ou^$ e)cele/catowhom he had chosen [lit. gathered out]”

a)nelh/mfqh “…he was taken up”

C. Historical summary (verses 3-4)—backward glance, beginning with the resurrection:
To whom (the Apostles, referent in verse 2) he “stood himself beside” (pare/sthsen) them “living” (zw=nta)

meta/ to\ paqei=n au)to/n “after his suffering”

e)n polloi=$ tekmhri/oi$ “in many fixed marks [or sure signs]”

di’ h(merw=n tessera/konta “through/during forty days” [i.e. an important symbolic period]
Events of “forty days” (marked by participles):

being seen (o)ptano/meno$) by them” and
recounting [i.e. speaking of] (le/gwn) the (things) about the kingdom of God” and
staying together (suna[u]lizo/meno$) with (them) he passed along a message to them”

Content of the message (transition into direct discourse):

a)po\  (Ierosolu/mwn “From Jerusalem”

mh\ xwri/zesqai “not to separate themselves” [i.e. depart]
a)lla\ perime/nein “but to remain around (for)”

th\n e)paggeli/an tou= patro/$ “the announcement [lit. message upon (you)] of/from the Father
–     h^n h)kou/sate mou/ “which you have heard of/from me

D. Statement of Jesus (direct discourse) to his disciples (verse 5)—tying together, in a different way, the beginning and end of his ministry (theme of the section)

o%ti “For…” indication of the (past) citation referring to John the Baptist (prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry)

“(me\n – on the one hand) John dipped/baptized in water
“(de\ – on the other hand) you shall be dipped/baptized (by God) in the Holy Spirit

ou) meta\ polla\$ tau/ta$ h(me/ra$ “after these few [lit. not many] days” (in 10 days, following the end of his earthly ministry)

Question regarding the Kingdom, and Jesus’ concluding statement: Verses 6-8

A. Disciples’ question regarding the Kingdom of God: “Lord, in this time do you set back down [i.e. restore] the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6)

B. Jesus’ answer: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set in his own authority” (v. 7)

C. Jesus’ concluding statement (v. 8), in two parts:

1) “But you shall receive (lh/myesqe) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you”

2) “and you shall be (e&sesqe) for me witnesses”

e)n te  )Ierousalh\m “in Jerusalem” (particle te governs what follows: “both in Jerusalem and…”)
–    kai\ [e)n] pa/sh| th=|  )Ioudai/a| “and [in] all Judea”
–    kai\ Samarei/a| “and Samaria”
–    kai\ e(w\$ e)sxa/tou th=$ gh=$ “and unto the end(s) of the earth”

The Ascension of Jesus: Verses 9-11

A. The Ascension narrated (v. 9)—compare with Luke 24:51:

kai\ e)ge/neto e)n tw=| eu)logei=n au)to\n au)tou\$ die/sth a)p’ au)tw=n kai\ a)nafe/reto ei)s to\n ou)ranon
“And it came to be, in his blessing them, he stood apart [i.e. parted] from them and was carried up into the heaven”

Acts 1:9: kai\ tau=ta ei)pw\n blepo/ntwn au)tw=n e)ph/rqh kai\ nefe/lh u(pe/laben au)to/n a)po\ tw=n o)fqalmw=n au)tw=n
“And having said these (things), in their seeing, he was lifted upon (the air) and a cloud took him under, (away) from their eyes”

B. The Appearance and message of the Two Men (vv. 10-11)

(Discussed below)

There are three aspects of the Ascension narrative (vv. 9-11) which are especially noteworthy:

    1. Apocalyptic imagery (esp. in verse 9)
    2. Parallel to the Lukan Resurrection scene (v. 10-11a)
    3. Eschatological image (v. 11)

1. Apocalyptic imagery. This refers to images and symbols associated with so-called Apocalyptic literature (a)pokalu/ptw is literally to “take the cover [away] from”)—works which record purported visions and revelations regarding the heavenly realms and/or future events. Here the imagery is simple and concise:

a) “Seeing” (blepo/ntwn au)tw=n, “[at/in] their seeing”)

b) “he was lifted up(on)” (e)ph/rqh)

b´) “a cloud took him under” (nefe/lh u(pe/laben au)to\n)

a´) “Not-seeing” (a)po\ tw=n o)fqalmw=n au)tw=n, “[away] from their eyes”)

The cloud, especially, typically symbolizes a heavenly manifestation and/or the Divine presence (Exodus 13:21 etc; 24:15-18; 40:34 etc; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Kings 8:10-12; Psalm 18:9-12; 68:4; Isaiah 19:1; Ezekiel 1:4; 10:3-4; Daniel 7:13; Revelation 10:1, 7; 14:14-16, and so forth). Jesus applies the early apocalyptic imagery from Daniel 7 to the (eschatological) appearance of the Son of Man (generally understood as Jesus’ own return): Luke 21:27 (par. Mark 13:24-27; Matthew 24:29-31); Mark 14:62 (par. Matthew 26:64). In addition, Luke seems to draw on the theophany at Sinai (Exodus 19:9, 16, etc) in his record of the Transfiguration scene (Luke 9:34-35; par. Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5).

2. Parallels with the Lukan Resurrection scene. It is worth comparing the Ascension scene in Acts 1:9-11 with the initial Easter message at the empty tomb in Luke 24:1-8f:

Acts 1:10-12

  • Disciples gazing (into empty space)
  • Appearance of two men in white clothes
  • “(For) what have you stood looking into the heaven?”
  • “This Jesus, the one taken up from you into the heaven…”
  • …”(he shall come [again] just as you saw him go)”
  • They returned from the Mount
  • The disciples were all together in the room above

Luke 24:4-9

    • Women wondering (at the empty tomb)
    • Appearance of two men in flashing clothing
    • “(For) what do you seek the living with the dead?”
    • “He is not here, but he has been raised…”
    • …”(just as Jesus spoke to you while living)”
    • They returned from the tomb…
    • …to where the disciples were

3. Eschatological message. The conclusion of the message of the two men (verse 11b) is eschatological: “thus he shall come by the turning which [i.e. in the same manner] you perceived him traveling into the heaven”. It is a proclamation and promise of Jesus’ future return. The phrase o^n tro/pon (“by which turning”) has the sense of “in the same way/manner”, but is somewhat vague in context. Traditionally, however, there are two specific details involved:

a) Just as Jesus was taken up under the (heavenly) cloud, so he will return with the cloud(s) of heaven (cf. Daniel 7:13; Luke 21:27; Mark 14:62 and par.). This is more than an ordinary meteorological phenomenon—the cloud principally represents the presence of God.

b) So Jesus will also return to the Mount of Olives. This is not certain; admittedly, the author nowhere emphasizes it, but I believe it likely represents a common tradition in the early Church. There are two Old Testament references to the Mount of Olives which helped shape early Gospel tradition:

i. David’s departure from Jerusalem (following Absalom’s revolt), 2 Samuel 15:30. There seem to be echoes of this in the Synoptic narrative of Jesus’ passion and arrest.

ii. The eschatological appearance of Yahweh (day of YHWH) in Zechariah 14. He will appear to battle the nations and restore Jerusalem (vv. 1-3); His feet will stand on the Mount of the Olives, and the mount will be split into a great valley (v. 4, 5). This is part of the concluding visions of Zechariah 9-14—these difficult and highly evocative chapters exerted a profound influence on early Christian thought.

If the first of these references depicts the humiliation and suffering of Christ, the second portrays his exaltation and coming as Divine King.

The Resurrection in Luke: The ‘Western’ Text

The major text-critical question in the Resurrection Narratives involves the so-called “Western Non-Interpolations” in the Gospel of Luke. This rather awkward term stems from the analysis by Westcott & Hort (principally Hort) in their landmark The New Testament in the Original Greek (1881, vol. II pp.175-177), regarding situations where, despite superior manuscript evidence to the contrary, the Western Text may have the original reading. In general, the “Western Text” (as represented by Codex Bezae [D], key Old Latin [and Old Syriac] MSS, and other versional witnesses), was deemed inferior to the so-called “Neutral Text” (exemplified esp. by Codex Vaticanus [B])—this view, with some modification (and different language), continues to be held by most critical scholars today. Particularly in Luke-Acts, the “Western Text” tends to have longer readings at key variation-units—expanding or adding clarifying detail to the text. It is all the more noticeable, then, on those rare occasions when D (and other Western witnesses) happen to contain a shorter reading. When this fact (cf. the principle lectio brevio potior, “the shorter reading is preferrable”) is combined with intrinsic or transcriptional probability in favor of the shorter text, one must then contend with the possibility that the Western reading is original. Hence the term “Western Non-Interpolation”: i.e., the majority text contains an interpolation (an added verse or phrase), contrary to the shorter (original) Western text.

Westcott & Hort identified 27 shorter Western readings of note: six were deemed unlikely to be original, twelve others considered possibly (but probably not) original, and nine regarded as “probably original”. These nine (the “Non-Interpolations”) are: Matthew 27:49; Luke 22:19b-20; 24:3, 6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52. For some time, critical scholars tended to favor this approach; however, in recent decades, with the discovery of the Bodmer Papyri (esp. Ë75), the pendulum has swung decidedly in the opposite direction—the majority of scholars, on the whole, now reject these shorter Western readings. Indeed, Ë75 (early 3rd century?) contains the longer (majority) reading for all 8 Lukan “Non Interpolations”, greatly strengthening the already impressive external evidence for them. On the other hand, the strongest argument in favor of the shorter readings is one of transcriptional probability—no one has really been able to offer a good explanation as to how (or why) the longer readings, if original, would have been deleted. Moreover, nearly all of the majority readings in these instances involve (possible) harmonizations to other portions of the New Testament (see notes below) as well as significant Christological details, both of which are more likely to represent scribal additions than details scribes would have ever deleted. For a fairly thorough defense in favor of the Lukan “Non-Interpolations”, see B. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Oxford:1993, pp. 197-232.

There is the problem: on the one side, the external manuscript evidence is decidedly in favor of the longer readings; but on the other, internal transcriptional evidence seems clearly to favor the shorter. Interestingly, all of the nine “Non-Interpolations” are from the Passion and Resurrection narratives (8 from the Lukan), and all but two (7) from the Resurrection/Ascension accounts in Luke 24 (common to virtually the same set of manuscripts). This cannot be coincidental, nor do I think it can be accidental. In other words, whichever set of readings (longer/shorter) is correct, the changes seem to have been both deliberate and consistent in Luke 24. Either scribes added text (interpolations), perhaps to harmonize with John’s account (see below) etc. and/or enhance the Christological portrait, or they deleted the text, for reasons that are as yet not entirely clear.

Luke 24:3

Here is a translation of the majority text of vv. 1-4, with the words in question italicized:

1And on (day) one of the week, of deep dawn [i.e. early at dawn], upon the memorial [i.e. tomb] they came carrying spices which they had made ready. 2And they found the stone having been rolled (away) from the memorial, 3but going into (it) they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to be in their being without a way-through [i.e. as they were at a loss] about this, and see!—two men stood upon [i.e. next to] them in flashing clothes…

Manuscripts D a b d e ff2 l r1 do not include the words tou= ku/riou  )Ihsou=. They may have been added to specify and make clear what would otherwise be implied: that it was truly Jesus’ body missing from the tomb. If the words did not drop out by accident, it is hard to explain why a scribe (on orthodox one, at least) would have removed them. A few manuscripts (579 1241 pc syrs, c, p bohms) read simply tou=  )Ihsou=.

Luke 24:6

The same group of Western manuscripts (along with Georgian MS B) do not include the words ou)k e&stin w!de a)lla\ e)ge/rqh from the angelic announcement. Here is a translation of the majority text (with italicized words):

5And at their [i.e. the women] coming to be afraid and bending th(eir) faces into the earth, they [i.e. the men/angels] said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] do you seek the living amid the dead? 6He is not here, but he has risen! Remember how he spoke to you…”

Luke 24:12

Almost the same group of Western MSS (along with several Syriac witnesses [and Marcion?]) do not include verse 12 at all. The majority text reads:

o( de\ Pe/tro$ a)nasta\$ e&dramen e)pi\ to mnmei=on kai\ paraku/ya$ ble/pei ta\ o)qo/nia [kei/mena] mo/na, kai\ a)ph=lqen pro\$ e(auto\n qauma/zwn to\ gegono/$

But Peter, standing up, ran upon [i.e. ran to] the memorial [i.e. tomb] and bending alongside he saw the cloths [laying] alone, and he went from (there) toward his own (home), wondering at the (thing which) had come to be [i.e. what had happened]

This is of course quite similar to the account in John 20:4-5f, enough that scholars who favor the shorter reading view the verse as a harmonizing interpolation. The word kei/mena (not in Ë75 a B W etc) is probably a simple harmonization; however, otherwise, there are enough differences (including all of 12b), that this is less likely for the verse as a whole. On the other hand, the sequence from verse 11 to 13 reads smoother without v. 12:

11and these words [i.e. the women’s report] shined in their face [i.e. appeared to them] as if idle-talk, and they [i.e. the apostles] did not trust them [i.e. the women]. 13And see—two of them [i.e. disciples/apostles] in the self(-same) day were traveling unto a village…

It is also much more effective dramatically without v. 12, leading up to the revelation at Emmaus; it can be argued that the announcement in v. 34 (“the Lord has been seen by Simon!”) is more dramatic this way as well. That being said, what of the (internal) evidence—the intrinsic or transcriptional probability—for inclusion/exclusion of the verse? I find the argument for simple harmonization with John to be weak; I am also unconvinced by the idea that the verse was added to make better sense of v. 34. A much stronger argument is that the verse was added (whether from John, or more likely a separate tradition) to soften the image of the unbelieving apostles in v. 11—not all of them mistrusted the women, Peter responded aggressively to see for himself! What of reasons for scribes’ deleting the verse? Apart from the fact that the narrative reads better without v.12 (the plural pronoun and copulative kai arguably connect more readily with v.11), it is hard to come up with a good explanation.

Luke 24:36

Here the opening of Jesus’ introduction—kai\ le/gei au)toi=$: ei)rh/nh u(mi=n—is not included by the same group of Western manuscripts (D a b d e ff2 l r1). Again, let us examine the context in translation (disputed words italicized):

36And as they spoke this, (Jesus) himself stood in the middle of them and says to them: “Peace to you”. 37But being terrified and coming to be in fear, they seemed to gaze at a ‘spirit’. 38And he said to them, “(For) what [i.e. why] are you disturbed…?”

The scene makes more immediate sense without the words—Jesus suddenly appears in their midst and they are terrified (presumably not recognizing him, cf. v. 16ff). There would seem to be less reason for such sudden, extreme fear, after the words of greeting (“Peace to you”). In this instance, a harmonization with John (20:19) is perhaps more likely than in Luke 24:12. As for omission, if the words did not fall out accidentally, why would they have been deleted? Again, it is hard to come up with a reason.

Luke 24:40

Here, as at 24:12, and entire verse is missing from (the same group) of Western manuscripts, along with the Curetonian and Sinaitic Syriac. The verse reads:

kai\ tou=to ei)pw\n e&deicen au)toi=$ ta\$ xei=ra$ kai\ tou\$ po/da$
“and having said this, he showed them the hands and the feet”

A harmonization with John 20:20 is certainly possible. On the other hand, I would say that there is at least a plausible reason for scribes omitting the words, as they may have appeared superfluous or redundant directly following v. 39.

Luke 24:51-52

These two variations units are, in some ways, even more controversial, and are better left to an (upcoming) article on the Ascension.

One of the reasons earlier scholars more readily favored the “Non-Interpolations” of vv. 12, 36, and 40, was the understandable assumption that these were scribal harmonizations (of a sort all too common in the manuscripts) with the parallel passage in John. However, commentators today tend to prefer the view that Luke and John (in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, at least) both draw from a common tradition, which explains their sharing certain details not found in Matthew-Mark.

From a text-critical point of view, however, it should be reiterated that the internal evidence favors all of the Lukan “Non-interpolations” (in chapter 24). The two overriding arguments:

    1. Scribes are more likely to have harmonized the text (to another Gospel passage) by adding to it, than to eliminate a harmonization by deleting the text.
    2. Scribes are more likely to add details enhancing or expanding the portrait of Christ, than to delete them. One indisputable fact is that for all seven instances in Luke 24, the longer (majority) text adds vivid or significant detail related to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection not found in the corresponding Western text.

All things considered, it is safest to defer to the overwhelming external evidence in favor of the longer readings. Yet, in studying and meditating upon the Resurrection accounts in Luke, I would urge care and consideration—if we wish to understand the inspired original text, such significant textual variants must be given their due.

January 13: Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22

The Octave of Epiphany (that is, seven days after Epiphany), January 13, is the traditional date (in the West) for celebrating the Baptism of Jesus by John; although more recently, it has been commemorated on the Sunday after Epiphany. All four Gospels contain accounts of the Baptism (Mark 1:9-11; Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22; and, in a roundabout way, John 1:29-34), and it was a keystone reference in early preaching (Acts 1:1-15; 10:37; 13:24-25), primarily as a way of marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. However, very quickly it became a fundamental Christological text—the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Divine Voice declaring Jesus to be the Son of God; and it is perhaps not surprising that major textual variants are associated with both of these elements.

Nearly all Christians, then and now, have believed that Jesus Christ is the “Son of God”; however, the problem has always been exactly how, or in what way, this is to be understood—that is, what does the title and attribution actually entail?

To begin with, in the early Church there would seem to be four principal ideas associated with the “birth” of Jesus as God’s “Son” (I cite them roughly in chronological order of development—at least, in so far as they appear in the New Testament):

  1. By the resurrection, God glorified Jesus, declaring/appointing him as His Son: Rom 1:3-4; Acts 10:33f; also (later) Hebrews 1:5. The last two references specifically cite Psalm 2:7.
  2. At his baptism, God declared Jesus to be His Son: Mark 1:11; Matthew 3:17; Luke 3:22; also John 1:34; and cf. Acts 10:37-38. The language used by the Divine Voice seems to echo Psalm 2:7 (see on the key variant at Luke 3:22 below); see also the parallel occurrence in the Transfiguration scene (Mark 9:7; Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35; and 2 Peter 1:17).
  3. The incarnation proper: Jesus was “born” in human flesh as God’s Son: Matthew 1:20, 23; see especially in the Lukan Infancy Narrative—1:31-32, 35, 43; 2:11, 40; see also Gal. 4:4; Rom. 8:3; and (perhaps) the variant reading of John 1:13.
  4. Begotten in eternity as pre-existent Son of God: John 1:1-18 (esp. vv. 14, 18); 3:16-18; and elsewhere in the gospel and epistles of John. For other possible references to pre-existence, see Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:2-12; for the pre-existence of Christ, without specific reference to sonship, see esp. Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20.
    (For the moment, I am excluding other references in the Gospels: confessions of disciples, statements by hostile witness, the devil and demons, etc.)

Today, certainly, we tend to think of Jesus as Son of God, in terms of #3 and 4 above; whereas it is clear that, for many in the early Church, #1 and 2 were at least as important. In fact, according to theologians and apologists of the second and third centuries, there were a number of “Gnostics” and Jewish Christians who held rather a different view of the person of Christ on this basis:

(1) Some apparently held that Jesus was an “ordinary” human being (yilo$ a&nqrwpo$) who was raised by God to the status of Divine Son, either at the resurrection/ascension, or at his baptism. This Christological view is generally referred to, somewhat inaccurately, as Adoptionism (i.e, Jesus was ‘adopted’ as God’s Son). It was claimed that Jewish-Christians such as the so-called Ebionites, and several prominent arch-heretics (Theodotus, Artemon, Paul of Samosata, etc.), along with their followers, held Adoptionist views. See Irenaeus Against Heresies I.26.2; III.21.1; V.1.3; Origen, Against Celsus V.61; Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies VII.22-23 [35f]; X.18-19 [23f]; Eusebius, Church History III.27; V.28; VII. 27-30; Epiphanius, Panarion 54.

(2) Other “Gnostic” believers seem to have thought in terms of a two-person union: the unique human being Jesus (possessing a kind of divine, purified flesh) joined together with the Divine Christ (to make the combined being “Jesus Christ”). This conjunction took place at the baptism, and ended (was separated) at his death on the cross. According to the essential Gnostic/dualistic worldview, the Divine could have no real contact with the evil, corrupt material order; this particular Christology (Separatism) allowed for only marginal connection with human nature—just enough for the Christ to bring the necessary knowledge of salvation to humankind. The arch-heretic Cerinthus, as well as the Valentinians, are generally described as espousing a Separatist Christology. See Irenaeus Against Heresies I.7.2, 21.2, 26.1, 30.12-15; III.16; Tertullian, Against the Valentinians 27; Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies VI.26-30, 46; VII.15, 21-24; X. 17; Eusebius, Church History III.28; Epiphanius, Panarion 28.

Many of the scripture passages cited above could be interpreted along the lines of these Christological (Adoptionist and Separatist) ‘heresies’. It was perhaps the passages describing Jesus’ Baptism which were most problematic, as a number of the patristic citations will attest. In this regard, I point out two major variant readings, one from Mark’s account, the other from Luke:

Mark 1:10:

Here it states that the Holy Spirit w($ peristeran katabai=non ei)$ au)to/n (“coming down as a dove into/unto him”), which is the reading of many of the best manuscripts (B D f13 2427 pc), and is probably original. However, the majority of witnesses (a A L W Q f1 33 Byz lat syr) read instead w($ peristeran katabai=non e)p’ au)to/n (“coming down as a dove upon him”). The preposition ei)$ can mean “in(to)”, or more generally “unto”, often with a sense of direction implied (“to/toward”). However, in the more concrete sense, the phrase could be taken to mean that the Spirit came down “into” Jesus, i.e., to empower/join with him—an idea perhaps susceptible to a Gnostic interpretation. I am not aware of any Church Father who cites this variant, though Irenaeus does suggest that those who “separate Jesus from Christ” prefer the Gospel of Mark (Against Heresies III.11.7), and could well make use of the verse. Matthew and Luke, if they make use of Mark’s Gospel, have changed the preposition; in any event, they both read e)pi instead of ei)$ (a few MSS of Matthew actually read pro$ [“toward”], which softens the image even further).

Luke 3:22:

In the majority of Manuscripts, the Heavenly Voice states: su ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaph/to$, e)n soi eu)do/khsa (“You are my beloved Son, in you I have [good] pleasure [lit. think well off]”), which is identical with the Majority text of Mark (1:11), and similar to that of Matthew (3:17, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I have [good] pleasure”). However, in Codex D [Bezae] and a number of Old Latin MSS (a b c d ff2, l, r1) and quite a few Church Fathers, the reading is: ui(o/$ mou ei@ su/, e)gw/ sh/meron geg/nnhka/ se (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be [born] [i.e. begotten you]”)—a quotation from Psalm 2:7. The primary patristic citations for this reading 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.

Normally, when a reading is found in just a single Greek manuscript (and in only one language among Versions), that would be enough to mark it clearly as secondary; however, when the reading is also attested by such a wide range of early Church Fathers and writings, it should give one pause. In terms of transcriptional probabilities, it does seem more likely that scribes would harmonize according to a parallel passage in another Gospel, than to a quotation from the Greek OT. Yet, there can be no doubt that early Christians would have read and understood the Heavenly voice in the Markan (and Matthean) account largely in terms of Psalm 2:7—clearly it was a popular Messianic (and Christological) passage, for it is cited on at least three other occasions (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5) in the New Testament. So, the textual evidence remains divided, and a number of scholars do accept the minority reading as original (for a good summary and defense of this position, see Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture pp. 62-67, and notes).

However, even if the minority reading does not represent the original text, most of the Church Fathers who cite it (see above) certainly thought that it did, and realize how it could be misconstrued or misunderstood. They take pains to clarify that Jesus did not “become” God’s Son at his baptism—that he was already Son of God at his birth (and before). In so doing, the text had to be explained to avoid the metaphysical implications of the passage. Today, most commentators do not labor under the heavy weight of Psalm 2:7 as a Christological passage—rather, the second Psalm is recognized, in its historical context, as primarily referring to the ordination/inauguration of the (Davidic) king, utilizing common Near Eastern symbolism of king as “son of God”. As such, it still retains all of its Messianic force applied to Jesus, but it is not meant to bear the full burden of Orthodox Christology. A thoughtful, balanced understanding of Jesus Christ as Son of God, takes into account the entire witness of the New Testament (and Early Church)—including the Baptism narratives; and I would suggest that both readings of Luke 3:22 are worthy of consideration.

The Greek word ba/ptw properly means to “dip” (prim. into a liquid, such as cloth into dye); the intensive verb bapti/zw by extension means to “sink, submerge, immerse” or, metaphorically, “overwhelm”. So, instead of “John the Baptist”, one would translate more literally as “John/Yoµanan the Dipper [or Immerser]” and the Baptism of Jesus would be referred to as “the Dipping [or Immersing] of Jesus/Yeshua”. However, this does not necessarily mean that the first ‘Baptisms’ (either by John or early Christians) were properly full-immersions. The commonly received image is of a person standing (or kneeling) partly submerged, with water lifted out and poured over the head; and this may well be what was done, at the historical level, for Jesus. And, while it is hardly worth fighting over, I would suggest that there is value to the ancient symbolism of “entering the waters” (meaning at least a partial immersion), which ought to be preserved (or restored) in congregations today.