The Case for the Human Jesus in Luke

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The Case for the Human Jesus in Luke

In his book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart Ehrman identifies 3 main categories of theological emphasis that predominated and to some extent controlled the motivations and actions of early Christian communities in their Christological debates concerning the “nature” of Jesus.

The first were those who belonged to an “Adoptionist” view, people who believed that Christ was a man who was “adopted” at his baptism by the God of Israel.

The second were those belonging to the “Docetic” movement who believed that Jesus was not really a human but some sort of “preexistent” spirit-being who transformed into (assumed) the form of a man.

The third and last group were the “Separatists” who thought that the “divine Christ” and the “human Jesus” were really two separate beings. These two “beings” at some point became “one” in the body of the man Jesus.

In this and many others of his books, Ehrman makes a point to fix historically these various communities of Christians to within 100-150 years after Christ. His main argument is that the various Christian movements of recent times are not some new development found within the last millennia or so, but an ever changing and evolving Christology that can be traced back to within the Apostles’ lifetime.

Some manuscripts include Luke 22.43-44:

“Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”

In this addition, Ehrman claims to have found one of the strongest evidences for an “Adoptionist” corruption. The following quotes are from The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, Oxford, 1993, p 187-194.

“The manuscript alignments…show beyond reasonable doubt when the corruption—whichever reading is the corruption—must have been made. If the verses are secondary, they must have been interpolated into Luke by the middle of the second century, for they are attested by Fathers beginning with Justin and Irenaeus and by early Latin and Syriac witnesses. If they are original, they must have been deleted by roughly the same period, since they are absent from Clement at the end of the 2nd century and from Alexandrian witnesses of the early 3rd, witnesses that represent a stream of tradition that is itself much older.

The fact is that this account of Jesus’ heightened agony in the face of his passion…is theologically intrusive in Luke’s Gospel as a whole and literally intrusive in its immediate context…Luke has gone to considerable lengths to counter precisely the view of Jesus that these verses embrace. Rather than entering his passion with fear and trembling, in anguish over his coming fate, the Jesus of Luke goes to his death calm and in control, confident of his Father’s will until the very end. It is a striking fact, of particular relevance to our textual problem, that Luke could produce this image of Jesus only by eliminating traditions offensive to it from his sources (e.g., the Gospel according to Mark). Only the longer text of 22.43-44 stands as anomalous.”

Ehrman goes on to make an incisive comparison with Mark and concludes that he had “his reasons for narrating the event” differently than Luke.

His portrayal of Jesus in agony and doubt [14.33-36, 41]…sets the stage for the salvific events that transpire immediately upon his death…Why would Luke have totally eliminated the remnants of Jesus’ agony elsewhere if he meant to emphasize it here in yet stronger terms? Why remove compatible material from his source, both before and after the verses in question?

We do not need to hypothesize the usefulness of these verses for an anti-docetic polemic; we know that the verses were put to precisely this use during the period of our concern. 2nd century Heresiologists used Jesus’ ‘bloody sweat’ to attack Christians who denied his real humanity… [The story these verses portray] did not originate with the author of the Gospel of Luke. It was inserted into the Third Gospel sometime in the early 2nd century (prior to Justin) as part of the anti-docetic polemic of the orthodox Christian church.

Graeser, Lynn and Schoenheit in their One God and One Lord, p 324, make a similar point:

“Thus, we see how gradually the text was altered to the detriment of truth and biblical accuracy. But understanding this well-established historical tendency in the development of the Christian faith goes a long way toward explaining how doctrinal error could not only arise, but become solidified and ‘substantiated’ by a corrupted text. The ‘expansion of piety’ arises from man’s sinful desire to elevate his own ideas above the Word of God.”

But most importantly, it also explains how the human Jesus could have been “inflated” to become something other than what he truly was, “the human Christ,” “the Son of the Living God” (1 Tim 2.5; Mat 16.16; cp. Matt 14:33; 26:63; Mark 3:11; 4.3; 5:7; Luke 1:35; 4:41; John 1:34, 49; Acts 9:20).