Jesus Christ – God’s Eternal Son or Adopted Son of God?
A Further Reply to Dr. Jerald F. Dirks
According to Luke’s Gospel when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove God the Father announced that Christ is his beloved Son:
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’” Luke 3:21-22
Luke’s account pretty much agrees with the other Gospels, specifically with Mark and Matthew:
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:9-11
“And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Matthew 3:16-17
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness, ‘I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’” John 1:29-36
However, there is a variant reading to Luke 3:22 stating that it was on this particular day that God had begotten Jesus as his Son:
“and the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical form, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son; today have I fathered (lit. begotten) you.’” New Jerusalem Bible
According to Muslim polemicist Dr. Jerald F. Dirks not only is this the original reading it also indicates that the earliest Christians didn’t believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ. On the basis of this variant he asserts that Jesus’ Sonship isn't eternal but occured at a specific moment. Dirks reasons that this proves that Jesus' Sonship must be taken metaphorically, not literally or physically.
JESUS AND ADOPTIONISM
Given the above Biblical verses, how does one understand the title “Son of God” when it is applied to Jesus? The answer is to be found in the Adoptionist movement within early Christianity. The Adoptionist trajectory in early Christianity begins with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. According to the usual Adoptionist formulations, it was at his moment of baptism that Jesus moved into this special relationship or metaphorical “sonship” with God – not at his conception or virgin birth. As noted in appropriate footnotes to the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the oldest Greek manuscripts of and quotations from Luke render the key verse in question as follows.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son; today I have begotten you” (Luke 3:21-22).
“Today I have begotten you,” i.e. at the time of the baptism not at the time of conception. Given that Jesus was clearly an adult at the time of his baptism, under this ancient reading of Luke, “begotten” must be understood metaphorically, not physically or literally. In other words, the “sonship” of Jesus was a created relationship, not a begotten relationship. Furthermore, before the contemporary Christian rejects this most ancient reading of Luke 3:22, he should realize the wording regarding the baptism of Jesus is also to be found in Hebrews 1:5a, Hebrews 5:5, and Acts 13:33. This same wording is also found in Psalms 2:7 in reference to David and in the apocryphal Gospel of the Ebionites in reference to Jesus’ baptism. (Dirks, Easily Understand Islam, F. Malik (compiler) [Desert Well Network LLC, November 30, 2006], Chapter 15. Jesus: Man and God?, pp. 219-220)
In this article we are going to look at the textual data and examine how the alternate rendering affects the historic, conservative Christian position concerning the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Examining the Textual Data
Dirks is not the only anti-Christian apologist who argues that the alternate rendering is actually the ancient or original reading. Noted liberal critical NT textual scholar Bart Ehrman also believes that this is the original reading and that orthodox scribes deliberately changed it since they were uncomfortable with its Christological implications:
The strongest support for the reading of codex Bezae derives from transcriptional and intrinsic probabilities, about which I will be speaking momentarily. But the external attestation should not be discounted, as has frequently happened in earlier treatments. Granting that the reading does not occur extensively after the fifth century, it cannot be overlooked that in witnesses of the second to third centuries, centuries that to be sure have not provided us with any superfluity of Greek manuscripts, it is virtually the only reading that survives. Not only was it the reading of the ancestor of codex Bezae and the Old Latin text of Luke, it appears also to have been the text known to Justin, Clement of Alexandria, and the authors of the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Didascalia. It is certainly the text attested by the Gospel according the Ebionites, Origen, and Methodius. Somewhat later it is found in Lactantius, Juvencus, Hilary, Tyconius, Augustine, and several of the later Apocryphal Acts. Here I should stress that except for the third-century manuscript P4, there is no certain attestation of the other reading, the reading of our later manuscripts, in this early period. The reading of Codex Bezae, then, is not an error introduced by an unusually aberrant witness. This manuscript is, in fact, one of the last witnesses to preserve it. Nor is it a “Western” variant without adequate attestation. Among sources of the second and third centuries, it is virtually the only reading found; down to the sixth century it occurs in witnesses as far-flung as Asia-Minor, Palestine, Alexandria, North Africa, Rome, Gaul, and Spain. (Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture – The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament [Oxford University Press, Paperback 1996], 2. Anti-Adoptionistic Corruptions of Scripture, pp. 62-63)
Ehrman’s comments may give the misleading impression that apart from P4 all or the majority of the earliest Greek manuscript tradition supports the alternate rendering. However, it is important to note that Ehrman is not referring to textual witnesses but to patristic sources, i.e. quotations taken from the writings of the early Church fathers. Apart from codex Bezae (D), a manuscript known for its dubious readings, the textual witnesses uniformly support the reading found in the majority of English translations.
NT Greek textual critic Philip W. Comfort’s somewhat lengthy discussion of the textual data is worth quoting since it helps to put this in proper perspective:
TR WH NU su ei ho huios ho agapetos, en soi eudokesa.
“You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
P4 aleph A B L W 070 33 MSS according to Augustine
KJV NKJV RSV ESV NASB NIV TNIV NEB REB NJBmg NAB NLT HCSB NET
variant huios mou ei su, ego semeron gegenneka se
“You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.”
D it Justin (Clement) Hilary MSS according to Augustine
RSVmg NRSVmg ESVmg NEBmg REBmg NJB NABmg NLTmg NETmg
The TR WH NU reading has the earliest and most diverse documentary support. The variant reading is later and more localized (in the west) – a true ‘Western’ reading. Augustine knew of both readings, although he made it clear that the variant reading was “not found in the more ancient manuscripts” (Cons. 2.14.).
In spite of the documentary evidence, many scholars have defended the variant reading as being the more difficult reading and therefore more likely original. They argue that the reading was a full quotation of Ps 2:7, which (in the words of the NEB translators) shows Jesus to be “the King Messiah of Ps [2:7] enthroned at the Baptism to establish the rule of God in the world.” This reading was then harmonized to the baptism accounts in Matt 3:17 and Mark 1:1 by orthodox scribes trying to avoid having the text say that Jesus was “begotten” on the day of his baptism – an erroneous view held by Adoptionists. (For a full discussion of this issue, see Ehrman 1993, 62-67.) However, it can be argued that the scribe of D (known for his creative editorialization) changed the text to replicate Ps 2:7 or was himself influenced by adoptionist views. Indeed, the variant reading was included in the second-century Gospel of the Ebionites, who were chief among the Adoptionists. “They regarded Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary, but elected Son of God at his baptism when he was united with the eternal Christ” (NIDCC).
In any case, Ps 2:7 appears to have been used exclusively by NT writers with reference to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). Since in Luke’s book of Acts it is explicitly used to affirm the prophetic word about Jesus’ resurrection, it would seem odd that he would use it to affirm Jesus’ baptism. Given the TR WH NU reading, it seems more likely that Luke was thinking of Ps 2:7 for the first part of the statement (“this is my beloved Son”) and Isa 42:1 for the second part (“in whom I am well pleased”). The Isaiah passage is especially fitting given its connection with the Messiah’s reception of the Spirit. (Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary – Commentary on the variant readings of the ancient New Testament manuscripts and how they relate to the major English translations [Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Il. 2008], p. 176; underline emphasis ours)
The reason why the vast majority of Bible translations and texts read as they do is not difficult to discern. The witness of one of our earliest papyri manuscripts, e.g. P4, along with the rest of the Greek manuscript tradition, together with the dubious nature of codex Bezae (D) and the Western texts that follow it, more than explains why the reading found in the majority of versions is taken to be the original.
With that said it should be stated that scholars have noted that Ehrman’s pattern is to overturn or downplay the weight of the manuscript tradition in order to maintain his agenda concerning the so-called orthodox corruption of the Holy Scriptures. Here, he tries to undermine the manuscript evidence on the basis of the patristic witness, even though there is no critical edition of the patristic sources to help us see whether the fathers were actually referring to this alternate reading or had the text of Psalm 2:7 LXX in view due to the similarities between that reference and Luke 3:22. That the fathers may have had this particular Psalm in mind becomes all the more likely when we take into consideration that this same verse is quoted in Acts 13:33.
The adoptionistic interpretation in light of tensions in Luke’s Christology
Moreover, Ehrman (much like Dirks) assumes that this variant reading supports a particular theological position which was deemed unorthodox by the so-called “proto-orthodox” group. He takes it as a theological given that the reading, “today I have begotten you,” has to be read adoptionalistically, and argues on that basis that the reading was an “obvious embarrassment” to the orthodox scribes (p. 64).
But this assertion ignores the fact that all throughout Luke-Acts the author applies specific Christological titles at different key points in the life of Jesus.
For instance, was Jesus the Son of God from his conception and birth?
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.’” Luke 1:26-35(1)
And was he God’s Son at the age of twelve?
“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.’ And he said to them, ‘How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?’ And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:41-51
Or did he become the Son of God at his resurrection?
“And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee.’” Acts 13:32-33
Was Jesus the Christ, Savior and Lord at his conception and birth?
“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.’” Luke 1:41-44
“And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:10-11
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.’” Luke 2:25-32
Was he also the Christ, Savior and Lord throughout his earthly ministry?
“And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.” Luke 4:41
“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” Luke 5:8
“While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and besought him, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And he stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him.” Luke 5:12-13
“Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you (he pistis sou sesoken se); go in peace.’” Luke 7:48-50
“As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’ Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed/saved you (he pistis sou sesoken se). Go in peace.’” Luke 8:42b-48
“Now it happened that as he was praying alone the disciples were with him; and he asked them, ‘Who do the people say that I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others say, Eli'jah; and others, that one of the old prophets has risen.’ And he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ And Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’ But he charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, ‘The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’” Luke 9:18-22
“The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” Luke 10:17 – cf. 6:46; 7:6; 9:54, 59, 61; 10:40; 11:1; 12:41; 13:23, 25; 17:37; 18:41; 19:8, 31, 34; 22:33, 38, 49
“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well/has saved you (he pistis sou sesoken se).’” Luke 17:11-19
“As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Lord, I want to see,’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed/saved you (he pistis sou sesoken se).’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” Luke 18:35-43
And was he the disciples’ Lord before his ascension?
“And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’” Luke 24:33-34
“In the first book, O The-oph'ilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sama'ria and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’” Acts 1:1-11
Or was Jesus made the Christ, Savior and Lord at his exaltation to heaven?
“Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’” Acts 2:29-36
“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’” Acts 5:29-32
These examples point to the fact that the author had no problem positing the same Christological titles and functions at different junctures. For the writer of Luke-Acts these various names and roles took on significant meanings at specific points in Jesus’ life, particularly at his birth, baptism, resurrection and ascension.
Ehrman himself sees this pattern since he uses Luke’s varied application of particular christological titles and functions to refute those who say that the variant in Luke 3:22 cannot be the original reading on the grounds that Jesus was born God’s Son according to Luke 1:32-35:
“… The argument assumes, that is, that Luke would not predicate the same christological title to Jesus on the basis of different critical moments, or junctures, of his existence. In fact, the assumption is demonstrably false. When one looks beyond the relationship of Luke 3:22 to 1:32-35 and takes a panoramic view of this two-volume work, it becomes evident that the words of Psalm 2:7 at Jesus’ baptism do not so much create an inadmissible inconsistency as highlight tensions otherwise found – indeed, consistently found – throughout Luke’s portrayal of Jesus.
“An obvious example comes in Luke’s depiction of Jesus as the Messiah. According to Luke’s infancy narrative, Jesus was born the Christ (2:11). But in at least one of the speeches of Acts he is understood to have become the Christ at his baptism (10:37-38; possibly 4:27); whereas in another Luke explicitly states that he became the Christ at his resurrection (2:38). It may be that in yet another speech (3:20) Jesus is thought to be the Christ only in his parousia. Similarly ‘inconsistent’ are Luke’s predications of the titles Lord and Savior to Jesus. Thus, Jesus is born the Lord in Luke 2:11, and in Luke 10:1 he is designated Lord while living; but in Acts 2:38 [sic] he is said to have been become [sic] Lord at his resurrection. So too, in Luke 2:11 he is born Savior, and in Acts 13:23-24 he is designated Savior while living; but in Acts 5:31 he is said to have been made Savior at the resurrection. Nor does the title Son of God, the title that is directly germane to our present deliberation, escape this erratic kind of treatment: Jesus is born the Son of God in Luke 1:32-35, descended Son of God according to the genealogy of 3:23-38, and declared to be the Son of God while living (e.g., Luke 8:28; 9:35); but Acts 13:33 states that he became the Son of God at his resurrection. This kind of titular ambiguity does not inspire confidence in claims that certain readings cannot be Lukan because they stand in tension with Luke’s use of christological titles elsewhere.” (Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 64-65; underline emphasis ours)
It is amazing that despite admitting that in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is said to be God’s Son from his birth Ehrman still contends that the variant reading was somehow a problematic text for orthodox scribes. It would seem that the opposite is true, i.e. the birth narrative of Luke would pose a more serious obstacle for the heretics who believed that Jesus only became God’s Son at his baptism.
Dirks is also aware that according to Luke’s Gospel Jesus was the Son of God from the time of his virginal conception and birth since this is what he writes in another book:
The “Sonship” of Jesus
The above passage from Luke clearly indicates that the baptism of Jesus assumed a central place in the canonical gospels. It was with the baptism that Jesus’ “sonship”, to utilize a neologism, was acknowledged (refer Table 1). The trajectory that is being mapped here is only to understand the evolution [sic] of the concept of the “sonship” of Jesus. In the earliest gospel, i.e., Mark, the “sonship” was first acknowledged at the time of baptism, the very nature of the “sonship” was intricately intertwined with the baptism, and the “sonship” was somehow depended upon it. In short, Jesus was the “created son” of Allah, being, as it were, “adopted” by Allah during the time of baptism. However, by the time of Matthew and Luke, the “sonship” had been pushed back in time to the birth of Jesus, and was associated with the virgin birth. This gave rise to the false notion of the “begotten son” [sic]. The “sonship” had now become dependent on the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus. The emergence of this concept was not from Judaism nor, for that matter, from the nascent Judeo-Christian church, but was a result of polytheism, e.g., birth stories of Hercules.
Still later, by the time of John, the “begotten sonship” had evolved into the concept of the pre-existence of Jesus, and the oneness of Jesus with Allah. The concept was, however, blasphemous according to the dictates of Judaism, Islam, and many branches of early [sic] Christianity, particularly the early Church at Jerusalem, whose members had personally known Jesus. Judging by the chronological dates of the compilation of the four gospels, it can be seen that this evolution in Christology occurred VERY RAPIDLY within the confines of at least one segment of the early Christian churches, and within a course of only 35 years. This trajectory, being as it was the formulation of one of the branches of the early churches, was outrightly rejected by other segments of the early [sic] Christian churches for centuries, and these other branches of early Christianity continued to define the “sonship” of Jesus only secondary to the baptism of Jesus. These churches which rejected the thesis of “sonship” were labelled by the evolutionary Christians as “adoptionists ”, “subordinationists”, “Arians”, etc. (Dirks, The Cross and the Crescent [Amana Publications, First Edition: August 25, 2001], Chapter 4. The Baptism of Jesus –The Origin of the “sonship” of Jesus, pp. 68-69; capital and underline emphasis ours)
In acknowledging this he manages to contradict himself in the process since he goes on to argue that the Gospel of Luke reflects the adoptionistic views of some of the so-called early Christian sects!
“(T)oday I have begotten you.” The original Lukan narrative clearly documented that the “sonship” of Jesus began ONLY with the baptism. Despite the use of the word “begotten” in the text, this was clearly a “created sonship”, which began only secondarily to Allah granting a special relationship with Him to Jesus, at the time of the baptism. Clearly, those among the early churches who supported the concept of a “begotten sonship” could not afford to have this text of Luke remain within the domain of canonical scripture. As a result, the process of altering the Lukan text began. The fact that this altering process was not systematically completed with other New Testament books is clear from the original word-for-word quotation from Luke 3:22b remaining unaltered in Hebrews 1:5b [sic]. (Ibid., pp. 99-100; capital and underline emphasis ours)
One is left wondering how this author could assert that Luke “pushes” Jesus’ Sonship back to his virginal conception and birth, and then use that as evidence for an evolutionary process taking place among a certain sect of early Christianity, when he contends that this same Gospel writer has Jesus’ Sonship beginning only at his baptism?
How does the variant reading affect Christian Orthodoxy? What it means for Jesus to be begotten by God
Assuming for argument’s sake that the variant reading is the original how, then, do we reconcile this with the explicit testimony of Luke that Jesus was already God’s Son from his birth? How could he have been begotten at his baptism in light of Gabriel telling Mary that she was going to give birth to God’s holy Son and with Jesus himself at the age of twelve declaring that God was his Father?
The following passage gives us somewhat of an idea of how to understand Jesus’ begetting at this particular juncture in his life:
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry… And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” Luke 4:1-2, 13-21
The repeated references to Jesus and the Spirit suggest that by begetting Luke meant that it was only at this precise moment that God brought forth his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out his ministry. The next citation seems to affirm this explanation:
“And Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’” Acts 10:34-43
Peter proclaims that it was at the baptism that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power to fulfill his Messianic role.
In light of these texts we are justified in understanding that the act of begetting in this specific context doesn’t refer to the time when Christ became God’s Son. Rather, this is Luke’s way of highlighting the moment that God chose for Jesus to begin his Messianic office in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Assuming that our interpretation turns out to be mistaken the fact remains that, as far as Luke’s Gospel is concerned, Jesus’ baptism did not make him the Son of God. According to Luke Christ was already the holy Son of the Most High at least from the time of his conception and birth.
Moreover, even if one were to argue that Jesus did actually become God’s Son at a certain point in time this wouldn’t deny the explicit teaching of Luke-Acts that Christ is a preexistent heavenly Divine Being. As we have documented in the following articles (*; *; *) the testimony of Luke-Acts is that Jesus is the human appearance of Yahweh God and therefore a fully Divine Person.
Thus, if it could be conclusively demonstrated that Jesus only became the Son of God at some particular moment, e.g. at his baptism or conception, this would do absolutely nothing to refute the plain and emphatic testimony of the author of Luke-Acts that Christ is fully God – and is therefore eternal – who came down from heaven to become a man from the blessed virgin Mary. The only thing this would imply is that even though Christ has always existed he wasn’t always the Son of God.
This concludes our rebuttal. Lord Jesus willing, more rebuttals to Dirks’ assertions to follow shortly.
(1) In announcing the birth of the Lord Jesus to the blessed virgin the angel Gabriel made allusion to the following OT prediction:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7
Jesus’ birth fulfills the promise of God that a child would be born to rule on David’s throne as the Mighty God forever!