Sunday, November 28, 2010

CSI “Begetting”

Ep. 1: Mistranslations, corruptions and bias on the origin of the Son

As the saying goes, ‘for those who came in late’, the title of this study takes after those popular crime shows on television which are involved in Crime Scene Investigations of all kinds. The Bible is riddled with crime scenes. As we will see, these are ‘crimes’ committed by people not only in the past but also in the present. This article will take on the style of those shows, in an effort not only to uncover the biblical crime scenes, but to try and bring clarity to the issues at hand.

The Evidence
Our first case deals with those texts associated with the “begetting” of the Son of God, “the man Messiah Jesus” [1Tim 2.5]. As the evidence will show, there is a strong case to be made that very early in the transmission of the NT letters, people at times sought to obscure and, in some extreme cases, totally remove evidence relating the unique creation by God of His Son. This event took place not in some “time before time” [as per the Creeds], but in a small Jewish village near Jerusalem some 2 000 years ago.

Exhibit A: Ps 2.7

While our first exhibit does not necessarily show any signs of tampering or indeed corruption, it is those verses associated with it that will lead us to the ‘crime scene’.

As it stands, the text of Ps 2.7 says:
“You are my son. Today I have begotten you.” [cp. 2Sam 7.14]
The verse as it appears in the Greek translation of the Bible [the LXX, some 300 years before Christ] translates the Hebrew for “begotten” [yalad] as gennao. Scholars are adamant that, in its OT usage/background, “the few passages[1]…in which God appears as subject of [yalad] must be interpreted figuratively”. They insist that in each case these verses allude to the “enthronement of the [Davidic] king”[2], as opposed to his physical/literal “begetting” by YHWH. Yet, the verse as used by the NT writers[3] gives it an altogether literal, as opposed to figurative, meaning. It is here where we discover signs of ‘violence’ based on Christological bias.

The verse is first cited by the writer of Acts [13.33] in a sermon the Apostle Paul gave to a synagogue in Pisidia, Antioch. Paul explains how some of the Jews did not recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah because they could “not understand the words of the prophets” [v. 27]. Though he was unjustly killed as a criminal, God raised him from the dead, thus proving to everyone that he was the Messiah. These events were prophesied about when God “raised up Jesus” to be His son as per Ps 2.7.

Crime scene 1: Acts 13.33
Many have argued [incredibly enough] over the centuries that Ps 2.7 should be understood in reference to Jesus’ resurrection and not his birth! This is because early on in the translation of v. 33, it was taken as a second reference [the first being at v. 30] to Jesus having been ‘raised up from the dead’.

For example the KJV [1611] added the word “again”, whereas some modern translators added the even more explicit “from the dead”[4]. This has led to its wide acceptance amongst many noted scholars. Dunn suggests that “there is a wide measure of agreement that the earliest (traceable) Christian use of Ps. 2.7 was probably in reference to Jesus’ resurrection along the lines of Acts 13.33…spoken of as a fulfillment of the divine promise to Israel, a promise expressed in Ps 2.7…as the day of his appointment to divine sonship, as the event by which he became God’s son.”[5]

In another example, the popular Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the NT, under their definition of gennao in Mat 1.20 makes the claim that “it is used of the act of God in the birth of Christ, Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5, quoted from Psalm 2:7, none of which indicate that Christ became the Son of God at His birth.” Yet, when giving us the definition of the Greek word translated “raise (up)” [anistemi] they note:
“[It is] said of Christ, Acts 3:26; 7:37; 13:33, RV, ‘raised up Jesus,’ not here by resurrection from the dead, as the superfluous ‘again’ of the AV [KJV] would suggest; this is confirmed by the latter part of the verse, which explains the ‘raising’ up as being by way of His incarnation [that is in the miracle of the virgin birth], and by the contrast in ver. 34, where stress is laid upon His being ‘raised’ from the dead, the same verb being used.”
We should note that the same word can be used in reference to resurrection but only when it is used in this context[6] . Thus, in Acts 13.33, God is said to have “raised up” His Son onto the scene and not from the dead. We know this fact from the use by the writer of Ps 2.7, which is in reference to a “begetting” always associated with birth and not death![7]

Perhaps one of the reasons why noted scholars like Dunn and commentaries like Vine's err is based on a presupposed, Orthodox Christological understanding based on the Catholic/Protestant creedal statements regarding Jesus' sonship. i.e., when did Jesus become the Son of God. According to the creeds and their supporters, like the "Church Father" Origen, "there was never a time when the Son was not the Son".
...we must of necessity hold that there is something exceptional and worthy of God which does not admit of any comparison at all, not merely in things, but which cannot even be conceived by thought or discovered by perception, so that a human mind should be able to apprehend how the unbegotten God is made the Father of the only-begotten Son. Because His [the Son's] generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliancy which is produced from the sun. For it is not by receiving the s breath of life that He is made a Son, by any outward act, but by His own nature. [De Principiis, 1.2.4]
This type of interpretation fails to take into account, as we have seen, the Biblical testimony in relation to the "begetting [yalad]...bringing into existence [gennao]" of the Son in both Matthew and Luke. Regardless, the so-called "eternal generation" doctrine has always posed a problem even amongst those within the Trinitarian camp.
[Origen] did not arrive at the Nicene confession of co-equality. First of all, he regarded the Son only as a secondary species of divinity, which he sometimes even spoke of as Theos Deuteros. As Louis Berkhof rightly pointed out, "This was the most radical defect in Origen's doctrine of the Trinity and afforded a stepping-stone for Arius."...Another fatal defect is found in his contention that the generation of the Son is not a necessary act of the Father, but proceeds from His sovereign will.13 This necessarily implies that the Son is not God in the genuine sense but a "creature", even though he is the first, and high enough to mediate between God and world.
Another problem has to do with the variant reading found in some ancient manuscripts of Luke 3.22, as well as patristic writings, which quote Ps 2.7 in connection with Jesus’ baptism. (Even though the weight of the manuscript testimony is against this reading, some still argue for its inclusion.) Most of these obviously agree with the assumption, as stated above, that Jesus only became Son of God at his resurrection or his baptism and not at his birth[8].

The “western reading” of the Lukan account of the baptism seems to have affected the way the parallel accounts of Jesus’ baptism have been transmitted in Mat 3.17; 17.5; Mar 1.11; Luke 3.22; 9.35[9]. This is the reason why most scholars wrongly connect Ps 2.7[10] to Jesus’ baptism and/or his resurrection.
Ps 2.7 is much used in the NT. At Acts 13.33 the ‘to-day’ of the generation of the Son of God is the resurrection. At Lk. 3.22 (western reading) it is the baptism…At Hb. 1.5; 5.5…it is again doubtful whether the reference is to his birth or his baptism…”[11]

Crime scene 3: Heb 1.5-6
The context of Heb 1 “is that Jesus is the Melchizedek high priest and the catena [chain] of texts which introduces the letter” points to the uniqueness of his sonship in contrast to God’s holy angels. The writer does this by citing two specific OT texts which show YHWH “begetting” a son, the Messianic king.
“This was the world view of the ancient priests of Israel and owes nothing to Platonism [where Philo had a similar view, interpreting such priesthood passages like Lev 16.17 as] He shall not be a man when he enters the holy of holies…(On Dreams 2.189, 231) For Philo, the high priest was more than human…The Logos was the High Priest, the King, the Firstborn, the Beginning, the Name, and the Man after God’s Image and his archangel.”[12]
But, as the comment from the ESV Study Bible shows, “Platonism” did take over the biblical meaning of these passages. The ESV says that it describes how God entered “into a new phase of that Father-Son relationship [so that the text] should not be pressed to suggest that the Son once did not exist [since God has] begotten the already living Son ‘today’”. At Heb 1.6 they note that “since only God is worthy of worship (Ex. 20:3–5; Isa. 42:8; Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:9), this is further evidence [where’s the rest?] of the Son's full deity.”

Such interpretations of the text go against the language used in the virgin birth accounts. For example, notice the words in the phrase “the holy child to be born”. The first is the word tikto, variously translated “to bring forth, give birth”. This word is related to another that is often used in reference to the Son, prototokos [“firstborn”] related to gennao [“cause to exist”] and ginomai [“come into existence”]. This explains why throughout the rest of the NT Jesus is identified by both spiritual beings [the Devil, Mat 4.3] and humans [the Baptist; Nathaniel, John 1.34; 49] as “Son of God” and not God, the Son.

The same sentiment is reflected under the definition in The Complete WordStudy Dictionary given to the word gennao in Mat 1.20. But in this case the commentators find themselves with no choice but ‘to come clean’. Thus, they give the game away:
“The designation of this relationship by words with a temporal notion [“this day have I begotten you”, Ps 2.7] has troubled theologians, who have proffered various explanations. Origen understood this as referring to the Son's relationship within the Trinity and was the first to propose the concept of eternal generation. The Son is said to be eternally begotten by the Father. Others have viewed the language more figuratively and connected it with Christ's role as Messiah. Upon Christ's exaltation to the Father's right hand, God is said to have appointed, declared or officially installed Christ as a king (Act 13:33; Rom 1:4; Heb 1:5; 5:5).”

The verdict
What many fail to see with these interpretations are the clear Gnostic-pagan overtones that they introduce to the biblical text. As some scholars note, “what we find in Matthew and Luke is not the story of some sort of sacred marriage (hieros gamos) or a divine being [“the Son”] descending to earth…in the guise of a man…but rather the story of a miraculous conception without aid of any man, divine or otherwise.”[13]


[1] “Dt. 32:[15], 18; Ps. 2.7; LXX 110.3[LXX 109.3”; TDOT, yalad.

[2] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[3] Acts 13.33; Heb 1.5; 5.5.

[4] New Century Version; Wycliffe NT; Authorized Version; also reflected in all major Spanish translations, RV1960, 1995; NVI; LBLA; the English GOD’S WORD Translation reads, “by bringing Jesus back to life”.

[5] Dunn, Christology in the Making, pp 35-36. Dunn cites prominent scholars including: Brown, Birth, pp. 29f., 136; J.H. Hayes, ‘The Resurrection as Enthronement and the Earliest Church Christology’, Interpretation 22, 1968, pp. 333-45; Kummel, Theology, pp. 110f.,; Hengel, Son, pp. 61-6. See his “notes to pages 32-35, 35-39”; fn. 138, 142.

[6] “(a) of the resurrection of Christ, Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19, RV; 26:32, RV, "(after) I am raised up" (AV, "... risen again"); Luke 9:22; 20:37; John 2:19; Acts 3:15; 4:10; 10:40; 13:30,37; Rom. 4:24,25; 6:4,9; 7:4; 8:11 (twice); 8:34, RV; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14 (1st part); 15:13,14, RV; 15:15 (twice),16-17; 15:20, RV; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:21; in 2 Tim. 2:8, RV, "risen;" (b) of the resurrection of human beings, Matt. 10:8; 11:5; Matt. 27:52, RV (AV, "arose"); Mark 12:26, RV; Luke 7:22; John 5:21; 12:1,9,17; Acts 26:8; 1 Cor. 15:29,32, RV; 15:35,42-43 (twice),44,52; 2 Cor. 1:9; 4:14; Heb. 11:19.” Vine’s

[7] Note v. 22, God “raised [egeiro] up David to be their king”. Not from the dead but onto the scene of human history to serve as God’s anointed king.

[8] Thus Ehrman, who argues on the basis of the perceived inconsistencies he finds in the Lukan accounts where the writer predicates christological titles at “different critical moments, or junctures, of [Jesus’] existence [highlighting the tensions] consistently found throughout Luke’s portrayal of Jesus [in his Gospel and book of Acts].” This leads to his conclusion that “Acts 13.33 states that he became the Son of God at his resurrection.” Orthodox Corruption, pp 64-67, 1992. Cf. Dunn, Christology, pp 35-36.

[9] Texts vary between “my Son”; “my (the) Beloved”; and “(only) elect”. See WBC verses cited.

[10] “The allusions in the remarks of the text recall Ps 2:7…” NET Bible Online, Mar 1.11.

[11] TDNT, gennao.

[12] Margaret Barker, ‘The High Priest and the Worship of Jesus’, The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, ed., C.C. Newman, J.R. Davila, G.S. Lewis, p. 99, 1999. Emphasis mine.

[13] Green, Joel B.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity, 1992, S. 70.

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