Michael Wolter, Martin Hengel, and the Titles of the Gospels

Happy New Year! With reference to an article by Simon Gathercole and Michael Kok’s new bookJames McGrath and Michael Barber have recently written substantial posts on the titles of the Gospels (cf. now also Jonathan Bernier’s perceptive post). As a contribution to this discussion, today’s key quotation will look at the way in which Michael Wolter differs from the influential viewpoint of Martin Hengel (cf. here and here) in his treatment of the probable date of these titles. I found this to be an especially fascinating quotation and am curious to learn what others think of the way that Wolter attempts to reverse Hengel’s logic at a key point.

Translation and German Text

The Gospel According to LukeThe formulations εὐαγγέλιον κατά + name or κατά + name are the same in all the gospels. It can be inferred from this that they arose and were attached to the respective works at the earliest (not “at the latest” as Hengel 1984, 47 thinks) at the point in time when at least two different gospels existed alongside one another. The superscripts had the task of distinguishing the gospels from one another and avoiding mix-ups. This procedure took place not earlier than the first half of the second century (see also Petersen 2006, 273), for in the superscripts the word εὐαγγέλιον is used as a designation for a literary work and elsewhere this meaning is relatively certain first in the middle of the second century in Justin (Apologia i 66.3) and at best perhaps already attested in the 120s in the Didache (cf. Kelhoffer 2004; see also section 6.1 below).

Das Lukasevangelium (p. 4): Die Formulierungen εὐαγγέλιον κατά + Name or κατά + Name sind in allen Evangelien gleich. Daraus lässt sich schließen, dass sie frühestens (nicht “spätestens”, wie Hengel* 47 meint) zu dem Zeitpunkt entstanden sind und den jeweiligen Werken beigegeben wurden, als mindestens zwei verschiedene Evangelienschriften nebeneinander existierten. Die Überschriften hatten die Aufgabe, die Evangelien voneinander zu unterscheiden und Verwechslungen zu vemeiden. Dieser Vorgang wird nicht früher als in der ersten Hälfte des 2. Jahrhunderts stattgefunden haben (s. auch Petersen* 273), denn in den Überschriften wird das Wort εὐαγγέλιον als Bezeichnung für ein literarisches Werk gebraucht, und einigermaßen sicher ist diese Bedeutung ansonsten erst in der Mitte des 2. Jahrhunderts bei Justin (1. Apol. 66,3) und höchstens vielleicht schon in den 120er Jahren in der Didache belegt (cf. dazu Kellhoffer, “How Soon…”; see auch u. Abschn. 6.1).

Grammatical Analysis: I will provide a detailed analysis of the crucial first two sentences as a model sentence. The plural subject is Die FormulierungenName. The verb is sind/are. Here in takes the dative allen Evangelien/all the Gospels. The predicate is gleich/the same. I usually render lassen + infinitive as “can be x-ed”: here lässt sich schliessen = it can be inferred + daraus/from this. dass/that indicates what can be inferred. sie = they (= Die Formulierungen … Name). The verbs entstanden sind/arose (or emerged) and beigegeben wurden/were attached (or added) move, as usual, to the end of the subordinate clause. frühestens = at the earliest. nicht “spätestens” = not “at the latest”. wie Hengel meint = “as Hengel thinks/says, believes/holds/reckons/fancies(not sure what is the best translation of meinen here; “fancies” seems to strong and “believes” has its drawbacks; but “says” or “reckons” might be better than “thinks”).  zu dem Zeitpunkt … als = “at the point in time … when“. The dative plural den jeweiligen Werken/”the respective works indicates” what they are attached to. mindestens zwei verschiedene/at least two different modifies the plural noun Evangelienschriften = gospels (gospels seemed better than gospel writings or gospels writings), which is the subject of existieren/existed. nebeneinander = alongside one another (or next to one another). As a rule I use “one another” when more than two things are in view and “each other” when only two things are in view (since two or more are in view I used “one another” here).

Substantive analysis: As I noted above, I am curious what others think about Wolter’s argument that the uniform character of the formulations indicates that they were attached “at the earliest” (Wolter) rather than “at the latest” (Hengel) when at least two different gospels existed alongside one another.

For other posts (in alphabetical order by last name) on the titles of the Gospels, see e.g. Michael Barber (cf. here), Jonathan BernierNicholas Covington, Simon GathercoleBart Ehrmann (cf. herehere, here), Matthew Ferguson, Michael Kok, Michael Kruger (cf. here), James McGrath, Keith Reich.

For my Roundup of “Top Posts Posts” from 2014, see here.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page here.

German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! Unfortunately, I have found it increasingly difficult to write a new post each Monday, but I hope to be able to write at least two or three Monday blog posts each month. We’ll see. Best, Wayne.

Michael Wolter on Luke’s Correct Placement of the Quirinius Census

As I press towards the completion of my translation of Christoph Markschies’ book Christian Theology and its Institutions in the Early Roman Empire, I am already looking forward to starting my next translation project, namely Michael Wolter’s commentary The Gospel According to Luke. With this in mind, today’s key quotation will be excerpted from his comments on Luke 2:1-3.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

Translation and German Original

English Translation (wmc):

1. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις refers back not to 1.5 but takes up 1.80 and thereby dates the narrated event in the time of the growing up of the Baptist … Thus, the temporal distance between the events narrated in chapter 1 and the newly opened narrative collecting bowl remains unspecified…

2… This information  has the function of clearly distancing the following nexus of episodes chronologically from the time of the reign of Herod the Great. Between his death and the provincial census carried out under Quirinius lay a period of time of about 10 years in which Herod’s son Archelaus reigned as ethnarch over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea (cf. Josephus, Ant. 17.342; see also at 19.11-27). A contradiction to the relative chronology of the Lukan presentation does not thereby arise (see on v. 1). The longstanding debate over this problem … started, to this extent, from false presuppositions. There is admittedly an irreconcilable contradiction to the dating of the birth of Jesus in the time of the reign of Herod the Great by Matthew.

Das Lukasevangelium (pp. 121-122):

1. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις bezieht sich nicht auf 1,5 zurück, sondern knüpft an 1,80 an und datiert damit das erzählte Geschehen in die Zeit des Heranwachsens des Täufers … Der zeitliche Abstand zwischen den in Kap. 1 erzählten Ereignissen und dem neu eröffneten erzählerischen Sammelbecken bleibt also unbestimmt…

2… Dieser Information kommt die Funktion zu, den folgenden Episodenzusammenhang von der Zeit der Herrschaft Herodes’ d.Gr. chronologisch eindeutig zu distanzieren: Zwischen dessen Tod und dem unter Quirinius durchgeführten Provinzialzensus lag ein Zeitraum von ca. 10 Jahren, in dem der Herodessohn Archelaus als Ethnarch über Judäa, Samaria und Idumäa herrschte (vgl. Josephus, Ant. 17,342; s. Auch bei 19,11-27). Ein Widerspruch zur relativen Chronologie der lk Darstellung entsteht dadurch nicht (s. Zu V. 1). Die langjährige Debatte über diese Problematik … ging insofern von falschen Voraussetzungen aus. Einen unausgleichbaren Widerspruch gibt es freilich zur Datierung der Geburt Jesu in die Regierungszeit Herodes’ d.Gr. durch Matthäus.

Selective Grammatical Analysis

1. knüpft an (anknüpfen) is often challenging: here I chose “takes up”, but “links to” or “picks up on”, or “follows on from” would also work. damit is often best left untranslated, but I sometimes translate it as “thereby”, “here”, or even “thus”, depending on the context. I usually translate both Ereignis and Geschehen as “event” instead of translating Geschehen as “happening” or the like (but cf. Translator’s Notes 1: Eugene Boring [378n2]). Sammelbecken could be translated as “collecting bowl”, “collecting basin”, “collecting tank”, “reservoir”, etc. I wanted to retain the word “collecting” and felt that “bowl” provided the most helpful image. I initially translated as “unbestimmt” as “undetermined”, but then decided that “unspecified” conveyed the sense more clearly.

2 Dieser Information kommt die Funktion zu [verb: zukommen] could be rendered more woodenly as “the function is given to this information of…” but I think “This information has the function” conveys the meaning more clearly.  Episodenzusammenhang: I often translate Zusammenhang with “context” or “connection”, but decided here to change my initial translation “connection of episodes” to “nexus of episodes”. zu distanzieren depends on Funktion (the function of distancing). I translated herrschte as “reigned”, though “ruled” would also have been possible. I chose to write Herod’s son Archelaus rather than the Herod son Archelaus, choosing readability over precision in this case. I often translate entstehen as “emerge” but “arise” seemed better here.  ging … aus [verb: ausgehen] can usually be rendered as started from. Insofern is often difficult: Depending on the context, I have adopted a range of solutions, such as “to this extent”, “in this respect”, “from this perspective”, “insofar”. I couldn’t find a way to capture the precise sense of unausgleichbaren/uncompensatable, so it seemed best to adopt the phrase “unreconciliable contradiction”, which seemed to capture the basic thrust. Gibt es [es gibt] can often be translated as “exist” but “there is” sometimes works better. The sense of “freilich” is sometimes best captured with “of course”, sometimes with “however” or “though”, and sometimes with “admittedly”.

Substantive Analysis:

For me at least, Wolter’s argument added a new option to a classic interpretative crux, so that I now see five possible options before me: 1) Luke dated the Quirinius census to the time of Herod the Great, which  stands in contradiction to the testimony of Josephus who correctly dates the Quirinius census to the time of Archelaus. 2) Luke correctly placed the Quirinius census at the time of Archelaus, while previously placing Jesus birth during the reign of Herod the Great, so that there is a chronological contradiction within his Gospel, 3) Luke correctly dated the Quirinius census to the time of Herod the Great in contrast to Josephus’ incorrect dating of the Quirinius census to the time of Archelaus. 4) This passage of Luke can be translated and interpreted in such a way that no contradiction emerges in relation to other ancient sources, including Josephus and Matthew, 5) Luke has correctly dated the Quirinius passage to the time of Archelaus (in agreement with Josephus), which does not result in a contradiction to Luke’s chronological statements elsewhere, though it does stand in contradiction to Matthew’s placement of Jesus’ birth in the time of Herod the Great. At present I think option 1 is the most convincing view, while regarding the arguments for 4) and 5) as worthy of continued study and debate. Perhaps options 2 and 3 should also be considered further, but from my present perspective they seem less likely.

Other Resources on the Quirinius Census

For Michael Wolter’s position, see further M. Wolter. “Erstmals unter Quirinius! Zum Verständnis von Lk 2,2.” Biblische Notizen 102 (2000), 35-41 and M. Wolter. “Wann wurde Maria schwanger?” Pages 405-422 in Von Jesus zum Christus. Christologische Studien. FS Paul Hoffman. BZNW 93. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998 (also published in Theologie und Ethos in Frühem Christentum. Tübingen: Mohr, 2009. here).

For an overview of some of the key texts from Josephus and Luke and various translations of Luke 2:1-3, see Bruce Fisk PDF.

For some of the many other discussions of this topic on the web (listed in alphabetical order), see Paul Barnett, Darrell BockJohn Byron )cf. here), Stephen C. CarlsonRichard Carrier, Jared Compton (cf. here), N. F. GierMark Goodacre (cf. here), Bill HeromanBrian LePortJames McGrath, Ian Paul, Jason Staples, Daniel B. WallaceWikipedia.

Facebook Page: To receive notifications of future blog posts, please subscribe to this blog and/or like my facebook page here.