Real Bible Studies, Luke, Chapter 3

Luke starts off chapter three by having John begin his ministry. Again, Luke provides a very specific timeline, stating that this occurs in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE on the Gregorian calendar), with Pilate governor of Judea (26-36 CE) and Herod (Antipas) tetrarch of Galilee (4 BCE-39 CE). By specifying the timeline so precisely, Luke points out a problem in dating the events of the Gospels. In chapter two, he states Jesus was born during the census conducted by Quirinus, which in our timeline was 6 CE. The fifteenth year of Tiberius’s reign would have been 29 CE, or twenty-three years after Jesus’s birth, yet Luke says he’s around thirty when he’s baptized. This would date his baptism closer to 36 CE on our calendar, or the final year of Pilate’s term as governor, which makes it problematic for interrogating Jesus a year or more after Jesus has begun his ministry. Of course, Luke was operating under a different calendar, one with ten instead of twelve months, and, according to Britannica Online, the Roman year was around 304 days which, in turn, calls into question Jesus’s age during the events of the Gospels.

John begins baptizing people and those he condemns are the same officials Jesus will antagonize. John’s words sound similar to what’s reported in Mark and Matthew, except Matthew attributes John’s words to condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees. Luke uses them to have John condemn all who come to be baptized by him. He calls them vipers and in response to their questions about atonement, encourages them to provide food for the hungry and cloaks to those without adequate clothing, and to share their resources with those in need.

Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke doesn’t show Jesus being baptized by John. Rather, John foretells the coming of he “the thong of whose sandals I’m not worthy to untie,” then runs afoul of Herod the tetrarch because of Herod’s brother’s wife Herodias, and gets taken into custody. Jesus undergoes baptism along with everyone else (it’s implied that this occurs before John’s arrest, but there’s no scene featuring them together at the Jordan) and has the vision of the heavens opening that’s related in Mark, then Matthew. There’s no further mention of John and Jesus being related and no information on Jesus’s reaction to John’s arrest. Luke then relays the line of descent for Jesus, but unlike Matthew, who starts with the patriarch Abraham and works forward using the scriptural convention, Luke starts with Joseph and works backwards all the way to Adam.

It’s worth noting how different this line is from Matthew, who lists forty-one generations from Abraham to Jesus (fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile; and fourteen from the exile to the coming of the Messiah). Luke lists seventy-seven generations from Adam to Jesus, and fifty-seven from Abraham to Jesus. Assuming a standard Biblical forty-year generation, this gives us three thousand eighty years from Adam to Jesus and two thousand, two hundred and eighty from Abraham to Jesus. Matthew has descent from David through Solomon including many of the kings of Judah. Luke shows descent from David through Nathan. Matthew says Joseph is the son of Jacob; Luke says Heli. There are names common to both genealogies, but they occur in different places in Luke versus Matthew. Matthew also groups the generations into three sets of fourteen (though the final one contains only thirteen names) whereas Luke lists them in a long string connected by “son of” such as “Joseph, son of Heli”.

It is impossible to reconcile Luke’s genealogy with that of Matthew. Some have suggested that one is Joseph’s genealogy and the other is Mary’s but both are identified as Joseph’s and it’s highly unlikely that a person of this time would have a detailed genealogy of a woman, who would have been defined by the men in her life. Many knew the patriarchs; not so many knew the matriarchs who often aren’t even mentioned in the story, with the exception of Ruth, Tamar, and Mary. In Matthew’s genealogy, for instance, Solomon’s mother is referred to as “the wife of Uriah”.

Luke is not as detailed as Mark and doesn’t rely on allusions to scripture as does Matthew. His first three chapters are short and concise and share tidbits of Jesus’s life that the other authors leave out. Rather than relating the story of the Rebellion of 66 CE, Luke focuses on facts about Jesus as he matures into adulthood. Even when using segments from Mark, Luke neither embellishes them nor corrects what Mark has written as does Matthew. This may well change as the story progresses, though.

Leave a Reply