Did Luke Originally Begin at Luke 1:5?

Did Luke Originally Begin at Luke 1:5?
James Scott Trimm

In a recent blog, I wrote titled Prophecy, the Restoration and the Original Hebrew of Luke, I wrote about my analysis of a Hebrew version of Luke saying:

One interesting feature of this Hebrew manuscript of Luke, is that it has Luke 1:1-4 as a preface, and then has the “Chapter 1” heading immediately above Luke 1:5.

As I made my comparisons, I found that Luke 1:1-4 in this version, did *not* follow the general sentence structure of the Aramaic Old Syriac text of Luke 1:1-4, but that beginning in verse 5, the Hebrew and Aramaic follow very similar vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure. (I have thus far made detailed comparisons of 1:1-7). In fact the transition is striking as suddenly beginning in verse 5 the two texts become parallel.

I got a lot of response to this article, from people claiming that the “Church Father” Epiphanius claimed that the original Hebrew of Luke began with Luke 1:5.

The source of this claim was a source that quoted Epiphanius as saying that the original Hebrew Gospel of Luke began with the words It came to pass in the days of Herod…” and referencing this to Luke 1:5.

The fact is that this quote from Epiphanius says no such thing. The relevant statement from Epiphanius in his description of the Ebionites:

And the beginning of their Gospel runs: It came to pass in the days of Herod the king of Judaea, when Caiaphas was high priest, that there came one, John by name, and baptized with the baptism of repentance in the river Jordan. It was said of him that he was of the lineage of Aaron the priest, a son of Zacharias and Elisabeth : and all went out to him.
(Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.6)

What did Epiphanius mean by “their” Gospel? We find that a few lines earlier when he writes:

In the Gospel that is in general use among them [the Ebionites] which is called “according to Matthew”, which however is not whole and complete but forged and mutilated – they call it the Hebrews Gospel-it is reported:… (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2-3)

The reference here is not to the Gospel of Luke at all, but to the Ebionite version of the Gospel of Matthew (really the Ebionite version of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, of which our Matthew is an abridgement).

Moreover, the reference is also not to material parallel to Luke 1:5 at all, but to material parallel to Luke 3:1-2 and the beginning of their parallel to Matthew 3:1.

It is easy to see when we compare the passages:

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
(Luke 1:5 KJV)

[1] Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
[2] Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
[3] And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

(Luke 3:1-3 KJV)

It is absolutely clear to anyone looking at these passages that Epiphanius is saying that the Ebionite version of Matthew opened with material parallel to Luke 3:1-3 and than only by quoting the phrase out of context, is it made to appear to refer to material parallel to Luke 1:5.

The fact is that this quote is not talking about an original Hebrew version of Luke, or even the book of Luke at all, but the Ebionite version of Matthew.

Here is the point Ephiphanius was trying to make. Earlier, in his analysis of the Nazarenes, he wrote:

They [The Nazarenes] have the Gospel according to Matthew quite complete, in Hebrew: for this Gospel is certainly still preserved among them as it was first written in Hebrew letters. I do not know if they have even removed the genealogy from Abraham to Christ.
(Epiphanius, Panarion 29:9:4)

But in regards to the Ebionites he writes that it ” however is not whole and complete but forged and mutilated” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2-3) He then makes the point that the Ebionites, who rejected the virgin birth, had removed the first two chapters of their version of Matthew, so that their Matthew started with material parallel to Luke 3:1-3 and with the account of Yochanan immersing in the wilderness (i.e. parallel to our Matthew chapter 3).

Anyone who actually looks at what Epiphanius is saying. can clearly see that he is not even talking about the book of Luke, and he certainly is not saying that an original Hebrew version of Luke omitted Luke 1:1-4 beginning with Luke 1:5.

I was recently provided with a thumb drive containing thousands of pages of Hebrew manuscripts of “New Testament” books in Hebrew, including every book of the “New Testament” in Hebrew! Of course the hard work is sorting thru this material, and determining what is a translation from Greek or Latin sources, and what may actually play a part in NT origins.

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One thought on “Did Luke Originally Begin at Luke 1:5?”

  1. Shalom, anos atrás existia Yeshiva online aonde cadastrava senha e login era realizado estudos e no final tinha provas se não me engano tinha Certificado na conclusão, gostaria de saber se algum dia ira voltar??

    Toda raba!

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