Χριστός in Luke (Part 2)

by James Dowden

Last time, we looked at Luke’s use of χριστός. We saw that — with the possible exception of the first two chapters with their different style — Luke consistently uses χριστός as a title (the anointed (one), the Messiah) rather than as another name of Jesus.

This post will look at the two other synoptic gospels, which under the Farrer Theory Luke used as sources. The question is whether Luke’s use of χριστός is characteristic of his redaction. For advocates of the other main theory of synoptic origins, viz the Two-Source Theory, just read Q for Matthew and most of it should fit nicely into your world-view.

This will inevitably be a rather heavy post, as it will cover a lot of data.

1. The Sources of Luke’s material

Firstly, we should consider the types of context in which each of Luke’s instances of χριστός is found:

2.11: Infancy Narrative
2.26: Infancy Narrative
3.15: Lucan expansion of Triple Tradition material
4.41: Triple Tradition
9.20: Triple Tradition
20.41: Triple Tradition
22.67: Triple Tradition with Matthaean influence
23.2: Lucan expansion of Triple Tradition material
23.35: Triple Tradition
23.39: Lucan expansion of Triple Tradition material based on Matthew
24.26: Special Lucan material
24.46: Special Lucan material

The unparalleled instances are of course limited in what light they can shed on Luke as a redactor. These can be summed up as follows:

  • the two instances in the Infancy Narrative are more distinctive from the rest of Luke than distinctively Lucan as we saw last time;
  • Luke 3.15 contextualizes the Baptist’s “I baptize with water” with the question of whether he was the Messiah or not, setting up the whole Lucan theme of the Messiah’s identity;
  • Luke 23.2 is his special framing of the accusation before Pilate, identifying the term χριστός with the βασιλεύς that all the Gospels agree is the term the Romans used;
  • Luke 23.39 is fascinating: formally, it is a doublet of 23.35/Mk15.32/Mt27.42; Mark then adds that those who were crucified with Jesus reproached him, which Matthew expands (27.44) “with the same reproach”; the Lucan form then spells out the same reproach in full;
  • Luke 24.26,46 share a particular Lucan theme: that the Messiah should suffer; they round off Luke’s understanding of χριστός.

With those out of the way, all five remaining instances of χριστός in Luke come in the Triple Tradition: i.e. they are all in contexts that originated in Mark. So, one by one:

  • Luke 4.41 expands Mark 1.34, in which the demons “knew him”, to “knew him to be the χριστός”. On the scribal level, this redaction often finds its way back into manuscripts of Mark.
  • Luke 9.20 once more slightly expands Mark 8.29. Whereas Mark had Peter identify Jesus as the χριστός, Luke turns this into “God’s χριστός”.
  • Luke 20.41 simply tidies up Mark 12.35’s Greek. He retains the question “How do {the scribes|they} say that the Messiah is David’s son?”
  • Luke 22.67 takes Matthew 26.63’s redaction of Mark 14.61’s simple question into “if […], tell us”, and tidies up the word order somewhat. He also omits “the son of {the Blessed (Mk)|God (Mt)}”, which may serve some redactional purpose; but if it does, this would then generate a magnificent piece of editorial fatigue at 22.70.
  • Luke 23.35 once again takes Mark’s simple “the χριστός, the King of Israel” and turns it into “God’s χριστός” (whereas Matthew had omitted the other half of Mark’s pair).

So out of five instances, one is entirely new, two include a new emphasis that it was by God that Jesus was anointed, and two are broadly the same with some tidying.

2. Mark

If you’ve been keeping count, we have already covered four of the seven instances of χριστός in Mark’s Gospel. The remaining three (with the sole instance of ψευδόχριστος thrown in for free!) are:

  • 1.1 Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ. (The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)
  • 9.41 Ὃς γὰρ ἂν ποτίσῃ ὑμᾶς ποτήριον ὕδατος ἐν ὀνόματι ὅτι χριστοῦ ἐστε, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ. (For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in the name that you are of Christ, Amen I say to you that he will not lose his recompense.)
  • 13.21 καὶ τότε ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ· Ἴδε ὧδε ὁ χριστός, Ἴδε ἐκεῖ, μὴ πιστεύετε· [22] ἐγερθήσονται γὰρ ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται καὶ δώσουσιν σημεῖα καὶ τέρατα πρὸς τὸ ἀποπλανᾶν εἰ δυνατὸν τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς· (And at that time if someone says to you, “Look, here’s the Messiah! Look, there he is!” don’t believe him; for false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders so as to lead astray, if possible, the chosen.)

The first two seem to treat χριστός as a name, in as much as 9.41 makes any sense at all. Returning to the last post’s criteria, neither are conceivably generic, neither are concerned with “being the χριστός”, neither are modified by a genitive (anointed by someone), both lack the article. And in both cases, Luke completely omits the verse.

Neither case is particularly convincing in and of itself. It is hardly earth-shattering redaction for Luke just to choose to begin his gospel rather more artistically than having a sentence saying “the beginning of the Gospel”. Nor is it surprising that Luke could simply pass over 9.41 for just being an ugly verse that added little. But both instances of χριστός as a name in Mark disappear as a result.

The third of the additional Marcan instances of χριστός is heavily reworked in Luke 17.20-23 to refer to the Kingdom of God and not to the χριστός. This takes the saying away from an apocalyptic hope to something that militates against it, viz the Kingdom of God’s being “within you”, a magnificent piece of Lucan theology.

3. Matthew (aka Q)

Matthew has a lot of instances of χριστός, sixteen in the SBL text. The can be briefly categorized as follows:

1.1 Matthaean Genealogy
1.16 Matthaean Genealogy (first instance of ὁ λεγόμενος χριστός, “the one called Christ”)
1.17 Matthaean Genealogy
1.18 Matthaean Infancy Narrative
2.4 Matthaean Infancy Narrative
11.2 Double Tradition
16.16 Triple Tradition (Peter’s Confession, =Mk8.29=Lk9.20 above)
16.20 Matthaean expansion of Triple Tradition
22.42 Triple Tradition (David’s Son, =Mk12.35=Lk20.41 above)
23.10 Matthaean expansion of Triple Tradition
24.5 Triple Tradition (Matthaean insertion of χριστός)
24.23 Triple Tradition (Look, here’s the Messiah! =Mk13.21 above; also ψευδόχριστος v24 =Mk13.22)
26.63 Triple Tradition (If you’re the Messiah, tell us! =Mk14.61=Lk22.67 above)
26.68 Double Tradition expansion of Triple Tradition (Matthaean insertion of χριστός)
27.17 Matthaean expansion of Triple Tradition (ὁ λεγόμενος χριστός)
27.22 Matthaean expansion of Triple Tradition (ὁ λεγόμενος χριστός)

Four of these, we have met already: in two cases (Peter’s confession and David’s son) Luke preferred a more Marcan form; in one (if you’re the Messiah, tell us) a more Matthaean one; and in one (look, here’s the Messiah!) going of in his own special direction.

Five more are from sections Luke did not find to his taste in their entirety, the Matthaean Genealogy and Infancy Narrative. Nevertheless, these are useful to show what Matthaean usage of χριστός looks like: they are all specific to Jesus, none have genitive modifiers, none of them are instances of “being the χριστός”, and only two of the five have the article — the remaining three being two instances of the compound name Jesus Christ, plus one of Matthew’s favourite “Jesus, the one called Christ”.

This therefore leaves seven further examples to consider:

  • 11.2 Ὁ δὲ Ἰωάννης ἀκούσας ἐν τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ χριστοῦ (“But John, having heard in prison the works of (the) Christ”); Luke completely reworks this, removing the ambiguity: Καὶ ἀπήγγειλαν Ἰωάννῃ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ περὶ πάντων τούτων. (And his disciples reported all these things to John.) Given the enquiry at Mt11.3=Lk7.19, Luke may have felt that χριστός rather prejudiced the question.
  • 16.20 A simple expansion of Jesus in Mark instructing them not to tell anyone, Matthew adding “that he was the Christ” — Mark’s initial meaning that Matthew had interrupted with a long expansion on Peter’s Confession; Luke simply follows Mark.
  • 23.10 μηδὲ κληθῆτε καθηγηταί, ὅτι καθηγητὴς ὑμῶν ἐστιν εἷς ὁ χριστός· (“neither be called ‘master’, for you have one master, (the) Christ”) Thus ends Matthew’s long expansion of the Condemnation of the Scribes; Luke follows Mark instead in this pericope.
  • 24.5 “saying, ‘I am he'” (Mk/Lk) vs “saying ‘I am (the) Christ'” (Mt); Luke is closer to Mark than Matthew in the Eschatalogical Discourse; indeed Luke and Matthew’s eschatologies could be argued to diverge from Mark in opposite directions.
  • 26.68 The famous “Prophecy! Who is it that hit you?” Minor Agreement. Matthew adds, or rather Luke removes, the vocative χριστέ. This is consistent with our preliminary conclusion that Luke uses χριστός as a title and not as a name; he would not have Jesus addressed as “O Christ”.
  • 27.17,22 Matthew calls Barabbas “Jesus Barabbas”; he therefore throws in two instances of “the one called Christ” to differentiate between his two Jesuses. Luke doesn’t get into this tangle.

Many of these extra instances can be simply explained in terms of Luke’s tidiness. But preserving his use of χριστός seems to have been a factor at Mt26.68=Lk23.64, and may have played a part in not giving Barabbas a forename and in reworking his introduction to the Baptist’s Enquiry.

4. Luke as a Redactor

So although most of the individual instances are capable of being explained away, the overall picture in Luke’s redaction of both Mark and Matthew is one consistent with his having a distinctive use of χριστός.

Next time, in Part 3, we’ll have a look at the Acts of the Apostles.