Luke 11:2c (continued)
(This Monday Note on Prayer continues the current series of daily notes on the Lord’s Prayer.)
Today’s note on the Lord’s Prayer will examine the interesting variant reading for the petition at Luke 11:2c. Instead of the majority text, “May your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), a few witnesses read (with some variation):
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ u(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$
“May your holy Spirit come [upon us] and cleanse us”
Two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) have this version of the petition, but it is attested even earlier in the writings of Maximus Confessor (Commentary on the Our Father §4ff, c. 650? A.D.) and Gregory of Nyssa (Sermon 3 on the Lord’s Prayer [PG 44:1157C, 1160], c. 370? A.D.), upon whom Maximus may be relying. Thus it must have been present in some manuscripts as the Lukan reading by at least the middle of the 4th century. Even earlier, Tertullian may refer to such a reading when he briefly discusses the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer in his treatise Against Marcion (4:26). In between comments on the invocation to the Father and the request for the Kingdom to come, he speaks of an invocation for the coming of the Spirit, which could indicate that it took the place, not of the Kingdom-petition, but the sanctifying of the Father’s Name. However, in his earlier work On Prayer, commenting on the Lord’s Prayer, Tertullian makes no such reference to the Spirit.
The majority text of Luke 11:2 is secure, and there is little chance of this variant reading being original. It may be the result of a marginal note, or interpretive gloss, that somehow made its way into the text proper. Many commentators feel that it stems from early liturgical practice, associated with the Baptism ritual, and this would seem to be confirmed by Tertullian’s discussion in On Baptism (§8). But how did this invocation become specifically associated with the coming of the Kingdom? And why did it end up modifying the Lukan version of the Prayer but not the Matthean? It is worth devoting a little space here to address these questions, as it sheds some light on certain aspects of early Christian thought.
To begin with, once the eschatological orientation of the Prayer began to be lost for early Christians, it became necessary to interpret these petitions in the Prayer in a different way, applying them more directly to the life and experience of believers in the Community. What would be more natural than to associate the coming Kingdom of God with the divine Presence, manifest in the Spirit, which was envisioned as coming upon believers following Baptism and the laying on of hands, etc. Some manuscripts (e.g. Codex Bezae [D]) of Luke 11:2c have the longer reading “May your Kingdom come upon us [e)f’ h(ma=$]” which certainly could suggest the descent of the Spirit.
The Lukan context of the Prayer also has a much stronger association with the Spirit than does the Matthean. The Spirit (Pneu=ma) is not mentioned once in the Sermon on the Mount (though there may be a play on the meaning of pneu=ma in the first Beatitude [5:3]). By contrast, the climax of the section of Jesus’ teaching on Prayer in Lk 11:1-18 involves the Holy Spirit (v. 18). So, too, does the Lukan portrait of Jesus give greater attention to the Spirit, as we see especially at the beginning of his public ministry, following the Baptism (when the Spirit descends upon him, ‘anointing’ him)—3:22; 4:1ff, 14, 18ff. Prior to chapter 11, when Jesus himself prays to God the Father, he is said to be “in the holy Spirit” (10:21). If we consider 11:1-18 as a narrative unit, it is clear that the Lord’s Prayer, for the Gospel writer (trad. Luke), is connected with the idea of the Holy Spirit as the ultimate purpose and goal of the disciples’ prayer. If his followers are expected to ask God for the Spirit, it would be natural enough for early Christians to interpret the Prayer with that in mind. The Kingdom-petition is the best fit to represent a request for the Spirit.
When we turn to the author’s subsequent work on the early Apostolic period (i.e. the book of Acts), the role of the Spirit takes on even greater prominence. At the beginning of the narrative, in a key passage, the disciples ask Jesus if now, as the Messiah, and following his resurrection, he is about to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (1:6). This reflects the tradition eschatological and Messianic expectation of many Israelites and Jews of the period—that the kingdom of God would be manifest, in earthly form, along the lines of the earlier empire of David and Solomon. The actual verb used by the disciples is a)pokaqi/sthmi, literally “set (something) down from (where it was before)”, i.e. restore, re-establish. It would be easy enough to envision this in terms of God setting back down (from heaven) the Kingdom, now under the rule of his Anointed representative (the Messiah, Jesus). Jesus himself never answers the disciples’ question directly. However, without explicitly denying the validity of it, he clearly points them in a different direction for understanding the nature and character of the Kingdom—in terms of the proclamation of the Gospel and the presence and power of the Spirit among believers (v. 8). And, indeed, this is the only idea (and manifestation) of the Kingdom which the author presents in the book of Acts (on the identification of the Kingdom with the proclamation of the Gospel, see esp. the closing words of 28:31). Thus the identification, or association, of the Kingdom with the Spirit is, I would say, a thoroughly Lukan theme.
Paul, in his letters, makes this identification at several points as well. For example, in Galatians 5:21-22, the traditional motif of inheriting the Kingdom of God is connected with the fruit of the Spirit in believers. Similarly, the statement that “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50) implies that it is only through the Spirit (of God and Christ) that this occurs. In Rom 14:17, Paul states bluntly that “the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but justice/righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit” (cf. also 1 Cor 4:20, where “power” can be understood in terms of the Spirit). In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses another traditional motif (“entering the Kingdom”) and, like Paul, defines it in terms of the Spirit (3:5).
It would seem that originally, in the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, there was, in fact, a general connection between the coming of God’s Kingdom and the work of the Spirit, and that it was understood primarily in an eschatological sense. This is reflected at several points in the Gospel tradition, notably the saying(s) of the Baptist in Mark 1:8; Lk 3:16-17 par, which Luke carries over into the narrative of Acts. In the opening section, a central reference to the Kingdom of God (1:3) is surrounded by two references to the presence and work of the Spirit (vv. 2, 5). Another interesting tradition is the (“Q”) saying in Luke 11:20 (following the section on prayer, 11:1-18):
“if I cast out daimons in [i.e. with] the finger of God, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you”
The Matthean version of this saying (12:28), however, reads:
“if I cast out the daimons in the Spirit of God, then (truly) the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you”
The parallelism between Spirit and Kingdom (in the Matthean version) is especially clear when we look at the syntax of the saying:
- in the Spirit of God
- I cast out daimons [i.e. the work of Jesus]
- it has come/arrived upon you
- the Kingdom of God
- in the Spirit of God
The connecting point between Spirit and Kingdom is the person of Jesus, a fact central to the Sermon on the Mount, as well as the entire witness of the New Testament and the Christian faith.
Finally, perhaps the closest parallel to the Lukan version of the Prayer (with the variant reading on the Spirit) comes from Paul’s letters. Twice (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), he refers to believers praying to the Father, using the Aramaic aB*a^ (a)bba=), just as it presumably would have been spoken by Jesus in the Prayer. In both instances, the presence and work of the Spirit in believers is central; the wording in Gal 4:6, in particular, is significant:
“and, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God se(n)t out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying ‘Abba, Father'”
Conceptually, this is quite close to the Lukan context of the Prayer, which culminates in the promise that God will give the Spirit to Jesus’ disciples when they ask him (11:18).