June 7: Luke 11:2, 9-13

Luke 11:2, 9-13

In our study of how the traditions regarding the Spirit of God developed in the New Testament, among early Christians, we have been considering the evidence from the historical traditions preserved in the Synoptic Gospels. As we move from the core Synoptic Tradition to its (later) developments in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we find an increasing number of references to the Spirit—most notably in the Lukan Gospel. This has already been discussed in a previous note (on Lk 4:1, 14ff)—the way that the references to the Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry have been developed and adapted, with an eye toward the role of the Spirit in the larger narrative of Luke-Acts.

A similar sort of example can be found in chapter 11 (vv. 1-13), where the author has brought together several different traditions—sayings and parables—on the subject of prayer. This is typical of the thematic and “catchword” bonding by which Gospel traditions often came to be combined together. In the Lukan Gospel, the journey to Jerusalem provides the literary framework within which a large amount of material has been included, as though it were simply a record of all that Jesus taught along the way. The fact that much of this material is found in different narrative locations in the other Gospels makes clear that the Lukan arrangement is literary, rather than historical and chronological. In 11:1-13, the unifying theme is prayer; at least three different tradition-units make up this pericope:

    • A version of the “Lord’s Prayer” (vv. 2-4), following the narrative introduction in verse 1
    • The Parable of the man who calls on his friend in the middle of the night (vv. 5-8), and
    • A short block of sayings—at least two distinct traditions (vv. 9-10, 11-13)—part of the so-called “Q” material, also found in Matthew (7:7-11)

The emphasis in vv. 5-13 is on the assurance that God, as the “heavenly Father”, will answer the prayers of His children, and that they should not be afraid to petition God in their time of need. In particular, let us examine the sayings in vv. 9-13—the first of which is virtually identical with the Matthean version:

And I say to you: you must ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up to you; for every (one) asking receives, the (one) seeking finds, and to the (one) knocking it is [or, it will be] opened up.” (vv. 9-10)

Luke has apparently made no change to the “Q” tradition, other than perhaps the inclusion of the introductory phrase (in italics). The situation is different with regard to the tradition in vv. 11-13; it is instructive to compare the Lukan and the Matthean (7:9-11) versions phrase by phrase:

    • “Or, what man is (there) out of [i.e. among] you” (Matt)
      “And for what father out of [i.e. among] you” (Lk)
      It is possible that Luke has glossed “man” as “father” to make the immediate context of the illustration more clear, but it would also be appropriate to the overall context of vv. 1-13, which is framed by references to God as the heavenly Father (vv. 2, 13). It also establishes a precise contrast between an earthly father and God the Father, which is very much to the point of the illustration. The Lukan syntax would seem to confirm its character as a gloss—i.e., “what (man) among you, as a father…”.
    • “whom, (when) his son will ask (for) bread, he will (surely) not give over to him a stone(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “the son will ask (for) a fish and, in exchange (for) a fish, will he give over to him a snake (instead)?” (Lk)
      The Lukan syntax is simpler, emphasizing that the harmful item (snake) is given in place of (a)nti/) the beneficial thing requested by the son (a fish). The initial pairing in Matthew is bread/stone, rather than fish/snake, but it similarly establishes the pattern for the illustration.
    • “or even will ask (for) a fish, he will not give over to him a snake(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “or even will ask (for) an egg, will he give over to him a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?” (Lk)
      Matthew’s second pairing is the first in the Lukan illustration; in place of it, the Lukan version juxtaposes egg/scorpion, which makes for a more extreme (and ridiculous) contrast.
    • “So (then), if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Matt)
      “So (then), if you, beginning (now) as evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Lk)
      The two versions are nearly identical here; the use of the verb u(pa/rxw (lit. “begin under”), instead of the simple verb of being (ei)mi), would seem to be an indication of Lukan style. Of the 46 occurrences of the verb u(pa/rxw, 31 are found in Luke-Acts, and it is not used in any of the other Gospels.
    • “how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him?” (Matt)
      “how much more will your Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him?” (Lk)
      Again the two versions are quite close here, the most notable difference being that Luke reads “holy Spirit” in place of “good (thing)s”. Assuming that we are dealing with a common saying, which certainly seems to be the case, the two versions here cannot both be an accurate representation of the original. Almost certainly, Matthew preserves the original saying (or close to it), which Luke has adapted in light of the special emphasis on the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (cf. above). Several manuscripts (Ë45 L, etc) read “(a) good spirit” instead of “holy Spirit”, most likely in an attempt to harmonize the two versions.

The Lukan reference to the holy Spirit as the “good thing(s)” that God will give to His offspring effectively centers the saying within an early Christian context, anticipating the “gift” of the Spirit that will come upon Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2:1-4ff. It serves as the climax to Jesus’ teaching on prayer in this passage, implying that it is the Holy Spirit that will truly be the answer to his disciples’ prayer. In this regard, it is interesting to note a fascinating variant reading within the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, found in a small number of witnesses. The majority text of the second petition (in v. 2) reads “may your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), just as in the Matthean version, though Codex Bezae (D) adds e)f’ h(ma=$ (“upon us”). However, in two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) and in the writings of at least two Church Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus Confessor), we find a very different petition which substantially reads:

“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

Some commentators have suggested that this is a gloss interpreting the coming of God’s “Kingdom” as a reference to the coming of the Spirit, and that it may have originated as a liturgical adaption of the Prayer in a baptismal setting. Interestingly, an identification of God’s Kingdom with the Spirit, within the narrative of Luke-Acts, may be justified on the basis of Jesus’ answer to the question posed by his disciples in Acts 1:6-8. A more precise Christian identification is made by Paul in Romans 14:17. If we go back to the sayings and words of Jesus, a similar association, between Kingdom and Spirit, can be found in the Matthean version of the saying at Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20 (cf. the prior note); the Lukan version of this saying, which uses “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God” occurs just shortly after the section on prayer in chap. 11. We may also note the association made by Jesus in the Johannine discourse of chap. 3 (v. 5).

Though this variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer is certainly secondary (and not original), it provides an intriguing enhancement to a genuine Lukan theme in this passage. It offers a parallel, at the beginning of the section (v. 2), to the reference to the Spirit at the conclusion (v. 13), thus framing the entire pericope, and emphasizing all the more the point that the coming of the Spirit represents the ultimate goal and answer to the prayer of believers. There is a similar connection between prayer and the Spirit running through the Johannine Last Discourse—cf. 14:13-17, 25-26; 15:7ff, 26; 16:7ff, 23-24.

The variant reading itself represents a distinctly Christian adaptation of an established Old Testament/Jewish tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age. Drawing upon the natural association between God’s (holy) Spirit and cleansing, the sixth century Prophets, as part of their overall message regarding the restoration of Israel (and return from exile), emphasize the role of the Spirit that God will “pour out” upon His people, cleansing them and giving to them a “new heart” and a new spirit which will allow them to remain obedient to the Covenant. The Qumran Community further developed this idea, applying it to their own religious identity as the faithful ones of the end-time. The Qumran Community viewed itself as a “community of holiness”, made up completely of “men of holiness”, led by a “council of holiness”, and established by God’s own “spirit of holiness” (1QS 8:20-9:3). The water-ritual for entrants into the Community symbolized the cleansing of the person’s spirit by the “spirit of [God’s] holiness”, so that the individual’s own spirit was made entirely holy (1QS 3:5-9), allowing him to become part of the holy Community. The parallel with early Christian baptism is clear enough, and the variant reading of Luke 11:2, if it indeed stems from a baptismal setting, would indicate that early Christians used similar traditional language, regarding the cleansing role of the Spirit in the Community.

Before proceeding further to consider how this Lukan emphasis on the Spirit reflects the historical traditions surrounding the earliest believers (in Luke-Acts), it will be worth examining one additional Gospel tradition where the Lukan version, apparently, makes reference to the Holy Spirit. In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the saying in Lk 10:21-22 (par Matt 11:25-27).


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