Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: On the Sanhedrin “Trial”

As was discussed in the recent section in this series, there are three different versions of the “Trial” (or examination/interrogation) of Jesus before the ruling authorities of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin). In each of these versions there is a distinct order and arrangement of traditional material:

In Mark/Matthew, there is a night session of the Council, assembled quickly, it would seem (Mk 14:53), soon after Jesus’ arrest on the evening beginning the Passover (Nisan 15). It is presented as a formal trial, with witnesses and announcement of sentence. The central scene has the High Priest (identified as Caiaphas by Matthew, 26:57) questioning Jesus directly (Mk 14:60-62). A second session (consultation) is mentioned in 15:1, after which Jesus is sent to the governor Pilate, where the Council would present their case (and the criminal charge) against Jesus.

In Luke, by contrast, there is only one session of the Council recorded, corresponding to the night session of Mk 14:53-65 par, but Luke has it set specifically in the morning (“as it came to be day”, 22:66). This fits with the Lukan order of events, which has the session take place after Peter’s denial.

The Gospel of John has nothing corresponding to the Synoptic episode, but instead records a separate interrogation of Jesus (by the Chief Priest Annas, described as the father-in-law of Caiaphas, 18:13). There is very little in common between this scene and the Synoptic account, except a general similarity of outline with Mark/Matthew—questioning, Jesus’ response, mistreatment (striking) of Jesus. Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene, indicating that they are taking place simultaneously.

For those concerned with harmonizing the Gospel accounts, it is relatively simple to blend Luke’s version together with that of John, but extremely difficult to reconcile either Luke or John with the order/arrangement in Mark/Matthew. Consider how the events in Luke and John might be put together:

      • Jesus is bound and taken to the house of the Chief Priest Annas where he is held in custody—Jn 18:12-14
      • Peter is waiting the Chief Priest’s (Annas, not Caiaphas) courtyard outside—Jn 18:15-16; Lk 22:54-55
      • Peter’s First denial, while he waits—Jn 18:17-18; Lk 22:56-57
      • Jesus is interrogated by Annas—Jn 18:19-21
      • While this is going on(?), Peter’s second and third denials take place outside—Jn 18:25-27; Lk 22:58-62
      • Mistreatment/abuse of Jesus by the “police” holding him in custody—Jn 18:22-23; Lk 22:63-65 (details differ between the two at this point)
      • Jesus is bound and sent to Caiaphas—Jn 18:24
      • Jesus is question by the Council, led by the High Priest Caiaphas (to be inferred, cf. the Synoptic account)—Lk 22:66-70
      • [This may include witnesses/testimony as in the Synoptic account, cf. the wording in Lk 22:71]
      • Determination that Jesus is worthy of being sentenced to death—Lk 22:71
      • Jesus is bound and taken to the governor Pilate where the Council will present its case—Lk 23:1; Jn 18:28a

Insofar as it is possible to get back to the historical level of the tradition, in an objective sense, this would probably be a fair reconstruction. The problem lies in evaluating the Synoptic evidence of the Council session held at night (which Luke sets in the morning). Most critical scholars would hold that the Lukan order is almost certainly more accurate, and that, in many respects, John’s account, with its wealth of unique local detail (cf. Jn 18:10b, 12-13, 15b-16, 26, 28b, etc) may be closest to the original historical tradition. The reasons for preferring John’s chronology, in which all these events occur on the day before Passover (Nisan 14), rather than on Passover itself, have been discussed in an earlier note. At the same time, it is hard to explain the curious inclusion of the Synoptic Temple-saying report if it were not part of the historical tradition regarding an accusation/charge brought against Jesus by the Council. If Luke were aware of this tradition—which would be the case if he made use of the Gospel of Mark (cf. also Acts 6:14)—one can only guess as to why it was left out in his account. Perhaps the similarity of language and thought with portions of the speeches by Stephen (7:48-50) and Paul (17:24-25) in Acts prompted him to omit the “false” report of the saying (= a false saying by Jesus?) in Mk 14:58 par.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passover and the Passion Narrative

On Passover and the Passion Narrative

One of the most certain traditions regarding the Passion Narrative is that the arrest and death of Jesus occurred around the time of the Passover festival. This is confirmed by multiple lines of tradition—in both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, as well as in subsequent Jewish tradition (e.g., the Talmudic baraitha in b. Sanhedrin 43a). However, there is a distinct difference between John and the Synoptics in the precise dating and relationship to the day of Passover (Nisan 15).

According to the Synoptic Tradition, the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his disciples was a Passover meal which took place on the evening (after sundown) which begins the day of Passover (Nisan 15). This is stated explicitly in Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16 par. The dating makes clear that we are dealing with the day of 14/15 Nisan—prior to the feast after sundown, on the daytime eve (of the 14th), the Passover lambs would be sacrificed (Mk 14:12; Luke 22:7).

However, according to the Gospel of John, the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-17ff) occurred some time before the day of Passover proper. This is indicated specifically by:

    • The introduction to the Passion narrative and the Last Supper scene in 13:1:
      “And before the festival of Pesah [i.e. Passover]…”
    • Jn 18:28 and 19:14 make clear that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus both took place on the day of Passover eve (Nisan 14), before sundown and the start of Passover. On the 15th of Nisan Jesus was already dead (and buried).

This creates an obvious chronological discrepancy between John and the Synoptics. Commentators have tried to solve the issue in a number of ways, none of which are entirely satisfactory. Many critical scholars would simply admit that two different (variant) traditions regarding the precise dating, in relation to Passover, have been preserved. For those interested in determining the “correct” historical tradition, or in harmonizing the two lines of Gospel tradition, there are several possibilities which must be considered:

    1. Either John or the Synoptics record the “correct” dating, while the other has adapted and interpreted it, giving the association with Passover a special theological or Christological application.
    2. Both traditions, in their own way, are giving a specific interpretation (or application) to the original historical tradition which generally recorded Jesus’ death as occurring around the time of Passover.
    3. Each tradition is following a different way of dating Passover—i.e. is using a different calendar.

The last of these has been a favored way of solving the problem, especially for traditional-conservative commentators eager to harmonize John and the Synoptics. The idea is that two different calendars were in use in Palestine at the time of Jesus—for example, a 364-day solar calendar, along with a lunar (or lunar-solar) calendar. According to this theory, popularized by the work of A. Jaubert (accessible in English as The Date of the Last Supper [Alba House: 1965]), the Synoptics, along with Jesus and his disciples, are following the solar calendar, by which the Last Supper was celebrated, as a Passover meal, the evening beginning Nisan 15, while Jesus would have been crucified and buried on Nisan 17/18. John, by contrast, is following the official lunar-solar calendar, whereby the Last Supper occurred on Nisan 12. Evidence for use of an alternate (solar) calendar has been found in the Qumran writings (Dead Sea Scrolls)—e.g. 1QpHab 11:4ff and 11QPsa 27—as well as in other Jewish writings such as the book of Jubilees. Nevertheless, despite its attractiveness and convenience, this theory has fallen out of favor somewhat in recent decades, largely because commentators do not see any real evidence (apart from our desire to harmonize the accounts) that there are two different calendars used in the Gospels.

Options 1 and 2 above posit the alternative view that either John or the Synoptics (or both) have made the dating specific so as to bring out a particular theological/Christological connection with Passover:

    • In making the Last Supper unquestionably a Passover meal, the Synoptic tradition, which records Jesus’ words of institution (of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper), associates the impending sacrificial death of Jesus with the sacrificial offering(s) drawn from the Exodus narratives (Exod 24:8), by which the Covenant with God’s people was established. Jesus’ own body and blood (i.e. his death) will similarly establish a (new) Covenant with believers.
    • John identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb (19:31, cf. also 1:29, 36), which is why the Gospel writer dates the crucifixion to Nisan 14, when the lambs are prepared for slaughter (19:14). The mention of “hyssop” (19:29 MT) may also be an allusion to the ancient Passover tradition (Exod 12:22). Paul offers a similar identification of Jesus with the Paschal Lamb in 1 Cor 5:7 (and cf. also 1 Pet 1:19).

We should perhaps consider a fourth option, which, while it does not solve all of the chronological problems, may offer a simpler way of harmonizing the two lines of tradition. It is possible that Jesus and his disciples observed the Passover meal—or a meal with Passover characteristics—ahead of time, i.e. on Nisan 14, or even earlier. Several details in the Gospels could be cited in favor of this solution:

    • The dating of the Last Supper in John 13:1ff.
    • The Synoptic tradition which records that the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) did not wish to have Jesus arrested on the feast of Passover, indicating that they would have done this before sundown on Nisan 14/15 (cf. Mark 14:1-2 par).
    • It has always seemed somewhat implausible that the Sanhedrin would have met to interrogate Jesus on Passover. This removes the difficulty, preserving the (accurate) information in John 18:28, 39—i.e., that the trial and execution of Jesus took place prior to sundown Nisan 14/15.
    • The language and wording of Luke 22:15 could be taken to indicate that the meal is prior to Passover.

The main argument against this view is the specific dating indicated by Mark 14:1, 12. It would end up as a variation of option 1 above, implying that the Synoptic Gospels redated the historical tradition in order to make the Last Supper more clearly a celebration of Passover.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 3 (Judas Iscariot)

Special attention should be given to the traditions involving Judas Iscariot in the Passion Narrative. He features variously in the first three episodes, as has been discussed in the prior notes of this series. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is one of the most secure traditions in the entire Narrative, and its authenticity as a historical tradition is all but certain (on objective grounds). The reasons for this are:

    • It is preserved in multiple lines of tradition, evidenced at multiple points in the Synoptic and Johannine lines, as well as Acts 1:16-20.
    • Early Christians are unlikely to have invented the idea that Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers, nor would it have been readily accepted if it did not derive from a strong and reliable historical tradition.
    • Indeed, there are signs that early Christians (including the Gospel writers) were uncomfortable with the idea and felt the need to explain it (on this, cf. below).

To this we must note that Judas scarcely appears in the Gospels at all apart from his role as betrayer in the Passion Narrative. He is associated exclusively with the betrayal, and there are indications that the fact of his betrayal had a profound affect on early Christian tradition. Consider that in the calling of the Twelve (an early/authentic tradition, to be sure), with the associated list of names (Mk 3:13-19 par), specific information is provided for only two of the Twelve disciples—the first (Simon Peter) and the last (Judas). The reference “Yehudah Ish-Qiryah [i.e. Judas Iscariot], the (one) who gave (Jesus) over…” was a familiar formula among early Christians, some version of which is found in the Gospels practically whenever his name is mentioned.

The Passion Narrative

Within the Passion Narrative itself, Judas appears at several key points, each of which is associated with a distinct tradition. I cite the Gospel of Mark as the simplest version among the Synoptics:

  • Mark 14:10-11 (par Matt 26:14-16; Lk 22:3-6):
    “And Yehudah Ish-Qiryah {Judas Iscariot}, one of the Twelve, went (away) from (there) toward the chief sacred-officials [i.e. chief Priests], (so) that he might give him [i.e. Jesus] along to them. And hearing (this) they were delighted, and gave a message upon (it) to [i.e. announced they would] give him silver.”
    In Mark/Matthew, this passage functions as an excursus between the first and second episodes. In Luke, it follows the introduction and similarly precedes the Passover meal episode.
  • Mark 14:18-21 (par Matt 26:21-25; Lk 22:21-23; also Jn 13:21-30):
    The prediction of betrayal, and the identification of the betrayer by Jesus, which includes a declaration of woe (Son of Man saying). This is part of the Passover meal episode, discussed in earlier notes.
  • Mark 14:43-46 (par Matt 26:47-50; Lk 22:47-48; also Jn 18:2-5):
    Judas comes with a crowd to arrest Jesus; he approaches to kiss Jesus. This is part of the Gethsemane/Garden scene, discussed in the previous notes. Mention should also be made of the declaration by Jesus which climaxes the previous Prayer scene (Mk 14:41-42 par): “…the hour came [i.e. has come]! See, the Son Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)…See, the one giving me along has come near!”

The last two traditions are found in all four Gospels, though with certain differences, indicating various ways in which the traditions have been developed. Matthew generally follows Mark closely, but adds certain details, including more direct interaction between Jesus and Judas (26:25, 49-50).

Luke has a different order/arrangement of events in the Last Supper scene (22:17-23), so that the prediction of the betrayal comes after the meal (and the words of institution); otherwise, the author generally follows the Synoptic/Markan account. However, this reordering allows the prediction of the betrayal to lead into teaching by Jesus regarding the nature of true discipleship (vv. 24-30)—that is, in contrast to the “false” discipleship of Judas the betrayer. The nature of this betrayal is brought out by Luke in the “Gethsemane” scene, and the arrest of Jesus, which follows (vv. 39-53), in two ways:

    • As Judas comes near to kiss Jesus, Luke is unique in the record of Jesus’ address to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a (mark of) affection [i.e. kiss]?” (v. 48)
    • The concluding declaration—”this is your [pl.] hour and the authority of darkness!” (v. 53)—alludes back to verse 14, as well as v. 3, where it is stated that “(the) Satan came into Yehudah {Judas}…” In the Gospel of John, Judas is similarly associated with darkness and the Devil (cf. below).

Development of the Tradition in Luke and John

Within the Gospel Tradition, two explanations were given for the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest disciples: (1) Judas’ greed, and (2) the influence of Satan. Neither of these are found in the core Synoptic tradition represented by Mark’s Gospel, though there is perhaps an allusion to the first in Mark 14:10-11. Luke’s version at this point (22:3-6) may bring out the idea of Judas’ desire for payment, but only slightly (compared with Matthew’s version, cf. below). However, both Luke and John record specifically the diabolical nature of the betrayal, and the influence of Satan over Judas. In Luke, this is indicated by verses 3 and 53, mentioned above. The presentation in the Gospel of John requires a closer look.

John does not include a specific tradition of the calling of the Twelve such as we see in the Synoptics (Mk 3:13-19 par), but there is a similar sort of reference in 6:66-71, where Jesus declares:

“Did I not gather out [i.e. choose] you the Twelve—and (yet) out of you [i.e. among you] one is a devil!” (v. 70, cf. the author’s explanation in v. 71)

Judas appears again in chapters 12-13, especially the Last Supper episode of 13:1-30. Note the role of Judas here, in comparison with the Synoptic tradition:

    • V. 2: “And (with the) dining coming to be, the Devil [lit. one casting (evil) throughout] already had cast (it) into the heart that Yehuda Ish-Qirya (son) of Shim’on should give him along [i.e betray him]”—the Greek is somewhat ambiguous, but it should probably be understood that the Devil cast the idea/impulse into Judas‘ heart, i.e. that he should betray Jesus.
    • V. 10 (Jesus’ words to his disciples at the foot-washing): “…and you are clean—but not all of you!” (and the author’s explanation in v. 11, compare with 6:70-71, above)
    • V. 18 (a similar declaration by Jesus): “I do not say (this) about all of you—I know (the one)s whom I gathered out [i.e. chose]—but (so) that the Writing may be fulfilled…” (a citation of Psalm 41:9 follows).
    • Vv. 21-30—the expanded role of Judas in the scene of the betrayal prediction:
      • Jesus gives special information to the ‘Beloved disciple’ that he will identify the betrayer by giving him a piece of bread dipped in the dish (vv. 25-26a)
      • Jesus gives (shares) the piece of bread with Judas—described by the narrator (v. 26b)
      • At the moment that Judas eats the bread, it is stated that “then the Satan came into that one [i.e. Judas]” (v. 27, compare Lk 22:3)
      • The exchange between Jesus and Judas (vv. 27b-29), followed by Judas’ exit, i.e. his departure from the the room and the circle of Jesus’ (true) disciples (v. 30a)
      • After Judas’ leaves, we have the simple (symbolic) statement by the author: “And it was night” (v. 30b, cf. Lk 22:53)

In addition to the Satanic influence over Judas, the Gospel of John also indicates his greed, expressed through a distinct development of the Anointing tradition (Jn 12:1-8)—the person who objects to the ‘waste’ of expensive perfume (Mk 14:4; Matt 26:8-9) is identified as Judas (v. 4). Moreover, the author goes out of his way to explain that Judas, despite his noble-sounding objection, really did not care for the poor; rather, he simply wanted to preserve the money in the disciples’ common purse, since he was a thief and often would filch from it (according to the best sense of v. 6b). In 13:29 we find again the tradition that Judas held the common purse of money.

The Development of the Tradition in Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew has developed the Synoptic traditions regarding Judas in a distinct way, at two points:

    • Matt 26:14-16—Judas takes the initiative and asks the Priests “What are you willing to give me…?” (v. 15). Also a specific amount of money is indicated (30 silver-pieces). Both details emphasize the motif of Judas’ greed.
    • Matt 27:3-10—The reaction of Judas to Jesus’ arrest, etc, culminating in his suicide. This is a tradition completely unique to Matthew, and it partially undoes the negative portrait of Judas, by showing him to be repentant/remorseful over his actions. At the same time the suicide (hanging) depicts him as coming to a terrible and wicked end. The idea seems to be that his (apparent) repentance cannot completely undo the evil effects of his betrayal. Yet, the Gospel writer is not so much interested in Judas’ psychology, as in his actions as the fulfillment of Scripture (the difficult citation in vv. 9-10).

The tradition of Judas’ death in 27:5-8 is partially confirmed by Acts 1:18-19, though the specific details differ. The manner of Judas’ death in the latter passage, with its more grotesque description, seems to be in line with other early Christian treatments of Judas which tend to depict him in increasingly evil and ugly terms.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: Supplemental Note on Luke 22:43-44

Luke 23:43-44

There is much textual uncertainty regarding the Lukan version of the prayer scene in the Garden. To see the matter in context, I give the passage as follows (with the disputed portion in double-square brackets, according to the Nestle-Aland critical text [27th ed.]):

40geno/meno$ de e)pi tou= to/pou ei‚pen au)toi=$: proseu/xesqe mh ei)selqei=n ei)$ peirasmo/n. 41kai au)to$ a)pespa/sqh a)p’ au)tw=n w(sei li/qou bolh/n kai qei$ ta go/nata proshu/xeto 42le/gwn: pa/ter, ei) bou/lei pare/negke tou=to to poth/rion a)p’ e)mou=: plhn mh to qe/lhma/ mou a)lla to son gine/sqw. [[43w&fqh de au)tw=| a&ggelo$ a)p’ ou)ranou= e)nisxu/wn au)to/n. 44kai geno/meno$ e)n a)gwni/a| e)ktene/steron proshu/xeto: kai e)ge/neto o( i(drw$ au)tou= w(sei qro/mboi ai%mato$ katabai/nonto$ e)pi thn gh=n.]] 45kai a)nasta$ a)po th=$ proseuxh=$ e)lqwn pro$ tou$ maqhta$ eu!ren koimwme/nou$ au)tou$ a)po th=$ lu/ph$, 46kai ei‚pen au)toi=$: ti/ kaqeu/dete; a)nasta/nte$ proseu/xesqe, i%na mh ei)se/lqhte ei)$ peirasmo/n.

40And coming to be upon the place, he said to them: “Pray not to enter into testing.” 41And he drew out from them like a stone’s throw (away), and setting (down) the knees he prayed, 42saying: “Father, if you wish, carry away this cup from me, but more—(let) not my will but yours come to be.” [[43And a Messenger from heaven was seen (by/unto) him, strengthening him. 44And coming to be in agony, more fervently he prayed: and his sweat came to be like thick-drops of blood going down upon the earth.]] 45And rising from the prayer, coming to(ward) the learners he found them sleeping from sorrow, 46and he said to them: “What, you are asleep? Stand up (and) pray not to come into testing.”

Commentators and textual critics are divided on whether the bracketed portion (vv. 43-44) should be considered as part of the original text. Indeed, the external (manuscript) evidence is rather evenly divided:

    • Manuscripts Ë69 (apparently), Ë75, aa, A, B, N, R, T, W, 579, family 13 mss, etc., as well as a number of key early translations (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, etc.) and a number of Church Fathers (such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria), do not include vv. 43-44. A number of additional manuscripts include the verses but mark them with asterisks as suspect.
    • Manuscripts a*, D, K, L, X, G, D, 565, family 1 mss, etc., along with key translations (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, etc.), and a number of Church fathers, do include the verses.

To judge by some of the best/earliest Alexandrian manuscripts, a slight edge would be given to the shorter text, as well as on the basis of lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is [generally] to be preferred”). However, it is hard to say which is the more difficult reading. Did scribes add the verses, perhaps to help combat “docetic” Christologies by emphasizing the suffering of Jesus? Or, did scribes delete the verses, because they seemed to give too much emphasis on the human suffering of Christ? It is always easier to explain how such variants were preserved in the manuscripts, than to explain how they first came about.

In any event, the change, whichever direction it occurred (add or omit), must have taken place before the end of the second-century, since late-second- and early-third-century witnesses attest both forms of the text. Vv. 43-44 clearly represent an ancient tradition—early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr (see the Dialogue with Trypho c. 103) cite it, though not specifically as coming from the Gospel of Luke.

On the whole, the text-critical evidence appears to be slightly in favor of the shorter reading. So cherished and familiar are vv. 43-44, however—and such a powerful ancient tradition—that even scholars who reject them as original still feel compelled to include them (bracketed, as in the Nestle-Aland text above) and to comment upon them.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative (Note on the “Last Discourse”)

As a supplement to the recent notes on the Passion Narrative and the Last Supper scene (cf. the last two notes on this scene in John), it may be useful to provide a survey of the structure of the Last Discourse, which many commentators regard as a series of discourses joined together. It has been outlined many different ways; I suggest the following thematic outline:

  • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
  • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
    • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
      • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
      • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
      • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
    • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
      • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
        —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
        —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
        —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
      • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
        —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
        —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)
  • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
    • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • The Illustration (vv. 1-3)
      • Application:
        —Remaining/abiding in Jesus (vv. 4-9)
        —Love and the Commandments (vv. 10-11)
        —The Love Command (vv. 12-15)
      • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 16-17)
    • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
      • Instruction: The Hatred of the World (15:18-25)
      • Exhortation: The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 26-27)
      • Concluding warning of the coming Persecution (16:1-4a)
  • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
    • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 4b-7a)
      • The Coming of the Spirit (vv. 7b-11)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 11-15)
    • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (v. 16)
      • Question by the disciples (vv. 17-18)
      • Jesus’ response: The Promise of his Return (vv. 19-24)
    • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
  • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

Some commentators would make chapter 17 part of the Last Discourse. Generally, this fits, but structurally, it is probably better to regard it as a separate component of the Passion Narrative in John. Despite the odd reference in 14:31b, it would seem that the Gospel writer intended (and envisioned) all of chapters 13-17 taking place at the time of the Last Supper. This, at least, is the narrative setting, which seems clear enough from the opening words of chapter 18: “(Hav)ing said these (thing)s, Yeshua went out [i.e. out of the room/house] with his learners [i.e. disciples]…”

How Well Do You Know the Story? Part 2 (Saturday Series)

Last week, we examined a key textual variant in the Passion Narrative. Now, today, with Holy Week approaching (tomorrow being Palm Sunday), I wish to present a number of other variants which are important for a sound understanding of the text. Each will be introduced and examined briefly.

Luke 22:43-44

The next variant involves a famous detail of the prayer scene in the Garden; the passage is as follows (with the disputed portion in double-square brackets, according to the Nestle-Aland critical text [27th ed.]):

40genomenos de epi tou topou eipen autois: proseuchesthe m¢ eiselthein eis peirasmon. 41kai autos apespasth¢ ap’ autœn hœsei lithou bol¢n kai theis ta gonata pros¢ucheto 42legœn: pater, ei boulei parenengke touto to pot¢rion a)p’ emou: pl¢n m¢ to thel¢ma mou alla to son ginesthœ. [[43œphth¢ de autœ angelos ap’ ouranou enischuœn auton. 44kai genomenos en agœnia ektenesteron pros¢ucheto: kai egeneto ho hidrœs autou hœsei thromboi haimatos katabainontos epi t¢n g¢n.]] 45kai anastas apo t¢s proseuch¢s elthœn pros tous math¢tas heuren koimœmenous autous apo t¢s lup¢s, 46kai eipen autois: ti katheudete? anastantes proseuchesthe, hina m¢ eiselth¢te ei$ peirasmon.

40And coming to be upon the place, he said to them: “Pray not to enter into testing.” 41And he drew out from them like a stone’s throw (away), and setting (down) the knees he prayed, 42saying: “Father, if you wish, carry away this cup from me, but more—(let) not my will but yours come to be.” [[43And a Messenger from heaven was seen (by/unto) him, strengthening him. 44And coming to be in agony, more fervently he prayed: and his sweat came to be like thick-drops of blood going down upon the earth.]] 45And rising from the prayer, coming to(ward) the learners he found them sleeping from sorrow, 46and he said to them: “What, you are asleep? Stand up (and) pray not to come into testing.”

Unlike the case of vv. 19-20 discussed last week, in this instance the external (manuscript) evidence is evenly divided:

    • Manuscripts Ë69 (apparently), Ë75, aa, A, B, N, R, T, W, 579, family 13 mss, etc., as well as a number of key early translations (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, etc.) and a number of Church Fathers (such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria), do not include vv. 43-44. A number of additional manuscripts include the verses but mark them with asterisks as suspect.
    • Manuscripts a*, D, K, L, X, G, D, 565, family 1 mss, etc., along with key translations (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, etc.), and a number of Church fathers, do include the verses.

To judge by some of the best/earliest Alexandrian manuscripts, a slight edge would be given to the shorter text, as well as on the basis of the principle lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is [generally] to be preferred”). However, it is hard to say which is the more difficult reading. Did scribes add the verses, perhaps to help combat “docetic” Christologies by emphasizing the suffering of Jesus? Or, did scribes delete the verses, because they seemed to give too much emphasis on the human suffering of Christ? It is always easier to explain how such variants were preserved in the manuscripts, than to explain how they first came about.

In any event, the change, whichever direction it occurred (add or omit), must have taken place before the end of the second-century, since late-second- and early-third-century witnesses attest both forms of the text. Vv. 43-44 clearly represent an ancient tradition — early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr (see the Dialogue with Trypho c. 103) cite it, though not specifically as coming from the Gospel of Luke.

On the whole, the text-critical evidence appears to be slightly in favor of the shorter reading. So cherished and familiar are vv. 43-44, however—and such a powerful ancient tradition—that even scholars who reject them as original still feel compelled to include them (bracketed, as in the Nestle-Aland text above) and to comment upon them.

Mark 14:68, 72

This is an interesting instance of a small, but notable seeming discrepancy between the Gospels. Only Mark mentions the rooster “giving voice” (crowing) twice—both in the prophecy (14:30), and here in these verses. However, here the textual evidence is a bit confused, almost certainly due to attempts to harmonize the account—but in which direction? Was kai alektœr ephœn¢sen (“and [the] rooster gave voice [i.e., sounded/crowed]”) added to the end of v. 68 (it is missing from a number of manuscripts) in order to fulfill (literally) Jesus’ prophecy by recording two crowings; or, was it deleted in order to harmonize with the other Gospels. The manuscript evidence is divided. Again, in v. 72, a number of manuscripts do not have the words ek deuterou (“from/for a second [time]”), and the same question can be asked.

Luke 23:34

For students unfamiliar with these text-critical questions, it may come as a bit of a surprise that a good number of early manuscripts (Ë75, ac, B, D*, W, Q, 0124, 579, 1241, and some Syriac and Coptic translations) do not include Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness: ho de I¢sous elegen: Pater, aphes autois, ou gar oidasin ti poiousin. (“And Yeshua said, ‘Father, release/forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'”) This is a wide range of good (and geographically diverse) textual witnesses, including the earliest relevant Papyrus (Bodmer, Ë75). On the other hand, the majority text, including both family 1 & 13 MSS, and the entire later Koine text tradition, along with key early manuscripts (a*, C, Dc, L, G, D, 0117) and many early translations, include the text. Once again, the manuscript evidence is fairly evenly divided, perhaps with a slight edge to the shorter reading, though it is hard to say for certain. Was this an ancient (authentic) saying of Jesus that was inserted in this location by early scribes? I disagree with scholars who claim that it is easier to explain its omission than its insertion. Orthodox scribes, on the whole, appear to have been reluctant to delete Christologically significant sayings or details, and were more likely to add or preserve them. It is quite possible that, once the saying became embedded in the textual tradition (however this exactly came about), it was really too wonderful ever to be removed.

Mark 15:25 and John 19:14

In order to harmonize the chronology between the Synoptic gospels and John, a few manuscripts and versions, read hekt¢ (“sixth [hour]”), instead of trit¢ (“third [hour]”) at Mark 15:25; correspondingly, the opposite variant occurs in a number of manuscripts (ac Dsupp L X D Y, etc.) at John 19:14. The apparent chronological discrepancies between the Passion accounts of John and the Synoptics are notorious, and represents a long-standing, and widely discussed area of New Testament interpretation. All three Synoptics appear to record the Last Supper as a Passover meal; and yet John (in 19:14 and 31) explicitly notes that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover eve (when the lambs were slaughtered). There have been a number of attempts to reconcile these discrepancies, and so preserve strict historical accuracy in all four Gospels; but these solutions, while possible, are not entirely convincing. A theory, popularized by A. Jaubert (La date de la Cène [1957]; The Date of the Last Supper [1965]; and other articles) posited that Jesus and his followers, as recorded in the Synoptics made use of an older [364-day] solar calendar (also utilized by the Qumran sect, and in the Book of Jubilees, etc.), while John records Jesus’ crucifixion on Passover eve according to the [“official”] Jewish lunar calendar. This theory was once in vogue, but has since fallen somewhat out of favor.

In any case, this textual variant would seem to be more of a simple attempt at harmonization. A reminder that, as we have seen, this sort of variant occurs quite often in the manuscript tradition.

Mark 15:28

Quite a few of the early manuscripts do not have verse 28: kai epl¢rœth¢ h¢ graph¢ h¢ legousa, kai meta anomœn elogisth¢ (“And the Writing was fulfilled which says, ‘and he was counted with the lawless'”). If it is indeed an interpolation, it was most likely added from the parallel in Luke 22:37. As I have noted above, scribes were prone to adding Christological details (such as the fulfilment of messianic prophecy), or to harmonizing the text to that of the other Gospels.

Luke 23:42

Here the variant involves but a single preposition (eis versus en) with an accompanying change in case. The “good thief” on the cross asks of Jesus:

Mn¢sth¢ti mou hotan elth¢s (“Remember me when you come…”)

    1. eis t¢n basileian sou. (“…into your kingdom.”)
    2. en t¢ basileia sou. (“…in/with your kingdom.”)

The first variant, which seems to refer to Jesus coming into the presence of his Father in heaven (after death), is the reading of MSS Ë75 (the oldest relevant Papyrus), B, L, and the Latin versions. The second variant, would appear to have an eschatological meaning (i.e., when Jesus comes [again] in [or along with] his kingdom), and is attested by the majority of Greek manuscripts (a, A, C2, R, W, Y, 0124, 0135, family 1 & 13 mss, and the later Koine/Byzantine text tradition).  It is hard to say for certain, based on the manuscript evidence, which reading is more likely to be original. Jesus’ response seems to imply the first variant, but he may also be “correcting” the second variant—that is, the thief asks Jesus to remember him when he comes to set up his kingdom, but Jesus responds that the thief will be with him in paradise today.

John 19:29

An interesting detail: a few manuscripts read hyssœ (“[putting round] a pole”), instead of hyssœpœ (“[putting round] a hyssop [branch]”). The latter is almost certainly the correct reading, the former arising perhaps as a scribal accident. However, it may have been preserved in these few manuscripts because it seemed to make more sense in context. John may be bringing out an explicit connection with Passover (see Exodus 12:20). It is important to recognize that textual changes, especially in the relatively rare instances they are made intentionally, are typically not made out of a malicious intent – rather, they generally are the result of a pious regard for clarifying the text when its meaning seemed to them ambiguous or obscure.

Mark 15:34

Another interesting detail: a few ‘Western’ manuscripts (including D) read ho theos mou ho theo$ mou, eis ti œneidisas me? (“My God, my God, unto what [i.e. why] have you reproached me?”), instead of ho theos mou ho theos mou, eis ti engkatelipes me? (“My God, my God, unto what have you abandoned me?”). oneidízœ has the basic sense of “insult, disgrace”, also “revile, reproach”. It would seem that a scribe, perhaps not understanding how God could, or would, “abandon / leave behind” Jesus, may have intentionally modified the text. This touches upon the sensitive question of intentional alterations (whether orthodox or heretical/heterodox) to the text of Scripture. As indicated above, these are relatively rare occurrences – indeed, it is often hard to tell for sure whether a scribal change was intentional or accidental. But it is a real phenomenon in the textual tradition.

Matthew 27:49-50

A number of important manuscripts (a, B, C, L, al) include the words allos de labœn longch¢n enyxen autou t¢n pleuran, kai ex¢lthen hydœr kai haima (“and another, taking a spear, pricked his side, and water and blood came out”) – a detail otherwise known from the Gospel of John (19:34) – at the end of the verse. Oddly, in Matthew these appear prior to Jesus’ cry and death. Are these words, then, original, having been deleted because of their strange location? Or was it introduced from John, perhaps accidentally, by way of a marginal comment. The evidence would rather seem to be against the words being original here. Again, however, the addition of Christological details, such as the water and blood from his side, would have been tempting to scribes, especially when they harmonize with other familiar passages in the Gospels.

Luke 24:6

A few manuscripts, primarily ‘Western’ (D with at least seven Latin mss), do not include the words ouk estin hœde, alla ¢gerth¢ (“He is not here, he has risen”). The shorter text, despite the slight manuscript support, has been accepted as original by a number of scholars (past and present), as a so-called “Western non-Interpolation” (for more on this term, see the concluding note below). The general argument in favor of these shorter readings (besides lectio brevior potior – “the shorter reading is [generally] to be preferred”), is that there is no good reason to account for the words being deleted or omitted, whereas they could easily have been added to harmonize with Matthew/Mark. However, I think that, in this instance, the superior manuscript evidence is decisive – I would tend to regard the longer text as original.

Luke 24:12 and 40

Two more examples of possible interpolations: a number of ‘Western’ manuscripts (D, with Latin and Old Syriac mss) do not include v. 12ho de Petros anastas edramen epi to mn¢meion kai parakypsas blepei ta othonia mona, kai ap¢lthen pros heauton thaumazœn to gegonos (“But Peter, standing up, ran upon/to the memorial/tomb, and, stretching out [to look], saw the linen-strips alone, and he went from [there], wondering to himself [about] what had come to be”); as well as v. 40: kai touto eipœn edeixen autois tas cheiras kai tous podas (“And, having said this, he showed to them the hands and the feet”). The external manuscript support for these verses is overwhelming, including all the earliest/best manuscripts (except D): Ë75, a, A, B, K, L, W, X, D, etc. Notwithstanding, some scholars consider the shorter reading in each case to be original (‘Western non-Interpolations’ – see below), the verses having been added from John (20:3-7 and 20). Modern detailed studies of both Gospels, however, have led scholars rather to the general conclusion that, here in the Passion and Resurrection narratives, in particular, Luke and John are both drawing upon common tradition. Especially in the case of v. 12, where the account is greatly truncated compared with that in John, a scribal insertion is far less likely.

Mark 16:8-20

This is probably the most famous and widely-discussed ‘interpolation’ (after the pericope of the Adulteress, John 7:53-8:11) in the entire New Testament. So much has been written about these verses over the years, that it is hardly worth going into them in detail here. However, here is a summary of the evidence:

    • Verses 9-20 are not in the two major codices (the earliest relevant Greek manuscripts) a and B, two major Latin and Syriac MS, and some Armenian and Georgian MSS. Other Greek MSS mark the passage with asterisks or notes, to indicate that it is suspect.
    • A few manuscripts (L, Y, 099, 0112, al), and a number of early translations (Latin, Syriac, Coptic) include two endings: vv 9-20, along with an additional “short ending” following v. 8 (one Latin MSS only has the short ending, without vv. 9-20)
      The short ending (NRSV):
      “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”
    • The majority of Greek manuscripts (A, C, D, K, W, X, D, etc. al.) contain vv. 9-20, with some occasional smaller variants.

    • One Greek manuscript has an expanded version of vv. 9-20 (between v. 14-15).

The patristic evidence (i.e., from the Church Fathers) is divided. Clement of Alexandria and Origen (late-second/third century) do not seem to know of vv. 9-20, while Irenaeus and (possibly) Justin Martyr (mid-late-second century) do.

The vast majority of Critical scholars (including many Protestant Evangelical scholars) do not consider vv. 9-20 to part of the original Gospel of Mark. In addition to the external (manuscript) evidence mentioned above, much of the vocabulary in these verses, and the way they seem to connect awkwardly with vv. 1-8, argue against them. As a summary of the evidence from a modern Critical perspective, one can not do better than the discussion in the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd edition, pp. 102-107). From a traditional-conservative point of view, John Burgon’s The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel of St. Mark… (1871) remains perhaps the most extensive and exhaustive treatment – though it is very dated in places (especially his handling of patristic evidence), and at times harshly polemical.

It would seem that the standing text-critical view is likely correct. Metzger makes, I think, one of the best arguments with regard to the “short ending” (#2 above): “No one who had available as the conclusion of the Second Gospel the twelve verses 9-20, so rich in interesting material, would have deliberately replaced them with a few lines of a colorless and generalized summary.” (Textual Commentary, p. 105).

Assuming that the critical view is correct, that what we have of the original text of Mark ends at verse 8—what happened? Two main possibilities are generally presented:

    1. That Mark ended his gospel at verse 8.
    2. That the original ending has been lost.

A surprising number of scholars accept the first hypothesis. While ending the gospel with “…and they said nothing to no one, for they were afraid” may appeal in some way to modern audiences, I find it hard to believe that an early Christian author would have ended it this way. Surely he would have included an appearance of Jesus to the women and/or the main body of disciples, possibly with some kind of concluding address. I find it rather more likely that a page was lost, presumably very early in the transmission (early 2nd century?), when the Gospel had begun circulating as a codex (bound book) rather than as a scroll. Mark was never as popular as the other Gospels, and seems to have been copied far less frequently (indeed early remains are quite scarce). We will probably never know for certain.

Luke 24:51

Here again, Western manuscripts (D, Old Latin mss), along with the Siniaitic Syriac MS and the original hand of a have the shorter reading, without the words kai anephereto eis ton ouranon (“and he was carried up into the heaven”). The vast majority of MSS, including all the early/best Greek MSS (Ë75, a [corrected], A, B, C, K, L, W, X, D, etc.) contain the words. The manuscript evidence would seem to be decidedly in favor of the longer reading, but internal considerations make it a bit less certain. In which direction did the change occur? It is certainly possible that scribes, noticing the apparent discrepancy between v. 51 and Luke’s own account of the Ascension in Acts 1:1-11, deleted the words. In the Gospel, it would seem that the Ascension takes place on the same night as the Resurrection, whereas in Acts (v. 3) it occurs 40 days later. On the other hand, a scribe may have inserted the words, in order to have the Gospel end with an account of the Ascension. Of course, this may well have been Luke’s intention as the author. I suspect that the apparent discrepancy may be the result of Luke compressing/conflating the narrative, thereby giving the impression that it all happened on one night. This sort of handling of historical narrative was quite common with ancient writers, as unsatisfying as it might be to our modern sensibilities. The longer reading, I think, is more likely original.

Final Note on “Western Non-Interpolations”

A number of the most significant variants discussed above involve the so-called “Western non-Interpolations”. This awkward term comes from Westcott and Hort in their greatly-influential late-nineteenth century critical edition of the New Testament. I will examine this interesting topic a bit further, perhaps, in a subsequent article. All it really means is that there are a number of key instances where the “Western” group of manuscripts (of which the Beza Codex [D] is the most prominent) has the shorter reading. This is especially significant, because the Western text (in Luke-Acts) typically is more expansive and usually has the longer variant reading. In a number of such instances, Westcott and Hort, followed by later scholars, accepted the shorter reading as original, even when the vast majority of manuscripts agree with the longer reading. The originality of these shorter readings is being increasingly rejected by critical scholars today, largely due to the presence of the longer readings in the early (Bodmer) Papyri.

How Well Do You Know the Story? Part 1 (Saturday Series)

Textual Issues in the Passion & Resurrection Narratives

The Gospel accounts of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are among the most familiar and widely-read of all the Scriptures. Indeed, to judge from the early preaching in the book of Acts, along with other historical evidence, these were probably the first Gospel narratives to take shape — as such, they stem from the most ancient layers of the New Testament witness. And yet, any careful, unbiased study of these remarkable passages reveals a range of surprising and fascinating detail: divergences between the Gospels, apparent discrepancies, odd synchronisms, questions of chronology, along with some of the most difficult (and profound) Christological statements in the New Testament. Here I will be exploring just one of these many areas of study: the variant readings in the text of these Gospel passages.

Many of the notes and articles on this Study Site involve what we call Biblical Criticism, and on (New Testament) Textual Criticsm in particular. I discuss all the main terms and concepts of Textual Criticism in a separate three-part article (“Learning the Language”), which I recommend that you read, if you have not already done so. In these Saturday Series studies I endeavor to show how the ideas and methods of criticism work in practice, using specific passages as examples to introduce the entire exegetical-critical approach for reader and students for whom it may be unfamiliar. Thus far, we have been focusing on different parts of the Gospel of John. Today, I present the first of two studies on the Passion and Resurrection Narratives in the Gospels.

A particular area of importance in New Testament and Gospel studies involves the “variant readings”, that is, textual variants, where the text differs between the various Greek manuscripts (and other witnesses), which are at the heart of the matter. Most variants are negligible or insignificant; but others are substantive—they genuinely affect the sense and meaning of the text. Nearly all of the variants in the Passion and Resurrection narratives which I discuss below are substantive—indeed many involve the question of interpolation. An interpolated passage has been added to the original text, from another source, during the process of copying and transmission. It is a special category of variants where a word or phrases is added/omitted, though an interpolation normally involves at least an entire verse. As such these variants are of the utmost significance.

It is sometimes said that variant readings in the manuscripts do not affect theology or Christian doctrine. Such a claim is misleading and inaccurate, as it is only partly true (as will be discussed in more detail in a future article). Many of the variants discussed below do affect, to a greater or lesser extent, key points of doctrine—Christological and Soteriological. They are also among the most disputed variant readings in the New Testament.

Luke 22:19-21

The first variant I will explore comes from the Lukan version of the Last Supper. To begin with, it might be useful to look at the three Synoptic accounts side-by-side, along with Paul’s traditional account from 1 Corinthians (notable add/omit variants are in square brackets):

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, the translation is my own, quite literal in style. Parentheses indicate helping English words; a slash indicates two alternates for rendering the same word, for the sake of clarity. Italicized words are left untranslated, as there is no single English word quite appropriate in context. The noun diath¢¡k¢ (diaqh/kh) literally means something that is “set/placed through(out)”, i.e. an “arrangement”. It is often used in the context of a “disposition” or “testament” (such as a last will). In the New Testament, the usage follows the Greek version(s) of the Old Testament, where diath¢¡k¢ translates the Hebrew b§rî¾ (tyr!B=), a word which fundamentally refers to a binding agreement—especially in the religious-theological sense of the agreement established by God with the people of Israel (Abraham and his descendants).

Mark 14:22-25 Matthew 26:26-29 Luke 22:14-23 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
22And (at) their eating, taking bread (and) blessing, he broke (it) and gave to them and said: “Take, this is my body.” 23And taking (the) cup (and) expressing gratitude, he gave (it) to them, and all drank out of it. 24And he said to them, “This is my blood, of the [new] diatheke, which is (being) poured out for (the sake of) many. 25Amen, I say to you that no, no longer shall I drink out of the produce of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26And (at) their eating, taking bread (and) blessing, Jesus broke (it), and, giving to the learners, said: “Take (and) eat, this is my body.” 27And taking [the] cup and expressing gratitude, he gave (it) to them, saying: “Drink out of it, all (of you), 28for this is my blood, of the [new] diatheke, which is (being) poured out around/concerning many unto the release/forgiveness of sins. 29And I say to you, I shall not drink again from the produce of the vine until that day when it drink it new, with you, in the kingdom of my Father.” 14And when the hour came to be, he fell/sat down (to eat), and the apostles with him. 15And he said to(ward) them, “With longing, I have longed to eat this pascha with you, before by suffering. 16For I say to you that I shall not eat it until that (time) it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. 17And receiving/taking (the) cup (and) expressing gratitude, he said: “Take this and divide (it) unto yourselves; 18for I say to you [that] no[, no longer] shall I drink from the produce of the vine from now on, until the (time) when the kingdom of God comes.” 19And taking bread (and) expressing gratitude, he broke (it) and gave to them, saying: “This is my body [that is given for you: do this unto my remembrance.” 20And like(wise) the cup, with/after the dining, saying: “This the cup is the new diatheke in my blood, that is poured out for you.] 21But more—see, the hand of the one giving me over (is) with me upon the table. 22That the Son of Man indeed travels according to that which was marked-out/determined, but more—woe to that man by whom he is given over!” 23And they began to question toward themselves (as to) the one of them who perhaps it might be, the (one) about to do this. 23For I took over from the Lord that which I also have given over to you: that the Lord Jesus, in the night that he was given over, took bread 24and, expressing gratitude, broke (it) and said: “This is My body which is [broken/given] for you. Do this unto my remembrance.” 25Like(wise) the cup, with/after the dining, saying: “This the cup is the new diatheke in my blood: do this, how often if you drink, unto my remembrance.” 26For, how often if you eat this bread and drink this cup, you announce the death of the Lord until the (time) when he comes.

Note especially the yellow highlighted text above, to demonstrate how close 1 Cor. 11:24-25 is to the disputed portion (vv. 19b-20) of Luke 22.

The textual tradition of Luke 22:17-20 is somewhat confused, as is indicated by the fact that six major variants are attested for this passage. The Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (second edition, pp. 148-150) provides a nice table summary, which I include here captured out of Biblesoft’s electronic version:

Actually, these six variants really can be reduced down to two: a long version, which includes vv. 19b-20, and a short version, which does not have the verses. The text-critical question then is: which of these is most likely the original reading? Was vv. 19b-20 added (an interpolation) by scribes at some point in the process of transmission, or were they deleted?

Interestingly, the manuscript evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the long version, as it is the reading found in every Greek MS except one. It is found in the oldest relevant papyrus (Bodmer, Ë75) and the major uncials (a A B C K L T W, etc.) as well as most miniscules and ancient Versions (translations). It is decidedly the Majority reading, including the entire early Alexandrian Tradition. On the other hand, the short version is only found in Codex Bezae (D) and in five Old Latin manuscripts (a d ff2 i l). Didache chap. 9 might also be a witness to an original cup-bread sequence (i.e., the short version).

The superior external (manuscript) evidence would seem to clinch the decision in favor of the long version, were it not for the fact that no one has been able to provide a good explanation as to how the shorter text ever could have happened. It does not appear to be the result of (any obvious) scribal accident. Moreover, a scribe, puzzled by Luke’s cup-bread-cup sequence, would more likely have remove the first mention of the cup, rather than the second, and thereby bring the sequence into harmony with the other Gospels (see above). Beyond this, it is a general rule of textual criticism that, in a choice between two readings, the shorter version is more likely to be original (lectio brevior potior)—though there are exceptions, of course. The long version has sometimes been called the more difficult reading (which generally is to be preferred); but I tend to regard both, in their own way, equally difficult. I must confess, it is a bit hard to imagine a pious scribe deleting vv. 19b-20, with their vital soteriological content. On the other hand, it is a bit easier to imagine a scribe adding these verses, given their obvious similarity to 1 Cor. 11:24-25—such familiar verses could have quickly taken root in the manuscript tradition, to be forever preserved in the Majority text.

One of the strongest modern advocates for the short text has been Bart Erhman, who devotes a lengthy discussion to the question in his book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford: 1993, pp. 197-209). While I disagree with much of his view of Lukan theology, he makes some excellent points regarding this passage. Here I cite a diagram (p. 206) which shows, from his point of view, the natural structure and continuity of the shorter text:

(A) And taking bread, giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body (v. 19a)

(B) But (pl¢¡n) behold, the hand of the one who betrays (tou paradidóntos) me is on the table (v. 21)

(A1) For (hóti, continuation!) the Son of Man goes as it was ordained for him (v. 22a);

(B1) But (pl¢¡n) woe to that man through whom he is betrayed (paradídontai) (v. 22b)

In the late 19th and early 20th century, influenced by Westcott and Hort’s analysis (this passage was one of their “Western non-Interpolations”), more scholars were willing to regard the short text as original; today, very few are willing to do so. Joseph Fitzmyer’s discussion of the issue in his classic 2-volume commentary (Anchor Bible 28A pp. 1386-1392) is as good as any. Fitzmyer, among others, brings out how Luke’s unusual cup-bread-cup sequence may simply preserve more of an original (historical) Passover context. There would have been (at least) three cups in the ceremony: a first cup (qiddûš) to sanctify the feast day, a second (hagg¹d¹h) following the liturgy, and a third (“cup of blessing”, kôs šel b§r¹k¹h) following the meal proper. In this scenario, the cup of vv. 17-18 could be the first or second cup, with the cup of the diatheke (‘new covenant’) in vv. 19b-20 would be the third. While it does not at all explain the omission of vv 19b-20 in the short version, this is a most attractive interpretation.

Overall, it is impossible to ignore the external (manuscript) evidence for the long reading, and I would tend to accept it as original. However, I do not regard it nearly as certain as many do today.

Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28

A much smaller, related variant was noted in the table above. Quite a few manuscripts, in both passages, read t¢s kain¢s diath¢k¢s (“the new covenant/testament”) instead of t¢s diath¢k¢s (“the covenant/testament”). As in the case of Luke 22:19-20 above, it is important to note that a high percentage of substantive textual variants involve the question of harmonization between passages (especially in the Gospels). Scribes were prone, intentionally or unintentionally, to modify the text of a Gospel to match that of another (also to modify an Old Testament quotation to match that of the Seputagint, and so forth). As a result, in choosing between variant readings, the one which more closely harmonizes with another passage, typically is less likely to be original. In this instance, kain¢¡s (“new”) is probably not original, and is most likely a harmonization, either from Luke 22:20 or 1 Cor. 11:25. It is also worth noting that scribes (orthodox ones, at least) were more apt to add a significant soteriological or Christological detail than to remove it.

Join me next Saturday for a discussion of additional variant readings which are important for a critical study of the Passion and Resurrection Narratives.

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 1 (Mk 14:3-9; Matt 26:6-13)

The Anointing of Jesus

As indicated in the introduction to this portion of the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”, the scene of the Anointing of Jesus (by a woman) is the first episode in the Synoptic Passion Narrative, as represented by the Gospel of Mark (14:3-9). Actually there is a similar Anointing episode in all four Gospels. The version in Matthew (26:6-13) follows Mark closely, both those in Luke (7:36-50) and John (12:1-8) contain significant differences. This has caused commentators to question whether we are dealing with one, two, or even three distinct historical traditions (and events). Only the scene in Mark/Matthew is part of the Passion Narrative proper, though John’s version still evinces a connection with the death/burial of Jesus that must have been part of the tradition from an early point. The many points of difference between Luke’s account and the Synoptic scene in Mark/Matthew, may seem to leave little doubt that at least two separate historical traditions are involved. However, the Anointing Scene in all four Gospels follows the same basic narrative outline:

    • Jesus is dining (as a guest) in a particular house, and his he is reclining at the table
    • A women enters, or is present, who anoints Jesus with perfume
    • Others who are present react negatively to this
    • Jesus rebukes them for this reaction, and
    • He speaks on behalf of the woman, in support of her, etc

This common outline has convinced a number of scholars that ultimately we are dealing with multiple versions of the same historical tradition. It may be worth recalling that there were similar questions related to the Miraculous Feeding episode(s) (cf. the earlier notes), as well as the scene of Jesus at Nazareth (cf. also these notes).

I begin this study with the episode as it is found in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:3-9

This episode, the first in the Passion Narrative, follows the narrative introduction in vv. 1-2. This brief notice contains two primary elements which run thematically through the narrative: (1) the Passover setting, and (2) the plans to arrest Jesus and put him to death. Mark sets the second element within the first, enveloping it:

    • “It was the festival of Pesah (Passover) and the Unleavened Bread after [i.e. in] two days”
      —”The chief sacred officials [i.e. Priests] and writers [i.e. Scribes] searched (out) how, grabbing hold of him in a (cunning) trap (right away), they might kill him off”
    • “For they said, ‘Not on the festival (day), (so) there will not be any clamor of [i.e. from] the people'”

The idea clearly is that the religious authorities wish to arrest and deal with Jesus prior to the day of Passover itself.

The narrative of the Anointing scene is generally simple and straightforward; it may be outlined as follows:

    • Narrative introduction/setting—the action of the woman (v. 3)
    • The reaction of those present (vv. 4-5)
    • Jesus’ response (vv. 6-9), including a climactic saying

This basic outline is common to many traditional narratives in the Synoptics, especially those which depict Jesus in dispute/conflict with religious authorities (on questions of Law and other beliefs)—cf. Mark 2:1-3:6 par, etc. It is worth noting that neither the woman nor those who respond negatively to her are identified. In this respect, Mark most likely preserves the earlier form of the tradition (compared with Matthew [cf. below] and John). Jesus’ response is comprised of four sayings or parts:

    • V. 6—”Leave her (alone)! (for) what [i.e. why] do you hold [i.e. bring] along trouble for her? It is a fine work she has worked on me.”
    • V. 7—”The poor you have with you always…but you do not always have me.”
    • V. 8—”She did that which she held (in her to do)—she took (the opportunity) before(hand) to apply ointment (to) my body, unto [i.e. for] the placing (of it) in the grave.”
    • V. 9—”Amen, I say to you, (that) wherever the good message is proclaimed, into the whole world, even th(at) which this (woman) did will be spoken unto her memorial [i.e. as a memorial for her].”

These may be divided into two groups, reflecting two aspects of the narrative:

    • The costliness of the anointing—Christian ideals of poverty and humility (represented by the onlookers’ objection) required that some explanation of this “waste” be given. The answer comes in vv. 6-7, especially Jesus’ saying regarding the poor in v. 7.
    • The connection with the death of Jesus—it is doubtless this aspect in vv. 8-9 which caused the episode to be set within the context of the Passion narrative. As we shall see, there is some indication that the original tradition/event may have originally occurred at an earlier point in the Gospel narrative.

Matthew 26:6-13

Matthew follows the Markan account rather closely. The Gospel writer has, in other respects, expanded the Passion Narrative considerably, such as can be seen in the narrative introduction (cp. vv. 1-5 with Mk 14:1-2). The main difference is found in vv. 1-2, which contain a transitional statement (v. 1) and a declaration by Jesus (v. 2) which echoes the earlier Passion predictions (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19 par). However, the Anointing scene itself shows relatively little development. Typically, Matthew’s version is smoother and simpler, lacking some of the specific detail and color of Mark’s account. It also contains certain details not found in Mark:

    • Those who object to the woman’s action are identified as Jesus’ disciples (v. 8). This is a significant development; John’s version is even more specific.
    • In v. 10a there is the possible indication that Jesus is aware of the disciples’ thoughts/hearts (cf. 9:4, etc).
    • The woman’s action (v. 12) is described by Jesus through a somewhat different formulation:
      “For this (woman), casting [i.e. pouring] the myrrh-ointment upon my body, did (this) toward [i.e. for] my being placed in the grave.”
      Matthew’s version emphasizes the allusion to the process of embalming, prior to burial.

Two of the four sayings by Jesus here—the second and the last (vv. 11, 13 / Mk 14:7, 9)—seem to be especially fixed in the tradition, with little variation:

    • Mk 14:7 / Matt 26:11—in the saying regarding the poor, Matthew’s version is shorter (an abridgment?), but otherwise the wording is very close.
    • Mk 14:9 / Matt 26:13—the authenticity of the closing statement regarding the woman would seem to be confirmed (on objective grounds), by: (a) the nearly identical wording, and (b) the formula “Amen, I say to you…” (a)mh\n le/gw u(mi=n), which is most distinctive and a sign of an early Jesus tradition. The solemnity of the saying was certainly influential in the preservation of the episode within the Gospel tradition.

There is more variation (between Matthew and Mark) in the other two sayings, especially that in Mk 14:8 par which associates the woman’s action with Jesus’ burial. This fluidity would suggest that the saying was not as well established in the tradition. As indicated above, Matthew’s version enhances the association between the anointing and the (symbolic) embalming of Jesus after death.

In the next note, I will examine the quite different Anointing scene recorded by Luke (7:36-50).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative

We now come to the third (and final) major section of the current series entitled Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (cf. the Introduction). The first part of the this series was devoted to a detailed examination of the Baptism of Jesus. The second part dealt with the Galilean Period of Jesus’ ministry, especially as an organizing principle within the Synoptic Gospels. I had noted previously this basic two-part structure of the Synoptic narrative—(i) the Galilean ministry (Mk 1:28:30), and (ii) the journey to Judea/Jerusalem and the events there (Mk 8:3116:8). Luke, through his expanded treatment of the journey to Jerusalem, has a three-part division (+ the Infancy Narrative):

  • [The Infancy Narrative]
  • The Galilean ministry (3:19:50)
  • The Journey to Jerusalem (9:5118:34)
  • The time in Judea/Jerusalem (18:3524:53)

The Judean/Jerusalem period may likewise be divided into two main sections, along with shorter introductory and concluding episodes:

All three Synoptics essentially follow this basic outline, though it has been modified and expanded in places by Matthew and Mark (especially the Resurrection episodes in Luke). We may outline the Passion Narrative itself as follows:

  • Narrative Introduction (Mk 14:1-2)
  • The Anointing Scene (14:3-9)
  • Excursus 1: The betrayal by Judas introduced (14:10-11)
  • The Passover: Jesus with his Disciples (14:12-25):
    —The Preparation (vv. 12-16)
    —The Passover scene at mealtime (vv. 17-21)
    —Institution of the “Lord’s Supper” (vv. 22-25)
  • Excursus 2: The denial by Peter foretold (14:26-31)
  • The Passion Scene in Gethsemane (14:32-52)
    —Jesus’ Passion and Prayer (vv. 32-42)
    —The Arrest of Jesus (vv. 43-52)
  • The Jewish “Trial”: Jesus before the Sanhedrin (14:53-72)
    —The Scene before the Council (vv. 53-65)
    —Peter’s Denial (vv. 66-72)
  • The Roman “Trial”: Jesus before Pilate (15:1-20)
    —The Scene before Pilate (vv. 1-5)
    —The Judgment (vv. 6-15)
    —The Preparation for Crucifixion (vv. 16-20)
  • The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (15:21-40):
    —The Crucifixion Scene (vv. 21-32)
    —Jesus’ Death (vv. 33-40)
  • Narrative Conclusion (15:42-47)

There are six principal episodes, each of which will be discussed in turn, beginning with the Anointing Scene (Mark 14:3-9 par).

It is generally felt by most scholars that the Passion Narrative was the first (and earliest) part of the Gospel Tradition to be given a distinct narrative shape. This can be glimpsed by the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, as well as by the kerygmatic elements common throughout the New Testament (especially the Pauline Letters). The death and resurrection of Jesus formed the center of the Gospel message, so it is natural that those traditions would be the first to take shape as a simple narrative, to make the details easier to communicate and commit to memory. This also means that a number of these traditions are relatively fixed, and evince less development than in other portions of the Gospel. Details such as Judas’ betrayal or Peter’s denial of Jesus simply had to be included in any telling of the story. Even so, each Gospel writer handles the material in his own distinctive way, “ornamenting”, if you will, around the core traditions.

In analyzing the Passion Narrative, I will continue utilizing the method I have adopted for this series. For each passage, narrative, or set of traditions being studied, I examine—

    • The basic Synoptic narrative (as represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark)
    • The so-called “Q” material (shared by Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark)
    • Traditions and details preserved only in Matthew and/or Luke (so-called “M” and “L” material), as well as original (literary) contributions by the authors
    • Johannine tradition and the Gospel of John

Generally speaking, this order of study is chronological, reflecting ‘layers’ of development—but not strictly so by any means. Indeed, there is some evidence that the Gospel of John, usually thought of as the latest of the canonical Gospels (c. 90 A.D.?), contains early/authentic historical traditions in a form that may be older than those of the Synoptics. Wherever possible, I will attempt to trace the manner of development in the Tradition, and how/why it may have taken place.

The next note in this series will begin examination of the first episode of the Passion Narrative—the scene of Jesus’ Anointing.