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.

What the Angelic Chorus Said…and other Notes on the Christmas Story

The Christmas Story (that is, the so-called Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke) is perhaps the most widely read and beloved portion of the entire Bible. Every year in the Christmas season, believers and non-believers alike hear and read those words, sing them in popular carols, present them visually in all manner of decoration, and so forth. In this article I will be discussing some notable textual variants, along with a few interesting critical and interpretive issues, from the Infancy Narratives (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2) and several additional passages related to the Birth of Jesus.

It is generally thought that the Infancy Narratives are among the latest portions of the Gospel tradition to develop, after the Passion and Resurrection Narratives, collections of Sayings of Jesus, accounts of the Miracles, etc. Only two of the canonical Gospels contain such narratives, and, somewhat surprisingly, the Birth of Jesus is hardly mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. However, that it quickly gained importance in the Early Church is clear from: (1) the Extra-canonical gospels from the second-century (and later), (2) its place in apologetic and polemical writings of the second and early third centuries (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen), and (3) variant readings in the New Testament MSS, most of which must have occurred in this same period (by the early third century).

As a matter of fact, the original text of the Matthean and Lukan Infancy Narratives is reasonably well-established, with fewer substantive textual variants than in many other portions of the Gospels. However, in at least two areas scribes were prone to introduce variant readings:

1. The high density of Old Testament citations and allusions in these passages resulted in a range of variants. Besides the explicit quotations in Matthew, the annunciation and birth narratives clearly draw upon Old Testament forms and imagery to tell the story. Luke uses what has been called a highly “Semitized” Greek, especially in the canticles, patterned after Old Testament, and perhaps later Jewish(-Christian) poetry. Occasionally Greek-speaking scribes had difficulty understanding the language, and modified the text in the process. Of course, there was always a tendency to make OT quotations conform to the standard Greek version (LXX) as well.

2. An interest to clarify and safeguard the reality of Jesus’ birth and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. These modifications—intentional, or at least purposeful—occur in several different contexts, and will be discussed below. Not surprisingly, in virtually every instance in the New Testament where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ “father” (or Mary and Joseph as his “parents”), the text was altered by at least one scribe, in order to avoid any misunderstanding as to the nature of Jesus’ birth.

I will begin with the Matthean Narrative, then the Lukan, and will close with a few supplemental passages.

Matthean Infancy Narrative (Matt. 1-2 [includes the Genealogy, 1:1-17])

Matthew 1:16

For the majority of witnesses, this verse reads:  )Iakwb de e)ge/nnhsen ton  )Iwshf ton a&ndra Mari/a$, e)c h!$ e)gennh/qh  )Ihsou=$ o( lego/meno$ xristo/$ (“…and Jacob caused to be [born] Joseph the man/husband of Mary, out of whom came to be [born] Jesus, the [one] said/counted to be [the] Anointed”), and it is almost certainly original. Matthew’s alteration from the regular formula used in the genealogy seems specifically intended to avoid misunderstanding Joseph’s role in Jesus’ birth. However, a number of witnesses (Q f13 788 1346 l547, and some Old Latin MSS, etc) read:  )Iakwb de e)ge/nnhsen ton  )Iwshf w! mnhsteuqei=sa parqe/no$ Mari/a e)ge/nnhsen  )Ihsou=$ ton lego/menon Xristo/n (“…and Jacob caused to be [born] Joseph, to whom being betrothed Mary caused to be [born] Jesus the [one] said/counted to be [the] Anointed”). Here Mary is specifically called a virgin (parqe/no$) and her relationship to Joseph is stated more precisely (as “betrothed”).

A more peculiar reading is found in the Old Syriac (Sinaitic) MS, which reads, in conventional translation: “…and Jacob begot Joseph; Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the virgin, begot Jesus who is called the Anointed”, seemingly implying that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus. Some slight additional Syriac and Arabic support has been attested for this reading, but, most likely it is a singular reading. Nevertheless, a few critical scholars have suggested that this represents the original text, which scandalized scribes subsequently altered—a scenario which is highly unlikely. More plausibly, the Sinai MS scribe was either careless, or sought to bring the text into conformity with Matthew’s overall genealogical formula. From the ancient Near Eastern (Semitic) perspective, in the context of a genealogy, the term “beget / cause to be [born]” could be understood to apply symbolically to legal (rather than biological) paternity. Cf. the ancient custom of “levirate” marriage, which is likewise a popular solution advanced for the discrepancies in the Matthean (1:1-17) and Lukan (3:23-38) genealogies. For a good, detailed discussion of this variant, see the Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary on the Greek NT (2d edition, pp. 2-6).

It worth mentioning one further sub-variant in this verse: a few witnesses (64 [d] k, the Curetonian Syriac, and the Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila) omit the participle (and article) o( lego/meno$. The Greek can be variously translated “the (one) counted/said/considered to be…” or, following the Semitic idiom “the (one) called…” Possibly these words fell out by accident; but, if omitted intentionally, it could be a product of the Christological climate in the 2nd-3rd centuries—scribes may have sought to avoid misunderstanding, by emphasizing that Mary truly bore the incarnate Son of God (Christ) rather than a man who was merely “called” Christ. For more on the idiom “to call / be called…” see on Luke 1:32, 35 below.

Matthew 1:18

There are two significant variants in this verse:

(1) The majority of manuscripts and witnesses read tou= de  )Ihsou= Xristou=, but a few Greek MSS and Church Fathers read tou= de Xristou=  )Ihsou= (B Origen Jerome) or tou= de  )Ihsou= (W), while tou= de Xristou= is read by a number of Church Fathers, Old Latin and Syriac MSS. The fact that Ihsou appears in different positions is an indication that it might be secondary, while the compound name Ihsou Xristou with the article is peculiar; therefore is possible that Xristou alone was present originally. Whichever way the alteration occurred, it is conceivable that there were doctrinal reasons involved. The compound name occasionally was emphasized against “Gnostics” who ‘separated’ the divine Christ from the man Jesus (there is a similar variant at Matt. 2:1 in a few MSS). On the other hand, the title “Christ/Anointed” (Xristo$) early on became a kind of shorthand for referring to the incarnate Son of God; so a change from the compound name to Xristo$ alone could help emphasize the idea that the Son of God was truly born in human flesh (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.16.2). In any case, there is much interchange and confusion between all these divine Names and titles of Christ in the manuscripts, which was only increased by the use of abbreviations (the so-called nomina sacra) to represent them.

(2) Many of the early and best manuscripts (Ë1 a B C P W D Q f1 syrh, pal copbo arm etc.)  read ge/nesi$, while the majority of witnesses read ge/nnhsi$. Now both Greek words—nearly identical in sound and spelling—ultimately derive from gi–g—nomai (prim. meaning “come to be, become”), with ge/nnhsi$ from the causative verb gennaw (lit. “cause to be”, primarily in the sense of “generate, engender, give birth”: to “beget” when a man is the subject, to “bear” when a woman). Both words could indicate a coming-to-be (i.e., a “birth”), but the latter word (ge/nnhsi$) more commonly was used for a biological birth. Ge/nesi$ can more broadly refer to something made, created, produced, or generally as the “beginning” of something. For this reason, apart from the solid textual evidence, it is more likely that ge/nesi$ was changed to ge/nnhsi$ than the other way around; and, while the change may have been accidental, or conventional, it is widespread enough to suggest a possible doctrinal motive or purpose. Two possibilities: (a) ge/nesi$ could be interpreted as a “beginning” for Christ (that he was created, or made), susceptible to an Arian point of view; (b) ge/nnhsi$, as the more common term for a human birth, would also make clear that the Christ was truly born.

Matthew 1:19, 20, 24, 25

In a few instances in the versional witnesses (Old Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Diatessaron), references to Mary as Joseph’s “wife” (1:20, 24) or Joseph as her “husband” (1:19) are altered, again to avoid any misunderstanding about the Virgin birth, but also most likely to safeguard the tradition of the perpetual virginity of Mary. This belief was already well-established by the mid-second century (cf. the Protevangelium of James), as also seem clear from changes made to v. 25 in both the Old Latin and Old Syriac tradition—the Greek clause kai ou)k e)gi/nwsken au)thn e%w$… (“and he did not know her [i.e., have sexual relations with her] until…”) is omitted, probably to avoid the suggestion that Mary and Joseph did have sexual relations (and children) after the birth of Jesus. The Diatessaron reads “he lived with her purely [i.e., chastely] until…”. Virginity, celibacy, and encratite purity (celibacy in marriage) were especially emphasized in the Syrian Church.

 Matthew 1:23

The citation from Isaiah 7:14 is interesting because, like many quotations from the Old Testament, it does not correspond precisely to any known Greek version (or Hebrew text). Here Matthew is set parallel to the LXX (according to B [Vaticanus] and the Lucianic recension):

i)dou h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri e%cei kai te/cetai ui(o/n, kai kale/sousin to o&noma au)tou=  )Emmanouh/l i)dou h( parqe/no$ e)n gastri lh/–m—yetai kai te/cetai ui(o/n, kai kale/sei$ to o&noma au)tou= Emmanouhl

The differences (highlighted) are minor: Matthew has e)n gastri e%cei (“shall have in [the] womb”), the LXX e)n gastri lh/–m—yetai (“shall receive in [the] womb”). It should be noted that other LXX MSS (a A) also read e%cei, but these may be harmonizations (by Christian scribes) to Matthew.  Also Mt. reads “they will call his name…” instead of “you [sing.] will call his name…”, though a few manuscripts have harmonized the text to the LXX. Again, the Hebrew (MT) is not quite the same, among other differences, it reads “she will call his name…” (though this is not absolutely certain for the consonantal text, it is most likely). How are these differences to be explained? Generally there are four possibilities in such instances: (1) the NT author is working from a different Greek version, (2) the author is working (translating) from a different Hebrew text, (3) it is a free/faulty quotation (from memory?), or (4) the quotation has been adapted to the context in which he is writing. In nearly all instances, I believe this last is the best explanation, and is so here with the quotation from Isa 7:14. e)n gastri e%cei is the more common Greek (and LXX) idiom for conception, and was already used by Matthew in 1:18. For the second difference, the LXX is probably a (mis-)translation of the Hebrew, but there are also variants among the Dead Sea Scrolls including 1QIsa, which could be translated “he will call his name…” or “his name will be called…”, in which case it generally corresponds in meaning to Matthew’s Greek. More to the point, since the angelic announcement is to Joseph, who has just been told “…you will call his name Jesus” (1:20), it perhaps would have been confusing in context to hear “…you will call his name Immanuel”, as though it were being addressed to Joseph; the more generic form “…they will call…” fits better.  For a good discussion on all this, see R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 143-153.

Matthew 2:18

Quite a few MSS and witnesses have, it would seem, harmonized Matthew’s klauqmo$ kai o)durmo$ to the LXX (qrh=no$ kai klauqmo$ kai o)durmo$) in the quotation from Jer. 31:15 [38:15 LXX].  This sort of harmonization occurs quite often throughout the NT. It is sometimes difficult to determine which direction the change occurs, though more often than not, the reading that corresponds more closely with the LXX is secondary.

Matthew 2:23

Matthew’s quotation here is not from a single Old Testament passage, but appears to be a combination of at least two verses:
1) Isaiah 4:3: “He will be called holy” (LXX: “They will be called holy”)
2) Judges 16:17 (of Samson): “I have been a Nazîr (Nazirite) of God”—but note especially the LXX variants:
LXX B: “I am a holy one of God”  LXX A: “I am a Nazirite (Nazirai=o$) of God”

The exact reference and meaning of Nazwrai=o$ here is still debated. The principal context clearly indicates that it refers to Nazareth (i.e., a “Nazarene”). There are two forms used in the NT: Nazwrai=o$ and Nazarh=no$. But it is also very possible that Matthew draws on the allusion to a N¹zîr (Nazirite)—not that Jesus was a Nazirite in the technical sense, but the idea of dedication to God, with the parallel to being “called holy” would make such an association appropriate. Also possible, but less likely, is that there is an echo of the term n¢ƒer (“branch”), which had become an important Messianic term (cf. the key passage Isaiah 11:1 ff). Several centuries later, Jerome (Epistle 57 to Pammachius) cites this verse in relation to Jesus (“…from his root will grow [the] Nazorean”). For a good overall discussion see Brown, Birth of the Messiah, pp. 209-213, 223-225.

Lukan Infancy Narrative (Luke 1:5-2:52)

Luke 1:15, 17, 76

Here in the angelic announcement to Zechariah (1:15, 17) and in the canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus) (1:76), it is prophesied of John that he will be e)nw/pion (“before”, lit., “in the sight of”, “in the face of”) the Lord (ku/rio$). The textual witnesses show some confusion here, and, in part, this is an interpretive question which remains for commentators today: who is the kurio$ (“Lord”) mentioned here—God the Father (Yahweh), Jesus Christ, or both? In the Old Testament passages alluded to (esp. Mal. 3:1, 23), it is clearly Yahweh whom the Messenger/Elijah “goes before”. However, in the Gospels, with the familiar role of John preceding and baptizing Jesus, Luke probably understood the “Lord” here as Jesus. Here are the three passages:

1:15: e&stai gar me/ga$ e)nw/pion [tou=] kuri/ou (“for he will be great before/in-the-sight-of [the] Lord”). This is the majority reading, and is most likely original. But a number of MSS (Q Y f13 157 700, etc.) read …e)nw/pion tou= qeou= (“…before/in-the-sight-of God”)

1:17: kai au)to$ pro[s]eleu/setai e)nw/pion au)tou= (“and he will go before him”, lit., “and he will go before in his face/sight”). In addition to a variant in the verb (proeleu/setai, “go before” is more likely original), at least one MS (D) specifies e)nw/pion kuri/ou (“before/in-the-sight-of [the] Lord”).

1:76: Kai su de/, paidi/on, profh/th$ u(yi/stou klhqh/sh|: proporeu/sh| gar e)nw/pion kuri/ou e(toima/sai o(dou$ au)tou= (“And you, child, shall be called prophet of the Highest; for you shall go before in-the-sight-of the Lord to prepare his ways”). Again, in addition to a small variant (pro prosw/pou vs. e)nw/pion), at least one MS (Palestinian Syriac) reads “before your God” instead of “before the Lord”).

There are two possibilities for the change from kuri/ou to qeou= (assuming it is an intentional/purposeful change): (1) to make clear the OT context that the “Lord” is Yahweh (God); (2) to identify the “Lord” (Christ) with Yahweh (God). Only in v. 15 is there anything like solid textual support for the reading qeou=, and, given the commonplace confusion and interchange regarding these divine names/titles, the variants here may simply be accidental.

Luke 1:32, 35

In the angelic announcement (Annunciation) to Mary, at 1:35 the most reliable text reads dio kai to gennw/menon a%gion klhqh/setai ui(o$ qeou= (“and therefore the [child] coming to be [born] shall be called holy, [the] son of God”; or, alternatively, “and therefore the [child] coming to be [born] shall be holy, he will be called [the] son of God”). However, a number of MSS (C* Q f1 33 pc ita, c, e, r1 vgcl syrp, and various Church Fathers) have the variant to gennw/menon e)k sou (“the [child] coming to be [born] out of you”). While this variant may simply be a natural accretion to the text, a doctrinal motive for adding it is at least possible. Second-century apologists such as Irenaeus and Tertullian fought hard to define the reality of Christ’s birth against various Gnostic-Docetic beliefs; in numerous places in their writings they emphasize that Jesus Christ was born “from/out-of” (e)k) Mary’s flesh, and did not merely “pass through” (dia/) her (cf. especially Irenaeus Against Heresies I.7.2; V.1.2; also Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ 20).

Note should also be made here of titles used of Jesus in the Annunciation, at v. 32 and 35: me/ga$,  ui(o$ u(yi/stou and ui(o$ qeou=, since they have appeared together in a fascinating text from Qumran—the so-called “Son of God” text (4Q246). Surviving only in a few fragments, it is an apocalyptic work, influenced by the book of Daniel or perhaps part of a wider (Pseudo-)Daniel tradition. Of a coming king or princely figure it is declared (in Column 1, line 7) “[…he shall be] great upon the earth”; (Column 1, line 9) “…he shall be called [the holy one] of the [G]reat [God/King], and by His name he shall be named”; then (in Column 2, line 1) “He shall be hailed Son of God, and they shall call him Son of the Most High” (modified translation from J. A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 2000, p. 45). Though it is sometimes questioned whether this is a “Messianic” figure (or a non-Messianic Jewish ruler, even a wicked anti-Messiah), the general context seems clear enough, for this person appears to parallel the rise “of the people of God… His kingdom (shall be) an everlasting kingdom, and all his ways (shall be) in truth” (see parallel in v. 33). It is doubtful that Luke borrowed from this text, rather the angelic announcement uses messianic language and imagery already current in Palestine in the first century.

Luke 1:46

Who spoke the famous canticle of Lk 1:46-55? In the vast majority of witnesses, it is Mary. However, in a few Old Latin MSS (a b l*) and Latin translations of the Fathers Irenaeus, Origen, and Nicetas of Remesiana (and the Armenian transl. of Irenaeus), the song is attributed to Elizabeth. Despite its meager textual support, this would seem to be the more difficult reading—would not later scribes be more likely to change the attribution to Mary, rather than the other way around? Scholars such as Loisy and Harnack defended such a view more than a hundred years ago, and others have followed suit. And yet the textual evidence for Mary is so overwhelming, that it really is hard to justify. More plausible, and tempting, is the idea that no name was originally present, but simply read kai ei@pen… (“and she said…”). It is perhaps worth mentioning in this regard, the growing critical view that the Lukan canticles (especially the Magnificat and Benedictus) were pre-existing (Jewish-Christian?) hymns which Luke inserted in context in the narrative to give expression to the thoughts and feelings of Zechariah, Mary, etc. The more traditional-conservative view, on the other hand, assumes the canticles are recorded more or less as actually spoken, the poetry being the product of an inspired utterance.

Luke 1:67

I should note in passing that here (in the context of Zechariah’s inspiration prior to the Benedictus), that the words “Holy Spirit” (pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou) are without the definite article. Similar anarthrous forms occur throughout the Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25; and Matthew 1:18, [20]). Some commentators have sought to translate this as “a holy Spirit” rather than “the Holy Spirit”, prior to the development of the doctrine of the Spirit in the early Church. However, given the prominence of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts, it seems all but certain that Luke intends it here in the Infancy Narrative as well (similarly for Matthew). It is hard to imagine an early Christian understanding it any other way.

Luke 1:78

The textual evidence is fairly evenly divided between the aorist (e)piske/yato) and future (e)piske/yetai) forms of the verb. Since elsewhere here aorist forms are regularly used, it is perhaps more likely that the future form was changed to the aorist. The preponderance of aorist verb forms in the Magnificat and Benedictus are perhaps deserving of comment, since to a large extent these canticles (particularly the Benedictus) are presented as prophecy. It would seem natural, in context, to take them as prophetic aorists (describing future events), or perhaps as gnomic (regular or timeless actions). However, two points should be noted: (1) If Luke is indeed utilizing pre-existing (Jewish Christian) hymns (see note on Luke 1:46 above), then there is no problem understanding these as ‘ordinary’ aorists—they give expression to things God has already done for believers in the person and work of Christ; (2) They may simply refer in a general way to God’s salvific work overall, which would primarily include all that he has done to help His people.

There is also a small interpretive crux in this verse: the word a)natolh/ (“rising”) seems in context to refer to the sun (or light) rising in the sky, coming to those who are in darkness. However, the word is also used in the LXX to translate jm^x# (ƒemaµ, “branch, shoot”), cf. Zech 3:8; 6:12. Parallel to the word rx#n@ (n¢ƒer, see the note on Matt. 2:23 above), both of which were already familiar Messianic terms at the time of Luke’s writing. Is it possible that Luke (or Zechariah as inspired speaker) is playing on both meanings?

Luke 2:4

The majority text reads that Joseph went to Bethlehem (with Mary) dio to ei@nai au)ton e)c oi@kou kai patria=$ Dau[e]i/d (“…because [of] his being out of the house and family of David”). However, at least two MSS (348 1216) instead read the pronoun au)tou$ (“they/their”), implying that Mary also was from the line of David (there is a similar reading “both” in the Old Syriac [Sinaitic] version). This came to be a common belief in the early Church, even though the Lukan narrative itself states that Mary’s relative Elizabeth was from the priestly line of Aaron (Lk. 1:5). Most likely the tradition of Mary as a Davidid developed as a way to strengthen Jesus’ own Davidic origin—Rom. 1:3, for example, would seem to suggest an actual biological (rather than a legal paternal) connection.

Luke 2:14

What did the Angelic Chorus say? The first line is uniform in the textual tradition:

Do/ca e)n u(yi/stoi$ qew=|
“Glory in the highest [places] to God”

However, there is a major variant in the second line:

kai e)pi gh=$ ei)rh/nh e)n a)nqrw/poi$ eu)doki/a[$]

Is the final word the genitive (eu)doki/a$) as read by many of the oldest and best witnesses (a* A B* D W pc vgst copsa etc), or is it the nominative form (eu)doki/a) as read by the majority of witnesses (ac B3 K L P D Q C Y f1, 13 et al.)? The former has traditionally been translated “and on earth peace among men of good will”, while the latter as the familiar “and on earth peace, good will to men”. The external textual evidence would tend slightly to lean toward the genitive, and so most modern commentaries and translations understand it, especially now that the argument in favor of it has more or less been clinched by the manuscript discoveries at Qumran. A similar phrase occurs (in Hebrew) in the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns): wnwxr ynb (b§nê r§ƒônô, “sons of his favor” 1QH 4:32-33) and hknwxr ynb lwkl (l§kôl b§nê r§ƒôn§k¹, “for all [the] sons of your favor” 1QH 11:9), and more precisely in Aramaic [h]twur vwnab (be°§nôš r¢±ût[¢h], “in/among men of [his] favor” 4Q545 [Visions of Amramc] column II frag. 3,5). The Greek word eu)doki/a is virtually a product of the LXX, used to translate Hebrew /oxr* (r¹ƒôn, “favor, pleasure, acceptance, will”). Eu)doke/w literally means “to think well of” someone or something, and may have both emotional (“desire, pleasure, satisfaction”) and volitional (“accept, determine, decide, select, will”) connotations. However, it is clear from the Old Testament and Jewish examples, that it is not human beings, but God who is the subject of eu)doki/a//oxr*, and so here should be translated “…men of (His) favor”, as in the examples from Qumran above. And while onoxr= (“his favor”, with pronominal suffix) would properly be translated into Greek as eu)doki/a au)tou=, it can also be translated without the pronoun (as in Sirach 15:15; 39:18). The English translation “good will” is rather misleading, and is better rendered as “favor” or “(good) pleasure”—”men of his good pleasure” or “men of his favor” indicates those whom God favors or with whom he is pleased (lit. those he “thinks well of”), and, judging from the Qumran examples, probably carries the sense of gracious election. How did the textual change occur (from eu)doki/a$  to eu)doki/a)? Most likely the idiom with genitive came to be poorly understood by scribes, and was replaced early the history of transmission; however, it is also possible that the final sigma dropped out by accident, particularly if it occurred in the MS at the end of a line (see Metzger/UBS Textual Commentary, 2d ed. p. 111 for a visual demonstration).

Luke 2:22

Here the majority text reads kai o%te e)plh/sqhsan h(me/rai tou= kaqarismou= au)tw=n… (“and when the days of their cleansing were filled up [i.e. fulfilled]”), and is likely original. Note the plural pronoun (au)tw=n), which is certainly peculiar, since it would indicate that the purification ritual applied to both Mary and Joseph (or Mary and the child Jesus). Many critical scholars attest this as one (of a number) of Lukan inaccuracies, since the rite of purification following childbirth (both in the Mosaic covenant and later Jewish tradition) only applies to the mother, not to the husband or child. However, the plural pronoun here may simply be grammatical (not strictly factual), since the plural is used in the following clause to indicate that both parents “brought him [Jesus] up into Jerusalem…”. In any event, some confusion seems to have prompted several scribes to modify the text: a few MS (D 2174* syrs copsa ms) read au)tou= (“his” – Jesus? Joseph?), at least one MS (76) reads au)th=$ (“her”), while the Old Latin and Vulgate could read “his” or “her”.

Luke 2:27, 33, 41, 43, 48

As indicated earlier, scribes variously modified instances where Joseph is referred to as Jesus’ “father” or where Joseph and Mary are called Jesus’ “parents”. Most of these occur in the Lukan Infancy Narratives 2:21-40 and 2:41-52 — the Presentation at the Temple and the Episode of the Boy Jesus in the Temple.

2:27: kai h@lqen e)n tw=| pneu/mati ei)$ to i(ero/n: kai e)n tw=| ei)sagagei=n tou$ gonei=$ to paidi/on  )Ihsou=n tou= poih=sai au)tou$ kata to ei)qisme/non tou= no/mou peri au)tou= (“and he [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple; and (as) the parents brought in the child Jesus, for them to do according to that which is customary of the law about him…”)
This passage was modified far less frequently, perhaps because they are not specifically called “his parents”. Still “the parents” was omitted in a few MSS (245 1347 1510 2643 ?), and altered (to “Joseph and Mary” or simply “they”) in minor versions of the Diatessaron.

2:33: kai h@n o( pathr au)tou= kai h( mh/thr qauma/zonte$ e)pi toi=$ laloume/noi$ peri au)tou= (“and his father and mother were wondering/marvelling upon the [things] said about him”)
In the majority of MSS and versions o( pathr au)tou= was modified to [o(]  )Iwsh/f (A K X D Q P Y 053 f13 23 33 565 892 et al.). Despite the strong attestation, this reading is most likely secondary, as o( pathr au)tou= is by far the more difficult reading, as it could easily be (mis)understood to imply that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father. A few Vulgate MS instead read oi( gonei=$ au)tou= (“his parents”).

2:41: kai e)poreu/onto oi(  gonei=$ au)tou= kat’ e&to$ ei)$  )Ierousalhm th=| e(orth=| tou= pa/sxa (“and his parents would go up according to [the] year into Jerusalem, to the feast of the Pascha [Passover]”)
One Greek MS (1012) and a few Old Latin (a b c ff2 g1 l r1) read, with some variation, o(  )Iwshf kai h( Maria/m, “Joseph and Mary” instead of oi( gonei=$ au)tou=.

2:43: …u(pe/meinen  )Ihsou=$ o( pai=$ e)n  )Ierousalhm, kai ou)k e&gnwsan oi( gonei=$ au)tou= (“…Jesus the child remained in Jerusalem, and his parents did not know”)
A wide range of witnesses (A C E P Y 0130 565 f13, along with the majority Byzantine MSS, Old Latin, syrp, h, copbo pt) read  )Iwshf kai h( mh/thr au)tou= (“Joseph and his mother”), instead of oi( gonei=$ au)tou=.

2:48: …i)dou= o( path/r sou ka)gw o)dunw/menoi e)zhtou=me/n se (“…see, your father and I, [being] in pain, search for you [i.e., anxiously search for you]”)
A few MSS have altered o( path/r sou ka)gw/ similarly to oi( suggenei=$ sou ka)gw/ (“your relatives and I”), while the Old Latin (a b ff2 g1 l r1) and the Curetonian Syriac read simply h(mei=$ (“we”).

Additional Passages

In conclusion, I will very briefly mention a few other New Testament passages related to the birth of Jesus:

Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4

These two verses are among the only references to the birth of Jesus outside of the Infancy Narratives. They both use the aorist middle participle of gi/–g—nomai (“come to be, become”), in the sense of “being born“.

Rom 1:3: peri tou= ui(ou= au)tou= tou= genome/nou e)k spe/rmato$ Dauid kata sa/rka, (“…about his son the [one] coming to be out of the seed of David according to the flesh…”)
Gal 4:4: o%te de h@lqen to plh/rwma tou= xro/nou, e)cape/steilen o( qeo$ ton ui(on au)tou=, geno/menon e)k gunaiko$, geno/menon u(po no/mou (“but when the fulness of the time came, God sent his son, coming to be out of [a] woman, coming to be under [the] law”)

For both of these verses, a few witness (61* pc syrp, and apparently some Old Latin MSS, for Rom 1:3) and (K f1 etc. for Gal 4:4) read the (passive) participle of genna/w (causative stem derived from gi/[g]nomai), which is the more common verb for bearing/begetting a child. See the discussion under Matthew 1:18 above, and the references to Irenaeus and Tertullian (both of whom specifically cite these verses).

Luke 3:22

At the baptism of Jesus, instead of the majority text (su ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$, e)n soi eu)do/khsa, “you are my son, in you I have [good] pleasure”), some Western witnesses (D a b c d ff2 l r1) and quite a few early Church Fathers read ui(o$ mou ei@ su/, e)gw gege/nnhka/ se (“you are my son, today I have caused you to be [born] [i.e., begotten you]”). The first reading generally harmonizes with the account in Mark (and Matthew), while the latter reading quotes the second Psalm (Ps. 2:7). While this passage in Luke does not relate to the Virgin Birth as such, it is important in terms of understanding how the early church viewed the ‘birth’ of Jesus as the Son of God. I will be providing a more detailed discussion in a later note.

John 1:13

The majority text reads: oi^ ou)k e)c ai(ma/twn ou)de e)k qelh/mato$ sarko$ ou)de e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro$ a)ll’ e)k qeou= e)gennh/qhsan (…”the [ones] not out of blood[s] nor out of the will of the flesh nor out of the will of man—but out of God—have come to be [born]”), and this reading is almost certainly original. However, an interesting variant developed in the early Church, found in the Old Latin MS b and in a number of early (Western) Church Fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustine, etc): here there is a singular relative pronoun (o^$) instead of plural, with a corresponding change in the final verb (to e)gennh/qh)—”…the [one] not out of…but out of God has come to be [born]”. Instead of referring to the spiritual birth of believers, this Western reading apparently refers to the (supernatural) birth of Jesus.