July 11: 1 John 5:16-19 (6)

1 John 5:18, continued

The author’s statement in 5:18 is arguably the most difficult of the entire work, at least from the viewpoint of modern interpreters. It is here that the author’s ambiguity in the use of pronoun and verbal subject—something that is rather typical of Johannine style as a whole—is most problematic. A literal translation (of the best text) is as follows:

“We have seen that every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin, but the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God watches him, and (so) the evil does not touch him.”

The verse can be divided into three clauses (18a-c), the first of which (18a, corresponding to 3:9a) is relatively straightforward, once one is aware of the Johannine theological idiom:

“…every (one) having come to be (born) out of God does not sin”
which means:
“every (true) believer does not sin”

This statement, of course, carries its own interpretive difficulty, as discussed in the previous note (and supplemental article). The real problem(s) of interpretation, however, come with the second clause:

“the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God watches him”
o( gennhqei\$ e)k tou= qeou= threi= au)to/n

There are two textual variation-units in this statement, and they are indicative of the difficulties that copyists seem to have found in understanding the clause. The problem is two-fold: (1) who is the identifying subject of the participle gennhqei/$, and (2) to whom does the object pronoun au)to/n (“him”) refer? On the latter, it is most natural to assume that the pronoun refers to the believer (“the one born of God”, in the first clause); on the former, there are two possibilities: (a) the participle (echoing that of the first clause) again refers to the believer, or (b) it refers (in this instance) to Jesus (as God’s Son).

Some copyists, at least, must have assumed (a), since, instead of the pronoun au)to/n, the text reads the reflexive pronoun e(auto/n (or au(to/n) [“himself”]; among the important manuscripts that attest the reflexive pronoun are a Ac K P Y 33 81 1739. The meaning of the clause would then be:

“the one born of God [i.e. the believer] watches (over) himself [i.e. guards/protects himself from sin]”

A small number of witnesses (four minuscule mss, the Vulgate, Harklean Syriac, Bohairic, and several Church Fathers) attest a different reading: instead of the participle gennhqei/$ (“[hav]ing come to be [born]”), they read (or translate) the noun ge/nnhsi$ (“coming to be [born,” i.e., “birth”):

“the coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch (over) him”
i.e., the spiritual birth of the believer guards him against sin

Assuming that the participle gennhqei/$ is original, the interpretive crux is whether the substantive o( gennhqei/$ (“the [one hav]ing come to be [born]”) refers to the believer (as God’s offspring) or to Jesus (as God’s Son).

Everywhere else in the Johannine writings, the substantive verbal noun (of the vb genna/w) with the definite article refers to the believerJn 3:8; 1 Jn 3:9a; 5:1, 4, and here in 18a; and cf. also the use of genna/w in Jn 1:13; 3:3-7; cp. 8:41; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9b; 4:7; 5:1. Only in Jn 18:37 is the verb used of Jesus, but of his birth as a human being, rather than his spiritual birth (as God’s Son).

On the other hand, when genna/w is used of the believer, it is typically in the perfect tense, not the aorist. Of the 10 occurrences of the verb in 1 John, eight are in the perfect tense; only with the second occurrence in 5:1 (and here in 18b) is the aorist used, while the aorist is also used in Jn 1:13; 3:3-5, 7. Here in 5:18ab, does the switch from perfect to aorist tense represent a significant distinction, or merely a stylistic variation by the author (to avoid being overly repetitive)?

A closer examination of the only other occurrence of the aorist (of genna/w) in 1 John is in order. In 5:1, we read:

“Every (one) having trusted that Yeshua is the Anointed (One) has come to be (born) [gege/nnhtai] out of God; and every (one) loving the (One hav)ing caused to be (born) [gegennh/santa] also loves the (one) having come to be (born) [gegennhme/no$] out of Him.”

The perfect tense (passive voice) refers to the believer, while the aorist (active voice) clearly refers to God (as the one who begets / gives birth). Here in v. 18b, we have the more unusual occurrence of the aorist passive, which, however, is attested in Jn 1:13, where it refers to believers (plural form of the vb).

Yet it is worth mentioning that there is some versional (mainly Latin) and patristic evidence for the occurrence of the singular, with the verb genna/w (aorist passive indicative) used in reference to Jesus. Cf. Old Latin MS b; Tertullian On the Flesh of Christ 19, 24; Irenaeus Against Heresies III.16.2, 19.2; and the Epistle of the Apostles (chap. 3).

The evidence is thus somewhat mixed. Let us consider the three possible ways of interpreting v. 18b:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. the believer] watches him(self) [pronoun understood reflexively]
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] watches (over) him”
    • “(as for) the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. the believer], He [i.e. God] watches (over) him”

The strongest argument in favor of the first option is the overall use of the verb genna/w in the Johannine writings (cf. above); especially when a substantive (articular) participle is used, the verb always refers to the believer. On the other hand, the idea of the believer protecting himself is rather foreign to Johannine thought, though it may be seen (loosely) in the ethical instruction of 1 Jn 2:15-17. More frequently, it is God the Father or Jesus the Son who watches over and protects believers.

Indeed, this is the strongest argument for the second option above, particularly when we consider the use of the verb thre/w (“watch, keep [watch]”) in the chap. 17 Prayer-Discourse of the Gospel, which provides the closest parallel to the usage here in v. 18b. In verse 12, Jesus says:

“When I was with them [i.e. the disciples], I watched (over) [e)th/roun] them, in your name which you have given to me, and I guarded [e)fu/laca] them, and not one of them was lost…”

To this may be added the idea that Jesus will continue to remain with believers (through the Spirit, Jn 14:17ff, etc), and, specifically, of his intercessory role in providing cleansing and forgiveness of sin (1 Jn 1:7-2:2).

In favor of the third option (above), is the fundamental theological premise that the protection of believers ultimately comes from God the Father. This also is expressed by Jesus in the Gospel Prayer-Discourse:

“Holy Father, may you keep watch (over) [th/rhson] them in your name which you have given to me, that they may be one, even as we (are).” (17:11b)
“I do not request that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep [thrh/sh|$] them out of [i.e. away from] the evil.” (v. 15)

Verse 15, in particular, is very close in thought to 1 Jn 15:18bc.

In conclusion, the use of the verb genna/w favors the idea that the participle o( gennhqei/$ refers to the believer; however, the most relevant parallel to the use of the verb thre/w, in John 17, suggests most strongly that it is Jesus the Son (or God the Father, via the Son) who guards and protects the believer.

In the vast majority of occurrences in the Johannine writings, the verb thre/w is used in the context of a person keeping the word/command of God (or, specifically, of Jesus). This includes the other six occurrences in 1 John (2:3-5; 3:22, 24; 5:3); only here and in Jn 17:11ff (cf. above) is thre/w used in the specific context of keeping watch over a person. It would perhaps be possible to interpret the use of thre/w here in the sense that the believer keeps watch over himself/herself by keeping/guarding God’s word (lo/go$); this word abides in the believer, through the presence of His Spirit, and is realized for believers through the fulfillment of the duty (e)ntolh/) that God requires (cf. 3:23-24).

Before attempting to make a decision on the best interpretation of v. 18b, let us example the final clause in 18c, which we will do in the next daily note.

June 21: 1 John 4:2-3 (8)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

In our initial discussion of verse 3, in the previous note, we examined the important text-critical question in the verse—namely, regarding the minority reading lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (“looses Jesus”) vs. the majority reading mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n (“does not give account as one [of] Jesus”, i.e., “does not confess/acknowledge Jesus”). I considered briefly what the reading with lu/ei might have meant for the author, if it were original. The best guide to its meaning, in that case, is the use of lu/w in the Johannine Temple-saying of Jesus (Jn 2:19), along with the only certain occurrence of the verb in 1 John (3:8). This comparison raises two possible lines of interpretation: (1) the opponents in 1 John denied the incarnation of the Son, or (2) that they denied the significance of his human life (and death), negating its importance. In either case, the opponents could be said to have, in a sense, “dissolved” Jesus (spec. his body).

The premise of Bart D. Ehrman (pp. 125-35) is that the reading lu/ei made its way into the text through a marginal comment in the manuscript(s), much as we see for the only attested occurrence of the reading in a Greek manuscript (the minuscule 1739). The comment would have been introduced sometime in the 2nd century, primarily for the purpose of combating certain heretical or heterodox Christological views. This certainly corresponds to the context of the reading as it is cited in early Christian writings, beginning in the late-2nd century.

For example, Irenaeus cites it in Against Heresies III.16.8, in opposition to the Valentinians (and other ‘Gnostic’ heretics) “who say that (the man) Jesus was merely a receptacle for (the Divine) Christ, upon whom the Christ descended from above” (16.1). This separation of the man Jesus from the Divine/heavenly Christ—understanding “that Jesus was one (entity), and Christ another” —is commonly referred to as a “separationist” view of Jesus. The possibility that the opponents in 1 John held such a view has been mentioned previously, and will be discussed again in upcoming notes. An early “separationist” Christology is associated with the figure of Cerinthus (Irenaeus, I.26), who was considered an opponent of the apostle John, according to early tradition (cf. Irenaeus, III.3.4).

Tertullian cites the reading lu/ei against the Christology of Marcion (Against Marcion V.16.4). However, Marcion appears to have held a docetic view of Christ—i.e. that Jesus only seemed (vb doke/w) to be a real human being. Tertullian thus understands Marcion to have “dissolved” the humanity of Jesus, citing 1 Jn 4:2-3 in reference to a denial of the reality of the incarnation of Christ. Many commentators believe that the opponents in 1 John represent an early form of docetism. This also will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

Origen, like Tertullian, was aware of both readings, and cites the reading lu/ei (in his Commentary on Matthew), understanding it in the sense of “dividing” the human and Divine parts of Jesus Christ. More than two centuries later, the Church historian Socrates (Church History 7:32) cites the reading in the context of the Nestorian controversy. Nestorius, he says, errs in precisely the way described earlier by Origen—that is, he unwittingly divides Jesus’ humanity from his Deity. Socrates recognizes that, at the time, the reading lu/ei was not commonly known, but that it is attested “in the ancient copies”. Cf. Ehrman, pp. 128, 169. It is noteworthy that the Latin versions and citations alternate between the translation solvit Iesum (“dissolves Jesus”) and dividere Iesum (“divides Jesus”).

The overwhelming manuscript evidence, in favor of the reading mh\ o(mologei=, makes it rather unlikely that the reading lu/ei is original. For a fairly convincing argument on this point, cf. Ehrman, pp. 126-7ff. Christian readers and copyists in the 2nd century, like many of us today, may well have sought to clarify the Christological error of the opponents in 1 John. Marginal comments may have been introduced (as in MS 1739) for this purpose; in particular, there would have been an interest in relating 1 Jn 4:2-3 to the Christological controversies which were then current. Even today, there are commentators who would identify the the opponents in 1 John as early docetists or separationists. The use of the verb lu/w in John 2:19 (and 1 John 3:8) may well have influenced the marginal comment, utilizing Johannine language to explain the reference. On this, cf. the discussion above, and in the previous note.

Now accepting the majority reading (mh\ o(mologei=), but respectful of the variant reading lu/ei (from an interpetive standpoint), let us proceed to examine verse 3 in more detail:

“And every spirit that does not give account as one (of) Yeshua is not out of [i.e. from] God; indeed, this is the (spirit) of the (one) against the Anointed [a)nti/xristo$], (of) which you (have) heard that it comes, and now is already in the world.”

As mentioned previously, verse 3a simply negates the Christological confession of v. 2—viz., that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in the flesh”). The opponents do not confess or affirm this. Thus, they do not speak from the Spirit of God, but from the spirit of Antichrist. This makes them “false prophets” (v. 1), inspired by a false and lying spirit that leads people astray (pla/nh, vb plana/w, v. 6).

The use of the term a)nti/xristo$ (cf. also 2:18, 22) is particularly significant in this regard, since the literaly meaning is “against [a)nti/] the Anointed (One) [xristo/$]”. By denying the truth of Jesus Christ (v. 2), meaning they deny his identity as the Anointed One (cf. 2:22-23), they effectively speak and teach “against Christ”. For more on the background and use of a)nti/xristo$, cf. the earlier article on the first “antichrist” section (2:18-27) and my 3-part article on the Antichrist Tradition. For a discussion on the nature of the opponents’ view, in relation to 2:22-23, cf. my recent note.

Verse 3b echoes the earlier “antichrist” section (2:18ff), by claiming that the coming “Antichrist” of the end-time is realized already now in the person of the opponents. They fulfill the role of the “false prophets” who lead people astray during the end-time period of distress. Even believers are in danger of being led astray by such people (2:26; cf. Matt 24:24).

It is not entirely clear whether the author understands the traditional “(one who is) against the Anointed” (a)nti/xristo$) as a human being or spirit-being; possibly the latter is intended. Certainly, the focus here in 4:1-6 is on an evil spirit that is opposed (and antithetical) to the holy Spirit of God. This is how the expression to\ tou= a)nti/xristou= should be understood. The neuter article to/ assumes the neuter noun pneu=ma (“spirit”)—i.e., “the spirit of the (one) against the Anointed”.

This emphasis on the true and false believer, defined in terms of the true and false spirit, reflects a fundamental Johannine spiritualism. This will be discussed further in the next daily note, along with further consideration of the Christological view of the opponents, such as it can fairly be determined, by a comparison of 2:22-23 with 4:2-3.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993). His discussion of 1 Jn 4:3 is found on pages 125-35.


June 20: 1 John 4:2-3 (7)

1 John 4:2-3, continued

Having examined verse 2 in detail, it is time now to turn to what follows in v. 3.

To begin with, there is a major text-critical issue in this verse. The Majority Text [MT] reads the verb o(mologe/w (with the negative particle), at the point indicated in bold below, while other witnesses attest the verb lu/w. Here is how the MT reads, according to the NA critical edition:

“And every spirit that does not [mh/] give account as one [o(mologei=] (of) Yeshua is not out of [e)k, i.e. from] God…”

In the MT of verse 3a, the author simply negates the confessional statement in v. 2, by use of the negative particle mh/; in other words, the person who does not confess or affirm the statement in v. 2, does not speak from the Spirit of God, but is inspired by the false/evil spirit of the world (and “Antichrist”) instead. As previously discussed, the verb o(mologe/w (“give account as one”), in context, essentially means agreeing with (and confessing publicly) the view of Jesus expressed in verse 2—viz., that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (“Yeshua [the] Anointed [as] having come in the flesh”).

There is, however, an important minority reading that uses the verb lu/w, rather than mh/ + o(mologe/w; comparing the textual difference, we have:

    • pa=n pneu=ma o^ mh\ o(mologei= to\n Ihsou=n
      “every spirit that does not give account as one (of) Yeshua”
    • pa=n pneu=ma o^ lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n
      “every spirit that looses Yeshua”

It is important to note that mh\ o(mologei= is the reading essentially of every Greek manuscript; lu/ei is found only as a marginal reading in the minuscule MS 1739. The external (Greek) evidence is thus completely overwhelming, in favor of mh\ o(mologei=; yet a good number of commentators (e.g., Bultmann, Schnackenburg, R. E. Brown, von Wahlde) are inclined to regard lu/ei as original. How can this be?

Certain internal considerations would seem to favor lu/ei. It is the more difficult reading, and it has proven difficult to explain how lu/ei ever could have emerged as the reading, attested in the Vulgate (“solvit Iesum”) and other Old Latin MSS (ar c dem div p), and in the writings of a number of Church Fathers (cf. below), if it was not original. By contrast, mh\ o(mologei= can be explained as a harmonization with the wording in v. 2.

However, as many commentators have pointed out, the reading mh\ o(mologei= is difficult and peculiar in its own way. If the author (or a later scribe) had meant simply to negate the statement in v. 2, it would have been preferable (grammatically) to use the negative particle ou)x (rather than mh/) with the indicative verb, though the construction with mh/ is attested on occasion in the New Testament (including elsewhere in the Johannine writings—Jn 3:18; also Acts 15:29 [D]; 1 Tim 6:3; Tit 1:11; 2 Pet 1:9 [cf. Ehrman, p. 168]). Even so, it is rather unlikely that a copyist would have introduced this grammatical peculiarity, mh\ o(mologei=, rather than the reading ou)x o(mologei= (cf. ou)x w(molo/goun in Jn 12:42).

If the reading lu/ei is not original, it is nonetheless known from at least the late 2nd-century, being attested by Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.16.8), Tertullian (Against Marcion V.16.4), and Origen (Commentary on Matthew 65), and may have been known somewhat earlier by Clement of Alexandria (cf. Ehrman, pp. 128, 169, 171). Origen and Tertullian are familiar with both readings. Thus the textual change, in which ever direction it took place, must have occurred by the middle of the 2nd century (at the latest).

Let us, for the moment, consider the possibility that the reading lu/ei to\n Ihou=n is original. What would the author have meant by it? The verb lu/w means “loose(n)” (cf. Jn 1:27, in the sense of untying). When it is used in reference to another person, with the person as the object, it usually means “loose (from a bond),” i.e., “set free”, as, for example, in Jn 11:44. There are two other instances in the Gospel of John where it is used in reference to the Torah regulations, in the sense of violating (or negating) the obligatory requirement—i.e., of “loosing” the binding obligation to obey the Torah (5:18; 7:23); cp. the similar usage with regard to the Scriptures (10:35).

The verb lu/w can sometimes be used in the sense of “dissolve”, or, more generally, “destroy”. This is the meaning in the Temple-saying of Jesus (2:19), where it refers to the dissolving (i.e. destruction) of a building (lit. the “loos[en]ing” of its stones and joints):

“Loose [lu/sate] this shrine, and in three days I will raise it (up)”

In the Synoptic version of the Temple-saying, as reported during the narrative of the Sanhedrin interrogation scene (Mk 14:58 / Matt 26:61; cp. Acts 6:14), the compound verb katalu/w (“loose[n] down”, i.e. tear/bring down) is used. This usage, specifically in the Johannine Temple-saying, is significant in the way that it applies the verb lu/w to the physical (human) body of Jesus (cf. below).

The only other occurrence of lu/w in the Johannine writings—and the only certain occurrence in 1 John—is in 1 Jn 3:8, where it refers to the purpose of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry:

“Unto this [i.e. for this purpose] the Son of God was made to shine forth [e)fanerw/qh]: that he might loose [lu/sh|, i.e. dissolve/destroy] the works of the Devil.”

This context raises the possibility that the phrase lu/ei to\n Ihsou=n (“loose Yehsua”) could have a similar meaning—viz., as a kind of shorthand for “dissolve (i.e. destroy) the work of Jesus”, perhaps in the sense of negating or denying the efficacy of his mission as a human being (“come in the flesh”), including his sacrificial death.

Another possibility, along similar lines, relates to the specific use of lu/w in Jn 2:19 (cf. above), applying the verb to the ‘dissolving/destruction’ of Jesus’ physical person, his human body (“the shrine of his body,” v. 21). If the opponents in 1 John denied the incarnation of the Son, or (possibly) denied the significance of his human life (and death), then, in a sense, they could be said to “dissolve” his body.

It should be pointed out that this is not the way that the early Church Fathers seem to have understood the use of lu/w, in the context of 1 Jn 4:3. Rather, by all accounts, they interpreted it in opposition to a separationist Christology—that is, a view of Jesus Christ that separated the man Jesus from the Divine/heavenly Christ, or which separated the human Jesus from God (and the Divine realm) in other ways. This will be discussed further, as we proceed, in the next daily note.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993). His discussion of 1 Jn 4:3 is found on pages 125-35.

Saturday Series: Acts 1:1-2ff

After a brief hiatus this Spring, the Saturday Series returns. Beginning here with the weekend of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of studies dealing with some important critical issues in the Book of Acts, focusing especially on passages dealing with the Holy Spirit.

One cannot conduct a critical analysis of the Book of Acts without having to grapple with the two different versions, or recensions, that exist for this work. On the one hand, there is the Majority version, reflected in most critical editions of the Greek text, as well as nearly all English translations. The Majority version, in its ancient form, is represented by the Papyri 45 and 74 (Ë45 Ë74), the uncial manuscripts a A B C Y, and the minuscules 33 81 104 326 1175. It is typically referred to as the Alexandrian version. Then, on the other hand, there is the minority or ‘Western’ version, represented principally by the Codex Bezae (D), the fragmentary Papyri Ë29 Ë38 Ë48, the Old Latin MS h, the marked/marginal readings of the Harclean Syriac version, and by quotations in the Latin authors Cyprian and Augustine. For a good introduction, see Metzger, pp. 222-236.

Acts 1:1-2ff

As an example of the different recensions of the text of Acts, we can consider the prologue/introduction in 1:1-5. There is no real difference in the opening verse, but there are noticeable differences in verse 2. Here is a translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, as reprented by the Nestle-Aland (NA) critical text:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], he was taken up

Here is the Greek of verse 2 (including transliteration):

a&xri h!$ h(me/ra$ e)nteila/meno$ toi=$ a)posto/loi$ dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou ou^$ e)cele/cato a)nelh/mfqh
áchri h¢¡s h¢méras enteilámenos toís apostólois diá pneúmatos hagíou hoús exeléxato anel¢¡mphth¢

Now, here is a translation of vv. 1-2 in the Codex Bezae (D):

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message

The points of difference with the Alexandrian/Majority version are indicated in italics above: (1) the verb form a)nelh/mfqh (anel¢¡mphth¢, “he was taken up”) occurs at an earlier point in the verse, making for a somewhat smoother syntax, and (2) the inclusion of an additional clause:

kai\ e)ke/leuse khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
kaí ekéleuse k¢rýssein tó euangélion
“and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

Both of the points of difference can be explained as improvements to the text, and thus would argue in favor of the Alexandrian version as being more original (based on the principle lectio difficilor potior, “the more difficult reading is to be preferred”). As mentioned above, the placement of “he was taken up” (anel¢¡mphth¢) in that earlier position makes for a smoother (and less awkward) syntax. As for the additional clause, it serves to clarify the charge/duty Jesus laid on the disciples (vb entéllomai)—namely, that it was to proclaim the Gospel. While this, of course, is central to the narrative of Acts (Acts 1:8; see Lk 24:47), it is worth noting that the noun euaggélion (“good message,” i.e. Gospel) is actually quite rare in Luke-Acts, never being used in the Gospel of Luke and only twice in Acts (15:7; 20:24); see Fitzmyer, p. 197. These factors tend to confirm the secondary character of the ‘Western’ version.

In several ‘Western’ witnesses (gig, quotations in Augustine and Vigilius), there is no reference to the ascension of Jesus in v. 2, with the Latin equivalent of anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) being absent (or omitted). It is possible that the word was omitted to avoid any possible contradiction with Luke 24:51, where it seems that Jesus ascends on the same day as his resurrection appearance. As it happens, the words kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón (“and he was carried up into the heaven”) are also absent from some key Western manuscripts (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac); the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*). For further discussion on this particular textual issue, see my earlier article “Where Did Jesus Go? Critical Notes on the Ascension”.

Several scholars (e.g., F. Blass, J. H. Ropes) have, in the past, attempted to reconstruct an original Greek version that underlies the Latin variants of the ‘Western’ text of verse 2. The following has been proposed (see Metzger, p. 238):

e)n th=| h(me/ra| tou\$ a)posto/lou$ e)cele/cato dia\ pneu/mato$ a(gi/ou kai\ e)ke/leusen khru/ssein to\ eu)agge/lion
“…on the day (when) he gathered out [i.e. chose] the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles] through the holy Spirit, and ordered (them) to proclaim the good message”

In many ways, this syntax is far superior to that of the Alexandrian/Majority version, being much clearer and more straightforward. In this case, the phrase “through the holy Spirit” refers to Jesus’ choosing of the apostles, rather than his instruction of them. The place of the same phrase in the Alexandrian/Majority version is less clear. Given the thematic role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts, we would perhaps expect that the phrase is to be connected here specifically with the verb entéllomai, and the duty/mission of the apostles (to preach the Gospel), i.e., “(hav)ing laid on (them) a duty to complete…through the holy Spirit” (see verse 8).

The textual and syntactical issues surrounding verse 2 are further complicated by the fact that verses 1-5 essentially read as a single long sentence (compare the Gospel prologue, 1:1-4). The placement of the verb anel¢¡mphth¢ (“he was taken up”) at an earlier point in the verse certainly helps to alleviate the cumbersome syntax. Below, I continue the translation of the Alexandrian/Majority version, but with the ‘Western’ modification of the repositioned anel¢¡mphth¢:

1The first account I made (was) about all (the) things, O Friend-of-God, which Yeshua began to do and also to teach, 2until which day he was taken up, (hav)ing laid a duty to complete on the (one)s sent forth [i.e. apostles], through the holy Spirit, (those) whom he (had) gathered out [i.e. chosen], 3to whom also he stood [i.e. presented] himself alongside, living, after his suffering, with many (sure) marks, (hav)ing been seen by them through(out) forty days, and giving account (of) the (thing)s about the kingdom of God; 4and, being gathered with (them), he gave along a message to them (that they were) not to make space away from Yerushalaim, but (were) to “remain about (for) the announced (promise) of the Father, which you (have) heard of [i.e. from] me, 5(how) that Yohanan dunked in water, but you will be dunked in (the) holy Spirit (after) not many (of) these days”.

Most English translations naturally break up vv. 1-5 into a number of shorter sentences. However, I think it is worth retaining a sense of the continuity of narration intended by the author. Note, in particular, the way that he shifts from the opening point of the prologue-sentence, where he (the author) is speaking to Theophilus (“Friend-of-God”, “Dear-to-God”), to the end point, where Jesus is now speaking to his disciples. In its own way, the shift is a deft and clever literary achievement.

With the prologue still firmly in mind, next week we will turn to consider the place of verses 6-8 as marking the beginning of the Book of Acts proper. There are a number of significant historical and literary-critical issues that must be discussed. I hope that you will join me in this study next Saturday.


April 12: Mark 15:34

Mark 15:34

There is an interesting textual variant in the Synoptic tradition of Jesus’ “cry of dereliction” from the cross (quoting Psalm 22:1), at least as it is recorded in the Gospel of Mark (15:34). The majority text (including virtually every Greek manuscript) follows the LXX of Psalm 22:1 [21:2] precisely, using the verb e)gkatalei/pw (“leave down behind in [a certain place]”):

“My God, my God, unto what [i.e. for what reason] (have) you left me behind [e)kate/lipe/$ me]?”

However, in Codex Bezae (D), instead of e)gkatalei/pw, the verb o)neidi/zw (“abuse [verbally], revile, reproach”) is used:

“My God, my God, unto what [i.e. for what reason] (have) you reviled me [w)nei/disa/$ me]?”

This same reading also appears to be reflected in several Old Latin manuscripts (c i k), and in the Harclean Syriac.

It is quite possible that the change was intentional, by scribes troubled by the idea that God would abandon Jesus on the cross. Some readers may also have noticed the apparent contradiction with the use of Psalm 16:10 (and the same verb e)gkatalei/pw) in Acts 2:27 where seemingly the opposite point is being made—viz., that God did not abandon Jesus at the time of his death. This was discussed in the introduction to this series of notes, and in the earlier Easter post (on Psalm 16 and the Resurrection of Jesus).

There is no evidence of a similar change being made to the text in the Matthean version (27:46), which could mean that something about the Gospel of Mark, in particular, led to the textual variant. An explanation is at hand in the notice by Irenaeus, in his work Against Heresies (III.11.7), that the Markan Gospel was preferred by those early Christians who held to a “separationist” Christology. This refers to the idea, in various forms, that the human Jesus and divine Christ were two separate entities who became joined (at the Baptism), and then separated again at the moment of Jesus’ death. For a summary description, cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies I.30.12f.

Such separationist Christologies represent an attempt to harmonize the suffering and death of Jesus with the idea that God (and Christ as the Son of God) was impassible and unable to suffer and die like a created being. This view is usually connected with so-called ‘Gnostics’, who espoused strong dualistic concepts regarding the incompatibility of the physical and the Divine, matter and spirit. According to Christian tradition (cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies I.26.1), the earliest exponent of such a view was the arch-heretic Cerinthus; Irenaeus attributes comparable notions to the Ptolemeans, Marcosians, and Caropocratians, and possibly others (I.7.2, 21.2, 25.1, 26.2, 30.12-14). He attacks the view head on in III.16-18; for other examples, cf. Tertullian, Against the Valentinians 27; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 6.46; 7.15, 21-24. Cf. Ehrman, p. 165.

In at least one ‘Gnostic’ Gospel—the Gospel of Philip (one of the surviving texts from Nag Hammadi)—Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross (Mk 15:34 par) was given an explicit separationist interpretation:

“…It was on the cross that he said these words, for it was there that he was divided” (68, trans. Wesley W. Isenberg, NHL)

Given what Irenaeus says about the preference (among separationist ‘Gnostics’) for the Gospel of Mark, it would not be entirely surprising if the text of Mk 15:34 was altered (by orthodox scribes) to combat such a Gnostic/separationist interpretation of the moment of Jesus’ death.

In terms of such a separationist interpretation, we find something comparable in an even older Gospel—the so-called Gospel of Peter—which was known and in use by Christians during the second century. The version of Jesus’ cry of dereliction in this work is most distinctive:

“And the Lord cried out, ‘My Power, O Power, you have left me behind!” When he said this, he/it was taken up.” (19, transl. Ehrman)

This could be understood in terms of the Divine Power departing from Jesus at the moment of his death. In terms of the (Synoptic) Gospel narrative, this ‘Power’ would refer to the Spirit of God, which descended upon Jesus at the baptism, and then left him at the moment of his death. That God’s Spirit would subsequently raise Jesus from the dead does not alter this basic line of interpretation—namely, that the presence/power of God’s Spirit upon Jesus was temporary, and departed from him at the moment of his death.

For orthodox Christians, such an explanation is highly problematic; yet it is clear that many believers in the first and second century struggled to reconcile the abiding presence of the Spirit in/with Jesus (as the Son of God) along with the reality of his suffering and death. It was this tension, in part, which led to the important theological development—most notably in the Pauline and Johannine writings—regarding the relationship between the Spirit and the death of Jesus.

In the next daily note, we will pick up our discussion on the Johannine version of the moment of Jesus’ death (19:30, cf. the previous note), exploring its significance in light of Johannine theology and pneumatology.

References above marked “Ehrman” are to Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press: 1993). The translation of the Gospel of Peter comes from his popular volume Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament (Oxford: 2003).
The abbreviation “NHL” refers to The Nag Hammadi Library in English, translated by Members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, James M. Robinson, director; managing editor Marvin W. Meyer (Harper & Row: 1977).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 69 (Part 2)

Psalm 69, continued

In the previous study, I mentioned a number of variant reading in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa. Typically, what survives of a particular Psalm in the Qumran MSS is too fragmentary to allow for any substantial textual comparison. The situation is rather different in the case of Psalm 69, where much of the first half of the Psalm (vv. 1-19) has been preserved in 4QPsa (frag. 19 col ii–frag. 20 col. iii). This includes more that a dozen points in the surviving text where the Qumran reading differs from the Masoretic Text [MT]. I thought it worth surveying these, before continuing on with an exegesis of the remainder of the Psalm. Many of the readings occur in vv. 2-13—that is, in the first part of the Psalm, discussed in the previous study. I did not address these in the prior exegesis.

Comparison of MT with 4QPsa

Verse 3 [2]

“I have sunk in mire of (the) deep (sea),
and there is no place to stand;
I have come in(to the) depths of (the) waters,
and (the) swirling (flood) engulfs me!”

The MT as I have translated it is presented above; the words in italics represent the points where the text differs from 4QPsa. The main difference is that, in line 1, the Qumran MS reads /yb (apparently the preposition /yB@, “between”), rather than /wyb, which the MT vocalizes as /w@yB!—the noun /y@y` (“mire”) with the prefixed preposition B= (“in”). At the beginning of the 2nd and 4th lines, the prefixed –w conjunction is not present in 4QPsa. Translating the Qumran text of this verse yields:

“I have sunk between (the) deep (sea),
there is no place to stand;
I have come in(to the) depths of (the) waters,
(the) swirling (flood) engulfs me!”

The MT is to be preferred, particularly with regard to the 4QPsa reading of /yb, which is most likely either a scribal error, or a ‘correction’ of a somewhat difficult construct expression (“in [the] mire of [the] deep [sea]”).

Verse 4 [3]

“I am exhausted by my crying,
my throat is (all) parched,
(and) my eyes are finished,
from waiting for my Mighty (One).”

In the third line, 4QPsa reads ynv (“my teeth”), rather than MT ynyu (“my eyes”). In the fourth line, instead of ljym (“from waiting”), the Qumran MS has lyjb (“in writhing,” i.e., in anguish). Also, 4QPsa apparently includes the word [lar]cy (“Israel”), the portion in square brackets representing a suggested restoration of the fragmentary text. If that Qumran reading is correct, then a word has dropped out of the MT, and yhlal would be vocalized as part of a construct expression— “for (the) Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of Israel” —rather than the noun with a possessive suffix (“my Mighty [One]”). The Qumran version of the verse would be translated:

“I am exhausted by my crying,
my throat is (all) parched,
(and) my teeth are finished
in writhing for (the) Mighty (One) of Yisrael.”

Verse 5 [4]

“Many (more) than (the) hairs of my head…”

Here the difference is one of gender. In the first line of v. 5, 4QPsa has a masculine plural construct form (yrucm), rather than the MT feminine form (twrucm). Both the masculine noun ru*c@ and the feminine hr*u&c^ are attested in Hebrew; both mean “hair”, though the feminine noun (in the plural) would specifically refer to the individual hairs (cf. GKC §122t), and thus would be more appropriate to the context of counting hairs.

Verse 6 [5]

“Mightiest, you (indeed) know of my foolishness,
and my faults, from you they are not concealed.”

Instead of the MT reading ytlWal, which essentially means “(belonging) to my foolishness,” i.e., what I have done in my foolishness, 4QPsa has ytywl awl, which appears to be a nonsense reading (“not my wreath[?]”), and is presumably reflects a scribal error.

Verse 7 [6]

“May they not be ashamed by me,
(those) looking to you, my Lord,
O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies!
May they not be disgraced by me,
(those) seeking you, Mighty (One)
of Yisrael!”

In the parallel lines 1 and 4, the Qumran MS omits the suffixed preposition yb (“by me”).

Verse 9 [8]

A stranger I have become to my brothers,
and (one) foreign to (the) sons of my mother.”

At the beginning of the first line, 4QPsa has rz ym instead of MT rzwm. In the MT, the expression is “I have become (one who is) estranged [rz*Wm]”; the Qumran reading (if it is not a nonsense reading from scribal error) presumably would mean something like “Who [ym!] made me to be a stranger [rz]…?”

As in v. 3 (cf. above), the Qumran MS omits the initial –w conjunction.

Verse 11 [10]

“When I poured out my soul with fasting,
it even came to be as scorn toward me.”

In the MT, the initial word of the first line is hkbaw, which I vocalize as hk*B)a#w`, from the verb Eb^n` (= Ep^n`), meaning “pour (forth)”. By contrast, 4QPsa has iaw, apparently reading the verb hk*n` (“strike”),  rather than Eb^n`—i.e., “when I struck my soul with fasting…”

Verse 12 [11]

“And I gave rough cloth for my garment,
and I became for them as a byword.”

In 4QPsa, the first word of the second line is yhtw (“and it [fem.] became”), rather than MT yhaw (“and I became”). If the feminine form is original, or was intended (as such) by the scribe of 4QPsa, then presumably the subject is still “my soul” from v. 11; more likely, it reflects a scribal error influenced by the second line of v. 11.

Verse 13 [12]

“About me they rehearse, (those) sitting (at the) gate,
even songs strummed (by those) feasting on drink.”

The text of the first line in 4QPsa is the same, but with a different word order. In the second line, the verb /g~n` (“strum,” i.e. play on stringed instrument) is used (wngny, “and they strummed”), rather than the related noun hn*yg]n+ in the MT, which refers to the song/music that is strummed.

Part 2: Verses 14-30 [13-29]

Verse 14 [13]

“And (as for) me, my prayer (is) to you, YHWH.
Now (may you show) favor, Mightiest,
in your abundant goodness, answer me,
in (the) firmness of your salvation!”

This verse marks the beginning of a new section of the Psalm, as the author moves from lamentation to delivering a prayer/petition (hL*p!T=) to YHWH, as stated clearly here in the first line. Dahood (II, p. 159) proposes that tu@ be read as hT*u^ (“now”), and, as it happens, that is the reading in 4QPsa, which I adopt here. The precise meaning of the syntax is uncertain, however; it could mean “now (there is) favor (from you)”, but I prefer to see an implicit imperative at work, i.e., “now (may you show) favor…”. Dahood would emend the text to read an imperative here: yn]x@r=, “show favor to me”.

For poetic concision, I have translated the third line “in your abundant goodness,” whereas the more literal rendering would be “in (the) abundance of your goodness”, which parallels the syntax of the fourth line. As I have pointed out numerous times, the noun ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”) often connotes faithfulness and loyalty, i.e., in a covenantal context, which is typically present in the Psalms.

Metrically, and syntactically, the verse is best understood as comprised of an initial 3-beat line, followed by a 3+2+2 tricolon.

Verse 15 [14]

“Snatch me out from (the) mud,
and do not let me sink (down);
let me be snatched from (those) hating me,
and from (the) depths of (the) waters!”

This verse echoes the thought and imagery from the opening (vv. 2-3) of the first part of the Psalm (cf. above, and in the previous study). The deep waters, and the mud/mire existing in them, threaten to engulf and pull down the Psalmist. As in the first part (cf. verses 5ff), the waters symbolize the danger posed by the Psalmist’s enemies, those wicked persons who threaten and attack the righteous. Here, as is frequently the case, the enemies are specifically designated by the verbal noun (participle) “(those) hating me”. The idea of YHWH rescuing the Psalmist is expressed by the verb lx^n`, which fundamentally means “snatch/tear away,” i.e., out of danger; it is used here emphatically, twice, in lines 1 and 3.

The Qumran MS 4QPsa contains an additional line that is absent from the MT, yielding a tricolon rather than a couplet:

“Snatch me out from (the) mud,
and do not let me sink (down),
(nor) let (the one) seizing me take me

The watery mire functions like a person seizing the helpless Psalmist, blending together the two motifs. There are two other small variants in 4QPsa: (1) instead of the passive verb form (“let me be snatched”) in line 3 of the MT, the same Hiphil active form (from line 1) is repeated; and (2) the –w suffix at the beginning of the final line in the MT is absent (cf. above for similar examples of this).

Verse 16 [15]

“Do not let (the) swirl of waters engulf me,
and do not let (the) deep swallow me,
and do not let close over me
(the) pit—her mouth!”

Metrically, I parse this verse as a 3-beat couplet followed by a short 2-beat couplet; the latter, however, could also be read syntactically as a long 4-beat line: “and do not let (the) pit close her mouth over me!” The imagery from v. 15 continues here, most vividly. The initial line essentially echoes the final line of v. 3 (cf. above), with its use of the noun tl#B)v! (denoting a swirling/whirling flood) and the verb [f^v* (“flow/rush over, engulf”).

The specific image in line 2, of a “deep place” swallowing (vb ul^B*) the Psalmist, draws upon ancient mythological tradition, depicting death (and the realm of the dead) as a being with a ravenous appetite—and possessing a giant mouth with which it devours all people. The deep waters frequently symbolize both death (and the danger of death) and the realm of the dead. For more on this line of tradition, cf. my earlier note on the Sheol motif. Here, specifically, the “Pit” (ra@B=) threatens to close up “her mouth” over the Psalmist. The Qumran MS (4QPsa) here reads “my mouth” (yp), which makes no sense whatsoever, and is certainly a copyist’s mistake.

Verse 17 [16]

“May you answer me, O YHWH,
for good (is) your faithful kindness;
according to (the) abundance of your love,
turn (your face) unto me!”

This verse is comprised a pair of short 2-beat couplets, which is difficult to capture in translation; the rhythm is better preserved by a looser rendering:

“Answer me, O YHWH,
for good (is) your kindness;
in your abundant love,
turn (your face) to me!”

If verses 14-16 comprise the substance of the Psalmist’s plea, he now calls on YHWH to answer (vb hn`u*) his prayer, and thus to rescue him out of the danger he faces from his enemies. Conceptually, lines 1 and 4 are parallel, as God “turning” (vb hn`P*) His face to the Psalmist means the same as answering the prayer. On the noun ds#j# connoting covenantal faithfulness and loyalty, cf. above. In this regard, the noun <j^r^ is comparable in meaning, essentially referring to a deep feeling of love and compassion toward another person. The suffixed plural form here may be rendered as “(depth)s of your love,” which would fit well with the earlier motif of the deep waters that threaten the Psalmist (cf. above).

Verse 18 [17]

“And do not hide your face from your servant,
for (there is) distress (now) for me—
(please) be quick and answer me!”

The opposite of God turning his face toward the Psalmist would be for Him to hide (vb rt^s*) His face, or to turn it away. Dahood (II, p. 160; cf. also I, p. 64) would parse rT@s=T^ as a form of the verb rWs (“turn [away]”); whether the verb is rt^s* or rWs, the basic sense of the line would be much the same. The Psalmist designates himself as a faithful “servant” of YHWH, meaning that he is loyal to the covenant bond.

Metrically, this verse is a 3+2+2 tricolon; the terse 2-beat lines capture the sense of the Psalmist’s desperation: “there is distress for me [i.e. I am in distress] / be quick [vb rh@m*] and answer me!”

Verse 19 [18]

“Come near to my soul (and) redeem it;
from (the) lair of my enemies, ransom me!”

By turning to the Psalmist, in response to his prayer, God acts to rescue him out of danger from his enemies. This is expressed here, poignantly and powerfully, with the idea of YHWH “coming near” (vb br^q*) to the soul of the Psalmist. God enters right into the midst of the danger, into the deep ‘waters’, coming right up next to the faithful/righteous one and so to snatch him out of the grasp of death. The verbs la^G` and hd*P* each refer, in different ways, to the idea of freeing someone from bondage by making payment on their behalf. In particular, la^G` typically signifies payment that is made by a near-relative or kinsman. Both terms, however, can also be used more generally, in the sense of freeing someone from danger, etc.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 161) in vocalizing /uml as /u)m=l!—that is, the noun /oum* (“dwelling-place”) with the prefixed preposition –l—rather than MT /u^m^=, with its general meaning “in response to, on account of, because of”. The noun /oum* can specifically refer to the lair/den of predatory animals, which would certainly fit the setting here—viz., of YHWH freeing the Psalmist from the power of his enemies, and from the domain of wickedness and death.

(The remainder of this Psalm will be examined in the next study.)

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

Saturday Series: Luke 24:50-53

Here in the Saturday Series, I will be beginning a set of studies on the Book of Acts, looking at various critical issues and how they relate to a thorough and accurate interpretation of the book. Acts is essentially a history—of the early Christian movement, and the missionary activity of the apostles and other early believers. As such, there are many important historical-critical questions and issues to be addressed. These involve the historical background of the narrative, the historical reliability of the episodes recorded, and how that history is presented within the religious and literary framework of the book.

Of special importance are the sermon-speeches that appear throughout the book of Acts, featuring prominently within the narrative structure. The nature of these speeches raise a number of challenging critical questions. I have addressed most of these in considerable detail in my earlier series “The Speeches of Acts,” and will only be touching on a few of them in the current studies. The sermon-speeches are part of a complex literary and artistic structure, and can only be explained fully by commentary that takes into account the literary-critical scope of the work. Such analysis examines the composition of the book—how the narratives were put together, the style and rhetoric used, the development of the principal themes, the theological points of emphasis, and so forth.

With regard to the text of Acts, there is one major text-critical issue which all scholars and students of the book must confront. The book of Acts exists in two versions, or recensions: one represented by the majority text (including the “oldest and best” manuscripts), and the other by the so-called “Western Text”. The label “Western” refers primarily to the great uncial manuscript D (the Beza Codex, or Codex Bezae), along with a large number of Latin (and various other) manuscripts. There are important differences throughout the New Testament that mark these manuscripts as “Western”; however, they are much more pronounced in the book of Acts. The differences are often so great that one can rightly speak of a separate version or recension of the text.

Scholars continue to debate the nature and origins of the two ‘versions’ of Acts, with most commentators holding that the Bezae/Western version represents a secondary development. The Western text (of D, etc) tends to be much more expansive, and so is considered to be secondary, on the basis of the general critical principle that the shorter reading is more likely to be original (lectio brevior potior). However, in a few key instances, the ‘Western’ text has a markedly shorter reading; B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, in the notes to their critical edition to the New Testament, identified a number of these and referred to them by the rather confusing label “Western non-interpolations”. An interpolation is a technical-critical term for a secondary addition to the text. Westcott and Hort held that, in these selected occurrences where the Western text has the shorter reading, the Western reading is to be considered original, against the weight of evidence from the (longer) majority text.

Nearly all of these “Western non-interpolations” are in Luke-Acts, with most occurring in the Passion and Resurrection narratives of the Gospel of Luke. Previously, many critical commentators accepted the Westcott-Hort evaluation of these shorter readings; in more recent decades, however, the situation has changed, and most modern commentators now tend to accept the longer ‘majority’ text in these instances. Papyrus discoveries (such as the Bodmer Papyri) have added important manuscript support for the originality of the longer readings.

In this week’s study, as a way of introducing this area of critical analysis (of Luke-Acts), I wish to focus on the variant readings at the close of Luke’s Gospel.

Luke 24:50-53

Luke’s Gospel concludes with a scene (apparently still on Easter day) which, in the “oldest and best” manuscripts (Ë75 a B C* L 1 33 579 etc), reads as follows:

50  Ex¢¡gagen dé autoús [éxœ] héœs prós B¢thanían kaí epáras tás cheíras autoú eulóg¢sen autoús. 51 kaí egéneto en tœ¡ eulogeín autón autoús diést¢ ap’ autœ¡n kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón.
“And he brought/led them out[side] until toward Bethany, and lifting over (them) his hands he spoke well to them [i.e. blessed them]; and it came to be, in his speaking well to them [i.e. blessing them], he stood (apart) from them and was carried up into the heaven.”
52 Kaí autoí proskyn¢¡santes autón hypéstrepsan eis Ierousal¢¡m metá charás megál¢s 53 kaí ¢¡san diá pantós en tœ¡ hierœ¡ eulogoúntes tón Theón.
“And they, kissing toward him [i.e. worshiping him], turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy, and they were through all [i.e. continually] in the sacred place [i.e. temple] speaking well to [i.e. blessing] God.”

(The Majority text differs slightly, primarily in reading eis B¢thanían [“unto Bethany”] instead of prós B¢thanían [“toward Bethany”] in v. 50, and adding kaí ainoúntes or ainoúntes kaí [“blessing and praising God”] in v. 53.)

There are, however, two major variants (omissions) in the key Western MSS (D, Old Latin a b d e ff2 l, and the Sinaitic Syriac):

    1. Verse 51 reads: kaí egéneto en tœ¡ eulogeín autón autoús diést¢ ap’ autœ¡n “and it came to be, in his blessing them, he stood (apart) from them” (without kaí anephéreto eis tón ouranón “and he was carried up into the heaven”). In other words, it relates that Jesus simply “parted” from them, without any reference to an ascension into heaven.
    2. Verse 52 continues: kaí autoí hypéstrepsan eis Ierousal¢¡m metá charás megál¢s “and they turned back unto Jerusalem with great joy…” (without proskyn¢¡santes auton “worshiping him”).
      See how this shorter version of vv. 50-53 reads, in context, in conventional translation:
      “And he led them out toward Bethany, and raising his hands over (them) he blessed them; and it came to be, in his blessing them, (that) he parted from them; and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the Temple, blessing God.”

These are both so-called Western “Non-Interpolations” (see above). The first of the two (in v. 51) is far more significant, especially since, in addition to the Western MSS, the shorter reading is also found in the Georgian version (group 1) and the original hand of Codex Sinaiticus (a*).

How is one to explain this variant? As indicated above, 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 “and he was carried up into the heaven” (kai anephéreto eis ton ouranón). 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? There are a number of possibilities:

Reasons for Omission (in support of the longer text):

    1. To avoid contradiction with the chronology in Acts. 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. This is probably the most popular explanation.
    2. A scribal mistake. A scribe may have skipped from a)p’ au)twn kai in v. 51 to ou)ranon kai au)toi at the end of v.51 & start of v. 52 (homoioarcton: each has the segment nkai). However, this would require that (the precursors of) a and D both made the same mistake, which is rather unlikely.
    3. Theological reasons. Some scholars have thought that the so-called “Non-Interpolations” (involving the Resurrection appearances and “Ascension”) exhibit a purposeful tendency in the Western text (in Luke-Acts) to eliminate concrete references to the resurrection body of Jesus, and physical nature of the Ascension, etc. With regard to the Ascension in particular, see especially Eldon J. Epp’s article “The Ascension in the Textual Tradition of Luke-Acts”, in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981, pp. 131-145.
    4. The support of Acts. Acts 1:2 would seem to indicate that the Gospel referenced the Ascension (áchri h¢¡s h¢mérasanel¢¡mphth¢, “until which day…he was taken up”). Assuming this is the case, it could be (rightly) argued that the author would not say he described an event which he in fact did not record. It should be noted that several Western witnesses also omit reference to the ascension (anel¢¡mphth¢) in this verse.

Reasons for Addition (in support of the shorter text):

    1. Literary or Theological reasons. Although Luke-Acts may have been published together as a ‘two-volume’ work, by the mid-second century (at the latest), the Gospel of Luke was being copied and distributed bound together (in codex form) with the other Gospels; meaning that, as in nearly all printed New Testament editions today, it was separated from the book of Acts. The shorter reading, if original, would close the Gospel with the suggestion that Jesus simply “parted” from the disciples—a rather unexciting and possibly misleading conclusion. The scribal tendency was always to add Christological details, rather than remove them; it would have been natural to add the few extra words (both in v. 51 and 52), in order to exalt the portrait of Christ.
    2. The shorter text removes the chronological difficulty with Acts. This argument cuts both ways (see above), for the longer text could be said to be the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior potior). However, since Luke explicitly records the Ascension taking place at least 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3ff), would he (the same author of Luke-Acts, by general consensus) have created the confusion by recording the Ascension (apparently) taking place on the day of the Resurrection (Luke 24:50-53)?
    3. Additional support from Acts. It is possible that the phrase áchri h¢¡s h¢mérasanel¢¡mphth¢ (“until which day…he was taken up”) in Acts 1:2 should not be taken to imply that the Ascension was narrated in the Gospel, but only events which took place prior to that day. In this regard, to note the reference (v. 22) in Peter’s subsequent address (Acts 1:15-22), where nearly similar language is used. Could the author of Acts simply be reproducing the phrasing from v. 22, as part of his “prologue”, without specific reference to details in the Gospel?
    4. Evidence from the Church Fathers. The Ascension is referred to numerous times in writings of the 1st-3rd centuries, for example:
      Epistle of Barnabas 15; JUSTIN: 1 Apology 26, Dialogue with Trypho 82, 87, On the Resurrection ch. 9; IRENAEUS: Against Heresies I.10, III.17, IV.33.13, 34.3, V.31, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 41, 84; CLEMENT: Stromateis VI. ch. 15; ORIGEN: On First Principles Pref §1, II.6.1, 7.2, On Prayer §23, Against Celsus VII.8; TERTULLIAN: Against Marcion V.8, Against Praxeas 25, 30, Prescription Against Heretics 13, On the Resurrection 51; The Muratorian Canon; Epistle of the Apostles 18; Cyprian On the Lord’s Prayer §8, etc. (by no means an exhaustive list). Most of these references are to the narrative in Acts 1:9ff; Ephesians 4:9-10, or to the belief generally; however, I have not been able to find a single clear reference to the long text of Luke 24:51-52 cited in any writing up through the third century (outside of the Diatessaron [§55], a work with a singularly difficult textual history). Moreover, in Tertullian’s fourth book Against Marcion, in which he goes over many details of Luke’s Gospel, up through the Resurrection appearances (chapter 43), he does not cite the long text of v. 51 or 52, and makes no reference to the Ascension (cf. Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 257-8).
    5. The Western Non-Interpolations. Despite protests from scholars on both sides of the argument, it is hard to avoid the notion that the 9 key “non-interpolations”, eight of which are all found together in the same set of MSS (D a b d e ff2 l), stand or fall together—most likely, they are all original, or they are not. If one accepts the shorter text in the previous 7 Lukan instances, then one really ought to do so here as well.

Clearly, intrinsic/transcriptional arguments can be made for both sides. Ultimately, it is difficult to ignore the overwhelming textual evidence. If the longer reading is, in fact, original, I suspect that the apparent discrepancy (with Acts) 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. On the other hand, the clear scribal tendency was to add significant Christological details to the Gospel narrative, rather than omit them (even when there are apparent discrepancies involved); it seems to have been much more acceptable to modify (instead of deleting) difficult words in the text. The presence of the longer reading(s) in the Bodmer Papyrus (Ë75, c. 200) have turned the tide decisively; however, I am by no means so certain the shorter reading(s) can be dismissed as easily as many commentators do today.

Saturday Series: The Passion and Resurrection (Textual Criticism)

I have decided to switch the subject of the Saturday Series study for this Holy Saturday, on the eve of Resurrection Sunday (Easter). I thought it worth reprising the content of an earlier article that dealt with the key textual variants (variant readings) in the Passion and Resurrection narratives. A study of such variant readings is central to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament—the primary goal of which is to determine, as far as possible, the original form of the text. For those who are familiar with the Gospel narrative, but perhaps have never studied these variant readings, the questions and issues surrounding the text may come as something of a surprise.

We will proceed through the key variation units (and the textual variants) one by one.

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 orange 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.

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 eis 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 (see above), 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 theos 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. 12: ho 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.

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.

Textual Note on Luke 19:38

This note is supplemental to the Saturday Series study on the Triumphal Entry scene, as well as to the articles (on Psalm 118:26 and Zech 9:9) in the series “The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition”.

There is a text-critical question surrounding Luke 19:38, which is part of the Lukan version of the Triumphal Entry (19:28-39). The greatest textual variation, between the Synoptic versions, is found in the record of the exclamation by the crowds (Mk 11:9-10; Matt 21:9; Lk 19:38; cp. Jn 12:13b). The exclamation is each case is identical in substance, but differing in detail. It is based on Psalm 118:26, but adapted to reflect a Messianic interpretation and expectation by the crowd.

In all four versions, the crowd recites Ps 118:26a: “Blessed is the (one) coming in the name of the Lord”. The original context and background of the Psalm had to do with the return of the (victorious) king to Jerusalem following battle (vv. 10ff), but early on it was used in a ritual/festal setting (vv. 26-27), and was recited as one of the ‘Hallel’ Psalms on the great feasts such as Passover and Sukkoth (Tabernacles). Jesus identified himself as the “one coming” in Luke 13:35 (par Matt 23:39), and there is very likely also a reference to this in Lk 19:41-44 (immediately following the Entry), blending, it would seem, the ancient traditions underlying Mal 3:1 and Psalm 118:26.

We might also note the detail, unique to John’s account, of the use of palm branches by the crowds (Jn 12:13a), which could have a royal connotation (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51; Testament of Naphtali 5:4). For a similar example of the crowds greeting an approaching sovereign, see Josephus, Wars of the Jews 7.100-103.

In addition to the use of Psalm 118:26, in all four Gospels, the crowds, in greeting Jesus, variously include references to David, King, or Kingdom, which serve to emphasize the figure-type of the royal/Davidic Messiah:

    • Mark 11:10: “…blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
    • Matt 21:9: “Hosanna to the to the son of David…!”
    • Luke 19:38: “Blessed is the (One) coming, the King…[or, the coming King]”
    • John 12:13 “…[and] the King of Israel!”

In Mark and Luke, this royal/Davidic element is patterned after the wording of Psalm 118:26, making clear that the Davidic Messiah (identified with Jesus), specifically, is the one who is coming “in the name of the Lord”. In this regard, the variant readings in Lk 19:38 are of particular interest. The majority of textual witnesses (ac A K L D Y f1 f13 al) read o( e)rxo/meno$ basileu/$ (“…the [one] coming [as] king”). Several others (W 1216 al) read o( e)rxo/meno$ (“the [one] coming”), which simply reproduces Psalm 118:26 [LXX] and omits the royal/Davidic element. The ‘Western’ text (of D a c d ff2 i, etc) has an expanded reading which establishes two distinct, parallel phrases: “Blessed (is) the (one) coming in (the) name of (the) Lord, blessed (is) the king!”. The reading of Vaticanus (B), with slight marginal support in the versions (Armenian version), is regarded by many textual critics as the most difficult reading, and the one which best explains the rise of all the others: o( e)rxo/meno$ o( basileu/$ (“… the [one] coming, the king”). Cf. UBS/Metzger, pp. 144-5.

If we except the latter reading (of B) as the most likely original form of the text, then the Lukan form of the acclamation reads:

“Blessed (is) the (one) coming, the king, in (the) name of (the) Lord!”

In this instance “the king” (o( basileu/$) functions as a gloss on the expression “the (one) coming”, making clear that the one who is coming (in the name of the Lord) is “the king” (i.e., the Davidic Messiah). As I note above, this Messianic interpretation restores much of the original background and setting of the Psalm—viz., that of the return of the king to Jerusalem following his victory in battle. For first-century Jews, this very much would have reflected their expectation for the Davidic Messiah—that he would subdue and judge the nations, and establish a glorious new Kingdom on earth, centered at Jerusalem.

For the second part of the crowd’s acclamation in Lk 19:38, cf. my earlier article in the series “Birth of the Son of God”. The Lukan version of the Synoptic tradition, at this point, seems to have been consciously shaped in relation to the wording of the Angelic song (Gloria in Excelsis) in the Infancy narrative (2:14)—as if intended to draw a connection between Jesus’ birth and his impending death.

References above marked “UBS/Metzger” are to A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Second Edition), by Bruce M. Metzger (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft / United Bible Societies: 1994).

Saturday Series: Luke 9:28-36

Luke 9:28-36

Having examined the Transfiguration scene (Mk 9:2-13 par), and its parallels with the Baptism of Jesus, in last week’s study, here I will be focusing on the meaning and significance of the episode, especially as presented in the Gospel of Luke. This will include a comparison of the variant readings in Lk 9:35, compared with those in John 1:34.

Interpretation of the Transfiguration scene

As I mentioned previously, the Transfiguration begins the second half of the Synoptic narrative, much as the Baptism scene begins the first. The Baptism of Jesus marks the start of his ministry (in Galilee), while the Transfiguration marks the beginning of his Passion (i.e. in Judea/Jerusalem) and precedes his journey to Jerusalem. The parallels between the Baptism and Transfiguration (see the list in the prior study) have to be understood in terms of these differing contexts within the narrative. Consider the following points:

1. The connection with John the Baptist and questions regarding the identity of the Messiah

This has been a central theme in our study of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel tradition (discussed in detail in earlier studies). John the Baptist, of course, features prominently in the Baptism narrative, which opens with a description of John and his ministry, including the central association with the Isaiah 40:3ff prophecy (Mark 1:2-6 par). His presence in the Transfiguration scene is limited to the (separate?) tradition which appears at the end (Mk 9:11-13). It is generally assumed that Jesus is speaking of John in his reference to “Elijah” (compare Matt 11:14), drawing a parallel between the Baptist’s mistreatment/arrest and his own (i.e. of the “Son of Man”, 8:31; 9:12, etc). Note the framing structure surrounding 8:27-9:13, forming an inclusio:

The question regarding the identity of “the Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) is given more prominence and clarity in Luke’s account of the Baptism (3:15; compare John 1:19-27).

2. The heavenly declaration corrects/clarifies the Messianic identification

This is implicit by the phenomena attending Jesus at his baptism, especially the descent of the Spirit upon him; Luke brings out the Messianic association more directly, in the subsequent scene at Nazareth, where Jesus identifies himself with the “Anointed” figure of Isa 61:1ff (Lk 4:17-21, cf. also 7:22). This makes clear in what sense Jesus is the Messiah (3:15) and the “one [who is] coming” (3:16; 7:19 par). The heavenly declaration at the Baptism adds to this by identifying Jesus as God’s Son (3:22 par), drawing upon the image of the king (i.e. the Davidic ruler) as “Son of God” (the variant reading in Lk quotes [the Messianic] Psalm 2:7). Similarly, prior to the Transfiguration, Peter declares Jesus to be “the Anointed One (Messiah) [of God]” (Mk 8:27 / Lk 9:2). The exchange between Peter and Jesus which follows (Mk 8:31-33 par, but omitted by Luke) suggests that Peter had in mind the Messianic figure-type of the Davidic ruler (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”), which would not have been compatible with the idea that Jesus must suffer and be put to death. It was Peter who also responds to the Transfiguration, without truly understanding the significance of what he sees (Mk 9:5-6 par, see below). Again, as at the Baptism, the heavenly voice declares Jesus to be the “Son of God”—but here, it would seem, not in the traditional Messianic sense, but hinting at something greater, tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:9, 12-13 par), which will lead to his exaltation to the right hand of God (Mk 14:62 par; Acts 2:32-35; 13:30-35 [citing Ps 2:7], etc).

3. The presence of Moses and Elijah—Jesus as a Prophet figure, specially chosen/anointed by God

That Jesus was seen as a Messiah of the Prophet figure-type seems clear enough from the Baptism scene, attested by different strands of tradition (Mk 1:7-8 par; Lk 3:15ff; 4:14-30; Jn 1:19-27), as well as the entirety of the period of his Galilean ministry, as it is recorded in the Synoptic narrative. Principally, he fulfilled the role of Spirit-endowed, miracle working Prophet (like Elijah), identified more specifically with the anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. It has been popular to interpret the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene as representing “the Law and the Prophets” which Jesus was fulfilling (Matt 5:17; Lk 16:16; 24:27, 44; Jn 1:45, etc). However, this does not seem to be correct. To begin with, Elijah is an odd choice to represent the Prophetic Scriptures (Isaiah would make more sense, cf. Jn 12:39-41). More importantly, Moses and Elijah each represent distinct Prophet-figures; and, in the original context of the Gospels, it is almost certain that Jesus, in the period of his Galilean ministry especially, was also seen as an Anointed Prophet. I would suggest that in the Transfiguration scene the significance of Moses and Elijah is two-fold:

    1. It identifies Jesus as a Messianic Prophet (like Moses and Elijah), marking the conclusion of his Galilean ministry in which this role was primarily being fulfilled, but also pointing to his eschatological role inaugurating a new era for the people of God. It is no coincidence that, in Jewish tradition by the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah were seen as prophetic figures who would appear at the end-time, as a fulfillment of specific prophecies (Deut 18:15-20; Mal 3:1ff; 4:5-6).
    2. Moses and Elijah each experienced a theophany—manifestation of God’s presence—upon the holy mountain (Sinai/Horeb); similarly, Jesus (and his disciples) on this mountain experience the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence and the divine Voice from heaven. This theophany, in relation to Jesus, is of a different sort, reflecting his divine Sonship. For more on this, see below.
4. The Transfiguration scene prefigures the coming Passion—the death and resurrection of the Son of Man

This is clear from the position of the Transfiguration scene in the Synoptic narrative, as noted above. It marks the conclusion of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, and the beginning of his Passion—the upcoming journey to Jerusalem (Mk 10; Lk 9:5118:34), and the events which would take place there. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration brings out this aspect more clearly (see below).

The Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36

Note the following details or characteristics of the Lukan version, and its place in the specific context of the Gospel narrative:

    • Luke has given special prominence to Jesus’ role as a Messianic, Spirit-endowed Prophet in the period of his Galilean ministry (4:149:22); this gives greater significance to the presence of Moses and Elijah in the Transfiguration scene (see above).
    • Peter’s confession in Luke (9:20) reads “You are the Anointed One of God” which is parallel to the unique form of the heavenly declaration in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration “This is the Son of God, the Elect/Chosen (One)“. On this, see below.
    • Luke’s version of the Transfiguration brings out more clearly the association with Moses and the Exodus—especially the traditions regarding the cloud of God’s presence (9:29, 31a, 34-35, cf. Exod 13:21-22; 19:9, 16ff; 24:15-16ff; 33:9-10; 34:5; 40:34-38). In particular, note v. 34 which alludes to Moses entering the cloud (Exod 24:18, cf. also 33:9).
    • This also enhances the idea of the Transfiguration as a theophany, in which Jesus and his disciples experience the presence of God and see his glory/splendor (vv. 31-32, see also v. 27). In this context, the altered appearance of Jesus (v. 29) probably is meant to echo the tradition regarding Moses changed appearance in Exod 34:29-35.
    • Luke ties the Transfiguration more directly to the coming death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, in two respects: (1) by the detail he includes in v. 31, using the word éxodos (“way out”, i.e. “exodus”), and (2) its relation to the journey to Jerusalem which follows, and which features so prominently in the structure of the Lukan narrative (9:51-18:34)

The textual question in Luke 9:35 and John 1:34

Finally, mention should be made again of the textual variants for the heavenly declaration in Luke 9:35. The majority text (including A C* W 33, etc) follows the version in Mark (9:7):

“This is my Son, the (one who is) loved”
hoútós estin ho huiós mou ho agap¢tós

However, many of the earliest/best manuscripts (Ë45,75 a B L, etc) instead read:

“This is my Son, the (one) gathered out [i.e. elect/chosen]”
hoútós estin ho huiós mou ho eklelegménos

Most commentators prefer this as the original reading, considering it much more likely, considering scribal tendencies, that the passage would be harmonized with Mark than the other way around. As it happens, there is a similar textual variant related to the declaration of Jesus’ identity at the Baptism, in John 1:34. The Baptist’s statement, in the vast majority of manuscripts and witnesses (including Ë66) reads—

“…this is the Son of God”
hoútós estin ho huiós toú theoú

which, of course, is quite similar to the voice at the Transfiguration in the Synoptic tradition (cf. also the Matthean version of the Baptism, Matt 3:17). However, in a number of witnesses (Ë5,106vid a* b e ff2* etc) the reading is:

“…this is the (One) gathered out [i.e. Elect/Chosen] of [i.e. by] God”
hoútós estin ho eklektós toú theoú

A few MSS have the longer (conflate) reading “…the elect/chosen Son of God”, which is surprisingly close to the heavenly voice in the Lukan version of the Transfiguration (according to many of the best MSS, cf. above). The adjective eklektós is closely related to the participle eklelegménos (both from the verb eklégomai, “gather out of/from”), and has essentially the same meaning (“selected, elect, chosen”, etc). The adjective normally refers (in the plural) to believers (as the elect/chosen ones) in the New Testament, but the singular is used of Jesus (also as a title) in Luke 23:35; a few manuscripts likewise read the adjective, instead of the participle, in Lk 9:35. In the two Lukan references, and in Jn 1:34 v.l., the title “Elect/Chosen One” almost certainly must be understood in a Messianic context. The Lukan usage in 9:35, if original, suggests a parallel with the adjective agap¢tós (“[the one] loved [i.e by God]”)—the one chosen by God is loved by God, and vice versa. It also indicates that the title “Son of God” should not be understood here in terms of later orthodox Christology (nor even the developed Christology of the Fourth Gospel). The immediate narrative context of the Gospel has rather a different, two-fold emphasis:

    • Jesus is the Son of God in a Messianic sense, according to the interpretation of Psalm 2:7 etc in Jewish and early Christian tradition (cf. Lk 1:32, 35, etc), and
    • The declaration points to the death, resurrection (and exaltation) of Jesus, by which he is considered to be God’s Son (and Anointed One) in a very special sense (Acts 13:33, etc). The Johannine idea of Jesus’ Sonship—i.e. as the pre-existent, eternal Son of the Father, plays little (if any) role in the Synoptic narrative, and represents a somewhat later development in the Gospel tradition

As an interesting side note, the title “Elect/Chosen One of God” in Aramaic (ah*l*a$ ryj!B=, b®µîr °§l¹h¹°) is found in a text from Qumran (4Q534). It survives only as a fragmentary piece, so it is nearly impossible to determine the precise context, but it appears to be related in some way to the ancient Enoch traditions, most familiar as expressed in the work known as 1 Enoch. Column 1 lines 10-11 reads:

“in that [i.e. because] he is the chosen (one) of God, his being born [i.e. his birth] and the spirit [jwr] of his life-breath [<vn] {…} his thinking/reckoning [pl. i.e., plans] will be to the distant age (to come) [i.e. for ever]…”

It may perhaps be debated to what extent the title “Elect/Chosen One” is Messianic (compare Isa 42:1; Ps 89:3; 106:23); however, in the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (chap. 37-71), often dated roughly to the time of Jesus (early-mid 1st cent. A.D.), we find a heavenly figure (much like Jesus) who is variously given the titles “Son of Man”, “Anointed One” and “Elect/Chosen One”. All three of these titles appear together, in the context of the Transfiguration scene, in Luke 9 (vv. 20, 22, 26, 35 v.l., 44).

Next week, we will turn our critical lens to one of the most intriguing pieces of the “Triple Tradition” —the episode of the anointing of Jesus by a woman. Perhaps no other Gospel episode has been preserved in such a conflicting and controversial manner. In addition to the marked differences between the Synoptic version in Mark-Matthew and that in Luke, the separately preserved Johannine version contains details shared by both (along with its own distinctive features). Our studies on this fascinating tradition will prepare the way for the upcoming Holy Week.