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).

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