Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Text Note: Luke 2:14

The Issue:

The textual issue in this well-known “Christmas” passage is reflected in the renderings of various English translations.  Whereas translations based on the traditional text read:  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (AV, emphasis added), those based on modern texts read, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (NIV, emphasis added).

In Greek, the issue is the matter of the case of a single word, eudokia.  Should it be a nominative eudokia:   “goodwill toward men” [en anthropais eudokia] or genitive eudokias:   “among men of goodwill” [en anthropais eudokias]?

Is the angelic announcement threefold (glory, peace, and goodwill) or twofold (glory and peace) with the expanded emphasis on his peace bestowed among those “on whom his favor rests” (NIV) or “among men with whom He is pleased” (NASB)?

External evidence:

The traditional reading of eudokia is supported by L, Theta, Psi, family 1, family 13, and the vast majority of manuscripts.  It is also supported by the Syriac and Bohairic versions, as well as by the Church Fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius of Constantia.

The modern critical reading of eudokias is supported by the original hands of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, as well as codices A, D, W, and a few Latin manuscripts.  Among the Church Fathers it is found in some texts from Origen and in Cyril of Jerusalem.

Internal evidence:

Metzger (see Textual Commentary, p. 133) asserts that the genitive is “the more difficult reading” and notes its support by “the oldest representatives of the Alexandrian and the Western groups of witnesses.”  Here we see the typical scholarly weight given to Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  He further explains that the nominative reading “can be explained either as an amelioration of the sense or as a paleographical oversight.”  Metzger notes that the difference between the nominative (eudokia) and the genitive (eudokias) is distinguished “only by the presence of the smallest possible lunar sigma, little more than a point.”

Metzger seems also to defend against the charge that the modern critical reading makes for a more man-centered translation:  “The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human will is already present, but that at the birth of the Saviour God’s peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure.”

In his commentary on Luke 2:14, F. Godet offers a contrasting view to Metzger (p. 82).  He asserts that the genitive reading “is hardly natural.”  He adds that the term eudokia “does not suit the relation of man to God, but only that of God to man.”  Thus, he concludes, “this use of the genitive is singularly rude, and almost barbarous.”  It is “a mode of expression without any example” (but contrast Metzger’s appeal to supposed parallel Hebraic expressions in the Dead Sea Scrolls).  Godet concludes:  “We are thus brought back to the reading of the T. R., present also in 14 [mss.], among whom are L and Z, which agree generally with the Alex., the Coptic translation, of which the same may be said, and the Peschito.”

Godet notes, in particular, that the traditional reading results in a more symmetrical and parallel rendering of v. 14 consisting of “three propositions, of which two are parallel, and the third forms a link between the two.”  Of course, for Metzger, the more sonorous rendering of the traditional text makes it suspect and the more asymmetrical alternative preferable, because the latter is supposedly “the more difficult reading.”  The modern text provides two propositions with the final phrase an extended explanation of the type of men (i.e., those of goodwill) who are the recipients of God’s peace.


The traditional reading has early, strong, and widespread support.  As Metzger notes, the difference in renderings is the matter of a single sigma.  This final letter might just have easily been added (whether intentionally or unintentionally) as omitted.  The main difficulty with the modern text is the shift in theological emphasis. Metzger’s defense aside, the modern rendering does appear subtly to shift the emphasis away from a God-centered to a man-centered focus, from God’s unconditioned bestowal of his goodwill among men to his bestowal of his peace upon men “of goodwill.”  The traditional reading is, therefore, to be preferred.

1 comment:

Armand said...

I confess I have never perused Metzger's Textual Commentary, but from reading your Text Notes, it would seem that Metzger is simply defending the Modern text. If it is simpler, then simpler is preferred; if it is the more difficult, then difficult is preferred; if it is an omission, then omission is preferred; if it is a addition, then addition is preferred; etc. Perhaps this isn't always the case, but it sure seems that way.

Your final conclusion is exactly what I was thinking as I was reading Metzger's comments about it being man-centered. Does a preference for a man-centered reading of a text regarding the glory of God displayed through the incarnation of the Son betray one's theology?