Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Text Note: Luke 2:33 (43)

The Issue:

The textual question in Luke 2:33 is whether the verse should read “his father and mother [ho pater autou kai he meter]” (modern critical text) or “Joseph and his mother [Ioseph kai he meter autou]” (traditional text).  The primary issue, then, is whether or not the text makes use of the noun “father [pater]” or the personal noun “Joseph [Ioseph].”

This distinction is reflected in modern English translations:

Translations based on the traditional text (emphasis added):

KJV:  And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.

NKJV:  And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.

Translations based on the modern-critical text (emphasis added)

NIV:  The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him.

ESV:  And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.

External Evidence:

The traditional text is supported by codices A, Theta, Psi, family 13, 33, and the vast majority of Greek manuscripts.  It is also supported by several ancient versions such as the Old Latin and the Gothic.  Metzger also notes that this is the reading of Tatian’s Diatesseron (c. 2nd century) (Textual Commentary, p. 134).

The modern critical text is supported by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, in addition to a few other codices.  It is also supported by several ancient versions, including a few Vulgate manuscripts.

Internal Evidence:

Metzger explains the conventional thinking of modern text critics that “father” was replaced by “Joseph” “in order to safeguard the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.”  He also concedes that this must have occurred, given the textual evidence, at a very early stage in the transmission of the text.  At the least, under this construal, this would indicate that the doctrine of the virginal conception was an ancient doctrine and not a later church development.

Metzger does not address alternative explanations.  Could another explanation be that the original reading of “Joseph” was altered to “father” in order to downplay or subvert the doctrine of the virginal conception?  Could this reflect Christological controversies in post-apostolic Christianity?

This tension is also reflected elsewhere in the text of Luke 2.  Metzger notes that in Luke 2:41 the phrase “his parents [hoi goneis autou]” (the reading of both the traditional and modern critical text )is altered “by a few copyists and translators” to read “Joseph and Mary” “in the interest of safeguarding the doctrine of the virgin birth” (p. 135).  More controversial is the reading of Luke 2:43 where the divide is similar to that found in v. 33, as the traditional text reads “Joseph and his mother” (supported by A, C, Psi etc.), while the modern critical text reads “his parents” (supported by Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, etc.).


Support for the traditional reading is ancient and diverse.  Furthermore, it subtly supports the doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus.  It is interesting that modern criticism sees this as undermining rather than authenticating the traditional text.  When one considers the anti-supernaturalist bias, not to mention the Arian bias, reflected particularly in German historical-critical methodology of the 19th century, he should not be surprised to find that the modern critical text arising in that same era would prefer the readings of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in Luke 2:33, 43 over the readings of the traditional text.  The Reformers were, no doubt, also aware of these variations but preferred the traditional reading as that preserved and authentic.  With them, we prefer to maintain the traditional reading.


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