Friday, December 28, 2012

John Carroll on the text of Luke's Gospel

I recently began reading through John Carroll’s Luke:  A Commentary in the New Testament Library series (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012).  This volume represents a state of the art commentary from a mainline Protestant, mainstream academic perspective.

In the Introduction, Carroll offers a helpful survey of the textual witnesses to Luke (see pp. 14-15).  Here is a summary of Carroll’s discussion of the Greek textual witnesses to Luke from earliest to latest, according to the most recent findings of modern scholarship:

1.      There are five third-century papyrus manuscripts:

p4                   portions of chapters 1-6;

p45                 portions of chapters 6-7 and 9-14;

p69                 fragments of chapter 22 (vv. 41, 45-48, 58-61);

p111              a small section of chapters 17 (vv. 11-13, 22-23) in fragmentary form;

p75                 portions of each chapter in chapters 3-18 [including 9:4—17:15] and also 22:4—24:53 in toto.

2.      The earliest uncial witness to Luke is 0171 (c. 300 A. D.) which contains 22:44-56, 61-64.


3.      There are five uncial manuscripts from the fourth and fifth centuries that offer complete attestation to Luke:

Sinaiticus (Aleph)

Alexandrinus (A)

Vaticanus (B)

Bezae Cantabrigiensis (D)

Washingtoniensis (W)

4.      There are two important uncials that offer partial witness to the text of Luke:

Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus (C, fifth century)

Zacynthius (xi, sixth century)

5.      There are several other later uncials that offer a complete witness to Luke:

Regius (L, eighth century)

Coridethianus (Theta, ninth century)

Athous Lavrensis (Psi, eighth-ninth century)

6.      Important minuscule witnesses:




family 1 and family 13 [Ferrar group]

This discussion might help in the interpretation and understanding of some of the earlier textual notes from Luke posted on this blog (and future ones).

Carroll notes that his translation and commentary on Luke has chosen to follow the shorter “Western text,” favoring especially the witness of Codex D, with its so-called “Western non-interpolations.”

Striking is Carroll’s conclusion:

Nevertheless, I recognize that the “Luke” known to many readers of the Gospel, both ancient and modern, has included the longer form of the text.  In the absence of the earliest text as composed by Luke (a state of affairs that will never be remedied), any text that is presented as a basis for interpretation will be an artificial construct and thus only approximate a complex textual reality that was fluid for some centuries and therefore cannot be captured with precision (p. 15).

Carroll’s statement does indeed reflect the current state of modern text criticism which has abandoned any hope of constructing an authoritative “original” text but instead is content to speak of multiform “texts” of Scripture, each holding a weight of significance in its own right.  Indeed, from this perspective, any such text is merely "an artificial construct."  It is clear that modern evangelicals are following a path toward this same conclusion (as reflected in the textual decisions of various evangelical English Bible translation; e. g., see the text notes on Mark 16:9-20 in the ESV).  The question is whether or not traditional, confessional Christians will also follow this path or hold out in defense of the traditional, consensus text of the Reformation.

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