Friday, December 07, 2012

Text Note: Luke 5:39

The issues:

From the top, we might note that this entire verse is omitted in some strands of the Western tradition (D, Marcion, Irenaeus, Eusebius).  It is, however, well attested and is included in both the traditional and modern critical text as authentic.

Metzger notes:  “The external attestation for the inclusion of the verse is almost overwhelming; its omission from several Western witnesses may be due to the influence of Marcion, who rejected the statement because it seemed to give authority to the Old Testament” (pp. 138-139).

Affirming its inclusion, we will consider two questions within this verse:

1.      Should the adverb “immediately [eutheos]” be included?

It is part of the traditional text, but it is omitted in the modern critical text.

2.      Should the adjective “good [chrestos]” be in the standard or the comparative form [chrestoteros]?

Should it read, “For the old is good [chrestos]” (as in the modern critical text) or “For the old is better [chrestoteros]” (as in the traditional text)?

Translation comparisons:

Here are some translation comparisons (emphasis added):

Following traditional text:

KJV Luke 5:39 No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.

NKJ Luke 5:39 "And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, 'The old is better.' "

Following modern critical text:

RSV/ESV Luke 5:39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’

NAS Luke 5:39 "And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.'"

External evidence:

1.      For the adverb “immediately”:

The traditional reading is supported by the usual suspects:  codices Alexandrinus, C (second corrector), R, Theta, Psi, family 13, and the majority.

The modern critical reading is supported by p4, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and family 1 (among others).

2.      For the comparative “better”:

Again, similarly, the traditional reading is supported by:  codices Alexandrinus, C, R, Theta, Psi, family 1, family 13, and the majority.

The modern critical is supported by p4, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, B, L. W, and 1241.

Internal evidence:

1.     For “immediately”:

Metzger does not address this variant.  My guess is that modern text critics see in its inclusion as assimilation to Markan style.  Conversely and along similar lines, one might imagine that an ancient scribe could have deemed the adverb as non-Lukan and intentionally omitted it.  Of course, it is also quite easy to see how it might have been omitted through parablepsis.

2.       For “better” versus “good”:

Metzger speculates:  “The comparative degree of the adjective is probably a scribal emendation introduced in order to make the comparison more apparent.”  He then proceeds to offer a further speculation based on a theological interpretation of the verse:  “Actually, however, the point is that the prejudiced person does not even wish to try what is new (the Gospel), for he is satisfied that the old (the Law) is good” (p. 139).  Metzger’s interpretation of the verse may or may not be correct.  The main consideration here for our purposes is that Metzger’s preference does not appear to be made on a purely text critical basis but an interpretive basis.  Might early scribes have acted similarly in transforming the comparative into the standard form?


Luke 5:39 should be included in the text of Scripture.  There is ancient support for the traditional text and no compelling or decisive reason to abandon it.

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