Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Text Note: Luke 6:1

The issue:

The main question here is the whether the verse should include the adjective deuteroprotos in modification of the noun “sabbath.”  The traditional text includes the word and the modern critical text omits it.  A comparison of English translations reflects this textual difference:

AV (following the traditional text):  “And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first [egeneto de ev sabbato deuteroproto]….”

RSV/ESV (following the modern critical text):  “On a sabbath [egeneto de en sabbato]….”

So, did Luke specifically say that when Jesus and his disciples walked through the grain fields it was “the second sabbath after the first,” or did he more generically say that this event happened “on a sabbath”?

External evidence:

Again, the textual evidence follows similar lines as we have seen in previous studies of textual matters in the opening chapters of Luke.

The traditional reading is supported by codices Alexandrinus, C, D, R, Theta, Psi, family 13 (with negligible variations), and the vast majority of extant Greek manuscripts.  It also appears in the Old Latin and Syriac Harclean versions.  In addition it appears in Epiphanius of Constantia (d. 403 A. D.).

The modern critical reading is supported by p4, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, L, W, family 1, 33, and 1241.  Among the versions it appears in some Old Latin manuscripts and the Syriac Peshitta.

Internal evidence:

The inclusion of deuteroproto is obviously the more difficult reading.  Modern commentators are still unsure as to its precise meaning.  One can easily see how scribes might have desired to omit the word in order to make the sense more readily intelligible.  We can see reasons why it might have been omitted, but an explanation as to why it might have been added if not original is much cloudier.

Nevertheless, the modern critical text omits the disputed word, while the UBS Committee gave their text here only a “C” rating.  Metzger’s note in his Textual Commentary indicates the committee’s division and defends its decision despite the obvious methodological contradiction.  Metzger states:

In the opinion of a majority of the Committee, although sabbato deuteroproto is certainly the more difficult reading, it must not for that reason be adopted.  The word deuteroprotos occurs nowhere else, and appears to be a vox nulla that arose accidentally through a transcriptional blunder (p. 139).

This statement, however, smacks of special pleading.  In the absence of any hard evidence, the accusation of a “transcriptional blunder” in including the word might just as well lead one to speculate that such a blunder occurred in excluding the word.  Perhaps in acknowledgement of the weakness of the argument here, Metzger adds this parenthetical note:

(Perhaps some copyist introduced proto as a correlative of en hetero sabbato in ver. 6, and a second copyist, in view of 4:31, deuteron, deleting proto by using dots over the letters—which was the customary way of cancelling a word.  A subsequent transcriber, not noticing the dots, mistakenly combined the two words into one, which he introduced into the text.) (p. 139).

The operative word to consider in this ingenious explanation is the first word, “Perhaps.”  This explanation is a pure speculation.  There is no extant text with proto written in the margin as an accommodation to Luke 4:31; 6:6, nor is there an extant text with two dots over proto and deuteron added!  It is a fascinating speculation, but it remains only what it is—a speculation.

This variant appears to be an egregious example of the modern critical text’s tendency to follow the reading of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (a la the pioneering Westcott and Hort), even when that reading violates the so-called “canons” of modern text criticism.


The traditional text of Luke 6:1 (including deuteroprotos) has ancient and widespread textual support.  It is the more difficult reading.  There is a reasonable explanation as to why some scribes might have intentionally attempted to omit it.  It was difficult to understand (see this previous post), and scribes might have attempted to harmonize v. 1 with v. 6 which begins, “And it came to pass also on another sabbath [egeneto de en hetero sabbato]….”  It is much harder to understand why any scribe would have included the word if it were not part of the original (Metzger’s creative attempt to do so notwithstanding).  The traditional reading, therefore, is to be preferred.

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