Monday, January 06, 2014

Text Note: Luke 17:36

The issue:

I came across this textual difficulty while preparing to preach from Luke 17:20-37.
Should Luke 17:36 be included in the text of Scripture (as in the traditional text) or omitted (as in the Majority and modern critical text)?

External evidence:

The verse is omitted in a number of significant manuscripts, including some that regularly support the Majority and traditional texts in Luke:  p 75, Sinaiticus, A, B, L, W, Delta, Theta, Psi, and family 1.

On the other hand, the verse is included in D, family 13, and in some Latin and Syriac manuscripts.

There is another key piece of external evidence:  In the original hand of Sinaticus and some Latin Vulgate manuscripts, the preceding verse (Luke 17:35) is also omitted.  Most agree that in this case the verse was accidentally omitted through homoeoteleuton.  But this omission raises the question as to whether it might not be equally possible that the omission of v. 36 also came through scribal error.

Internal Evidence:

If v. 36 is not original, why would it have been included in the text?  The standard modern critical argument seems to be that the verse was added as an assimilation or harmonization to Matthew 24:40.  So, Metzger concludes:  “Although it is possible that v. 36 … was accidentally omitted through homoeoteleuton (an accident which happened to v. 35 in Sinaiticus* and a few other witnesses), in view of the weighty manuscript authority supporting the shorter text … it is more probable that copyists assimilated the passage to Mt. 24:40” (Textual Commentary, p. 168).

There is also another challenge related to the context of Matthew 24:40.  In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus uses two examples:

v. 40   two in the field

v. 41   two women grinding at the mill

Assuming the omission of v. 36 in Luke 17, Jesus would have been using two examples:

            v. 34   two in one bed

            v. 35   two women grinding

The question would then be that if there was a scribal effort to assimilate Luke to Matthew, why was this not done more uniformly and extensively?  Why not omit v. 34 and insert v. 36 before v. 35?  Why not insert “at the mill” in v. 35 from Matthew 24:41?

On the other hand, in defense of the omission of v. 36 in Luke 17 is the fact that D and family 13 (the two leading manuscripts that include Luke 17:36) insert the two in one bed example after Matthew 24:41, a reading rejected by both the traditional, Majority, and modern critical texts.

Another internal argument might be made as to why Luke 17:36 might have been omitted.  Could it be that some scribes saw an inconsistency in v. 36 describing a daytime activity (working in the field), while v. 34 refers to “in that night.”  Though not embracing it, Leon Morris acknowledges this argument in his commentary on v. 37:

AV includes verse 36, but it has inferior MS attestation and most agree that it has been taken over from Matthew 24:40 (though some argue that a scribe may have omitted it on the grounds that a daytime activity is incompatible with the ‘night’ of verse 34) (The Gospel According to Luke, p. 262).

Finally, the inclusion of v. 36 might perhaps be argued on the basis of Lukan triadic style.  Namely, Luke often records Jesus’ usage of a triad of examples in his parables and teaching (e. g., lost sheep, lost coin, lost son in Luke 15).  Of course, in this case the third item does not appear to be climactic or expansive.


Traditional text readings which are not supported by the Majority Text are some of the most difficult to defend, since they lack strong external support.  Luke 17:36 is an example of this circumstance.  There do, however, appear to be some significant reasons to support the possibility that Luke 17:36 was accidentally omitted (as even Metzger suggests) or intentionally omitted (as Morris acknowledges).  The verse is included in the printed received texts and translations of the Reformation era and, thus, it should not be easily dismissed.


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