Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Text Note: Luke 20:23

Image:   The ending of the Gospel of Luke in Codex Alexandrinus, dated to the 5th century AD, which provides an early witness to the traditional text of the Gospels.  Note the closing title under the decorative marking, euangelion kataloukan, "The Gospel According to Luke."

The issue:

The problem here is whether the question:  “Why do you tempt me? [ti me peirazete;]” should be included in the text.  It is included in the traditional text and omitted in the modern critical text.

External evidence:

Greek manuscripts supporting inclusion:  Codices Alexandrinus, C, D, W, Theta, Psi, family 13, 33, and the vast majority.  It is also supported by the Old Latin and all the Syriac versions.

Greek manuscripts supporting omission:  Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, L, family 1, and others.  It is also supported by all the Coptic versions.

Internal evidence:

Metzger does not address this variant in his Textual Commentary.  No doubt, modern text advocates would see the inclusion of the question as a harmonization with the parallels in Matthew 22:18 (“Why do you tempt me, hypocrites?”) and Mark 12:15 (“Why do you tempt me?”).

Indeed, there is some evidence of textual harmonization in Mark and Luke, in particular to include Matthew’s “hypocrites [hypocritai].”  This is espeically true in Mark 12:15 where “hypocrites” is included in a wide number of early witnesses, including p45, N, W, Theta, family 1, family 13, 28, 33, and others.  It is not, however, adapted as the majority reading for Mark 12:15.  In comparison to Mark 12:15, the harmonization to Matthew’s reading in Luke is slight with only codex C and a few others adding “hypocrites” at Luke 20:23.

This raises the following important question:  If there was a scribal effort to harmonize the reading at Luke 20:23, why do we not see more evidence (as in Mark 12:15) to harmonize the reading with Matthew 22:18 by including “hypocrites”?  Some might impose here the theory of Markan priority and suggest that Luke simply followed Mark here as a source, but that conclusion is speculative.  Another adverse possibility if one adopts the Markan priority theory is simply that the question was original to Luke and would especially be so if he supposedly followed Mark here as a source.

Why, then, might the question have been omitted?  There are at least two possibilities:

First, there could have been an accidental scribal omission in an early manuscript or manuscripts which served as the exemplars for those which perpetuated the omission.

Second, there could have been an intentional omission for stylistic or theological reasons.

Stylistically, if original, the question is introduced with the statement:  “he said to them,” using the verb lego.  Perhaps, it was thought strange that the question was not introduced with “he asked them,” using the verb eperotao.  Furthermore, perhaps it was thought that the introduction “he said to them” better fitted the accompanying command, “show me a denarius” in v. 24.  In this case, the question might have been omitted for stylistic reasons.

Theologically, the question, “Why do you tempt me?”, with its use of the verb peirazo, recalls the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (cf. Luke 4:2) and, in particular, the response of Jesus in Luke 4:12, citing Deuteronomy 6:16, “It has been said [using the aorist of lego], You shall not tempt [ekpeirazo] the Lord your God.”  If original, here is a place where the divinity of Jesus is subtly affirmed in Luke, even as it is for the same reasons in Matthew and Mark.  As it is wrong to tempt God, so it is wrong to tempt Jesus, because Jesus is God.  Is it possible that there might have been Arian or proto-Arian scribes who were uncomfortable with such a subtle affirmation?


There is widespread and ancient support for the traditional text, which includes the question from Jesus in Luke 20:23, “Why do you tempt me?”  The modern critical text’s omission of the question belies its typical tendency to follow the heavyweights Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  If the inclusion of the question was a harmonization to Matthew and Mark, why do we not see more evidence, as in Mark 12:15, of more effort to make Luke’s text comply with Matthew 22:18 by including “hypocrites”?

Furthermore, we can well imagine good reasons as to why the question might have been omitted either by accident or for stylistic or theological reasons by early scribes.

We therefore conclude that there is no compelling reason to abandon the traditional text reading of Luke 20:23.


Anonymous said...

Pastor Jeff,
Could you address the textual issues of 1 John 5:7,8 as well as John 5:4. A certain Reformed Baptist brother has brought these text up as proof that the TR is not as reliable as the modern critical text or the Majority text which differs on these points.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


I will see if I can do a blog post or WM in the future on these texts.