Thursday, November 17, 2005

Luke 22.19b-20

Here is an interesting reading and one that has been much discussed in Cambridge recently, since Luke - Acts is our first year text and an essay on Luke's view (or non-view) of the atonement is a popular one, which hinges, in part at least, on a text-critical decision about what Jesus said at the Last Supper in Luke. Here one can't get away with ridiculous generalisations ("textual criticism never affects theology").

Some years ago I wrote briefly on this, but I remain troubled by the lack of a decent explanation for the shorter reading:

Luke clearly presents the last supper (22.14-22) as a passover meal (vv. 7, 15), and describes traditional passover rituals (including two separate cups: vv. 17, 20). The interpretation of the bread and wine (in 19b, 20) is as follows:
‘This is my body which is given for you.’
‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ This whole passage is omitted in some manuscripts (Codex Bezae, the Old Latin and the early Syriac versions), and thus by some English translations (notably REB). As a consequence, differences of opinion concerning the authenticity of this text have resulted in different views of Luke’s theology (note to Ehrman). In this case, however, the omission is limited to only one branch of Western texts, and the vast majority of manuscripts (both early and of diverse provenance, including P75 and the major uncials) include the long version, and thus recent commentators have regarded its overwhelming attestation as ‘the decisive argument in favour of the Long Text.’[2]

[2] Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, 159. The commentaries by Marshall and Fitzmyer support this; the remaining problem is to explain why the text was omitted: Jeremias suggested that the text was abbreviated in the interests of secrecy, since being a liturgical text the rest would have been well known; Metzger suggests that confusion caused by the mention of two cups led to the omission (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London: UBS, 1975) 174).


  1. There being no obvious mechanical solution, I will suggest a slightly more complex mechanical one. The omission is perhaps the result of two scribal actions.

    The first is an unintentional homoeoteleuton (most long omissions are HTs), jumping from the MOU TO UPER UMWN in v19 to the same words in v20.

    The result of this would have been the ridiculous reading: my body which has been poured out for you.

    This prompted a second deliberate attempt at cleaning up the text by omitting the four Greek words after 'my'. In view of the fact that a cup had already been mentioned previous to v19, this might have appeared the best solution to a corrector.

    There are possibly other two-stage mechanical explanations, but what must not be ruled out is the possibility of a lengthy unintentional inexplicable omission - these are less common than HT but still occur every now and then in the MSS.

  2. Andrew, I'm generally inclined to favour unintentional change over intentional, but in this case it does seem that the case for intentional changes is strong. After all, even if your double mistake to explain the Greek reading were accepted, you would need further explanations for the differing readings of the Old Latin mss b e, for the Curetonian Syriac, for the Siniatic Syriac and for the Peshitta, each of which does substantially different things with this section. The matter cannot be put down to translation technique. Clearly scribes have entered intentional (even if well-meaning) changes on several occasions.

  3. Yes, I agree there have been intentional changes here. But the fact that related witnesses have a confusion of readings on the same patch suggests that there might have been a problem in a witness ancestral to ALL of these witnesses.

    In my opinion, such an ancestral difficult/nonsense reading is probably not the original NT reading, but rather an early corruption in an ancestor of these witnesses. Attempts to clean up this reading (hence, the reading in D) may have preceded further attempts at harmonization, particularly in It(b,e) and Syr(s,c). The Peshitta reading (omission of vs17-18) might possibly be an unrelated HT error.

    Of course, how to identify such a speculative and hypothetical ancestral reading is a difficult business, but I don't think we can wield Occam's Razor here and just say the reading in D must therefore be original.