Sunday, September 27, 2020

John Calvin, Tyrant of Geneva?

Was John Calvin the tyrant of Geneva, a cruel dictator, persecuting all those who stood in his way? A few years ago I did fact-checking research for an author agreeing with this historical conclusion. I was provided with a number of "facts" about Calvin's Geneva and requested to either verify or dispel them before a book was sent to the publisher.  Below is a sampling of some of the material I went through, along with a few other related entries.

Lest there be any confusion of my view of the man, John Calvin was a fallible person, a man of his times. He had moral shortcomings and sins, but he did not kick cats and steal candy from children while he walked the streets of Geneva, nor was a "dictator."

The goal of going through particular facts is not to defend John Calvin as a Protestant saint. I see the study of any person in church history as an exercise in the love of God and neighbor. How do we love our neighbors in the study of church history? We do so with our words: If we bear false witness against our neighbors, even if they've been dead for hundreds of years, we are not loving them. I say let the people in church history be exactly who they were, warts and all.

Calvin was the Cruel and Unopposed Dictator of Geneva?

John Calvin Had 58 People Executed in Geneva?

Calvin Beheaded a Child in Geneva?

Calvin's Geneva: A woman was jailed for arranging her hair to an “immoral height"

John Calvin: “It is better to burn a few (Anabaptists) at the stake, than for thousands to burn in hell”

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Luther: "Remove Christ from the Scriptures and there is nothing left"

Did Luther say, "Remove Christ from the Scriptures and there is nothing left"? This popular Luther quote circulates cyberspace, often found in pictorial form, like that pictured above. Yes, Luther appears to have said something like this... as did theologian John Stott: "Take Christ from Christianity, and you remove the heart from it; there is practically nothing left," and also, "Take Christ from Christianity, and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left." Let's take a closer look at Luther's version.

Of the cyber-pictures using the quote I checked, none provided a reference. Similarly, a basic Google search for the quote did not yield a reference. A Google Book search gave some interesting hits. A 2008 book uses the exact quote without a reference, mentioning Luther's interaction with Erasmus. Another Google Books hit states: "Remove Christ from the Scriptures and what more will you find in them? [De servo arbitrio WA 18:606]." Even though it places the quote in the form of a rhetorical question, it sounds a lot like the quote in question.

"De servo arbitrio" refers to Luther's response to Erasmus, "The Bondage of the Will" (1525). This seems like a likely candidate for the source. WA 18:606 reads,

The sentence in question is "Tolle Christum e scripturis, quid amplius in illis invenies?" De servo arbitrio has been translated into English a number of times. The quote can be found in LW 33:26 and also in the Packer / Johnston translation on page 71.

I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture. For what still sublimer thing can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals have been broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulcher [Matt. 27:66; 28:2], and the supreme mystery brought to light, namely, that Christ the Son of God has been made man, that God is three and one, that Christ has suffered for us and is to reign eternally? Are not these things known and sung even in the highways and byways? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find left in them?
The subject matter of the Scriptures, therefore, is all quite accessible, even though some texts are still obscure owing to our ignorance of their terms. Truly it is stupid and impious, when we know that the subject matter of Scripture has all been placed in the clearest light, to call it obscure on account of a few obscure words. If the words are obscure in one place, yet they are plain in another; and it is one and the same theme, published quite openly to the whole world, which in the Scriptures is sometimes expressed in plain words, and sometimes lies as yet hidden in obscure words. Now, when the thing signified is in the light, it does not matter if this or that sign of it is in darkness, since many other signs of the same thing are meanwhile in the light. Who will say that a public fountain is not in the light because those who are in a narrow side street do not see it, whereas all who are in the marketplace do see it? (LW 33:25-26)

In the complete context of LW 33:24-28 (a section entitled, "The clarity of Scripture"), Luther's comment about Christ, while important, is actually more of a passing comment. Luther was reacting to Erasmus's point that there were many passages in Scripture that are obscure:
Thus there are many passages in the sacred volumes on which many commentators have tried their skill, but no one has really removed their obscurity, as for example: the distinction between the persons in the Godhead, the union of the divine and human natures in Christ, and the unforgivable sin. (LW 33:24 fn. 13; cf. Diatribe EAS 4,12 f)
For those difficult areas like "the Trinity" or the two natures of Christ, for Luther, Scripture confesses them, and how exactly they are what they are is not necessary to know. What we need to know "has been placed in the clearest light." Luther was gearing up to attack Erasmus on the scriptural clarity of nature of the will of man and its freedom in regard to salvation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

How to Deal with Those Who Differ from "Us"

Here's something I posted in 2010. It seems more relevant now than ever before...excerpts from Roger Nicole's article: Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us.

What Do I Owe to the Person Who Differs From Me?

What Can I Learn from Those Who Differ From Me?

How Can I Cope with Those Who Differ from Me?

Here's an interesting snippet:
How then do we desire to be treated? First, we want people to know what we are saying or meaning. If we are going to voice differences, therefore, we have an obligation to make a serious effort to understand the person with whom we differ. That person may have published books or articles. Then we should be acquainted with those writings. It is not appropriate for us to voice sharp differences if we have neglected to read what is available. The person with whom we differ should have evidence that we have read carefully what has been written and that we have attempted to understand its meaning. In the case of an oral exchange where we don't have any written words, we owe the person who differs from us the courtesy to listen carefully to what he or she says. Rather than preparing to pounce on that person the moment he or she stops talking, we should concentrate on apprehending precisely what his or her position is.
In this respect, Dr. Cornelius Van Til has given us a splendid example. As you may know, he expressed very strong objections to the theology of Karl Barth. This was so strong that Barth claimed that Van Til simply did not understand him. It has been my privilege to be at Dr. Van Til's office and to see with my own eyes the bulky tomes of Barth's, Kirchliche Dogmatik (incidentally, these volumes were the original German text, not an English translation). As I leafed through them I did not see one page that was not constellated with underlining, double-underlining, marginal annotations, exclamation points, and question marks galore. So here is someone who certainly did not say, "I know Karl Barth well; I understand his stance; I don't need to read any more of this; I can move on with what I have." Each of the volumes, including the most recent, gave evidence of very, very careful scrutiny. So when we take issue with somebody, we need to do the job that is necessary to know that person so that we are not voicing our criticism in the absence of knowledge but that we are proceeding from the vantage point of real acquaintance.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

"Father forgive Them, For They Do Not Know What They Are Doing": A Review of the Arguments For and Against the Inclusion of Luke 23:34a

The preacher launched into that part of his sermon that would convey the dire agony of the savior of the world:
“Soldiers gathered around the condemned prisoner as he was stripped naked, then dressed in an absurd degrading costume. The adult equivalent of unsupervised childish taunting ensued, a pack mentality unleashed its obligatory beating. Oddly, after this brutality, the soldiers took the costume off and put the prisoner’s own clothes back on him! During the execution, the soldiers spent their time gambling on those same clothes amongst themselves; the clothing being of more importance than the actual human being. It doesn’t appear the soldiers felt any empathy, sympathy, or regret towards the condemned, not even gratitude for free clothing. Maybe they were just being soldiers, following orders. Maybe they were skilled in the art of dehumanization that characterizes militaristic cruelty. Maybe they didn’t even realize what they where doing, so hardened by years of soldiering.”
With this sitz im leben set, the preacher could now bring his point home: 
"Suffering a slow execution, the prisoner looked on. Astonishingly, he could still speak. His words though were not the anger of a stoic hero whose spirit could not be broken, nor were they the words of a coward looking for rescue or escape. Rather, they were words of forgiveness towards his tormentors, a plea to God to excuse their hateful ignorance. They were words of compassion and mercy towards men devoid of the very same qualities: Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” 
This sort of emotional sentiment characterizes many sermons expounding Luke 23:34a. Such exhortations press to capture one of the key elements of Christianity: divine forgiveness. There’s also a seemingly endless amount of Christian “forgiveness” literature basically arriving at the same conclusion: Jesus unconditionally forgave his enemies even as he was dying on the cross at their brutal hands. By extension therefore, no matter what has befallen you, forgiving your enemies is a basic Christian obligation.

But what if one of the paramount verses on Biblical forgiveness was not actually supposed to be in the Bible? This entry will examine the pedigree of Luke 23:34a: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Why should this verse be in the Bible? Why shouldn’t it? What implications does this verse have on the theology of forgiveness and soteriology? 

II. English Bibles and the Appearance of Luke 23:34a
The average layman is typically unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding the textual issues of Luke 23:34a. Surveying a popular collection of English Bibles, twenty-seven do not mention any problems with its pedigree. Included in this list is the King James Bible.1 Thirty-two though provide a footnote, generally saying something in small-print like, “Some early manuscripts do not have this sentence” and nothing more.2 Some do go the extra step by pointing out, “This portion of Luke 23:34 does not occur in the oldest papyrus manuscript of Luke and in other early Greek manuscripts and ancient versions of wide geographical distribution.”3 One exception is the New English Translation (NET). The NET goes to the extent of listing manuscripts missing the verse and then provides a brief commentary on some of the points of debate involved.4 Overall, it’s not difficult for the average person in the pew to miss this textual issue when reading the passage in a popular English Bible.5

This prayer of forgiveness only appears in one of the Gospels. The Synoptic narratives follow each other somewhat closely (Matt. 27:33-35; Mark 15:22-24; Luke 23:33-34). All three include going to the Place of the Skull, the crucifixion with the criminals, and the dividing of the clothes. Matthew and Mark mention the drink of myrrh, Luke does not. Only Luke records the prayer of Jesus from the cross. The typical layman is focused with harmonization here, not textual issues. It’s easy to see why the textual issue could be overlooked.

III. The Manuscript Evidence Against Inclusion of Luke 23:34a
With or without a footnote in an English Bible noting the textual anomalies, there’s general scholarly agreement that early important biblical manuscript evidence lacks support for Luke 23:34a. One writer points out,
The prayer is missing from arguably the two strongest Alexandrian witnesses, p75 and Codex Vaticanus, as well as from 579 and the Sahidic version. It is missing also from important Western witnesses—-most notably, the first hand of Codex Bezae and the Old Latin manuscripts a and d—and from the Caesarean manuscript Codex Koridethi. Finally, it is missing from Byzantine manuscripts stretching from Codex W in the late fourth century to 597 in the thirteenth century.6 
This impressive list basically implies a lack of early inclusion in the major text type categories of geographical diversity: Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine.7 It also implies those textual streams that date back to the second century in different regions (“Egypt, Europe, Syria, and Byzantium” 8 ) do not contain Luke 23:34a. Whitlark and Parsons point out,
The evidence for the original absence of Luke 23.34a runs from the beginning of the third century to the thirteenth century… The fact that the absence of this logion is attested by the three major textual streams from the second century indicates that it appears extremely early in the textual tradition, and that it likely derives from a non-extant exemplar that preceded these textual streams.9 
James Snapp refers to this manuscript evidence as “three Alexandrian heavyweights and three Western heavyweights” noting,
In Papyrus 75, Codex Vaticanus, and the earliest stratum of the Sahidic version, the sentence is not there – which implies that these witnesses do not have it because the ancestral text upon which they were based did not have it. Similarly, Codex Bezae, the Sinaitic Syriac, and Old Latin Codex Vercellensis (from the late 300’s) appear to echo an earlier Western form of the verse that did not have this sentence.10 
The inclusion of Luke 23:34a into non-Western text types picks up after the fourth century. There are also odd occurrences of including the longer reading. For instance, in Codex Siniaticus (א) it appears as a noted correction (“indicating that it should be omitted from the text”).11 Codex Bezae (Dea) appears to insert Luke 23:34a “into a manuscript (marginally).”12

In summary, for those looking to exclude Luke 23:34a from the biblical text: the verse appears to be limited to only one geographic area and only one text type, occurring, according to the extant manuscript evidence, in the late second or early third century. They see the verse as suspiciously appearing as if it entered the text sometime during the second-century in one specific geographic area only. Had there been manuscript evidence or early attestation from different regions, the verse would have a more stable pedigree and less debatable as genuine in the original Biblical text.

IV. The External Evidence For Including Luke 23:34a
Why isn’t this manuscript information at least forceful enough to place the verse outside of the Biblical text, perhaps delegating it entirely to a footnote (like the Johannine Comma or 1 John 5:7-8) or noted by a sold line of demarcation (Mark 16:9-20). Generally speaking, English translations downplay the variant.13 Why?

While the omissive evidence may seem strong, there is also support to include Luke 23:34a from as early as the late second century, including usage outside the Biblical manuscript evidence:

What complicates this evidence though is that it appears to stem from the Western tradition only. J.H. Petzer observes,
The material evidence in favor of the long reading is, as has been said, earlier than that of the short reading and reaches into the second century. All these witnesses, however, belong to the same text-type. The evidence is thus genealogically limited. The pattern is more or less the same in the third century, with the reading occurring in Origen, Hippolytus of Rome, the Latin manuscripts c and e, which represent the earlier African form of the Vetus Latina, as well as the Curetonian Syriac version. All of this evidence belongs to the Western text, with Origen the only exception.15
The notion of “Western text" plays strongly in this controversy, typically dictating what weight this evidence is given depending on who's examining it. While some like Whitlark and Parsons see the Western flavor of the evidence as determinative for choosing the shorter reading (that is, the longer reading is only Western, only limited to one text type, therefore an obvious later insertion), others like Nathan Eubank think the evidence put forth is too sparse to conclude that “a handful of church fathers” and one pre-fourth century manuscript (75) is “hardly enough evidence to justify speaking of a variant being confined to a particular text type.” 16 Thomas Bolin says, “The criteria used to determine which texts are important for establishing the original text are unclear, since we do not possess any original texts from which to verify such judgments.” 17 Thus, the entire delineation of “Western text type” is not necessarily a settled discussion among scholarship.

V. Difficulties With Extra Biblical Evidence in Support of Luke 23:34a
Those wishing to retain the prayer lay heavy emphasis on extra-biblical and patristic sources. The logion is peppered throughout the writings of the early church. Wieland Willker’s Online Textual Commentary presents a lengthy and detailed list of its occurrences.18 James Snapp Jr. summarizes, “this passage was used by over a dozen patristic writers in the 100’s, 200’s, and 300’s” proving it to be “an extremely ancient reading” in which the writer using the verse “expected the passage to be found in his readers’ copies as well.” 19 Snapp sees this evidence as one of the strands the compels the authenticity of the verse, yet does not explain the Western flavor of the earliest references. If those citations of the verse are limited in geographical specificity, then wouldn’t the main argument against its inclusion still hold?

The “what is” or “what is not” “Western text type” spills into quibbling over the extra-biblical details, with no seeming solution. For instance, while Petzer passes by Origen’s use of the phrase simply as an odd exception, Whitlark and Parsons posit Origen’s writings display “many distinctly Western readings” therefore, congruent with their Western text type paradigm. 20 Eubank though counters they are merely making an assertion about Origen rather than proving it.21 Saying that Origen utilizes elements of Western text type is not the same as proving it (Origen mentions the phrase in Homily 2 on Leviticus).22 Eubank, looking at the Sinaticus manuscript, admits Western readings are present, but holds, “the absence of Western readings in Sinaiticus at the end of Luke… suggests that Sinaiticus retains its Alexandrian character here.”23 Whitlark and Parsons though would see the inclusion of Luke 23:34a as the required proof of Western textual influence that Eubank is asking for. Both sides looking at the same evidence claim victory with the same evidence!

To demonstrate the difficulties that arise with interpreting the patristic evidence, a fascinating second-century attestation of “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do” comes via Eusebius (ca. 260 - 340) when recounting the (no longer extant) writings of Hegesippus (ca. 110 - 180) “who belonged to the first generation after the apostles.” 24 This ancient witness records the phrase, not from Jesus on the cross, but from the martyrdom of “James, who is called the brother of the Lord” as he was “Cast down from a pinnacle of the temple, his legs broken, but still half alive, raising his hands to heaven” just previous to being “struck on the head” with a garment club.25 Eusebius links this martyrdom to the cause of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Eubank includes Eusebius / Hegesippus as one of his examples of “powerful” patristic citations of Luke 23:34a. Was this a prayer of Jesus already part of the early Christian community and the New Testament and utilized by James,26 or was it a prayer from James then applied to Jesus?27 Eubank says "James is shown dying with a prayer widely attributed to Jesus on his lips," while only a few sentences earlier, he states, "if Eusebius accurately records Hegesippus's words, then this is one of the earliest attestations of the prayer." 28 How can one know the prayer was “widely attributed to Jesus" when Hegesippus " is one of the earliest attestations of the prayer"?

VI. Why Was Luke 23:34a Inserted or Deleted?
It’s easy to get lost, if not buried beyond intellectual escape, in the manuscript and patristic evidence. Both sides claim to have presented a compelling analysis of the same data to support either exclusion or inclusion of Jesus' prayer. The manuscript battle though is simply one aspect of a much larger war with multiple layers. Further complications arise in analyzing internal evidence.

Thomas Bolin (an advocate for inclusion) helpfully parses this aspect of the controversy into variant and stylistic. In his surveying of the extant manuscripts, he found no examples of basic scribal errors in regard to variants. There does not appear to be any of the common scribal mistakes in the manuscript evidence that would have produced or omitted Luke 23:34a.29 If the prayer was not original to Luke, was it a deliberate insertion into an already existing manuscript?30 If so, why? Why the stylistic insertion? If Luke 23:34a was original to Luke’s Gospel, why would it be excised? Why the stylistic deletion?

If the Western text-type theory holds, those following this paradigm see “a tendency to include additional traditional material.”31 Bruce Metzger says the logion “bears self-evident tokens of its dominical origin, and was retained, within double square brackets, in its traditional place where it had been incorporated by unknown copyists relatively early in the transmission of the Third Gospel.”32 Alan Kurschner surmises that an early “gospel harmony or some form of collective sayings… were harmonized” with the prayer being fed into Luke’s account.33 Kurschner and others appear to support their theory with Tatian's Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the four Gospels (only extant though via Ephrem's Commentary of the Diatessaron by reconstruction), a writing which exhibits “familial relations with the Western text.” 34 Interestingly, in the reconstructed text of the Diatessaron, the prayer is misplaced, occurring immediately before the final saying of Jesus from the cross:
1 And after that, Jesus knew that all things were finished; and that the scripture 2 might be accomplished, he said, I thirst. And there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and in that hour one of them hasted, and took a sponge, and filled it with that 3 vinegar, and fastened it on a reed, and brought it near his mouth to give him a 4 drink. And when Jesus had taken that vinegar, he said, Everything is finished. 5 But the rest said, Let be, that we may see whether Elijah cometh to save him. 7 And Jesus said, My Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and said, My Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. He said that, and bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.35
If the insertion theorists are correct, the scribe who initially placed the prayer into Luke did so quite aptly. There are no peculiar or anomalous non-Lukan words or phrases in the logion. Thomas Bolin describes the characteristics of what such a scribe would be like:
[I]f the saying is a later addition (as the critical editions claim) then we have a very knowledgeable scribe who can deftly transform and transpose motifs from one text into another without any verbatim copying or use of vocabulary uncharacteristic of the author. 36
Adding yet another layer in answering the stylistic purpose of “why”, scholars have looked at the influence of Judaism as that which provided scribal motivation. David Flusser sees the insertion as Jewish Christians, or a Jewish scribe, formulating the prayer as a means of Jewish evangelism. In this theory, Hegesippus’s early account of the death of James influenced its eventual insertion into Luke.37 A scribe at some point eventually added the phrase to Luke, not necessarily as a knowing deception, but perhaps as a saying of Jesus (agrapha) meant specifically to evangelize Jews. Epp, Petzer, Whitlark, and Parsons though point out that the Western text-type has anti-Judaic tendencies, so why, in this one instance, is the text favorable to the Jews?38 It’s also an assumption that the prayer of Jesus was specifically directed at the Jews and understood by the early church to be directed at the Jews, rather than the Roman soldiers.

There are others though that see the deletion of the prayer as proof of anti-Judaism: a common theme in the early church was that the Jews killed Jesus. Having Jesus forgive the Jews from the cross may have been against the strong basic anti-Judaic prejudices of the scribe working with the Lukan text. Kurschner mentions though that such a long excision would be out of the ordinary:
There are examples in which over-pious scribes in the copying process would omit a single word with theological, pious, or “harshness” effects. But also, more common would be the phenomenon of scribes to alter or replace the “difficult” word; or at least to mollify its affects by adding words or omitting some form of syntax, etc. Further, in our case, we are not speaking of only a single-word variant, but an entire clause. Surely then, we should see at least one example of a witness altering Jesus’ prayer for theological reasons. But this is not the case; the witnesses either omit the prayer all together, or it is all intact.39  
VII. Six or Seven Last Words of Jesus?
One of the more unique explanations as to why the longer reading was inserted into the Lukan text is based on biblical numerology. The originators, Whitlark and Parsons, refer to a “seminal article” by Francois Bovon on the “significance of names and numbers” in the early church.40 They build on his basic theory that “the early Christians used the categories of ‘name’ and ‘number’ as theological tools” by applying it to the traditional Seven Last Words of Jesus.41 The “Seven Last words” or “seven sayings” are the utterances Jesus spoke from the cross. As their theory goes: since “Father, forgive them…” was not in the original text of Luke, the early church faced a dilemma when the four gospels were originally synthesized into one harmony. It became apparent that there were only six utterances Jesus made from the cross, and as Bovon’s hypothesis goes for the early church, “unity is the mark of perfection and the remaining numbers are the mark of deficiency,”42 provoking them away from the imperfect six to adding the logion to achieve the perfect biblical seven. A further balance was achieved by adding this saying to Luke’s crucifixtion account:
But why Luke’s crucifixion narrative? First, unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke already had two sayings of Jesus from the cross. By adding a third to Luke, canonical balanced is achieved: three sayings in Luke, three in John, one in Matthew and Mark. 43
 While a unique argument and certainly a scenario within the realm of possibility, a basic criticism is that the theory suffers from being cut by Occam’s Razor: it uses many textual variables connected together to arrive at a specific conclusion. One critic sums it up,
Basically to accept this argument you have to be able to envisage a scribe in the mid-to-late second century, familiar with a four-gospel collection, interested in counting the sayings of Jesus, finding something problematic in the resultant numbr [sic] six, having access to a “floating” saying (perhaps through the Diatessaron) and adding this in order to make up the number to seven, not after the other six but at this point in Luke. I find most of these steps fairly problematic myself. They certainly haven’t shown any evidence that a scribe is likely to count sayings like this.44
VIII. Does Luke 23:34a Fit Theologically?
There is though yet another way to analyze the controversy surrounding this verse, that of underlying theological presuppositions. James Snapp, who argues for including Luke 23:34a, says of this verse,
It may seem overly cerebral to offer a technical analysis of these words which convey such a power message about the love of God – but future Bible-readers won’t see that message if it is taken out of their New Testaments, which is what some evangelical apologists would like to do, claiming that Luke did not write it.45 
Snapp reveals an important theological presupposition, that the verse presents “a power message about the love of God.” In the book, Ancient Forgiveness: Classical, Judaic, and Christian, one author (unsure if Luke 23:34a is original or not) parses both sides, first explaining how the verse “fits well with other themes raised by the evangelist” and “it displays a particular interest in the bounty of divine forgiveness and emphasizes the innocent suffering of both Jesus and his followers, in part by focusing on the generosity they display towards their enemies.”46 She notes Peter and Paul claim those who crucified Jesus “were ignorant of the full implications of their actions” (Acts 3:12- 26; 13:27-28).47 The prayer is also similar to that stated by Stephen in Acts 7:60 (although Stephen does not mention Jewish ignorance). “Jesus appeal for divine forgiveness on behalf of those witnessing his death is therefore consistent with the larger theological paradigm of Luke-Acts.”48 For those who argue for the integrity of the verse, I suspect that in many cases similar theological presuppositions about the universal forgiveness of God are at work.

Is Luke 23:34a really consistent with Luke’s Gospel? First, there’s a contextual difficulty with harmonizing it with Luke 23:28-31. Those verses record a harsh prophetical judgment against Israel. Jesus speaks of the upcoming fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a seeming response and result of his impending death (this judgment section only recorded by Luke). Why then in 23:34a would Jesus be praying for their forgiveness, a forgiveness which did not occur?49 It appears to be blatant contradiction.

Second, there is a trinitarian issue raised by this prayer of Jesus. He prays, “Father, forgive them.” He does not pray, “Father, if it’s your will, forgive them,” or “Father, would you forgive them if possible.” If the Son makes a direct statement to the Father, their unity in purpose necessarily come to pass. Therefore, if Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them,” then they are, forgiven. Yet people throughout history have died in their sins, apart from God. Granted, the scriptures do not necessarily say whom Jesus was praying for. Was it the Jews or the Roman soldiers? Nor does the Bible indicate that the Roman soldiers or Jews at the crucifixtion did, or did not, die in their sins, or, went away forgiven or unforgiven. It’s presumptuous though to use Luke 23:34a as indicative of universal forgiveness by extension in books or sermons, when in fact people die in their sins every day, unforgiven.

Third, there is the problem of how Luke 23:34a infuses Christian forgiveness-genre books and literature. The basic concept that Jesus unconditionally forgave his enemies from the cross, therefore, must mean that Christians should unconditionally forgive all wrongs doesn’t appear to follow from Luke-Acts. The theme of repentance leading to forgiveness is a basic theme throughout Luke’s writings. In his sermon in Acts 3, Peter says that the Jewish leaders acted in ignorance, but were still exhorted to “Repent.. and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” The Christian paradigm is that one should have the attitude and willingness to forgive their enemies, to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt. 5:43-48).

IX. Conclusion
The issues surrounding Luke 23:34a reach a level of complexity tempting one to embrace the contradiction of knowing that one cannot know. Both sides have credible and early manuscript evidence. Granting the validity of the Western text-type paradigm will typically lead to the conclusion that the logion was incorrectly added to Luke. Questioning the Western text-type paradigm along with greater emphasis on the extant patristic and extra-biblical evidence typically leads to accepting the logion as original.

Accepting that the phrase was deleted in the manuscript evidence lends support to the blatant anti-Judaism that scars church history. Accepting that the phrase was inserted into the text captures the essence of how the early church was prejudiced by their own theological numerology and symbolism, or as Bovon would say, their “conceptualizations” were “very different from our nominalist-based thinking.”50 With the complex nature of the debate over Luke 23:34a, it makes sense that current English Bibles don’t quite know what to do.

Wile only being a novice at understanding the depths and intricate nuances of the textual criticism surrounding Luke 23:34a, It’s at least certain that crucial ancient manuscripts are without the verse. This should at least provoke suspicion as to its pure pedigree, on whatever side one falls. Perhaps definitive motivations for it’s insertion or deletion will never satisfactorily surface. The various theories of motivation all seem to amount to special pleading. Nor do they account for the possibility that two seemingly opposed motivations could be true at the same time: that in certain manuscripts a phrase was added to have the perfect last words of Jesus be seven, and that in another instance there could be a removal because the passage offered forgiveness to the Jews.

The theological implications suggest that if the verse is original to Luke, then it’s at least a call to embrace the interpretive lens of paradox when things don’t quite add up theologically: Jesus speaks of universal forgiveness from the cross, yet a portion of humanity dies in their sins. What exactly does divine forgiveness mean if forgiven people end up separated from God suffering in eternal punishment? It can’t mean forgiveness necessarily leads to eternal salvation.

If the verse is not original, it’s demonstrative why certain Christian theologies have been so inconsistent in their doctrine of soteriology in regard to divine forgiveness; why they struggle to parse out the seeming universal forgiveness of Luke 23:34a and its relation to repentance and the atonement. It’s here where those in the Reformed community would do well to invest their time and energy into textual criticism, as not simply a sola scriptura issue, but as a sola gratia issue as well.

1 The collection I tallied is found at  James Snapp Jr. has done a smaller survey, Luke 23:34a- Answering the Apologists (Part 1). Snapp appears to do so to highlight the confusion in differing English versions as well as disparaging those that cast doubt on including the verse.

2 Kenneth L. Barker (ed.), NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985) 1856.

3 John MacArthur (ed.), The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006 ) 1531.

4 NET Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019) 1985.

5 Thomas Bolin though notes that critical editions of the New Testament make the variant obvious by using brackets because they are “biased towards external evidence.” Thomas M. Bolin, ‘A Reassessment of the Textual Problem of Luke 23.34a’, Proceedings: Eastern Great Lakes and Midwestern Biblical Society 12 (1992) 131.

6 Nathan Eubank, “A Disconcerting Prayer: On the Originality of Luke 23:34a”, Journal of Biblical Literature 129 (2010) 522.

7 Peter M. Head, Whitlark and Parsons on Luke 23:24a, Available here.

8 Jason A. Whitlark and Mikeal C. Parsons, “The ‘Seven’ Last Words: A Numerical Motivation for the Insertion of Luke 23:34a,” New Testament Studies 52 (2006), 189.

9 Ibid.

10 Snapp.

11 Whitlark and Parsons, 190. Snapp points out, “…[T]he sentence, after being written by the main copyist, was marked alongside the text with parentheses around each line, after which someone else erased (without complete success the parentheses-marks.” Snapp.

12 Alan E. Kurschner, “From the Lips of Jesus or a Scribal Hand? ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’

13 Only a small handful of the fifty-nine English bibles surveyed place the disputed text in brackets within the text (HCSB, LEB, NET, NABRE, NRSV, NRSVA, NRSVACE, NRSVCE). Nathan Eubank points out that the critical texts which are utilized in these English translations, NA27 and UBS4, use a double bracket "indicating that the logion is known not to be a part of the original text." Eubank, 521.

14 Whitlark and Parsons, 189-190.

15 J. H. Petzer, ‘Eclecticism and the Text of the New Testament’, in Text and Interpretation: New Approaches in the Criticism of the New Testament, (New York: Brill, 1991) 55–56.

16 Eubank, 522.

17 Bolin, 134.

18 Wieland Wilker, A Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels, Vol. 3 (Bremen: Online Published Edition, 2015) 588-595.

19 Snapp.

20 Whitlark and Parsons, 190.

21 Eubank, 523.

22 Gary Wayne Barkley (trns.), Origen Homilies on Leviticus (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990) 40.

23 Eubank, 523.

24 G.A. Williamson (Trns.) Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1975) 99.

25 Ibid.

26 Philip Schaff comments that these words attributed to the martyrdom of James were his "last prayer" that "was an echo of that of his brother and Lord on the cross." Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910) 268. Jennifer Wright Knust states, “Perhaps a prayer already known as Jesus; own was applied to the martyrdom of his brother as well, lending further significance to James's death by means of repetition and comparison." Jennifer Wright Knust, “Jesus’ Conditional Forgiveness” found in, Charles L. Griswold, David Konstan (eds.), Ancient Forgiveness, classical, Judaic, and Christian (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 182.

27 Ibid. Wright Knust states, “Perhaps, then, a statement once associated with Jesus’ brother was later applied to Jesus himself, and added to the Gospel at an appropriate location.”

28 Eubank, 533-534.

29 Bolin, 135.

30 Ibid., 135-136.

31 Whitlark and Parsons, 193. They state, “Also such Western text representatives as D are marked by skillful theological transformation of the text.”

32 Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1998 ) 154. James Snapp strongly disagrees with Metzger and says there’s no physical evidence for his statement and that the logion demands a “narrative context.” James Snapp Jr., “Luke23:34a- Answering the Apologists (Part 2).”

33 Kurschner.

34 Whitlark and Parsons, 196.

35 Tatian, Diatessaron, available here.

36 Bolin, 137. Whitlark and Parsons say in response, “This is exactly the point when dealing with the text of the Western type.” (p. 193), and also, “[S]uch Western text representatives as D are marked by skillful theological transformation of the text.”(ibid.).

37 Whitlark and Parsons, 193-194.

38 Ibid.

39 Kurschner.

40 Whitlark and Parsons, 197.

41 François Bovon, ‘Names and Numbers in Early Christianity’, New Testament Studies 47 (2001), 267.

 42 Bovon, 285.

43 Whitlark and Parsons, 204.

44 Head.

45 Snapp, Luke 23:34a - Answering the Apologists (Part 1) 

46 Wright Knust, 182.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid., 183.

49 Whitlark and Parsons. 193.

50 Bovon, 267.