Monday, December 7, 2020

Video Lecture: Luke 23:34a - Father, Forgive Them

 The 19th video lecture in the series Introduction to NT Textual Criticism is accessible at YouTube and at Bitchute.  This lecture is almost 34 minutes long.  Here's an extract:

            Hilary of Poitiers, known as the “Athanasius of the West,” around the year 360, wrote his Twelve Books on the Trinity, and in that work he quoted Luke 24:34a three times.  It might be worthwhile to show some of the context of his statements:

            In Book 1, As Hilary takes his theological opponents to task for perverting the meaning of the words of Christ, he emphasizes the importance of interpreting each passage in light of its context.  In Part 32, he says that his opponents commit blasphemy when they misinterpret the words of Christ, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit,” and, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”   Hilary writes, “Their narrow minds plunge into blasphemy in the attempt at explanation.”

            In Book 10, Part 48, as Hilar illustrates the fearlessness and power of Christ shown in the Gospels, he mentions that “He prayed for His persecutors while the nails were driven through Him.”


            And near the end of Book 10, in Part 71, Hilary writes, “Christ prayed for His persecutors, because they knew not what they did.” 

             ● Ambrose of Milan, in the 380s, in his Commentary on Job, Part Two, Section 6, in the course of offering a rather unlikely interpretation of Job 9:5, quotes Luke 23:34a.  He cites the passage again in Part 5, Section 12, stating that he is quoting what the Lord Jesus says in the Gospel.

            Ambrose also explicitly quotes Luke 23:34a in The Prayer of Job and David. 

             Gregory of Nyssa, working in the late 300s in what is now east-central Turkey, wrote a book On Christian Perfection, and in it, he presented Christ as a model of longsuffering:  Gregory of Nyssa pointed out that the longsuffering of Christ was displayed when He endured chains and whips and various physical injuries, and nails, and His response was “Father, bear with them, for they know not what they do.”

              In the fourth-century story called the Acts of Philip, at one point in the story, persecutors hang Philip by his ankles, and it looks like he is about to die. Philip escapes by cursing his persecutors, causing them to all be swallowed up by the earth.  But before he pronounces the curse, his companions John and Barthlomew and Mariamne try to persuade him no to do it:  they say, “Our Master was beaten, and scourged, and was stretched out on the cross, and was made to drink gall and vinegar, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”


            A composition known as the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, from the mid-300s, uses Luke 23:34a near the beginning of the fifth part of its sixth book, preserved in Latin by Jerome’s contemporary Rufinus: 

            “The Master Himself, when He was being led to the cross by those who knew Him not, petitioned the Father for His murderers, and said, ‘Father, forgive their sin, for they know not what they do.’”  The author’s memory does not seem to have been having its best day, considering that this statement was given while Jesus was on the cross, not while He was being led to the cross.

             In the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, which is basically a different form of the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, Luke 23:34a is utilized, specifically in Homily XI, Part 20, where the author wrote:  “The Teacher Himself, being nailed to the cross, prayed to the Father that the sin of those who slew Him might be forgiven, saying, ‘Father, forgive them their sins, for they know not what they do.’”

              Amphilochius of Iconium, who lived from about 340 to about 400, is traditionally identified as the author of a brief sermon called Oration #5, On the Holy Sabbath.  In this text, which has been translated by J. H. Barkhuizen, after briefly contrasting the divine nature of Christ with His sufferings during His trials and crucifixion, Amphilochius says, “While suffering these things for the sake of those who were crucifying Him, He prayed as follows: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’  He conquers the evil through goodness.  He speaks in defense of the Christ-murderers while drawing them in His net toward salvation.  He brings to naught the accusation by blaming their ignorance.”

             The heresy-hunter Epiphanius of Salamis, in the late 300s, also quoted Luke 23:34a, in Panarion, also called The Medicine-Chest; in Part 77, which is about the errors of the Antidicomanians.  Epiphanius slightly tweaked the text, replacing the reference to “forgive” with a different word that means “bear with.”   The same word was used by Gregory of Nyssa.

            Epiphanius also reports that James, the Lord’s brother, was martyred in Jerusalem when he was thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple, but survived, and knelt and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and he was then struck on the head with a fuller’s rod, and he died. 

            Epiphanius’ main source for this material was probably Eusebius’ work Ecclesiastical History, Book Two, Part 23.  Eusebius acknowledged his own sources for the story:  first, Eusebius says that Clement was his source for the report that James was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten to death with a club.  Then he mentions the fifth book of the Ánecdotes of “Hegesippus, whom lived immediately after the apostles,” as his source for a more detailed account. 


            According to Eusebius, Hegesippus specified that it was the scribes and Pharisees who opposed James the Just, and that after he survived the fall from the temple, they began to stone him, at which point he said, “I entreat You, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”


            John Chrysostom, who became archbishop of Constantinople in 397 after serving at Antioch for about 20 years, quoted Luke 23:34a several times.  In Against Marcionists and Manichaeans, Chrysostom wrote, “He commanded men to pray for their enemies; and He teaches this through His actions, for when He had ascended the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

            In Homily 7 on the Epistle to the Ephesians, as Chrysostom describes the grace given to Israel, he says, “And after He was crucified, what were His words? ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’  He was cruelly treated before this, and even cruelly treated after this, even to the very last breath.  For them He did everything; He prayed in their behalf.”
            Chrysostom also says in Homily 14 on the Epistle to the Ephesians that the Son of God prayed for those who crucified Him, and shed His blood for those who hated Him.

            In Homily 79 on Matthew, Chrysostom mention that among the ways in which displayed His meekness, “on the very cross, He was crying aloud, “Father, forgive them their sin.”


            In the sixth chapter of The Cross and the Thief, Chrysostom states that during the time when Christ was being nailed to the cross, and His garments were being divided, He did not get angry or have guile in His heart against them; instead, “Hear Him declaring, ‘My Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.’”

            Or does he?  The author of The Thief on the Cross is probably not Chrysostom, but Theophilus, who served as the patriarch of Alexandria from 384 to 412.  Or it might be an anonymous author who attributed his own work to Theophilus. 

            In favor of the idea that the author was in a locale where a Coptic form of the text was in use is the observation that in its ninth chapter, the text says that the lost will be swallowed up in the abyss, and go down to the place of their brother Nineveh.  A mangled form of the name “Nineveh,” without its first syllable, is the name given to the rich man, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19 in Papyrus 75, and the interpolation “named ‘Nineveh’” also appears in this verse in some later Arabic manuscripts.   

              Another author, like Chrysostom, whose name was transferred to material written by someone else, was the second-century writer Justin Martyr.  The composition known as Questions and Answers for the Orthodox was attributed to Justin, but it probably comes from Theodoret of Cyrrhus, who died in 457.

             The 108th Question in this composition begins something like this:  If the Jews were forgiven, then why did the ancient Jews, who crucified Christ out of ignorance, suffer many unbelievable afflictions, as Josephus testifies in his account of the fall of Jerusalem?  And why have those who refuse to obey Christ now been expelled from their homeland?” And it goes on to say, “Wasn’t the Lord aware of their condition, when He said, "Father, I say, forgive them, for they do not know what they do"?  And doesn’t the Apostle say, "If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory?”

            The odds that the author is Theodoret of Cyrrhus are increased when we compare this to Theodoret’s Commentary on the Letters of Paul, and see that when he comments on First Corinthians 2:8, he interprets it through the filter of Luke 23:34a, stating that Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, and the other rulers of the Jews were unaware of the divine mystery, and that is why they crucified the Lord.  Theodoret writes, “Surely, this is why the Lord, on the cross, also said, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”  Theodoret goes on to say that after the resurrection, and the ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the apostles’ miracles, they persisted in unbelief, and so He delivered them to be besieged.

            Jerome is another patristic writer whose use of Luke 24:34a should not be overlooked, even though we have already seen that he included this text in the Vulgate.  In his composition Ad Hedibiam, produced around the year 400, Jerome goes off on a little tangent, and writes, “We should not be surprised that after the death of the Savior, Jerusalem is called ‘the holy city.’ 

            “For before it was completely ruined, the apostles did not have a problem entering the temple, and observing the ceremonies of the law, in order not to offend those among the Jews who had embraced the faith of Jesus Christ.

            “We even see that the Savior loved this city so much that the disasters with which it was threatened drew tears from His eyes, and when He was on the cross, He said to His Father, ‘Forgive them, My Father, for they do not know what they are doing.’”              Jerome continues:  “So his prayer was answered, since shortly after His death, the Jews believed in Him by the thousands, and God gave this unhappy city forty-two years to repent.  But in the end, when its citizens  had not taken advantage of the opportunity, and still persisted in their malice, Vespasian and Titus, like the two bears of which the Scriptures speak, ‘came out of the middle of the woods, and killed and mauled those children who blasphemed and insulted the true Elisha, when he went up to the house of God.’”

            The same line of reasoning that is used by Jerome, specifically mentioning Vespasian and Titus, is used in the composition In Principium Actorum, which is often attributed to Chrysostom.

              Augustine, in North Africa in the early 400s, wrote the following in his Sermon 382:  “Did He not say, as He hung on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing?’”  And he continues:  “When He was praying as He hung on the cross, He could see and foresee.  He could see all His enemies.  He could foresee that many of them would become His friends.  That is why He was interceding for them all.  They were raging, but He was praying.  They were saying to Pilate, ‘Crucify,’ but He was crying out, ‘Father, forgive.’”

And from near the end:

The reason why Luke 23:34a is supported by such a vast array of evidence is that it is original.  It was removed in an early transmission-line that influenced not only the text of Codex Bezae and the Sinaitic Syriac, but also Papyrus 75, and Codex Vaticanus, and the Sahidic version.

         There was a strong motivation to make this excision:  a desire to avoid the impression that Jesus had prayed for the Jewish nation, and His prayer had been rejected.

            About 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, and it was devastated again in the Bar Kokhba Revolt.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed.  The pagan jibe can easily be written:  “Is this what happens when Jesus asks for people to be forgiven?  Their city is laid waste, and they and their families are slain or enslaved.  His intercession does not seem very effective.” 

            Even without a pagan around to express the objection, an ordinary reader could perceive a difficulty when comparing Jesus’ prayer to the history of the Jews in the century that followed.

            When we look at how the passage is approached by patristic writers, we see that addressing this misconception is a high priority.  Almost all of the patristic writers who comment on the passage regarded it as a petition regarding the Jewish people. 

            The author of the Diascalía Apostolorum slightly modified the prayer, framing it with the words “if it be possible.”  Epiphanius and Gregory of Nyssa added a slight interpretive nuance, replacing the term “forgive” with the term “bear with.”     

            Later writers approached the problem thoughtfully, perceiving that the Jews as a nation had been forgiven for what had been done at Calvary, but this did not mean that they were forgiven for later offenses of unbelief.

            But to a reckless early Western copyist, the statement that Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who engineered His death appeared to contradict what they saw God do to the Jewish nation historically.  And to such a copyist, the easiest way to resolve the tension was to excise the sentence.

            Hort’s objection to this is not a good example of his acuity; he basically argues that such a thing can’t have happened because such a thing never happened.  Similarly, Metzger’s claim, that the shorter reading here “can scarcely be explained as a deliberate excision,” is more of a decree than an argument.

            The effects of anti-Judaic tendencies on the part of some copyists show up occasionally in the form of the text that is seen in the Old Latin version, the Sinaitic Syriac, and Codex Bezae. 

            Despite its name, the Western Text was known and used in the east, in Egypt.  Contrary to the claim that the text in all of the New Testament papyri discovered in Egypt is Alexandrian, Papyri 37, 38, and 48 support the Western text-form.

            The Glazier Codex, also known as G-67, written in Coptic in the 400s, strongly supports the Western Text.  The anti-Judaic sympathies of its text’s

producers occasionally manifest themselves; this does not mean that the copyist of this particular manuscript had such views, but they were held somewhere further back in the text’s ancestry.

            For instance, in Acts 10:39, it is not enough for the Western Text to say simply that “they” killed Jesus.  In the Glazier Codex, the text in this verse is changed, so as to specify that the Jews rejected Him and killed Him.  According to Eldon Epp, this reading is supported by the Old Latin Codex Legionensis, Old Latin MS 67. 

            It appears that very early in the history of the text of the Gospels in Egypt, a witness that was corrupted with readings that expressed an anti-Judaic prejudice, existed along with some much better copies.  But although those better copies generally were preferred, here and there a reading supported by this witness was preferred. 

             As a result, one of those corruptions – the removal of Luke 23:34a – was adopted into the transmission-stream from which came Papyrus 75, Codex Vaticanus, the Sahidic version, and a few other witnesses.   

            This may also be the case at other points of textual variation where we see major Alexandrian witnesses agree with the text represented in the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, and disagree with both the vast majority of early patristic testimony and the vast majority of manuscripts and versions representing a variety of locales.  But this is a more general point that invites separate investigation.

            Although Papyrus 75 and Codex Vaticanus are widely regarded as representatives of a generally reliable transmission-line, this does not make them immune from occasional corruptions, and we should vigilantly avoid giving them an oracular status that they do not deserve. 

            Inasmuch as Luke’s reference to Jesus’ saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is inspired Scripture, we should not cause Bible-readers to perpetually question its authority by introducing  vague footnotes that raise more questions than they solve, pretending that concise footnotes do justice to the evidence. 

            We should acknowledge that Luke 23:34a is original.  And as part of the original text of the New Testament, it was not given so that we could doubt it.  It was given to be profitable to us, to teach us, to rebuke us, to correct us, and to instruct us.

No comments: