NTTC LUKE 23:34: “[[But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]]

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Major Critical Texts of the New Testament

Byz RP: 2005 Byzantine Greek New Testament, Robinson & Pierpont
TR1550: 1550 Stephanus New Testament
Maj: The Majority Text (thousands of minuscules which display a similar text)
Gries: 1774-1775 Johann Jakob Griesbach Greek New Testament
Treg: 1857-1879 Samuel Prideaux Tregelles Greek New Testament
Tisch: 1872 Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament
WH: 1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament
NA28: 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament
UBS5: 2014 Greek New Testament
NU: Both Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society

What is the meaning of Luke 23:34, and why does it not appear in the Updated American Standard Version (UASV) of the Holy Scriptures? Yet, it is found in the English Standard Version, the Christian Standard Bible, and the New American Standard Bible 1995 but within single square brackets in the NASB2020 and within double square brackets in the Lexham English Bible. Isn’t part of the text spurious?

The P52 PROJECT 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ 23:34 (WH NU) All translations include except UASV

34 [[[[The δὲbut ἸησοῦςJesus ἔλεγενwas saying Πάτερ,Father, ἄφεςforgive αὐτοῖς,them, οὐnot γὰρfor οἴδασινthey do not know    τίwhat ποιοῦσιν.]]they are doing.]]
Διαμεριζόμενοιdividing δὲbut τὰthe ἱμάτια garments αὐτοῦof him ἔβαλονthey cast κλῆρον.lot.
א*, (A) C D (E with obeli) L Ψ 0250 f1,() Maj syrc,,p Diatessaron Hegesippus

ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ 23:34 (TR ByzRP Maj) 

34 The δὲbut ἸησοῦςJesus ἔλεγενwas saying Πάτερ,Father, ἄφεςforgive αὐτοῖς,them, οὐnot γὰρfor οἴδασινthey do not know    τίwhat ποιοῦσιν.they are doing.
Διαμεριζόμενοιdividing δὲbut τὰthe ἱμάτια garments αὐτοῦof him ἔβαλονthey cast κλῆρον.lot.
א*, (A) C D (E with obeli) L Ψ 0250 f1,() Maj syrc,,p Diatessaron Hegesippus

Luke 23:34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV) [BRD]
34 —— And they cast lots, dividing up his garments among themselves.
P75 א2a B D* W Θ 070. 579. 1241 a sys sa bopt[1]

34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[a] And they cast lots to divide his garments.

[a] Some manuscripts omit the sentence And Jesus… what they do

34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided his clothes and cast lots.

[a] Other MSS omit Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”

34 [[a]But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots, dividing His garments among themselves.

[a] Most early MSS do not contain But Jesus was saying…doing

34 [[But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”]][a] And they cast lots to divide his clothes.

[a] Many important manuscripts lack v. 34a, “But Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

NOTE: Take a look at the footnotes in each of these translations. The UASV has the most in-depth footnote. The 2020 NASB has square brackets, meaning the textual scholars had doubts. Moreover, notice that they say most early manuscripts without qualifying the weight of the manuscripts. The ESV has the second least informative footnote with ‘some MSS omit,’ which is wildly inaccurate and not very helpful, and there are no square brackets. The CSB takes the title as the least informative footnote with ‘Other MSS omit,’ which is incredibly inaccurate and not very helpful, and there are no square brackets. The LEB comes in with the second most informative footnote after the UASV. The LEB and the UASV are far superior to the CSB, ESV, and the 2020 NASB. The LEB has double square brackets and qualifies the manuscripts with ‘most’ and ‘important.’

Some important early manuscripts (P75 א2a B D* W) and diverse manuscripts (070. 579. 1241 a sys sa bopt) omit 34a, which removes any argument for a scribal error. If Jesus’ words were original, he would have been forgiving the Romans who were executing him, as verse 33 says, “And when they [the Romans] came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him.” (UASV) Therefore, when Jesus says in verse 34, “forgive them,” it was a reference to the Roman executioners. Thus, the argument that the later scribes removed the original reading for anti-Semitic purposes, as Jesus was supposedly forgiving the Jews, does not hold.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Remember that Westcott and Hort in 1881 did not have the manuscript evidence that we have today (e.g., P75). Their argument against the words being original and omitted later is very sound. “Its omission, on the hypothesis of its genuineness, cannot be explained reasonably. Willful excision (deletion), on account of the love and forgiveness shown to the Lord’s own murderers, is absolutely incredible: no various reading in the New Testament provides evidence of having arisen from any such cause. … Few verses of the Gospels bear in themselves a surer witness to the truth of what they record than this first of the Words from the Cross: but it need not, therefore, have belonged originally to the book in which it is now included. We cannot doubt that it comes from an extraneous source. Nevertheless, …, it has exceptional claims to be permanently retained, with the necessary safeguards, in its accustomed place.”[2] (Westcott and Hort 1882, 68)

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WH argued just before the above quote that the words came from an oral tradition. They wrote, “They can only be a fragment from the traditions, written or oral, which were, for a while at least, locally current beside the canonical Gospels, and which doubtless included matter of every degree of authenticity and intrinsic value. These verses and the first sentence of 23:34 may be safely called the most precious among the remains of this evangelic tradition, which were rescued from oblivion by the scribes of the second century.”[2] (Westcott and Hort 1882, 67) This sentiment for the words blinds some textual scholars from doing the right thing and omitting the words.

Comfort argues, “It is easier to explain that the words were not written by Luke but were added later (as early as the second century—for it is attested to by Hegesippus and the Diatessaron). (Bold mine) If the words came from an oral tradition, many scholars are of the opinion that they are authentic. Indeed, Westcott and Hort (1882, 67) considered these words and 22:43–44 to be ‘the most precious among the remains of the evangelic tradition which were rescued from oblivion by the scribes of the second century.’ But what if the words did not come from an oral tradition about Jesus’ life and sayings? What would have inspired their inclusion? My guess is that the words were added to make Jesus the model for Christian martyrs—of offering forgiveness to one’s executioners. Whoever first added the words may have drawn from Acts 7:60, where Stephen forgives his executioners. Since Stephen’s final words parallel Jesus’ final utterances (cf. Acts 7:56 to Luke 22:69; Acts 7:59 to Luke 23:46), it seemed appropriate to have Luke 23:34 emulate Acts 7:60. Or the words could have come from martyrdom stories, such as the account of the execution of James the Just, who is said to have forgiven his executioners (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.23, 16). Thus, it can be imagined that church leaders told would-be martyrs to forgive their executors because Jesus had done the same.[3] (Comfort 2008, 240)

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot

We know why the words are found in the TR, but WH and the NU go against excellent external and good internal evidence (context; interrupts the flow of the narrative) and retain the reading in double brackets. The double brackets signifying their strong doubts about its presence in the original. Metzger writes, “though probably not a part of the original Gospel of Luke, 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.”[4] (B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 1994, 154) These textual scholars and translators have retained the words of Luke 23:34a for sentimental reasons, “the most precious,” according to Westcott and Hort, ignoring the textual evidence before them.

The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

If the words were not “the most precious” with the same evidence, would they be retained in double square brackets in the critical texts and all English translations except the Updated American Standard Version? If you do not believe that many are following their emotions, “the most precious,” here is an example from our Facebook TC group about Luke 23:34, “I am finished with biblical scholars favoring the Origen-inspired Alexandrian text and ignoring powerful patristic evidence. Sadly, that includes Dan Wallace and leading Islamo/Calvinist defenders like James White.” Philip Williams In response to Mr. Williams, I would argue that the Greek manuscripts are primary evidence and patristic quotations are secondary evidence. A patristic quote is a piece of weighty evidence, but it does not outweigh the primary evidence of the early manuscripts (P75 א2a B D* W).

If several Christian Apostolic Fathers (70-150 C.E.) quoted Luke 23:34a, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hermas, and Papias, this would be very weight coming from several Apostle Fathers that were prior to our earliest manuscripts evidence. However, there are none. Notwithstanding, if there were several Christian Apologists (150-200 C.E.), who quoted Luke 23:34a, such as Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, Hegesippus and Tertullian, this too would be somewhat weighty because it would be contemporaneous with the weightiest manuscript evidence (P75). However, in order to not be dismissive, there is the early evidence for Luke 23:34a from the Diatessaron (c.160-175 C.E.) and the Christian Apologist Hegesippus (110-180 C.E.), which do not in no way come close to offsetting or “counterbalancing” P75. Even more so, these two early witnesses do out even come close in outweighing (P75 א2a B D* W). Now, it should be noted …

Eusebius tells us about James the Just based on  Hegesippus, saying, “He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James.” Eusebius is telling us about the dramatic account of James the Just by Hegesippus, “So they [scribes and Pharisees] went up and threw down the just man [off the pinnacle of the temple], and said to each other, ‘Let us stone James the Just.’ And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, ‘I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” Here are the supposed words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lu 23:34) Eusebius in the account makes no reference to Luke. Eusebius reference to Hegesippus’ words, this is simply an early attestation to a prayer of James, who according to Eusebius. Account of Hegesippus “was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people … and asking forgiveness for the people.”[4] It seems that in Hegesippus’ day as an adult Christian apologist (140-180 C.E.), the prayer was common and it was assigned to James, and eventually to Jesus, being added to Luke sometime in the second century C.E. It is likely as Comfort suggests, “the words could have come from martyrdom stories, such as the account of the execution of James the Just, who is said to have forgiven his executioners (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.23, 16).” (Comfort 2008, 240)

Sadly, the English texts do not even add double square brackets except the Lexham English Bible. God commanded Moses “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it …” (Deut 4:2) The apostle John was warned, “… if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life …” We do not add or take away words from the inspired words of God. This also means that we do not retain words in the text and translation either, which is, in essence, adding words that we know should not be there. The words of Luke 23:34s should not be retained in the translation but rather relegated to a footnote with a detailed explanation as to why. The English translations with their marginal notes about its omission in various manuscripts are weak and do not really aid the reader. Lastly, if Luke 23:24a said something like, “the Roman soldier stood near the cross,” we would not even be having this discussion. It is because of tradition, thousands of years of use, much written on it, and it is viewed as ‘most precious’ that scholars and churchgoers are willing to ignore God’s command to Moses and John.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS Young Christians

Again, what did Jesus supposedly say? Upon being nailed to the cross, Jesus prayed: [[But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] Who is to be forgiven?? The words that follow will tell us: “They know not what they do.” (Luke 23:33, 34) Jesus was probably referring to the Roman soldiers who had driven the nails through his hands and feet. These Roman soldiers had no idea who Jesus was. They did not even know in the basic historical sense, setting aside the fact that he was the divine Son of God. They were simply following orders. The Jews on the other hand at least knew who he was in this historical setting, and the Jewish religious leaders knew who he claimed to be. It is also possible, but far less likely, that Jesus was referring to those in the mob, who were demanding his crucifixion but would accept Christ and Christianity later. (Acts 2:36-38) Jesus did not hold on to the injustices he had suffered, so as to make him angry and resentful. (1 Pet. 2:23) Instead, he asked the Father to forgive those executing him.

  • NASB Luke 23:34 Some early mss do not contain But Jesus was saying…doing
  • ESV Luke 23:34 Some manuscripts omit the sentence And Jesus… what they do
  • LEB Many important manuscripts lack v. 34a, “But Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”
  • CSB 23:34 Other mss omit Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”
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See How to Count Textual Variants

[1] Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, ed. Barbara Aland et al., 28. revidierte Auflage. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 283.

[2] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek: Appendix (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882), 67.

[3] Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 239.

[4] Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 154.

[4] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 125-126.

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4 thoughts on “NTTC LUKE 23:34: “[[But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]]

Add yours

  1. Pardon me, but I disagree. When you said “if the prayer is original, it must be addressed to Romans”, it does not actually aligned with what early church writers view on the prayer. In fact, they were all view it as a prayer addressed to the Jews and linked it with Jerusalem siege in 70 A.D. We now maybe saw it as a prayer addressed more likely to the Romans, but back then, the early Christians (As reflected by early church writers) seems to saw the prayer as addressed to the Jews strongly. Many attempted to link the prayer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D and wonder why the Jews seems haven’t been forgiven by God as the destruction happened. Thus, the argument of anti-Judaic/Semitic purpose in fact can hold through actual historical lenses and not common modern interpretation of the prayer. And for James the Just prayer, although similiar, it’s absent of the characteristically Lukan unmodified vocative which got addressed in research papers I mentioned below. Comfort arguments already challenged in Nathan Eubank (2010), Ryan Weber (2012), and also Wesley Huff (2018) research. There is an article that summarized these three research in Evidence for Christianity:
    https://evidenceforchristianity.org/is-luke-2334a-part-of-the-original-book-of-luke/

    1. We will have to agree to disagree, the internal and external evidence in the article does not support your view. Again, what did Jesus supposedly say? Upon being nailed to the cross, Jesus prayed: [[But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] Who is to be forgiven?? The words that follow will tell us: “They know not what they do.” (Luke 23:33, 34) Jesus was probably referring to the Roman soldiers who had driven the nails through his hands and feet. These Roman soldiers had no idea who Jesus was. They did not even know in the basic historical sense, setting aside the fact that he was the divine Son of God. They were simply following orders. The Jews on the other hand at least knew who he was in this historical setting, and the Jewish religious leaders knew who he claimed to be. It is also possible, but far less likely, that Jesus was referring to those in the mob, who were demanding his crucifixion but would accept Christ and Christianity later. (Acts 2:36-38) Jesus did not hold on to the injustices he had suffered, so as to make him angry and resentful. (1 Pet. 2:23) Instead, he asked the Father to forgive those executing him.

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