This sub-thread about the Last Supper and the death of Jesus in the book of Luke (and Acts), part of a longer thread on The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, has (itself) taken a rather remarkably circuitous route. Let me remind you how we started this little side-trip.
First the biggest picture. I am describing my book – originally written over twenty years ago now (my God, how does this happen???) – about how scribes in the second and third Christian centuries changed their texts in order to make them more obviously “orthodox” and less susceptible to use by Christians who held Christological views deemed “heretical.”
The current sub-thread has all been on one textual variant, a passage in Luke 22:19-20, the account of Jesus at his last supper. If you recall, there are two forms of the text, one much longer than the other. We are asking whether Luke originally wrote the longer version of the text (so that scribes shortened it by taking out a verse and a half) or if he wrote the shorter version (so that scribes lengthened it by adding a verse and a half). Here, to jar your memory, are the two forms of the text. First I give the longer one, with the words in question in bold and underlined. (Verse numbers are indicated):
17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body that is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 Likewise after supper (he took) the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood that is shed for you. 21 But see, the hand of the one who turns me over is with me at the table….”
That is the form of the text found in most manuscripts. But in one old Greek manuscript and some Latin manuscripts, the words in question are missing, leading to the following text.
17 And he took a cup and gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you that from now on I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 And taking bread he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body. 21 But see, the hand of the one who turns me over is with me at the table….”
What all of the preceding posts have been arguing, at the end of the day, is that this shorter form of the text was what Luke originally wrote. The arguments are convincing only when considered at some length (I haven’t spelled them out as fully as I would like in these posts; but after a while they tend to get kind of technical and less than interesting, unless you’re a hard core textual critic or exegete; I have fuller discussions in the book itself). But they boil down to this:
- Whichever direction the change was made (scribes omitting the text or scribes adding the text), it does not appear to have been a pure accident, a slip of the pen. Someone appears to have changed the text intentionally.
- In that light, it is very hard indeed to see why a scribe would have omitted the words (it would not, for example, have been in order to make the text more like the parallel passages in Matthew, Mark, or 1 Corinthians, since the shorter text does not make the passage conform to the others)
- But it is easy to see why a scribe would have inserted the words, since now the text sounds more like these other passages and – an important point – now Jesus explicitly states that the bread and the cup represent his broken body and the blood that he would shed for others.
- And so, on the one hand, the longer text is more like what scribes would probably have been comfortable with.
- And on the other hand – this has been the point of my most recent points – that view that Jesus death was “for others” is precisely a view not found otherwise in Luke’s Gospel or the book of Acts. Luke has in fact eliminated that kind of language from the passages he inherited from his predecessor Mark. Luke otherwise (in his Gospel or in Acts) does not present a doctrine of atonement as a way of understanding Jesus’ death. But this passage does.
And so, to conclude: the shorter passage would NOT be one that scribes would be likely to have created but IS one that Luke would have been likely to write; conversely, the longer passage would be LIKELY to have been created by scribes but would have been UNLIKELY to have been written by Luke.
My conclusion: the shorter form of the text is what Luke wrote.
My secondary conclusion: the longer form of the text is what scribes created.
And so the final Big Question: what, at the end of the day, actually motivated scribes to modify the text? In my next post I will point out why I consider the alteration to be an orthodox corruption of Scripture.