Textual Criticism: Inside Out or Outside In?

At ETS this year, I enjoyed a paper titled “The Lukan Major Textual Variants included in the THGNT.” The presenter argued that the longer readings in Luke 22:43-44 and 23:34 accepted in the THGNT are justified in light of internal evidence. Though the external evidence for these readings is not as strong as for their omission, the presenter argued that the high degree of coherence between these longer readings and macro themes in Luke justify their inclusion in the THGNT.

The early witnesses for Luke 22:43-44, ὤφθη δὲ αὐτῷ ἄγγελος ἀπʼ οὐρανοῦ ἐνισχύων αὐτόν. καὶ γενόμενος ἐν ἀγωνίᾳ ἐκτενέστερον προσηύχετο· καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἱδρὼς αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ θρόμβοι αἵματος καταβαίνοντες ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν (Then an angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in anguish, he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground, CSB) are Sinaiticus and Bezea. In Siniaticus, the phrase was originally present, then removed by the second corrector, only to be replaced later so that the latter second corrector reading includes the phrase. likewise has the phrase. The early witness that do not have Luke 22:43-44 include Papyri 75, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus. The presenter argued that the quantity of internal evidence favors including these verses as original to Luke’s Gospel. The reference to angels and messianic suffering in Luke 22:43-44 cohere with the emphasis on angels in infancy narratives of Luke. The reference to sweat turning to blood underscores Jesus’ suffering as He approaches the cross.

The presenter then turned to Luke 23:34 which begins with the sentence, ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔλεγεν· Πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν (Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing,” CSB). Sinaiticus plays a major role in external evidence with this variant as well. In Sinaiticus, the phrase beginning Luke 23:34 was originally present, then removed by the second corrector only to later be restored by the same. Among the other early witnesses, this sentence is represented in Alexandrinus, with the alteration that ειπεν is replaced by ελεγεν πατερ. Among the early witnesses, Papyri 75 and Vaticanus do not include this introductory sentence in Luke 23:34. Despite the stronger external evidence in favor of omitting the sentence, the presenter argued that it should be included in light of the internal coherence with the theme of forgiveness of sins emphasized throughout Luke.

For the presenter, the fact that these longer readings cohere with macro themes in Luke justifies including them—despite external evidence to the contrary. If internal evidence were the only basis of textual evaluation, the presenter’s argument would win the day. But in a text as long as a New Testament Gospel, interpreters can nearly always find points of contact between macro themes of said Gospel and a longer reading. In Luke, if there were a longer reading about Jerusalem, for instance, it would enjoy a high degree of coherence since Jerusalem is a macro theme in Luke. But external evidence would yet need to be considered, and, I suggest, given priority.