Home>Luke 23:34 Study Archive

a deliberate excision by copyists who, considering the fall of Jerusalem to be proof that God had not forgiven the Jews?


Luke 23:34

“then Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do..”

Text missing in many important early manuscripts – Details at bottom

St. Aurelius Augustine
“Let them be turned backward and put to shame that wish me evil.” “Turned backwards.” Let us not take this in a bad sense. He wishes them well; and it is His voice, who said from the Cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Wherefore then doth he, say to them, that they should return “backwards”? . (Exposition of Ps. 40, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Vol. 8.)

Chrysostom (375)
“For indeed . . . great miracles did He show forth, when lifted up, turning aside the sunbeams, bursting the rocks, raising the dead, frightening by dreams the wife of him that was judging Him, at the very judgment showing forth all meekness (which was of power not less than miracles to gain them over), forewarning them of countless things in the judgment hall; on the very cross crying aloud, “Father, forgive them their sin.” (Homily LXXIX on Matthew, Nicene and Post-Nicene, series 1, Vol. 10.)

Expanded Ignatius
“And let us imitate the Lord, “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again;” when He was crucified, He answered not; “when He suffered, He threatened not;” but prayed for His enemies, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” (Ch. 10 in the “Long Recension” to the Ephesians [explained by Michael W. Holmes (Apostolic Fathers, p. 82) as “an expanded version of the original letters [by Ignatius, c. 110 A.D.] created in the fourth century”], Ante-Nicene, Vol. 1.)

Hippolytus of Rome
“Wherefore “they that sit in the gate spoke against me,” for they crucified me without the gate. “And they that drink sang against me,” that is, (they who drink wine) at the feast of the passover. “But as for me, in my prayer unto Thee, O Lord, I said, Father, forgive them,” namely the Gentiles, because it is the time for favor with Gentiles.” (“Expository Treatise against the Jews,” Ante-Nicene, Vol. 5.)

St. Irenaeus of Lyons
“And from this fact, that He exclaimed upon the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” the long-suffering, patience, compassion, and goodness of Christ are exhibited, since He both suffered, and did Himself exculpate those who had maltreated Him.” (“Against Heresies,” Book III, Ch. 18, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1.)

St. Jerome
“I can return bite for bite, if I like; when hurt myself, I can fix my teeth in my opponent. I too have had a liberal education. . . . But I prefer to be a disciple of Him who says, “I gave my back to the smiters… I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” When He was reviled He reviled not again. After the buffeting, the cross, the scourge, the blasphemies, at the very last He prayed for His crucifiers, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I, too, pardon the error of a brother.” (“Letter 50: To Domnio,” Nicene and Post-Nicene, series 2, Vol. 6.)

“For 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.” They also therefore, being imitators of the Teacher in their sufferings, pray for those who contrive them, as they have been taught.” (Clementine Homilies,” Homily XI, Ch. 20, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8).

Philip Mauro (1921)
The prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is manifestly an account, given beforehand, of the second period of the national existence of the Jewish people. They were to last as a nation only long enough to fulfill the Scriptures, and to accomplish the supreme purpose of God, in bringing forth the Messiah, and. putting Him to death. The time allotted for this was 490 years. This being accomplished, God had no further use for Israel.

His dealings thenceforth were to be with another people, that “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), composed of all who believe the gospel, and who “receive” the One Who was rejected by “His own” (John 1:11–13). Yet the predicted judgment did not immediately follow; for Christ prayed for His murderers in His dying hour, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In answer to that prayer the full probationary period of forty years (AD 30 to AD 70) was added to their national existence, during which time repentance and remission of sins was preached to them in the Name of the crucified and risen One, and tens of thousands of Jews were saved.” (Seventy Weeks, p. 32)

Text missing in many important early manuscripts

Though this text was in the 16th century Greek text from which the KJV was translated, this text is missing in many important early manuscripts. Some scholars believe that the text was in the original text; even those who believe that it was not in the original text still believe that the text represents an original tradition about Jesus at his crucifixion. The textual commentaries below are representative of a variety of highly qualified scholarly conclusions on the subject. They appear in the reverse chronological order of the date of publication of the resource.  (www.bibletexts.com/verses/v-luk.htm)

  • The Revised English Bible (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996, includes the following footnote:

    Some witnesses omit Jesus said, ‘Father…doing.’

  • The New American Bible (World Catholic Press, 1987, includes the following footnote:

    This portion of v 34 does not occur in the oldest papyrus manuscript of Lk and in other early Greek manuscripts and ancient versions of wide geographical distribution.

  • Jesus and the New Age according to St. Luke: A Commentary on the Third Gospel, by Frederick W. Danker (St. Louis: Clayton Publishing, 1972, page 237) comments:

    The prayer in vs. 34 is in such harmony with the spirit of Luke’s gospel and his picture of Jesus that it is difficult to question its authenticity. Yet is even more difficult to account for its omission in a number of manuscripts. It has indeed been argued that the prayer was omitted because of a conviction that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s judgment for the crucifixion, but a similar omission does not appear at Acts 2:38-39, where forgiveness is proclaimed to Israel. It is more probable that the prayer uttered by Stephen (Acts 7:60) suggested a parallel utterance for the passion account. Also, in its present position it interrupts Luke’s sketch of the mockery and destroys the dramatic impact of the word addressed to the repentant outlaw (vs. 43). In vs. 43. If the words were originally included by Luke, they inform the reader that Jesus did not threaten his executioners, as the condemned were accustomed to do, but rather accepted his death as a faithful witness should. Thus in the Martyrdom of Isaiah (5:14) the prophet is praised for neither crying aloud nor weeping when he was sawn apart. By contrast, the psalmist cries for vengeance (Psalm 69:22-28; see on Luke 23:46).

  • Black’s New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. Luke, by A.R.C. Leaney (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1966, page 284) comments:

    Father, forgive them. The words have the support of S* A C Old Latin vg syr. cur and pesh, Mcion Iren Or Aug, and their omission in other MSS. may be due to the conviction, common in Gentile Christian circles, that God did not forgive the Jews for the crucifixion, but punished them for it by the destruction of Jerusalem. Cf. Origen, Contra Celsum, vii. 42. Luke is in the main following Mark closely here, and the words ascribed by him to the Lord may well be due to his own pen, the motive being to show that the prisoner himself did not condemn the Romans for their part in his execution. (Cf. Acts iii. 17; xiii. 27; 1 Cor. ii. 8.)

  • Westminster Pelican Commentaries: Saint Luke, by G.B. Caird (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963, page 251) comments:

    The prayer of Jesus is omitted by Codex Vaticanus, Codex Bezae, and other important manuscripts, but it is well attested in other manuscripts, and most modern textual critics accept it as a genuine part of the text. It could be taken to refer either to the Roman soldiers or to all those responsible for the crucifixion. In the light of Acts 3:17, 19; 7:59f. it is probable that the sentence stood in the original text of Luke and that Luke himself took it to refer to the Jews. It has been suggested that the prayer may have been excised from an early copy of the Gospel by a second-century scribe who thought it incredible that God should pardon the Jews and, in view of the double destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and 135, certain that he had not in fact done so.

  • Bruce Metzger, in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994, pages 154, writes:

    The absence of these words from… early and diverse… witnesses is most impressive and can scarcely be explained as a deliberate excision by copyists who, considering the fall of Jerusalem to be proof that God had not forgiven the Jews, could not allow it to appear that the prayer of Jesus had remained unanswered. At the same time, the logion, 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.

Dr. James F. Davis
Another hesitation Alexandrian text proponents have in accepting the critical text double brackets is the lack of parallels in other gospels by which one could make a claim of assimilation. In fact it is difficult to come up with a reason why the disputed text would be included in Luke if not original and authentic. However, in support of the statement’s authenticity, some have reasonably proposed that Jesus’ statement was intentionally omitted by some scribes since it communicates an extremely gracious position of forgiving the Jewish (and/or Roman) authorities for their unjust act. This graciousness may have been untenable for some. Also, in view of the destruction of the Temple and the Roman squashing of the Jewish revolt in 70 A.D. it may have been considered by some scribes that Jesus’ prayer went unanswered (i.e., judgment came instead of forgiveness). Both of these possibilities offer a more reasonable explanation for intentional omission than an a case for intentional addition.” (Father Forgive Them)

Ralph Bruce Terry
“The words that are omitted are enclosed by double brackets in the UBS text, which means that the UBS Textual Committee felt that they were not originally written by Luke. The fact that they are quoted by second century writers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and are found in the second century Diatessaron, an early harmony of the four gospels by Tatian, is proof that they are quite old. But unless one says that they were omitted by copyists who thought that the destruction of Jerusalem meant that Jesus’ prayer was unanswered, the fact that they are missing from several early manuscripts of different types of ancient text would seem to indicate that they were not originally present. However, their age indicates that they may be regarded as true scripture which has come to find its place here in the canon.” (Textual Variants)

T.L. Hubeart
The first half of this verse is bracketed in certain modern versions, such as NRSV–in fact, UBS 4th ed. marks both this omission and that ofLuke 22:43-44 as being level “A,” indicating that “the text [i.e., the omission] is certain.” This despite the impressive testimonies from several church fathers and manuscripts testifying to both (including in both cases Irenaeus in the 2nd century).

Clearly the early church regarded this saying of the Lord as authentic; indeed, Burgon cites a great many more names (in The Revision Revisedpp. 83-5) and considers the passage supported by “a torrent of Testimony from every part of ancient Christendom” (ibid, p. 85). Also, internal evidence that Jesus did utter this appears at Acts 7:60, where the dying Stephen clearly speaks with this saying of the Lord in mind. (It should also be noted that Theodoret [“Ecclesiastical History,” Book V, ch. 4, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, Vol. 3], writing of the martyrdom of Eusebius, cites these last words of Stephen in tandem with this saying of Jesus, so that the link was clearly seen even in antiquity.)

After such impressive evidence, one can only wonder at the folly and conceit of the UBS editors in considering the inauthenticity of the present passage “certain”! For my part, I believe that the Lord said what is attributed to Him, and that the attribution is from the hand of Luke. ” (Luke 23:34)