The Curious Case of Jesus’s Speech in Luke 7:29-30

(When they heard this all the people and the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John; but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

Luke 7:29-30 ESV

Most Sunday mornings I teach a Sunday school class before the worship service at Palo Cedro Community Church. When I began last year I decided I would only teach from my Greek New Testament and let the other attendees use whatever English text they preferred. This is how I often taught undergrads and it worked well—I actually modeled this practice from my first NT professor in seminary, Harold Songer. 

After several fairly short studies and a longer one on the Sermon on the Mount, I decided to work verse by verse through the entire Gospel of Luke. The most we have covered is about 10 or so verses in 45 minutes. After about six months we are in Luke 7.

The reason I chose Luke is that last year I had read straight through Luke using principles of discourse analysis as a guide. I made lots of marginal notes (in pencil!), circled key transition words,  and marked various divisions of the text which I thought made more sense than the editorial divisions in the Nestle-Aland Greek text (and largely followed in modern translations). With that experience under my belt, I wanted to work through the text with others.

Now as we go through Luke, the participants are reading along in their English bibles and asking all sorts of questions when they see differences from my in-the-moment translation. It’s been quite the experience, not only for the great questions which often lead down interesting rabbit trails, but for the way a group of people can together come to an understanding of the text with deeper and often new insights. I am learning as much as they are.

This past Sunday we covered Luke 7:24–35, Jesus’s speech about John the Baptist. Last year when I read through Luke in Greek, I was surprised by the paragraph break before 7:29 and after 7:30. There appeared to be no reason, so I squiggled lines to indicate no breaks. I did no research at the time, I just made a natural observation from the flow of the text.

Well when we got to verse 29 in the class, I mentioned what I had done. Then those with red-letter Bibles said that 7:29–30 was in black, indicating this was not Jesus speaking. Others without red letters said the verses were in parentheses (as in the opening quotation above). Then to top it off, when we got to 7:31 those with the KJV or NKJV informed me that the verse began with “And the Lord said.” These variations all indicated that Luke had inserted verses 29–30 into the speech of Jesus.

But my Greek NT showed absolutely no evidence that “And the Lord said” ever existed in any Greek manuscripts of the NT. So Monday I went on an odyssey to find out where the words came from. They were in Erasmus’s Greek text from the early 16th c., which the KJV and Luther used, as well as so many translations up to the twentieth century. But where did they come from?

“and the Lord said” in Erasmus’s Greek and Latin versions of Luke 7:31.

I looked at an older (22nd) edition of the Nestle GNT and found that a manuscript in the 9th century had this phrase written in the margin! Then a 15th century revision of the Latin Vulgate inserted the words at the beginning of v. 31. Somehow by the time of the 15th century, these words had gone from the margin of one manuscript to the Textus Receptus.

I found one blog post on this verse which explained a lot. The text critic, James Snapp, Jr., talked about the ninth c. uncial manuscript Codex Campianus and showed that the outer margins had lectionary divisions with notes. Luke 7:31 began a new reading, so the margin directed the reader to add “and the Lord said,” as an appropriate way to begin the reading. He cited other minuscules that include the same instructions in their margins.

The yellow highlighting gives instructions to read “and the Lord said” before Luke 7:31 in the left column.

Mystery solved, but not my question of why these are not considered words of Jesus.

Snapp agrees with the English translations that Luke 7:29-30 are not the words of Jesus, but were likely an inserted comment from Luke. Two fairly recent commentaries on Luke argue for Luke’s insertion for two reasons: Matthew has some different material in his parallel passage on John the Baptist, and “it makes more sense,” to paraphrase their argument. 

I disagree.

I do not think that either argument holds water. Luke gives no indication that anyone but Jesus is speaking and when reading the verses as Jesus’s words, the text makes perfect sense. There is nothing in any manuscripts nor in the flow of the text that indicates that Jesus stopped speaking at the end of 7:28, then started up again in 7:31. The plain sense is one continuous speech of Jesus from 7:24 all the way to 7:35. 

Many years ago, another scholar wrote: “Many have supposed that these two verses [29–30] are a parenthetical remark of [Luke]. But a comment inserted in the middle of Christ’s words and with no indication that it is a comment, is without a parallel and improbable.” I couldn’t agree more!

In these two verses Jesus is setting up the argument in vv. 31-35. After referring to “the least in the kingdom of heaven” in v.28, in v. 29, Jesus identifies “the least” with the people who heard and responded to John, including tax collectors. He contrasts these with the Pharisees and lawyers (v. 30) who “rejected the counsel of God” and were not baptized by John. The normal people and tax-collectors do believe John and show God to be gracious, but the Pharisees and lawyers reject John’s words and refuse to be baptized. 

This contrast is the perfect preparation for vv. 31-35 where Jesus quotes a children’s song to say that the Pharisees and lawyers are going to complain and not believe no matter if it is John or Jesus.  Jesus calls those to account (speaking about the Pharisees and lawyers) who criticize anyone they don’t agree with, even though one person’s actions (John the Baptist) are totally the opposite of the other (Jesus). Of course, John and Jesus both see the Jewish leaders as hypocrites. The leaders are blind to their own need for repentance and consider themselves superior to the common people. They reject anyone who would think of them otherwise.

Jesus closes the passage with “and Wisdom will be justified by all her children.” Jesus makes reference to Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and connects Wisdom to himself and to an extent, John. Those who repent and believe will be the children in the Kingdom of God.

Get Dr. Painter’s Book of the Gospel of John
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