Questions From Readers
● At Acts 11:8 we read where Peter said: “Not at all, Lord, because a defiled or unclean thing has never entered into my mouth.” Are we to understand from this that Peter at this time was still adhering to the Mosaic law in this matter?—R. M., United States.
That the law of Moses, which designated certain animals as either clean or unclean, was made invalid by the death of Jesus Christ the Scriptures clearly show: “He [Jehovah] kindly forgave us all our trespasses and blotted out the handwritten document against us, which consisted of decrees and which was in opposition to us; and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.”—Col. 2:13, 14.
Since the doing away with the Law would make tremendous changes in the lives of Christ’s followers, it is not surprising that it took some time for them to appreciate this fact, so, even though it was more than three years since Christ had died, apparently Peter had not eaten any food ceremonially unclean. Living in a Jewish community no doubt had a bearing on this, and had he openly flouted the restrictions of the Law in these matters it is quite likely that he would have caused a riot, even as a riot broke out when certain Jews thought that Paul had violated the sanctity of the temple by bringing in an uncircumcised person.—Acts 21:27-32.
However, with the lesson that Jehovah gave Peter at that time regarding Gentiles being accepted for a place in the spiritual body of Christ, without doubt Peter also gathered that there were also no more any such things as unclean foods, religiously speaking, of course. The gradual way in which these truths were driven home to the early Christian congregation is underscored by the events recorded at Acts, chapter 15, where we read of the apostles and older men meeting at Jerusalem to pass on such subjects as circumcision and the eating of meats offered to idols. And it might not be amiss to note that, since God’s will for his servants was only gradually made plain at a time when inspired apostles were present in the Christian congregation, how much more should we expect that in our day God’s will would only gradually be made plain to his servants on earth, the “faithful and discreet slave” class and their “other sheep” companions—Matt. 24:45-47; John 10:16; Prov. 4:18.
● What is the meaning of Luke 23:34, and why does it appear in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures? Is not part of the text spurious?—J. W., United States.
That part of Luke 23:34 that has been questioned reads: “But Jesus was saying: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” The reason why these words appear in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is that they are found in the Sinaitic and Alexandrine Manuscripts, in the Codex Ephraemi rescriptus, in the Latin Vulgate and in both the Curetonian and Peshitta Syriac Versions. This is a formidable array of authority in favor of these words.
The words in question, however, appear within brackets in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. This is because the Westcott and Hort Greek text, on which the New World Translation is based, has these words enclosed in double brackets. By the double brackets these Greek scholars wished to indicate that the testimony in favor of these words is not unequivocal. There are a few very fine manuscripts that leave them out, among which are the noted Vatican Manuscript No. 1209, the Codex Bezae and the Sinaitic codex of the Syriac translation. Weighing the one set of authorities against the other, the New World Bible Translation Committee decided in favor of those having these words when revising its translation—especially since there was no provision for footnotes in this edition, and it was therefore a case of either leaving them in the text or leaving them out altogether.
In times past these words were held spurious largely on the basis of their not appearing in the noted Vatican Manuscript No. 1209. However, it does not seem that this fact alone should count so heavily against them, in view of their being found in so many other manuscripts of great authority. This appears to be the consensus of modern scholarship, as these words appear in the text of the Revised Standard Version, A New Translation of the Bible by James Moffatt, The New English Bible and The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips.
In this connection it might be observed that as regards authenticity it might be said that there are three kinds of texts. First, there are those regarding which the testimony is so emphatic and clear that there is no question about their belonging in the text; these comprise upward of 99 percent according to Westcott and Hort. The second group make up those texts concerning which there is no question about their not belonging in the Bible, such as the larger portion of 1 John 5:7. Then there are a few texts concerning which the testimony is not entirely unequivocal or clear one way or the other and which require weighing and judging of evidence for and against. Among such is Luke 23:34.
As to those to whom Jesus was referring when he said the words in question, the preceding verse says: “And when they got to the place called Skull, there they impaled him and the evildoers, one on his right and one on his left.” Then come Jesus’ words, after which the record goes on to say: “Furthermore, to distribute his garments, they cast lots.” Obviously Jesus was not asking God to forgive the evildoers who were impaled with him, for the two of them were not doing anything to Jesus. Nor could Jesus have had in mind the chief priests who were responsible for his death, for they did know what they were doing, having handed Jesus over in malice because of envy.—Mark 15:10.
Jesus’ words therefore could only refer to the Roman soldiers to whom had been committed the distasteful task of impaling Jesus after stripping him of his garments; it was they who were doing something to Jesus at the time and who did not know or realize what they were doing. They did not know that they were impaling the Son of God. They were just obeying the orders of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who had yielded to the insistence of the Jewish mob by handing Jesus over to his executional forces to be impaled. Consequently, it must have been these Roman executional soldiers who needed to be forgiven and for whom Jesus asked forgiveness from his heavenly Father.
● Why do Matthew and Mark speak of the transfiguration as taking place six days after Jesus had made a certain promise to his disciples, whereas the Gospel of Luke says that it occurred eight days later?—J. S., United States.
Apparently Matthew and Mark did not count the first and last days; rather, they counted six whole days as intervening between the promise of the Lord Jesus to his apostles and the transfiguration itself. (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2) Luke, we should note, does not profess to give the exact interval. He reports that the transfiguration occurred “about eight days after these words.” (Luke 9:28) Since Luke counts portions of the first and last days as whole days, he prefers to give the period in round numbers—“about eight days.” Thus Luke reported the number of days from a different viewpoint, and there is really no contradiction.