It feels weird to read a birth narrative in Lent. Lent is an adult season, in which a grown-up Jesus sets out into the wilderness to fast, to have his vision quest, if you will, to come back out to the edge of civilization only to be tempted by the Devil. (Find Luke 2:1-20, CEB, here.)
I find I’m most interested in those other guys who live at the edge of civilization, the shepherds. Imagine the blinding brightness, the mighty messenger, the seraphic singing:
“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:1-14, CEB)
Hmm, “…among those whom he favors.” This phrase demanded a renewal of scholarship, to make sure I was being honest with myself. How many times have I paraphrased this to make it more inclusive? Am I influenced by Handel’s Messiah (“good will to-oo-oo-wards men”)? Am I making things up to suit my own interpretation? Every translation is an interpretation. I know that.
Today I looked to Burt Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels (Fifth Edition), in which he worked with the New Revised Standard Version, and I was relieved to discover in a footnote, “peace, good will among people.” He traces this variant back to five Greek manuscripts (S A B D W), two Latin versions and one Coptic, and gives it the imprimatur of two Church Fathers, Irenaeus and Origen.
I feel better.
We don’t know exactly how the angels said it to the shepherds, of course, nor how clearly the shepherds understood the words to the angels’ song. I do know that the spirit of the message matters a lot to me. This slight textual difference sums up the primary difference between Christians divided by their theology. Is this good news for all people, or for a chosen few?
The Syriac version ends simply.
“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace and good hope to people.”
May it be so, Lord. May it be so.
I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible; tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 2:21-52. Full schedule can be found here.