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Before noon on Thursday morning of Passion Week Jesus had been sentenced to death, first by the Sanhedrin of the Jews on charges trumped up by Annas and Caiaphas who had interrogated Him during the night to determine what they could use to have Him put to death, and then by Pilate, who in spite of his own understanding that Jesus was not guilty, surrendered Him to the will of the Jews out of political expedience.  Now at Golgotha, after refusing a potion of gall mixed with wine to ease His sufferings, He was stripped of clothes which became the booty of the quaternion of soldiers charged with overseeing His death.  We might wonder what it might have been like to walk in the shoes Jesus Himself had worn, or to gird up our loins with the belt He wore, or to comfort and warm ourselves with the actual cloak of the Savior of the world, or to protect our head and face from the harshness of the world with His turban.  And we might especially wonder at the good fortune of one of those soldiers whose lot gained for him Jesus’ most treasured worldly possession: His seamless tunic, not unlike that worn by the High Priest, that covered the nakedness of One whose garment was never polluted by sin.  And yet we needn’t wonder, for all who are baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal 3:27), having put on the garments of salvation and girded themselves with truth, shod themselves with the preparation of the gospel of peace, wrapped themselves in a robe of righteousness, and put on the helmet of salvation; Isa 61:10, Eph 6:14-17.

What does Luke say that Jesus prayed as the soldiers were crucifying Him?  See Luk 23:34?  To whom does the immediate context indicate Jesus was asking the Father to forgive?  Are we to understand from His words that granting forgiveness is necessarily conditional upon another asking for it (which is not likely to have been the case with the soldiers), or unconditional, so that forgiveness may be offered even when there is no expressed remorse or repentance by the offender?  Besides the soldiers who were just carrying out their orders and so arguably had no moral culpability for Jesus’ death, are we to understand that His words can also be extended to apply to Pilate who had ordered His execution in spite of his own understanding that Jesus was not guilty?  Or to the Jewish religious leaders who from envy had drummed up false charges to have Him put to death and delivered Him up to Pilate?  How about to the Jews who were incited by their religious leaders to demand Pilate release to them Barabbas and crucify Jesus?  Or to those who had called down a curse upon themselves and their children accepting responsibility for Jesus’ death when Pilate said he was innocent of His blood?  Note: This is a primary text used by Universalists to argue that all men will be saved because in some sense all sin is a matter of not knowing what we are doing.  Who else prayed a similar prayer in a potentially similar circumstance, when people were caught up in a mob mentality?  See Act 7:60.

Entwined with the interpretive difficulties of this passage is an additional textual difficulty that makes this passage perhaps the most problematic in all of Scripture.  It is completely absent from some of the very earliest manuscripts, so on the basis of the manuscript evidence the editors of the Greek text identify it as almost certainly not a part of the original text.  In their estimation, it is hard to imagine if it was original how it came to be excised from such important early copies.  Perhaps the best argument by those who believe it is genuine for why it was omitted is because of interpretive issues, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem, which could be understood to mean that Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness—understood as extending to the Jews—was not heard by the Father.  But that seems weak in light of the simple solution that Jesus was praying for those who acted ignorantly and had no moral culpability.

On the other hand though, the statement is supported as genuine by many quotes from the early church fathers, and some of those who do not believe it was actually a part of Luke’s gospel still believe it was a true saying of Jesus.  There is also evidence that early scribes struggled with the issue and concluded it ought not to have been omitted.  In the estimation of those who believe it to be original, it is hard to imagine if it wasn’t how it came to be included in many other early texts.  Those who believe it is not genuine argue that it may have been a true saying of Jesus that made its way into the text perhaps as an early harmonization of the gospels, or was motivated by Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7 so as to not make Jesus appear less forgiving than he, or that it was later included to bring the total number of Jesus’ sayings from the cross seven, the number of perfection.  However, again, these all seem weak compared to the much simpler solution that it was in fact a part of Luke’s original gospel.  So it is as difficult to account for it insertion if not genuine as it is to account for its omission if genuine.  For additional details and strong arguments both in favor of its inclusion and its omission, see here, here, and here.

Another possibility that strikes me as at least plausible is that Luke, as a historian, could easily have known about the tradition and possibly omitted it from his account because he couldn’t substantiate it.  However, because Paul perhaps refers to Luke in 2Co 8:18 as “the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches” (see here for more information), it is possible that after penning the gospel bearing his name that Luke made many copies for distribution to the churches, from which his fame came.  In the course of making those copies, it is not inconceivable that various edits were made, just as authors may do today as new information becomes available that may update their work.  Hence, it is possible that later copies from Luke’s own hand included the statement after he became convinced of its authenticity.

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