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Luke 23:44-45


23:44 It was now 1  about noon, 2  and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 3  23:45 because the sun’s light failed. 4  The temple curtain 5  was torn in two.

1 tn Grk “And it was.” Here καί (kai) has been translated as “now” to indicate the transition to a new topic.

2 tn Grk “the sixth hour.”

3 tn Grk “until the ninth hour.”

4 tc The wording “the sun’s light failed” is a translation of τοῦ ἡλίου ἐκλιπόντος/ ἐκλείποντος (tou Jhliou eklipontos/ ekleipontos), a reading found in the earliest and best witnesses (among them Ì75 א B C*vid L 070 579 2542 pc) as well as several ancient versions. The majority of mss (A C3 [D] W Θ Ψ Ë1,13 Ï lat sy) have the flatter, less dramatic term, “the sun was darkened” (ἐσκοτίσθη, eskotisqe), a reading that avoids the problem of implying an eclipse (see sn below). This alternative thus looks secondary because it is a more common word and less likely to be misunderstood as referring to a solar eclipse. That it appears in later witnesses rather than the earliest ones adds confirmatory testimony to its inauthentic character.

sn This imagery has parallels to the Day of the Lord: Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9; Zeph 1:15. Some students of the NT see in Luke’s statement the sun’s light failed (eklipontos) an obvious blunder in his otherwise meticulous historical accuracy. The reason for claiming such an error on the author’s part is due to an understanding of the verb as indicating a solar eclipse when such would be an astronomical impossibility during a full moon. There are generally two ways to resolve this difficulty: (a) adopt a different reading (“the sun was darkened”) that smoothes over the problem (discussed in the tc problem above), or (b) understand the verb eklipontos in a general way (such as “the sun’s light failed”) rather than as a technical term, “the sun was eclipsed.” The problem with the first solution is that it is too convenient, for the Christian scribes who, over the centuries, copied Luke’s Gospel would have thought the same thing. That is, they too would have sensed a problem in the wording and felt that some earlier scribe had incorrectly written down what Luke penned. The fact that the reading “was darkened” shows up in the later and generally inferior witnesses does not bolster one’s confidence that this is the right solution. But second solution, if taken to its logical conclusion, proves too much for it would nullify the argument against the first solution: If the term did not refer to an eclipse, then why would scribes feel compelled to change it to a more general term? The solution to the problem is that ekleipo did in fact sometimes refer to an eclipse, but it did not always do so. (BDAG 306 s.v. ἐκλείπω notes that the verb is used in Hellenistic Greek “Of the sun cease to shine.” In MM it is argued that “it seems more than doubtful that in Lk 2345 any reference is intended to an eclipse. To find such a reference is to involve the Evangelist in a needless blunder, as an eclipse is impossible at full moon, and to run counter to his general usage of the verb = ‘fail’…” [p. 195]. They enlist Luke 16:9; 22:32; and Heb 1:12 for the general meaning “fail,” and further cite several contemporaneous examples from papyri of this meaning [195-96]) Thus, the very fact that the verb can refer to an eclipse would be a sufficient basis for later scribes altering the text out of pious motives; conversely, the very fact that the verb does not always refer to an eclipse and, in fact, does not normally do so, is enough of a basis to exonerate Luke of wholly uncharacteristic carelessness.

5 tn The referent of this term, καταπέτασμα (katapetasma), is not entirely clear. It could refer to the curtain separating the holy of holies from the holy place (Josephus, J. W. 5.5.5 [5.219]), or it could refer to one at the entrance of the temple court (Josephus, J. W. 5.5.4 [5.212]). Many argue that the inner curtain is meant because another term, κάλυμμα (kalumma), is also used for the outer curtain. Others see a reference to the outer curtain as more likely because of the public nature of this sign. Either way, the symbolism means that access to God has been opened up. It also pictures a judgment that includes the sacrifices.

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