In Luke 24:47 the KJV and says “repentance AND remission of sins,” whereas most modern versions like the ESV and the NASB say “repentance FOR remission of sins.” While this may seem like a small difference, it can have deep implications for how we understand Biblical doctrines of salvation.
But before we can discuss the theological significance of this difference, we need to figure out which wording is the correct wording. To sort out variants like this we have to look at external evidence (what the manuscripts say) and internal evidence (things like writing style, reasons why scribes might make mistakes, etc.). Instead of looking what the manuscripts say (as we have already done in an earlier post on this verse), in this post we are going to look at the internal evidence. Once we have considered Luke’s writing style, we will consider how the difference (and/και -v- for/εἰς) might have come about.
A Scholar’s Opinion
According to noted scholar Bruce Metzger
On internal grounds it is difficult to decide between the two readings [and/και versus for/εἰς], for both are in accord with Lukan usage (e.g. Lk 3:3 βαπτισμα μετανοιας εἰς αφεσιν, and Ac 5:31 δουναι μετανοιαν τῷ Ἰσραηλ και ἀφεσιν ἁμαρτιων). On the basis of…the probability that, in view of the following εἰς, copyists would have been more likely to alter the first εἰς [for] to και [and], rather than vice versa, a majority of the Committee preferred the reading εἰς.
(A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition)
In Metzger’s opinion
- It is hard to use Luke’s writing style to figure out this difference because Luke uses both wordings in his writings (Lk 3:3 “the baptism of REPENTANCE FOR remission” versus Ac 5:31″to give REPENTANCE AND remission”).
- Scribes were more likely to change FOR/εἰς into AND/και.
I believe that the reasoning Metzger uses in the above quotation overlooks some vital facts. Consequently I disagree with both of Metzger’s claims, and I will try to disprove them in this article.
Luke is the author of the gospel we that bears his name, as well as the book of Acts. As we consider the internal evidence of Luke’s writing style, let’s have a look at how Luke uses the phrase “remission of sins/ἀφεσις ἁμαρτιων” together in other contexts in Luke-Acts.
One of the strongest arguments for “και/and” in Luke 24:47 is the fact that Luke 24:47ff parallels Acts 2.
|Luke 24:47-49||repentance||and||remission of sins||in his name||I send the promise of my Father|
|Acts 2||repent||and||be baptized…for the remission of sins||(be baptized) in the name of Jesus Christ||ye shall receive the gift of the HG, for the promise is unto you|
If we look at the passage more broadly, even more parallels present themselves. In Acts 2 Luke not only makes remission of sins distinct from repentance (repent and…for the remission of sins), but Luke also connects remission of sins to baptism. Noticing this connection between baptism and remission is shows us why Metzger’s earlier argument isn’t compelling.
Metzger argued that Luke uses both phrases, “repentance AND remission” and “repentance FOR remission.” But the example that Metzger quotes (Lk 3:3) to prove that Luke uses “repentance FOR” is a verse about baptism. Metzger completely overlooks this fact! Luke did not say “John came preaching repentance for the remission of sins;” Luke said “John came preaching baptism…for the remission of sins.” The baptism that John preached was a baptism of repentance, and it was this baptism (an outward token of the Jews’ inward repentance) which remitted their sins in that day. Not to overstate my case, but we call him John the Baptist—not John the Repentist.
The only other time in Luke-Acts where the term “repentance/μετανοια” and the phrase “remission of sins/ἀφεσις ἁμαρτιων” are used together is Acts 5:31, where Luke uses “και/and” just like he does in Acts 2:38. “Him [Jesus] hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
Thus in Luke-Acts, the author Luke never uses the phrase “repentance FOR remission” without connecting it with baptism (Lk 3:3, see also Mk 1:4). Consequently Luke-Acts does not use both phrases in the way that Metzger’s first point seemed to imply. When we understand “remission” to be metonymic with baptism in Luke’s writing style, it makes sense that Luke 24:47 would say “repentance AND remission” just like Acts 5:31. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that Lk 24:47ff parallels with Acts 2:38: Peter told the congregation to “repent” AND “be baptized…for remission of sins” because Jesus had commissioned him in Luke 24 to preach “repentance” AND “remission of sins.”
So How Did και Become εἰς?
So if Luke originally wrote “και ἀφεσιν ἁμαρτιων” [and remission of sins], how some manuscripts come to say “εἰς αφεσιν ἁμαρτιων” [for remission of sins]?
The phrase “εἰς αφεσιν ἁμαρτιων” occurs in a very powerful text of scripture—Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins [εἰς αφεσιν ἁμαρτιων].
The early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper very frequently: at least weekly. As part of the public worship service, Christ’s words would be recited to the congregation. This means that every week people heard “for the remission of sins” as part of one of their most solemn rituals—week in and week out this phrase would be repeated.
Since the phrase “for remission of sins” was such an oft-repeated phrase in the early church, is it any wonder that occasionally a scribe would see “and remission of sins” and change it to the infinitely more familiar “for remission of sins”??
Perhaps a counterexample will illustrate this point. I am Pentecostal; an oft-quoted scripture in our congregations is Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord.” Now if I stood up to read Deuteronomy 9:1 “Hear, O Israel…” I am confident that there are people in my congregation who would think I know this one! and begin to quote along with me. Instead of hearing the correct wording for 9:1 “Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day…,” I am certain that I would hear people in my congregation start to quote the much more familiar 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God…”. See what I mean?
The early church was so familiar with the words of Jesus “for the remission of sins” in their Eucharist ceremony, it is actually surprising that only a handful of manuscripts change the wording. It is a natural human tendency for us to let a common wording over-power and influence a less-common wording. With this in mind, the fact that “εἰς αφεσιν ἁμαρτιων” [for remission of sins] was such a common phrase in the early church is actually a strong argument in favor of the reading “και ἀφεσιν ἁμαρτιων” [and remission of sins].
Thus we have proven from internal grounds (style and harmonization) and external grounds (manuscript evidence) that Luke 24:47 ought to say “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (KJV). But at the end of the day, does such a small difference really matter all that much? In my opinion, yes, it very much does.
There is a prevailing mindset amongst Christians today: that all we have to do is believe in Jesus and we are saved. The reading of modern versions “repentance for remission of sins” would seem to lend credence to that opinion: all we have to do is repent, and then our sins are taken care of. But when we realize that “remission of sins” is a separate and distinct issue from repentance, we must come to grips with what the Bible says about baptism’s distinct role in salvation.
- Mk 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved
- Jh 3:5 Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
- Lk 24:47 that repentance and remission of sins should be preached
- Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized…for the remission of sins
- Ac 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.
- 1Pe 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Remember saints, Jesus did not command the disciples to preach repentance only—but repentance and baptism which remits our sins. Little words do matter when it comes to our theology.