Niv2011 and Luke 7:28-31

At the beginning of Luke 7:31, TNIV and NIV2011 inserted some words which correspond to words that are only found in some inferior and late manuscripts that KJV appears to follow. The words are: “And the Lord said,”. These words are found in Stephanus’ Greek text, and also in the Geneva Bible, although not in Tyndale’s NT, since they are not in the Vulgate.
NIV probably did not follow Stephanus, but rather added the words based on the dubious interpretation that verses 29-30 is a comment by Luke rather than a portion of Jesus’ speech.

It is extremely unusual in Greek to start or continue a speech after an author comment without a speech introduction. The older NIV, following RSV, inserted an end of quote marker at 7:28, a parenthesis marker at the beginning of 29 and at the end of v. 30 and then a beginning quote mark at v. 30. The original Greek, of course, had no such markers, so this is an interpretation.
Although verses 29-30 do not occur in the parallel section of Matthew 11, that is not sufficient reason to assume that the words are a comment of Luke rather than the words of Jesus. Luke had other historical resources available to him than the book of Matthew. There are words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 21:31-32 that are similar in content to Luke 7:29-30, and there is no good reason to assume that these words in Luke were not part of the speech of Jesus.

Once the translators have decided that these words are from Luke, probably based on the KJV tradition, which is based on an inferior Greek text, then they add other words not in the text and mistranslate others. So, NIV says: “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) 31 Jesus went on to say,…” The part with ”Jesus’ words” is not in the text, and what is implied from context is John and his message, not Jesus’ words. The translation of the aorist participle ”having been baptized” as a reason clause is dubious. The main verb is ”vindicate” and the two aorists indicate what went before the main verb. First they heard, then they were baptized (believing John is implied between these two events). The baptism was a means by which they indicated that they believed the message and that God was right in giving that message to John. Basically they are saying: ”You are right, God. We need to repent.” I don’t complain about NIV’s ”acknowledged that God’s way was right” although it is quite a lot of words to use to express ”justified God”. I do object to NET’s and CEB’s ”acknowledged God’s justice”.

In the preceding context Jesus has been commending John for the importance of his prophetic message of repentance (which people like the Pharisees rejected as the following text talks about). Verse 29-30 then says in a literal rendering from Greek: “And all the (common) people and the tax collectors having heard (him = John, or it = the message of John) and having been baptized with the baptism of John, vindicated God, but the Pharisees and the law-people not having been baptized by him, pushed aside God’s purpose/plan for them.” V. 31 then continues: “So (Greek: OUN), what shall I compare such people to…” referring to the Pharisees and law-people who refused to accept God’s plan and purpose for them.

In v. 29 we find the same word as in v. 35. “vindicated/justified”. In both contexts it refers to people who hear a message, believe it and act upon that belief. The common people and tax collectors who heard John’s message of repentance, accepted their need for repentance and were baptized. In so doing, they vindicated God and the message he had given his great prophet. The Pharisees and law-people had a different response. They did not believe that John was a true prophet, or at least they did not accept their need for repentance. Since they did not believe, they were not baptized by John and therefore put aside God’s good purpose and plan for them.

Unfortunately, this clear and simple message is clouded by so many English versions, including the newer ones like NIV2011, CEB and ESV. It doesn’t matter whether these versions belong to the literal or idiomatic camp, since they are all based on an interpretation and tradition that goes back to KJV or even further back. In this particular case the NIV2011 is more interpretative and misleading than the NLT.

15 thoughts on “Niv2011 and Luke 7:28-31

  1. David McKay says:

    Iver, it sounds like the NIV translators are in excellent company in what yo usee as an error of translation.

    I’m not sure I’m understanding what you are telling us it should be saying. Could you please clarify and tell us of some translations that do give us the correct sense?

  2. iverlarsen says:

    Hi, David,

    It is not so much an error of translation as it is an error in the interpretation process that precedes and underlies any translation effort.

    It is easy to find good and accurate non-English versions, but more difficult to find English versions, since they often depend more on the KJV tradition than a fresh analysis of the Greek text. However, God’s Word does treat verses 29-30 correctly as you can see here:

    In looking at Biblegateway, I discovered that they have a translation forum, and I was happy to see the posts on “faith in Christ” relating to an earlier post of mine, although not this one.

  3. iverlarsen says:


    What are your reasons? Of course, we do not have the actual Hebrew words of Jesus. What we see has a Lukan flavour, e.g. in the use of NOMIKOS (law-man) rather than GRAMMATEUS (scribe).

    Would you also say that Luke 11:45-52 does not sound like Jesus? What about Matt 21:32? Does that sound like Jesus?

    I think it is clear from the Greek text that Luke presents these verses as part of the speech of Jesus in a Lukan rendering, but I am willing to listen to evidence against it, if you can come up with any.

  4. John Hobbins says:


    I appreciate your commitment to the principle that a translation should avoid using many words to translate one word in the source.

    On another matter, I would note that the idea that Jesus addressed people in Hebrew rather than in Aramaic is not well-supported. In the gospels, wherever reported, Jesus addresses people, and God, in Aramaic.

    The use of Aramaic in prayer continued in the early Christian community, whence Maranantha.

  5. bobmacdonald says:

    I think you have underlined an important link between the pieces in verses 29 and 35. The AV rendering ‘justified God’ and ‘Wisdom is justified in her children’ is a perfectly good rendering. I see it matched by the French: Tot le peuple … ont reconnu la justice de Dieu and la Sagesse a été reconnu juste par tous ces enfants. It is in this sense that David in Psalm 51:6 likewise justifies God:
    לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ
    תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶךָ

    So you are right to speak,
    you are clear to judge.

    This psalm also has the trope of ‘the hidden wisdom’. Well it is for us, I think, to attribute righteousness to God, obvious as it might sound. We don’t define God this way, but by the hidden or manifest Wisdom, we learn God’s ways.

    I find the tone of ‘vindicate’ does less for me than something else might.

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    Iver, you seem to be making a good point here.

    But on the other side is not just the KJV tradition but also the Greek MSS behind the Stephanus text. I am not suggesting that this is the original Greek. But it is evidence that at some time, someone in the Byzantine empire (I don’t have the textual apparatus to hand which might suggest a rough date) inserted the words translated “And the Lord said” – and most probably did so because they thought verses 29-30 were not Jesus’ words, and so the resumption needed to be marked. So we have evidence for this interpretation not just from KJV but from presumed native speakers of Byzantine Greek. It might also be instructive to look at how the Greek Fathers interpreted the passage.

  7. WoundedEgo says:

    Is anyone here familiar enough with the Greek of “Luke” to comment on whether he is given to literary touches such as inclusios, chiasma, alliteration and the like? Or is he more straight prose?

    Also, I think “justified” is a bit opaque, and might, in our example, be made clearer with “considered cleared of all accusations of wrongdoing” or “counted blameless.” For example:

    Luke 7:29 (Now all the people who heard this [commendation of John], even the tax collectors, considered God clear of all accusations of wrongdoing; (they *had* been dipped with John’s dipping).

    Luke 7:35 But Sophia is counted blameless by all of her children.

  8. iverlarsen says:

    Maybe your evidence is blowing in the wind, but I cannot hear it.

    This textual variant was not considered worthy of being mentioned in NA27 or UBS4. When I go back to NA25, I find the following: (Mmargin) pc vg(cl). If I understand this correctly, it means that the words were inserted in the margin of the ms M (021). M was originally from the 9th century, but when the margin was inserted I don’t know. This marginal addition was apparently incorporated in a few later mss and found its way into Stephanus. The vg(cl) is the Clementine Vulgate from 1592, and it looks like the editor was “correcting” the vulgate edition based on Stephanus or some of those rare and medieval mss that have incorporated the marginal insertion. The manuscript M is completely ignored and never referred to by NA27 or UBS4, but then, this particular reading was only in the margin.

    It does not appear that any of these editors/copyists were native speakers of Byzantine Greek. The Byzantine text tradition does not have the insertion.

    When I mentioned the KJV tradition, it was based on my experience over the years that English versions often agree on one interpretation and non-English versions from Europe often agree on another interpretation. I take that as an influence of the “law of inertia” in Bible translation tradition.

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    Thank you, Iver. If these extra words are not even in the Byzantine majority text, I would withdraw much of what I said, although it might still “be instructive to look at how the Greek Fathers interpreted the passage.”

  10. WoundedEgo says:

    Peter, I guess you mean “non-English Europeans,” no? But that sounds like it has the makings of a bestseller… “The EU Bible”! If you have examples, I personally would be fascinated to see them.

    Jewish interpretations vary but Rashi’s commentary is available in English on and often gives rich insight that is not found in Christian lit.

  11. Tony Pope says:

    I entirely agree with your approach to this issue. It’s clear from Matt. 21.32 (that you mentioned) that there is no reason why Jesus should not be reported as making a comment on the results of John the Baptist’s ministry. And there is nothing in the Greek text, either in the critical editions or the bulk of Greek manuscripts, that suggests Luke 7.29-30 are a parenthetic comment. “And” is not a good way to start a parenthesis. There are some good discussions in older commentaries, such as Bloomfield
    (starts at the bottom of the previous page), and more briefly Plummer

    Of course there are commentaries that take the other view, but their arguments are not convincing.

    I would like to add some remarks about the interpolation “And the Lord said” at the beginning of v. 31. The larger editions of the Greek text (Scholz, Tischendorf, Alford) agree that these words stem from the Greek lectionaries. They are in fact one of the standard ways of introducing a set reading for church services, technically called an “incipit”. And one of the weekday set readings starts at Luke 7.31. Erasmus has them in his Greek text but I haven’t yet been able to find out precisely why he put them in, though probably he found them in at least one Greek manuscript he was using.
    Also the early editions of the Vulgate probably all include them (at least the Gutenberg Bible, 1454, online at the British Library does) so they were not an innovation by the 1592 Clementine Vulgate.
    Furthermore, it’s not correct to say that Tyndale’s version does not have them “since they are not in the Vulgate”. All the 16th c. English versions have them, as they were simply following the Greek editions available to them, from Erasmus onwards. In any case Tyndale did not translate from the Vulgate, but from Erasmus’ Greek text, though of course he had the Vulgate, and Luther too, available. When you say “they are not in the Vulgate”, you must be looking in a modern critical edition of the Vulgate, based on different manuscripts from the ones that 16th c. editors were following.

    That said, I agree with you it’s a shame that many modern English versions insert words that give the impression that the Greek indicates 29-30 are a parenthesis. They ought at least to include a footnote as some do in John 3.

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