Glory To God,
Peace On Earth,
And A Textual Variant?
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)
Editorial introduction: The verse above is well-known to all. It has been read in the churches since the time of the Apostles and sung by congregations since the second century. It can therefore be mentally jarring to hear modern translations of it read during the advent season.
Some translations even seem to be communicating an entirely different message. Were the angels continuing to proclaim God’s universal benevolence toward all people (v. 10) or only his particular grace to “those with whom he is pleased” (ESV)?
This confusion is due not to any difference in translation philosophy, but to a textual variant. A textual variant is a difference between the wording of two or more manuscripts of the Greek New Testament and, in the case of Luke 2:14, the difference consists of a single letter.
Many claim that textual variants affect no doctrine, but this is clearly a case in which the interpretation and application of a verse is affected by the presence or absence of a single letter. So which reading is correct? What did the angels actually say?
Below is an essay (lightly edited) by the late John William Burgon (1813-1888) in which he defends the traditional reading by tracing its consistent use throughout church history and by showing how the few witnesses against its authenticity are at discord among themselves.
We encourage all Christians to study his argument and also to share it with their pastors so that the good news which rang out of heaven on the night Jesus was born will continue to be heralded in the churches and to all mankind.
– Christian McShaffrey
A more grievous perversion of the truth of Scripture is scarcely to be found than occurs in the proposed revised exhibition of Luke 2:14, in the Greek and English alike; for indeed not only is the proposed Greek text (ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας) impossible, but the English of the Revisionists (“peace among men in whom he is well pleased”) “can be arrived at” (as one of themselves has justly remarked) “only through some process which would make any phrase bear almost any meaning the translator might like to put upon it.” 
More than that, the harmony of the exquisite three-part hymn, which the angels sang on the night of the nativity, becomes hopelessly marred, and its structural symmetry destroyed, by the welding of the second and third members of the sentence into one.
Singular to relate, the addition of a single final letter (ς) has done all this mischief. Quite as singular is it that we should be able at the end of upwards of 1700 years to discover what occasioned its calamitous insertion.
From the archetypal copy, by the aid of which the old Latin translation was made (for the Latin copies all read “pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis”), the preposition ἐν was evidently away — absorbed apparently by the ἀν which immediately follows. In order therefore to make a sentence of some sort out of words which, without ἐν, are simply unintelligible, εὐδοκία was turned into εὐδοκίας. It is accordingly a significant circumstance that, whereas there exists no Greek copy of the Gospels which omits the ἐν, there is scarcely a Latin exhibition of the place to be found which contains it. 
To return however to the genuine clause: “Good-will towards men” (ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία)
Absolutely decisive of the true reading of the passage—irrespectively of internal considerations—ought to be the consideration that it is vouched for by every known copy of the Gospels of whatever sort, excepting only ℵ A B D: the first and third of which, however, were anciently corrected and brought into conformity with the Received Text; while the second (A) is observed to be so inconstant in its testimony, that in the primitive “Morning-hymn” (given in another page of the same codex, and containing a quotation of Luke 2:14), the correct reading of the place is found. D’s complicity in error is the less important, because of the ascertained sympathy between that codex and the Latin.
In the meantime, the two Syriac Versions are a full set-off against the Latin copies; while the hostile evidence of the Gothic (which this time sides with the Latin) is more than neutralized by the unexpected desertion of the Coptic version from the opposite camp. The Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Slavonic, and Arabian versions, are besides all with the Received Text.
It therefore comes to this: We are invited, on the one hand, to make our election between every other copy of the Gospels, every known Lectionary, and (not least of all) the ascertained ecclesiastical usage of the Eastern Church from the beginning, or, on the other hand, the testimony of four Codices without a history or a character, which concur in upholding a patent mistake.
Will anyone hesitate as to which of these two parties has the stronger claim on his allegiance?
Could doubt be supposed to be entertained in any quarter, it must at all events be borne away by the torrent of patristic authority which is available on the present occasion:
– Irenaeus 
– Origen, in three places 
– Apostolical Constitutions, in two 
– Eusebius, twice 
– Aphraates the Persian, twice 
– Titus of Bostra, twice 
– Didymus, in three places 
– Gregory of Nazianzus 
– Cyril of Jerusalem 
– Epiphanius, twice 
– Gregory of Nyssa, four times 
– Ephraem Syrus 
– Philo, bishop of Carpasus 
– Chrysostom, in nine places 
– A nameless preacher at Antioch 
Note: All these were contemporaries of B and ℵ, and are therefore found to bear concurrent testimony in favor of the commonly received text.
– Cyril of Alexandria, fourteen times 
– Theodoret, four times 
– Theodotus of Ancyra, five times 
– A homily preached at the Council of Ephesus on Christmas-day, AD 431 
– Proclus, archbishop of Constantinople 
– Paulus, bishop of Emesa (preached before Cyril of Alexandria on Christmas-day) 
– The Eastern bishops at Ephesus, collectively, AD 431 
– Basil of Seleucia 
Note: These witnesses were contemporaries of codex A.
– Cosmas, the voyager, five times 
– Anastasius Sinaita 
– Eulogius, archbishop of Alexandria 
Note: These were contemporaries of codex D.
– Andreas of Crete, twice 
– Cosmas, bishop of Maiuma near Gaza 
– John Damascene 
– Germanus, archbishop of Constantinople 
To these twenty-nine illustrious names are to be added unknown writers of uncertain date, but all of considerable antiquity; and some are proved by internal evidence to belong to the 4th or 5th century  — in short, to be of the date of the fathers whose names sixteen of them severally bear, but among whose genuine works their productions are probably not to be reckoned.
One of these was anciently mistaken for Gregory Thaumaturgus , a second for Methodius , a third for Basil . Three others, with different degrees of reasonableness, have been supposed to be Athanasius . One has passed for Gregory of Nyssa ; another for Epiphanius ; while no less than eight have been mistaken for Chrysostom , some of them being certainly his contemporaries.
Add one anonymous church father , and the author of the apocryphal Acta Pilati, and it will be perceived that eighteen ancient authorities have been added to the list, every whit as competent to witness what was the text of Luke 2:14 at the time when A B ℵ D were written, as Basil or Athanasius, Epiphanius or Chrysostom themselves. 
For our present purpose, they are Codices of the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries. In this way then, far more than forty-seven ancient witnesses have come back to testify to the men of this generation that the commonly received reading of Luke 2:14 is the true reading, and that the text which the Revisionists are seeking to palm off upon us is a fabrication and a blunder.
Will anyone be found to maintain that the authority of B and ℵ is appreciable, when confronted by the first fifteen contemporary ecclesiastical writers above enumerated? Or that A can stand against the seven which follow?
This is not all however. Survey the preceding enumeration geographically, and note that besides one name from Gaul, at least two stand for Constantinople, while five are dotted over Asia Minor; ten at least represent Antioch; and six other parts of Syria, three stand for Palestine, and twelve for other churches of the East: at least five are Alexandrian, two are men of Cyprus, and one is from Crete.
If the articulate voices of so many illustrious Bishops, coming back to us in this way from every part of ancient Christendom and all delivering the same unfaltering message — if this be not allowed to be decisive on a point of the kind just now before us, then pray let us have it explained to us — what amount of evidence will men accept as final? It is high time that this were known.
The plain truth is, that a case has been established against ℵ A B D and the Latin version, which amounts to proof that those documents, even when they conspire to yield the self-same evidence, are not to be depended on as witnesses to the text of Scripture. The history of the reading advocated by the Revisionists is briefly this: It emerges into notice in the 2nd century; and in the 5th disappears from sight entirely.
Enough and to spare has now been offered concerning the true reading of Luke 2:14, but because we propose to ourselves that no uncertainty whatever shall remain on this subject, it will not be wasted labor if, in conclusion, we pour into the ruined citadel just enough of shot and shell to leave no dark corner standing for the ghost of a respectable doubt hereafter to hide in.
Now, it is confessedly nothing else but the high estimate which Critics have conceived of the value of the testimony of the old uncials (ℵ A B C D), which has occasioned any doubt at all to exist in this behalf. Let the learned reader then ascertain for himself the character of codices ℵ A B C D hereabouts, by collating the context in which Luke 2:14 is found, viz. the thirteen verses which precede and the one verse (v. 15) which immediately follows.
If the old uncials are observed all to sing in tune throughout, hereabouts, well and good: but if on the contrary, their voices prove utterly discordant, who sees not that the last pretense has been taken away for placing any confidence at all in their testimony concerning the text of v. 14, turning as it does on the presence or absence of a single letter?
He will find, as the result of his analysis, that within the space of those fourteen verses, the old uncials are responsible for fifty-six “various readings” (so-called). Singly, for forty-one; and in combination with one another, for fifteen.
So diverse, however, is the testimony they respectively render, that they are found severally to differ from the Text of the cursives no less than seventy times. Among them, besides twice varying the phrase, they contrive to omit nineteen words, to add four, to substitute seventeen, to alter ten, and to transpose twenty-four.
Lastly, these five codices are observed (within the same narrow limits) to fall into ten different combinations: viz. B A, for five readings, B D for two, ℵ C, ℵ D, A C, ℵ B D, A ℵ D, A B ℵ D, B ℵ C D, A B ℵ C D, for one each.
A, therefore, which stands alone twice, is found in combination four times, C, which stands alone once, is found in combination four times , B, which stands alone five times, is found in combination six times, ℵ, which stands alone eleven times, is found in combination eight times, D, which stands alone twenty-two times, is found in combination seven times.
And now — for the last time we ask the question — with what show of reason can the unintelligible εὐδοκίας (of ℵA B D) be upheld as genuine, in defiance of the whole body of Manuscripts, uncial and cursive, the great bulk of the Versions, and the mighty array of (upwards of fifty) church fathers exhibited above?
- Scrivener’s Introduction, p. 515.
- Tisch. specifies 7 Latin copies. Origen (iii. 946 f.), Jerome (vii. 282), and Leo (ap. Sabatier) are the only patristic quotations discoverable.
- i. 459
- i. 374; ii. 714; iv. 15.
- vii. 47; viii. 13.
- Dem. Ev.pp. 163, 342.
- i. 180, 385.
- In loc. Also in Luc.xix. 29 (Cat. Ox.141).
- De Trin.p. 84; Cord. Cat. in Ps.ii. 450, 745.
- i. 845,—which is reproduced in the Paschal Chronicle, p. 374.
- P. 180; cf. p. 162.
- i. 154, 1047.
- i. 355, 696, 6; 97 iii. 346.
- Gr. iii. 434.
- Ap. Galland. ix. 754.
- i. 587; ii. 453, 454; vi. 393; vii. 311, 674; viii. 85; xi. 347. Also Cat. in Ps.iii. 139.
- Ap. Chrys. vi. 424; cf. p. 417.
- In Luc.pp. 12, 16, 502 ( = Mai, ii. 128). Also Mai, ii. 343, Hom. de Incarn.p. 109. Opp. ii. 593; v.1 681, 30, 128, 380, 402, 154; vi. 398. Maii, iii.2 286.
- i. 290, 1298; ii. 18; iii. 480.
- Ap. Galland. ix. 446, 476. Concil.iii. 1001, 1023.
- Concil.iii. 1002.
- Ap. Galland. ix. 629.
- Concil.iii. 1095.
- Concil.iii. 829 = Cyr. Opp.vi. 159.
- Nov. Auctar.i. 596.
- Montf. ii. 152, 160, 247, 269.
- Hexaem.ed. Migne, vol. 89, p. 899.
- Ap. Galland. xii. 308.
- Ed. Combefis, 14, 54; ap. Galland. xiii. 100, 123.
- Ap. Galland. xiii. 235.
- ii. 836.
- Ap. Galland. xiii. 212.
- E.g.Chrys. Opp.viii.; Append. 214.
- P. 6 d.
- Ap. Galland. iii. 809.
- ii. 602.
- ii. 101, 122, 407.
- iii. 447.
- ii. 298.
- ii. 804; iii. 783; v. 638, 670, 788; viii. 214, 285; x. 754, 821.
- Cord. Cat. in Ps.ii. 960.
- Of the ninety-two places above quoted, Tischendorf knew of only eleven, Tregelles adduces only six. Neither critic seems to have been aware that “Gregory Thaum” is not the author of the citation they ascribe to him. And why does Tischendorf quote as Basil’s what is knownnot to have been his?
- But then, note that C is only available for comparison down to the end of v. 5. In the nine verses which have been lost, who shall say how many more eccentricities would have been discoverable?
C: Ephraemi Rescriptus