Lk 7.47 is an interesting verse when we study it from the perspective of
the history of the text. There are short, long and intermediary forms of
the text. I'd like to present you those and have your reactions as to
what seems to you the most probable reconstruction of the history of the
development of this text (mine being just an hypothesis, it's worth what
1/ D has the shortest form:
D: ou charin de legw soi afewntai auth polla.
That's all, and it's the shortest form that we find in the mss. Without
applying mechanically the canon "lectio brevior, lectio potior", this has
to be noted.
Interestingly, Irenaeus, who usually testifies of the D-text, quotes a
fragment of the verse that is absent from D.
Ir III.20.2: cui enim plus dimittitur plus diligit.
I found an English translation of irenaeus on the internet, so here is
the whole context:
2. This, therefore, was the [object of the] long-suffering of God, that
man, passing through all things, and acquiring the knowledge of moral
discipline, then attaining to the resurrection from the dead, and
learning by experience what is the source of his deliverance, may always
live in a state of gratitude to the Lord, having obtained from Him the
gift of incorruptibility, that he might love Him the more; for "he to
whom more is forgiven, loveth more:" and that he may know himself, how
mortal and weak he is...
We must note that the sentence is not introduced by any formula of the
genre "for it is written that". We can't be sure from Irenaeus that the
sentence he uses comes from a Gospel text. May be it's an aphorism that
was circulating in his time (whether or not it went back to Jesus), and
that he found suited to his argument. Or, maybe he is himself the author
3/ Tatian (probably?)
We have two witnesses that have a longer form of the text, fusioning what
we find in D and what we find in Irenaeus: the vetus latina afra (codex
e) and the commentary of Ephrem on the Diatessaron (10.9). This
conjunction of the old latin with Ephrem makes me think it is reasonable
to suppose that Tatian might be the author of the fusion of the two
elements: the early, short text of codex D and the oral tradition found
in Irenaeus. By the way, he knows the second element in a form slightly
different from that used by Irenaeus: while the bishop of Lyons says "he
to whom _more_ is forgiven, loveth _more_", the author of the Diatessaron
has: "he to whom _less_ is forgiven, loveth _less_". This might be
another evidence for the fact that it comes from an oral, a little
e: propter quod dico tibi, remittentur illi peccata multa.
Ephrem: w-meTul hono shbiqin loh Hatoheyh sagiye, lhaw geyr d-qalil shbiq
leh z(ur maHeb.
4/ The Egyptian texts.
P75 is the earliest witness to the current text of this verse. it is
followed by most greek manuscripts, whether Alexandrian, Palestinian or
Byzantine.This text is also found already in the old syriac versions, the
other old latin mss, etc...
This form of the text is now in three parts: "for she loved much" is
inserted between the two elements that we have already mentioned.
P75, B, Byz: ou charin legw soi afewntai ai amartiai auths ai pollai, OTI
HGAPHSEN POLU. w de oligon afietai, (B + kai) oligon agapa.
Several small variants are found in other mss, but they are all
characterized by this threefold form of the text, so I won't quote them
5/ Secundary and longuer texts.
There are more forms of the texts, probably secundary but deserving
a/ Cyprian (as quoted in the apparatus of Tischendorf)
"Inquit: cui plus dimittitur plus diligit, et qui minus dimittitur
The "inquit" seems to show that Cyprian has the intention to quote Jesus.
The way he does it fusions the aphorism of Irenaeus and its inverted
form, the one known to the author who inserted it in the gospel tradition
(probably Tatian). This shows that, besides what is now the gospel
"text", the aphorism of Irenaeus is still circulating. The same can be
said of the Armenian version:
b/ The Armenian version:
vasn oroy asem khez: thogheal litsin sma meghkh iwr bazowmkh,
zi yoyzh sireats.
zi orowm shat thoghowtsow, shat sire,
ew orowm sakaw, sakaw.
Translation: "because of which I say to you, her many sins are forgiven
to her, for she loved much. For he to whom much is forgiven, loves much,
and he to whom few, few".
Let us note that we have the same order as in Cyprian: first "much-much",
Much later are the last two forms of the text:
c/ The persian harmony:
"For this reason I say to you that the sins of this lady are forgiven,
for she did much, she deserves much. And who did few, deserves few
things, and few shall be forgiven to him".
The persian harmony seems to be nothing more than a quite paraphrastic
rendering of the current text.
d/ The venetian harmony:
"And for this I say to you that her sins are remitted to her, for she has
This harmony seems to be the only witness to the presence of only the two
first elements of the current text.
Of course, you must distinguish between the facts themselves, and my
analysis. My analysis leads me to give a priority to the western text,
the other forms of the text being amplifications by the addition of an
oral tradition (Tatian) and a theological (?) expletive sentence (the
egyptian texts). At least, my analysis is an attempt to account for the
development and amplification of this verse. Though I admit I have
generally a little preference for western-priority hypotheses, I admit
this reconstruction can be challenged, and the data arranged in another
"chronological" sequence. How can we, for example, reconstruct the
history of this text from an alexandrine-priority point of view? We would
then have to account for the _deletion_ of several phrases of the text. A
theological analysis, informed of the doctrinal developments of, say, the
first three centuries, would be necessary to confirm or to challenge my
reconstruction, and I'm aware I don't have all the resources for this.
An interesting point in the analysis would be this: the paradox inherent
to the interaction between love and forgivenness in this passage. In what
direction does the influence go: is the woman forgiven because she loved,
or does she love because she was forgiven? The several forms of the text
seem to give slightly different answers to this question:
In the text of D, the answer seems to be more stricktly paulinian than in
other texts. The short text of D sees the actions of the woman (perfuming
Jesus, washing his feet etc...) as reflecting her faith, as v. 48 comes
after the short v.47 without elaboration. She is saved by the faith that
she showed in welcoming Jesus.
The other texts seem to have a more nuanced answer: if the woman is saved
by her faith because she welcomes Jesus, her actions are attributed to
love - a love that precedes forgivenness: her sins are forgiven _because
she loved_, says the text. Paradoxically, the text adds also that the one
who has been forgiven will love: love is both the source and the
consequence of forgivenness. The theology of the alexandrian text seems
more elaborate, its logic - may be - less simple than the D-text...
A possible documentation about these theological discussions can be found
in a text of the 1st letter of Clement, bishop of Rome:
"Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the
harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us". (I
Clement, L, 5)
I don't think I am at the end of my reasoning about this verse, but I
thought that at this point it might become interesting to share it with
you... Any thoughts?
Jean Valentin - Bruxelles - Belgique
"Ce qui est trop simple est faux, ce qui est trop complexe est
"What's too simple is wrong, what's too complex is unusable"