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When verse references get in the way (Luke 24:33–34)

When the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus returned to Jerusalem, the Eleven and the other disciples told the two that Jesus had indeed risen and that he had appeared to Peter. But our translations aren’t that clear.

Here is the passage. “33 So they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, where they found the Eleven and those with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has indeed been raised and has appeared to Simon!” The relevant Greek is, ἠθροισμένους τοὺς ἕνδεκα καὶ τοὺς σὺν αὐτοῖς λέγοντας ὅτι ὄντως ἠγέρθη ὁ κύριος.

The problem is three-fold. (1) The twice repeated subject is the two, not the Eleven. “They” got up and “they” found the Eleven, so it is natural to think that “they” are “saying.” (2) The verse reference 34 gets in the way of αὐτοῖς λέγοντας. (3) By bringing the translation of the participle ἠθροισμένους to the end of the phrase, it separates “them” and “saying.”

Who is speaking? The natural flow of the sentence (in English) is that the two are speaking  and not the Eleven. However, exegesis and the placement of λέγοντας next to αὐτοῖς makes it clear that it is the Eleven and those with them who are speaking.

But when you put punctuation after “them,” move the translation of the participle after “them,” and add a verse reference between αὐτοῖς and λέγοντας, it gets more confusing. The NIV reads, “33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’” When I first read it, I found myself saying, who asking, “How did the two know that?”

The NET similarly has, “They found the eleven and those with them gathered together 34 and saying, ‘The Lord has really risen,’” but their footnote on “and” says that it was added to make it clear who is speaking. They felt the English was sufficiently unclear as to require a footnote.

The HCSB is more confusing. “They found the Eleven and those with them gathered together, 34 who said, ‘The Lord has certainly been raised’” (see also the NLT). However, they also add a footnote to “who said” that the Greek explicity refers to the Eleven and those with them.

If you are really into natural language translation, you might expect something like this. “There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together. 34 They said to the two, ‘It is true!’” If you were convinced it was just the Eleven who are speaking, you could translate, “The Eleven said to them,” but that exegesis is doubtful.

The best alternative would be to keep the participle where it belongs, but translation then becomes difficult. How about this? “And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found gathered together the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who were saying, ‘The Lord has really risen!’” Not the best English, but it is clear.

However you handle the passage, the Greek is explicit and the English confusing. Is it a big deal? No, but you might have to do a double take to be clear who is speaking, and part of the point of translation is to not require double takes.

Certainly one of the lessons to learn is do everything you can to ignore verse references. While usually they help, they often get in the way.