So Which Is It?
A close look at Luke 21:36
For certain subjects in the Bible there are key verses that are definitive, so much so that they can make or break important doctrine. For the subject of the rapture [Harpazo in Greek], Luke 21:36 is such a verse. Here is the verse in the King James Version (KJV) and New American Standard (NAS):
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. – KJV
But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. – NAS
There is a significant and crucial difference between these two highly regarded translations that I have underlined. All the other twenty translations I looked at are split nearly down the middle. Why the difference?
One version says that by watching and praying always, we may "be accounted worthy" to escape, while the other says that we, by praying may "have strength" to escape! The KJV implies that only some will be taken as the bride, leaving those not watching or praying. The NAS indicates that somehow we need strength to escape – and some could say this removes the verse from the rapture arena and instead is talking about something else, possibly to the Jews to escape to the desert after the Abomination of Desolation (AofD).
How can there be such variance? The difference in meanings is so great that it should not be passed over carelessly.
The problem lies with which Greek texts are consulted for translation. Some texts have the word Kataxiothete, meaning "to be accounted worthy", and some texts have Katischysete, meaning "to have strength" or "to prevail". So which word did Luke write down? How did some copies get changed? Was the "corruption" due to a copying error or was it done purposely to change the meaning? If purposely, then why? How can we know which is original?
There are great arguments as to which text or texts are correct and which are altered. Fingers fly in all directions. But if the scholars can't come to any consensus and major bibles have different meanings, how are we ordinary folks supposed to know which is correct to found our beliefs on?
I believe we can know with reasonable assurance if we look at the big picture and consider all the evidence. I will present four reasons for my opinion of which is correct.
Kataxiothete or Katischysete?
Greek texts with Katischysete (from G2729):
· SBL Greek New Testament 2010
· Nestle Greek New Testament 1904
· Westcott and Hort 1881
· Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants]
· Tischendorf 8th Edition
Greek texts with Kataxiothete (from G2661):
· RP Byzantine Majority Text 2005
· Greek Orthodox Church 1904
· Scrivener's Textus Receptus 1894
· Stephanus Textus Receptus 1550
It is my resolved opinion that the KJV got it right this time – but it has nothing to do with conservatism or any assumption that the more traditionally accepted Greek text collections are "more accurate" than the claimed "older" texts. And I am not part of the self-blinded "King James Only" movement because as an amateur scholar I have serious criticisms of the KJV. Actually, I more often favor the NAS over most other translations.
Here are some reasons why I think that "be accounted worthy" [Kataxiothete] is correct:
1) Context and vocabulary
The context of Luke 21 is immediately after Jesus has explained what will happen at the end of this age by giving a short-list of the events and sequence of the tribulation (verses 7-27), ending with his return to earth that will be seen by all. Then in verses 34-35 he warns about not being caught unaware before this time of tribulation starts and that it will come "suddenly". He concludes with our verse 36 explaining how to be ready. Verse 37 is a new subject and paragraph.
The subject of verses 34-36 is about how to escape before it all starts! This is very important!
In our verse in focus, the Greek word behind escape is Ekphygein which is a compound word. Ek means "from out of" and Phygein (from Phuego) means "to escape" and "to flee". Therefore the full meaning is "to escape and flee from out of".
To escape what? All those things he just described. Escape to where? "To stand before the Son of Man", who is Jesus – Yahshua. This is the rapture! It is not talking to the Jews about fleeing the AofD 42 months later – or anything else.
We don't need any strength for this escape. Babies, invalids, and the aged – as well as marathon runners – all who are his bride will be translated and snatched away without any strength of their own.
2) A second usage by Luke
In Luke 20:35 the same word (with a different grammar suffix) is used for the companion subject of those who are allowed to "obtain" the resurrection:
But they which shall be-accounted-worthy [Kataxiothentes] to obtain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage. – Luke 20:35
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 we are told that the resurrection will happen immediately before the rapture (whether seconds or hours is not disclosed):
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in the Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive who remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
These three conceptually different events, 1) the resurrection of the dead, 2) the translation of the living, and 3) the removal of us all to heaven, will happen in quick sequence at "the last trump" of 1 Corinthians 15:52. Often people will use the term "the rapture" to mean all of the above but I like to use "R&R" for the Resurrection and the Rapture to conceptually include all those who have gone before us.
Although the use of the same word in Luke 20:25 and 21:36 for the same R&R event is not absolute proof in itself, it is strongly suggestive that it is those who are "accounted worthy" who will qualify for the resurrection and the rapture.
3) A third witness by Paul
There is not much commentary needed for this one. In a verse authored by Paul, he uses the same Greek word that clearly speaks about people being "accounted worthy" for the Kingdom of God:
This is an obvious sign of the righteous judgment of God, to the end that you may be-counted-worthy [Kataxiothenai] of the Kingdom of God, for which you also suffer. – 2 Thessalonians 1:5
4) Original Hebrew text
Some of you won't accept this as it contrary to traditional teaching but there is a growing mountain of internal and archeological evidence that much of the New Testament (NT) was originally penned in Hebrew and then translated by many different people into Aramaic and Greek. Specifically the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews, James, both Peters, three Johns, and Revelation.
It is an undisputed fact that Paul by his own words spoke his letters to scribes and he added the last sentences in his own hand to prove their authenticity. I believe that Paul's ability to speak Greek was limited and his ability to write in Greek even less, and therefore the primary reason for using the scribes was because he needed his words to be translated properly. Greek is a difficult language and even Josephus said this and admitted his Greek was poor.
There is much emotional opposition to the idea of original Hebrew authorship but the facts keep rolling in. If you will allow yourself, even briefly, to consider this premise, you will see how so many of the unanswered questions and problems in our NT texts are answered with this supposition. To cover this subject properly for the whole NT would take weeks of writing so cannot be done here but I can demonstrate how this explains this one verse.
A) If indeed the originals were Hebrew and translated directly into Aramaic and Greek then we can use very old Aramaic texts as a second witness to the original meanings.
Here is Luke 21:36 from the Aramaic Bible in Plain English:
Be watching at all times, therefore, and praying that you will be worthy to escape from these things which are going to occur, and to stand before The Son of Man. – ABE
Even if I am wrong about Luke being written in Hebrew, the fact is that the Aramaic, coming from very old sources, is giving us the same meaning as the KJV gives us is a worthy witness.
B) So how did we get two seemingly opposing ideas in the Greek texts? If the original Luke was Hebrew and different translators understood the Hebrew differently then this could solve the case.
A excellent candidate for the original Hebrew word is Chayil (http://biblehub.com/hebrew/chayil_2428.htm) which means valiant, worthy, able, strong, strength, capable, and army – depending on the context.
This can be seen, for example, in 1 Kings 1:52a where this word is translated as worthy:
And Solomon said, If he will shew himself a worthy [Chayil] man… – KJV
Solomon said, "If he is a worthy [Chayil] man… – NAS
…but in 2 Samuel 22:40a the exact same word is translated as "strength"
For thou hast girded me with strength [Chayil] to battle… – KJV
For You have girded me with strength [Chayil] for battle… – NAS
If I am correct that Luke wrote this as "that you may be Chayil to escape" then one translator could have easily understood this as "to be accounted worthy" and another could have understood it as "to have strength".
To conclude, I strongly believe by the evidence that Luke's intent in this verse was to say that we should be always watching for our Savior's return, that we should be praying at all times, and by doing so we keep ourselves in spiritual condition to be counted as worthy to escape the time of testing that will soon come upon the whole world – and instead stand on the victory podiums before the Bema seat in heaven.
If I may be so bold I would like to leave you with my own translation of Luke 21:36 from all that I understand:
And so, watch always, praying at all opportunities, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are about to occur and to stand before the Son of man. – Tom's