This question appeared on the rfw list:
“While I was studying the gospel according to Luke, I found
something that many of you, most likely, know about. The use of a
second Cainan in Luke 3; which does not appear in the chronologies of
Genesis 5/11. I understand that some believe this is a rare scribal error. That one of the oldest manuscripts available to Beze (Codex Bezae) did not include the second Cainan. Does anyone have
any thoughts about this? Is it a scribal error?”
In order to understand this question, one first needs to be aware of the relevant texts:
Luke 3:23-38 – “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was [the son] of Heli…Which was [the son] of Saruch, which was [the son] of Ragau, which was [the son] of Phalec, which was [the son] of Heber, which was [the son] of Sala, Which was [the son] of Cainan, which was [the son] of Arphaxad, which was [the son] of Sem, which was [the son] of Noe, which was [the son] of Lamech, Which was [the son] of Mathusala, which was [the son] of Enoch, which was [the son] of Jared, which was [the son] of Maleleel, which was [the son] of Cainan, Which was [the son] of Enos, which was [the son] of Seth, which was [the son] of Adam, which was [the son] of God.” (KJV, translated from the Greek)
Genesis 5:10-32 - “And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died. And Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel…And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (KJV, translated from the Hebrew)
Genesis 11:11-16 – “And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah: And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters. And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber: And Salah lived after he begat Eber four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters. And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg:…” (KJV, translated from the Hebrew)
Genesis 11:11-16 –“11kai ezhsen shm meta to gennhsai auton ton arfaxad pentakosia eth kai egennhsen uious kai qugateras kai apeqanen12kai ezhsen arfaxad ekaton triakonta pente eth kai egennhsen ton kainan13kai ezhsen arfaxad meta to gennhsai auton ton kainan eth tetrakosia triakonta kai egennhsen uious kai qugateras kai apeqanen kai ezhsen kainan ekaton triakonta eth kai egennhsen ton sala kai ezhsen kainan meta to gennhsai auton ton sala eth triakosia triakonta kai egennhsen uious kai qugateras kai apeqanen14kai ezhsen sala ekaton triakonta eth kai egennhsen ton eber15kai ezhsen sala meta to gennhsai auton ton eber triakosia triakonta eth kai egennhsen uious kai qugateras kai apeqanen16kai ezhsen eber ekaton triakonta tessara eth kai egennhsen ton falek“ (Septuagint in Greek)
Genesis 11:11-16 – “And Sem lived, after he had begotten Arphaxad, five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters, and died. And Arphaxad lived a hundred and thirty-five years, and begot Cainan. And Arphaxad lived after he had begotten Cainan, [a] four hundred years, and begot sons and daughters, and died. And Cainan lived a hundred and thirty years and begot Sala; and Canaan lived after he had begotten Sala, three hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters, and died. And Sala lived an hundred and thirty years, and begot Heber. And Sala lived after he had begotten Heber, three hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters, and died. And Heber lived an hundred and thirty-four years, and begot Phaleg.” (Septuagint translated into English [http://www.ccel.org/bible/brenton/Genesis/index.html ])
So there is this puzzle about Cainan #2, based upon the texts shown above.
The Westminster Confession correctly states: “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them.” In other words, the Old Testament in Hebrew is correct and has preserved what was contained in the original. Hence, we can infer that the original Hebrew text is correct to leave out Cainan #2. Evidently, Cainan #2 was added over the course of time, due to scribal error, and so erroneously appears in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.
But what are we to make of Cainan #2’s appearance in the Greek New Testament? Here we come to this additional statement in the Westminster Confession, which accurately explains the propriety of use of translations: “But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every people unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.” In order to demonstrate the propriety of use of translations, the New Testament makes use of quotes from the Greek Septuagint, even when that translation is not a perfectly accurate and correct translation of the original. In actuality, no translation is perfect, which is why “in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto” the original Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. But such translations are still proper, and their use proper, “that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.” We should not be so fastidious about a perfect translation that we fail to translate the scriptures at all.
This is why we may use the King James Version Bible, even though it contains some translation errors like its use of the word ‘Easter’ in Acts 12:4 (“And when he had apprehended him, he put [him] in prison, and delivered [him] to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.”) We are simply following in the Apostolic tradition of using translations, just as the Apostles used the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament in writing the New Testament. When Luke wrote his book, he well knew that Cainan #2 appeared in the Greek Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Old Testament. He also knew the Hebrew Old Testament was right, but he consistently used the Greek Septuagint, just like we would consistently use the KJV translation. It would not be proper, for instance, when reading the scriptures from the KJV during a public worship service, to change the word ‘Easter’ to ‘passover’. Similarly, it would not have been proper for Luke to edit his Septuagint quotes.
This explains the presence of Cainan #2 in Luke 3, while also explaining its absence in Genesis 5/11. We should not resort to contrived and dubious explanations for Cainan #2 in Luke 3, such as that the original Luke 3 manuscript really did not have Cainan #2. That flies in the face of the evidence. No, we can remain true to sound doctrine without such incredible explanations.
Note: Below is a further explanation I provided to issues posed-
“…quotes of the Septuagint in the NT do not change their
character- they remain quotes of a translation of the OT Hebrew. If you
or I quote from the KJV, we are of course quoting from a translation. If
the inspired writers of the NT had not quoted from the Septuagint translation,
or quoted only those passages which were **perfectly** translated, then what
would give us the right to quote from the KJV? How do we know where it is
perfectly translated? We would be hamstrung, and the Word of God could
not have free course to go around the world into the languages of the world, because
there would be no infallible, inspired translation. But God allows the
use of imperfect translations, and Luke 3 is one proof.
The KJV translators were correct not to excise the Second Cainan from the Luke 3 account, for that would have excised what Luke actually included in the Greek. And Luke included it, knowing full well it was not in the original Hebrew, just like you or I might quote from the KJV (even when it might not be perfectly translated)
Josephus knew Hebrew, so I would think he knew there was no Second Cainan, as did the Hebrew scholar Saul (ie, Paul) and his friend Luke.
Luke did not introduce an error into the New Testament, because rightly interpreted it is not an error, but a quote from an imperfect translation. Understood as a quote from an imperfect translation, it does not introduce an error. It only would have introduced an error **if** the NT taught that the Septuagint was a perfect translation, to be treated with greater or equal authority than the Hebrew OT. But the NT teaches no such thing. It teaches us the Hebrew OT, not the Greek translation of it, is the foundational authority. But it also teaches us the legitimate use of translations.”