If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” - Luke 11:13 NIV

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! - Matthew 7:11 NIV

It seems both of these passages describe the same event where Jesus is teaching, given their surrounding context. If this is the case, why the difference between Luke's account, "...give the Holy Spirit..." and Matthew's account, "...give good gifts..."? I know the Holy Spirit could be described as a good gift, but I'm just curious if there is something in the greek/etc. that might shed more light on this.

3 Answers 3


There is actually no Greek manuscript that explicitly states what the NIV implies in Matthew 7:11: "how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts ...". The Greek simply contains the adjective "good" (αγαθα) by itself, which most versions translate as "good things". The NIV is one of the few versions that imputes a meaning of "good gifts" to the verse.

Furthermore, "Holy Spirit" in Luke 11:13 is not what appears in all manuscripts; there are some manuscripts which refer to "a good spirit" (πνεῦμα ἀγαθὸν) rather than "the Holy Spirit" (πνεῦμα ἅγιον), including one papyrus1 that dates back to the 3rd century.2 The oldest complete commentary on Luke, undertaken by Cyril of Alexandria in the late 4th/early 5th century, shows "good spirit" rather than "Holy Spirit" when it quotes this verse (see below). Metzger's Textual Commentary assigns πνεῦμα ἅγιον ("Holy Spirit") as the reading in Luke 11:13 to category "B", which signifies a high degree of, but not complete certainty. (The text used today by the Greek Orthodox Church contains "good spirit", not "Holy Spirit"). The two words are close in Greek - agatho for good, agio for holy - but they are not the same. It seems relevant to me also that there is no article "the" in the Greek text (as in "the Holy Spirit"), in any variant.

I think these are important points, because an exegesis of these verses that focuses on the Holy Spirit as a "good gift" may be getting away from what is actually in the text. It may be a useful and edifying topic, but it may not be addressing what is actually in these Scriptures.

Cyril explains the verse in Luke as follows:

And the same reasoning holds good of the serpent and fish, and the egg and scorpion. If he ask a fish, you will grant it: but if he see a serpent, and wish to seize it, you will hold back the child's hand. If he want an egg, you will offer it at once, and encourage his desire after things of this sort, that the infant may advance to riper age: but if he see a scorpion creeping about, and run after it, imagining it to be something pretty, and as being ignorant of the harm it can do, you will, I suppose, of course stop him, and not let him be injured by the noxious animal. When therefore He says, "You who are evil;" by which He means, you whose mind is capable of being influenced by evil, and not uniformly inclined to good like the God of all; "you know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give a good spirit to them that ask Him? And by "a good spirit'. He means spiritual grace: for this in every way is good, and if a man receive it, he will become most blessed, and worthy of admiration.3

I think this interpretation also makes more sense, since the first time the Holy Spirit was received was when Christ breathed on the Apostles (John 20:22), and then not even fully until Pentecost (Acts 2).

Further, I think when both of these things are considered - (a) a more faithful translation of Matthew 7:11 ("good" or "good things" rather than "good gifts"); and (b) understanding Luke 11:13 to refer to a "good spirit" rather than the "Holy Spirit" - the verses are much more in harmony than they appear to be in the NIV translations.

An alternate translation that accords with the above points is provided in Laurent Cleenewerck's Eastern Orthodox Bible: New Testament:

Matthew 7:11

If you then who are evil [still] know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good [things] to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give a good spirit to those who ask him!

Having said all this, I think there are solid counterpoints. In addition to the manuscript weight, there are also Church Fathers who quote Luke 11:13 with the phrase "Holy Spirit" (e.g. Ambrose, Cyril of Jerusalem), so I wouldn't want to reject all other interpretations out of hand.

1 P45
2 Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament (11th. ed.)
3 Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, Sermon LXXIX


Beautiful question.

Luke 11:13

εἰ οὖν ὑμεῖς πονηροὶ ὑπάρχοντες οἴδατε δόματα ἀγαθὰ διδόναι τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὁ πατὴρ [ὁ] ἐξ οὐρανοῦ δώσει πνεῦμα ἅγιον τοῖς αἰτοῦσιν αὐτόν

πνευμα αγιον which is Holy Spirit.

Matthew 7:11

εἰ οὖν ὑμεῖς πονηροὶ ὄντες οἴδατε δόματα ἀγαθὰ διδόναι τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς δώσει ἀγαθὰ τοῖς αἰτοῦσιν αὐτόν

ἀγαθὰ which is of a good constitution or nature.

As for why the different terms for the gifts, I'd have to point towards someone like Kacy Madsen who wrote in The Father's Good Gifts;

Although both Matthew and Luke used a common source as a basis for the parable of the "Father’s Good Gifts," there are several significant differences between them. There are contrasting images of what a father will or will not give in response to his child’s requests. Nolland points out that "Luke bears the main responsibility for the significant reformation … apparently for reasons of syntax and to clarify the thematic development of the material” (629). Luke’s version seems to retain the more original form of the “egg” / ”scorpion” pair. But Matthew’s reference to “good things” is probably more original that Luke’s “Holy Spirit” (Noland 629). Matthew’s “good things” is considered more original due to its broader application including spiritual gifts, whereas Luke’s reference to the “Holy Spirit” is much more specific and reflects his interest in the Holy Spirit (Hultgren 238). For Luke, “the Spirit ‘is the ultimate gift of answered prayer.’ It is the basis for joy, strength, and courage…”; to Luke the Spirit represented all good things from God, and thus its imagery was as broadly applicable as the “good gifts” utilized by Matthew (Hultgren 239).

Greek resources:

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975, United Bible Societies, London


The difference I see in the closing of these two "ask, seek, knock passages is the audience. Matthew 5-7 is the Sermon on the Mount. The audience is diverse, from those who are already followers of Jesus to the interested, to the curious, to those who are likely sneering at this upstart rabbi.

But the audience in Luke 11 is Jesus' close disciples. That explains to me the fact that Jesus says that those (of that group) can ask the Father for the Holy Spirit. They are already His disciples, so "in Christ" and can ask for that gift, whereas those of the world who have not yielded their lives to Christ do not have such an opportunity to ask for the Holy Spirit.

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    Explicit quotations of Luke 11:1 and Matthew 5:1 would greatly improve this answer. ¶ Other suggestions: 1) drop the "I see" and "to me" (the question is about the text, not about you); and 2) retain the original order of the two verses (swapping them as was done here can cause confusion). Commented May 1 at 13:51
  • I should add that I actually like this explanation; it's the presentation that doesn't fit well with this site. Commented May 1 at 13:53

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