2014-January/February Issue-Practical Lessons-Artical 01


Some Altered Scriptures

“The false pen of the scribes hath wrought falsely” (Jeremiah 8:8, ASV).

James Parkinson

Occasionally a scripture difficulty is resolved by Bible manuscripts of the early Christians, when they differ from the later manuscripts in the Dark Ages to the Reformation, from which translations were made, including the English-language King James Version (or, Authorized Version). The best evidence is a preponderance of the earliest manuscripts plus later manuscripts that usually agree with most of the early ones. One manuscript does not outweigh hundreds of others, even if it is the best manuscript we have (just as the best of secretaries today will make an occasional typo). Nor does the vast majority of later manuscripts outweigh the best ones (just as turning the presses faster and longer does not establish the accuracy of what is printed). In the General Epistles the best manuscripts are, in approximate decreasing order of reliability: Vatican 1209, mid-4th century. More carefully written than א, but with some sig­ nificant interpretive alterations. At its best in Peter’s epistles (and Acts, though not in Paul’s epistles). 0232 Oxford, Bodleian Libr. P. Ant 12, ca. A.D. 500. 2John 1-9 only. 1739 Athos (Greece), Lavra B’ 64, 10th century. Very good also in Paul’s epistles. p74 Cologny/Geneva, P. Bodmer XVII, 7th century. Text in Acts is even better than that of the General Epistles. Alexandrian; London, Brit. Mus., Royal 1D. VIII, early 5th century. Very good every­ where except in the Gospels (where its value is minor). א Sinaitic; London, Brit. Mus., Add. 43725, mid-4th century. More careless mis­ takes than B, and with some words changed to more contemporary speech, but fewer theological alterations. [Early correctors are designated (א1), or (אa) and (אb).] p72 Cologny/Geneva, P. Bodmer VII, VIII, ca. A.D. 300. Epistles of Jude and Peter only. Ephraemi; Paris, Bibl. Nat. Gr. 9, 5th century. Palimpsest (Biblical text overwritten with the writings of St. Ephraem), with sev­ eral leaves missing. Excellent in Revelation, but not in Luke and Matthew. Good to very good everywhere else. 1852 Uppsala, Sweden, Bibl. Ms. Gr. 11, 13th century. Unusually good for a late manuscript. Ψ (= 044) Athos, Lavra 172, ca. A.D. 800.

Early Versions

Coptic (Bohairic, Sahidic, etc.): a fusion of Egyptian with Greek (for theological terms). First class evidence everywhere except Rev­ elation. Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin translation, ca. AD 400): Stuttgart and Wordsworth-White criti­ cal editions are first class evidence, whereas the Clementine and Sixtus editions are not (being based on later Vulgate manuscripts, containing several theological alterations). Cannot be used to referee use of the definite article, as Latin does not use definite articles. Other rather good manuscripts in the General Epistles (James to Jude) are: 1881, 1241, 1243, 2344, 33, 322, 323, 048, and perhaps the Armenian version, but these are not included above.

Speculation on Reasons for the Alteration of the Above Holy Scriptures

James 4:4. Metzger writes, “In scriptural imagery, μοιχαλίς (“adulteress”) is used figuratively of Israel as the unfaithful spouse of Jehovah… and similarly in the New Testament… When copyists, however, understood the word here in its literal sense, they were puzzled why only women were mentioned and therefore considered it right to add a reference to men as well. The shorter reading is strongly testified by both Alexandrian and Western witnesses”. 1 Peter 3:18. Metzger writes, “While acknowledging the difficulty of ascertaining the original text, a majority of the Committee preferred the reading περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν [“suffered for sins”] because (a) this verb, which is a favorite of the author (it occurs elsewhere in 1 Peter eleven times), carries on the thought of ver. 17, whereas ἀποθνῄσκειν (which occurs nowhere else in the epistle) abruptly introduces a new idea; (b) in view of the presence of the expression περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν scribes would be more likely to substitute ἀπέθανεν [“died”] for ἔπαθεν than vice versa …” However, the lack of more than one good manuscript for the 4th-edition GNT reading, in contrast to the heavyweight evidence for “died” (in the 1st-edition GNT), seems too strong to dismiss. And only here in 3:18 is atonement the context for the word. Scribes desire for uniformity could explain a change of “died” to “suffered.” (Peter’s rueful use of the word “die” in Matthew 26:35 might possibly explain his reluctance to use the word in later years.) Theological consequences: Believers in Christ Jesus as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:5-6), and evangelicals who profess that Jesus Christ died for every man (Hebrews 2:9), will be content with “died for sins.” But strict five-point Calvinists, professing that it was Jesus’ sufferings that made the substitutionary atonement (and limiting the benefit only to “the elect”), and not his death (for Adam, and hence his posterity), will necessarily desire “suffered for sins.” 2 Peter 3:10. Metzger concedes that εὑρεθήσεται [“shall be exposed”] is “the old­ est reading, and the one which best explains the origin of the others that have been pre­ served,” and adds, “In view of the difficulty of extracting any acceptable sense from the passage, it is not strange that copyists and translators introduced a variety of modifica­ tions.” However, if “shall be exposed” is ap­ plied modernly to politicians, religious lead­ ers and businessmen, it makes perfectly good sense. Some theologies (technically, escha­ tologies) accommodate that thought. 1 John 5:7-8. Metzger observes, “That these words [‘in heaven, … in earth’] are spurious and have no right to stand in the New Testament is certain in the light of the following considerations. “(A) EXTERNAL EVIDENCE. (1) The passage is absent from every known Greek manuscript except eight [now nine]… Four of the eight manuscripts contain the pas­ sage as a variant reading written in the mar­ gin as a later addition to the manuscript [61, 88v.r., 221v.r., 429v.r., 629, 636v.r., 918, 2318, 2473] … (2) The passage is quoted by none of the Greek Fathers, who, had they known it, would most certainly have employed it in the Trinitarian controversies (Sabellian and Arian). Its first appearance in Greek is in a Greek version to the (Latin) Acts of the Lat­ eran Council in 1215. (3) The passage is ab­ sent from the manuscripts of all ancient ver­ sions (Syriac [Aramaic], Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic) except the Latin; and it is not found (a) in the Old Latin in its early form … or in the Vulgate (b) as issued by Jerome … or (c) as revised by Alciun … (B) INTERNAL PROBABILITIES. (1) As regards transcriptional probability, if the passage were original, no good reason can be found to account for its omission, either accidentally or intentionally, by copyists of hundreds of Greek manuscripts, and by translators of an­ cient versions. (2) As regards intrinsic prob­ ability, the passage makes an awkward break in the sense.” [This interpolation is the best documented alteration of the Bible. Desiderius Erasmus rushed the first Greek New Testament to press in 1516, drawing the wrath of the up­ staged editors of the Complutensian Polyglot at the University of Alcala, Spain. They ac­ cused him of falsifying it by failing to include the interpolation of 1 John 5:7-8, which by now had found its way into the Latin Vul­ gate manuscripts. Erasmus agreed to add the words if even one Greek manuscript could be found with those words. The ink was scarcely dry when they brought him such a manuscript (#61)! Erasmus then reluctantly added them to his 3rd edition in 1522. And it has taken more than another three centuries to get them back out again.] Jude 22-23. While no consensus exists, the agreement of a few best manuscripts on three clauses (and their general meaning) seems persuasive. Also, as Metzger sees it, “In view of the author’s predilection for ar­ ranging his material in groups of three (as in verses 2, 4, 8, in the examples of judgment in verses 5-7, and of sin in ver. 11), a majority of the Committee was disposed to prefer as original the triple arrangement of the passage, and to regard the other forms as aberrations that arose partly from scribal inattentiveness, partly from indecision concerning the sense of διακρίνεσθαι in ver. 22 (in ver. 9 it means “to contend” with someone; here, however, it must mean “to doubt”), and partly from concern to provide a main clause after three (or two) relative clauses.” The reading of the Athos manuscript (Ψ), which is also the read­ ing of the first corrector of the Sinaitic (א1), is most likely the original. Reference: Bruce M. Metzger, “A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament,” 2nd edn.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblegesell­schaft (1971, 1994).

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