How Do the Coptic Versions Help Textual Scholars?

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

As a brief overview of versions, we have the Syriac versions (an Aramaic dialect) from the second century onward, the Latin versions with the Old Latin from the latter part of the second century onward. Eusebius Hieronymus, otherwise known as Jerome gave us a revision of the Old Latin version in 383 C.E. By the third century, the first translation of the Greek NT was published in Coptic. The Gothic version was produced during the fourth century. The Armenian version of the Bible dates from the fifth century and was likely made from both the Greek and Syriac texts. The Georgian version was finished at the end of the sixth century, which exhibited Greek influence, but it had an Armenian and Syriac source. The Ethiopic version was produced about the fourth or fifth century. There are various old Arabic versions. Translations of parts of the Bible into Arabic were produced about the seventh century, but the earliest evidence is that of a version made in Spain in 724. The Slavonic version was produced in the ninth century by the two brothers, Cyril and Methodius. Keep in mind, most scholars would argue that the Syriac versions and the Latin versions are generally speaking the most important when it comes to textual studies.

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220px Uncial 0177 with the text of Luke 1.59-73

Uncial 0177 with the text of Luke 1:59-73

The codex contains a small part of the Gospel of Luke 1:73-2:7 (Greek) and Luke 1:59-73 (Coptic), on one parchment leaf (36 cm by 27.5 cm). It is written in two columns per page, 36 lines per page, in uncial letters. The parchment is ivory colored. The nomina sacra are written in an abbreviated way. The Greek text of this codex is a representative of the Western text-type. It contains many scribal peculiarities. Kurt Aland placed it in Category IICurrently, it is dated by the INTF to the 10th-century. The codex currently is housed at the Austrian National Library (Pap. K. 2698) in Vienna.

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The earliest translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures were into Syriac, Latin, and Coptic. As Christianity spread, of course, other versions would have been required. Even though Greek was very much used in Egypt, in time, the need to have a translation in the native language of the growing Egyptian Christian population would come. Coptic was a later form of the ancient Egyptian language. In the late first or early second century C.E., a Coptic alphabet was developed using somewhat modified Greek letters (majuscules and seven characters from the demotic,[1] representing Egyptian sounds the Greek language did not have). At least by the end of the second or the beginning of the third century (c. 200 C.E.), the first translation of parts of the New Testament had been produced for the Coptic natives of Egypt. Various Coptic dialects were used in Egypt, and in time, various Coptic versions were made. The most important in the study of the early New Testament is the Sahidic Version of Upper Egypt (i.e., the South) and the Bohairic Version of Lower Egypt (i.e., the North).

The Sahidic copsa (Southern Egypt) All NT; fourth-fifth century …

 Sahidic

The Sahidic Coptic, designated by (copsa) is a fourth-fifth-century Coptic manuscript of all of the New Testament. The first translation of parts of the New Testament into the Sahidic dialect was made by the end of the second or the beginning of the third century (c. 200 C.E.) in Upper Egypt, where Greek was not understood that well. The evidence suggests, when comparing the different Sahidic texts, that throughout the third and into the fourth century different translators worked on different parts of the New Testament. Almost the entire Sahidic New Testament is available in extant manuscripts, made up of completed codices and many fragments from the fourth century and later. Generally speaking, the Sahidic agrees with the Alexandrian text-type, with many Western readings being found in the Gospels and Acts. The books of the NT are in the following order: the Gospels (John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Pauline epistles, with Hebrews between 2 Corinthians and Galatians, the general epistles,[2] Acts, and the book of Revelation.[3]

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS King James Bible The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Matthew 15:6: he need not honor his father at all.’ So you have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.

The WH NU has οὐ μὴ τιμήσει τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ has “by no means does he [have to] honor his father” and is support by א B D ita,e syrc copsa, which is found in the ASV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NAB, NLT, CSB, and the UASV. Variant 1/TR adds η την μητερα αυτου (“or his mother”) and is supported by C L W Θ 0106 f1 Maj, which is found in the KJV, NKJV, NASB, TNIV, NEB, REB, and the NJB. Variant 2 adds η την μητερα (“or the [his] mother”) and is supported by 073 f13 33, which is found in no translations. Variant 3 adds και την μητερα αυτου (“and his mother”) and is supported by Φ 565 copbo, which is found in no translations.

Clearly, the shorter reading in WH NU has the superior external manuscript support, where variants 1-3 are simply a scribe expanding the short reading to make it agree with Matthew 15:4-5, which contains both father and mother. There is the lesser possibility that the phrase “or his mother” was accidentally omitted because of the similarity what preceded it (τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ) or even deliberately remove for “stylistic suppression of one element in a frequently repeated phrase”[4] as Metzger put it. However, these internal arguments do not outweigh the quality testimony of the external witnesses.

Luke 4:17: 17 And the scroll[5] of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. And he unrolled the scroll[6] and found the place where it was written,

The TR NU has ἀναπτύξας τὸ βιβλίον “having unrolled the book [scroll]” and is supported by א (D*) Θ Ψ f1,13 Maj, which is found in the NRSV, ESV, NIV, TNIV, NJB, NAB, NLT, CSB, and the UASV. Variant/WH ανοιξας το βιβλιον has “having opened the book” A B L W Ξ 33, which is found in the KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NEB, and the REB.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS I AM John 8.58

Here the documentary evidence is really divided. Therefore, the internal evidence will have to make our decision as to which was the original reading. The verb in the NU and (א (D*) Θ Ψ f1,13 Maj), αναπτυσσω, is the one generally used for unrolling a scroll.[7] The verb, ανοιξας, in the WH and (A B L W Ξ 33) is a generic term that is used in the sense of ‘opening one’s mouth’ (Matt 5:2; 17:27; Ac 10:34), ‘opening one’s eyes’ (John 11:37), or ‘opening doors’ (Ac 5:19). However, it could also be used for opening a scroll or a codex. When Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth, reaching for the scroll or book of Isaiah, it was not a codex, but rather it was a scroll or roll. In the second century and later Christians used codices as opposed to the scrolls. Therefore, it would seem far more likely that a later scribe, who was familiar with a codex, i.e., a book would have changed the verb from “unroll” to “open.” In addition, if we look a few verses down to verse 20, when Jesus is done reading, the account says, Jesus “rolled up [πτυξας][8] the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down …” Here Luke used the antonym “roll up” [πτυξας] of “unrolled” [αναπτυσσω], which has no variants.

John 10:7: So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.

All documentary evidence reads εγω ειμι η θυρα των προβατων (“I am the door of the sheep”), unquestionably. Among all Greek manuscripts, only P75 reads ο ποιμην των προβατων (“the shepherd of the sheep”) The reading is supported by {\displaystyle {\mathfrak {P}}} copsa copach and copfay.[9] The scribe of P75 is known for his due diligence in his unyielding practice of copying his exemplar identically. It would seem that, in this instance, he has abandoned his exemplar. If so, he likely thought that his exemplar must have been mistaken. This would mean that a scribe known for a word for word copying of his exemplar, was here thinking about what he was writing, thinking that Jesus was the shepherd of the sheep, which may have seemed to make no sense to have said, “I am the door,” as opposed to “I am the shepherd.” A few verses earlier in John 10:2, Jesus said, “But the one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” Whereas Jesus was the shepherd who went through the door in verse 2: rather, now he is the door in verse 7. Jesus’ likening himself to such a figurative door is in harmony with the fact that by way of his ransom sacrifice, sheep (disciples) can be saved and gain like.–John 14:6.

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Acts 27:37: 37 And all of us souls in the ship were two hundred and seventy-six.

The TR NU have διακοσιαι εβδομηκοντα εξ (“two hundred seventy-six”) and is supported by א C Ψ 33 1739 syrp,h copbo, which is found in all the English translations. Variant 1 has διακοσιαι εβδομηκοντα πεντε (“two hundred seventy-five”) and is supported by A. Variant 2/WH has ως εβδομηκοντα εξ (“about seventy-six”) and is supported by B copsa. Variant 3 has εβδομηκοντα εξ (“seventy-six”) and is supported by 69.

The reading in the TR NU has good witnesses and is the original reading. The scribe of variant 1 simply rounded the number off. The scribe for variant 2 in B and copsa (“about seventy-six”) made a slip-up by joining the final Omega, ω, of the preceding πλοιω, with the next letter, Sigma, ς, which stands for 200, to form ως (“about”). Metzger writes, “In Greek the letter sigma may stand for the numeral 200, and omicron for 70; the letter digamma (or stigma) is 6.”[10] Both comfort and Metzger rightly mention that ως (“about”) would not go before an exact number. Variant 3 is simply a result of Variant 2. They were sailing on “a [grain] ship from Alexandria,” which regularly brought agricultural products between Alexandria, Egypt, and Rome. It was common for such a high number of people to travel on such a ship.

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1 Corinthians 15:47: 47 The first man is from the earth and made of dust; the second man is from heaven.

The WH NU has ὁ δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ “the second man is from heaven” and is supported by א* B C D* 0243 33 1739* copbo, which is found in the ASV, RSV, ESV, NASB, LEB, CSB and the UASV. Variant 1 has ο δευτερος ο κυριος εξ ουρανου “the second, the Lord from heaven” and is supported by 630 Marcion, which is found in no translations. Variant 2/TR has ο δευτερος ανθρωπος ο κυριος εξ ουρανου “the second man, the Lord from heaven” and is supported by א2 A D1 Ψ 075 1739mg Maj syr, which is found in the KJV, NKJV and the CSB footnote. Variant 3 has ο δευτερος ανθρωπος πνευματικος εξ ουρανου “the second man, a spiritual one from heaven” and is supported by P46, which is found in no translations. Variant 4 has ο δευτερος ανθρωπος εξ ουρανου ο ουρανιος “the second man, the heavenly one from heaven” and is supported by F G, which is found in no translations.

The Epistle to the Hebrews Paul PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

The reading that all of the variants are derived from is ὁ δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ “the second man is from heaven” and it is supported by weighty and early witnesses that represent several text-types. All of the scribes from each of the variants were simply trying to qualify just what kind of man Jesus was. Marcion dealt with the issues by ignoring it, he simply removed “man” and replaced it with “Lord.”

The Bohairic copbo (Northern Egypt) All NT; ninth century Bohairic

The Bohairic Coptic, designated by (copbo) is a fourth-fifth-century Coptic manuscript of all of the New Testament. The Bohairic Coptic dialect of Lower (Northern) Egypt version (Near Alexandria and in the delta region) was made a little later than the Sahidic version. The reason being, the Greek language was more prominent in Lower Egypt; thus, the need for a translation into the common language was not immediately needed. A very literal translation was made in the beginning of the third century C.E. The Bohairic translation was influenced by several factors, which would include the other dialects, primarily Sahidic and Fayyumic (Central Egypt). Most of the more than one hundred Bohairic are from the ninth-century and later. This, initially, move some scholars to suggest that the Bohairic version dated no earlier than the seventh or eighth century. However, some manuscripts go back to the fourth and fifth centuries (Codex Bodmer III)

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Middle Egypt obviously falls between Northern and Southern Egypt. The only witnesses that have survived of the Akhmimic and Fayyumic versions are mere fragments. The Schøyen Codex, a papyrus manuscript contains the Gospel of Matthew and is dated to the early fourth century. It is the earliest copy of Matthew in any Coptic dialect. Codex Glazier contains Acts 1:1-15:3 and is housed at the Pierpont Morgan Library. It is textually very close to Greek Codex Bezae. It is dated to the fourth or fifth century. P. Mich. inv. 3521 (Inventory Number) is a Gospel of John in Fayyumic, dating to about 325 C.E.

  • copfay (Fayyumic) John; 4th–5th c.
  • copach (Akhmimic) John; James; 4th c.
  • copach2 (Subakhmimic) John; 4th c.
  • copG67 (a Middle Egyptian MS) Acts; 5th c.
  • copmae (Middle Egyptian) Matthew; 4th–5th c.

The great quality of the Sahidic and Bohairic versions make these very important. Christian was early to Egypt with the good news and we are very fortunate that the Egyptian Christians preserved an early form of the text. The Sahidic and Bohairic versions have the same text type that is found in the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which have long been the top trusted manuscripts.

Locations of the Origins of Versions

(Wegner 2006, p. 271) Location of the Origins of the Versions

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[1] Demotic is a simplified form of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics is a writing system that uses symbols or pictures to denote objects, concepts, or sounds.

[2] The epistle of James, the first epistle of Peter, the second epistle of Peter, the first epistle of John, the second epistle of John, the third epistle of John, and the epistle of Jude.

[3] Verses that have been omitted are: Matthew 12:47; Matthew 16:2b-3; 17:21; 18:11; 23:14; Mark 9:44.46; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 17:36; 22:43-44; John 5:4; 7:53-8:11; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29; Romans 16:24.

[4] Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 31.

[5] Or a roll

[6] Or roll

[7] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 71.

[8] IBID, 895.

[9] Eberhard Nestle and Erwin Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, ed. Barbara Aland et al., 28. revidierte Auflage. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 332.

[10] Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994).

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