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The Practice of Textual Criticism
Determine the Original Reading
Note: The following are critical texts: the TR stands for Textus Receptus text (1550), WH stands for Westcott and Hort text (1881), and NU stands for the Nestle-Aland text (28th ed. 2012) and the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (5th ed. 2014). WHNU is applicable to all three texts. GENTI: 2019 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear
Collecting the manuscript evidence is a laborious process, but it is a little more straightforward than the evaluation process. In the collection process, the goal is to gather as much evidence as possible concerning various readings of a specific text. In the evaluation process, the aim is to determine which reading has the best evidence for being the original reading. The evaluation process is complicated by the fact that not all scholars agree on which evaluation principles are to be used or the relative importance of each of them.
- There can only be one reading, which is the original reading.
- Manuscripts are to be weighed not counted. Certain families of manuscripts are more trustworthy (e.g. Alexandrian over Byzantine, Western, or Caesarean). In addition, certain manuscripts within a family are more faithful than others (e.g. P66 P75 01 03)
- Generally, the reading that is weighty from both internal and external evidence is preferred.
- The external evidence of the manuscript witnesses are to be evaluated first; thereafter, will the internal evidence be considered.
- The primary weight of external evidence goes to the original language manuscripts. If the weight is so evenly distributed, it is difficult to make a decision; the versions and Church Fathers may serve to tip the scales.
- Probability is determined based on paleographical details and the habits of scribes.
The Internal Textual Criticism Process
- The reading that the other reading(s) most likely came from is likely the original. This is the fundamental principle of textual criticism.
- The more difficult or awkward reading is often preferable. The reading at first will seem to be more difficult or awkward to understand, but after further investigation, it will be discovered that a scribe deliberately or mistakenly changed the text to an easier reading.
- The shorter reading is generally preferred if the change is intended. This is a reflection of scribal tendency, as a scribe is far more likely in his efforts at clarification, willfully to make an addition to a text. Very rarely will a scribe intentionally add to his text by mistake.
- The longer reading is generally preferred if the change is unintended. This again is a reflection of scribal activity, in that a scribe is far more likely to omit a word or phrase mistakenly, as to intentionally adding.
- The longer reading is preferred if there is clear reason(s) internally as to why the scribe omitted a word or phrase, like difficulties (perceived contradictions) or awkwardness. For example, a scribe may willfully remove or alter a verse that is repeating one of the previous verses.
- Within the synoptic gospels especially, a less identical reading is preferred as scribes had a tendency to harmonize readings.
- An author-style reading is preferred. If a reading matches the style of the author, it is preferred, and the variants that are foreign to that style are questionable.
- An author-vocabulary reading is preferred. If a reading matches the vocabulary of the author, it is preferred, and the variants that are foreign to that vocabulary are questionable.
- An author-doctrine reading is preferred. If a reading matches the doctrine of the author, it is preferred, and the variants that are foreign to that doctrine are questionable, especially if they are of a later period in Christian history, anachronistic.
- The reading that is deemed immediately at odds with the context is preferred if deemed intentional because a scribe is more likely to have smoothed the reading out.
The External Textual Criticism Process
- The Alexandrian text-type is generally preferred (especially P66 P75 01 03), unless it appears to be a “learned” correction.
- A represented reading from more than one geographical area may be preferred to even an Alexandrian text-type reading. The reason is that the odds are increased greatly against a reading being changed from the original in such a wide geographical and family spectrum.
- An overwhelming Alexandrian representation (P66 P75 01 03), numerous Alexandrian manuscripts of great quality and trustworthiness can overrule a widely represented reading from all geographical areas and families.
- The Byzantine reading is always questionable until proven otherwise.
- The most faithful to a text-type is preferred if they are divided in support.
Different Approaches to New Testament Textual Criticism
Thoroughgoing Eclecticism (G. D. Kilpatrick, J. K. Elliott)
Under this method, the evidence is one-sided, coming primarily from internal evidence. Those who side with this method tend to view the textual evidence as being unreliable, giving no preference to any text type. These textual scholars will argue that any variant could be original because no manuscript in their eyes is “best” or “better” than another. Therefore, the reading that fits the internal context, such as the style or thought of the author is deemed original. This is a minority view, and this position is criticized for not recognizing the value of the textual evidence.
Reasoned Eclecticism (B. M. Metzger, K. Aland, B. Ehrman)
Under this method, both internal and external evidence is allegedly given equal weight. Allegedly because many of those who profess this method tend to lean toward the internal evidence of what a copyist would most likely have done, as opposed to consistently trusting manuscripts, which are considered reliable. Eclecticism means to pick and choose. It refers to those textual scholars who lean toward selecting elements from both internal and external evidence. This is the method of those on the committees of the Nestle-Aland 28th edition and United Bible Societies 4th edition of the Greek New Testament. These scholars also prefer the manuscripts of the Alexandrian family of texts as being the best and most faithful in preserving the original reading. They view the Western family of texts, while early, as paraphrases, adding and removing words, clauses, and whole sentences. The Byzantine family is later than the Alexandrian and Western families and is known for its smoothing out rough readings, the combining of two or more readings, and the harmonization of parallel passages. Finally, there is the Caesarean family that is known for its mixture of Western and Alexandrian readings.
Reasoned Conservatism (H. A. Sturz)
Under this method, each of the four text types, Alexandria, Western, Byzantine, and Caesarean, are considered as early as the second century. The scholars that prefer this method also consider both internal and external evidence. However, they differ in that they give all four-manuscript families equal weight as to evidence toward the original reading, emphasizing the geographical distribution of the manuscripts.
Byzantine Priority (M. Robinson, Z. Hodges, A. Farstad)
Under this method, the Byzantine text family is given priority over the other three and is considered the best and most faithful in preserving the original reading. The textual scholars that prefer this method favor the reading from the majority of the manuscripts, which happens to be the Byzantine text. Several of the scholars that worked on the New King James Version committee, which is based on the Textus Receptus (i.e., Byzantine), are of this position. Of course, this method violates one of the pinnacle rules of textual criticism; manuscripts are to be weighed not counted. In other words, the majority does not equal that you have an original reading; it is the weight of the manuscripts involved. “For example, if ten manuscripts are copies of a single parent manuscript, then an error appearing in the parent will appear ten times in ten copies. But these ten copies are equal to a single authority, not to ten.”
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Documentary Approach (F. J. A Hort, E. C. Colwell, P. Comfort, Edward D. Andrews, Don Wilkins)
Under this method, greater weight is given to the documentary evidence. This method is the position of this writer. As was stated in the above, the Reasoned Eclecticism method attempts to depend on both internal and external evidence equally in their determination as to what is the original reading. However, this has proven not to be the case. A textual scholar must make these determinations on a variant-by-variant basis. The NU has tended to favor the internal evidence at times, resulting in a critical text that is out of balance in their documentary evidence.
The approach here is to select a manuscript(s) that is deemed the best for each book of the New Testament. It must be remembered that for hundreds of years in the early manuscript copying, books and sections (e.g., Gospels and Paul’s letters) were produced, not the whole New Testament. For example, for the Gospel of Luke, we would use P4, P45, and P75, as well as B. P4 and P75 are preferred and make up the B text. Thus, the original text of the Gospel of Luke is retained in P4, P75, and B while we get further support from P45.
Now that we have established the best manuscripts for establishing the original for the Gospel of Luke, they need to be scrutinized, removing any clear errors or variants. When we have established a semi-critical text for the Gospel of Luke from this process, it would then be used as our standard text from which we establish the original wording, making certain by standing it up against other witnesses. If there were any places where the other witnesses seem to compete with this standard text, internal evidence would then be considered.
In the above, we have given the reader, a brief outline of the rules and principles for carrying out the practice of New Testament textual criticism, as well as different approaches to implementing those rules and principles. Below, we will consider a few selected examples that will enable us to put these rules into practice.
Examples of New Testament Textual Criticism
[BRD] ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 14:14 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
14 ἐάν τι αἰτήσητέ με ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου τοῦτο* ποιήσω.
“Ask,” (A D K L Π Ψ Byz al) It, TR and in agreement with 14:13; 15:16 and 16:23
variant/TR εαν τι αιτησητε εν τω ονοματι μου
“whatever you ask in my name”
A D L Q Ψ
“Ask me,” (P66 P75vid א B W Δ Θ f 13 28 33 700 al Vg Syh,p, WH NU
“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
𝔓66 𝔓75 א B W Δ Θ 060 f13 33
*τουτο εγω 𝔓66c 1241
If one is wondering why ego (“I”) is missing, it may be that the scribe or some previous scribe left it out, because it is redundant in the verse. Because the personal ending on the verb poieso (“I will do”), has the “I” and there is no real need for ego.
Rule: The reading that the other rose from is likely the original. Was it more likely that “me” was omitted or added? It is more likely that “me” was omitted, to be in agreement with 14:13, 15:16 and 16:23.
Rule: The more difficult or awkward reading is often preferable. Which is the harder reading? “Me” is at odds with verses 14:13; 15:16 and 16:23, and the rest of the Gospel of John.
Rule: The reading that is deemed immediately at odds with the context is preferred if deemed intentional, because a scribe is more likely to have smoothed the reading out. The scribe likely omitted “me” to bring verse 14 in harmony with verses 14:13, 15:16 and 16:23, as well as the rest of John. In addition, “me” seems logical when we consider it with the “I” at the end of the sentence.
“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”
Rule: Within the synoptic gospels especially, a less identical reading is preferred, as scribes had a tendency to harmonize readings. Even though John is not one of the synoptic gospels, it seems the copyists were trying to harmonize by omitting “me.”
Rule: The Alexandrian text-type is generally preferred (especially P66 P75 01 and 03) There is no doubt that we have the best Alexandrian support.
Rule: A represented reading from more than one geographical area may be preferred to even an Alexandrian text-type reading. “Me” has Alexandrian and Western family support.
Rule: An author-doctrine reading is preferred. If a reading matches the doctrine of the author, it is preferred, and the variants that are foreign to that doctrine are questionable. This is the only principle that stands against “me.”
[BRD] ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ 1:2 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
2 Καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαίᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου·
Mark 1:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
WH NU γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαίᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ
“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet”
א B L Δ 33 565 cop
ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ 1:2 Stephanus New Testament (TR1550)
2 ὼς γέγραπται ἐν τοις προφηταις Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου εμπροσθεν σου
Mark 1:2 King James Version (KJV)
2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
variant/TR γεγραπται εν τοις προφηταις
“it has been written in the prophets”
A W f13 Maj
The King James Version, “the prophets,” is based on the Textus Receptus (Byzantine text), while the Updated American Standard Version’s, “Isaiah the prophet,” and other modern translations are based on WH and NU critical texts (Alexandrian text). The decision as to which is the original reading is pretty straightforward. “Isaiah the prophet” is the original reading for several reasons. (1) It has the best early manuscript evidence, (01, B, D, L, 038, 33, Old Latin, Vulgate), (2) which is widespread as well. On the other hand, (3) “the prophets,” is limited to the Byzantine manuscripts (A, K, P, W, Byz). In addition, (4) the reading that the other likely rose from is “Isaiah the prophet,” because the quote is actually from both Isaiah and Malachi. Therefore, it would be far more likely that a scribe would take note of this, and alter “Isaiah the prophet,’ to “the prophets.” Therefore, both external and internal evidence supports “Isaiah the prophet” as the original reading.
[BRD] ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 5:22 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
22 ᾿Εγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ Ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ Μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.
Matthew 5:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever says to his brother, ‘You fool,’ will be brought before the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of Gehenna.
WH NU πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ
“everyone who is angry with his brother”
𝔓64+67 א* B 1424 Origen MSSaccording to Apollinaris, Augustine, Jerome
ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 5:22 Stephanus New Testament (TR1550)
22 ᾿Εγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ εικη ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ Ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ Μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.
Matthew 5:22 King James Version (KJV)
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
variant/TR πας ο οργιζομενους τω αδελφω αυτου εικη
“everyone being angry with his brother without cause”
א2 D L W Θ 0233 f1, 33 Maj Diatessaron it syr cop MSSaccording to Origen, Apollinaris, Jerome
The King James Version, “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause,” is based on the Textus Receptus (Byzantine text), while the English Standard Version’s, “everyone who is angry with his brother,” and other modern translations are based on WH and NU critical texts (Alexandrian text). This example is resolvable, but it is not as easy as Mark 1:2. Was Jesus forbidding all anger with one’s brother or just anger “without cause”?
The internal evidence would suggest that the original reading was without the addition of “without cause.” It seems more likely that a scribe was attempting to soften Jesus daring statement that no anger with one’s brother was justifiable. The scribe wanted to qualify Jesus’ statement by suggesting that there may be a “cause” to justify some incidents of anger with one’s brother. Bruce Metzger and the committee that edited the Greek New Testament were of this same view.
Although the reading with [“without cause”] is widespread from the second century onwards, it is much more likely that the word was added by copyists in order to soften the rigor of the precept, than omitted as unnecessary.
Therefore, the internal evidence points to the addition “without cause” being an interpolation (insertion). The external evidence is strongly in favor of this decision as well. The shorter reading has strong textual support (p67, 01, B, Vulgate). However, the reading “without cause” has the Western (D, Old Latin) and Byzantine (K, W, and many others) text types, as well as Alexandrian witnesses (L, Coptic). Thus, the longer reading has a little weight to it with the extensive geographical distribution, with it also being early as well. To sum up, both readings are equally early, the geographical external evidence argues for the longer reading, as the more widespread reading; however, it is not to be preferred over the shorter reading with its strong manuscripts and internal evidence, which makes it almost certain.
[BRD] ΠΡΟΣ ΕΦΕΣΙΟΥΣ 1:1 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
1 Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν ᾿Εφέσῳ καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·
Ephesians 1:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, To the holy ones who are at Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus:
WH NU ἀπόστολος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ
“apostle of Christ Jesus”
𝔓46 B D P 33 syrh
ΠΡΟΣ ΕΦΕΣΙΟΥΣ 1:1 Stephanus New Testament (TR1550)
1 Παῦλος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ τοῖς ἁγίοις τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν ᾿Εφέσῳ καὶ πιστοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·
variant/TR αποστολος Ιησου Χριστου
“apostle of Jesus Christ”
א A F G Ψ 1739 Maj it syrp
Ephesians 1:1 King James Version (KJV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
The King James Version, “apostle of Jesus Christ,” is based on the Textus Receptus (Byzantine text), while the Updated American Standard Version’s, “apostle of Christ Jesus,” and other modern translations are based on WH and NU critical texts (Alexandrian text). The internal evidence points us toward “Christ Jesus,” which is more characteristic of the Apostle Paul. (See 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1 and Titus 1:1) The external evidence of two stronger early witnesses goes to the rendering “Christ Jesus” as well. This is the preferred reading, which is Beyond Reasonable Doubt [BRD].
[BRD] ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ 11:2 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
2 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς Ὅταν προσεύχησθε, λέγετε Πάτερ, ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· ἐλθάτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
Luke 11:2 Updated American Standard Version (USSV)
2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
WH NU Πάτερ
𝔓75 א B syrs Marcion Origen
ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ 11:2 Stephanus New Testament (TR1550)
2 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς Ὅταν προσεύχησθε, λέγετε Πάτερ ημων ο εν τοις ουρανοις, ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· ἐλθάτω ἡ βασιλεία σου· γενηθητω το θελημα σου ως εν ουρανω και επι της γης·
Luke 11:2 King James Version (KJV)
2 And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
variant/TR Πατερ ημων ο εν τοις ουρανοις
“Our Father who is in heaven”
A C D W Θ Ψ 070 f13 33vid Maj it syrc,,p cop
The King James Version, “Father which art in heaven,” is based on the Textus Receptus (Byzantine text), while the Updated American Standard Version’s, “Father,” and other modern translations are based on WH and NU critical texts (Alexandrian text). If we consider the internal evidence of which reading was more likely to give rise to the other, it would have to be the shorter reading of “Father.” If the longer reading “Father which art in heaven” were the original, there would have been no reason to change it. The Greek text shows that there is no real possibility of accidental omission. Moreover, if the shorter reading was the original, one can see the scribe trying to harmonize Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer with that of Matthew. Therefore, the longer reading could have easily developed from the shorter reading, with the reverse being very unlikely.
Based on the norm of scribes attempting to harmonize the synoptic gospels, the shorter reading being less identical is to be preferred. In addition, the shorter reading is characteristic of Luke as he quotes Jesus as addressing God as “Father” in direct address in his gospel without qualifying it. Therefore, the shorter reading of “Father” is the preferred reading, based on internal evidence.
The external evidence supports the shorter reading as well, with the strongest of the Alexandrian witnesses (P75 01 B L), as well as geographically widespread external evidence (Caesarean and Western). However, the longer reading has some minor Alexandrian support as well (C 044 1241), and has a wider distribution to (Caesarean and Western, and Byzantine). Despite this, the shorter reading is also favored as being original, because of the superior witnesses. In conclusion, the shorter reading of “Father” is to be preferred on both the internal and external evidence.
ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 6:33 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
33 ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.
|Matthew 6:33 New King James Version (NKJV)
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
|Matthew 6:33 English Standard Version (ESV)33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.||Matthew 6:33 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
[CE] TR NA/UBS: τὴν βασιλείαν [τοῦ θεοῦ] καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ
“the kingdom of God and his righteousness” —— L W Θ 0233 f,13 33 Maj syr (KJV, NKJV, NRSV, ESV, NLT, CSB)
|Matthew 6:33 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)||Matthew 6:33 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
|Matthew 6:33 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
[BRD] WH: την βασιλειαν και την δικαιοσυνην αυτου
“the kingdom and his righteousness” —— א (it) cop,bo Eusebius (RSV NASB NIV NJB NET UASV)
Variant: την δικαιοσυνην και την βασιλειαν αυτου
“the righteousness and his kingdom” —— B (none)
Variant: την βασιλειαν των ουρανων και την δικαιοσυνην αυτου
“the kingdom of the heavens and his righteousness” —— Clement (none)
Variant: την βασιλειαν του θεου
“the kingdom of God” —— 245 (none)
In short, the kingdom is found in the earliest Alexandrian manuscripts א and B, as well as (itk) copsa, bo, Eusebius, which the later scribes expanded to include the kingdom of God in L W Θ 0233 f,13 33 Maj syr, and Clement the kingdom of the heavens.
Note: א and B are not entirely in agreement because they disagree in word order. However, it is true that they both have “the kingdom,” but it’s not an entirely clean comparison.
א “the kingdom and his righteousness”
B “the righteousness and his kingdom”
There are three other variants besides variant 1, which is found in the Revised Standard Version. Variant 2 reads “the righteousness and his kingdom,” which is found in the Vaticanus manuscript. Variant 3 read “the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness,” which is found in Clement. Variant 4 read “the kingdom of God,” which is found in 245. Bruce Metzger in his A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament indicates that the committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text. The minority of the committee was moved by the reading that would result in the rise of the other readings (variants 2 and 3), which is supported by א (B) itl al, while the majority of the committee was “impressed by the prevailing usage of Matthew, who almost never employs βασιλεία without a modifier (the instances in 8:12; 13:38; 24:7, 14 were regarded as special exceptions), and explained the absence of a modifier in several witnesses as due to accidental scribal omission. In view of these conflicting interpretations, it was thought best to include the words in the text but to enclose them within square brackets.”
Metzger says that the minority of the committee observes, “the reading that best explains the rise of the other readings is that supported by א (B) itl al, inasmuch as the addition of τοῦ θεοῦ [of God] (or τῶν οὐρανῶν [of the heavens]) after βασιλείαν [kingdom] seems to be an altogether natural supplement, which, if present originally, would not have been deleted.” Agreed, if either of these readings were in the original, why would the later scribes delete them? Since there is no explanation for this, the kingdom is significantly more likely to be the original reading. The committee should have stayed with this initial sense of what and why the kingdom was original.
However, Metzger says, “a majority of the Committee was impressed by the prevailing usage of Matthew, who almost never employs βασιλεία [kingdom] without a modifier (the instances in 8:12; 13:38; 24:7, 14 were regarded as special exceptions), and explained the absence of a modifier in several witnesses as due to accidental scribal omission.” Again, this argument is the very reason the kingdom is the original reading because later scribes had this reason for adding of God or of the heavens. The likelihood of an accidental omission in both א and B is highly unlikely. Generally, when it comes to the testimony of later manuscripts such as L W Θ 0233 f,13 33 Maj syr, Metzger and his committee would not have given more weight to them than the evidence of the Alexandrian manuscripts א and B, yet here they thought it was “In view of these conflicting interpretations, it was thought best to include the words in the text but to enclose them within square brackets.” This is the inconsistency that shows up in the NA text at times.
-  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), 15–16.
-  IBID, 16.
-  IBID, 16.
The argument above that “the prevailing usage of Matthew, who almost never employs βασιλεία [“kingdom”] without a modifier,” is well taken. However, this may also be the explanation behind the later scribes, who chose to add “of God” or “of the heavens.” As the minority of Metzger’s committee stated, these additions were natural for Matthew, and if they were original, there would have been no reasonable explanation as to why the scribes of א (B) [Sinaiticus and Vaticanus] would delete them. Therefore, it seems that variant 1 “his kingdom and his righteousness,” or variant 2 “the righteousness and his kingdom,” are more likely to be the original reading.
[BRD] ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 1:25 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
25 καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.
א B Zvid 071 f,13 33
Matthew 1:25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
25 and he was not knowing her until she gave birth to a son; and he called his name Jesus.
WH NU ἔτεκεν υἱόν
“she gave birth to a son”
א B Zvid 071 f,13 33
ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 1:25 Stephanus New Testament (TR1550)
25 καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν τον υἱόν αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.
Matthew 1:25 King James Version (KJV)
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.
ετεκεν τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον
she gave birth to her firstborn son
C D L W K W Δ Π 087 Maj
The harmonization of passages is likely an intentional change by a copyist, who is seeking have a passage agree with a similar passage from another book. Again, these are generally found in what are known as the Synoptic Gospels, names Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Nevertheless, they are found elsewhere.
One might suppose that the removal of “firstborn” was intentional, to avoid the idea that Mary had other offspring, advancing the unbiblical view of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Nevertheless, if this were the objective of the copyist, he would have followed through in other verses in the same manuscripts. He would have removed Luke 2:7, where it reads, “She gave birth to her firstborn son.” However, this is not the case. Therefore, the better understanding is that Luke 2:7 was actually an influence on the copyist, who added to Matthew 1:25 so that they would harmonize. This could have been done intentionally, as copyists liked to harmonize the Synoptic Gospels, or it could have been done unintentionally, as he simply penned it from memory of the other verse.
The best manuscript witnesses of the Alexandrian family, as they are the most ancient, as well as the most trustworthy support “She gave birth to a son.” Moreover, it is found in the Caesarean family as well. Even though, “she gave birth to her firstborn son,’ is found in all of the text-types, it would not stand against the Alexandrian support of “a son.”
Mark 1:1: Was “Son of God” in the Original?
ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ 1:1 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear (GENTI & WH NU)
1 ᾿Αρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.
[PE] Mark 1:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, [the Son of God].
Son of God (υἱοῦ θεοῦ) is absent in א* Θ 28c al by either a human error in copying or an addition by the copyist adding to the title – B D W al(e.g., Rev. 1:1). Because of the strong witnesses and the fact that “Son of God” is a theme throughout Mark, it could have been original; thus, it is retained in brackets.
[PE] TR NU Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [υἱοῦ θεοῦ]
“[The] beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God”
א1 B D L W it syr cop (A f,13 Maj add του before θεου)
variant 1/WH Αρχη του ευαγγελιου Ιησου χριστου
“[The] beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ”
א* Θ (28) copsaMS Origen
variant 2 Αρχη του ευαγγελιου
“[The] beginning of the Gospel”
This textual variant would be listed as a significant one. (See How to Count Textual Variants) Textual scholar Daniel Wallace writes, “A textual variant is simply any difference from a standard text (e.g., a printed text, a particular manuscript, etc.) that involves spelling, word order, omission, addition, substitution, or a total rewrite of the text.” The vast majority of New Testament textual variants are insignificant. What is it that would make this one significant? First, those that are insignificant are easily resolved because they are simply copyist mistakes of some sort, like a misspelled word. They are also insignificant because they would have absolutely no impact on the text. The significant variants are but a handful in comparison to the 138,020 words in the Greek New Testament. Why is it that Mark 1:1 is a significant variant? It is significant because Bible critics like to abuse it, to make the following point that the BBC’s documentary states,
Today’s Mark begins with “Jesus Christ the Son of God”. But, the Original Codex Sinaiticus didn’t have “Son of God”. Someone added it later… This is highly significant because in the earlier version Jesus became divine only after his baptism by John the Baptist. The edited insertion makes Jesus divine at birth. Some 19th-century readers would have been shocked that Mark did not share that belief.
From one single document, the BBC makes a claim of what Mark supposedly believed. First, let us state that Mark’s entire theme of his short gospel is about the divine sonship, the “Son of God.” (See 1:11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61-62; and 15:39) This would suggest that “Son of God” was in the original at Mark 1:1 and that it was accidentally omitted, which is the position of many textual scholars. Before delving into the original reading evidence, let us deal with what BBC is saying about the Sinaiticus manuscript.
It is easy to see how the phrase could have been accidently omitted. First, let us briefly mention that the early manuscripts–among which were the autographs–were written in all capital letters, with no breaks in between the words. If we were to look at the last three letters of the word “gospel” as well as Jesus Christ Son of God”, it would have look like so in the Vaticanus,
What may look like a capital Y (wye) to the English eye, this is actually a capital “G” in Greek, named gamma. The repetition of the letter Y could have had the scribe lift his eye from the second Y of line two in the above image. Then, when he looked away at his exemplar (master copy), his eyes could have fallen on the fifth Y of line two, meaning that he would have left out the letters that would have given us “Son of God.” This type of scribal error is quite common and is known as Homoeoteleuton (similar ending). This refers to a scribal error in which the scribe lifts his eyes from the copy he is making, looks to his exemplar, but his eyes drop to a similar letter, resulting his accidentally omitting the material between. (See 1 John 2:23)
Whether the “Son of God” is in the original of the Gospel of Mark or not does not matter as to Jesus’ divinity. If “Son of God” is not the original reading, this does not mean that Mark believed that Jesus was not divine from birth. In other words, of “Son of God” is not original it does not suggest that Mark believed that Jesus was divine after his baptism. Verse 1 is not a part of the main body of the text; it serves as the title of the work. The body of the text does not start until verse 2. Therefore, as a title, it does not matter whether it reads “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” or “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Finally, what we have not addressed is, “there was always a temptation (to which copyists often succumbed) to expand titles and quasi-titles of books.” Therefore, if we do have an addition of “Son of God,” it is not part of the text body itself, and cannot suggest that Mark did not see Jesus as divine at birth.
Getting back to the possible omission, textual scholar Bruce Metzger also wrote,
The absence of [Son of God] in [Sinaiticus] may be due to an oversight in copying, occasioned by the similarity of the endings of the nomina sacra. (TCGNT, 65)
Nomina Sacra: Various contractions and abbreviations are found in our earliest manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures. The type that is most important to this discussion is what has become known as the sacred names, or nomina sacra, such as Jesus, Lord, Christ, God, and Jerusalem. These sacred names are abbreviated by keeping the first letter or two and the last letter or two. Another important feature is the horizontal line placed over these letters to help the reader know that they are dealing with a contraction.
Now to the Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330–360), it is one of the most important manuscripts available to the study of New Testament textual criticism, second only to the Vaticanus (c. 325–350). While it is true that “Son of God” is not in the main text of the Sinaiticus manuscript, the corrector of the scriptorium added it before it left. All of these points made throughout this article were left out of The Beauty of Books (BBC) – Ancient Bibles, the codex Sinaiticus. Just to offer one misleading comment/tone in the very beginning of the video, the commentators say, “this volume is the oldest [pause for emphasis] surviving copy of the New Testament [very long pause] complete.” The very long pause is to leave you the average reader hanging on the statement that the Sinaiticus “this volume is the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament. (Bold mine) While Sinaiticus dates to c. 330–360, it is not the oldest copy by any means. We have copies that date back to 150 – 175 C.E. However, they are not the complete New Testament. Why? It was not until the 300s that the 27 New Testament books were bound as a whole. Prior to you would find the Gospels bound together, the Gospels and Acts were bound together, Paul’s letters were bound together, and so on.
Returning to the BBC video, at 3:45 in it says in a suspicious tone, “A really remarkable change occurs at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Today’s Mark starts with ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God.’ But the original Codex Sinaiticus didn’t have “Son of God.” [Pause for emphasis] Someone added it later. This is highly significant because, in the earlier version, Jesus became divine only after his baptism by John the Baptist. The edited insertion makes Jesus divine at birth. Some 19th-century readers would have been shocked by the idea that Mark did not share that belief.”
What the commentator does not tell you is, as was stated above, the corrector who added “Son of God” was the one working at the scriptorium with the scribe who copied the Sinaiticus. That corrector had to review all manuscript copies, which is what the Sinaiticus was, and correct any scribal errors. He is the one that added “Son of God” before the Sinaiticus manuscript left the scriptorium. This means that the scribe accidentally omitted “son of God” and it was in his exemplar, so the corrector put it in. The additional commentary about what Mark believed is total conjecture, because Mark was one of the earliest disciples of Jesus, and traveled with Peter and Paul, and likely knew every one of the apostles intimately. He would have known from the others that Jesus was divine at birth. Moreover, the other books contain this information. Lastly, as was said earlier, verse one was a title to the book, not a part of the body of the text. In fact, the original may have just had, “Beginning of the Gospel.” As was said, scribes loved to enhance the titles, so another scribe or even Mark himself added Jesus Christ before sending out the edition to be published. Then again, it is possible that the addition was added “Son of God.” Either way, it being part of the title, this means it does not contribute toward what Mark felt about Jesus prior to baptism.
Nevertheless, the accidental omission is usually because the similar letters would be in play because of the use of the nomina sacra. This is likely not the case, because “Son” was not among the earliest for four divine names written as a nomen sacrum (singular): Lord, Jesus, Christ, and Theos. In fact, this likely took place very early, when the nomina sacra were scarcely used, therefore any accidental omission based on the nomina sacra is unlikely. As an aside, there is no evidence that the originals contained the nomina sacra, as it seems to be an early second-century invention.
Worksheet for New Testament Textual Criticism
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 5||Reading 6|
|Reading 7||Reading 8||Reading 9||Reading 10||Reading 11||Reading 12|
|Which reading is it that the other reading(s) most likely came from?
|Is there a reading that is a more difficult or awkward reading, which upon further reflection makes sense?
|If deemed intentional, which is the shorter reading and does it match the reading the other likely came from?
|If deemed unintentional, which is the longer reading and does it match the reading the other likely came from?
|If within the synoptic gospels especially, which is a less identical reading?
|Which reading matches the style of the author?
|Which reading matches the vocabulary of the author?
|Which reading matches the doctrinal position of the author?
|Which reading is in harmony with the immediate context, as well as the book itself?
SEE BIBLIOGRAPHY AT BOTTOM OF PAGE
SEE RELATED ARTICLE by my coauthor Dr. Don Wilkins The Practice of Textual Criticism to Determine the Original Reading
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 Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible : Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 239.
 However, the Documentary Approach gives great weight to the external evidence of the documents.
 Do not confuse the fact of majority, with the idea that they were the preferred, because it was simply a case of their becoming the standard text for the most centuries, and thus copied far more over a much longer period. As Constantinople [or Byzantium] became the center of the Greek-speaking church, the local text there was to become the dominant text for the whole of the whole empire.
 David Alan Black, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 1994), 39.
 Nestle-Aland 27th edition and the United Bible Societies 4th edition of the Greek New Testament
 B stands for the Vaticanus Codex, dating to about 350 C.E.
 Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, A corrected, enlarged ed. of The complete text of the earliest New Testament manuscripts (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2001)
 Philip Comfort in his 2008 New Testament Text and Translation Commentary also stated, “”Clearly, this addition was an attempt to soften Jesus’ bold assertion and to thereby justify anger if it is for a good reason. But this insertion must be rejected on internal grounds (had it originally been in the text, why would it have been deleted?) and on documentary grounds.” P. 11.
 Bruce Manning Metzger and 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), 11.
 Bruce Manning Metzger and 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), 16.
 The Synoptic Gospels describe the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that tell the story of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry from a similar point of view and are similar in structure.
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