NTTC MATTHEW 3:16a: the heavens were opened

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Edward D. Andrews
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 ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Major Critical Texts of the New Testament

Byz RP: 2005 Byzantine Greek New Testament, Robinson & Pierpont
TR1550: 1550 Stephanus New Testament
Maj: The Majority Text (thousands of minuscules which display a similar text)
Gries: 1774-1775 Johann Jakob Griesbach Greek New Testament
Treg: 1857-1879 Samuel Prideaux Tregelles Greek New Testament
Tisch: 1872 Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament
WH: 1881 Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament
NA28: 2012 Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament
UBS5: 2014 Greek New Testament
NU: Both Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Society
SBLGNT: 2010 Greek New Testament ()
THGNT: 2017 The Greek New Testament by Tyndale House
GENTI: 2020 Greek-English New Testament Interlinear

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ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 3:16a (TR Gries Maj Byz NU)
ἠνεῴχθησαν  [αὐτῷ] οἱ οὐρανοι
were opened to him the heavens
א1 C D L W 0233 f,13 Maj

Matthew 3:16a King James Version (KJV)
16 … the heavens were opened unto him … 

ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 3:16a (WH GENTI)
ἠνεῴχθησαν  οἱ οὐρανοι
were opened the heavens
א* B syr,s copsa Irenaeus—according to P.Oxy. 405vid

Matthew 3:16a Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 … the heavens were opened …

On Irenaeus, Metzger writes,

The earliest extant manuscript that preserves Matthew’s record of Jesus’ baptism is P.Oxy. 405, which preserves a portion of Irenaeus’s Against Heresies 3.9, in which Matt 3:16–17 is quoted. According to Grenfell and Hunt (1903, 10–11), this manuscript should be dated in the late second century. If so, this manuscript represents an early copy of Irenaeus’s original work, which was produced around A.D. 150–175. The account of Jesus’ baptism, as recorded in Matt 3:16–17, is repeated in the course of Irenaeus’s argument. Matthew’s text is designated with a diple (>) at the beginning of each line of the quotation. In standard scriptorial practice, a diple indicated that the wording needed fixing or, at least, checking. A careful transcriptional reconstruction reveals that this manuscript most likely concurs with א* and B.—Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 7.

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The shorter reading (the heavens were opened) 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. It seems that a later scribe was seeking to bring verse 16a in harmony with 16b, which reads, “and he saw the Spirit of God descending as if a dove coming upon him,” making it explicit as to who the Spirit of God was descending upon, Jesus not the crowds.

The earliest and weightiest manuscripts support the shorter reading “the heavens were opened” (א* B syr,s copsa Irenaeus according to P.Oxy. 405vid), while the later manuscripts (א1 C D L W 0233 f,13 Maj) support the longer reading (the heavens were opened to him). Because the documentary evidence is very strong for the shorter reading, “the heavens were opened,” it is probable that later scribes added “to him” (αὐτῷ) in order to harmonize Matthew’s account of the Baptism with that of Mark, which reads, “he saw the heavens being parted … and a voice came out of the heavens  …” (Mark 1:10-11), as Matthew’s account is from his perspective of the event being public while Mark saw it as more of a private event (Jesus saw and Jesus heard). Matthew wrote, “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened [scribes adding to him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending as if a dove coming upon him.” By later scribes adding “to him” (αὐτῷ) it makes it more private in that the heavens were being opened “to him,” Jesus, not in full public view of the crowds, which also harmonizes with the second half of verse 16, “he [Jesus] seeing the Spirit of God descending as if a dove coming upon him [Jesus].”

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

Yet, the entire context of Matthew’ perspective is that it was a public event, which is seen in verse 17, which reads, “and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.'” Mark seeing it more privately wrote it this way, “and a voice came out of the heavens: “You [Jesus] are my Son, the beloved; I am well pleased.'” (1:11) So, a later scribe adding to him (αὐτῷ) would accomplish two tasks in one stroke of the pen, to bring verse 16a in harmony with 16b and to harmonize Matthew’s account of the Baptism with that of Mark. Thus, the shorter reading textual criticism rule supports the original wording (the heavens were opened) as being preferred because the change by later scribes was intended. Moreover, the original wording (the heavens were opened) is also found in the earliest manuscripts as well. Thus, the RSV, UASV, LEB, NASB, and most other modern translations accept the shorter reading found in Westcott and Hort. However, the KJV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, HCSB, CSB, and the NAB have chosen to go with the longer reading.

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