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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
TR NU GENTI Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [υἱοῦ θεοῦ]
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, [the 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. 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, insignificant ones 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 accidentally omitted. First, let us briefly mention that the early, and likely the original manuscripts 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 looked like our image below in the Codex Vaticanus,
To the English eye, what may look like a capital Y (wye) 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. Still, his eyes drop to a similar letter, resulting in his accidentally omitting the material between. (See 1 John 2:23)
Whether the “Son of God” was in the original of the Gospel of Mark or not, this does not mean that Mark believed that Jesus was not divine from birth, but instead, he was divine after his baptism. Verse one 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 two. 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.
Nomina Sacra: Various contractions and abbreviations are found in our earliest manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures. The most important type 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 essential feature is the horizontal line placed over these letters to help the reader know that they are dealing with a contraction.
The Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330–360) is one of the most important manuscripts available to study 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 manuscripts 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. Before 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 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,” which 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, who also traveled with Peter and Paul, and likely knew every one of the apostles intimately. He would have learned 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 before 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 of the 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 was 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.
Philip W. Comfort writes,
This verse (without a verb) was either Mark’s title for his gospel or an incipit introducing this gospel’s theme: the gospel about (or proclaimed by) Jesus Christ, God’s Son. When first written, the title may have been brief (“beginning of the Gospel”) and then expanded by the additions, “Jesus Christ” and “Son of God.” It was typical for scribes to expand titles to NT books (see, for example, the note on Rev 1:1). However, most scholars argue for the TR NU reading because of its excellent documentary attestation and because it suits Mark’s literary plan. It is argued that “the Son of God” is essential to Mark’s title because it introduces a major theme in Mark: Jesus’ divine sonship. Hurtado (1989, 23) said, “the claim that Jesus is the Son of God appears at several points in Mark, indicating that Jesus’ divine sonship is an important part of Mark’s portrait (cf. 1:11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61–62; 15:39), and this causes most scholars to believe that the title was originally here in the opening of the book and that it was accidentally omitted in some manuscripts.”
The usual explanation for a scribe accidentally dropping the title is that the title would have been written with the last four words in nomina sacra form as follows: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΥΙ̅Υ̅Χ̅Υ̅Υ̅Υ̅Θ̅Υ̅ (see TCGNT). It is argued that the last four words look so much alike that the last four letters Υ̅Υ̅Θ̅Υ̅ (= “Son of God”) could have been easily dropped. As a case in point, Codex Sinaiticus was emended by the first corrector (who added Υ̅Υ̅Θ̅Υ̅) before it left the scriptorium. However, it must be noted that υιος (“Son”) was not among the earliest divine names to be written as a nomen sacrum. In fact, many of the earliest manuscripts did not do so (such as 𝔓4+), while a few did (such as 𝔓, 𝔓, 𝔓); most of the early scribes vacillated (such as 𝔓, 𝔓, 𝔓, 𝔓)—writing it both as a nomen sacrum and in full. Thus, if the omission of υιου θεου happened early in the history of textual transmission (which appears to be the case), it cannot necessarily be blamed on four nomina sacra strung together. As a case in point, Codex Vaticanus is written as ευαγγελιου Ι̅Υ̅ Χ̅Υ̅ υιου Θ̅Υ̅. “Son” is not treated as a nomen sacrum. It is noteworthy that all the English versions except the tniv (which departs from the niv here) have kept the full title, “Jesus Christ, Son of God,” and nearly every version has noted the shorter variant.
One final issue has to be addressed here: the punctuation at the end of the verse. According to NA27 and UBS4, the verse ends with a full stop, making it a verbless title (so most modern translations). In other texts (such as TR, followed by KJV), the verse ends with a comma, thereby joining 1:1 to 1:2. The decision is exegetical; there is nothing in the ancient manuscripts to suggest one way of punctuation against the other. Several church fathers treated 1:2–3 as a parenthesis, thereby joining 1:1 to 1:4. Taking this logic a step further, Lachmann conjectured that 1:2–3 was not written by Mark but inserted later by a scribe. But not one manuscript attests to this. Therefore, 1:1 is a verbless title not intended to be attached grammatically to what follows, and 1:2–3 serves as an opening quotation for the Gospel, thematically connected with 1:4.
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 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), 92.