Friday, February 15, 2019

James White and the NA/UBS Compilation

            “So do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” – Hebrews 10:35 (EHV)

            When one version of the New Testament has a verse, and another version does not have it, that’s something worth looking into.  When one version of the New Testament has 40 verses that another version doesn’t have, that’s definitely something worth looking into.  Textual criticism involves the investigation of those differences, and more:  not only are there some differences in manuscripts that involve the inclusion or non-inclusion of entire verses, but also hundreds of differences in manuscripts that involve important phrases and words.  (There are hundreds of thousands of trivial differences in the manuscripts, involving word-order and spelling, but the ones that involve non-synonymous differences in the wording of the text are the ones that tend to get the most attention.)    
            How can ordinary Christians confidently maintain confidence that the New Testament they hold in their hands conveys the same authoritative message that was conveyed by the original documents of the New Testament books?  To an extent, this is something one takes on faith, since there is no way to scientifically prove that the reconstructed archetype of the text of all witnesses is the same as the text of the autographs.  But that does not mean that one’s position about specific readings should be selected at random, rather than via careful consideration of the evidence.    
            When that careful consideration has been made, though, what should one do with one’s conclusions?  You might think that after scribal corruptions have been filtered out via text-critical analysis, the obvious thing for Christians to do would be to treat the reconstructed text as the Word of God, a text uniquely imbued with divine authority.  However, if one is to do something with one’s conclusions, one must first have conclusions – and here we have a problem, because there is no sign of the Nestle-Aland and UBS compilations of the Greek New Testament (both of which present the same text) ever being more than provisional and tentative.  As the Introduction to the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece states:  “It should naturally be understood that this text is a working text (in the sense of the century-long Nestle tradition):  it is not to be considered as definitive.”
            Anyone who wants a definitive text of the New Testament should abandon all hope of such a thing emerging from the team of scholars who produce the Nestle-Aland and UBS compilations. 
            The built-in instability of the NA/UBS compilation is understandable – nobody wants to say, “We are resolved to ignore any new evidence that may be discovered in the future” – but it is also somewhat problematic:  it has caused some apologists, such as James White, to effectively nullify the authority of some parts of the New Testament.  Christians are being told that they should not regard a particular verse, or a particular phrase, or a particular word, as authoritative, on the grounds that the compilers of the NA/UBS compilation have declared it questionable.  Even if a reading is included in the text today, the compilers might change their minds about it tomorrow, and therefore, it has been proposed, readers should not put much weight on such readings.
            Instead of producing a compilation in which every textual contest is won, the NA/UBS compilers often advise readers to treat a contested passage as if its original contents cannot be known – in which case, none of the rival readings can be safely treated as Scripture.
            For example, James White said this regarding Luke 23:34a (“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”):  “In Luke 23:34, there is a major textual variant.  And, as a result, you should be very careful about making large theological points based upon what is truly a highly questionable text.”  In another video, White stated the following, referring again to Luke 23:34a:
            “When you have a serious textual variant, you should not, in an apologetic context, place a tremendous amount of theological weight upon a text that could be properly and fairly questioned as to its specific reading.  And so, I don’t think that you should build a theology based upon this text.”
Speaking for myself, I think the original text of the New Testament ought to be the basis for Christian theology, whether it was perfectly perpetuated by scribes or not.  While there are textual contests which are extremely close (close enough to justify a footnote providing the alternative reading), the number of such cases is not as high as the compilers of the NA/UBS text make it out to be.  There is a clear danger and weakness in the approach being advocated by White and by whoever else proposes that “We shouldn’t build theology upon a disputed text”:  the danger of relegating parts of genuine Scripture to a non-authoritative status merely because they have been questioned by textual critics.
Is White aware of how much of the New Testament has been questioned by textual critics?  Here are some passages in the Gospels which, if White’s approach were used consistently, would go into a “Do Not Use for Theological Purposes” category, and their subjects: 
Mt.  1:7-8 (Was Jesus descended from Asaph and Amos?  Or, were the names of Asa and Amon spelled the same as the names of Asaph and Amos?)
Mt. 1:16 (Was Joseph the father of Jesus?)
Mt. 1:18 (Was Jesus already Christ when he was born?)
Mt. 1:25 (Did Mary have other children besides Jesus?)
Mt. 9:34 (Did Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the ruler of the demons?)
Mt. 12:47 (Did someone tell Jesus His mother and brothers were outside?)
Mt. 13:35 (Did Matthew say that Isaiah wrote Psalm 72, which is ascribed to Asaph?)  (Or to put it another way:  Did Matthew err?)
Mt. 16:2-3 (Did Jesus say this?)
Mt. 17:21 (Did Jesus say that prayer and fasting were needed prior to casting out a particular kind of demon?)
            Mt. 18:11 (Why did Jesus come?)
Mt. 18:15 (Is the subject about any sin, or about when one is personally wronged?)
Mt. 19:9 (Is remarriage permitted after divorce?)
Mt. 21:31 (What did the crowd say to Jesus?)
Mt. 21:44 (Is this verse original?)
Mt. 23:14 (Is this verse original?)
Mt. 26:28 (Did Jesus say “new covenant” or just “covenant”?)
Mt. 27:16 (Was Barabbas also named Jesus?)
Mt. 27:35b (Is this verse original?)
Mt. 27:49 (Was Jesus pierced with a spear before He died?)  (Or to put it another way:  Do Matthew and John contradict each other?)
Mt. 28:19 (Did Jesus advocate baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?)
Mk. 1:1-3 (Are these verses original?)
Mk. 1:1 (Did Mark consider Jesus to be inherently the Son of God?)
Mk. 1:2 (Did Mark blend together two passages, one from Isaiah and one from Malachi, and introduce them as having been written by Isaiah?)      
Mk. 1:40 (Did the man with leprosy kneel to Jesus?)
Mk. 1:41 (When requested to heal the leper, was Jesus angry, or was He filled with compassion?)
Mk. 6:22 (Was the dancer at Herod’s court the daughter of Herodias, or the daughter of Herod?)
Mk. 7:4 (Did Mark refer here to immersion, or to pouring?) 
            Mk. 7:16 (Is this verse original?)
            Mk. 7:19 (Did Jesus declare all foods to be fit to eat, or did He describe what happens to food after digestion?)
            Mk. 8:38 (Did Jesus refer to His words, or to His followers?)
            Mk. 9:29 (Did Jesus say that fasting was needed prior to casting out a particular kind of demon?)
            Mk. 9:44 and 9:46 (Did Jesus emphasize the eternal nature of suffering in hell?)
            Mk. 10:24 (Did Jesus say that it is hard to enter into the kingdom of God, or that it is hard for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God?)
            Mk. 11:26 (Is it necessary to forgive those who have sinned against us?)
            Mk. 13:14 (Did Jesus affirm that Daniel was a historical character?)
Mk. 14:24 (Did Jesus say “new covenant” or just “covenant”?)
            Mk. 15:28 (Is this verse original?)
            Mk. 16:9-20 (Are these 12 verses, including their record of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and His command to go into all the world and preach the gospel, original?)
            Lk. 1:46 (Was it Mary, or Elizabeth, who sang the Magnificat?)
            Lk. 2:14 (Did the angels say “Peace on earth, goodwill to men,” or “Peace on earth upon those favored by God”?)
            Lk. 3:22 (Did Luke describe the Father’s voice as if Jesus had become His Son at His baptism?)
            Lk. 4:44 (Was Jesus preaching in the synagogues in Galilee, or in the synagogues of Judea?)
            Lk. 5:39 (Is this verse original?)
            Lk. 6:48 (Is the final phrase in this verse original?)
            Lk. 8:26 (To what region did Jesus and His disciples go?)
            Lk. 8:43 (Is part of this verse a scribal corruption?)
            Lk. 9:26 (Did Jesus refer to His words, or to His followers?)
            Lk. 10:1 and 10:17 (Did Jesus send 70 individuals, or 72?)
            Lk. 10:42 (What did Jesus say to Martha?)   
            Lk. 11:13 (Did Jesus refer to gifts in general, or to the gift of the Holy Spirit?)
            Lk. 11:42 (Did Jesus affirm the regulations of the Law of Moses?)
            Lk. 14:5 (Did Jesus refer to a donkey, or to a son, or to a sheep?)
            Lk. 17:36 (Did Jesus emphasize that one shall be taken, and another shall be left?)
            Lk. 18:11 (Was the Pharisee praying “with himself”?)
            Lk. 18:24 (Was Jesus very sorrowful when the rich young ruler did not accept His offer?)
            Lk. 19:25 (Is this verse original?)
            Lk. 22:43-44 (Did Jesus’ body produce drops of sweat like blood?  And did an angel appear to Him in Gethsemane, strengthening Him?)
            Lk. 22:62 (After denying Jesus three times, did Peter depart and weep bitterly?)
            Lk. 23:17 (Is this verse original?)
            Lk. 23:34a (Did Jesus ask the Father to forgive those who were responsible for crucifying Him?)
            Lk. 24:3 (Did Luke specify that the women visiting the tomb did not find the body “of the Lord Jesus”?)
            Lk. 24:6 (Did Luke state that the men said to the women at the tomb, “He is not here, but is risen”?)
            Lk. 24:12 (Did Luke write this verse, which reports that Peter ran to the tomb and saw the linen cloths?)
            Lk. 24:36 (Did Jesus greet His disciples by saying “Peace unto you”?)
            Lk. 24:40 (Did Jesus show His disciples His hands and His feet?)
            Lk. 24:42 (Was Jesus given a piece of honeycomb to eat, as well as fish?)
            Lk. 24:51 (Did Luke say specifically that Jesus “was carried up into heaven”?)
            Jn. 1:18 (Did John call Jesus “only begotten God” or “the only begotten Son”?)
            Jn. 1:34 (Did John the Baptist affirm that Jesus was the Son of God, or that Jesus was the chosen one of God?)
            Jn. 3:13 (Did the verse originally end with the phrase, “the Son of Man who is in heaven”?)
            Jn. 4:9 (Did the verse originally end with the phrase, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”?)
            Jn. 5:3-4 (Did John write an explanation of why sick and infirm people were gathered at the pool called Bethesda?)
            Jn. 6:23 (Did John write the final phrase of this verse, mentioning that the Lord gave thanks for the bread?)
            Jn. 6:36 (Did Jesus say that whoever comes to Him will never hunger and that whoever believes in Him will never thirst?) 
            Jn. 6:47 (Did Jesus say that whoever believes on Him has eternal life?”)
            Jn. 7:8 (Did Jesus say He was not going to the feast, or that He was not yet going?)
            Jn. 7:39 (Did John say that the Holy Spirit was not yet given?)
            Jn. 7:53-8:11 (Are these 12 verses – the story about the adulteress – original?)
            Jn. 8:59 (Did Jesus go through the midst of the people, and so pass by?)
            Jn. 9:38-39 (Did the man who had received his sight say, “Lord, I believe,” and worship Jesus?)
            Jn. 10:8 (Did Jesus say that all who came before Him are thieves and robbers?)
            Jn. 12:8 (Is this verse original?)
            Jn. 12:32 (Did Jesus say that He would draw all people to Himself, or that He would draw everything to Himself?)
            Jn. 14:14 (Is this verse original, and if it is original, does it depict Jesus referring to prayers offered to Him?)
            Jn. 17:11 (Did Jesus refer to the elect – “those whom You have given Me” – in this verse?)
            Jn. 19:29 (Was a hyssop-branch, or a javelin, used to offer wine to Jesus?)
            Jn. 20:31 (Did the Gospel of John originally end at the end of 20:31?
            If I were to delve into the rest of the New Testament, more such passages could be listed, such as Acts 20:28 (did God purchase the church with His own blood?), First Corinthians 14:34-35 (Did Paul say that women are to be silent in the churches and are not permitted to speak?), Galatians 2:20 (Did Paul say that he lived by faith in the Son of God?), Galatians 4:25 (Is the first part of the verse a scribal corruption?), First Timothy 3:16 (Did Paul state that in Jesus, God was manifest in the flesh?), Hebrews 2:9 (Did Jesus taste death “apart from God”?), and Revelation 13:18 (Is the number of the beast 616 or 666?). 
            Does anyone think that this is how the Holy Spirit wanted these passages to be treated when He inspired the writers of the New Testament?   Christians confidently believe (or ought to confidently believe) that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine – but it can’t be profitable for doctrine if its authority is not recognized.  Few are moved by the declaration, “Thus saith the Lord, maybe.”  
            An objection might be raised:   “But it is not as if those readings have been arbitrarily declared dubious; the passages you listed have been properly and fairly questioned.”
            Who says?  Does anyone have transcripts of the conversations that led the NA/UBS compilers to almost habitually reject the reading of the vast majority of Greek manuscripts where it diverges from the Alexandrian Text (usually in the Gospels, the Byzantine Text is favored by a majority of over 85% of the Greek manuscripts, frequently over 95%, and sometimes over 99.5%), and to regularly prefer the readings of Codex Vaticanus even where it stands in a very small minority and disagrees with the oldest evidence?  James White does not think the BA/UBS compilers were correct when they introduced a conjectural emendation (that is, a reading with no Greek manuscript support) into the text of Second Peter 3:10.  But clearly the previously accepted reading of Second Peter 3:10 is now disputed; White, if he consistently refrains from using disputed passages for theological purposes, will stop using it.  Does anyone not see a problem here?  Almost anything – the disagreement of a single Greek manuscript, or the opacity of a reading to the compilers – has been used to justify disputing readings that are supported by evidence that is early and abundant and widespread.
            The NA/UBS compilation is unstable and it is very likely to become more unstable.  And if anyone optimistically imagines that only readings that the UBS compilation-committee previously assigned a “D” rating are unstable, think again:  in the 28th edition, the editors reversed what had been assigned an “A” rating in Second Peter 2:18.  That is, it is not only readings which the compilers regard with “a very high degree of doubt” which are now considered questionable; readings which in previous editions of the NA/UBS compilation were considered “virtually certain” are also vulnerable to change.      
            It is not my intention here to defend every one of the inspired readings which James White regards as unsafe to use as Scripture.  I merely observe that the approach he currently endorses – in which all that is needed to justify voiding the authority of a passage is for some textual critics to declare that after properly and fairly exploring the issue, their verdict is a shrug – is bound to introduce more and more instability into the text, and to consequently encourage readers to lose confidence in more and more passages – not because the passages have been shown to be non-original, but merely because they have been disputed.  This is not as large a problem as the Nestle-Aland compilation’s rejection of many original readings.  But it is a problem.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Parablepsis: When Nothing Is Something

             Parablepsis is what happens when a copyist’s line of sight drifts from one word or set of letters in his master-copy to the same (or similar) word or set of letters a little further along in his master-copy, accidentally skipping the words or letters in between.  When manuscripts share arrays of short readings that look like they were caused by parablepsis, it’s reasonable to posit a relationship of some sort between the manuscripts with those short readings.  Before looking into that further, let’s take a look at four examples of parablepsis that appear in the Gospel of Matthew in one of the most important manuscripts we have:  Codex Sinaiticus

Matthew 7:27 – In the description of the fall of the house of the foolish builder, the scribe’s line of sight drifted from ποταμοὶ καὶ to ἄνεμοι καὶ, accidentally losing the phrase about the blowing winds.  The scribe of minuscule 579 made the same mistake in verse 25.  Another Alexandrian manuscript’s scribe made a worse mistake:  the scribe of minuscule 33 skipped from the words τη οικία ἐκείνη (“that house”) in verse 25 to to the same words in verse 27, skipping verse 26 entirely and producing a Greek sentence which says that when storms came to the wise man’s house, it fell with a great crash!

● Matthew 9:15 – The scribe of À skipped from the word νυμφίος at the end of Jesus’ question to the recurrence of the same word, losing the phrase “But days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them.” 

Matthew 13:39 – The scribe of À skipped from the letters ο δε after διάβολος to the similar letters οι δε before θερισται, thus missing the phrase “the harvest is the end of the age.” 

Matthew 21:19 – The scribe of À did not write the word ευρεν (“found”) between the word ουδεν and the word εν.  The omission could have been elicited by either homoioteleuton (“same endings” or by homeoarcton (“same beginnings”). 

            As far as I know, Codex Sinaiticus is the only manuscript that has all four of these readings.  If we were to find another manuscript, and all we knew about it was that it contained these three exact readings, I would strongly suspect that it was extremely closely related to Codex Sinaiticus.   As Kirsopp Lake wrote, “Whereas agreement in a correct reading is no criterion of similarity of origin, agreement in erroneous readings is a very good criterion.”  The odds seem extremely low that two copyists would make the same series of parableptic errors.  The thing to see is that by observing readings in manuscripts that can be accounted for by parablepsis, we can deduce that the manuscripts that share those readings are related to one another.
            Consider Matthew 12:47:  this verse is not in the English Standard Version, because the editors of the ESV relied so heavily on the Alexandrian Text.  But the absence of this verse is elegantly accounted for as a parableptic error; an early copyist’s line of sight jumped from the word λαλησαι (“to speak”) at the end of verse 46 to the same word at the end of verse 47, losing the words in between, which constitute verse 47.  Are the manuscripts that lack verse 47 closely related?  While there are a smattering of unrelated manuscripts that do not include this verse, the major Greek manuscripts for non-inclusion are Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Codex L, and Codex Γ, and although Codex Γ’s text is Byzantine, the other three are flagship manuscripts of the Alexandrian Text.  Even Codex Γ reveals the influence of Alexandrian manuscripts in its ancestry; it includes a rare interpolation in Matthew 27:49 that is also attested by À, B, and L. (For more about Mt. 12:47, see this post.)  The ESV really should put this verse back in the text where it belongs.

            Now let’s aim this principle at some readings in the Byzantine Text that are shorter than their rival readings in the Alexandrian Text.  There are hundreds of such readings; here I will briefly focus on just 20 – five from each Gospel.

Matthew 10:8 – If the text originally read Ασθενουντας θεραπεύετε νεκρους εγείρετε λεπρους καθαρίζετε (Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers), the shorter Byzantine reading can be accounted for by a parableptic error from -ετε to -ετε. 
Matthew 13:40 – If the text originally read κατακαίεται, an accidental skip from κα- to κα- would account for the Byzantine reading.
Matthew 19:24 – If the text originally read πλούσιον εισελθειν εις την βασιλείαν του θεου, a parableptic error from εισ- to εις could elicit the loss of the intervening letters, eliciting further the movement of εισελθειν to the end of the verse.     
● Matthew 24:38 – If the text originally read εν ταις ημέραις εκείναις, an accidental skip from –αις to –αις could result in the loss of the word εκείναις.
Matthew 27:40 – If the text originally read και κατάβηθι, an accidental skip from κα- to κα- could result in the loss of the word και.

Mark 2:21 – If the text originally read απ’ αυτου, an accidental skip from α- to α- could result in the loss of απ’.
● Mark 3:28 – If the text originally read και αι, an accidental skip from -αι to αι could result in the loss of αι.
● Mark 4:18 –If the text originally read ουτοί εισιν οι τον, an accidental skip from ο- to ο- could result in the loss of ουτοί εισιν.
Mark 12:8 – If the text originally read εξέβαλον αυτον, an accidental skip from -ον to ον could result in the loss of αυτον.
● Mark 14:21 – If the text originally read Οτιμεν, an accidental skip from Ο- to could result in the loss of Οτι.

Luke 11:20 If the text originally read εγω εκβαλλω, an accidental skip from ε- to ε- could result in the loss of εγω.
Luke 19:4 – If the text originally read εις το εμπροσθεν, an accidental skip from ε- to ε- could result in the loss of εις το.
Luke 20:19 – If the text originally read εφοβήθησαν τον λαόν, an accidental skip from to –ν could result in the loss of τον λαόν.    
Luke 22:18 – If the text originally read απο του νυν απο, an accidental skip from απο to απο could result in the loss of απο του νυν.
Luke 22:30 If the text originally read τραπέζης μου εν τη βασιλεία μου, an accidental skip from μου to μου could result in the loss of εν τη βασιλεία μου.  (Many Byzantine manuscripts, including manuscripts used to form the Textus Receptus, have the longer reading here.)

John 1:19 – If the text originally read οτε απέστειλαν προς αυτον οι, an accidental skip from
to could result in the loss of προς αυτον.
John 1:50 – If the text originally read οτι ειπόν σοι, οτι ειδον, an accidental skip from to could result in the loss of οτι.
John 4:3 – If the text originally read και απηλθεν παλιν εις την Γαλιλαίαν, an accidental skip from to –ν could result in the loss of παλιν.
John 11:30 – If the text originally read αλλ’ ην ετι εν τω τόπω, an accidental skip from ε- to ε- could result in the loss of ετι.
● John 21:21 – If the text originally read Τουτον ουν ιδων ο Πέτρος, an accidental skip from to could result in the loss of ουν.   

            There are many more textual contests in the New Testament in which (a) the Byzantine Text has a reading that is shorter than its rival Alexandrian reading, and (b) the shorter reading can be accounted for as a result of parablepsis.  For example, in the Byzantine Text, James 4:12 does not have the words και κριτής (“and Judge”), a short reading which can be explained if the verse originally began with Εις εστιν νομοθέτης και κριτης and an accidental skip was made from the -της at the end of νομοθέτης to the -της at the end of κριτης. 

From all this, we should draw two conclusions:

(1)  If is acknowledged that, say, half of these short Byzantine readings are the result of parablepsis, then unless we assume that scribes independently made the same mistake at the same point in the text ten times – which seems highly improbable – then they must echo an earlier ancestor-manuscript in which the text of these passages had been shortened via parableptic error. 

(2) Textual critics should use manuscript-evidence that represents different text-types, not just the Byzantine Text.  This is the only way to detect (and remedy) parableptic errors in which some text was lost but a sensible sentence was formed nevertheless.  It appears that most Byzantine Gospels-manuscripts are descended from a master-copy or master-copies in which some small snippets of the text have been lost via parablepsis.  It also appears, from other research, that most Alexandrian Gospels-manuscripts are descended from a master-copy or master-copies in which much more text has been lost via parablepsis.  To depend too heavily on one form of the text, merely because its oldest representatives lasted longer in Egypt’s low-humidity climate, or upon another form of the text, because it has circulated in a much higher number of manuscripts, is not our best option. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

John 1:18 - The Only Begotten Son

John 1:18 in Codex Macedonianus (Y, 034)
            In the preceding three posts about John 1:18, we have considered (1) the case for rendering μονογενὴς as “only begotten,” (2) some patristic evidence for rival readings in John 1:18, and (3) the probable background of Codex Sinaiticus’ exemplar for this verse. 
            Today, we consider the basic question of which reading in John 1:18 was the original text: 
(a)    ὁ μονογενὴς θεός (the only begotten God) or
(b)   μονογενὴς θεός (only begotten God) or
(c)    ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (the only begotten Son).
            None of these options seems to have been regarded as distinctly unorthodox in the early church:  “only begotten Son” was used by orthodox writers such as Hippolytus, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, and Chrysostom; meanwhile “only begotten God” was used by orthodox writers such as Basil, Epiphanius, and Cyril of Alexandria; other writers appear to have used both readings.  However, “only begotten God” appears to have been especially favored by the non-orthodox – specifically, by Valentinian Gnostics. 
            The case that the text of John 1:18 was altered, whether by intent or by accident, in the 100s, and that Valentinian Gnostics favored the text with θεός, begins with evidence that doctrinally driven changes to the text were made by heretics in the second century.  In Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History Book 5:28, one finds excerpts from a composition known as the Little Labyrinth, composed (or at least attributed to) Caius, a presbyter in Rome, written when Zephyrinus was bishop of Rome (in 180-217).  Its author makes the following charges against the Valentinians:
            “They have boldly falsified the sacred Scriptures, and they have rejected the canons of the ancient faith, and they have ignored Christ, not inquiring what the sacred Scriptures say, but laboriously seeing to discover what form of syllogism might be contrived to establish their impiety.”  And a little further on:  “Regarding those men who abuse the arts of the unbelievers to establish their own heretical doctrine, and by the craft of the impious adulterate the simple faith of the divine Scriptures, what need is there to say that these are not near the faith? 
            Because of this they have boldly laid their hands upon the divine Scriptures, alleging that they have corrected them.  And that I do not state this against them falsely, anyone who pleases may ascertain.  For if anyone should choose to collect and compare all their copies together, he would find many discrepancies among them.  The copies of Asclepiades [this was probably intended to refer to “Asclepiodotus,” an individual mentioned earlier in the composition], at any rate, will be found at variance with those of Theodotus. 
            And many such copies are to be had, for their disciples were very zealous in inserting the corrections, as they call them, that is, the corruptions that each of them made. . . . .  Either they do not believe that the divine Scriptures were spoken by the Holy Spirit, and thus are unbelievers, or else they think themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and in that case what else are they than demoniacs?  For they cannot deny the commission of the crime, since they copies have been written by their own hands.  For they did not receive such Scriptures from their instructors, nor can they produce any copies from which they were transcribed.”    
            Theodotus, to whom Caius refers, was a leader of the Valentinians.  Samples of his writings are found in Extracts from Theodotus.  (The person who preserved these excerpts, and commented on them, is unknown; some have suggested that it was Clement of Alexandria.)  In Parts 6-8 of the Extracts from Theodotus, we find the following (notice the use of two different forms of John 1:18, in bold print): 

            “The Valentinians understand the verse, ‘In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos was God” like this:  they say that “the Beginning” is the “only Begotten,” and that he is also called God, as also in the verses which immediately follow, it is explained that he is God, for it says, ‘The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.’  Now they say that the Logos – in the beginning (that is to say, in the Only Begotten, in the Mind and the Truth – indicates the Christ, the Logos and the Life.  Wherefore he also appropriately called him God who is in God, the Mind.   ‘That which came into being in Him’ – the Logos – ‘was Life,’ the Companion.  Therefore the Lord also says, ‘I am the Life.’” 
            Therefore the Father, being unknown, wished to be known to the Aeons, and through his own thought, as if he had known himself, he put forth the Only Begotten, the spirit of Knowledge which is in Knowledge.  So he, too, who came forth from Knowledge, that is, from the Father’s Thought, became Knowledge, that is, the Son, because ‘through the Son the Father was known.  But the Spirit of Love has been mingled with the Spirit of Knowledge, as the Father with the Son, and Thought with Truth, having proceeded from Truth as Knowledge from Thought.  And he who remained ‘Only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father’ explains Thought to the Aeons through Knowledge, just as if he also had been put forth from his bosom; but him who appeared here, the Apostle no longer calls ‘Only begotten,’ but, ‘as Only begotten,’ ‘Glory as of an Only Begotten.’  This is because, being one and the same, Jesus is the ‘Firstborn’ in creation, but in the Pleroma is ‘Only begotten.’  But he is the same being to each place such as can be contained [in it]. 
            The author (ceasing to quote his Gnostic source) then says in Part 8:  “But we maintain that the essential Logos is God in God, who is also said to be ‘in the bosom of the Father,’ continuous, undivided, one God.”

            There are quite a few Gnostic concepts that need to be unpacked here; for some idea of what was meant by the references to “Aeons,” “Knowledge,” “Mind,” “Truth,” and “Logos,” see Robert Grant’s introductory description of Gnostic cosmology in his book Irenaeus of Lyons.  The things to see, for our present purpose, is that as the Valentinians assigned fantastical meanings to terms used in the opening chapter of John (especially John 1:1-18), they referred to “the Only Begotten” as a supernatural emanation of God.  They considered “Christ” to be another emanation, dependent on Knowledge.  Irenaeus was justified in his concern that these false teachers attempted to turn “Jesus” and “Christ” into two entities. 
            (Such a concern ought to raise a red flag when we see, in À* in John 1:17, that the word “Christ” is missing.  Perhaps concern should also be felt when we see the editors of the Nestle-Aland compilation (27th ed.) avoid mentioning this in their apparatus.  Did I say that out loud?)     
            Irenaeus primarily countered Gnostic teachings that were spread at Rome.  As I proposed earlier, it seems probable (as much as one can gauge probabilities from such limited evidence) that the Valentinians in Rome, such as Heracleon, used a text of John 1:18 which referred to “the Only Begotten,” followed by neither “God” nor “Son.”  But Caius attests that the Valentinians’ copies disagreed among themselves, and nothing precludes the idea that the Valentinians corrupted John 1:18 by putting their phrase “only begotten God” into John’s text. 
            There is no clear evidence that Heracleon, in the West, supported such a corruption.  But what about Basilides and the Gnostics in Egypt in the second and third centuries? 
            There is not much to go on – although it is clear that Clement of Alexandria was well-acquainted with Basilides’ writings known as the Exegetica, because he (Clement) quoted from the 23rd book of this 24-book presentation of Basilides’ teachings, in Stromateis, Book 4, chapter 12.  Some insight, though, may be gained by considering the contents of the sixteen-page Gnostic composition known as the Trimorphic Protennoia (or, the First Thought in Three Forms), one of the texts among the Nag Hammadi papyri – in Codex XIII.     
            In Trimorphic Protennoia (which resembles in some points another Gnostic composition, the Apocryphon of John), as the author depicts the pre-existent Word as the emanator of celestial entities called Aeons, he writes as follows: 
            “Then the Perfect Son revealed himself to his Aeons, who originated through him, and he revealed them and glorified them, and gave them thrones, and stood in the glory with which he glorified himself. They blessed the Perfect Son, the Christ, the only-begotten God.  And they gave glory, saying, ‘He is!  He is!  The Son of God!  The Son of God!  It is he who is! The Aeon of Aeons, beholding the Aeons which he begot.” 
            A little further along, after the names of the Aeons are listed, the author writes:   “Now those Aeons were begotten by the God who was begotten – the Christ – and these Aeons received as well as gave glory. They were the first to appear, exalted in their thought, and each Aeon gave myriads of glories within great untraceable lights, and they all together blessed the perfect Son, the God who was begotten.”
            If Hort had been aware of the existence of the Trimorphic Protennoia in 1876, he might not have claimed (as he did on p. 9 of his Dissertation), “Neither in the Valentinian nor in any other known Gnostical system could there have been any temptation to invent such a combination as μονογενὴς θεός.”

            I submit that μονογενὴς θεός entered the text of John 1:18 in a manuscript used by Gnostics – a manuscript in which the text of this verse had already been altered (via a mild harmonization to 1:14) so as to contain no explicit reference to the only begotten Son, but only to the Only-Begotten.  A Valentinian scribe added θεός to reinforce Gnostic doctrine about the pre-existent Word as a celestial persona consisting of God’s first thought. 
            This reading became popular in Egypt not only among Gnostics, but also among the orthodox, who gave it an altogether different significance, affirming the deity of Christ.  It may be worth mentioning that Ambrose – not Ambrose of Milan, but Ambrose the Alexandrian who financed Origen – was formerly a Valentinian before being led out of that belief-system by Origen, and Ambrose’s copies of the Gospel of John may have been among the first to have this reading; if so, they were well-situated to have their contents be recopied in Egypt and later in Caesarea, alongside Origen’s copy of Heracleon’s commentary on John.  
In the hands of orthodox fourth-century writers such as Gregory of Nyssa and the well-traveled Basil of Caesarea (not the same Caesarea where Eusebius was bishop in the early 300s, but the Caesarea in what is now central Turkey), ὁ μονογενὴς θεός was not considered intrinsically supportive of Gnosticism.  The translators of the Peshitta must have viewed it as an orthodox statement.  Similarly in modern times, the term is often considered a useful affirmation of the deity of Christ, as if although Westcott and Hort’s revision of the New Testament effectively removed Romans 9:5, and Acts 20:28, and Ephesians 3:9, and Colossians 2:2, and First Timothy 3:16 from the Trinitarian arsenal, compensation was given via the deposit of John 1:18 therein.       
This scenario – in which ὁ μονογενὴς θεός originated in Valentinian manuscripts, in Egypt (or perhaps first in Rome, and then Egypt) – fits the evidence rather snugly.  In addition, despite the use of the phrase by Basil, Eusebius, and the Peshitta, resistance to this reading – expressed by its non-inclusion in the Byzantine Text – may be succinctly accounted for by scribes’ awareness of its association with Egyptian Gnosticism; also notable is Athanasius’ persistent use of ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός.  Although an adept theologian such as Basil could use John 1:18b with θεός in the cause of orthodoxy, forms of John 1:18b with θεός are practically unheard of in Latin antiquity; the Alexandrian reading is not shared by the Western Text, nor the Caesarean Text, nor the Byzantine Text, whether we consult the earliest or youngest Greek representatives. 
There is one piece of the puzzle, however, which does not seem to fit this theory:  Irenaeus’ use of ὁ μονογενὴς θεός in Against Heresies Book 4:11.  It is hard to account for this, especially since Irenaeus quoted John 1:18 with “only begotten Son” at the end of Against Heresies 4:6, introducing the verse with “as is written in the Gospel.”  While I do not want to multiply speculations, I would rather say something instead of nothing when facing this puzzle, so:
I suspect that Irenaeus had encountered a corrupted form of John 1:18 in Valentinian writings, and, while focused on anecdotes in the books of Daniel and Revelation (which he proceeded to investigate), added this quotation somewhat casually and parenthetically, introducing it not with “As it is written in the Gospel of John,” but with the phrase, “of whom also the Lord said.”  Irenaeus quoted from memory at this point, and his memory was influenced by the Valentinian compositions which he had been studying  not unlike the way in which a Christian apologist, after spending days reading the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation, might absentmindedly make a parenthetical quote from it, rather than from his own Bible.  Of course it is impossible to prove this, but the theory wraps up this loose end.       

Just two more things:
(1)  It is sometimes proposed (by Allen Wikgren, for instance, in a brief note added in Metzger’s Textual Commentary) that one reading or the other originated as a transcriptional error; Wilkgren proposed that the reading with θεός originated in the Alexandrian Text when a scribe, using nomina sacra contractions, wrote ΘΣ instead of ΥΣ, a difference of a single letter. 
By itself, this theory does not seem likely, inasmuch as the letters Θ (theta) and Υ (upsilon) do not resemble one another.  But if one introduces a scenario – one I have proposed previously – in which one scribe wrote the main text, leaving overlines with blank space below them, and a proof-reader added the nomina sacra contractions as he proof-read – well, the chance that the proof-reader could write the wrong nomina sacra is higher than the chance that any copyist could mistake  Θ for Υ or Υ for Θ.  (There are many textual contests between competing nomina sacra, or between the presence and absence of a nomen sacrum; I doubt that there are more than a few variant-units anywhere that constitute a contest between Θ and Υ.)  In which case, ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός wins the contest as the reading favored by much more diverse support from early patristic and versional witnesses, besides the enormous manuscript-evidence in its favor; as Ezra Abbot stated in his detailed essay on this subject, the witnesses for ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός “represent every important division of the Christian world.”
(2)  It is sometimes proposed that internal evidence favors “God,” on the grounds that copyists would tend to harmonize it to the more familiar phrase “only begotten Son” that appears elsewhere in the Gospel of John.  But against this theory, no such harmonization was made to 1:14, although the wording there is not found again.  Plus, a consideration of authorial style favors “only begotten Son,” a phrase which is used by John several times, while μονογενὴς θεός is non-Johannine.  Metzger depends on precisely this sort of argument quite often elsewhere; yet here it is abandoned when it weighs in against an Alexandrian reading.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

John 1:18 - Sinaiticus: The Devil in the Details

John 1:18 in Codex Sinaiticus

           In the two previous posts, I examined (a) the meaning of the term μονογενὴς, concluding that “only begotten” is an entirely proper rendering, and (b) some early patristic and versional evidence for rival forms of John 1:18, especially the contest between “only begotten Son” and “only begotten God.”  Although a simple count of manuscripts overwhelmingly favors “only begotten Son,” (1,630 versus 7) the patristic evidence indicates that in the early centuries of the church, things were not so lopsided.  My findings generally align with the observation made by Paul McReynolds:  ““There are eleven writers, with thirty-nine citations, who support μονογενὴς θεός,” and “There are 20+ Fathers, with 40+ citations, who support the ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός reading.”  In addition, McReynolds listed 14 Latin authors, with 41 citations, who support υἱός; only Hilary of Poitiers is listed as conceivable (but highly unlikely) Latin support for θεός,
            Today, I want to pause the general discussion orbiting the textual contest in John 1:18 in order to focus on the contents and character of the text in Codex Sinaiticus, one of the manuscripts that favor μονογενὴς θεός (without ὁ). 

            Although Sinaiticus is usually considered to be a flagship manuscript of the Alexandrian Text, in John 1:1-8:38, its text is not Alexandrian; it is Western.  This was shown by Gordon Fee (in Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John: A Contribution to Methodology in Establishing Textual Relationships, in New Testament Studies 15, 1968-69).  This elicits a question:  if  ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός is the Western reading of John 1:18 – as Hort emphatically asserted – then why is something else (μονογενὴς θεός) found in Sinaiticus?  (Here is the relevant quote from Hort:  “It comes out with perfect clearness that υἱός is one of the numerous Ante-nicene readings of a ‘Western’ type (in the technical not the strictly geographical sense of the word).”)  Finding θεός in John 1:18 in the Western portion of À is a bit like finding a lemon growing on an orange tree. 
            The answer has something to do with the background of Codex Sinaiticus – but before we investigate that, let’s take a look at some anomalous readings of À in John 1.  Based on data accumulated by Reuben Swanson, here are some of À’s unusual readings:
            v. 4 – εστιν instead of ην  
            v. 6 – ην after θεου
            v. 17 – non-inclusion of Χριστου
            v. 18 – non-inclusion of ο ων before εις τον κολπον
            v. 19 – does not include και ωμολογησεν
            v. 20 – non-inclusion of αυτον
            v. 20 – includes παλιν
            v. 21 – reads επηρωτησαν
            v. 21 – non-inclusion of και before λεγει
            v. 21 – non-inclusion of ὁ before προφητης 
            v. 28 – reads ποταμου after Ιορδανου
            v. 32 – reads ως περιστεραν καταβαινον εκ του ουρανου και μενον after πνευμα
            v. 34 – reads εκλεκτος του Θεου instead of υιος του Θεου
            Sinaiticus very often has no Greek allies in the first chapter of John.  Why?  Partly because Codex D is not extant for John 1:16-3:26, but there is more to it than that.  I deduce that the text of John 1 in Sinaiticus is not merely Western; the copyist used a Western exemplar but freely drifted from its text.  Although in theory this could occur almost anywhere in the text’s ancestry, it seems likely that this array of readings originated as À’s text of John 1:1-8:38 was transcribed.  Sinaiticus’ copyist was obligated by a lacuna in his main exemplar to resort to a secondary exemplar, but he did not trust the secondary exemplar and felt free to take some liberties with its contents.   
            What is the basis for this deduction?  What would make a scribe reluctant to trust an exemplar, even a secondary one? 
            Enter Heracleon.  Heracleon was a Valentinian Gnostic writer in the second century, generally regarded as one who taught in Italy, possibly in the city of Rome.  Bart Ehrman has presented some data that suggests a special relationship between the text of Sinaiticus in John 1:1-8:38 and the text used by Heracleon (see the essays Heracleon, Origen, and the Text of the Fourth Gospel and Heracleon and the ‘Western’ Textual Tradition, chapters 14 and 15 of Studies in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, Vol. 33 of New Testament Tools & Studies, 2006).   À* agrees with several readings in the text of Heracleon, as cited by Origen.  One particularly impressive example involves the text of John 1:21:  Heracleon claimed (according to Origen) that John had denied being a prophet (instead of denying that he was the prophet); this indicates that Heracleon’s text of John 1:21 lacked the article ὁ before προφήτης – and this is the extremely rare reading of À*.  We see in John 1:21 in À* the same kind of unusual reading – the omission of an article – that we also see in 1:18.  Another reading in À that corresponds to a reading which can plausibly be deduced to have been in the text used by Heracleon is the presence of εστιν (“is”) in John 1:4 instead of ην (“was”).
            Now take a close look at how Origen cites John 1:18 in his Commentary on John, Book Six, paragraph 2:  as Origen contests Heracleon’s view that John 1:18 is a statement from John the author of the Gospel – Origen considered it a statement by John the Baptist – Origen cites the text with “only begotten God” without the article.  A little later, Origen cites John 1:18 again, this time without any noun after “only begotten” – that is, as Origen cites most of 1:18 in two segments, the first segment is “No one has seen God at any time,” and the second segment is, “The only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father.” You may recall from the previous post that this was probably the reading of the Diatessaron.  
            This form of the text – without either “Son” or “God” after μονογενὴς – is probably the form that Heracleon used, and the form that the scribe of À encountered in his exemplar, but rejected.  (In Book 6, paragraph 7, Origen appears to use John 1:18 in a way that refers to simply “the Only Begotten.” probably using Heracleon’s text, but his quotation with "only begotten God" is more prominent.) 
            In conclusion:  a comparison between the text of Heracleon (as represented by Origen) to the text of John 1:1-8:38 in À indicates that Sinaiticus’ text of John 1:1-8:38 was influenced by an exemplar which frequently agreed with the text of Heracleon.
            If the scribe of À recognized that his secondary exemplar was a manuscript used by Heracleon, the scribe would very probably consider it right to harbor suspicions about its accuracy, and to filter its unusual readings via comparisons to the quotations embedded in Origen’s commentary.

             Now let’s consider the circumstances in which Codex Sinaiticus was made, as fully as they can be deduced.  Researchers such as J. Rendel Harris and T. C. Skeat have made a strong case, based on the accumulation of small pieces of evidence, that À was made in Caesarea.  (Skeat proposed that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were both among the 50 codices prepared by Eusebius of Caesarea for emperor Constantine; however his theory is rather complicated and requires a “Goldilocks” scenario to account for the differences between Vaticanus and Sinaiticus – and it simply does not account for the many differences between the text used by Eusebius and the contents of B and À, or for major differences between B and À, such as their differing forms of Tobit, and the inclusion in À of the books of Barnabas and Hermas, and the inept treatment of the Eusebian Canons and Sections in À.) 
            Who was in charge of the scriptorium in Caesarea in the mid-300s?  Jerome informs us (in Lives of Illustrious Men and elsewhere) that at Caesarea in the mid-300’s, bishop Acacius, followed by bishop Euzoius – both of whom subscribed to Arianism – improved the library’s holdings by transferring to parchment various texts which were in danger of being damaged or lost, having been written on papyrus. 
            Although Jerome does not explicitly state that Biblical texts on papyrus were among the materials that Acacius and Euzoius transferred onto parchment, it seems reasonable to think that Biblical texts would be prioritized in such a project.  And if Acacius oversaw the production of Sinaiticus at Caesarea, this would account for (a) his access to the text of John used by Heracleon – reckoning that Origen must have taken a copy of Heracleon’s work to Caesarea, inasmuch as he cited it in his Commentary on John – and (b) his willingness to replace readings in his exemplar with readings that he could recollect or harvest from the writings of Origen, and (c) the generally Alexandrian character of the text of À in the rest of the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, echoing Egyptian exemplars either taken to Caesarea by Origen in the 200s, or acquired later in the 200s.      
            (Among the small points supportive of the theory that Acacius oversaw the production of Codex Sinaiticus, one that should not be overlooked is the size of the writing in the codex; it is the ancient equivalent of a giant-print Bible, a format that would be especially useful to Acacius, who, Jerome reports, had only one eye.)      
            The implication of all this is that although John 1:1-8:38 is essentially Western, it also contains non-Western readings where the copyist abandoned his exemplar.  The reading μονογενὴς θεός is one such non-Western reading.  Rather than show that μονογενὴς θεός was ever a Western reading, À shows its scribe’s willingness to abandon his secondary exemplar – likely an exemplar associated with Heracleon.   
             In conclusion, À’s reading μονογενὴς θεός, although found in the Western section of À, is unlikely to be representative of À’s Western exemplar, and is more likely a reading introduced by the scribe of À on the basis of his personal familiarity with the reading θεός after μονογενὴς as it is found in Origen’s Commentary on John.      

Readers are invited to check the data in this post, and to explore the embedded links to additional resources.