Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Matthew 5:44 - Love Your Enemies

          
           The words of Christ in Matthew 5:44 have echoed through the centuries as one of most remarkable and most difficult of all His teachings:  Love your enemies.  The contents of the middle of the verse, however, have been drawn into question due to differences in the Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew and in the some of the early versions of the Gospels.
            Over 1,300 manuscripts of Matthew support the Byzantine text of this verse, which is conveyed with equal precision by the 2005 Robinson-Pierpont 2005 Byzantine Textform, the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text, and Wilbur Pickering’s compilation of the family-35 text.  The Textus Receptus has slightly different wording for the phrase “to those who hate you” (its minor variant is supported by 18 manuscripts, including minuscule 2 which was used by Erasmus) but it does not have an impact on translation.    
            The Alexandrian Text of Mt. 5:44 is significantly shorter than the Byzantine Text.  The major uncials Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, along with manuscripts 1, 22, 205, 1582, and a few others, do not have the Greek text that is represented in English by the statements, “Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you,” in the middle of the verse, and the phrase “who despitefully use you and” near the end.  Advocates of the short Alexandrian reading typically explain the longer Byzantine reading as a harmonization in the text of Matthew, drawn from the parallel-passage in Luke 6:27-28.  Bruce Metzger’s comments in his Textual Commentary are representative:  “Later witnesses enrich the text by incorporating clauses from the parallel account in Lk 6.27-28.”


Matthew 5:44 and the surrounding verses in Codex Bezae (D)
            Metzger’s statement has two problems.  First, it is not just “Later witnesses” that have the longer reading:  Codex Bezae and Codex W disagree with the Alexandrian text.  (Codex A is not extant until Matthew chapter 25.)  John Chrysostom (c. 400) repeatedly quoted the verse with the Byzantine reading.  The Gothic version (made around 350) and the Peshitta (the Syriac version made no later than the late 300’s) also support the Byzantine reading of Matthew 5:44.  Secondly, when we look at the parallel-passage in the Byzantine Text of Luke 6:27-28, the order of phrases in Matthew is not the same as the order in Luke.  In addition, at the end of Lk. 6:28, the text has not been harmonized to Mt. 5:44.  
          The harmonization-theory requires a strange kind of harmonizer:  one whose goal was to make the Gospel-passages agree, but who reversed the phrases from Luke 6 in the course of inserting them into Matthew 5 – thus making the word-order disagree – and who declined to add a phrase from Matthew into the text of Luke (although this could be easily done) to accomplish a fuller harmonization.     
            Another explanation is more credible.  In a science fiction story by the late Robert Heinlein, a character states, “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”  Something similar should be said to the textual critics who insist on positing harmonizations and theologically motivated alterations to the text where a variation is capable of being explained as accidental.  In the case at hand, the Alexandrian reading of Mt. 5:44 can be explained as the result of a common scribal accident:  parablepsis, the skipping of text as a result of homoeoarcton (the recurrence of the same, or similar, series of letters at the beginning of words) or homoeoteleuton (the recurrence of the same, or similar, series of letters at the ends of words) or both.        
The Byzantine text of Matthew 5:44
+ a sleepy, line-skipping copyist
= the Alexandrian text of Mt. 5:44
            If, instead of assuming that the Alexandrian reading is correct and looking for ways to defend it, one starts with the Byzantine reading and looks for ways to account for the origins of its rivals, it is not difficult to see that the phrase in the middle of Matthew 5:44 that does not appear in the Alexandrian Text could accidentally be lost via parablepsis, when a copyist’s line of sight drifted from umwn to kai, skipping the words in between.  Similarly, near the end of the verse, scribal inattentiveness accounts for the loss of the Greek phrase that means “despitefully use you and.”          
            An additional factor favors the Byzantine reading of Mt. 5:44.  Many researchers who study the Synoptic Problem (this is not a “problem” in the usual sense of the word; in this context it refers to the question, “What is the literary relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke?”) have concluded that Matthew and Luke shared a source known as Q (“Q” stands for Quelle, the German word for “source”), which consisted mostly of Jesus’ sayings, accompanied by some context-supplying narrative.  Such a document may be the “Logia,” or Sayings, which, according to Papias, Matthew prepared in Hebrew (or Aramaic).  If it is granted that Matthew and Luke each possessed a source-document in which Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, and pray for those who despitefully mistreat them and persecute them, then, if the Alexandrian reading of Matthew 5:44 is correct, either (a) Matthew omitted two perfectly clear and edifying phrases that were in his source-document, or (b) Luke arbitrarily expanded a perfectly clear statement in his source-document.  The adoption of the Byzantine reading of Matthew 5:44 nullifies both conclusions and offers a simpler explanation of both author’s treatment of their source-material.      
Mt. 5:44 was recently featured in
the movie "Do You Believe?".
            In this case – as is so often the case in the Gospels – the Alexandrian reading is not just shorter; the longer rival Byzantine reading accounts for its existence as an accidentally shortened reading.  And although the Alexandrian reading has early support, it is only slightly earlier than much more widespread support for the Byzantine reading.  The Byzantine reading of Matthew 5:44 should therefore be regarded as original.

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