In Mark 2:16, there are several interesting textual contests. Today I will focus on three of them. First, did Mark refer to “the scribes of the Pharisees,” or to “the scribes and the Pharisees”? Second, is the original word-order, in Mark’s description of those with Jesus, “tax collectors and sinners” or “sinners and tax collectors”? Third, at the end of the verse, do the religious leaders object that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners, or that Jesus is eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?
The differences are conveyed by the bold print in the quotations shown here from the English Standard Version and the New King James Version:
ESV: And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
NKJV: And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to his disciples, “Why is it that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”
Let’s address each variant-unit separately.
● The scribes and the Pharisees, or the scribes of the Pharisees?
Almost all English translations that are based on the Nestle-Aland compilation agree with the meaning of the ESV. (The NET is a surprising exception; it refers to “the experts in the law and the Pharisees.”) Meanwhile, the KJV, NKJV, and MEV agree with the Byzantine base-text, found in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts of Mark.
The attestation for οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων is sparse: Among uncial manuscripts, only Codex W has exactly this reading, although Codex B differs by only one letter (reading οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρεισαίων). In the damaged fragment 0130, from the 800s, the words τῶν Φαρισαίων have survived, according to Tischendorf’s transcription. In addition, although À and L lack the οἱ before γραμματεῖς, they support τῶν instead of καὶ οἱ. The Nestle-Aland apparatus also lists Papyrus 88vid (assigned to the 300s) as a witness in favor of τῶν.
Internal evidence strongly favors the reading τῶν (yielding “the scribes of the Pharisees”)rather than καὶ οἱ (“the scribes and the Pharisees”). The reading οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαίων (“the scribes and the Pharisees”) was more familiar to copyists, due in part to the repeated mention of scribes and Pharisees together in Jesus’ denunciation of both groups in Matthew 23. (The phrase also appears in Luke 5:21, 6:7, and 11:53, and in John 8:3 (in the most widely-circulated form of the verse).)
A conformation to οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαίων would be natural, and is the sort of scribal alteration that could occur even unconsciously; the reading οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων, on the other hand, is unusual, and there does not seem to be anything intrinsic in οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαίων that would provoke a change to οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων.
Another consideration is that in the parallel in Luke 5:30, the Byzantine Text reads οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ Φαρισαίων (“their scribes and the Pharisees”), where the Alexandrian Text reads οἱ Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς αὐτῶν (“the Pharisees and their scribes”). Here, again, nothing in the Byzantine Text seems puzzling or likely to provoke copyists to change anything, whereas the Alexandrian reading appears to refer to the religious group that is mentioned in Acts 23:9, where Luke refers to “the scribes of the Pharisees’ party.” Codex Sinaiticus, in Luke 5:30, deviates from most other Alexandrian witnesses by referring to “the Pharisees and the scribes” (without “their”), exemplifying a scribal tendency to keep the two groups (the scribes, and the Pharisees) distinct.
All things considered, despite the huge numerical advantage of “the scribes and the Pharisees,” the internal evidence compels the adoption of “the scribes of the Pharisees.”
● “Sinners and tax collectors” or “Tax collectors and sinners”?
|In Codex W, the text of Mark 2:16 was shortened|
to relieve a perceived redundancy.
Practically all major manuscripts (except Codex D) agree in the second half of Mark 2:16 that Mark wrote “tax collectors” and then “and sinners.” Earlier in the verse, though, Codices B, D, L, Θ, and minuscules 33 and 565 refer to “the sinners and tax collectors” where À, A, C, and most manuscripts refer to “the tax collectors and sinners.” The evidence is a bit more uniform in English than it is in Greek: Papyrus 88, the corrected text of Codex B, the text of Codex D, the text of Θ, and minuscule 33 read (after μετὰ) τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τῶν τελωνῶν. (But Codex B as initially written did not have τῶν before τελωνῶν, and Codex D adds another καὶ after τελωνῶν.)
What happened here? Either copyists made the word-order in the first part of the verse resemble the word-order in the second part, or else copyists made the word-order different – or both. The text of Codex D reflects the former – but its word-order is in a category all its own: both parts have the word-order “the sinners and the tax collectors.” Meanwhile, some Alexandrian copyists considered the repetition of the same word-order to be redundant. (The scribe responsible for the text of W must have considered it very redundant, for he removed the first phrase entirely.) For that reason, they transposed the first reference – and in the process they not only transferred τελωνῶν to follow τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν but also transferred (and repeated) τῶν. This double-occurrence of τῶν is a vestige of scribal editing. Codex B’s corrector even went a little further, adding τῶν before ἁμαρτωλῶν in the second occurrence as well.) The original word-order is thus μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν (“with the tax collectors and sinners”) in both parts of the verse.
● “He eats” or “He eats and drinks”?
If rival variants could be compared to racehorses, there is a race at the end of Mark 2:16 in which a dozen horses are competing. Scribes copying the text of Mark here recollected the parallel-passages in Matthew 9:11 and Luke 5:30. In Matthew, there is no mention of Jesus drinking; Luke mentions both eating and drinking – but both parallel-passages have their own unique aspects as well. As a result, this passage has been corrupted in different ways; here are a few examples:
Codex À harmonizes Mark 2:16 to Matthew 9:11, forming the question, “Why with tax collectors and sinners does your teacher eat?”.
Codex C and 579 also harmonize Mark 2:16 to Matthew 9:11, but in a different way, and with a reference to drinking: “How is it that with tax collectors and sinners your teacher eats and drinks?”.
Codices L and Δ also harmonize, like the harmonization in À, but with a reference to drinking: “Why with tax collectors and sinners eats and drinks your teacher?”. (Neither conforms to Luke’s ἐσθίετε καὶ πίνετε.)
Most manuscripts end Mark 2:16 with ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει, so that the question is, “How is it that with tax collectors and sinners He eats and drinks?”. However, in Codices B, D, and W, the verse ends with just ἐσθίει. Similarly Codex Θ and 1424 read ἐσθίετε, a slight adjustment which matches up with the ἐσθίετε (but not πίνετε) in Luke 5:30. (It is notable that in Luke 5:30 in Codex K, there is similarly only a reference to eating, and not to drinking.)
Two factors contributed to the loss of the reference to drinking at the end of the verse: first, a tendency to harmonize to the parallel-passage in Matthew. Second, simple scribal carelessness: verse 17 begins with καὶ, so both homoioteleuton and homoioarcton occur together here. It is not surprising that when an early copyist’s line of sight went from the first occurrence of ει καὶ to the second occurrence of the same letters in the line ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει καὶ, he did not detect the resultant accidental omission, inasmuch as the sentence still made sense.
The text at the end of Mark 2:16 as it existed in
this omission occurred, however, is attested by Papyrus 88: it supports ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει. The minuscule 892, known for its Alexandrian
character, also supports “eating and drinking” at the end of Mark 2:16, as do
(as already mentioned) C and 579 which despite
being harmonized to Matthew still refer to drinking, not just eating. (Like L and Δ, they read ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει,
not the Lukan wording ἐσθίετε καὶ πίνετε.) (L has an itacism, reading πίνι.) Egypt
These are not the only variant-units within Mark 2:16, and it is probably no exaggeration to conclude, when surveying them all, that not a single extant manuscript has transmitted the original text of this entire verse in its pristine form: different attempts to harmonize the text, and to amplify its meaning, have affected different witnesses in different ways. (Readers are encouraged to consult Wieland Willker’s Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels: Mark for more data about the complex series of variants in this verse.) The sense of the passage, however, is consistently maintained: the religious leaders asked Jesus’ disciples why He was taking His meals with the people they considered the dregs of society. When Jesus answered, He gave an important insight about the nature of the gospel. There is a textual variant in His answer in Mark 2:17, too – but that’s a subject for another post.