In Mark 7:3-4, Mark makes a parenthetical remark in which three textual contests occur:
(1) How did the Pharisees and all the Jews wash their hands: did they wash often (πυκνά), or did they wash with the fist (πυγμῇ) – a rare term that refers to a particular kind of ceremonial hand-washing?
(2) Did Mark describe the Pharisees’ ceremonial washings as if they immersed (βαπτίσωνται) or as if they poured water (ῥαντίσωνται)?
(3) Did Mark mention, in addition to the washing (βαπτισμοὺς, technically immersing) of cups and pitchers and copper vessels, the washing of beds (καὶ κλινῶν)?
Few passages have received as diverse treatment at the hands of translators as these two verses. The erudite translators of the KJV considered it fitting to add a note to their rendering, “oft,” stating, “Or, diligently, in the original, with the fist; Theophylact: up to the elbow.” (Theophylact was a famous commentator; he wrote in the late 1000s.) Inasmuch as the Greek texts compiled by Erasmus, by Stephanus, and by Beza in the 1500s all read πυγμῇ (as far as I have been able to ascertain), it appears that the rendering in the text of the KJV at this point was derived from the Vulgate’s term crebro. Before anyone chides the KJV’s translators for this course of action, however, it should be noted that two important uncial manuscripts which were unknown to the KJV’s translators (Codex Sinaiticus – “the world’s oldest Bible” – and Codex Washingtoniensis – “considered to be the third-oldest parchment codex of the Gospels in the world”) confirm the reading πυκνά.
|Mark 7:3-4 in the 1611 KJV.|
Notice the notes in the side-margin.
In this first contest, internal evidence is a safe guide: one reading is easy to understand and raises no difficulties; the other one is obscure and invites questions. It is more likely that a copyist created the easy reading in an attempt to make plain the meaning of the more difficult reading, than that a copyist created the harder reading. The cogency of the text-critical canon lectio difficilior potior (prefer the more difficult reading), applied in a balanced and realistic way (as all canons should be), is on display here. In this case, it works against Codex Sinaiticus, the Vulgate, and the KJV’s text, and in favor of the reading which is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts and referred to as “the original” in the KJV’s margin.
But what does πυγμῇ mean? That is an interpretive, rather than textual, matter. Here are a few examples of how modern translations say that that Pharisees washed their hands in Mark 7:3: “properly,” “ceremonially,” “ritually,” “carefully,” “poured water over their cupped hands,” and “with clenched fist.” The RSV’s translators gave up on representing the word πυγμῇ, admitting in a footnote, “One Greek word is of uncertain meaning and is not translated.” Of the various ideas that have been proposed, I think the one that makes the most sense is that πυγμῇ refers to ceremonial hand-washing in which the entire fist is submerged in a wash-basin along with the forearm. In this case, the NLT’s rendering is wrong and the ESV’s rendering is inaccurate, especially considering that Jesus rebuked the promoters of such meticulous rituals rather than call them “proper.”
The second contest, in verse 4, is similar. Picture a copyist in a historical setting where neighboring Jews practiced a form of hand-washing in which water was poured into one’s hands. (This is, to this day, the form of hand-washing normally practiced by observant Jews before meals that include bread.) It would be tempting for a copyist to adjust a detail in the text to make it more relevant, or more precise, to his readers. Somewhere along the way, a very small number of copyists also adjusted the text so that the hand-washing described in Mark 7:4 referred specifically to washing before eating bread; Codex Bezae and minuscule 71 (Codex Ephesinus) add ἄρτον, and a corrector of Codex M adds τὸν ἄρτον, after ἐσθίουσιν in verse 3.
(This sort of textual adjustment to make the text applicable to local circumstances might account for an anomaly in the text of Mark 4:21: most manuscripts record the end of Jesus’ statement about where to place a lighted lamp as. “Should it not be placed upon the lampstand?” but in Codex Vaticanus (B), Codex Macedonianus (Y), and f13, it reads, “Should it not be placed under the lampstand?”. Possibly this is merely the effect of carelessness when a scribe’s line of sight shifted backward to the reference to “placed under a bushel, or under a bed,” earlier in the verse. Another possibility, however, is that somewhere a copyist was used to suspending lamps from lamp-holders on chandeliers, in which case “below the lampstand” could make sense.)
|In minuscule 692, the text refers to|
pouring rather than immersion.
Because water-pouring was the normal method of hand-washing in later times, it would not be difficult for some medieval copyists to imagine that their exemplars had been poorly copied and that the correct reading must be ῥαντίσωνται (washing via water-pouring) rather than βαπτίσωνται (washing via immersion). Wieland Willker reports that 55 medieval minuscules (which include 71, 692, and 1222) read ῥαντίσωνται. This reading would be casually dismissed as a case of simplification by medieval scribes if not for the fact that it is also attested by Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus – the second-oldest and third-oldest Greek manuscripts of this part of the Gospel of Mark. (Papyrus 45, unfortunately, is damaged so thoroughly that it is unclear whether it reads ῥαντίσωνται or βαπτίσωνται.)
(Sinaiticus does not agree with Vaticanus exactly here; when produced, it read ῥαντίσωντε; a corrector has touched up the spelling.)
In 1881, Westcott and Hort were so confident in the accuracy of Codex Vaticanus that they adopted the reading ῥαντίσωνται, against all evidence to the contrary. The Nestle-Aland compilation used to have this reading as well; ῥαντίσωνται was consistently read in Novum Testamentum Graece until the 27th edition, at which point the editors adopted βαπτίσωνται instead. The decision against ῥαντίσωνται should have been made much sooner, and would have been, if not for an overestimate of Alexandrian copyists’ resistance against simplifying the text. Βαπτίσωνται is presently read not only in the Nestle-Aland and UBS compilations but is also in the text of the SBL-GNT, the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform, and the Tyndale House GNT.
On to our third contest: should verse 4 end with a reference to beds (or, dining couches)? To put it another way: do the words καὶ κλινῶν belong in the text? In many editions of Novum Testamentum Graece, these two words are not included in the text; in the 27th edition, however, the editors included them – bracketed. Michael Holmes included them in the text of the SBLGNT, without brackets. The Tyndale House GNT does not have καὶ κλινῶν in the text, and its readers are handicapped by the sparseness of the THEGNT’s textual apparatus, which fails to inform readers about the abundant versional support for the inclusion of καὶ κλινῶν, and although the apparatus reports the testimony of minuscule 69 (from the 1400s), there is never any mention of the testimony of Origen (from the 200s).
To rectify the unfortunate frugality of the THEGNT’s apparatus, here is what Origen says in Book XI, chapter 11, of his Commentary on Matthew. In the course of a comment on Matthew 15:9, Origen refers to Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 29:13, and after briefly referring also to Isaiah 29:14-15, he writes: “I have thought it right briefly to set forth the prophecy, and to a certain extent elucidate its meaning, seeing that Matthew made mention of it. And Mark also made mention of it, from whom we may usefully set down the following words in the place, with reference to the transgression of the elders who held that it was necessary to wash hands when the Jews ate bread, ‘For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, unless they wash hands diligently, do not eat, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the marketplace, unless they wash themselves, they do not eat. And there are some other things which they have received to hold, washings of cups and pots and brazen vessels and couches.’”
To verify that this was not some conformation to the Byzantine text on the part of some copyist of Origen’s composition, I checked the Greek text of Book XI of Origen’s Commentary on Matthew as presented in Erich Klostermann’s 1935 edition – Volume 40 of the series Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller (printed page 52, digital page 66). Although Klostermann’s apparatus pointed out some very minor variations in nearby passages (such as καὶ versus δὲ in the preceding sentence), it mentioned nothing about any variation in the text of Origen’s quotation of Mark 7:3-4. Furthermore, the quotation given by Origen features a distinctly non-Byzantine reading: instead of πολλά (after καὶ ἄλλα), Origen’s quotation says τινά. I conclude that there is no basis on which to suspect that scribes have conformed the text of Origen’s quotation of Mark 7:3-4 to a Byzantine standard.
Someone might say, “Origen is indeed an important witness, but so is Papyrus 45, and space-considerations eliminate the possibility that P45’s text included καὶ κλινῶν.” There is a problem, however, with the simple reference to “P45vid.”
An examination of the relevant page of P45 shows that not only is there insufficient space for καὶ κλινῶν, but there is also insufficient space for καὶ χαλκίων. Whether one supposes that P45’s text of verse 5 began with καὶ ἐπερωτῶσιν (agreeing with À B D L et al) or ἔπειτα ἐπερωτῶσιν (agreeing with Byz A K Π), or ἔπειτα ἐρωτῶσιν (agreeing with W), the subsequent six lines of P45 clearly indicate how long the lost text was: between 13 and 16 letters are missing from each of these lines – casualties of incidental damage. The damage to the line ending in ποτηρίων καὶ is more severe than the damage to the next six lines; the surviving text on this line is consequently three or four letters shorter. We may thus expect the lost text to consist of no more than 20 letters.
|Mark 7:4ff. in P45|
Between ποτηρίων καὶ and –σιν, there were either
(a) 38 letters, if P45’s text matched the Byzantine text exactly, or
(b) 26 letters, if P45’s text matched the text of À and B exactly, or
(c) 36 letters, if P45’s text matched the text of W exactly, or
(d) 32 letters, if P45’s text matched the text of Codex Δ exactly.
However, even with generous latitude, none of these four readings can be crammed into the available space in P45 between ποτηρίων καὶ and -σιν.
Another possibility is that the scribe of P45 accidentally omitted καὶ χαλκίων and καὶ κλινῶν. If he wrote ξεστῶν and immediately skipped (via h.t.) to the beginning of verse 5 and there wrote ἔπειτα ἐρωτῶ-, then the lost text between ποτηρίων καὶ and -σιν totals 17 letters.
If instead he proceeded from ξεστῶν to the beginning of verse 5 and there wrote καὶ ἐπερωτῶ- then the lost text between ποτηρίων καὶ and -σιν totals 16 letters.
If he proceeded from ξεστῶν to the beginning of verse 5 and there wrote ἔπειτα ἐπερωτῶ- then the lost text between ποτηρίων καὶ and -σιν totals 19 letters.
And, if the scribe of P45 made a unique mistake by writing ποτηρίων καὶ κλινῶν (skipping καὶ ξεστῶν καὶ χαλκίων via simple parablepsis) and proceeded to write ἔπειτα ἐρωτῶ- then the lost text between ποτηρίων καὶ and -σιν totals 17 letters.
The thing to see is that P45 does not testify to a simple non-inclusion of καὶ κλινῶν; the text written by the scribe of P45 must involve a lengthier omission, and the evidence is capable of more than one explanation of what was omitted. The testimony of P45 is unclear.
Meanwhile the inclusion of καὶ κλινῶν is supported by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, and by Origen (in the 200s), and by a diverse array of uncials such as Α D Κ Μ W Γ Θ Π, and by the uniform testimony of the Old Latin copies, and by the Peshitta, the Gothic version, and the Armenian version. The non-inclusion of καὶ κλινῶν can be accounted for as a simple scribal mistake elicited by the recurrence of και. Wieland Willker reports that minuscules 440, 1053, and 2200 also do not have καὶ κλινῶν. While this increases the diversity of witnesses for the shorter reading, what this really shows is that the words were vulnerable to accidental omission via parablepsis. It is appropriate here to express the canon that when the same reading occurs in witnesses that are genealogically distant from one another, it is more likely that a common phenomenon (such as parablepsis) has affected them both independently, rather than that the shared reading is an effect of shared descent.
Besides noticing that mere carelessness can account for the non-inclusion of καὶ κλινῶν, we should consider what would be required to account for its addition. It seems intrinsically unlikely that the idea would pop into a scribe’s head that the list of items being washed in Mark 7:4 would be incomplete unless beds were included in the list, and that such an expansion (involving the immersion of furniture) would be welcomed favorably. In conclusion, καὶ κλινῶν should be fully accepted, bracketless, as part of the original text.
Four additional notes may be added about this passage.
● First, Codex Bezae has an interesting variant in verse 4; its Greek text adds ὅταν ἔλθωσιν, when they come, making explicit what the non-expanded text implies. This reflects the Old Latin text, cum venerint, and constitutes an example of the passages in Codex Bezae’s text which have been adjusted to conform to the Latin text. (Another example is nearby in Mark 7:19.) Because this reading is attested in the Old Latin copies so consistently, it suggests that contrary to the popular idea that many individuals made wholly independent Old Latin translations before the Vulgate came along, at some point there was one Old Latin translation which formed a textual core for all, or most of, the others.
● Second, the entire text of Mark 7:3-4 is missing from the infamous forgery known as minuscule 2427 (which still resides at the University of Chicago). This is very probably because the forger, using as his exemplar a copy of Philipp Buttmann’s 1860 Greek New Testament, misunderstood the parentheses around these two verses, as if they signified that these verses’ authenticity was in doubt (like double-brackets in NA27), and he omitted them for this reason. In the event that some manuscript’s genuineness is questioned in the future, its examiners may want to see if its text similarly contains omissions of phrases which some printed compilation contains within parentheses.
● Third, in Vincent’s Word Studies, the author claims that if καὶ κλινῶν belongs in the text, then “we certainly cannot explain βαπτισμοὺς as immersion,” the objection being perhaps that beds are too big to immerse. However, Vincent is definitely wrong, inasmuch as Jews did ritually immerse beds and other furniture; Willker refers to two references in the Mishnah to this practice, including the statement (in Mishnah Mikvaot 7:7), “If one immerses a bed in it [in a miqveh containing precisely forty se’ah], even if its legs sink into thick mud [at the bottom of the miqveh, which is not counted as part of its waters] it is pure, because the waters precede it.” (Re: “before the waters precede it” – that is, the water in the miqveh touches the bed before the mud does.)
● Fourth, there is a question about just what objects are referred to at the end of Mark 7:4: are κλινῶν tables, or beds? Both, one might say, inasmuch as a long rectangular Roman table, topped by a mat or pillows, could be used as a couch or bed. The rendering “dining couches” captures the sense well.
The term ξεστῶν also has an interesting background. Rendered as “pots” in the KJV, it has become “pitchers” in some versions. This Greek word is based on the Latin sextarius, which refers to a vessel capable of holding a little more than a fluid pint (1.15 pints to be precise). “Sextarius” was also the name for this liquid measure; it was one-sixth of a Roman congius, which consisted of what we would today call three and a half quarts. Mark’s use of this particular term is consistent with a readership familiar with Latin.