The Byzantine Text, including the Textus Receptus and almost all uncials (Miller lists Phi D E F G K L M P S U V X Gamma Delta Pi) and “Much the most minuscules,” that is, almost all of them (but not 1, 22, 118, 300, and 700, and a few others) support elthontes (having come) between ploiw (ship) and prosekunhsan (worshipped). The Nestle-Aland apparatus also mentions uncial 0106 (from the 600’s) as support for elthontes. Miller lists several patristic writers who support the inclusion of elthontes, including Didymus (in Egypt), Chrysostom (in Constantinople and Antioch), Jerome, and Augustine. Clearly, elthontes has very broad, diverse, and ancient support. There is another reading, proselthontes (having come near), supported by Theta, 13, 124, 346, 503, 556, and 1424, and by the Sinaitic Syriac. And, although Miller lists the Curetonian Syriac as support for elthontes, Willker has listed it as an ally of its Syriac relative, supporting proselthontes like the Sinaitic Syriac.
The reading ploiw prosekunhsan, without anything in between these two words, is supported by Aleph, B, C, N, 22, 579, the first hand of 892, and a few other MSS, as well as by one Old Latin MS (ff1) and the Bohairic and Sahidic versions. With the exception of Codex N, the Greek support is mainly Egyptian.
This is an instructive variant-unit. Observe what has happened: an early copyist, with the words of Matthew
14:12 fresh in his memory, added a slight editorial
touch, altering elthontes to proselthontes, via the addition of pros. Thus he produced the reading ploiw
proselthontes prosekunhsan. A subsequent
copyist, inheriting this slightly altered text, accidentally skipped from pros-
to pros-, omitting the letters in between and thus losing an entire word.
A sustained attempt to correct the addition of pros was probably undertaken at
Caesarea: manuscripts 118 and 209 (representatives of the
Caesarean Text) read ontes. It is as if
copyists were given instructions to remove the first part of the word, and this
was overdone, resulting not only in the loss of the extra pros but also of the
neighboring letters elth.
While elthontes is the Byzantine reading (and is supported by Western representatives as well), and the simple lack of any word is attested by the best representatives of the Alexandrian, a relatively minor group, displaying the Caesarean Text – the text of a relatively small group of MSS that hardly ever gets its readings chosen (mainly because this is a highly harmonized text-form) – is the one that provides the key to developing a hypothesis about the steps from a form of text with elthontes to a form of text without it. Without the intermediate step (i.e., the addition of pros-) we would see no simply mechanism by which the word could be lost. This is one reason why, in textual criticism, it is important to seek help wherever help might be found, even if this means that the enterprise, when it begins, may appear to be a matter of a lion being helped by a mouse.
Against this two-step hypothesis, the only alternative explanation that might be made to defend the Alexandrian reading is that a copyist, for some unfathomable reason, thought that a narrative in which Jesus and His disciples are already close together in a boat needed to state that the disciples came to Jesus before they worshipped Him. This is rather less likely than the alternative. (Willker balanced the theory that proselthontes is probably “a harmonization to immediate context” against the observation that the context does not naturally suggest that the disciples in the boat would need to come to Jesus before they could bow down to Him. The same consideration applies to elthontes.)