A textual variant in Matthew 3:11 presents an interesting puzzle. Although Western and Alexandrian witnesses generally include the words “and fire” (Greek και πυρι) at the end of the verse, the Byzantine Text – the text found in the majority of Greek manuscripts – does not. Thus a simple question arises: did the original text of Matthew state that John the Baptist said that the Messiah would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire,” or merely that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit?
|Papyrus 101, recto,|
The 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testament Graecae and the fourth edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament offer no guidance on this question whatsoever; they do not mention this variant-unit. Wieland Willker, however, discussed it in his online Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels. Edward Miller’s Textual Commentary on Matthew 1-14, published in 1899, is also helpful. The reading “and fire” is supported by Papyrus 101, codices Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, C, [A is not extant here] [Ge, a.k.a. 011, is not extant here] Ds (that is, a supplement-page of Codex Bezae), K, Π, L, M, Σ [Φ is not extant until 6:3 due to damage], U, W, Γ, Δ, and f1, f13, 22, 33, 565, 892, 1273, and other manuscripts support the inclusion of “and fire.” That’s a very broad range of support. Those manuscripts are from diverse locales and represent diverse text-types.
Papyrus 101 has undergone damage but its testimony on this point is sufficiently clear: the first two letters of και (“and”) appear after the reference to the Holy Spirit. This fragment is from the 200’s.
Before further consideration of the manuscript-evidence (and some versional evidence), let’s turn to patristic evidence. Some patristic evidence is not as clear as one might wish, because the episode in Matthew is paralleled in the other Gospels:
Mark 1:8: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Luke 3:16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
|Codex K supports the inclusion of "and fire."|
John 1:33: “this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
Because the parallel-passages are so similar, one cannot trust mere allusions; precise references to Matthew’s Gospel, or distinct quotations of the surrounding Matthean text, are required before a patristic statement can confidently be considered a quotation of Matthew 3:11 instead of one of the other accounts.Justin Martyr, sometime before 160, probably used a Gospel-harmony that blended the contents of Matthew, Mark, and Luke into one continuous narrative. Nevertheless his testimony is helpful. In Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 49, Justin wrote the following about John the Baptist: “He cried, as he sat by the river
|Codex L supports the inclusion of "and fire."|
Notice the telos symbol.
Tatian’s Diatessaron, composed around 172 as a continuous narrative consisting of the contents of all four Gospels, was used in the mid-300’s by Ephrem Syrus as the basis for a commentary. Ephrem stated that John the Baptist was to proclaim “Him who would baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit,” but it is unclear whether Ephrem was citing Tatian’s Diatessaron or a continuous Gospels-text, either way, it is unclear whether Tatian was drawing from Matthew or from Luke.
Irenaeus, in the course of Book Four of Against Heresies, in the 180’s, states in chapter 4 that John the Baptist said of Christ, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, having His fan in His hand [to cleanse His floor;] and He will gather His fruit into the garner, but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire.” Unfortunately it is not clear if Irenaeus was utilizing Matthew, or Luke.
|MS 700 includes "and fire."|
Similarly Tertullian, in chapter 10 of his composition De Baptismo (On Baptism), around 200, stated that John the Baptist stated that “shortly one would come who would baptize in the Spirit and fire,” but does not specify which Gospel he is using. His full statement is as follows: John said that “he baptized in repentance only, but that One would shortly come who would baptize in the Spirit and fire; of course because true and stable faith is baptized with water unto salvation; pretended and weak faith is baptized with fire, unto judgment.”
|MS 72 includes "and fire."|
Hippolytus, a contemporary of Tertullian, wrote the following in a composition called The Discourse on the Holy Theophany, chapter three: John the Baptist “cried out and spoke to those who came to be baptized of him: ‘O generation of vipers,’ why look ye so earnestly at me? ‘I am not the Christ;’ I am the servant, and not the lord . . . but ‘after me there comes One who is before me’ – after me, indeed, in time, but before me by reason of the inaccessible and unutterable light of divinity. ‘There comes one mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.’ I am subject to authority, but He has authority in Himself. I am bound by sins, but He is the Remover of sins. I apply the law, but He brings grace to light. I teach as a slave, but He judges as the Master. I have the earth as my couch, but He possesses heaven. I baptize with the baptism of repentance, but He confers the gift of adoption: ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.’ Why give ye attention to me? I am not the Christ.” The portion in bold print appears to be a quotation from Matthew 3:11.
|In Lectionary 150, "and fire" does not appear|
in the lection that consists of Mt. 3:1-11.
(Goodspeed Manuscript Collection
Origen, writing Book Six of his Commentary on John, around 235, made a comparison of the four Gospels’ statements of this particular episode, as follows:“Matthew reports that the Baptist, when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, after the words of rebuke which we have already studied, went on: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” This agrees with the words in John, in which the Baptist declares himself to those sent by the Pharisees, on the subject of his baptizing with water. Mark, again, says, “John preached, saying, ‘There comes after me He that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” And Luke says that, ‘As the people were in expectation, and all were reasoning in their hearts concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I indeed baptize you with water; but there comes one mightier than I, whose sandal-strap I am not worthy to unloose; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”’”
Thus, even though Origen does not describe the statement from the Gospel of John precisely – only enough to show that both passages say that John the Baptist baptized with water – it is evident that in the Gospel of Matthew, Origen read και πυρι at the end of . These two words were not in his text of Mark 1:8, but they were in his copies of Luke 3:16. Origen resided at
Caesarea when he wrote this.
|In Lectionary 63, "and fire" does not appear |
in the lection that consists of Mt. 3:1-11.
Around 250, Cyprian of Carthage (in north Africa) made a specific reference to Matthew 3:11 in Book One, chapter 12 of his Three Books of Testimonies: “In the Gospel according to Matthew, John says, ‘I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.’”
Around the same time (257 or 258), an anonymous writer composed De Baptismate, and utilized Luke (including the part about loosing the sandal-strap, thus ensuring that the quotation was from Luke rather than from Matthew).
Hilary of Poitiers wrote his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew in 356 – about the same time when Codex Sinaiticus was made – and quoted and commented on Matthew 3:11 with the words “and fire,” offering the following interpretation: “It remains only for those baptized in the Holy Spirit to be brought to perfection by the fire of judgment.”
|In MS 2474, Mt. 3:11 has "and fire."|
(Goodspeed Manuscript Collection,
Basil of Caesarea-in-Cappadocia (330-379), in De Spiritu Sancto, chapter 15, part 36, wrote the following: “John indeed baptized with water, but our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost. ‘I indeed,’ he says, ‘baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.’” The content of the first part of the quotation shows that it is from Matthew 3:11.
In the composition known as the Opus Imperfectum, composed sometime in the first half of the 400’s, the author commented on the text of Matthew 3:11 with the phrase “and fire,” proposing that baptism in water washes away past sins, the Holy Spirit drives away sinful desires, and fire purges away the source of evil desires, thus ensuring against past, present, and future sins.
Prosper of Aquitaine quotes Matthew 3:11 with “and fire” – “et igni” in Latin – and specifies that he is quoting from the Gospel of Matthew, in a composition preserved in Volume 51 of Migne’s Patrologia Latina, column 852 (digital page 431).
In the year 400, Augustine compared the relevant parallel-passages in Book Two, of his book, On the Harmony of the Gospels. The chapter is focused on the subject of the words of John the Baptist. Augustine begins by specifically stating that he is quoting from the Gospel of Matthew; then he quotes Matthew 3:5-12, and in the course of quoting verse 11, Augustine includes “and fire.” Augustine proceeds to say the following: “For as in Matthew, so also in Luke, the words are the same, and they are given in the same order, ‘He shall baptize you in the Spirit and in fire’ with one exception, that Luke has not added the adjective ‘holy,’ while Matthew has given it thus: “in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” Not only is this spectacularly detailed, showing that Augustine’s text of Matthew 3:11 included “and fire,” but it is also helpful because it points out that in an Old Latin form of the Gospels-text used in Africa, Luke 3:16 lacked the word “Holy,” giving us a satisfying clue that Tertullian was utilizing Luke, not Matthew, in De Baptismo.In addition, in Excerpts from Theodotus (a heretic who was active in 150-180), the writer (as cited by Clement of Alexandria) says that John the Baptist said, “There comes after me He that baptizes with the Spirit and fire.” The absence of the word “holy” indicates that this is probably drawn from Luke, rather than Matthew).
|In MS 551, the words "and fire"|
do not appear in Mt. 3:11.
Eusebius of Caesarea, in the early 300’s (about the time when Codex Vaticanus was produced), in his Commentary on Isaiah, saw a connection between Isaiah 4:4 (which refers to the purification of the blood of Jerusalem “by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning”) and John the Baptist’s statement about Christ baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Eusebius does not specify which Gospel he is quoting, but attributes the statement to “the Gospels.” One may thus make a calculated guess that Eusebius read “and fire” in Matthew and Luke , inasmuch as otherwise he would probably have specified that the statement was found in the Gospel of Luke. (Jerome, in his commentary on Isaiah, later made the same connection between Isaiah 4:4 and John the Baptist’s statement, having borrowed heavily from Eusebius’ work.)
|MS 505 does not have "and fire" in Mt. 3:11.|
Ambrose of Milan, in the late 300’s, in On the Holy Spirit, Book One, 3/42, quotes Matthew (without naming Matthew, but with the wording “whose sandals I am not worthy to bear,” rather than “whose sandal-strap I am not worthy to loosen”). In chapter 14 of the same composition, and again in his composition Concerning Repentance, Book 1, 8/34 (immediately before quoting Mark -18), Ambrose says that Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire, but without specifying his source.
|MS 495 does not have "and fire" in Mt. 3:11.|
John Chrysostom, in Homily #11 on Matthew, refers to the phrase “and fire,” and one might naturally assume that we are looking at a quotation from Matthew , inasmuch as the homily is on Matthew. However, earlier in the same section of the homily, Chrysostom uses the verbiage of Luke 3:16, about loosing the sandal-strap, rather than the verbiage of Matthew 3:11, about carrying the sandals. Thus this evidence is not airtight. However, had Chrysostom’s text of Matthew lacked “and fire” it is very likely that he would have said so.
|MS 304 does not have "and fire" in Mt. 3:11. |
(The text is interspersed with commentary.)
Cyril of Alexandria, in his not-entirely-original Commentary on Isaiah (written around 420), specifically quotes Matthew 3:11 with the words “and fire” included.
Among the early versions there is hardly any support for the non-inclusion of “and fire” in Matthew . The Peshitta includes the words. The Sinaitic Syriac has “he shall baptize you with fire and with the Holy Spirit.” The Old Latin manuscripts, including the Latin text in Codex Bezae, support the inclusion of the words, with the exception of m (Codex Speculum, from c. 425). (Old Latin k is not extant at this point; it is missing a leaf which contained Matthew 3:11-4:1. Likewise Old Latin n is not extant at this point; its text of Matthew begins at 17:1.) The Vulgate also includes the words. The Gothic Codex Argenteus, unfortunately, is not extant in Matthew 3. According to Miller, the Curetonian Syriac, the Harklean Syriac, the Bohairic version, and the Sahidic version all support the inclusion of “and fire” in Matthew 3:11. Mae-2 (Schoyen 2650) is not extant until Mt. 5:38.
|MS 716 does not have "and fire" at the end |
of Mt. 3:11. Notice the lection-related marks.
The Palestinian Aramaic lectionary is an interesting exception: not only does it fail to include “and fire” in Matthew but it also does not include the text of verse 12.
INTERNAL EVIDENCE AND LECTIONARY EVIDENCE
Having reviewed the major witnesses, we turn to internal considerations. If one were to apply the canon, “prefer the shorter reading” – a standard which has been justly challenged and nullified, but which is still employed by some influential textual critics and compilers – then one could explain the longer reading as a natural harmonization to Luke 3:16. On the other hand, the shorter reading can be accounted for as a harmonization to Mark 1:8 or John 1:33. Harmonizations tended to emanate from Matthew, rather than onto Matthew, but this tendency is not absolute.
|MS 27 does not have "and fire" at the end |
of Mt. 3:11. Notice the lection-related marks.
As a point in favor of the shorter reading, one might consider that it is supported by the Byzantine Text. If one were to accept the premise that the Byzantine Text of the Gospels generally has more embellishments than the Alexandrian Text, then – in approximately the same way in which Westcott and Hort argued for the genuineness of shorter Western readings, because the tendency of the Western Text was toward expansion – a shorter reading in the Byzantine Text, in a passage in which harmonization to Luke 3:16 would be a natural expansion, is a point in favor of the shorter reading.
|Lectionary 24 does not have "and fire"|
at the end of the lection for the Saturday
before Epiphany. This is the usual
form of the lection in Byzantine lectionaries.
However, a special factor seems to have been in play that resulted in the loss of και πυρι in the Byzantine text-stream: the treatment of Matthew 3:11 in the lectionary. Matthew was part of a prominent lection: Matthew 3:1-11 was read at Christmastime, as the lection for the first hour of the Eve of Epiphany. As the old lectionaries show, the text of Matthew , in the lection, stopped with the mention of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, without including the words “and fire.” This appears to have been a slight liturgical adjustment – probably made for two reasons: first, to focus on positive aspects of baptism, rather than on the baptism in fire which could be construed (as done by Tertullian and others) as a reference to fiery condemnation rather than to the fires of zeal and of testing, and second, to close the lection at the same point as the lection which followed it (Mark 1:1-8).
In manuscript 1273 (the George Grey Gospels), we see a τελος symbol in the text of Matthew 3:11, instructing the lector to stop reading at exactly that point, without pronouncing και πυρι which follows the τελος symbol. It was a natural adjustment for copyists, when making continuous-text manuscripts intended to be accompanied by a lectionary-apparatus and to be used in church-services for lection-reading, to drop the και πυρι to simplify the lector’s task. Thus we see in the evidence a natural progression:
first, the text circulated with και πυρι;
second, the text circulated with και πυρι accompanied by a τελος symbol before και πυρι;
|MS 1273, on the last line of the page shown here,|
has a red telos-symbol between the words
"Holy Spirit" and "and fire" in Matthew 3:11.
third, και πυρι was excised in copies which were intended to be used by lectors, as a simplification; fourth, copies with the simplified text that had been intended for lectors were used as exemplars for ordinary copies.
Many Byzantine Gospel-manuscripts were not influenced by this lectionary-related excision, but apparently, enough were affected to cause the shorter reading to become the majority reading. The text without και πυρι was displayed in the Greek text of the Complutensian Polyglot (although the Latin text had et igni) in 1514; later in a 1609 copy of Benito Arias Montano’s Greek-Latin interlinear text, και πυρι was included. Later still, in C. F. Matthaei’s 1803 compilation, και πυρι was not included in the text; a τελος symbol was placed in the text and the longer reading was mentioned in a footnote.
The genuineness of και πυρι in Matthew 3:11, and the mechanism that caused its widespread loss in the Byzantine text-stream, illustrate two things: first, there was mild instability in the Byzantine text at certain points that were simplified for lection-reading. This effect was felt most forcefully in the later Middle Ages but it began much earlier, at least as early as the time when the Palestinian Aramaic version was made. It has especially influenced members of the f35 group. Second, the archetype of the Byzantine Text, which includes και πυρι, cannot be fully reconstructed by appealing to a simple statistical majority of manuscripts; the weight of manuscripts which share a pattern of lectionary-related simplifications, such as the absence of και πυρι in Matthew 3:11, should be boiled down.