Saint Spyridon (270-358) – champion of orthodoxy, worker of wonders, friend of Saint Nicholas – served as bishop of Tremithus on the
in the early 300’s, after the death of his wife. Many stories about Spyridon circulate to this
day. Some of them are fabulous to the
point of being amusing. Others seem to
have at least a kernel of truth. But one
in particular has special significance to New Testament textual criticism. island
Spyridon, who had attended the Council of Nicea, later attended a gathering of bishops on the
. Also in attendance was another bishop,
Triphyllius, who was as well-known for his eloquence as Spyridon was for his
faithfulness and simplicity. At one
point during the gathering, Triphyllius delivered a discourse in which he
quoted the words of Christ in Mark 2:9 – “Arise, take up your bed, and walk” –
except Triphyllius did not quote precisely:
instead of using κράββατος, the word for “bed” that is found in the
text, he used σκιμπους. island
Probably Triphyllius’ intention was to ensure that his hearers would understand that the paralytic’s bed was something more like a stretcher than a bed with a frame to hold a mattress. But Spyridon did not tolerate this deviation. Standing up in the assembly, he asked, “Are you greater than the one who uttered the word κράββατόν, that you are ashamed to use his words?”. He then turned and looked out at the crowd, convicting them the man of eloquence should be made to know his limits.
Such is the report from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, who wrote around 440. This little incident was so instructive that it was even recollected centuries later, in 1611, by the author of the preface to the King James Version: “A godly Father in the Primitive time shewed himself greatly moved, that one of the newfangleness called κράββατον σκιμπους, though the difference be little or none.”
|Spyridon is the patron saint of the Greek
island of Corfu, about 1000 miles from
Cyprus, where he served as bishop.
Here is the text-critically interesting aspect of this anecdote: observe how vigilantly resistant Spyridon was to any sort of textual alteration. Even a benign deviation undertaken to ensure comprehension was opposed immediately and forcefully. Such a mindset is the complete opposite of what is required for the theory that during the age of Spyridon (in the early 300’s), bishops throughout Christendom were setting aside their previously cherished manuscripts of the Gospels in order to adopt a previously unseen edition which contained hundreds of previously unseen readings, including whole episodes which to many bishops were utter novelties.
Hort, whose 1881 Notes on Select Readings is still recycled to this day by commentators, depicted the means by which John 7:53-8:11 was accepted as follows: “It would be natural enough that an extraneous narrative of a remarkable incident in the Ministry, if it were deemed worthy of being read and perpetuated, should be inserted in the body of the Gospels.”
Such an appraisal of the situation in the early-mid 300’s seems flatly unrealistic in a milieu in which, when a single word was exchanged for a synonym, a memorable protest commenced. The report, found in medieval Menologions, that Lucian of Antioch personally made a manuscript of the entire Bible, written in three columns per page, can be believed. But can it be believed that a novel edition of the books of the New Testament, based on Lucian’s work, spread throughout Greek-speaking Christendom in the 300’s, and that although it contained remarkable anecdotes previously not contained in the Gospels, the bishops raised no objections and meekly embraced these previously unknown passages, and quietly set aside the manuscripts which their predecessors had risked their lives to protect? At a time when authors were willing to threaten copyists with severe curses if they failed to make accurate copies of their uninspired compositions, what bishops would find it “natural” to set aside their old exemplars, and replace them with new ones that contained new anecdotes – and not just any anecdotes, but one in which Jesus forgives an adulteress who shows no signs of repentance, and another in which Jesus states that believers will survive snake-handling and poison-drinking?
When one looks into the question of where the churches in Asia, Greece, Cyprus, and Syria obtained their Greek New Testament manuscripts in the early 300’s, in light of several factors such as the tendency toward vigilance exemplified by Spyridon, it seems rather unlikely that the bishops in those areas quietly standardized their Gospels-text. It seems far more likely that they basically kept on using the same texts that their predecessors had used.
If so, then this would indicate that when we see essentially Byzantine text-forms of the Gospels in the Gothic version (in the mid-300’s), in the Peshitta (no later than the late 300’s), in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa (in the late 300’s), in the writings of Basil of Caesarea (in the mid/late 300’s), in the writings of Epiphanius (also in the late 300’s), and in the writings of John Chrysostom (late 300’s/very early 400’s), this is not because a relatively novel text-form had suddenly become dominant in each of their far-removed locales. Rather, it is because the manuscripts used in those witnesses’ locales echoed an ancient text-form (perhaps known to Lucian, but pre-dating him) that was at least 70% Byzantine. This early stratum of the Byzantine Text, though it lacked the favorable climate-conditions that allowed manuscript-preservation in
had the advantage of a different sort of climate: the climate of Christian bishops’ tenacious
resistance to textual novelty in the 300’s.