Friday, January 6, 2017

Mark 11:26 - How It Disappeared

            Homoioteleuton (also spelled as homeoteleuton) – a term which means “same ending” – was something that the copyists of New Testament manuscripts had to vigilantly guard against.  It was not unusual for the lines of the text in their master-copies to end with similar letters, and if a copyist didn’t pay attention, he might accidentally lose his place.  Usually if this happened, it would turn the sentence he was writing into nonsense, and a proof-reader would catch the mistake.  (When text is skipped in this way, the cause of the mistake is called parablepsis.)  But sometimes, when a parableptic error did not result in a nonsense-reading, words or phrases and even entire sentences could disappear without notice. 
            The copyist of Codex Vaticanus made a parableptic error in John 17:15; where the copyist should have written the Greek equivalent of, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one,” he skipped seven words, as his line of sight drifted from one occurrence of the word αυτους (“them”) to the recurrence of it later in the sentence, and thus wrote, “I do not pray that You should take them from the evil one.”  Fortunately someone caught the mistake later on.
            In Mark 11:26, something similar happened which caused the entire verse to disappear in the Alexandrian Text, and the same mistake occurs in some other manuscripts as well.  The Greek text of Mark 11:25 ends with τα παραπτώματα ὑμων (“your trespasses”) and 11:26 ends with exactly the same words.  A copyist whose line of sight drifted from the end of verse 25 to the end of verse 26 could skip the entire verse without realizing it, and, since the sentence would still make sense, the mistake could slip by a proofreader who was not very familiar with the text of Mark.               
Codex Bezae (D) has the passage,
with the last word of verse 25 missing.
            Relatively few manuscripts fail to include Mark 11:26, but two of the ones that lack the verse are Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which were the primary sources of the base-text of the 1881 Revised Version, and which are still the main basis of the Nestle-Aland/UBS compilation.  That is why, in the NIV, NLT, and ESV, this verse is not in the text.  (The HCSB and NASB currently retain the verse in the text, within brackets.  The KJV, NKJV, MEV, and WEB have it in the text without brackets.)  
          However, Codices Alexandrinus (A) and Bezae (D), which are only slightly later, both include Mark 11:26 – and because Codex D has the passage with some minor variations and unusual spelling (and for other reasons), it is clear that these two manuscripts are a considerable distance apart from each other in terms of their textual relationship, while À and B are historically very close to one another.  (So much so that in the margins of the book of Acts, they share a unique form of chapter-numbers that almost certainly was transcribed from the same source.) 
Mark 11:24b-27a in the Peshitta
          Other witnesses that attest to a fourth-century text also weigh in with support for the inclusion of Mark 11:26:  Codex Argenteus, made in the 500’s, is the main witness to the Gothic version which was translated by Wulfilas in the mid-300’s, at about the same time Codex Sinaiticus was being made.  Codex Argenteus includes the verse.  The Peshitta (Syriac) version, probably made in the late 300’s, includes the verse.  The Latin Vulgate, made in 383 by Jerome, who stated that he consulted ancient Greek manuscripts to ensure that the text was well-grounded, includes the verse.  Almost all Old Latin manuscripts, the descendants of Latin manuscripts made before the Vulgate dominated the Latin copying-tradition, include the verse as well.
          In addition, although Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are old, they are not as old as the manuscripts that were used by Cyprian.  Cyprian served as bishop of Carthage, in North Africa, from about 249 until he was martyred in 258 during the persecution that happened there during the reign of Valerian.  Thus his manuscripts of Mark were at least 75 years older than Vaticanus, and at least 100 years older than Sinaiticus (using the generally accepted production-dates for each, c. 325 for Vaticanus and c. 350 for Sinaiticus).  In Cyprian’s Treatise XII, Book 3, in chapter 22, Cyprian briefly undertakes the task of demonstrating from Scripture that when Christians are wronged, we must pardon and forgive.  He gets right to the point:
Cyprian of Carthage.
“In the Gospel, in the daily prayer:  'Forgive us our debts, even as we forgive our debtors.  Also according to Mark:  And when you stand for prayer, forgive, if you have ought against any one; that also your Father who is in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive you your sins.  Also in the same place:  In what measure you mete, in that shall it be measured to you again.

          When Cyprian refers to “the daily prayer,” he is of course referring to Matthew 6:12.  But if he had intended to quote Matthew 6:15 (which follows the gist of Mark 11:26), there would have been no need for him to then say, “Also according to Mark.”  Although Cyprian immediately jumps back to the Sermon on the Mount (i.e., to Matthew 7:2), there seems to be no reason for any conclusion other than that Cyprian was quoting from Mark 11:25-26 in this part of his composition.  
            Bruce Metzger, representing the editors of the UBS compilation in which Mark 11:26 is absent, claimed that “the words were inserted by copyists in imitation of Mt. 6.15.”  However, the wording in Matthew 6:15 is discernibly different in the UBS text:  Εαν δε μη αφητε τοις ανθρώπους, ουδε ὁ πατηρ υμων αφησει τα παραπτωματα υμων.  Compare this to Mark 11:26:  Ει δε υμεις ουκ αφίετε, ουδε ὁ πατηρ υμων ὁ εν τοις ουρανοις αφήσει τα παραπτωματα υμων.  It would take a special kind of copyist to introduce a harmonization that contained non-harmonious readings. Metzger’s rationale for the Alexandrian reading did not persuade J. K. Elliott, a British specialist in New Testament textual criticism, who maintained that in this particular case, the Textus Receptus (along with over 95% of the Greek manuscripts of Mark) has the original reading.  The absence of the verse in a smattering of later Byzantine manuscripts demonstrates its vulnerability to the kind of homoioteleuton-induced loss which could be overlooked by early copyists as easily as it could be overlooked by later ones. 
           In addition, the Byzantine Text of Matthew 6:15 is not what we see in Mark 11:26 either; it reads Εαν δε μη αφητε τοις ανθρώπους τα παραπτωματα υμων, ουδε ὁ πατηρ υμων αφήσει τα παραπτωματα υμων.  Seven out of Mark 11:26’s seventeen words are not in Matthew 6:15, and seven out of Matthew 6:15’s seventeen words are not in Mark 11:26.  This is more naturally explained as one of numerous original parallel passages than as a copyist’s attempt to introduce a harmonization, considering that it does not add much to the verbal harmony of the passage.
Mark 11:25-27a in Codex Alexandrinus.
Notice the two lines (underlined in yellow) which begin identically.
          Two small observations may be worth mentioning.  First:  Codex A’s format shows exactly how verse 26 could be accidentally skipped; τα παραπτωματα υμων appears at the beginning of two nearby lines.  Second:  in Codex D, the word υμων is missing at the end of verse 25.  This may be a deliberate omission on the part of a copyist who, having seen that the repetition of the exact phrase τα παραπτωματα υμων made the text vulnerable to loss, decided that the loss of one word was worth a reduction of the risk that a future copyist using Codex D as an exemplar would skip an entire verse.
            So, although Mark 11:26 is not found in our two oldest Greek manuscripts of the surrounding verses, earlier evidence from Cyprian confirms the presence of the verse in North Africa in the mid-200’s.  Further evidence from Codex A, Codex D, the Peshitta, the Gothic version, the Vulgate, and the Old Latin shows that Mark 11:36 was in widespread use in the late 300’s.  The presence of the verse in these branches implies its presence in the trunk, so to speak.       
            One must posit a deliberate corruption by a non-harmonious harmonizer if one is to regard Mark 11:26 as non-original.  The alternative is that an early copyist made a careless mistake.  In such a contest of competing hypotheses, Heinlein’s Axiom should be in play:  do not insist on villainy to account for what can be explained by incompetence.


Maurice A. Robinson said...

Seriously, in instances such as these, one should wonder whether a form of eclectic myopia driven by excessive preference for a hypothetical Alexandrian archetype has affected the editors of the modern critical text. Had the same occurred instead among the Byzantine witnesses, there would be no question that the longer reading would have been included and the shorter dismissed as the product of closing-phrase-based haplography.

Arlen Williams said...

And yet, the NIV translators, apparently (mistakenly) insistent upon such a doctrine, are free and easy now, in distorting the Bible's own consistently translated uses of gender in pronouns.

Arlen Williams said...

Thank you Mr. Snapp, for this very informative and intricately researched article.