Saturday, November 4, 2017

Matthew 12:47 and Homoioteleuton

Matthew 12:45b-50 in the
ESV Reader's Gospels.
Where's verse 47?
           In the English Standard Version, in the passage about the visit of Jesus’ mother and brothers in Matthew 12:46-50, there is a strange feature:  there is no verse 47; it is in the footnotes rather than in the text.  The ESV’s footnote says, “Some manuscripts insert verse 47:  Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak to you” – except in the ESV Reader’s Gospels, which has neither verse-numbers nor footnotes; its text goes directly from the end of verse 46 to the beginning of verse 47.
            In the Christian Standard Bible, meanwhile, Matthew 12:47 is included in the text, and a footnote says, “Other mss omit this verse.”  Before examining the text-critical reasons for the disagreement among these English versions, let’s first consider how inconsistently the CSB describes the manuscripts in its footnotes and headings.  For where its text retains Matthew 12:47, the CSB describes the manuscripts that disagree as merely “Other,” but following Mark 16:8, its editors have added a line (as if to tell the readers where to aim their scissors), and interrupted the text with a heading, “[Some of the earliest mss conclude with 16:8]” – but both notes refer to essentially the same small cluster of manuscripts.

            What manuscripts omit Matthew 12:47?  Primarily Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Regius (L, 019), Codex Tischendorfianus IV (036, from the 900’s), and minuscule 579, allied with the Sahidic version, the Sinaitic Syriac and the Old Latin Codex Bobbiensis.  A few other copies lack Matthew 12:47, but if those four had contained it, their testimony would be considered trivia.

            And of the over 1,600 Greek manuscripts of Mark, two uncials omit Mark 16:9-20:  Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus (and both show signs of their copyists’ awareness of the absent verses, as I have shown already, here and here).  Codex L echoes a later stage of a text used in Egypt; it has the “Shorter Ending” after Mark 16:8, and then verses 9-20), and minuscule 579 also has the “Shorter Ending” between Mark 16:8 and 9 (though, unlike Codex L, without short notes to introduce each ending).  And in the versions, the text of the Sinaitic Syriac stops at 16:8, and the copyist of Old Latin Codex Bobbiensis, after mauling verse 8, included the Shorter Ending, poorly transcribed. 

            The same cluster of witnesses is in view in both cases – but the unsuspecting reader of the Christian Standard Version meets them masked as “Other mss” where their testimony is rejected, and as “Some of the earliest mss” where the passage is bracketed. 

            Now let’s turn back to Matthew 12:47, and see why it is missing not only in the ESV but also in that cluster of manuscripts in which the best Greek uncials and worst Syriac and Latin copies appear to keep close company.  What we have here is a simple case of homoioteleuton (also spelled homoeoteleuton).  Verse 46 ends with the Greek words ζητοῦντες αὐτῷ λαλῆσαι (“seeking to him to speak”), and verse 47 ends with the words ζητοῦντες σοι λαλῆσαι (“seeking to you to speak”).  An early copyist – working at a point in the transmission-stream early enough to be echoed by the Alexandrian branch represented by ﬡ, B, and L, on the one hand, and by the Western branch represented by the Old Syriac and Codex Bobbiensis, on the other – accidentally skipped verse 47 when his line of sight drifted down from the λαλῆσαι at the end of verse 46 to the λαλῆσαι at the end of verse 47.
            It is not hard to see how this happened.  Meanwhile, consider what the ESV’s editors must believe about the transmission of this passage.  If the ESV’s non-inclusion is correct, then the copyists of virtually all other Greek manuscripts – C D W Z Δ Θ 28 33 157 892 (which adds προς αὐτον; see Willker’s comments for details), 1424, the family-1 group, the family-13 group, and well over 1,500 minuscules, and hundreds of lectionaries – and over 10 Old Latin copies (including Codex Vercellensis, from the 370’s), the Vulgate, the Peshitta, the Armenian, Georgian, and Ethiopic versions, and copies cited by patristic writers including Jerome and Augustine (and Augustine cited the verse in two different forms, echoing two different Old Latin transmission-lines), were all using the wrong exemplars at this point.
Another plain case of
homoioteleuton in Codex B.
            I hope my readers will understand by this last paragraph that I am not arguing for the majority reading merely because it is the majority.  Today we know of one early Middle Egyptian manuscript – Mae-2, that is, Codex Schøyen 2650, from the early 300’s – which agrees with ﬡ and B in non-inclusion of Matthew 12:47.  But if we had 50 copies in the same transmission-line, the argument would not vary, just as the discovery of 50 more copies of the Vulgate would not make much of an impact.  It is not a matter of number, but of the relative plausibility of the competing models of the text’s transmission-history. 
            The evidence demands that the scribal error that caused the loss of this verse happened very early – early enough to echo in a limited part of the Alexandrian transmission-line, and in a limited part of the Old Latin and Syriac transmission-lines.  But early parablepsis is parablepsis nonetheless.  Matthew 12:47 should be included in the text, and if there is a footnote, let it tell the reader why the verse was lost in the transmission-line of ﬡ and B, instead of just giving enough information to perpetuate confusion.

The English Standard Version is © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

The Christian Standard Bible® is Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers.  Used by permission.  Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® is Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  ESV Text edition:  2011.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.  


  1. Dear Sir,

    I am working on a Persian copy of Matthew. I am looking for a source which provides all the variety of early mss of Matthew verse by verse. I appreciate if you advise me some ones. Please kindly let me to receive your answer via this email address:

    Best regards,
    A. B. Langroudi

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