Monday, May 28, 2018

A Moment Please, Dr. Holmes!

             In a recent article at the Bible Odyssey website, What Are English Translations of the Bible Based On?, Dr. Michael W. Holmes made some claims about the external support for some verses that appear in the text of the New Testament in the King James Version but not in the New International Version, the New Revised Standard Version, or the English Standard Version.  He claimed that Matthew 17:21, Matthew 18:11, Matthew 23:14, Mark 7:16, Mark 9:44, Mark 9:46, Mark 11:26, Mark 15:28, Luke 17:36, Luke 23:17, John 5:3b-4, Acts 8:37, Acts 15:34, Acts 24:6b-8a, Romans 16:24, and 1 John 5:7b-8a were all added to the New Testament; that is, that they are not original. 
From beginning to end, Holmes’ article seems designed to convey that these verses are not in the NIV, NRSV, and ESV because they are not supported by early evidence.  That is undoubtedly the impression that many of Dr. Holmes’ readers derived from the article.  However, the real state of the evidence is quite different.  Readers of Bible Odyssey may find their impressions modified by the following observations:

● Although it is claimed that the oldest manuscript used by Erasmus was “from the 10th century,” Erasmus also used the quotations made by patristic writers who wrote long before then, including Irenaeus (who wrote in the second century).  Also, in the course of making his revised editions, Erasmus learned of readings in other manuscripts, including some readings from Codex Vaticanus (made around 325). 

● Dr. Holmes claimed that to scholars in the late 1700s and 1800s, it became clear, as they studied ancient manuscripts, that “the text of the New Testament had “grown” slightly as it was copied by hand century after century.”  However, while this was indeed the impression that those scholars had at the time – and they were so sure of it that a guideline was developed, Lectio brevior potior (the shorter reading is to be preferred) – a series of more recent studies (including a particularly extensive piece of research by James Royse) has shown that copyists’ tendency to omit was much more dominant than their tendency to add.  Dr. Holmes no doubt already knows that one should not casually adopt short readings from ancient manuscripts; he retained Matthew 12:47 in the text of the SBL-GNT although it is not supported by the early manuscripts Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.  (The ESV, meanwhile, does not have Matthew 12:47 in its text.)
Matthew 17:21 in Codex W.
Matthew 17:21 is not only in over 99% of the Greek manuscripts of Matthew; it was in the manuscripts used by the early church writer Origen (early 200s-254).  One can consult Origen’s Commentary on Matthew, Book 13, chapter 7, to see this.  It is also in the Vulgate, which was translated by Jerome in 383.  (Jerome stated in his Preface to the Vulgate Gospels that he had consulted ancient Greek manuscripts in the preparation of the Gospels’ text.)  Codex W, found in Egypt, also includes the verse.  The Latin manuscripts used by Ambrose of Milan in the 300s also included this verse, and so do several Old Latin manuscripts.  Thus the support for this verse does not only come from the vast majority of Greek manuscripts; it comes from a patristic quotation earlier than the earliest manuscript of this part of the Gospel of Matthew, and it comes from witnesses in at least four different parts of the Roman Empire. 

Matthew 18:11 was in the Greek manuscripts used by John Chrysostom (late 300s, in Constantinople) and in the Latin manuscripts used by Augustine (early 400s, in North Africa).  The verse is not only in the vast majority of manuscripts, but also in Codex Bezae (“one of our oldest witnesses,” according to Bart Ehrman) and Codex W and the Vulgate and the Peshitta – quite a diverse quartet from the late 300s and 400s (depending on what production-date is given to Codex D). 

Matthew 23:14 – the verse in which Jesus mentions widows’ houses and long prayers as He denounces the scribes and Pharisees – is in most manuscripts, and in most manuscripts it appears before the verse that is, in the KJV, verse 13.  The inclusion of this verse (whether before or after verse 13) is not just supported by a strong majority of Greek manuscripts; it is also supported by the testimony of Hilary of Poitiers (310-367, in France), John Chrysostom (late 300s-407, in Constantinople), and the Peshitta version (in Syria).
            Another consideration regarding this verse is that verse 13 and verse 14 begin with precisely the same word (“Woe,” Greek Οὐαὶ), which would make it easy for a verse to disappear if a copyist’s line of sight accidentally drifted from one occurrence of the word Οὐαὶ to another occurrence of the word Οὐαὶ.   

Mark 7:16 is supported by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts and also by Codex Alexandrinus, by Codex Bezae, by the Gothic version (made c. 350), by the Vulgate, by some Old Latin copies, and by Augustine.  By no possible stretch of the imagination is its support limited to late evidence. 

Mark 9:44 and 9:46 are supported by the vast majority of manuscripts, and also by Codex A, Codex D, the Gothic version, the Vulgate, and some Old Latin copies. 

Mark 11:26 is supported by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts, and by Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Bezae, by Old Latin copies including Codex Vercellensis (probably made in the 370s), by the Gothic version, the Vulgate, and by Augustine. 
Another consideration is that this verse ends with the same phrase (“your trespasses,” Greek τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν) as the verse that comes before it, which made this verse vulnerable to accidental omission in the event that a copyist’s line of sight drifted from one occurrence of the phrase to the occurrence of the same phrase further along in the text (thus skipping all the words in between). 

Mark 15:28 is supported by a large majority of Greek manuscripts, and by the Vulgate, the Gothic version, the Peshitta version, and very probably by Eusebius of Emesa (in the mid-300s).  Eusebius of Caesarea, in the early 300s, seems to have known it and included it in his Canon-tables as a cross-reference with Luke 22:37.

Luke 17:36 is not supported by a majority of Greek manuscripts, but it has support from Codex D, a dozen Old Latin copies, the Vulgate, the Peshitta, both forms of the Old Syriac (that is, both the Sinaitic Syriac and the Curetonian Syriac), and from Ambrose of Milan, and from Augustine. 
Another consideration is that this verse ends with the same word with which the previous verse ends (“shall be left,” Greek ἀφεθήσεται), which made this verse vulnerable to accidental omission when a copyist’s line of sight drifted from the ἀφεθήσεται at the end of verse 35 to the ἀφεθήσεται at the end of verse 36, skipping the words in between.      

Luke 23:17 is supported by the vast majority of manuscripts, and by Codex Sinaiticus (note that at the Codex Sinaiticus website, the English translation is completely bogus at this point), Codex W, Old Latin copies, and the Vulgate, and in Codex Bezae and in both Old Syriac manuscripts, the verse is found after verse 18 rather than before it.  
            Another consideration is that this verse begins with the word Ἀνάγκην and the following verse begins with the word Ἀνέκραξαν; a copyist’s line of sight could feasible drift from one Ἀν- to the next Ἀν, omitting the words in between.   

John 5:3b-4 is supported not only by the vast majority of manuscripts but also by the Vulgate, by Ambrose of Milan, by Chrysostom,  and by Tatian’s Diatessaron (as cited in the commentary on the Diatessaron by Ephraem the Syrian in the mid-300s) and by Tertullian (in De Baptismo, that is, On Baptism, chapter 5).  Tatian lived in the mid-100s, and Tertullian wrote in the early 200s.  Chrysostom also used this passage.    

Acts 8:37 is only supported by about 15% of the Greek manuscripts of Acts, but it was used by Irenaeus (in Book 3, 12:8 of Against Heresies, written c. 180, long before the earliest existing manuscript of this part of Acts was made), by Cyprian (in the 200s, in Book Three of his Testimonies, Treatise 12, chapter 43), by Pontus the Deacon (in the mid-200s), by Pacian of Barcelona (late 300s), and by Augustine (early 400s); it is also in the Coptic (Egyptian) manuscript known as the Glazier Codex (made in the 400s or 500s).

            Now I set aside the remaining four passages mentioned by Dr. Holmes, in the interest of brevity (and to avoid getting distracted by the “Comma Johanneum,” the interpolation in the Textus Receptus in First John 5 that originated as an interpretive note in a branch of the Old Latin version).  Even the evidence-descriptions I have given are far from complete.  My goal today was simply to demonstrate that the historical details about most of the passages in Dr. Holmes’ list of “added verses” do not sustain his presentation, or any presentation which conveys that in these textual contests, the shorter reading is supported exclusively by early evidence, and the longer reading is supported exclusively by late evidence.
            Contrary to the picture that Dr. Holmes has painted, the real-life scenario here is not one in which all the ancient evidence pertinent to these passages points one way, and all the young evidence points a different way.  It is not a simple matter of older-versus-later, as anyone can see by observing that evidence for both readings can be found in testimony from the 300s – and in some cases, evidence for the longer reading comes from sources earlier than the earliest evidence for the shorter reading. 
In closing:  this is not intended to represent a full defense of the genuineness of all or any of these passages.  My sole point is that in most cases, there is ancient evidence on both sides.  If you read anything that gives any other impression – whether a Bible Odyssey article, or a commentary, or vague Bible footnotes – I recommend that your suspicions should be alert to the possibility that instead of reading a disinterested and balanced description of the evidence, you are reading a well-disguised campaign speech for the Alexandrian Text – a speech that cannot be persuasive unless you remain uninformed about the actual state of the evidence.

[Readers are encouraged to explore the embedded links in this post for additional resources.]


  1. There's a certain disconnect when Dr. Holmes writes, "The uproar was hardly surprising. When compared with the long-dominant and very familiar KJV, the new translation appeared to omit verses of the New Testament, a move that struck many readers as nearly blasphemous—or even dangerous under the strictures of Rev 22:19: “If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life.”

    Of course, those who are very familiar with the KJV know the verse in question as reading "book of life," something very different from the tree of life. It is as if someone discussing the US Constitution quoted it as ensuring "separation of church and state" when in fact that is a quote instead from the Constitution of Soviet Russia. Oh wait, people do that too.

  2. Regarding Acts 8:37, how exactly did the uncial E (08) from the fifth century read?

    The verse is not in 86.5% of manuscripts, according to R. Adam Boyd (The Text-Critical Greek New Testament, and ). How is the verse written in the margin of minuscule 2816, which Erasmus used? (The only MSS that read exactly like Erasmus published it were copied after Erasmus, such as GA 1883, unless the margin of 2816 read the same.)