Friday, February 22, 2019

Short Western Readings in Mark 1-4

Codex Bezae, the main Greek manuscript
of the Western Text
of the Gospels and Acts
           “The Western text is so inclined to addition that, if it omits any reading found elsewhere, the probability is that it does so because the omission is primitive.”  (emphasis added)  So claimed Kirsopp Lake.
            “Generally speaking, it [the Western Text] is characterized by harmonistic tendencies and additions.”  (emphasis added)  So said David Alan Black (in New Testament Textual Criticism:  A Concise Guide, page 33.)
            The Western Text “is usually considered to be the result of an undisciplined and ‘wild’ growth of manuscript tradition and translational activity.” (emphasis added)  So wrote Bruce Metzger.
            These statements, and others like them, do not give an accurate picture of the nature of the Western Text.  Some researchers seem to have assumed that because the Western text of Acts is about 8% longer than the Alexandrian text of Acts, the same tendency toward expansion typifies the Western Text throughout the Gospels.  However, this is not really the case.  Although the primary Greek manuscript representative of the Western Text, Codex Bezae, does have some interpolations (most famously at Matthew 20:28 and Luke 6:4), it regularly contains readings which are shorter than their Alexandrian and Byzantine rivals.
            To illustrate this, let’s look into some Western readings in the first four chapters of the Gospel of Mark, as found in Codex Bezae, that are shorter than their Alexandrian and Byzantine rivals.  To simplify things for non-specialists, I will present these readings in English.

CHAPTER 1  (14 Shorter Readings)

1:4 – D doesn’t have the word “river.”
1:6 – D doesn’t have the phrase “and a leather belt around his waist.” (probable h.t. error)
1:7 – D doesn’t say “he preached.”
1:10 – D doesn’t say “immediately.”
1:11 – D doesn’t say “came.”
1:15 – D doesn’t say “And.”
1:16 – D doesn’t use Simon’s name twice, only once.
1:18 – D says that Andrew and Simon left “all,” instead of “their nets.”
1:25 – D doesn’t use Jesus’ name.
1:27 – D doesn’t include the words “What is this?”
1:35 – D doesn’t say “having risen.”
1:44 – D doesn’t say “nothing.”
1:45 – D doesn’t say “freely” (or “much”).
1:45 – D doesn’t say “he” was no longer able to openly enter a city.

CHAPTER 2  (17 Shorter Readings)

2:2 – D doesn’t say “the” before “word.”
2:4 – D doesn’t say “Him” after “they could not come near.”
[2:4 – D includes Jesus’ name, so as to say “where Jesus was.”]
2:4 – D doesn’t say “uncovered” (or “dismantled”).
2:7 – D doesn’t say “alone.”
2:8 – D doesn’t say “immediately.”
2:13 – D doesn’t say “again.”
2:15 – D doesn’t say “that” (or “and”) after “house.”
2:17 – D doesn’t say “to them.”
2:19 – D doesn’t say “Jesus.”
2:20 – D doesn’t say “As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” (probable h.t. error)
2:21 – D doesn’t say “from it” or “its” (not αφ’ αυτου, not απ’ αυτου, and not αυτου).
2:22 – D doesn’t say “But new wine for new wineskins.”
2:23 – D doesn’t say “his.”
2:23 – D doesn’t say “as they went.”
2:24 – D doesn’t say “to Him.”
2:26 – D doesn’t mention Abiathar the high priest.
2:27-28 – D doesn’t say “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore.”

CHAPTER 3  (8 Shorter Readings)

3:2 – D doesn’t say “him” after “heal.”
3:6 – D doesn’t say “immediately.”
3:7 – D doesn’t say “followed” or “followed Him.”
3:11 – D doesn’t say “the” before “unclean spirits.”
[3:14 – D doesn’t say “whom He named apostles.”  (The Byzantine Text also does not have this phrase here.)]
[3:16 – D doesn’t say “And He appointed the twelve.”  (The Byzantine Text also does not have this phrase here.)]
3:20 – D doesn’t say “they.” 
[3:23 – D says “the Lord Jesus” said to them, etc.]
3:27 – D doesn’t describe the house as “his.”
3:29 – D doesn’t say “against.”
3:29 – D doesn’t say “never” (i.e., “does not” is there, but not “never”).

CHAPTER 4  (10 Shorter Readings)

4:1 – D doesn’t say “on the land.”
4:3 – D doesn’t say “to sow.”
[4:4 – D says “of heaven.”  This phrase, rendered as “of the air,” is in the Textus Receptus, though not in the Byzantine Text.]
[4:9 – D closes the verse with, “And the one with understanding, let him understand.”]
4:10 – D says “His disciples” instead of “those around Him with the twelve.”
4:16 – D doesn’t say “likewise.”
[4:17 – D says “and” instead of “or.”]
4:19 – D doesn’t say “and the desires for other things.”
4:24 – D doesn’t say “and more will be given to you” or “and to you who hear, more will be given.” (probable h.t. error)
4:32 – D doesn’t say “And when it has been sown, it grows up.” (probable h.a. error)   
4:33 – D doesn’t say “to them.”
4:38 – D doesn’t say “and” before “said to Him.”
4:41 – D doesn’t say “Him” after “obey.”

            That’s not all the short readings that Codex D has in these four chapters.  But it is abundantly enough to demonstrate a few things:

First:  The compilers of the Nestle-Aland text applied the (obsolete and wrong) principle of  lectio brevior potior (prefer the shorter reading) extremely selectively.  They did not adopt the shorter reading in any of the 49 instances I just listed.  “Prefer the shorter reading if it’s Alexandrian is the real principle that was employed.
Second:  Footnotes that are limited to descriptions of the Byzantine/Majority Text, and the “NU” Text (the heavily Alexandrian Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies compilation) do not supply the whole story; there’s a whole text-type that is being pushed out of the picture.  The textual footnotes in the NKJV in Mark 1-4 cover only 15 variant-units (never mentioning the Western reading as such).  The apparatus of the UBS Greek New Testament in Mark 1-4 (in the fourth edition) covers a total of only 28 variant-units.  Clearly neither of these resources is sufficient to get more than a sketch of the history of the text’s transmission. 
Third:  Although it may be tempting to simplify pictures of the history of the New Testament text as a contest between the Byzantine and Alexandrian forms of the text, it should be emphasized that the Western Text is very early and merits the attention of researchers. 

Fourth:  The Byzantine Text, in defiance of the oversimplified theory that Hort proposed to account for its origin, frequently attests to readings which are neither Alexandrian nor Western.   Consider just the first chapter of Mark:  the Byzantine Text has readings in verses 2 (x2), 5 (x2), 7, 8 (x3), 10 (x2), 13, 14, 16 (x2), 18, 19, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 (x2), 35 (x2), 36, 37 (x2), 39, 40 (x2), 41, 42, 43, and 45 which disagree with both Vaticanus and Bezae.  Does anyone, even at Dallas Theological Seminary, seriously think that these 40 non-Alexandrian, non-Western readings were the result of an editorial effort to create a compilation via the selection of readings from Alexandrian and Western exemplars?  (And yet as recently as 2015, Dan Wallace was still attempting to salvage the doomed and untenable Lucianic Recension theory as the explanation for the origin of the Byzantine Text.  And how can Moises Silva look at this data and still say he is “an unrepentant and unshaken Hortian”?)  
            This high number of distinct readings in the Byzantine Text should make one wonder what evidence Metzger and Ehrman were thinking of when they claimed that “Byzantine editors formed their text by taking over elements of the earlier extant traditions, choosing variant readings from among those already available rather than creating new ones that fit their sense of an improved text.”  (See The Text of the New Testament, fourth edition, page 279.)  For if the many non-Western, non-Alexandrian, non-conflate readings in the Byzantine Text are not the instant creations of editors, then they must echo an ancient non-Western and non-Alexandrian form of the text, and this is tantamount to an admission that a very Byzantine-like form of the text (distinct enough to contain 40 distinct readings in Mark 1’s 45 verses) existed in the 200s. 

(Readers are invited to check the data in this post.)


  1. Finklestein doesn't believe that the biblical King Solomon ever existed, based entirely on an argument from silence in archaeology. But archaeology is NOT silent; Solomonic gates found in three geographically dispersed cities indicate a strong central government able to impose national building codes; i.e, the Solomonic kingdom of which the historical record (once one admits the Bible into such a category) is far from silent.
    Likewise, Hortians make much of the silence in the Egyptian sands of any existence of the Byzantine text. However, one must likewise be very selective about what evidence is allowed into the record in order to allow that silence enough authority to override the lack of any coherent theory to explain away the obvious.

  2. Rev. Snapp
    This is Marc, from Spain.
    I am a big follower of the greek Bezae codex.I was looking forward for a printed greek new testamnt that attests bezae variants. I read that Tyndale text follows this kind of text but really seems to me that doesn't. May be it follows only Theodore Beza's own edition of the new testament, collated with other texts. Am I wrong? I apreciate your devotion!
    For further envisioning Bezae's importance I recommend Prof. Rius-Camps and Jenny Read-Heimerdinger works. Gd bless