|Lecture 21 at YouTube|
The 21st lecture in the series Introduction to NT Textual Criticism is now available to view at YouTube and at Bitchute. In this 27-minute lecture, I explore seven small textual contests, illustrating several text-critical principles and their limitations. Here are some excerpts:
(1) Our first contest is from Matthew 7:27. Should this verse say, “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew,” or should it say, “And the rain descended, and the floods came”?
The second reading is obviously shorter. If you were to ignore the research of James Royse and several other researchers, and still apply the guidelines that were used in the 1800s and 1900s, then you might say, “The shorter reading ought to be preferred. Some copyist probably thought, ‘Most of the time when there’s just rain and high water, houses do not collapse. We need to add an extra detail to make it clear what Jesus is saying.”
What if you applied the canon, “Prefer the early reading,” reckoning that the earlier the manuscript, the fewer opportunities copyists had to introduce mistakes? This is an early reading, found in Codex Sinaiticus, so you might consider using the text of Matthew 7:27 that does not mention that “the winds blew.”
But you would be wrong. The main copyist of Codex Sinaiticus made a mistake here: he lost his line of sight. The last three letters of the Greek word for “floods” and the last three letters of the Greek word for “winds” are the same three letters, and both words are followed by the Greek word “kai,” the word for “and.”
When we look at early manuscripts from multiple transmission-lines, the text that includes “and the floods came” is dominant no matter where you look. The other flagship manuscript of the Alexandrian Text, Codex Vaticanus, has the entire passage here in Matthew 7:27, mentioning rain, floods, and winds.
We ought to bear in mind that as the number of generations of copies in a manuscript’s family tree increases, the more opportunities there were to introduce mistakes, but it is also generally true that the more times the text was read and transmitted, the more opportunities there were to correct mistakes.
We are fortunate, or blessed, that the copyist of Codex Vaticanus did not make the same mistake. If the copyist of Codex Vaticanus had made the same mistake as the copyist of Codex Sinaiticus in Matthew 7:27, Westcott and Hort might have introduced a footnote at this point in the text, back in 1881.
Westcott and Hort valued the agreement of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus so highly that Hort wrote, “No readings of ÀB can safely be rejected absolutely.” Hort wrote that on page 225 of his 1881 Introduction.
Hort qualified that statement by saying that readings shared by Vaticanus and Sinaiticus may be placed “on an alternate footing” when they have no patristic support and no versional support. That is still an awful lot of weight to place on two manuscripts.
A mistake made by copyists in the mid-300s is still a mistake. The longer reading in Matthew 7:27 is the original reading.
In the majority of Greek manuscripts, there is no mention of “the heart.” The Greek words for “of his heart” are supported by Codex L, and by the manuscript-cluster known as family-1, but this is a small minority. The Syriac Peshitta version does not include the phrase “of his heart.” The Sinaitic Syriac and the Curetonian Syriac both include it.
The last word in the Greek phrase for “of his heart” ends with the same two letters as the Greek word for “treasure.” Is this another case where a phrase has been accidentally skipped due to periblepsis? Or has something else happened?
Something else has happened. The context, in the preceding verse, shows that Jesus is speaking about what is in a person’s heart. And when we look at Luke 6:45, a parallel passage, this saying is presented with an explicit reference to the heart.
In the Textus Receptus, the base-text of the KJV, only the two Greek words for “of the heart” are included in Matthew 12:35, not the three Greek word for “of his heart,” as in Codex L and family-1. So, the addition in the Textus Receptus appears to have been drawn from the immediate context, unlike the more exact harmonization to Luke 6:45 that we see in Codex L and family-1.
Before anyone is too hard on the copyists who added the words, we should notice that in Matthew 12:35, the NIV adds the words “in him” – twice – and the New Living Translation includes the words “of a good heart,” twice – even though neither reading is supported in the text upon which these two versions were based.
(5) In some copies, the first part of Matthew 25:13 says “Watch, therefore, for you know not the day nor the hour” and the second part says, “in which the Son of Man comes.” And in some other copies, there is no second part; the verse ends with the word “hour.”
The many manuscripts that support the longer reading in Matthew 25:13 are much more abundant, but they are limited to the Byzantine form of the text. Early representatives of the Byzantine Text such as Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Sigma support the shorter reading. The Syriac Peshitta version also supports the shorter reading.
When read right after Matthew 24, there is little need to point out that the day when the Son of Man comes is the day being referenced. But the lection for Saturday in the eighteenth week after Pentecost began at Matthew 25:1, and ended at Matthew 25:13. So this final sentence would be the only place in the lection referencing the day of the coming of the Son of Man, emphasizing the point as the lection was brought to a close.
(7) Finally, in Colossians
1:6, the Textus Receptus says that
the gospel is “bringing forth fruit.” In
most manuscripts, Colossians 1:6 says that the gospel is “bringing forth fruit and growing.” The inclusion of the words “and growing” is
also supported by the Peshitta. This is
one of the relatively rare places in the text where the reading in the Textus Receptus is not supported by the
vast majority of manuscripts and is shorter than the reading in the vast
majority of manuscripts. The words “and growing” – καὶ αὐξανόμενον – are in the text of
the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform, and
in the text of Hodges and Farstad’s Greek New Testament According to the
Majority Text, and in Pickering’s
compilation of the archetype of Family 35, and it was in the text of the
Complutensian Polyglot New Testament, which was printed in 1514. The reading was in a footnote in the
compilation published by Dr. John Fell at
The words begin with the same two letters that begin the next word in the text, and end with the same five letters that end the word that precedes them in the text. This very clearly indicated that these words were part of the original text, and fell out accidentally due to periblepsis.
In conclusion: the textual variants we have reviewed today may be small, but they teach some important lessons, to those who are willing to learn them.
● The principle “prefer the older reading” should not be applied without a careful and substantial review of other evidence. Some early copyists made very careless mistakes.
● When the text looks like it has been expanded to increase its clarity, this is often the case, especially where the augmentation involves a harmonization to the immediate context or to a parallel-passage.
● The principle “prefer the more difficult reading” should be applied with an awareness of scribal tendencies that sometimes contributed to the creation of very difficult readings which were created by copyists.
● The ability of a reading to contribute to the resolution of an apologetic difficulty is not a sufficient reason to accept it as original.
● When the utility of a reading interlocks with the beginning or end of a lection, and its shorter rival has stronger early support, the longer reading probably originated as a liturgical expansion.
● The larger quantity of Greek manuscripts sometimes fails to support the original reading. And,
● The Textus Receptus contains both longer readings and shorter readings that are non-original. Its important role in the history of the English New Testament does not justify treating it as authoritative in every detail.