Sunday, December 5, 2021

Romans 12:11: “Lord,” or “Time”?

           Venturing outside the Gospels today, let’s look into Romans 12:11.  Nowadays there is virtually no debate about how the fourth phrase in this passage should be read:  τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες – “serving the Lord.”   A search through the NIV, KJV, ESV, NKJV, NASB, CSB, NLT, and NET shows no sign that there is a textual variant here.  Bruce Metzger, in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, used four and a half lines of text to dismiss the alternative reading τῷ καίρῳ δουλεύοντες – “serving the time” – assigning the usually-found κυρίῳ an “A” rating (which indicated, according to the preface of the UBS Greek New Testament, p. 3*, that “the text is certain.”)  In the SBL-GNT, there is no footnote about this phrase.  Likewise the Tyndale House GNT does not indicate a textual variant here.

          In the 1500s, this phrase was an epicenter of textual dispute.  The editions of the Greek New Testament released by Erasmus in 1519, 1522, 1527, and 1535, as well as Stephanus’ 1550 edition, read τῷ καίρῳ δουλεύοντες – “serving the time.”  (Erasmus’s first edition, in 1516, had a misprint, reading κυρίου, with the final -ου combined into a single character.)

          Consequently, William Tyndale’s 1534 New Testament read here, Applye youre selves to ye tyme. The 1535 Coverdale New Testament likewise read, “Applye youre selues vnto the tyme,” and so did the 1537 Matthews Bible, echoing Tyndale’s rendering.  The 1539 Great Bible, issued with the endorsement of Henry VIII, also read “Applye youre selues to the tyme.”  Martin Luther, using Erasmus’ second edition, also translated the final phrase of Romans 12:11 as the German equivalent of “serving the time.”  John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans, used the reading “serving the time,” but Calvin also noted that he did not dare to altogether reject the reading “serving the Lord,” on the grounds that it was supported by many ancient copies.

          In the Preface of the 1582 Rheims New Testament, the Roman Catholic translators took to task some of their Protestant counterparts on account of their handling of this phrase, claiming, “They translate not according to the Greek text, Tempori servientes, serving the time, which Beza says must be a corruption, but according to the vulgar Latin, Domino servientes, serving our Lord.”

            The 1560 Geneva Bible and the 1568 Bishops’ Bible, however, had “seruing the Lord.”  And when the 1611 King James Version was issued, it also had “seruing the Lord.”   

          The reading “τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες” dominates both the Byzantine Text and manuscripts such as P46, Vaticanus, and Sinaiticus, as well as versional evidence such as the Old Latin, Peshitta, and Coptic and Armenian versions.   

          In the Greek-Latin Codex Claromontanus (06, D), a majuscule manuscript from the 400s (or maybe the early 500s), the initial writing of the last line of Romans 12:11 reads τῷ καίρῳ δουλεύοντες.  (This was changed to the usual reading, and then was changed back.)  The majuscules F (010, Augiensis) and G (012, Boernerianus), both from the 800s, also read τῷ καίρῳ δουλεύοντες here, as does minuscule 5 (which was consulted by Stephanus).  It was once thought that minuscule 2400 contained this phrase, but it does not.  (2400 is a richly illustrated New Testament manuscript from the 1100s which is online as part of the Goodspeed Manuscript Collection at the University of Chicago, catalogued as MS 965 in the collection; this phrase in Romans 12 begins the first line on Image 321.) That’s it, as far as extant Greek manuscript-evidence for is concerned.

          An assortment of patristic evidence indicates that in the first several centuries of Christianity, “serving the time” in Romans 12:11 was much more widespread than it is today.  The Latin writer known as Ambrosiaster, writing the second half of the 300s, maintained that this was the correct reading.  Jerome, in his Epistle 27, To Marcella, energetically defended the Vulgate against some of its critics, calling them “two-legged asses.”  In the course of his lively defense he wrote that his critics “may say if they will, ‘Rejoicing in hope, serving the time,’ but we will say, ‘Rejoicing in hope, serving the Lord.”  Rufinus, a contemporary of Jerome, also favored “serving the Lord” but was aware that copies existed which supported “serving the time.” 

          Earlier, Cyprian, who wrote in Latin about halfway through the 200s, seems to allude to the phrase serving the time, in his Letter 5, although this reference is far from a direct quotation, and he does not use the wording of Romans 12:11 found in Codex Claromontanus.   

          In the first, second, and third editions of the UBS Greek New Testament, the writer Theophilus of Antioch (who lived in the 100s) is cited as if he supported κυρίῳ.  But as J. L. North ascertained in the course of research his thesis about this verse, this is erroneous; it is perhaps a result of an inattentive editor misreading an abbreviated reference to the medieval author Theophylact.  But only slightly later than Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria used Romans 12:11 with κυρίῳ. 

          Origen is cited in the fourth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament as if he was aware of manuscripts that supported καίρῳ.  The reference in question, however, is to Origen’s material as translated into Latin by Rufinus – who did not always strictly separate Origen’s comments from his own.  Origen accepted the reading “serving the Lord” but also – apparently – attested to the existence of Latin copies in the early 200s that read “serving the time.”   Κυρίῳ is also supported by John Chrysostom. 

          Athanasius, advising his contemporary Dracontius to embrace the office of bishop at Alexandria around 355, in the third paragraph of his Epistle 49, To Dracontius, wrote, “If you feared the times and acted as you did from timidity, your mind is not manly.  For in such a case you ought to manifest zeal for Christ, and rather meet circumstances boldly, and use the language of blessed Paul, ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors’ – and the more so, inasmuch as we ought to serve not the time, but the Lord. [emphasis added]  Whether this is entirely coincidental, or is based on his awareness of the textual contest in Romans 12:11, is hard to say.

          The meaning and application of both readings are unobjectionable:  we are certainly instructed to serve the Lord, and we should also serve the time, in the sense that we should make the most of the opportunities we have – “redeeming the time,” as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5.

An unusual sacred-name contraction
in Codex Augiensis.

          If we grant that κυρίῳ, with its extremely broad support, is the original reading, how did the reading καίρῳ originate?  It probably had something to do with both the way the sacred name κυρίῳ (”Lord”) was contracted (normally, it was written in New Testament manuscripts as κω), and with the way the word και was sometimes abbreviated (as ϗ, the kai-compendium).  Rarely, the kai-compendium replaced the letters και when και was part of a larger word.  And it is possible that in a time and place where the nomina sacra were not entirely standardized, κυρίῳ could be contracted as κρω.  (See the very unusual contraction of κυριον as κρν in First Corinthians 9:1 in Codex Augiensis.)  A copyist who read κρω in his exemplar could, in theory, think that he was not looking at a nomina sacra, but at a kai-compendium embedded within a word, and decide to de-contract it, as καίρῳ.

          On the other hand, if we approach the question on the premise that καίρῳ was the original reading, it is conceivable that κυρίῳ originated after a copyist wrote καίρῳ as ϗρω, and a subsequent copyist, not recognizing the kai-compendium, thoughtfully expanded ϗρω into κυρίῳ.  But this is not likely to have influenced the majority of manuscripts, early or late. 

          Meanwhile, multiple transmission-streams support Κω.  Κυρίῳ was the original reading here.  But a text-critical footnote acknowledging the early existence of καίρῳ would not be out of the question, considering the historical impact of Tyndale and Erasmus.

          Readers wishing to investigate this textual contest further may wish to consult the mercilessly detailed and meticulous research found in J. L. North’s 1988 thesis “Romans 12.11: a Textual, Lexical and Ethical Study.” 



A. J. MacDonald, Jr said...

The 1514 Complutensian has τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες.

Demian said...

Really appreciated this article! It seems to me that the strategy of the translators of the Douay-Rheims Bible is not very far from the promoters of the critical text today. Minor corruptions in the Greek text here and there and one is left with a translation from the Latin! There is nothing new under the sun…

Conan said...

The KJV translators used the Rheims New Testament in the making of the KJV.
The part of Rheims in the making of the English Bible

Demian said...

Their primary source was the TR. Let's make sure that we get the facts right first. Then they used all those resources for textual criticism, which might have included the DRB. They also consulted the Complutensian Polyglot, the Tyndale bible, the bishop's bible, the Geneva bible, the Clementine Vulgate and the fathers. It's fine to use the Douay-Rheims bible, Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and all that for textual criticism as long as they don't became the primary text upon which the translation is made. That was my point.

Conan said...

Glad you can admit the KJV used the Rheims New Testament on occasion!
Thank you.

Demian said...

And there are a few places where I would be open to replace a word or two in the TR by words found in the critical text. They were available in the Complutensian Polyglot since 1514, but at that time the choice was not very clear for the compilers of the TR's.