Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Invisible Variant in Luke 2:15

           Although promoters of an assortment of Bible versions frequently insist that footnotes give their readers plentiful information about textual variants, many variants, especially those which scarcely affect the meaning of the text, are not mentioned in any footnotes in any major English versions.  An example of this appears in Luke 2:15:  in the middle of Luke’s Christmas narrative, after a multitude of heavenly hosts finishes praising God (regarding the famous variant in Luke 2:14, see this post), and as the shepherds decide to investigate the town of Bethlehem, immediately following οἱ ἄγγελοι, the Byzantine text has the words καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι (“and the men”) before οἱ ποιμένες (“the shepherds”).

          This is an invisible variant:  the KJV’s base-text (the Textus Receptus) includes καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι, and the ESV’s and NIV’s primary base-text (the Nestle-Aland compilation) does not; the WEB’s base-text is Byzantine; the NRSV’s base-text is (almost always) Alexandrian.  Yet this phrase – “the shepherds said to one another” – is identical in English in all four of these English versions (and in the EOB-NT, CSB, EHV, and NET).  One would never realize from the renderings in almost all English versions that one base-text has three more words.  Wayne A. MitchellNew Heart English Bible, which points out the variant in a footnote, is an exception, as are some editions of the KJV with a similar marginal footnote.

                This variant has become invisible in more ways than one.  It was in Tregelles’ 1860 Greek New Testament (albeit within single-brackets), but although the Tyndale House GNT (2017 edition), is, its editors say (in the Preface, p. vii) “based on a thorough revision of the great nineteenth-century edition of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles”), not only is καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι not included in the text, but there is no apparatus-entry to inform readers of the existence of this variant.  Likewise, although this variant was initially included in the apparatus of the UBS GNT, in the fourth and fifth editions it has mysteriously vanished without a trace. 

          Which reading is original?  Metzger acknowledged, in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (1971, corrected edition 1975), that “The fact that the longer reading is characteristically Lukan in style argues strongly in its favor.”  Nevertheless the longer reading was rejected by a majority of the UBS editorial committee which “preferred to make a decision on the basis of preponderance of external evidence.” 

          This statement from Metzger is not easy to defend when one looks at what the preponderance of external evidence is.  À B L W Q (which moves οἱ ἄγγελοι to precede εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν) X f1 565 (which also omits εις τον αγγελοι earlier in the verse) 700 and 1071 appear to be almost the only manuscripts that support the non-inclusion of καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι.  The Vulgate, the Sahidic version, and the Peshitta support the shorter reading, but versional evidence is inherently tenuous in this particular case because more than one translator could independently decide that the sense of the passage could be sufficiently rendered without translating the appositive phrase here, as can be seen from various English versions.   The Harklean Syrian (made in the early 600s) appears to support ἄνθρωποι καὶ οἱ ποιμένες.  Καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι is supported by Codex A, Codex D, Γ, K (017, Cyprius), M, Δ, P (024), S (028), U, Y, and Ψ.   Codex M ends a page exactly after οἱ ἄγγελοι, and καὶ οἱ ἄνοι begins the first line on the next page.  Minuscules 33 157 892 1010 and 1424 are among the many minuscules that support the longer reading, as does the Gothic version.  Codex D’s word-order is apparently unique in this verse; D begins verse 15 with Και εγενετο │ως απηλθον οι αγγελοι απ αυτων │εις τον ουρανον και οι ανθρωποι.  Small gaps appear in D before Και εγενετο and before και οι ανθρωποι.  Codices C, N, and T are lacunose here. 

Codex Delta supports
the longer reading

        At the outset of the third chapter of Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, John Burgon briefly commented on this variant, pointing out that the scribe of À omitted the οἱ before ἄγγελοι, “whereby nonsense is made of the passage (viz. οἱ ἄγγελοι ποιμένες).”  Burgon considered the shorter reading to have originated due to homoeoteleuton elicited by the six clustered-together recurrences of οἱ in this verse.  More recently, Michael Holmes seems to have agreed, inasmuch as καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι is included in the text of the SBL-GNT.  I consider Burgon’s observations completely valid, and Metzger’s appeal to the “preponderance of external evidence” is basically code for “the pro-Alexandrian bias of the editors.”  Καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι should be included in future compilations.



Daniel Buck said...

I would caution those without a good grasp of Greek who are reading this that "and the men" doesn't quite accurately convey the range if meaning of "καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι." Greek doesn't distinguish sex in the same way English does: only when no males are present in a group does the grammar supply any information as to the sex of those in it. So while "the men" in English supplies an image of all males, it doesn't so much in Greek. It's often safe to assume an all-male group based on context, but that's only because in the biblical culture, sexes rarely mixed in groups like lawyers, shepherds, and fishermen. In fact, when we read about female shepherds in the Bible, they are always in an all-female group. So, it's reasonable to conclude that the shepherds who saw the angels were all male, and therefore "men," but the phrase could also be accurately translated "and the people."

Maurice A. Robinson said...

It is likely that some MSS and versional sources removed the phrase because of a perceived problematic ambiguity, e.g., it *could* be read, "and as the angels and the men departed into heaven, the shepherds spoke with one another" (ως απηλθον απ αυτών εις τον ουρανον οι άγγελοι και οι άνθρωποι, οι ποιμένες ειπον/ελαλουν προς αλλήλους... ").

Removing the phrase would eliminate any possible ambiguity.

Matthew M. Rose said...

Dr. Robinson,

Meaning: that "some MSS and versional sources removed the phrase" independently and intentionally, or they chose to follow a MS which was already missing the phrase due to homoeoteleuton for said reason? The former seems a bit coincidental.