Friday, October 13, 2023

The Interpolation in Matthew 27:49: Why?

             “Two suppositions alone are compatible with the whole evidence.   First, the words ἄλλος δὲ κ. τ. λ. may belong to the genuine text of the extant form of Mt, and have been early omitted (originally by the Western text) on account of the obvioous difficulty.  Or, secondly, they may be a very early interpolation, absent in the first instance from the Western text only, and thus resembling the Non-Western interpolations in Luke xxii xxiv except in its failure to to obtain admission into the prevalent texts of the third and fourth centuries. 

            “The prima facie difficulty of the second supposition is lightened by the absence of the words from all the earlier versions, though the defectiveness of African Latin, Old Syriac, and Thebaic evidence somewhat weakens the force of this consideration.  We have thought it on the whole right to give expression to this view by including the words in double brackets, though we did not feel justified in removing them from the text, and are not prepared to reject altogether the alternative supposition.”

            (Hort, Notes on Select Readings, p. 22)

             What was F.J.A. Hort talking about?  Most Americans who are acquainted with the NIV, ESV, CSB, and NASB have no clue, because these versions have no footnote at Matthew 27:49.  The Tyndale House Greek New Testament does not have an apparatus-listing at Matthew 27:49.  (Dr. Dirk Jongkind, Tyndale House GNT editor, discussed it in February 2018 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog).  

            The CSB is particularly strange in this regard, because it features a textual footnote pointing out trivial textual variants nearby, but not for this one which involves a drastic change in meaning and in doctrine.

            Let us take a closer today.


From Westcott & Hort's 1881 Greek text
ἄλλος δὲ λαβὼν λόγχην ἔνυξεν αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὕδωρ καὶ αἷμα is supported by Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, C L U Γ and by about 35 minuscules MSS (specifically, 5 26 48 67 115 127 160 175 364 782 871 1010 1011 1057 1300 1392 1416 1448 1555 1566 1701 1780 2117 2126 2139 2283 2585 2586 2622 2680 2766 2787).  The first hand of minuscule 2437 (previously examined here in 2018) should be included in this list, despite having had the words erased by a corrector.

            Also supporting the inclusion of these words (in some cases with ὕδωρ and αἷμα transposed) are Palestinian Aramaic copies, the Ethiopic version, Middle Egyptian, quite a few Irish Vulgate and Old Latin copies (the list includes the Book of Mulling and the Book of Kells and the Book of Dimma).
            I will not review the details of what Hort, in 1881, and more recently, Willker has written regarding Macedonius and Chrysostom and Severus and the ancient (alleged) autograph of the Gospel of Matthew found on Cyprus in the late 400s.
            The Revision Committee in 1881 heeded Hort’s advice somewhat, and as a result the 1881 RV featured a margin-note linked to Matthew 27:49 which stated, “Many ancient authorities add And another took a spear and pierced his side, and there came out water and blood.   See John xix. 34.
                   If the men who translated and edited the 1984 NIV had done what they did 99% of the time – i.e., follow the Nestle-Aland compilation – then the NIV, too, would say “And someone else, taking a spear, pierced his side and there came out water and blood” in Matthew 27:49.  The same can be said regarding the creators of the NASB, ESV, NNIV (that’s how I refer to the 2011 NIV, which varies drastically from the 1984 NIV), and CSB.   I cannot of course judge their motives but they seem awfully fickle at this particular point.

            Perhaps their fickleness is due to reluctance to admit into the text, even in double brackets or in a footnote, a textual variant which would destroy the doctrine of inerrrancy (which I have already discussed here).  Philip Comfort acknowledgd  in Encountering the Manuscripts (2005) that the inclusion of ἄλλος δὲ λαβὼν λόγχην ἔνυξεν αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὕδωρ καὶ αἷμα would appear to create “a jarring contradiction.”

            (Notice, by the way, that there is no distigmai in Vaticanus here – because Sepulveda would not have pointed out to Erasmus such an erroneous reading in his (Sepulveda’s) prized ancient codex.)

            Operating on the premise that editors of the NIV, ESV, CSB, etc., have held (that it is an interpolation), what would motivate an early scribe to create and into the text these words?

            A desire to show that some Romans, or some Jews, were merciful to Jesus as he was dying on the cross.  Crucifixion is a painful experience.  It can last for days.  A person who ended Jesus’ torture would be understood by his contemporaries to be acting mercifully.

            There is a slight anti-Judaic tendency in the Western text of Acts.  I propose that there was a slight pro-Jewish tendency at work in the Alexandrian Greek transmission-line, which carried over into the Old Latin transmission-line that is represented in some Irish Old Latin copies of the Gospel of Matthew.  

            Before the four Gospels were collected together, our interpolator could point to his interpolation and say “Look!  Not all of the Jews on the scene were bad.  Sure, God destroyed Jerusalem forty years later, but there was a remnant there on Calvary; there was at least one noble Jew who defied the Romans and showed mercy to Jesus on the cross – not giving him a drink to prolong his suffering, but spearing him, in defiance of the Roman soldiers, in order to end his suffering.”

            Or, the interpolation might have been made by an early pro-Roman scribe, who wished to convey that the Romans who crucified Jesus were just following orders, and had no personal vendetta against Jesus (something most first-century readers of Matthew would naturally assume), and that one of them, in an act of insubordination, speared Jesus, causing his immediate death and an end to his sufferings.


Picture from the Rabbula Gospels

         The traditions about Saint Longinus may thus become more relevant – was he Roman, or Jewish?  Or both?

             The earliest traditions about Longinus consistently portray him as a Roman centurion, as far as I can tell.  On that premise, the interpolation in the Alexandrian text of Matthew 27:49 was created in order to excuse the Romans.  The Romans could argue that as legitimate agents of the Roman Empire, they should be forgiven for crucifying Jesus – and, with this interpolation, offer an extra consideration:  they didn’t even allow Jesus to suffer on the cross longer than what was required to carry out the orders of Pontius Pilate – barely enough time to crucify Jesus, and enough time to allow all the bystanders to read the inscription Pilate ordered them to post on the cross, and enough time to finish gambling.

             (As it turned out, it only took Jesus six hours to suffer and die for the sins of the whole world, but the Roman soldiers couldn’t have known that.)

             I consider it very likely that John, when he wrote the fourth Gospel in Ephesus, was aware of this interpolation and either read it, or heard about it.

             Notice the explicit words of John 19:35  - “The one who saw it [i.e., John] has testified , and his testimony is true.  He knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”  What could be the motivation for such explicitness, except to respond to an interpolation that John detected in his own copy of the Gospel of Matthew, or a copy that someone had told him about?

              So:  after walking through the external and internal evidence carefully and slowly, I conclude that the words ἄλλος δὲ λαβὼν λόγχην ἔνυξεν αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὕδωρ καὶ αἷμα in the Alexandrian text (and whatever other texts) are an interpolation, and may confidently be treated as the interpolation they are.  That is, they are an interesting display of an early scribe’s concern, but as a representation of the autograph of the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew, they should be entirely ignored.


Wednesday, October 4, 2023

John 5:3b-4: Original or Not?

            Metzger’s observation that 5:3b contains two “non-Johannine” words is lightweight, considering that John had few other occasions to use either ἐκδέχεσθαι or κίνησις.

            (I commend to readers both the article written by Zane Hodges in 1979 in Bibliotheca Sacra 136, pp. 25-39, and the article by Gordon Fee which appeared in Evangelical Quarterly 54 (pp. 207-218.)              

            Before reaching a conclusion about John 5:3b, let’s investigate 5:4.  Dr. Bill Mounce addressed this variant briefly, but his treatment is extremely oversimplified.  More is required.  First, we must get an idea of how much textual variation there is within this verse.  In A K L Y Δ Π, κυρίου (ΚΥ) appears after αγγελος γαρ (or, in L, αγγελος δε).  And instead of κατέβεινεν, A K Π Ψ 579 have ἐλούετο.  And A (supported by some Bohairic manuscripts) has ουν between δήποτ’ and κατείχετο.  Instead of δήποτε, K and Π have δ’ αν.  In Cc H M U Y Δ Λ Π 078 and at least 17 lectionaries, instead of ἐτάρασσεν, the text reads ἐταράσσετο.  The Ethiopic version also supports ἐταράσσετο.   Swanson erroneously lists Δ as if it reads ἐταράσσετο and ἐτάρασσεν; a check of the manuscript show that it supports ἐταράσσε το (the το being the το before ὕδωρ).  

            Plus, in S Λ Π 047, and 72 minuscules, the passage is marked with asterisks.  The Harklean Syriac also features the verse marked with asterisks.

             The external evidence mostly aligns with the external evidence for 5:3b – but not quite. D Wsupp 33, 2718, and the Armenian and Georgian versions, which include 4:3b, do not imclude 5:4.  5:4 is supported by Tatian’s Diatessaron (as demonstrated by a comment by Ephrem in his commentary ), by Ambrose, by Tertullian, by Chrysostom (who was listed in UBS1 as a witness for both inclusion and non-inclusion), and Cyril.  

            Tertullian, in De Baptismo 5, near the end of the chapter, wrote, “If it seems an unheard-of thing that an angel should interfere with water, there was a precedent for that which was to be. The pool of Bethsaida ‘was stirred’ by the intervention of ‘an angel.’  Those who complained of their health used to watch for him. For anyone who had first descended there ceased to complain after a bath. This picture of bodily cure was prophetic of spiritual cure, according to the practice by which things carnal always precede, being a picture of things spiritual. As, therefore, the grace of God spread among men, greater power was added to the waters and the angel.”

            Tertullian goes on to say, “Those who healed bodily defects now heal the spirit.  Those who worked temporal salvation now restore for us everlasting salvation.  Those who freed one once a year, [this indicates how Tertullian understood κατά καιρόν] now daily save communities, death being destroyed by the washing away of sins.”  Tertullian clearly had no problem reading this verse and applying it to the life of the church.

            Chrysostom commented on 5:3b-4 in detail in his commentary on John, perceiving in the paralytic’s healing a thematic template of baptism and salvation. 

            Tertullian, in Latin, and Chrysostom, in Greek, demonstrate the antiquity of the passage in the text, as early as two papyri from c. 200 and c. 400 would.  Chrysostom also shows that John 5:4 was read in the text of the church in Byzantium during his bishopric.  Amphilochius of Iconium (340-403; bishop after 374) – cousin of Gregory of Nazianzus – does not include 5:4 in the text he used.  Both the non-inclusion and inclusion of 5:4 are very early readings.

            What phenomenon, occurring sometime between 90 (when the Gospel of John was written – unless John Robinson’s redating to pre-70 – in light of (among other things) 5:2 – is adopted) and 200, could elicit one transmission-stream to include John 5:4 (in the case of Tertullian’s text of John), and another transmission-stream to not include John 5:4 (in the case of P75, À, and B)? 

            I am willing to posit that an anomaly in the autograph of the Gospel of John itself elicited different treatments of John 5:3b-4.  Picture John reading chapter 5 to his listeners from the autograph for the very first time – without 5:3b-4.  Inevitably, someone would ask, “John, why were these sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed people waiting near the pool instead of swimming in its water?”  And I can imagine that John added an explanatory note in the margin, “waiting for the moving of the waters.”

            And then someone asked, “What agitated the pool’s water?”.  And John, realizing that his listeners in Ephesus were oblivious to the background of the pool at Bethesda, added another note – and thus verse 4 came into existence as a second marginal note.  When John died, the autograph was entrusted to the Christian community at Ephesus – and they treated the annotations in three different ways in the next generation:

            In the ancestor of Byzantine manuscripts, the notes were either blended into the main text (as John 21 has been), or else copies just the way they appeared in the autograph, in the margin with symbols to connect them to John 5:3-5.  In the ancestor of Alexandrian manuscripts, receiving the text of the autograph slightly later (being in Egypt, not Ephesus), the notes were assumed to have originated with someone other than John, and were therefore not considered worthy to be included in either the main text or in the margin. 

            Another consideration might have been in play in the mind of the early Alexandrian scribe who decided not to include verse 4:  a desire to protect John from the charge of promoting superstition.  A scribe who thought he knew that water in the pool of Bethesda was agitated by entirely natural forces could easily persuade himself that the marginal note in his exemplar, stating that an angel of the Lord bathed in the pool of Bethesda, could not have been written by an inspired author; in addition, he did not wish to appear to commend Asklepieions.

            The testimony of P and its relatives which have John 5:4 with asterisks commends family P as an excellent representative of the autograph of the text of the Gospels.  The form of verse 4 that appears in Codex P is the form which should be adopted, instead of the readings found in the majority of manuscripts.

            An addition question is sure to be asked:  what should English Bible editors do with John 5:3-4?  I have no objection to the inclusion of 5:3-4 in the main text, or in the margin, with a note stating that the passage appears in the margin, or not at all, in a few early manuscripts.  But to omit it entirely would guarantee that English readers would perpetually ask, as John’s first listeners did, “Why weren’t they all swimming?” or, “Who or what stirred up the waters?”

            Another question may be on the minds of some readers:  Would an inspired author expand on his own narrative in this way, adding marginalia?  I see no reason why not.  Many a Spirit-led preacher reading from a manuscript he wrote has spontaneously clarified himself mid-sermon.  Even Saint Paul, in First Corinthians 1:16, clarified that he had baptized the household of Stephanas (who, according to tradition, was the jailor in Acts 16), right after saying, “I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.”  I Cor. 1:16 may have originally been a note in the margin added by Paul as he proof-read the letter; no one at Corinth, however, would have doubted its veracity.