The nature of variants in the early New Testament manuscripts by Rudolph P.Boshoff

ancient-text1The site “Islamic Awareness” suggests that “the production of New Testament manuscripts radically changed after the persecution under Diocletian (303-305 CE) and especially after Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the empire.” [1]Another Muslim voice asserts “that the Christian Bible is swarming with errors and contradictions.”[2] Earlier I have written on the cogency of the New Testament Manuscripts as well as the quantity and quality of these variants[3] but here I would like to describe the actual nature of these variants found within the manuscripts. This is not intended to be very academic and my desire is that even non-scholarly readers would understand and appreciate this article.

We first need to look at the two kinds of differences in the manuscripts:

First we find differences that were created accidentally and secondly those who were made intentionally. Let us look at these accidental changes that we have in all majority ancient manuscripts.

Six types of accidental variations:

 

  1. Division of words (1Tim. 3:16)

Earliest non-Biblical manuscripts had no spaces between the words or sentences and it is estimated that the earliest biblical material was also written “scripto continua”[4]It is also interesting to note that the early Greek texts had no upper or lower cases in lettering as well as no punctuation up until the 9th Century A.D. To give a similar example is when we say “fatherisnowhere”. How should we interpret this “Father is now here” or “Father is nowhere”? The problem lies in the actual division of these words not in the meaning of these words. Scripturally the best example would be 1 Timothy3:16. Majority of the Greek manuscripts divide this verse as “θαηνκνινγνπκελσο κεγα” which reads “and without controversy great” but other manuscripts read “θαη-νκνινγνπκελ-σο-κεγα” which reads “and we confess how great”. Division of words like these have NO bearing on the actual rendering of the text or the foundational doctrines of Christianity.  The next type of accidental variation is called a “homo-eo-te-leuton”.

  1. Homoeoteleuton

To put it simply in the Greek this simply means “same ending”. In the copying of the earliest manuscripts scribes would skip a word or phrase with the same ending. An example of this is seen in 1 John 2:23. Most manuscripts have the following:

“παο ν αξλνπκελνο ηνλ πηνλ νπδε ηνλ παηεξα ερεη ν νκνινγσλ ηνλ πηνλ θαη ηνλ παηεξα ερεη” which reads“No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (ESV). Interestingly enough the Byzantine text family skipped the words “ν νκνινγσλ ηνλ πηνλ θαη” between the two occurrences of “ηνλ παηεξα ερεη”.

The Byzantine text which is followed by the KJV reads: “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.” The KJV, however, added the words lost due to homoeoteleuton in italics. The “loss” of words like these in the endings of any text has NO bearing on the actual rendering of the text or the foundational doctrines of Christianity. The third type of variant is what we call a “haplo-graphy”.images4

  1. Haplography

A haplography occurs when a letter or word is written once, instead of twice or more times. An example is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, where one “í n‘” is missing in some manuscripts.

We have “Δγελεζεκεν νεπηνη” which reads“instead we became little children” (1Thess. 2:7 NET) “Eγελεζεκεν επηνη” “But we were gentle” (1Thess. 2:6 KJV). The letter reads: “Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle (Some manuscripts reads “infants”) among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.”  Again it is important to note that even if certain words were written once instead of twice NONE of it had ANY bearing on the actual rendering of the text or the foundational doctrines of Christianity. The next type of variant is called a “ditto-graphy”.

  1. Dittography

A dittography occurs when a letter, word or phrase that was supposed to be written once is written twice. An example of this is found in Mark 12:27. Some manuscripts wrote the word “ζενο” translated “God” twice (see KJV). The reading is therefore as follow:

“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living” (Mark 12:27 KJV).

“He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Mark 12:27 NET).

Clearly we can see that this type of variant has NO bearing on the actual rendering of the text or the foundational doctrines of Christianity. The next type of variant is called a “Meta-thesis”.

  1. MetathesisN S

A metathesis occurs when the order of letters is changed in a word. An example of this is found in Mark 14:65. Some manuscripts read “ειαβνλ” which is translated “receive” while others have “εβαιινλ” which is translated “hid”. We find the two reading as follow:

“And the servants did strike him” (Mark 14:65 KJV).

“And the guards received him” (Mark 14:65 ESV).

Majority of these variants are vague as to the actual reading of the text. This type of variant has NO bearing on the actual rendering of the text or the foundational doctrines of Christianity. Both readings for instance does not bring to any doubt that Christ was delivered to the Roman soldiers or that He was tortured Him. The next type of variant is called an “Iota-cism”.

  1. Iotacism

An iotacism is a problem that could easily appear in the transmission of manuscripts. It could occur when a scribe writes the wrong vowel. Most of the long vowels and diphthongs were pronounced like the “iota” in Koine Greek. An example of this is found in passages in the New Testament where some manuscripts have the word “you” and others have “we” or “us”. We find the two readings as follow:

“Who has qualified you” (πκαο) (Col. 1:12 NET)

“Who has qualified us” (εκαο) (Col. 1:12 NKJ)

It is interesting to note that both “πκαο” and “εκαο” were pronounced as “imas” and therefore the vowel could easily be confused. This type of variant has NO bearing on the actual rendering of the text or the foundational doctrines of Christianity.
Now in the Second part of this study we will look at the “deliberate changes” of the manuscripts and the various reasons why this were done.

images27. Deliberate changes

There are some modifications in manuscripts that were made deliberately and it is worthy to note that it was done for various reasons:

  1. Liturgical reasons:

We find for example a “liturgical” change in Matthew 6:13 where some manuscripts add “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen” 

  1. Elucidating alterations:

We find for instance in Mark 1:2 it says “As it is written in the Prophets” (Mark 1:2 NKJ) where it is made more specific and became “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet” (Mark 1:2 NAU).

  1. Harmonious parallels:

There are some manuscripts that attempted to harmonize parallel passages in the Gospels. An example of this is found between Matthew 19:17 & Mark 10:18. Some manuscripts added the word “God” to the passage in Matthew 19:17, which is taken from Mark 10:18. It will read as follow:

“There is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt. 19:17 KJV) or “There is only one who is good” (Matt. 19:17 NET).
The text in Mark reads: “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18 NET).

It is important to know that these additions were not to change the meaning of the texts or to alter any doctrine of the Church. It was dome to bring symmetry to the reading of the overall text.

  1. Doctrinal reasons:

We find an alteration within the text to illuminate the original understanding of the text. Scribes would write little notes or footnotes on the actual manuscripts that were incorporated within transcribed text to illuminate the reading of the overall text. One of these are found in 1 John 5:7, the changes in the manuscripts were made for doctrinal reasons. A scribe added an explanatory note to his manuscripts, and it was copied into other manuscripts as part of the text.

The text reads: “For there are three that testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement” (1John 5:7-8 NET). We see the scribal note in the KJV and it reads: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one”(1John 5:7-8 KJV).
I encounter a lot of dispute around this specific text and some lament that this is evidence for clear doctrinal purposes. I would agree that within the KJV this was the reason but also need to note that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not solely based on this text. As a general rule of thumb the reader needs to understand that any Biblical Doctrine is NOT based on isolated passages but rather on the overall text.

  1. Grammatical reasons:

The last reason for some deliberate changes is for purely grammatical reasons. The major differences in the text of the New Testament, apart from 1 John 5:7-8, appear in John 7:53-8:12 and Mark 16:9-20. However, none of these passages teach a doctrine that is not taught somewhere else in the New Testament.
Due to the textual differences in manuscripts, it may be wise not to build a teaching exclusively on these texts. It is also worthy to note that as a result of the Synoptic Gospels we have no doubts concerning the validity of the text and the overall structure of the Jesus narrative.

the wooden rosary on the open Bible

the wooden rosary on the open Bible

[1] http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Mss/

[2] Corruption of the Torah, at www.islamworld.net/torah.html

[3] http://rabtessera.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-bible-now-vs-then-rudolph-p-boshoff.html

[4] http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/5Bible/TransHowDidBibleChaptersVerses.aspx

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