Lecture 31: Some Famous Textual Problems (Part 3) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 31: Some Famous Textual Problems (Part 3)

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Some Famous Textual Problems (Part 3)


A. 1st Timothy 3:16

This is our third session on famous textual problems and we are going to look at two passages together. First, 1st Timothy 3:16 and then John 1:18; in the KJV of 1st Timothy 3:16 there is an affirmation of Jesus as God, then in John 1:18 there isn’t one in the KJV, but there is one in most modern translations. We are going to do a comparison of this, especially in light of the frequent comment that the KJV advocates say for the modern translations that it denies the deity of Christ or it dilutes it and chips away at these versions. When the reality is, we are simply trying to base what we see on the evidence. 1st Timothy 3:16 according to the KJV, ‘and without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.’ Modern translations have ‘he was revealed in the flesh.’ Manifest and revealed is the same thing. ‘He was vindicated by the Spirit,’ which is quite different and then, ‘seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’ There are fundamentally two differences here. Not only is there a difference between God and he but it is also how I formatted them. The KJV is written as prose while modern translations have this verse as poetry. This is actually a significant issue in how we deal with the textual problem.

1. The Internal Evidence and Transcriptional Probability

Is it possible that there is an unintentional change? In the Majuscule text, the word for ‘who’ is the word ‘hos’ in the Greek but in the majuscule text it looks like an ‘oc’. The word for God in Greek is theos, but in the earlier manuscripts, it was written as a sacred name and it would have been written differently. You can change a hos to a theos in two strokes. So, I can change ‘who’ and say that Jesus is God if I put a bar over it and also in the middle. So, it is possible that we have an unintentional change, but in what direction? Both of these are equally possible as we are talking about this as being unintentional, but what about an intentional change? Hos to theos; there are grammatical reasons why a scribe would change this. The fundamental reason is that, they don’t recognize this as poetry; they say who is the one, but they are starting out with relative pronoun. So, how does it fit in here? Why don’t you say he or God, it is literally who, not he was manifested in the flesh but it was who was manifested in the flesh. You don’t normally start sentences with a relative pronoun in Greek. So there are grammatical reasons to change it to theos. Dean Burgan, the Oxford graduate who was cantankerous and really argued against Westcott and Hort’s text. He wrote an entire article on 1st Timothy 3:16 and how these Alexandrian manuscripts butchered the text and had no grammatical sense whatsoever to them by having hos; it didn’t fit at all in the passage. The problem with what he was saying is two-fold: first, the Alexandrian manuscripts were produced in a part of the world where they appreciated literature more than anywhere else in the ancient Mediterranean world. If they are going to butcher the text, it isn’t because these scribes are doing it on their own but it is because that is what they see in the manuscript they are copying. It has a strong antecedent probability of having been there.

But there was a doctrinal reason why it would have been changed; as the early church began to recognize the divinity of Jesus, they could change the text in some places where it would be very easy to do. This was the easiest one to change by changing who into God by adding two stokes. So, the possibility of intentional changes is fairly strong. Intrinsically, there is not much in terms of the context; you could go in either direction, but in terms of style, this could go either way. Paul only rarely called Jesus God; he does it in Titus 2:13 and we will talk about that at the end of this lecture, but in terms of style and context, we have got a matter of poetry here. Ancient Greek poetry often starts with a relative pronoun where you normally put a regular pronoun. It would be the difference between hos and thotos. It is the difference between who and he. Everybody translates this as he was manifest or he was revealed in the flesh; but the Greek literally says ‘who was manifest in the flesh. We don’t use sentences like that in modern English, nor do they do that in Greek, unless it is poetry for the most part. It is interesting here, as you go through the New Testament, you can find a number of places where the beginning verse starts out with this relative pronoun that is in Greek. Philippians 2:6 is the beginning of a hymn; it goes from 2:6 through 11 and is known as the common Christi, the hymn to Christ. It starts out with a relative pronoun hos or who but we don’t translate it that way. Romans 4:25 is one of the most notoriously difficult verses to interpret because of the prepositions are used there. The problem is reading it as prose, but if it is poetry, we can understand it better. There is a double use of what is called the di-ah preposition where one of them is used in sense other that how it is normally used. Why? It is because Paul is trying to keep the meter going. What I mean by that; Greek poetry wasn’t done by rhyming but by metric considerations.

One of the fascinating things, where we have detected poetry in the New Testament, is precisely where we have some of the more difficult exegetical problems. The reason is because metric considerations sometimes trump clarity of argument. One of the things scholars have done a poor job on is distinguishing hymns from creeds. A creed is meant to be a doctrinal statement that is very precise. A hymn is meant to be the language of worship; the language of your heart. A creed is the language of mind. When we don’t make that distinction, then we will have some problems. This is the same in the modern world. When Charles Wesley wrote, he emptied himself of all but love; talking about the Common Christi. Is that theologically accurate? If that were a creed, we would have some serious problems with what Westley is doing. The Christology of Wesley was fine; he didn’t mean that Jesus changed in his divine attributes. He was just trying to make it rhyme in the language of worship.

Dean Burgan called the Alexandrian readings an atrocious piece of grammar. He didn’t understand that this was poetry which made things different. So, frequently in the New Testament and also Proverbs, you have a line of poetry that begins with a relative pronoun where we would use the personal pronoun in its place. Colossians 1:15 is another great hymn that starts off that way and Hebrews 1:3 as well. I would give the internal grade for the hos or the he as an A minus. I think that it is fairly compelling.

2. External Evidence 

So, externally, we have Byzantine manuscripts that have God which is predictable. The best Alexandrian manuscripts have ‘who’ or we translate ‘he’ with some being corrected by a later hand. Aleph A and C, all are corrected by a later hand which shows how easy this was to change the text. Codex A which was given to King Charles in 1627 by Cereal Lurker the patriarch of Constantinople; Codex A was difficult to read at this verse that at one point; in fact today, it has been rubbed so many times right at this letter by scholars who have looked at it over the centuries; over the last four hundred years, we can’t tell what it originally said. But in the 17th century, Vetchstine looked at it and said that the original hand of Codex A had hos, not theos. So, we have some extremely important manuscripts; codex B doesn’t read in the Pastoral Epistles. So we have some important manuscripts that have ‘who’ here and the Western manuscripts are fascinating. The Western manuscripts in the Latin have ‘which’. Does this come from ‘who’ or from ‘God’? So, what the Western manuscripts were able to do, was change this to the neuter relative pronoun coming from the masculine. It shows that this is the reading of the Western Text in the early 2nd century. Once you get the text translated into the foreign languages, they often don’t go back and look at the Greek again. They have their own independent history. So, if I have all those old Latin manuscripts agreeing with each, I can say that the archetype of the Western text deep in the 2nd century must have had a ‘who’ or ‘which’ and that is exactly what we get in the Greek manuscripts of the Western text. We get ‘hau’ which is a relative pronoun, a neuter one from hos which doesn’t come from theos. What I am saying, all of this evidence combined, show externally that ‘he’ was the originally wording as opposed to ‘God’.

It is clearly authentic and confirmed by the external and internal evidence; the use of God is an early orthodox corruption. This is one place where I think this scribe has changed the text; how early? Well, maybe not quite that early. ‘He’ does not deny Christ’s deity. God affirms Christ’s deity, but the use of ‘he’ doesn’t deny it. For King James only people to say that this takes away the deity of Christ in the Bible! Are you kidding me? If you stripped out every explicit reference of Jesus as God, you couldn’t get rid of his deity. The Spirit of God has so superintended over the writing of Scripture and the transmission of it, that I have been able to show JW’s in the New World translation that Jesus is God. The whole of the New Testament smells of his divinity; this is incredible and awesome, even if it isn’t sometimes explicitly stated. The major text for the King James advocates is 1st Timothy 3:16. This is one of the most important texts and yet they claim that modern translations deny Christ’s divinity which isn’t really the case.

B. John 1:18 

We are going to compare that to this other passage of John 1:18. In many modern translations, no one has ever seen God; the unique one, himself God is in the closest fellowship with the Father has made God known. Or in the RSV which is similar to the King James Version, no one has ever seen God, the only Son who is in the Bosom of the Father, has made him known. The RSV has been condemned as a liberal translation and yet it follows the King James Variant. The textual problem μονογενὴς θεός (monogenēs theos, “the only God”) versus ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (ho monogenēs huios, “the only son”) is a notoriously difficult one. So, it is the unique one, himself God verses the one and only Son. So we have an adjective but like all adjectives, this adjective can function like a noun. It is like when Jesus says, blessed are the poor; poor is an adjective. He means the poor people. So, here an adjective is functioning substantially and that is going to become a major issue as we look at this textual problem. So, monogenēs huios is translated as the unique Son or the one and only son, but monogenēs theos is translated as the unique one, himself God. Basically, I am taking it with that one as a substance of itself, the unique one, God, so those two words are in apposition rather than monogenēs modifying it.

The translations that have God are the NET Bible, the NIV, the TNIV, the ESV, and the NISV and the NASB. Those that have Son are the KJV, the Revised Version of 1881. That was the one that Westcott and Hort had a major effect on. There is the ASV of 1901 and the RSV of 1952 and HCSB for Southern
Baptists today and the Revised English Bible which was done by Anglicans in 1989. It is an interesting split; it isn’t the King James against the world as a lot of modern translations have Son here as well.

1. The Internal Evidence and Transcriptional Probability 

Is it possible that there is an unintentional error? Well, it’s possible but it really depends on Nomnia Sacra having either theos or huios. This is something while I was in the seminary master’s program I thought a scribe could have easily made a mistake as there is only a single letter difference. Remember that Nomnia Sacra are contractions or abbreviations of sacred names. The first word there would have been God while the second one would have been Son. It is a single letter difference which doesn’t look at all alike, but I thought it was a possibility. The problem here is that the earliest Nomnia Sacra we know of were God, Christ, Lord, and Jesus, but not the word Son. What does that tell us; it is much more difficult to make an unintentional error. Theos would have been abbreviated but huios would have been written out fully. And so, some scribe comes along and says that it will be much more of an intentional change, not an unintentional one. So if Theos is clearly a 2nd century reading, then accidental error is ruled out.

Thinking in terms of intentional errors; nowhere else does John say, the only one, and followed by God. Never does he use monogenēs followed by the word, God, directly. The three times he says the one and only Son is John 3:16 and John 3:18 of which John 3:16 was very popular in the ancient world also. The third is in John 4:9. Do you think scribes wouldn’t know about those texts? Even though it happens infrequently, we all know about the only begotten Son of God. We know that from John 3:16 from the King James Bible. That is another issue; how do you translate monogenēs, is it only begotten or unique one? That is an issue of translation, not of text. So John 3:16 would have been important in the scribe’s mind. A lot of these scribes were deacons and in the ancient church, frequently to become a deacon, you had to have memorized the Gospel of John. In reciting the whole Gospel showed that you were pious about your faith. Today, that would make our church leadership shrink fairly significantly! So, the text isn’t changed in John 3:16 in the manuscripts or John 3:18 or 1st John 4:9. If the original wording in John 1:18 was monogenēs huios, why was it changed here, but not in John 3:16, and not in John 3:18 and 1st John 4:9. It doesn’t make any sense. But, if the original wording was monogenēs theos, the unique one, himself God, here but in the other places, it is the unique Son, it makes perfectly good sense why scribes would change God to Son here.

It is also possible that the grammar may have been misunderstood. Some scribes may have read monogenēs theos with monogenēs as functioning in a way that modifies theos. This is what Bart Ehrman strongly argues, saying, when is an adjective ever used substantiality? When it immediately precedes a noun of the same inflection; I know of no evidence and no parallels to John 1:18; this is the only place that this would happen and consequently it is not original. His point is that, if you have an additive like monogenēs plus a noun like theos with matching case, gender, and number which has to have concord in  Greek, then the adjective always modifies that noun. So, if that was here, then the translation would be the one and only God. So, the point is, if Jesus is called the one and only God, then who is the Father? This was heresy. So, Ehrman says that it wasn’t the original reading; he actually goes with the wording, Son, here. He writes this very well as he continues; the result in taking the term monogenēs theos as two substantives standing in apposition, the unique one, himself God, makes for a nearly impossible syntax. In other words, you never have an adjective followed by a noun where that adjective doesn’t modify that noun. Whereas anything but the relationship of an adjective and noun, this creates an impossible sense; one is a problem for grammar and the other is a problem of theology. To the best of my knowledge, no one has cited anything analogist outside of this passage, when an adjective is followed by a noun or the adjective doesn’t modify it. So, I know that this is a grammatical argument. Frankly, Ehrman is simply wrong; there are several places where an adjective agrees completely in this concord with a noun that immediately follows and yet that adjective doesn’t modify the noun. I found many of those places while reading through the text one day; it isn’t hard to find.

A classic example is 2nd Peter 2:5 that God preserved the eighth, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. An eighth is an adjective and has complete concord with Noah. Does that mean that God preserved eight people called Noah? According to Ehrman, the grammar must require this, or did God preserve an eighth person, apposition, Noah. It is just like the unique one, himself, God, it’s exact parallel in terms of what we have in John 1:18. Secondly, within the context monogenēs is already used in John 1:14 and there it is used substantiality as the unique one. So John is giving us a clue that I am going to use it the same way here. We have the unique one himself, God. But it is just ambiguous enough that scribes may have misunderstood and thus they would have changed the text to Son. I would give this a grade of B on my scale for God.

2. External Evidence 

The Alexandrian manuscripts are fairly solid here; there is P66 and P75 and B and C. Notice that I didn’t list Codex Sinaiticus; that will be listed in the next section. This is because Sinaiticus is Western in the first eight chapters of John. So, why would Sinaiticus be Western there? I think we covered this earlier in the course. I have confused you enough in this long course of studies so I will not discuss it again here. When codex B and P75 agree, I don’t think there are more than a dozen places where the readings are incorrect. I would say that those two together tells us about an early tradition going back deep into the 2 nd century of a very carefully produced text. And when P66 agrees with them, our earliest manuscript for this passage in John; this creates a three-fold cord that isn’t easily broken. In terms of the Wester manuscripts, D is missing as it is a fragmentary manuscript. The Old Latin has Son but Sinaiticus is Western in John 1-8. So now you have a Western split here and it reads ‘God’ just like the Alexandrian manuscripts do. That is very significant; the Byzantines have Son in terms of geographical distribution. Early church fathers have both readings, so it is very widespread. So, I would say that God is a much better reading because of the Alexandrian solidarity. I would give it a B+ on my scale. There is some doubt about it because of the Old Latin associated with it.

The Conclusion is that the reading, the unique one, himself God is almost surely the authentic text and the best way to translate John 1:18. The implications is that here we have a strong affirmation of Christ’s deity where the King James instead has Son, not God. Now let’s put these two passages together: John 1:18 and 1st Timothy 3:16 and Christ’s divinity. Do modern translations deny the deity of Christ? Not anymore than the Kind James Version of the Bible. This is both in text and translation; the King James Bible affirms Christ’s deity less than most modern translations. The opposite is true in regards to the modern translations and the deity of Christ. In Titus 2:13 and 2nd Peter 1:1; the King James says looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. So it is the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. Here it looks like to be different people. Most modern translations say ‘the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.’ Here our great God and Savior is one person. So, the King James isn’t as clear on the deity of Christ as modern translations are. The same kind of construction is in 2nd Peter 1:1 in the rich knowledge of God and our Savior Jesus Christ or the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. The terms “God and Saviour” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. In fact, the construction occurs elsewhere in 2 Peter, strongly suggesting that the author’s idiom was the same as the rest of the NT authors’

C. Modern Translations and the Affirmation of the Deity of Christ

D.A. Carlson’s debate which was published in 1979 by Baker on page 64 has a chart showing translations that affirm the deity of Christ. In these various passages: John 1:1, John 1:18, Acts 20:28, Romans 9:5, 2 nd Thessalonians 1:12, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8 and 2nd Peter 1:1. The King James Bible affirms the deity of Christ explicitly in four of these passages. In looking at the Revised Version, it confirms the deity of Christ in six of these passages. The Revised Version was done in 1881 and that is the one that Dean Burgan criticized for not affirming the deity of Christ. Then the Revised Standard Version in 1952 does it every bit as much as the Kings James Bible. The New English Bible in 1970, an Anglian translation also does it every bit as much as the King James Version. Mafitt, a liberal scholar, still affirms the deity of Christ in one verse. Good-speed, also a well-known liberal scholar does it three times. Today’s English version drops the blood of Christ so many times, but affirms the deity of Christ in five of these passages. The NIV does it seven times; it affirms the deity of Christ seven times. So, it is fallacious to say that the King James Bible is the only Bible that is correct and the only one that affirms the deity of Christ, but we see that modern translations affirm the deity of Christ even more.

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