Lecture 32: Some Famous Textual Problems: Matthew 24:36 | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 32: Some Famous Textual Problems: Matthew 24:36

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Some Famous Textual Problems: Matthew 24:36


A. Matthew 24:32-36 

Continuing on in our session on problems of the text; this hour we are looking at Matthew 24:32-36. There is a lot of material to go through in this, so I’m going to go through some of these slides fairly quickly. You can go back and look at the material but we will not be able to discuss all of it. This is the text: now concerning that day, an hour, no one knows it; neither the angels in the heaven nor the Son, except the Father alone. This is in the midst of the Olivet Discourse where Jesus is speaking on the Mound of Olives to his disciples. He is telling them that the Son of Man, who also is the Son of God, doesn’t know the day and hour of his own return. Some important witnesses, including early Alexandrian and Western MSS, have the additional words οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός (oude ho huios, ‘nor the son’) here. Although the shorter reading (which lacks this phrase) is suspect in that it seems to soften the prophetic ignorance of Jesus, the final phrase (“except the Father alone”) already implies this. Further, the parallel in Mark 13:32 has οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, with almost no witnesses lacking the expression. Hence, it is doubtful that the absence of “neither the Son” is due to the scribes. In keeping with Matthew’s general softening of Mark’s harsh statements throughout his Gospel, it is more likely that the absence of “neither the Son” is part of the original text of Matthew, being an intentional change on the part of the author. So, is ‘nor the Son’ there or is it not there? Bart Ehrman has seen this passage as the number one most illustrious text of early orthodox corruption in the New Testament. As mentioned before, I think both the orthodox and unorthodox have corrupted the text. It isn’t nearly as much as some people would like to say. But, they may be wrong on the interpretation as to how much text has been changed. In his book, Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman says that the reason for the omission isn’t hard to postulate. If Jesus doesn’t know the future, the claim of him being a divine being is more than compromised. So, he is saying that the Christian claim that Jesus is divine is wrong. This is the most famous instance he says of doctrinal alteration by orthodox scribes in textual criticism of the New Testament. He uses this text so much in many of his writing that it almost becomes redundant.

In his book, scribes found this passage difficult, the Son of God, Jesus himself doesn’t know when the end will come. How could that be, isn’t he all-knowing? To resolve the problem, some scribes simply modified the text by taking out the words, nor the Son. Now, the angels may be ignorant but the Son of God isn’t. So, this is Ehrman talking about this especially. Here is a question to ask: what if it wasn’t the Scribes who changed the text? What if it was somebody else? That is what we are going to explore this hour.

1. External Evidence

We again begin with the external evidence and I’m doing to prejudice this against a particular reading; one that I will actually adopt. So, we will start critical analysis with the internal evidence, but here we will start with the external. In concerning the authenticity of ‘nor the Son’ is found in a number of witnesses and I will also include the church fathers in this lecture unlike I have done before now. For Codex Sinaiticus or Aleph, we have an asterisk and a superscript also. This means that the original scribe of Codex Sinaiticus did have these words, however a later scribe omitted them and a still later scribe put them back in. The most important New Testament manuscripts B and D and the most important Western, along with Old Latin; all of these had it in there. Irenaeus, a late 2nd-century church father used it in the Western text. Origen used it in the Alexandrian text and then there are manuscripts according to Jerome. Jerome had access to a lot of manuscripts because he had the power of the church in Rome behind him to produce the Vulgate. He lived in Palestine in Bethlehem and so he had access to a lot of manuscripts. He discusses this textual problem and knows of manuscripts that have oude ho huios, ‘nor the son’. In Codex Sinaiticus, you can see oude ho huios. The first corrector added the eraser dots above the words and the second corrector erased the eraser dots. It isn’t easy to see in the images I am providing. We have mentioned witnesses B and D already and there are others. Irenaeus, Western, Origen, Alexandrian and manuscripts known to Jerome. He talks about other manuscripts which also provided significant support.

a. Irenaeus, Origen, and Jerome 

So, basically, Irenaeus and Origen apparently have the reading and they show no awareness of the shorter reading. Jerome does but these two earlier people don’t show any awareness of the shorter reading. Their combined testimony suggests wide geographical distribution in the Western and Alexandrian regions from an earlier period. So, here we have these two church fathers that are very important that seem to have the longer reading in their text and they don’t show any awareness nor do they say that they are not aware of it. We just don’t see evidence of them knowing of another reading. Now, Metsker in his textual commentary published in 1971 and done again in 1990 has become the standard tools that exegetes have used when they are dealing with the exegesis of various passages. I did a little study on this particular problem going back about a hundred and fifty years to see how scholars have dealt with it. The great divide comes at two key junctures; Westcott and Hort in saying that these words were authentic and then in Bruce Metsker’s textual commentary of 1971 which really give emphatic backing especially after that second point. This is when almost every exegete said that these words were authentic. I happen to think that they are not authentic! And that Matthew probably didn’t even write them! This is what Metsker says and his opinion always carries some weight and is worth listening to. It doesn’t mean that we always agree with him though.

b. Doctrinal Difficulty

The words, neither the Son, is lacking in the majority of witnesses in Matthew including the later Byzantine texts. On the other hand, the best representatives of the Alexandrian and Western types contain the phrase. This is a little bit of a slight of hand. At first, he is saying that they are lacking in the majority but he doesn’t tell you the quality of these manuscripts and then he talks about just the quality of the manuscripts in the second one. So, he is comparing apples with oranges. But the omission of the words because of the doctrinal difficulty they present is more probable that their edition by assimilation to Mark 13:32. So, this is his first argument on the basis of internal evidence. There is a doctrinal difficulty that these scribes have to face. If you put in ‘nor the Son’, then it looks like Jesus doesn’t know the future and that is a problem for these scribes. Furthermore, with the presence of monos, for alone or only along, with the cast of the sentence as a whole, where you have, nor the Son; this belongs together as a parentheses suggest the originality of the phrase. So, this is what Metsker is arguing; he has two basic arguments, internally, that is. The first one is grammatical which strongly suggest the authenticity of the words because you have what is called pro-relative conjunctions. You have oude followed by delve; these two go together. It is both this and you know that the next conjunction has to be an ‘and’. If I say on the one hand, the next conjunction has to be on the other hand. In Greek, there would be man de. When you have this co-relative conjunction, it is a pair. It suggests that we should have ‘nor the Son.’ Metsker calls it a suggestion while Ehrman calls it a fixed rule. It isn’t a fixed rule and the suggestion is a very poor one here. Theologically, scribes would be prone to omit these offensive words more than they would be likely to harmonize this text toward the parallel in Mark 13:32.

Let’s see what exactly that parallel is in Mark 13:32. But as for the hour no one knows it – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son – except the Father. Mark ends it with except the Father. Mark doesn’t say except the Father alone. This is an important difference as we look at this later on. I am going to argue that ‘nor the Son’ in Matthew 24:36 is not authentic and that ‘neither the angels’ should be translated ‘not even’ which is pretty standard Greek. So concerning that day and time, no one knows it, not even the angels in heaven, except the Father alone. That is how we should read Matthew 24:36. There are arguments for the omission of ‘nor the Son.’ The Syriac and the Coptic is very important here. It means that in the 3rd century, in these early versions, you have the view that these words didn’t belong in Matthew’s Gospel and various parts of the world. The Vulgate with Jerome who knew about manuscripts that had the words and also manuscripts that didn’t have the words; he chose the manuscripts that didn’t have the words. He leaned toward the Alexandrian texts as opposed to the Byzantine. So this may be very significant here. The Diatessaron, the 2nd-century document that we have talked about, didn’t have the words. Yet, the Diatessaron is a harmonization of all the Gospels. Athanasius, a great church father of the 4th century and then you have manuscripts according to Didymus the blind. We have a lot of evidence on the side of the omission. The fathers who favored this omission are relatively early; Athanasius was late 3rd century representing all three major text forms.

c. Summary

So, the summary of the external evidence; the evidence is widespread early and important witnesses for the reading. But, for the omission, the evidence is widespread early and with important witnesses but it isn’t the reading of all the earliest and best Alexandrian and Western witnesses. So, I would concede that externally, ‘nor the Son’ looks to be authentic whereas the omission doesn’t. Although the external evidence is rock solid for the reading, the weight must be given to the longer reading. But the decision here is difficult; I would give it a B- rating on my scale in favor of the longer reading now.

2. Authenticity of the Shorter Reading

So, how is it possible that the shorter reading could even be authentic? I come back to Hort’s genealogical argument. He says that the Alexandrian and Western texts are the legs from which the Byzantine was based. The problem with his argument; it is a valid argument overall; but Hort has an Achilles’ heel. He talks about these genealogical relationships without having specific manuscripts in mind. He said that the Alexandrian and Western types go back to the 2nd century, but we don’t have those actual manuscripts. We do have some earlier Alexandrian manuscripts from the 2nd century but they aren’t the actual archetype that people use; they are most likely copies. In his day, he didn’t have any 2nd or 3rd century manuscripts. The 4th century was the earliest that it went to. So the best Alexandrian witnesses, both Aleph and B documents are 4th century. The best manuscripts for the Western archetypes are G and the old Latin. We don’t have that Western archetype; we are reconstructing it. This means that it is possible, even in this scenario that the Byzantine archetype of the early 4th century used better Alexandrian manuscripts than we have today and better Western manuscripts than we have today on a very rare occasion. It is theoretically possible. So, on rare occasions, the Byzantine texts can have the original wording by itself, especially when it has the shorter reading. Why is this important? The editor which I think is Lucian in the 1st decade of the 4th century; this was when the Diocletian persecution is going on. Lucien had already proven his ability as a textual scholar with the Septuagint putting these manuscripts together. Now, because of the Diocletian’s persecution of which Biblical documents were being destroyed, Lucien didn’t have the luxury of just choosing the best readings. He had to think in terms of preservation of the manuscripts. So, if the Byzantine texts originally had a shorter reading, it was because Lucien didn’t have manuscripts with the longer reading.

So, when it is supported by other earlier witnesses, the Byzantine authentic reading is even more possible and you have that with the Syriac, Coptic and Church Fathers. So, I’m saying that it is possible that the shorter reading is authentic. We can clearly see how it does that in fact and it isn’t just the
Byzantine text. There have actually been two pieces of work that argue for the authenticity of Byzantine’s short readings. One was an editor of the UBS writing an article in a Modern Greek Journey called, The Eastern Non –Tribulations and then John Wu, one of my doctoral students wrote a dissertation on the shorter Byzantine readings in the Gospels. He argued that there was only one place, Mathew 24:36 where the Byzantine text was authentic.

3. The Grammar and Theological Argument 

Metsker says that neither the angels nor the Son is a correlative thing, and Ehrman says that it is a grammatical necessity. The question that I have to ask, does it not demand a ‘nor’ afterwards? Let’s look at the counter-arguments on this. When you look at Matthew, he uses this particular conjunction oude twenty-seven times and only once does it he used it as a paired conjunction. That is a big thing. When he does this, it is only when he quotes from the Old
Testament. So, we don’t have any evidence that Matthew used the paired conjunction, the correlative conjunction oude oude as part of his stylistic writing, unless it was in Matthew 24:36, one place. Oude by itself means not or not even; the sentence makes good sense with only one oude. So, not even the angels know the day or the hour, except the Father alone. So the grammatical argument has less the zero weight; the argument is on the side of the shorter reading. In regards to the theological argument, nor the Son, would be offensive to a high Christologist. And so, most scribes omitted the words; if you say that Jesus doesn’t know, he’s the Son of God but he’s not omniscient? This is what Metsker would argue; in fact, the view is that it is far more likely that the scribes would be offended by that and they omit the words in order to harmonize this passage to Mark 13:32.

Ehrman goes so far to say that the omission is an anti-adoptionistic reading. Adoptionism was the view that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. So, they have a tendency of viewing Jesus not as fully divine. Adoptionism thrived in the late 2nd to the later 3rd century; anti-adoptionism sentiment was correspondingly vigorous during this same time. 3rd century fathers would be most likely to have altered the text that the scribes then copied. So, Ehrman says that orthodox scribes changed the text; here, we see this as an anti-adoptionist tendency and so the scribes must have taken out oude ho huios. So, the final theological argument is; how is the parallel in Mark 13:32 to be explained where the words, nor the Son, are certain? There is no question that this is original. This is the answer; Mark was copied less frequently than Matthew.

The first point: the proto-orthodox response to adoptionism would have been long after all four Gospels were considered canonical. In other words, adoptionism was thriving after the Gospels were considered to be Scripture and consequently these scribes would have copied Matthew and Mark. Why would they leave it in Mark and take it out of Matthew? Secondly, how could the proto-orthodox alter Matthew while neglecting to do so in Mark? The same manuscripts that omit the phrase had it in Mark. In Erhman’s misquoting Jesus, he never mentions the parallel in Mark, not once. He mentioned Matthew 24:36 six different times. The patristic evidence which is really remarkable; one of my interns, Adam Messer did work on the patristic evidence from Mathew 24:36 which is now a chapter in the book: Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. What he discovered was that no church father had any problem with ‘nor the Son’ until the 4th century. This was long after the adoptionist controversy was finished. This meant that the adoptionist controversy seems to be irrelevant to this textual problem. There are so many things bad about putting that forth as the idea of what is going on here.

4. Theology versus Harmonization

Now, the arguments for omitting ‘nor the Son’, the internal evidence to begin with which is theology versus harmonization. If the omission is due to anti-adoptionistic views, then it arose after all four Gospels were considered canonical which was no later than the middle of the 2nd century. Why then is ‘nor the Son’ not omitted in Mark? You have these same scribes who copied Matthew also copied Mark. Secondly, harmonization sometimes trumps theology even in the sense that Matthew harmonizes toward Mark at times. That is what seems to be what the scribes would do; they would change Matthew to harmonize it to Mark about twenty-five percent of the time. They would even do so when the theology ends up looking like it isn’t quite as solid and clear. A classic example is Mark 10 and Matthew 19, where in Mark 10:17-18 you have the rich young ruler coming to Jesus saying, ‘good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus replied, why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ Now in Matthew’s Gospel, I said that Mark’s Gospel is dialogical; he wants you to come to wrestle with who Jesus is and have ownership of your beliefs about him. Matthew’s Gospel is pedagogical, saying that this is what you must believe about him. Instead of the rich young ruler calling Jesus good teacher, he just calls him teacher and the word ‘good’ now goes with the thing, ‘what good thing must I do to have eternal life?’ Jesus doesn’t say why you call me good but why you ask me about the good. Then he says that only one is good. I take it that what Matthew has done is that he has shifted some things around so that it doesn’t look as if Jesus is denying his own deity. I think what Jesus is essentially saying, ‘do you have any idea what you are saying? Do you realize that if you are going to call me good, you are saying that I am the Holy One? I am God, himself. Are you prepared to go there? If you are, then you need to listen to every single thing that I say because your eternal salvation depends on it.’ I think that is where Mark is going with this.

In Matthew, when the rich young ruler calls him teacher, obviously he isn’t a bad teacher. So, the idea is still there. When he says what good thing must I do to have eternal life; that is not much different from him saying in Mark, what must I do to have eternal life? It isn’t a bad thing to have eternal life. Matthew has changed the text but he hasn’t changed the fundamental meaning of it. He has softened some of these issues that looked as if it was impugning the character of Jesus. Here, we have Matthew’s Gospel changing toward Mark because Luke also has the same wording as Mark. It was the Byzantine scribes who changed the text of Matthew so that it now conforms to the text of Mark. Byzantine scribes were those early orthodox scribes that always move things toward a clean orthodoxy; they are making Matthew say the same as Mark’s Gospel says. Sometimes harmonization trumps theological issues. Here are
other arguments for omitting ‘nor the Son’ and other issues about internal evidence. I think this issue is simply ignored; the problem of Matthew’s monos, the word ‘alone’ for scribal corruptions. Why did the scribes leave ‘alone’ alone? If these same scribes had a problem with ‘nor the Son’, then why would they say ‘and only the Father alone?’ When they say, ‘not even the angels, except the Father,’ like Mark for he doesn’t add the work alone. What Matthew does by adding alone makes implicit the fact that only the Father knows this. While in Mark’s Gospel, by saying ‘nor the Son’ makes it explicit that only the Father knows this. Would Matthew leave ‘alone’ in the text? We will see how we compare this.

One of the interesting things that we do in thinking about textual criticism and its relation to redaction criticism, you see it has these synoptic Gospels that deal with Jesus. In every single parallel between Matthew and Mark, Matthew’s Christology is on the same level as Mark’s or even higher. It is more explicitly an affirmation of what we have come to believe about Jesus in orthodox circles. It doesn’t mean that it changes the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel, but he is presenting this again in a pedagogical way. In Mark’s Gospel, we have the Spirit drove Jesus to the wilderness but in Matthew, the Spirit led him into the wilderness. This speaks of his will; was he resisting or was his will in line with God? In Mark 2:26 it was when Abiathar was high priest and in Matthew 12:4, it was when Ahimelech was the priest. So, this deals with Jesus’ knowledge. Was he correct here? In Mark 3:10, it says that Jesus healed many, but the
parallel in Matthew 12:10, it says that Jesus healed them all. So, again, this speaks of his power. Wherever Mark deals with the power of the Lord, Matthew makes a stronger statement than Mark does in terms of affirming these things. In Mark 5:30-32, the woman with the hemorrhage of blood. She touches his garment and Jesus said, ‘who touched me?’ Mark said that power went out from him. Both of those points are omitted in Matthew. In Mark 6:5, Jesus wasn’t able to do any miracles in his own hometown. Matthew 13:58, he didn’t do many miracles. One speaks of ability and the other speaks of willingness. In Mark 6:6, Jesus was amazed at their unbelief, but Matthew omits this: why? It may impugn his knowledge. To be amazed means that you learn something that suddenly you weren’t ready for. The healing of the blind man in Mark 8 where Jesus had to spit in his face, but this doesn’t quite work so he has to put spit on his eyes to heal them. Matthew omits this entirely. This sounds as if Jesus’ power isn’t enough to do the job the first time.

There are very important reasons why these things are in Mark’s Gospel, but Matthew omits them. What we have is that Matthew never has a lower Christology in relation to Mark when it comes to Jesus’ holiness, his will, his power and knowledge and emotions. Disciples derived authority from Jesus or the worship of Jesus; never. It is unless oude ho huios in Matthew 24:36 is authentic. So, here is the verdict: it was Matthew, not later scribes who omitted, ‘nor the Son’ from his Gospel but he added a word that says the same thing and that was ‘alone’. You don’t get this in Mark. What Matthew does implicitly is what Mark does explicitly. At the least, the plausibility of Matthew rather than the Scribes omitting the phrase calls into question Bart Ehrman’s claims of extensive and significant pro-orthodox corruption of Scripture. This is something that goes back to the very beginning of the evangelist himself, not the scribe. This is Ehrman’s prime example of how the orthodox have changed the text and I don’t think that is was the orthodox that did it at all. And yet, if Matthew changed the text, he nevertheless retained the gist of what the Lord said. There the Gospel writers may change the words of Jesus, but they still retain the gist of what he said and that is exactly what I think we have here.

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