Friday, June 10, 2011

Surprising Examples of Textual Stability


I am sometimes surprised at where there is little or no variation in the New Testament Greek manuscript tradition. In preparing the CNTTS exegetical-textual commentary, I came across two such examples in 1 Pet 3.

I preface the first one by asking you to think about the sayings dealing with Jesus ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand. At the right hand of whom? I suspect that most people would answer, “…at the right hand of the Father.”

In actuality, of the 14 New Testament passages which make such an assertion, none say the Father. Usually, we read “right hand of God” or “right hand of power.” Our memory is probably influenced by the Apostle’s Creed which reads, “He ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

I expected interference from the Apostle’s Creed to be evident in the manuscript tradition for 1 Pet 3:22. Surprisingly, one can search very deeply in the Greek manuscript tradition and not find such evidence. In the 14 New Testament passages, I found only one manuscript which reflects the wording of the Apostle’s Creed (right hand of the Father). It is the largely unknown 15th century ms 1751.

My search included the very detailed apparatuses of Editio Critica Maior (ECM) and of the Center for New Testament Textual Studies for all 14 passages. I don’t know how many total manuscripts this involved—surely hundreds, but only the one cited above showed influence from the Apostle’s Creed.

The second reading which surprisingly lacks variation is the end of 1 Pet 3:21 which refers to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I expected numerous reverential expansions such as “Jesus Christ our Lord” or “our Lord and Saviour” or even “our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (etc.). As it turns out, of all the many manuscripts scoured by ECM, there is only a 14th century manuscript which expands the text at all, and only minimally so: “Jesus Christ our Lord” (629, which is idiosyncratic elsewhere).

These two examples make me more cautious in assuming scribal accretions.


  1. James,

    A few years ago I did my MA dissertation looking at the tramsission of 1 Peter 3:18 - 4:6 using the ECM. I was expecting to find some interesting variant readings, espcially given the less than easy interpretation of 3:19. However, I did not find many scribal accretions or alterations.

    Before then I had read exciting books books about orthodox corruptions, living texts, creative scribes, etc., but I did not find much evidence of these things in the 11 verses that I examined. I was also surprised by the stability of the text.


  2. Barbara Aland specifically noted the textual stability (her term being "tenacity") among the MSS that represent the Byzantine Textform in relation to Jas.2:18. Byz there reads EK TWN ERGWN MOU, while NA27 reads CWRIS TWN ERGWN.

    Yet she draws the wrong conclusion by presuming that the supposedly "more difficult" reading EK (in fact, according to her judgment, a blatantly erroneous reading) illustrates a scenario of "tenacity of error" amid vast textual dominance.

    One would think, however, that if the supposedly "erroneous" reading had been introduced by scribal error (attraction to immediate context, or the like), that the presumed "difficulty" would have caused scribes to seek out a clearer reading from earlier MSS in order to correct and preserve a more understandable and less difficult form of text.

    Such in fact would represent a true concept of "tenacity" that would override a "more difficult" reading amid the overall MS base. Certainly, the clearly "smoother" and "easier" CWRIS -- had it previously prevailed -- would have been far more attractive to the vast bulk of scribes than the difficult yet tenacious EK in this context.

    But the "tenacity" (and hence the "stability" of the text in this location is clearly on the opposite pole, and this raises genuine questions regarding the significance of both "tenacity" and overall textual stability stemming from the beginning of the tranmissional process.