Thursday, December 05, 2019

A positive use of patristic evidence

Elsewhere, I’ve written about some limits of patristic evidence, but in this post, I want to give a positive example of how it can be used.

At James 5:4, the vast majority of manuscripts have ἀπεστερημένος (defraud, deprive of), but the earliest extant manuscripts (Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) have ἀφυστερημένος (withhold). In context, there is not much difference, and the two readings differ only with regard to two letters, -πε- or -φυ-. Still, there are only three Greek New Testament manuscripts extant for this part of James before the 9th century, and they are divided. Codex Alexandrinus supports ἀπεστερημένος, and this is the reading adopted by the Tyndale House Greek New Testament.

As it happens, Didymus the Blind cites James 5:4 in his Commentary on Genesis, and in his citation, he has ἀπεστερημένος (with the majority of manuscripts). I came across the quote when looking at Mike Arcieri’s McGill PhD dissertation on Didymus. That would be early support for ἀπεστερημένος, roughly contemporary with the earliest Greek manuscripts of James, but even if this was not Didymus’ text, this particular citation is still valuable.

When I checked the SC edition of Didymus, I noticed that it was edited from one of the Tura Papyri (Brent Nongbri has some helpful information on the Tura Papyri here). Specifically, Codex IV of the Tura Papyri contains Didymus’ Commentary on Genesis, and it dates to the 6th or 7th century.

The significance here is that regardless of what Didymus’ text of James 5:4 actually was (that is, even if we take a hyper-skeptical position that the Tura Papyrus does not give us Didymus’ text of James 5:4), we still have a witness to ἀπεστερημένος in James 5:4 from the 6th or 7th century, because that is the age of the manuscript of Didymus’ Commentary on Genesis that has the citation of James 5:4. This witness pre-dates the vast majority of Greek manuscripts of James from the 9th century and later. Admittedly, not by much, and admittedly, Codex Alexandrinus is still the earliest support for ἀπεστερημένος, but we no longer have a gap between the 5th and 9th centuries in which there are no witnesses to James 5:4.


  1. Hello,

    I have a couple of silly questions (as a non-scholar curious about NT textual criticism):

    Could Didymus' text have been using Codex Alexandrinus as its reference? If so, is it still a valuable witness?

    How do scholars judge between direct quote and paraphrase in patristic writings?


    1. Hi Nemo, thanks. Didymus himself (4th century) pre-dates Codex Alexandrinus (5th century), so dependence couldn't have been in that direction, though the manuscript of Didymus dates later.

      On how to judge between direct quotes and paraphrase, that can be difficult depending on where on the spectrum between exact citation and loose allusion the reference falls. Carroll Osburn defined some categories the following way in 2005:

      "Citation. A verbally exact quotation, whether it corresponds entirely (for very brief instances) or largely (for longer instances), and whether made from a text or from memory, often having an introduction and always having an explicit or implicit cue to the reader that it is intended as a deliberate citation.
      Adaptation. A quotation from a recognizable text, often without an introductory formula, in which much of the lexical and syntactical structure of the text is preserved and woven unobtrusively into the patristic context, reflecting intent to cite, but which is adapted to the patristic context and/or syntax in less important portions of the text.
      Allusion. A reference to the content of a certain biblical passage in which some verbal or motif correspondence is present, but reflecting intent to give only the gist of the text rather than to cite.
      Reminiscence. A clear reference to a particular biblical text, but lack- ing significant verbal content and reflecting no intent to cite; an echo of a biblical text that has little or no sustained verbal correspondence to the text.
      Locution. The use of biblical language in a more general way that cannot be identified with a specific text."

      Source: Osburn, Carroll. “Methodology in Identifying Patristic Citations in NT Textual Criticism.” Novum Testamentum 47, no. 4 (2005): 313–43.

    2. Dr. Hixson,

      Thank you for the reply. I have a couple of follow-up questions:

      If one can establish a dependency between two manuscripts, either on each other or on an earlier manuscript, doe it make the manuscript less valuable than an independent witness?

      In his article, did Osburn categorize all known patristic references under the categories he defined? If so, what's the percentage of references that fall into each?

  2. This is a great observation. It reminds me of a similar example that IIRC Steven Carlson pointed out (perhaps on this blog, but I forget), which is that there is a fragment of Irenaeus dating to around AD 200 which includes a quotation from Matthew, and that is the oldest physical manuscript containing that verse of Matthew. I don't recall if there were any textual variants at play in that case though.

    In the case of that Irenaeus fragment, the fact that it's so remarkably close in time to the autograph of the work of Irenaeus makes it considerably more likely that the text of Matthew it has is the same as what Irenaeus himself had.

    1. Here are some details about the Irenaeus fragment, including a nice photograph in the wikipedia article on it.

    2. There's quite a few interesting things about the Irenaeus fragment. Firstly is its palaeographical dating to around 200 CE, or practically 20 years from the 180 CE publication of Irenaeus' "Against Heresies." Though cf. Brent Nongbri for doubts about such narrow and precise dating for papyri.

      Secondly is that you're right about the Matthew 3:16-17 being the earliest known citation (assuming palaeographical dating of papyrus is correct) of said passage at the time; however Papyrus 101 (P. Oxy. 4401) is possibly either contemporaneous or earlier than the Irenaeus papyrus (though, cf. again considerations for the dating of papyri).

      Thirdly are the textual variants it supports in Matt 3:16-17:

      ἀνεῴχθησαν οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν τὸ πν(εῦμ)α τοῦ θ(εο)ῦ καταβαῖνον ὡς περιστερὰν καὶ ἐρχόμενον εἰς αὐτόν·
      καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λέγουσα· σὺ εἶ ὁ υ(ἱό)ς μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα

      Notice the ὡς instead of ὡσεὶ in v16; and σὺ εἶ instead of Οὗτός ἐστιν in v17. Both of these were readings found only in D (Bezae) at the time. P101 is an early witness to ὡς instead of ὡσεὶ too.

      Unfortunately the NT VMR room isn't working for me, so can't see if there's any other manuscripts with the same reading. :)

    3. NTVMR has been down for several days, anyone know when it will be back up?

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. For what it's worth, when I checked NTVMR two weeks ago, there are 14 manuscripts containing Matt3:16-17 dated to the first eight centuries (listed below in chronological order with their doc id, ga number). Perhaps you can track down the manuscripts from other sources.
      40627,l 627,VIII
      41602,l 1602,VIII

    6. Anonymous,

      I asked Greg Paulson via e-mail that very question and he said it will be back up as soon as possible.

      I am going through VMR withdrawal, and am getting by on the wiki pages and the CSNTM.

    7. 10101,P101,III = Papyrus 101
      20001,01,IV = Codex Sinaiticus
      20003,03,IV = Codex Vaticanus
      20032,032,IV = Codex Washingtonanius
      20004,04,V = Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus
      20005,05,V = Codex Bezae
      20024,024,VI = Codex Guelferbytanus A
      20042,042,VI = Codex Purpureus Rossanensis
      20007,07,VIII = Codex Basilensis
      20019,019,VIII = Codex Regus
      20047,047,VIII = Codex 047
      20233,0233,VIII = Uncial 0233
      40627,l 627,VIII = Lectionary 627
      41602,l 1602,VIII = Lectionary 1602

      None of these (other than Papyrus 101, and of course Bezae, as mentioned earlier) supports the readings of P.Oxy. 402 or Codex Bezae. Thanks for the helpful list, though! :)

    8. Forgot to mention one more thing interesting about the Irenaeus papyrus: 'tis written on a roll, as opposed to a codex.

    9. Walch,

      Nice team work, wouldn't you say? :)

      If you want to be thorough, there are 400 manuscripts with Mat. 3:16-17 dated all the way up till the 17th century.


    10. Aye, excellent teamwork there, Nemo :)

      As for checking the other 400... I'll leave that to the textual critics ;)

  3. PG,
    How is it HYPER-skeptical l to believe that a reference to a text of the 4th century by the 6th or 7th century has been conformed to A or the emerging BT?
    Also, how does a citation not in a continuous Greek manuscript give us any idea what the actual underlying citation was? Wouldn’t a commentator be most familiar with the text which he was most likely using, again the BT. I have read your response to Nemo based on Osborn, but find his distinctions quite subjective.

    1. Please note what I actually said: "...even if we take a hyper-skeptical position that the Tura Papyrus does not give us Didymus' text of James 5:4". I did not say what Didymus' text might be if that position is assumed, only that the position would assume that a manuscript of Didymus does not preserve his text (another hypothetical might be that Didymus never quoted James there and that the entire verse was added by a later copyist). This is the difficulty of patristic citations—were the copyists simply copying the manuscript of the commentary (thus retaining the text of the person whose work they copied), or were they messing with the text when making copies? Feel free to read more discussions about those categories though if you are unsatisfied with Osburn's definitions. I only intended to give a brief explanation and point to one example of further reading for those interested.

    2. EH,
      Sorry about missing you as author, my bad.
      Second, I did read what you said, which seems to me to be making a value judgement about a certain position on Patristic citation. Your response highlights the actual point I was making about the use of Patristic sources.

  4. Is the SC edition of Didymus approved by G. Fee as a proper critical edition?