Monday, August 15, 2022

Montoro: Preferring the Longer Reading at Matthew 5:21–22


The following is a guest post from Peter Montoro who is working on a PhD at the University of Birmingham on the NT text of Chrysostom.

Recently, as I was preaching through the Gospel of Matthew in our church, I came to Matthew 5:21–22, which reads as follows in the THGNT:  

Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρήθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις· οὐ φονεύσεις· ὃς δ’ ἂν φονεύσῃ, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει· ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ· ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ· μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.

This is not Peter Montoro
As is well known, a large number of Greek manuscripts read εἰκῆ, “without a cause” or “without true right,” before the second instance of ἔνοχος ἔσται. Based on the agreement of 01/03 (and most likely P64), most modern editors (including the THGNT and the NA28) have omitted εἰκῆ in 5:22. The presumed reasoning, explicit in many commentaries, is that the addition of εἰκῆ is a softening and theologically motivated addition to the text, an “orthodox corruption” as it were. Metzger, for example, has this to say in his textual commentary:  

Although the reading with εἰκῇ is widespread from the second century onwards, it is much more likely that the word was added by copyists in order to soften the rigor of the precept, than omitted as unnecessary.

However, based on patristic discussion of the variant in Origen and Jerome (as found in Amy Donaldson’s excellent dissertation), a motivated reading seems to have been far more likely in the other direction—it was the suggestion that some anger might be permissible that Origen and Jerome found to be problematic, not the reverse. See for example, this discussion by Origen: 

Since some think that anger sometimes occurs with good reason because they improperly add to the Gospel the word ‘without cause’ in the saying, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement’ (Matt. 5:22)—for some have read, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother without cause’—let us convince them of their error from the statement under discussion which says, ‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and blasphemy be removed from you.’ For the term ‘all’ here clearly applies to all the nouns in common, so that no bitterness is allowed, no wrath is permitted, and no anger occurs with good reason. It is said in the thirty-sixth Psalm, since all anger is sin (and likewise also wrath), ‘Cease from anger, and leave wrath’ (Ps. 36:8). It is never possible, therefore, to be angry with someone with good reason. [Donaldson, 352, citing from Heine’s edition 205–206] 

As can easily be seen in this discussion (and even more clearly in Jerome’s repeated discussions of this passage), while we moderns may assume that the early church would have wanted to soften Jesus’s teaching, the evidence points instead, in this and many other areas as well, rather toward a tendency to strengthen it, to remove exceptions, rather than to add them (this can be seen very clearly in the overall attitude toward remarriage, even after the death of a spouse). 

I therefore decided to take a fresh look at the available textual evidence. A consideration of the Text und Textwert (TuT) data suggests another explanation for this textual variation altogether. No less than 21 of the manuscripts classed as Koinehandschriften, including some that agree at the 97 and 98% (e.g., 045)  levels have exactly the same omission that is found in the early witnesses 01 and 03. Since there are 64 Teststellen in Matthew, a 98% agreement means that this is the only Teststelle where this manuscript differs from the majority. 

As Holger Strutwolf explained in his recent paper at the CSNTM conference (though of course he was dealing with examples from Mark, not Matthew), this sort of pattern rather strongly suggests that a particular variant emerged multiple times, and is therefore best explained, not as a theologically motivated reading, but rather as a simple scribal mistake. 

As it turns out, there is a rather simple explanation for the omission of εἰκῆ, one that fits perfectly with the sort of mistakes that scribes, early as well as late, are known to make. The sequence ἔνοχος ἔσται occurs no less than four times in Matt 5:21–22, both before and after the variation unit in question. Because this second instance (if εἰκῆ is indeed original) is the only one that breaks the pattern, it would have been a relatively simple mistake to unintentionally harmonize it to the repetitions of this same pattern found in the immediate context, the same sort of change we see over and over again in manuscripts from every period. 

On the other hand, there does not seem to be a straightforward way to explain the addition of this word as a scribal mistake. Since the TuT evidence makes it very clear that the omission did in fact occur in late Byzantine manuscripts that are extremely unlikely to have experienced theologically motivated change, it makes much more sense to see the omission of this word in early manuscripts as resulting from the same sort of scribal mistake that we know to have taken place later. 

Furthermore, as David Alan Black pointed out a number of years ago, this very same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel contains two other examples (ψευδόμενοι in 5:11 and παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας in 5:32) of very similar clarifying qualifiers. 

While this is only a brief preliminary investigation, it seems to be at this point to be likely that the omission of εἰκῆ should be seen as an early scribal mistake rather than as an example of an “obvious” orthodox corruption.


  1. This is a guest post from Peter Montoro, in case that's not clear from the title.

    1. Oops. Forgot to add that. I fixed it.

  2. As I had long noted, the simplest solution is homoioarcton, skipping from the initial ε of εικη to the initial ε of ενοχος. As Occam might say, accidental error is more likely than more convoluted speculations regarding intentional motivation.


    1. I did consider homeoarcton as a possibility here, but I don't think it is actually the simplest solution. Because of the way the copying process works (seeing, remembering, copying, and returning to the exemplar), most instances of homeoarcton seem to involve syllables that have a similar or identical *sound*, which ει and ε do not. If the change was unintentional, as I think it was, them unintentional harmonization to the immediate context seems somewhat more likely that homeoarcton.

    2. If this is a scribal mistake that occured multiple times, independently, then it seems possible that both explanations may have happened.

    3. Yes, that is another possibility.

    4. Peter M.,
      A moment:
      I did consider homeoarcton as a possibility here, but
      << I don't think it [h.t.] is actually the simplest solution. >>

      What can be simpler than such an accidental mistake??

      << Because of the way the copying process works (seeing, remembering, copying, and returning to the exemplar), most instances of homeoarcton seem to involve syllables that have a similar or identical *sound*, which ει and ε do not. >>

      Do you have any data and pattern-demonstrations to justify that claim?

    5. In my collation of 1,239 manuscripts against John 11, I have tagged all such confusing sounds for the first 40 verses. ει confused to ε does show up in ten instances across a total of 30 manuscripts where these letters/sounds were potentially confused. Compared to other much more commonly found mistakes like ει→η, ει→ε seems quite rare, but still possible.

    6. My main point in the note above is that the reading makes sense as an accidental omission rather than a theological corruption. So I'm completely fine with seeing an explanation that involves an h.a., which would make my point just as well. H.a. takes place when a scribe remembers where he/she is supposed to pick up copying, but accidentally begins at another place, which begins with the same letter/word/clause. An h.a. would be very plausible *if* a scribe was copying letter by letter. However, if, as was generally the case, scribes were copying clause by clause, then ει is no more likely to be confused with ε than it is with ο, or α, or any other letter (none of which are of course impossible, just unlikely). There are, however, many many places where slightly dissimilar phrases get conformed to their repetitions in the immediate context (e.g. this is almost certainly the explanation for the addition of τοις αρχαιοις in verse 27, harmonizing it to verse 21, and for many other readings throughout the New Testament).

    7. Luke 5:19 "...[εις το μεσον] εμπροσθεν..." Omit: GA-788


      Omit: E* (see correction 184r) This is a longer omission (22 units), but it fits in with E/07's line length. A/02 and F/09 are good examples of how the epsilons in question can line up vertically; 017, 032 & 033 are also only slightly off centered.

      John 6:22 "...ΕΝ [ΕΚΕΙΝΟ] ΕΙC..."
      Omit: D 33 1071

      John 6:47 "...[ΕΙC ΕΜΕ] ΕΧΕΙ..."
      Omit: P⁶⁶ P⁷⁵ א B L W Θ 1071

      John 9:28 "...[EI] EKEINOY..."
      Omit: L/019
      Transposed: P⁶⁶ D Θ

      The word order here is a bit messy overall, but it seems that P⁶⁶ D & Θ ended up transposed after "EI" was omitted via h.a. (*EI* EKEINOY)¹, and then immediately corrected.

      Obviously, others may have different opinions concerning some of these examples,— especially the viable reading in Jo. 6:47. Even so, I thought I'd share what I have handy.

      ¹ Whether independently or copied from an exemplar.

    8. I'd need to spend more time that I have digging into the context of each of those to comment on them specifically. As Maurice notes below, *visual* homeoarcton is certainly a possibility here (at least for majuscule script). But I still think that that is a somewhat weaker prompt than the repetition of the words. Deciding it for each case would really require a more detailed study of the habits of each ms in question, which would be a truly massive project!

    9. Matt. 9:9 "ΟΙC [ΕΚΕΙΘΕΝ] ΕΙΠΕΝ" Omit: א* (corr. in margin), L

      Matt. 14:13 "ΕΚΕΙΘΕΝ [ΕΝ ΠΛΟΙW] ΕΙC" Omit: Γ

      Luke 14:28 "ΔΑΠΑΝΗΝ [ΕΝ] ΕΧΕΙ" Omit: L

      John 4:53 "ωρα [εν η] είπεν" Omit: GA-69

      John 18:26 "λεγει Ουν [εις] εκ" Omit: GA-579

      John 7:36 "οπου ειμι εγω"
      Transposed to: "οπου εγω ειμι" GA-69

      John 12:26 "ΟΠΟΥ ΕΙΜΙ ΕΓW" Transposed to: "ΟΠΟΥ ΕΓW ΕΙΜΙ" P⁶⁶ W

      Here's several more (possible/probable) examples. I have no doubt that I could dig up many more of these if need be, and from both uncial and miniscule MSS. (Although, I do think it should be granted that the miniscule variety would be slightly less common due to the off and on usage of the double-letter ligature amongst such manuscripts.)

      And thanks for the interesting post, Peter Montoro!

    10. * Luke 14:28 "ΔΑΠΑΝΗΝ [ΕI] ΕΧΕΙ" Omit: L

  3. I agree with, MAR. And would only add that h.a. & h.t. possibilities/probabilities of the *one letter* variety are all too often unregarded, or at least disregarded in the adjudication process. Which puzzles me, considering how prevalent these types of skips are within the Greek manuscript tradition (especially with shorter omissions).

  4. Nice argument by Peter Montoro.

  5. This is also a good illustration of the challenges of citing patristic witnesses in a NT apparatus. Given what is said about Origen and Jerome here, it really doesn't do them justice to cite either of them as witnesses in favor of either reading, since they are both witnesses to the existence of both readings in manuscripts they knew. The fact that they favored one reading over the other for theological reasons doesn't make them exclusively a witness for the reading they favored when we are at that stage in the textual criticism of the passage that is simply taking inventory of the external evidence.

    On the other hand, this is also an example of these same patristic witnesses being very valuable witnesses, since they don't simply quote a particular reading, but comment on it, thus providing very reliable data about the state of the text in multiple manuscripts that certainly existed in their respective settings, in addition to providing the window into how some ancient Christians felt about each reading as Montoro reveals. But seeing all this again requires going outside the bounds of a concise NT apparatus.

    What we need is a textual commentary that focuses on patristic witnesses and provides discussion of the details of their quotations.

    1. Yes—but we also need to take into account the way that the readings found in patristic witnesses can shift in the manuscript transmission of patristic works—at times even in the very places where those readings are the subject of specific comment (as I've seen in my work on Chrysostom).

  6. Another one preferring the longer reading, in Filología Neotestamentaria 22 (2009), pp. 63f:

  7. Several of the late manuscripts that omit εικη have GA numbers that are close together and in the same collection (e.g., 135S, 137*; 371*, 372 [all in the Vatican]; 782, 784 [both in Athens]; 2397, 2405 [both in Chicago]). Two of those without the word are supplement pages from MSS in the Vatican (135S, 2430S). This kind of situation often but not always indicates similarity of provenance and possible dependence if the MSS were found in the same place or region.

    As for these later MSS that omit the expression, one can't easily neglect the extremely vocal and popular orthodox voices against the expression (εικη or sina causa). It was castigated by Jerome in no less than three different works, by Augustine in his well known Retractions, and especially by John Cassian, who was popular among later monastic copyists. With such popular voices speaking out against the expression, it is not surprising that 25 MSS out of 1450 or so later copies omit the word. What is perhaps surprising is that that number is not much, much larger.

    1. While this sort of "theological editing" on the part of *scribes* has been often suggested, it hasn't been thoroughly demonstrated. As Wasserman has shown in the case of some of Ehrman's examples, while theological change may seem plausible in isolation, explanations based scribal practices almost always make better sense when you look at the patterns found in mss as a whole.

  8. I am not sure why the repetition of ενοχος εσται should have caused a problem for a preceding word that everyone would have read with the clause that precedes the one that ενοχος εσται begins.

    1. I don't think you should expect a lot of consistency or rationality from human mistakes or blunders. The mind does things that make no sense. The scribe's brain took a break at one spot, and then accidentally returned to the wrong spot. Why did it take a break where it did, or return to the spot where it did? Who knows. We can observe some common characteristics, but that's a whole different thing than really knowing why the scribe's brain did what it did. I don't think we will ever really know, nor could we. Accidents simply are like that.

    2. Maurice A. Robinson8/17/2022 3:24 pm

      Rather than the scribe reading the phrase and retaining it in memory as suggested earlier, the scribe simply may have had a skip of the eye from ε to ε, thus omitting εικη due to "visual homoioarcton".

    3. Yes, thats definitely possible in majuscule script. But this same variant shows up in minuscule mss as well, where ει and ε are not the same visually either.

    4. Jean Putmans8/19/2022 6:29 am

      But it could happen to a minuscule-scribe, copying a majuscule-ms.

    5. "...minuscule mss as well, where ει and ε are not the same visually either."

      I don't follow.

  9. Maurice A. Robinson8/19/2022 3:43 pm

    The letters ει are often written as a single ligature, which differs significantly from the same letters being written separately. However, it is not the case that the double-letter ligature is of universal use for ει, and even the same scribe may vary his use of either form in a given MS.

    1. Thanks MAR. That's exactly why "I don't follow." It's not universal, not even close. And I oftentimes see scribes go back and forth with the cursive style ("double-letter ligature") to the printed style ("single ligature") on the very same page, and for no apparent reason. I guess what I was trying to get at is, why bring it up? Does Montoro (or someone else) have a data set on this that "proves" the "double-letter ligature" is much more common, because it certainly doesn't look that way from my experience?

    2. I certainly wasn't trying to say that it was universal! But it is certainly very common. Once again, I was never saying that a single letter h.a. was impossible, only that a jump from a single letter to a dipthong (which is often written as a ligature) seems to me to be relatively weak prompt for a h.a., based on the transcription work that I've done. The primary point of the OP was simply that the omission makes sense as some sort of copying error. A convincing demonstration of *which* sort of copying error is in play here would of course involve a lot more of a different sort of data.