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Textual variants in the gospels

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 11.39.57In my previous post, I highlight the problems with sensationalist claims that new manuscript discoveries lead to uncertainty about central Christian teaching or understanding of Jesus. Here I have listed the major textual variants in the gospels, and added my own short comments on them.

The comments here are my (reasonably informed) observations about the differences. Of course, there is a detailed discussion to be had on each of these, where the disciplines of textual criticism apply. It would take a whole book to explore each of these in turn, so my comments are only a surface exploration—but they give a good indication of the kinds of issues which are at stake in these variants. These changes are a good representation of the total net impact of all new manuscript discovers of NT documents over the last several hundred years.

Variations between Majority Text/Textus Receptus and critical text

MT: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
CT: But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

MT appears to expand a saying of Jesus in Matthew by adding his words from the parallel in Luke 6.28.

MT: And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
CT: And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)

MT has added an early tradition, not known elsewhere in the gospels, but hardly out of line with their theology.

MT: However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
CT: Verse omitted (Matthew 17:21)

MT has added in a phrase from a variant reading of the parallel passage in Mark 9.28.

MT: For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
CT: Verse omitted (Matthew 18:11)

MT has added in a phrase from the Zacchaeus story in Luke 19.10.

MT: So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.
CT: So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:16)

MT has duplicated a saying that occurs later in a related parable in Matt 22.14

MT: But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.
CT: But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father. (Matthew 20:22, 23)

MT has added here in Matthew the phrase from the parallel passage in Mark 10.38

MT: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
CT: Verse omitted (Matthew 23:14)

MT has added to Matthew Jesus’ saying from the parallel passages in Mark 12.40 = Luke 20.47.

MT: But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
CT: But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but My Father only. (Matthew 24:36)

MT has here in Matthew omitted the possibly embarrassing admission by Jesus that there are things he does not know, in contrast to the parallel passage in Mark 13.32.

MT: And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
CT: And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. (Mark 6:11)

MT has added to Mark the saying from the parallel passages in Matt 10.15 and Luke 10.12

MT: For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.
CT: For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men. (Mark 7:8)

MT relocates the final phrase from four verses earlier in 7.4, making it a phrase of Jesus rather than of the gospel writer.

MT: If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!
CT: Verse omitted (Mark 7:16)

MT adds here a phrase that comes seven times elsewhere in the gospels, but not here in the parallel passages.

MT: If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’
CT: If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell. (Mark 9:43-46)

MT here repeats an additional two times the quotation of Jesus from Is 66.24 which comes at the end of v 48 but not in the parallel passages inMatthew.

MT: For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.
CT: For everyone will be seasoned with fire. (Mark 9:49)

MT has expanded this saying which does not occur elsewhere in the gospels.

MT: And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!
CT: And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! (Mark 10:24)

MT has included an explanatory expansion of what is otherwise a harder saying in Mark than in Matthew and Luke.

MT: But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.
CT: Verse omitted (Mark 11:26)

MT has included the additional saying from the parallel in Matt 6.15.

MT: And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” And another said, “Is it I?”
CT: And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19)

MT has expanded the disciples’ question, possibly to parallel Judas’ question in Matt 26.25

MT: So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.”
CT: Verse omitted (Mark 15:28)

MT has added here as explanation the comment of Jesus in Luke 23.37.

Mark 16:9-20: This ‘long ending of Mark’ is omitted in the critical text. See the Wikipedia entry on Mark 16

The long ending of Mark is one of only two chunks of text in the gospels which are highly disputed, the other being the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.

MT: And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
CT: And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28)

The MT has here repeated on the lips of Gabriel the second saying of Elizabeth’s a few verses later in Luke 1.42

MT: But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
CT: But He turned and rebuked them. And they went to another village. (Luke 9:55-56)

MT adds here a slightly odd saying, without parallel elsewhere in the gospels, though not dissimilar to Luke 19.10 and John 3.17.

MT: So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”
CT: So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4)

The MT here conforms Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer to Matthew’s, whereas other manuscript traditions keep it distinct.

MT: If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
CT: If a son asks from any father among you for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? (Luke 11:11)

The additional, parallel saying here appears to owe something to Jesus’ first temptation in the wilderness.

MT: Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
CT: Verses marked as a later addition (Luke 22:43-44)

These verses in MT do not have any parallel elsewhere in the gospels.

MT: (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast)
CT: Verse omitted (Luke 23:17)

This explanatory note has been added in MT from the similar comments in Matt 27.15 and John 18.39 (the latter on the lips of Pilate).

MT: Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.
CT: And they divided His garments and cast lots. (The first sentence is marked as a later addition) (Luke 23:34)

The addition in MT is not known elsewhere, though fits very well with Jesus’ teaching on forgiving enemies.

MT: No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
CT: No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)

MT has the less problematic reading in the context of Jewish monotheism, though does not avoid later similar Johannine statements such as John 20.28.

MT: In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.
CT: In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralysed. (John 5:3-4)

MT includes here an explanatory note, which other better manuscripts do not have, though which is in keeping with the habit of John’s gospel to include these kinds of explanatory asides.

MT: Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
CT: Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God. (John 6:69)

The MT includes a phrase here which brings this incident into parallel with Peter’s declaration at Caesarea Philippi in Matt 16.16.

John 7:53-8:11: This passage is omitted in the critical text. See the Wikipedia article on Jesus and the woman taken in adultery

The story of the woman caught in adultery (or should it be called ‘The men caught in hypocrisy’?)  is one of only two major sections of text in the gospels about which there is significant dispute, the other being the ‘long ending’ of Mark 16.9–20.

MT: Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
CT: Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:59)

MT appears to have added a phrase which has a parallel in a similar incident in Luke 4.30.

Variations between Textus Receptus and Majority Text

TR: Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”
MT/CT: Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots. (Matthew 27:35)

 TR has included explicit mention of the ‘fulfilment’ of Ps 22.18, in way characteristic of other parts of Matthew; MT and CT omit this.

TR: Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.
MT/CT: Verse omitted (Luke 17:36)

Here both MT and CT do not include TR’s harmonisation of the passage in Luke to the parallel passage in Matt 24.

Now return to the previous post for my concluding observations about the significance of these variants.

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