When you are convinced that a passage in a popular
translation of the Bible is incorrect and the truth is seriously altered by the
decision of the translators, how do you teach/preach that passage without
undermining the authority of the people’s Bible? Romans 8:1 offers a good example.
When dealing with textual variants in the New
Testament, one of the first questions I like to ask is this. “Does the variant reading seriously alter the
meaning of the text?” In many cases the
answer is no, so there is no need to do a detailed textual analysis and we
accept the judgment of the translation committee. However, there are some variants that do
significantly alter the meaning of the text.
Romans 8:1 is one of those texts.
According to the UBS 4th
edition apparatus, Romans
chapter 8, verse 1 has three possible readings.
The first reading is the text accepted by most
English translations. “Therefore
there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (NASB)”. The sentence ends with the words εν Χριστω Ιησου …in Christ Jesus.” This is the choice of both the UBS 4th
and the NA27 editors. The UBS 4th
edition gives this reading a “B” rating.
That means that there was probably one dissenting voice on the
There second reading contains the additional
phrase “…μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν …who
are not walking according to the flesh.”
The third reading contains the additional phrase
“...μη κατα σαρκα περιπατουσιν αλλα κατα πνευμα…who are not walking
according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This is the majority text reading and the
reading found in translations like the King James, Russian Synodal and some
Either of the additional phrases found in readings two and
three significantly changes the meaning of the sentence.
If the first reading is the correct reading
then it is simple a fact that there is no condemnation for those who are in
I realize that the
theology of reading one needs to be developed in the context of Paul’s argument
in the entire letter.
I understand that
this is more than a proverb or pithy statement.
However, that is a question of exegesis and here I am focusing on the
If either reading two or
three is original, Paul is saying that freedom from condemnation is dependent
on our spiritual walk and obedience.
other words, the truth is conditional.
If we are walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh then there
is no condemnation for us.
But if we are
walking according to the flesh, then there is condemnation waiting for us.
By implication, as we live our lives and
struggle to follow Jesus, we enter into and fall out of favor with God and have
no assurance of final salvation.
what I call a significant difference in mean.
Reading one, there is no condemnation.
Readings two and three, there is condemnation.
Since the variant has a significant impact on the meaning of
the text, we must determine, as best we can according to the gifts God has
given us, which reading is original. How
do we do that? This is a debate about
methodology, but I recommend and try to practice the “Reasoned Eclecticism”
approach. This approach tries to take in
to account a wide spectrum of evidence (for example, the manuscripts we posses,
the dates and numbers of those manuscripts, the quality of the manuscripts, the
date of the reading, the geographical dispersion of the readings, early
translations and versions, patristic quotations, the author’s style and
argument, etc.) and analyze it in a reasonable and balanced way. Below is my attempt at a reasoned eclecticism
approach to this reading.
We start with the external evidence.
We look at the manuscripts, their dates,
quality, geographical distribution, text type, etc.
Table 1 below shows the manuscripts we
posses, categorized by text type.
Following the methods of Metzger, Black and others, I will
highlight four points with respect to the external evidence.
Prefer the reading attested by the oldest
Since we have no papyri, the oldest manuscripts
are the uncials Aleph and B. Both date
to the fourth century.
The second hand of Aleph is represented in the
third reading. That means that sometime
after the fourth century copying of the manuscript, a scribe “corrected” the
manuscript and added reading three. So
reading three could also be very early.
However, thanks to modern technology and the Codex Sinaitics Project, I
was able to see a digital reproduction of the page. At first I could not find the
correction. The text seemed to be a
clear witness to reading 1. But it
seems, it is difficult to read, that the correction is located at the top of
the column in a different hand (see photo below). This could be a correction or simply a
scribal note. This seriously weakens the
witness of the second hand of Aleph.
Prefer the reading supported in the most widely
separated geographical areas.
This is no real help. All three readings are represented by
manuscripts that were spread across the Roman Empire. Therefore, all three readings enjoyed early
acceptance in different geographical areas.
Prefer the reading supported by the greatest
number of text types.
All three readings have witnesses in each of the
text types. However, reading one seems
to have more of a balanced or wide spread representation of all three text
types. Reading two is heavy in Byzantine
and Western text types with very little representation from the
Alexandrian. Reading three is almost
exclusively represented by the Byzantine text type. So, while all three have witnesses in each
text type, the scale tips toward reading one.
Make a distinction between date of reading and
date of manuscript and prefer the earliest reading.
The earliest reading is represented in Aleph and
B, which most agree dates back to the second century. These two manuscripts support reading
one. However, there are also old Latin
witnesses for all three readings. This
means that all three readings were most likely known as early as the second
century. This is good evidence for the
early existence of the variant. However,
the Old Latin versions were not professionally copied or checked and therefore
do not have the weight of manuscript like Sinaiticus, Vaticanus or
Alexandranus. That said, we do seem to
have more Old Latin witnesses for the first reading, thus tipping the scales
toward the shorter reading.
Based on the manuscript evidence alone, the agreement of Aleph, B, a
number of Byzantine witnesses, Old Latin and early Fathers forms a strong case
for the shorter first reading.
Before making a final conclusion about Romans 8:1, we must consider the
internal evidence. These are sometimes
called Transcriptional Probabilities and Intrinsic Probabilities. I will consider four points with respect to
internal evidence in part II.