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 committee.
· 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 Ukrainian translations.
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 Christ Jesus. 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 textual question. If either reading two or three is original, Paul is saying that freedom from condemnation is dependent on our spiritual walk and obedience. In 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. That is 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.
· Prefer the reading attested by the oldest manuscripts.
· 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.
|Siniaticus folio 263b, Romans 6:23-8:5 from http://codexsinaiticus.org/en/|
· 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.
Preliminary Conclusion: 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.