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Posts Tagged ‘Codex Bezae’

After reading this post on the authority of scripture by a friend of mine, I thought it might be a good idea to get all geeky scientific and stuff and write the following post.

In the general context of reading the Bible, the small print is generally forgotten. And with small print I of course refer to the host of information in any critical edition of the Greek text, most notably the Nestle-Aland. (So even if you are reading a translation, this information applies to you!) The small print should warn us against reading the Bible “literally” and “word for word”; in any case, that’s what I’ve learned from being busy with textual criticism (i.e. the science of trying to understand how the text of the NT was delivered to us; trying to trace the traditions and see how people in different ages thought about the text)*.

There’s even a small print behind the small print: shall we call it the smaller print? The Nestle-Aland gives only a small (but informed) selection of the manuscript readings available to us. As an example, I will use Luke 23:34. (The example is well known among textual critics.) The words “And Jesus said: ‘Father, forgive them, since they don’t know what they are doing‘” are present in some manuscripts, but some not.** In fact, the editors of the Nestle-Aland (27) placed it in double square brackets, thereby indicating that they don’t think it is part of the “original text”, but that it is extremely old and important. Like I said, this is well known among scholars.

Now for the smaller print part. The reading is indicated in NA27 as not present in Codex Bezae (also known as D), a manuscript written about 400CE. On the other hand, D2 is indicated as having this reading. D2 would normally mean that a second corrector to the manuscript (i.e., someone who made changes to the text originally written on the manuscript). This is only half the story. There were a number of correctors to the text of D, many of them quite early and with a text very similar to D’s. The one responsible for adding these words to D was not the second one to make corrections to the manuscript; in fact, this corrector (we shall call him “L“, as all correctors in manuscripts are, according to true NT TC fashion, deserving of a descriptive and personal name) was a very late one (about the 9th century). Poor L was actually going through the manuscript to add the Ammonian Sections, a helpful system of cross-reference between the Gospels. Coming to Luke 23:34, L was probably pretty confused – the whole section was missing in this manuscript! The only thing L could do was to first add the text, and then get on with giving it a number.*** So the evidence of NA27 should be given an even further nuance – the reason why the beginning words of Luke 23:34 was added to the text.

The point I’m trying to make? To be honest, I just wanted to tell this awesome story of L. But, as I hinted at in my introduction, at least being aware of the “smaller details” of reading the Bible – most notably that there is a lively tradition of manuscripts, interaction with manuscripts, and different ways of reading, using and understanding the Bible in different centuries. This should warn us against reading the Bible as being “the truth” and being the EXACT words of God.

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FOOTNOTES

* This is not an attempt to give a definition of textual criticism. For some definitions, and a somewhat different discussion in the comments on the inspiration of scripture, look here. I should point out, my “definition” here is different from the traditional view, which would be trying to get at the “original text”. Yes, that is an important aim still, it’s just that I’m interested in something else, at present.

** Quite a number of manuscripts are listed; if you’re interested, you could of course go look them up. An easy way to do this online would be to visit the NTTranscripts. For the more visually inclined, it might be interesting to look at Luke 23:34 in Codex Sinaiticus, as it was present, a corrector deleted the text, and then another corrector added it again. Some more manuscripts are available at the very useful page of the CSNTM or likewise at the Virtual Manuscript Room.

*** This is the view expressed by Scrivener, who originally transcribed the manuscript (this edition is available for download here), and David Parker, who wrote an excellent monograph on the manuscript.

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