Day: November 22, 2008

New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: A Personal Example of Its Use

Mat 5:44 NKJV 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,

Mat 5:44 NET. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,

Those up on their text criticism or bible translations know where I am going with the citation of the NKJV. This is my pastor’s translation of choice. That means for those carrying more recent translations, there are often moments of “Hey, my bible doesn’t say that”. Sometimes it is so small a difference it is hardly noticeable. On a recent occasion at our church, it was one of those “Text Criticism Slaps You in the Face” moments.

Since purchasing Comfort’s New Testament Text and Translation Commentary, I have added its bulk to my already overstuffed book bag on Sundays and Wednesday. The verse above came up on a recent Sunday.

Turning to the verse in the commentary (pgs12-13), one finds the notation “WH NU” which tells you that the critical Greek New Testaments using the first quoted Greek form are Westcott/Hort (WH)and Nestle-Aland/United Bible Society(NU). Beside this info is the Greek form of the verse found in most translations, an English translation, the symbols for the major Greek manuscripts and Church fathers which quote this form, and list of fourteen translations that use or cite this form (“NKJVmg” means the form is cited as a marginal note in the NKJV. One plus of the NKJV is it cites these Greek manuscript differences regularly).

Next comes a listing “variant/TR” which tells you the second form used in bible translations comes either from a Greek variant not used in modern translations and/or is used in the Textus Receptus, which is the Greek behind the KJV/NKJV (because the NKJV decided to use the same Greek as the centuries old KJV for reasons passing understanding). The TR is mostly based on some edition of Desiderius Eramus’ (1466-1536)Greek New Testament first compiled in 1516 from only a few Greek manuscripts. (Important note: Greek New Testaments are what is called “eclectic texts”, meaning they are created by some form of comparing multiple ancient manuscripts and determining which version of a verse is most close to what the “original text” said. There is no single great manuscript sitting in the bowels of the Vatican that all New Testaments are translated from.) Then one gets the Greek form, the English translation, the manuscript symbols, and the translation list for this version of the text cited. In this case it is KJV NKJV and marginal notations in all the others.

The fun part is next. Comfort tells you which reading is to be preferred and why. In this case the shorter reading has earlier support in ancient manuscripts and church fathers, for two. The main thing against the longer version, however, is the fact that it copies from Luke’s parallel account of this great sermon, Matthew’s version being the “Sermon on the Mount”, Luke’s the “Sermon on the Plain”. It isn’t like believing scribes to drop words out of a text (especially the Sermon on the Mount!), so the assumption is that scribes in ancient times, well acquainted with Luke’s account, were caught short when copying Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, stopped and said, “Hey, this is missing something. Let me add the extra words back in”. In fact, originally, Matthew’s version didn’t have the blessing and doing good.

Okay, so you have an immediate objection. “Does this mean Jesus didn’t say this?” Absolutely not. Using Comfort’s book, you can go to Luke and check for a citation of Luke 6:27-28. There isn’t one. That’s a good clue the verses here are considered original. To really be sure you could get a Greek New Testament. My personal favorite is the NET/NA27 diglot, which combines in one binding the NET Bible New Testament with selected notes and the Nestle Aland 27th edition Greek New Testament. Without getting into the labyrinth that is NA27 symbology, one can easily see that there is only one symbol noting a variant in the Greek text of verses 27-28, and a glance at the bottom of the NA27 page shows it is only a single word variant.

So, what is the explanation of the difference between Matthew and Mark’s account? Comfort makes the obvious point that much of what Jesus said, he likely said more than once, and not in exactly the same way. Thus Matthew and Luke are citing much the same saying from Jesus, but in different forms from different occasions.

Oh, and interestingly, there is a hint of this found even in the original KJV of 1611. While it gives the longer form of Matt 5:44, it has a marginal note pointing out the parallel version in Luke 6:27-28. Nowadays, a reader of the original 1611 edition should see that as a definite hint something is up.

Stay tuned for another example of using textual critical tools and a NKJV verse that hit me right on the nose. Same geek time, same geek channel.