Saturday, August 19, 2023

Those Pesky Textual Variants in our Bible (e.g., 1 Tim. 3:16)

In Greek class this semester we will be introducing everyone to the art and science of textual criticism. There are some 2,000 significant textual variants in the Greek New Testament, one of which we'll be studying in two weeks. Should 1 Tim. 3:16 read:

"Who was manifested in the flesh"

"Which was manifested in the flesh"

"God was manifested in the flesh."

The manuscript evidence is equally divided between these three readings. The first is read by the Alexandrian text type. The second is read by the Western text type. And the third is read by the Byzantine text type. 

In Greek, the differences between "who," "which," and "God" aren't as great as they appear in English. Note two things:

1. For the letter sigma, a c-like shape was used in handwritten Greek. Today this letter is known as the lunar or lunate sigma because of its crescent-shaped form.

2. Sacred names (nomina sacra) were often abbreviated in manuscripts to conserve space or as tokens of respect. A light stroke was placed above the letters to signify the abbreviation. 

Care to venture a guess as to which of these readings is original? If you do, you'll probably want to learn a thing or two about textual criticism. The subject can be just plain icky at times. You have to learn about things like lunar sigmas and nomina sacra. But remember: The careful study of the Bible has a goal, which is not the careful study of the Bible. The goal is to discover what God is saying to us and to allow him to change our lives through his word. Show me a Bible student who says "This stuff is hogwash" and I'll show you someone with no concept of biblical exegesis. 

To become a good student of Scripture, we have to be trainable in such areas as textual criticism. That's why I wrote my little 79-page introduction to the subject. Even a kid from Kailua Beach in Hawaii could understand it. 

If I can do it, you can too.