In study for last week’s message on Romans 12:9-13, I ran across the textual variant in Romans 12:11 in the clause “serving the Lord [to kurio douleuontes].”
In a handful of manuscripts, the text reads “time” (kairos) rather than “Lord” (kurios). These include: the original hand of D, F, G, and the Latin (both Old Latin and Vulgate). If adopted, the reading would be “serving the time” rather than “serving the Lord.”
Both the traditional text and the modern critical text prefer “Lord” here and this is reflected in translations based on either of these. John Murray offers a footnote on the variant in his Romans commentary (vol. 2, p. 131, n. 20), concluding “we may not adopt kairo as the proper text.”
Of note is the fact that Calvin in his commentary gives credence to “time” and adopts it as the reading, noting, for as the course of our life is short, the opportunity of doing good soon passes away; it hence becomes us to show more alacrity in the performance of our duty.” He is, however, aware of the textual variant, adding, “But as kurio, the Lord, is read in many old copies, though it may seem at first sight foreign to this passage, I yet dare not wholly reject this reading.”
Matthew Poole comments first on the traditional reading, “serving the Lord,” but then adds this note: “Some copies read it, serving the times, in such sense as it does in Eph 5:16 and Col 4:5.”
I don’t think there is any question based on both external and internal evidence that “serving the Lord” is the preferred reading. The discussion in the Protestant exegetes, however, is interesting for the following reasons:
1. It shows that the old men were both interested in and aware of textual issues. This is a point often neglected by moderns who assume that they were ignorant of such issues.
2. It shows the high regard given to the Latin tradition even if it was not strongly supported by extant Greek manuscripts. Though they looked to the original language sources of Hebrew and Greek, there was also weight given to the Latin tradition. In the end, however, the best attested Greek reading here is the one that prevailed in the traditional received text.
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