Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Textual Note: Matthew 5:44
When preaching last Sunday on Romans 12:14-21, I made comparison throughout to Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7). When it came to Romans 12:14 (“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”) I drew comparison to Matthew 5:44. The traditional text, however, is quite different from the modern critical text. A comparison of English translations makes clear the differences:
Translations based on traditional text (emphasis added to phrases omitted in modern text):
Geneva: Matthew 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies: bless them that curse you: do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which hurt you, and persecute you.
KJV: Matthew 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Translations based on modern critical text:
NIV (1984): Matthew 5:44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
NASB: Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you
A look at the critical apparati for Matthew 5:44 reveals some minor variations in the disputed phrases but, in general, the traditional text is supported by D, L, W, Theta, family 13, 33, and the Majority text tradition.
The modern critical text is, predictably, supported by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.
Burgon, with typical bite, chides Wescott and Hort for the “deplorable error” of omitting these phrases: “You relied almost exclusively on those two false witnesses, of which you are so superstitiously fond, B and Aleph: regardless of the testimony of almost all the other copies besides:--of almost all the VERSIONS: --and of a host of primitive FATHERS" (Revision Revised, p. 410). Among the fathers who support the traditional text he cites the following: Justin Martyr (140 AD); Theophilus Ant. (168 AD); Athenagoras (177 AD); Clemens Alexand. (192 AD); Origen (210 AD); Apostolic Constitution (3rd century AD); etc.
One of the canons of modern text criticism is that the shorter reading is to be preferred to the longer reading. It is assumed that longer readings usually represent expansions and harmonization. In this case, it is assumed that the traditional text of Matthew 5:44 reflects a harmonization with Luke 6:27-28, where both the traditional and modern text agree. Compare:
KJV: Luke 6:27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
NIV: Luke 6:27 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Metzger concludes, “Later witnesses enrich the text by incorporating clauses from the parallel account in Luke 6:27-28” (Textual Commentary, p. 14). He adds that if the traditional reading is original, its omission in early witnesses would be “entirely unaccountable.”
In answer, however, one might ask whether some pious scribes might have been offended by the non-retaliation ethic of Jesus in the traditional text of Matthew 5:44. A similar motivation might have led to the effort to remove John 7:53—8:11. It seems that the “harmonization theory” also assumes a situation where a scribe was intentionally making comparison with Luke 6:27-28 and intentionally tinkering with the text. Is this a plausible scenario? We might also ask about the early witnesses to the traditional text as cited by Burgon. Of course, my guess is that a modern text critic would dismiss these by arguing that the texts of the Fathers were also harmonized to reflect the traditional reading.
In the end, it is the same old story. Do you base your reading on the traditional text that came to be most widely accepted and copied or on the minority reading as reflected in the reading that was ultimately set aside and not copied? The traditional text was, of course, also adopted by the Reformers and became the basis for the Reformation era “vulgar” translations. This traditional reading brings into harmony the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27-28 and is also reflected in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 12:14 (demonstrating Paul’s familiarity with the earthly ministry and teaching of Jesus, another contested point in modern scholarship, true even if one only had Luke 6:27-28 to compare). Of course, modern critics see this kind of harmony as suspect. From a preacher’s perspective, however, it is most useful. Surprise: I prefer the traditional text.