Monday, February 06, 2012

Text Note: Romans 13:9

Note:  In preparing to preach yesterday on Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10), I came across this textual issue in Romans 13:9:

The issue:

How many commandments does Paul list in Romans 13:9? In the traditional text there are five commandments (the last five of the second table of the ten commandments, with the prohibition against adultery appearing first). The modern critical text, however, has only four commandments, omitting, “Thou shalt not bear false witness (ou pseudomartyreseis).”

Compare translations based on the traditional (e.g., KJV) and modern-critical (e.g., RSV) texts (emphasis added):

KJV Romans 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

RSV: Romans 13:9: The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

External evidence:

The traditional text is supported by various ancient witnesses, including P, Psi, 048, and the vast majority of manuscripts. Most notably, it is supported by Codex Sinaiticus, the manuscript so often favored by modern text critics.

The modern-critical text is supported by p46, A, and Codex Vaticanus, among others.

Again, of note is the fact that Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus do not agree in their readings.

Internal evidence:

Metzger argues that “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is an “insert” in that came about “under influence of Ex 20:15-17 and Dt 5:19-21” (Textual Commentary, p. 529). He also notes concerning the list of commandments, “in the course of transmission other readings arose in various witnesses through omission (perhaps because of homoteleuton) or rearrangement of the order of the commandments (the chief manuscripts of the Septuagint vary among themselves and from the Hebrew)” (p. 529).

Given the listing of commandments with similar beginnings (ou, “not”) and similar endings (a series of verbs ending in the second person singular –eis), one can easily imagine how a commandment might have been omitted by parablepsis.


The traditional reading has ancient and majority attestation. A reasonable explanation is readily supplied as to how scribal omission might have taken place by parablepsis. It makes perfect sense to think that Paul would have been more likely to list all five of the latter commandments from the ten commandments, rather than inexplicably to omit the ninth commandment. There is no reason to abandon the traditional text.


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