Thursday, March 01, 2012

Text note on Romans 14:10: Bema seat of Christ or of God?

The issue:

Is it “the judgment seat of Christ [christou]” (as in the traditional text) or “the judgment seat of God [theou]” (as in the modern critical text)?

Translations which follow the traditional text read, "the judgment seat of Christ" (Geneva, KJV, NKJV).

Translations which follow the modern critical text read, "the judgment seat of God" (NASB, RSV/ESV).

External evidence:

The traditional reading (“of Christ”) is supported by codices Psi, 048, 0209, 33, 1881, and the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. It is also attested in a number of early writers, including Marcion (2nd c.), Polycarp ( 2nd c.), Tertullian (3rd c.), Origen (3rd c.), and Ambrosisaster (4th c.). This is the earliest attested reading.

The modern critical reading (“of God”) is supported by codices Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus (4th-5th c.).

Internal evidence:

Metzger’s comment on this variant in his Textual Commentary is revealing:

“At an early date (Marcion Polycarp Tertullian Origen) the reading theou which is supported by the best witnesses (Sinaiticus* A B C* D G 1739 al) was supplanted by christou, probably because of influence from 2 Cor 5.10 (emprosthen tou bematos tou christou)” (p. 531).

Here are a few things I find interesting in these remarks:

1. Metzger assumes that the “of Christ “ reading is “probably” a harmonization with 2 Corinthians 5:10.

2. Metzger assumes that the “best” witnesses are Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Therefore, he assumes that their reading, “of God,” is the earliest and best reading. Why is it that modern text criticism is not accused of circular reasoning, when it reaches such conclusions?

3. Notice how Metzger deals with the fact that the earliest attested reading in various writings supports the traditional text, an obviously embarrassing fact for this position. Clearly, Metzger tells us, this indicates that theou was “supplanted” by christou “at an early date”!!!  How is this logical?  Would not the obvious conclusion be that christou was the original reading, supplanted by theou in a few traditions c. 4th-5th century, but reaffirmed as the orginal reading in the formation of the standardized ecclesiastical text?

4.  Finally, a glaring omission from Metzger’s discussion is the question as to whether or not the text might have been intentionally altered due to Christological controversy. Is it not possible that those holding Arian or semi-Arian viewpoints would have preferred to speak of “the judgment seat of God,” rather than “the judgment seat of Christ"? Could this be an indication that texts supporting the “of God” reading reflect a low Christology?


This is one of those variants where the traditional reading is clearly to be preferred. The “judgment seat of Christ” is an authentic Pauline usage (cf. 2 Cor 5:10). The traditional reading has the oldest attestation, dating to the second century. The reading adopted by the modern critical text might well reflect an intentional attempt to alter the text by those who held to a low Christology. The reasonable conclusion is to support the traditional reading, "the judgment seat of Christ."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, that was very helpful and insightful!! I really enjoyed your point of view and it did clear up my question.