Monday, March 12, 2012

Text Note: Romans 14:21

In my sermon yesterday from Romans 14:19-15:3 I ran across this textual variation in Romans 14:21:

The issue:

The traditional text contains two verbs at the ending of the verse that are omitted in the modern critical text reconstruction.  So, the traditional texts ends, “stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak [prokoptei e skandalizetai e asthenei],” while the modern critical text ends at “stumble [proskoptei].”

Here is a comparison of English translation based on the traditional and modern texts (emphasis added):

Traditional:  Geneva Bible:  “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.”

Modern:  ESV:  “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”

External evidence:

The traditional text is supported by an unusually strong range of the earliest witnesses.  According to the critical apparatus in the Nestle-Aland 27th ed.,  it is the apparent reading of p46, the second corrector of Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus, along with numerous other codices including D, F, G, Psi, 0209, 33, 1881.  It was the reading adopted by the Majority text and also appears in various early versions, including the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Harklean, Sahidic Coptic, and Armenian.

The modern critical text, on the other hand, is supported by the original hand of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and a few other codices and versions, including the Syriac Peshitta, and the Coptic Bohairic.

Internal Evidence:

Metzger notes that, “The Textus Receptus incorporates a Western expansion” which “gained wide circulation” (Textual Commentary, p. 532).  He then adds, “Other variations in various witnesses suggest that the original text was modified or expanded by copyists who recollected 1 Cor 8:11-13.”  When one examines the apparatus in Nestle-Aland, however, the major witnesses cited do not give evidence of widespread “variations” but only the divergence between the texts that include three verbs and those that include one.  The modern critical text is based on an assumed preference for the shorter reading.  Is it possible, however, that the so-called “expanded” reading is original and the other texts reveal efforts to abbreviate it.  Is it also possible that a scribe’s eye looked at the ending of proskoptei (ending in –ei) and took it for the ending of asthenei (also ending in –ei) and prematurely ended the verse, thus omitting the final two verbs?  Metzger conjectures that the passage has been modified to harmonize with 1 Corinthians 8:11-13, but the verbs skandalizo (cf. the use of the related noun skandalon in 14: 13) and astheneo (cf. 14:1; 15:1) clearly fit the context in Romans 14-15.


The traditional reading has the earliest attestation, even supported by papyri evidence (p46).  It is even supported by Codex Vaticanus, usually a text given great weight by modern scholars.  It provides another example of a place where Sinaiticus (in the original hand) and Vaticanus diverge and do not present a unified witness against the traditional text.  Reasonable explanations can be provided as to how the reading adopted by the modern critical text might have developed (i.e., efforts at abbreviation or parablepsis with the –ei endings).  The traditional reading fits the vocabulary usage of Paul in context.  There is no compelling reason to abandon the traditional text and good reasons for retaining it.   

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