Saturday, August 01, 2015

Text Note on Revelation 11:17 and Response to Green Baggins' post "A Textual Variant That Makes a Difference"

A friend asked for my reaction to this recent post touching on text criticism which appeared on July 3 on the Green Baggins (GB) blog, a Reformed theology blog that does not ordinarily deal with text issues.  The post essentially suggests that the modern critical text reading of Revelation 11:17 is to be preferred not merely because of external evidence but for theological reasons.

The issue:

The textual issue addressed in the post is whether or not the phrase “and is coming [kai ho erchomenos]” should be included in the text of Revelation 11:17.  Compare the KJV (based on the traditional text) and the NASB (based on the modern critical text) [emphasis added]:

KJV Revelation 11:17 Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.

NASB Revelation 11:17 saying, "We give Thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast, because Thou hast taken Thy great power and hast begun to reign.”

External Evidence:

The NA 28 lists the traditional text as supported by Greek mss. 051, 1006, and 1841.  Metzger says it is supported by “sixteen minuscules” (Textual Commentary, p. 744).   It also appears in the Clementine Vulgate and, with some slight variations, in the Coptic Bohairic.  NA 28 also notes the appearance of the phrase in Tyconius (c. 390) and, with variation, in Beatus of Liebana (c. 8th century).

In addition, there are also early mss. which include the conjunction kai though not the ho erchomenos.  These include:  p47, the original hand of Sinaiticus, C, and 2344.  This reading also appears in the Armenian and in some Latin Vulgate mss.

The modern critical text (omitting kai ho erchomenos) is supported by, among others, the following Greek mss.:  the second corrector of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, P, 046, 1611, 1854, 2053, 2329, 2351.  It is also the reading of the Majority Text.  Among the versions, it appears in the Old Latin and the Syriac.

Note:  This is an example of a passage where the Textus Receptus departs from the Majority Text, which agrees with the modern critical text.

Internal Evidence:

Metzger describes the traditional text as “a typical Byzantine accretion, in imitation of the tripartite expression in 1:4, 8; cf. 4:8” (p. 745).

Regarding the kai hoti variation in p47 and the original hand of Sinaiticus, Metzger says this “strains the syntax and appears to be a scribal blunder” (p. 745).

Overall, however, Metzger gives the modern critical text here only a {C} rating.

In response to Metzger, one wonders why the reading that is in harmony with a clear Johannine phrase and pattern as evidenced by contextual usage (1:4, 8; 4:8; cf. also 16:5!) should be suspect.  In addition, the oldest texts at least support the inclusion of the conjunction kai.  Could it be that the “scribal blunder” in p47 and Sinaiticus was the accidental omission of ho exchomenos after the kai?  Might it also be possible that this was later “corrected” in the Majority simply by omitting the kai and that the original reading was, in fact, preserved in the TR?  One might say that this is speculative, but it is no more speculative or less reasonable than the alternatives.

Conclusion and responding to the GB’s analysis:

The TR reading is a minority reading here, but it does have Greek mss., versional, and Patristic support.  In addition, on internal grounds, the reading is in harmony with typical Johannine usage in Revelation.  The TR reading, thus, can be reasonably supported.

How then do we respond to the GB argument?  Here is the post:

In Revelation 11:17, the Textus Receptus has added the phrase “and who is coming” to the end of the first clause of thanksgiving. No doubt, the scribes were used to seeing “who is, and who was, and who is coming.” The best manuscripts do not have the phrase “and who is coming.” The omission of the phrase is a fascinating glimpse into the theology of the text. The reason why the original did not have the phrase is because, from the perspective of the twenty-four elders, Christ had already come! If, as seems likely, the seventh trumpet is a description of the very end of the current world, then we are getting a glimpse at what post-consummation worship looks like. It is rather important, then, that the phrase “and is coming” is NOT present in the text. It is gloriously absent!

So, is the TR reading specious based on theological grounds?  The GB post suggests this is the case based on context.  The “original” did not have the “and is coming” phrase, because, in the context of the narrative, the parousia of Christ had already happened.  This conclusion, however, is anything but obvious for various reasons, most importantly because in Revelation’s repeated description of God as one “who is, was, and is coming,” it is in no way clear that the final phrase refers to the second coming or parousia of Christ.  The three-part phrase, instead, is an ontological description of the eternality of God.  He has always existed.  He exists now. He will always exist in the future (in the coming days).  If conceived in this manner, it is actually the modern critical reading which is inadequate theologically, since it only asserts God’s existence in the past and present without also affirming God’s presence and existence in the future.  Thus, I would respectfully submit that the GB interpretation is inaccurate.


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