Monday, January 14, 2019

WM 115: Review: Beza and Revelation 16:5

I have uploaded WM 115: Review: "Beza and Revelation 16:5" (Listen here). This episode has three parts: (1) Introduction; (2) A review of the online article "Beza and Revelation 16:5"; and (3) Three Final Thoughts/Reflections.


In WM 114 I offered ten observations on a recent lecture from apologist JW on “Text Criticism and the TR” which ended up being a review of a twitter exchange between JW and someone going under the name “Textus Receptus” regarding the text of Revelation 16:5, which is one of just a few places where there is significant divided reading in the printed editions of the TR. Beza’s 1598 TR reads “which art, and wast, and shalt be” (so rendered in the KJV), whereas earlier editions like Erasmus’ 1516 TR reads “which art, and wast,…and holy” (as in Tyndale, Geneva Bible, etc.).

Gathering from what I heard by email and text this was a much-discussed topic last week.

I discovered a couple things:

First: The twitter disputant with JW is a fellow from Australia named Nick Sayers.

Second: Nick has written an over 80-page booklet titled Revelation 16:5 and the Triadic Declaration in response to JW’s views on Revelation 16:5, which provides some background to the twitter exchange.

Third: One of Nick’s key sources for his booklet is an online article on the website titled “Beza and Revelation 16:5” (about 16 pages in length in a printer friendly version).

So, I thought it would be helpful to read this shorter article first and offer a review of and some reflections upon it.

This is a very well written and thoughtful article—hardly the mad ravings of the straw-man KJV Onlyist—though I do wish it had a name, date, and some better documentation, at points, of sources cited.

The article makes a generally reasonable and compelling argument as to why Beza’s reading at Revelation 16:5 should be taken seriously and not simply discarded or rejected without critical examination (and certainly not villainized, as JW does). There are also, however, some weaker and less compelling arguments within the article.

Review of online article: “Beza and Revelation 16:5”:

Here is a review of some of what I see as the stronger and weaker points made within the article:

First: Nice introductory statement:

“Since there is no existing manuscript with Beza's reading, critics dismiss Beza's reading as an unwarranted conjectural emendation.  However, an in-depth study of the issue will reveal enough evidence to validate Beza's conjectural emendation.”

Second: It provides an English translation of Beza’s footnote, but does not provide a transliteration of the original Latin note or identify the translator (the author? His credentials for making the translation?).

One of the things I would be most interested to know is whether Beza made a pure conjectural emendation or if he had some manuscript evidence to support this reading.

The article observes: “Although Beza is silent, he could have been influenced in making his change based on a minority Latin textual variant.  There are two Latin commentaries with readings of Revelation 16:5 which agree with Beza in referring to the future aspect of God.”

These are later identified as Beatus of Liebana (c. 8th century) and Haimo Halberstadensis (9th century).

Third: It provides references to two Church Fathers who made use of the Greek term ho esomenos in reference to God: Clement of Alexandria (third century), The Stromata, V.6; and Gregory of Nyssa (fourth century), On the Baptism of Christ (no reference notion given).

I agree that this information is by no means a “red herring.”

Fourth:  It rightly stresses the fact that the text of Revelation was perhaps the most corrupted of the NT books through the transmission process, and this has ramifications that would perhaps argue in favor of emendation [Though I’d still rather leave it as an open question as to whether Beza’s emendation was a “pure” conjecture].

 Opening statement here: “Conjectural emendations are justified if we know that the text we are dealing with has a history of extensive and early corruption. The book of Revelation is such a text… We trust that God was able to preserve the true reading of Revelation 16:5 until the advent of the printing press during the Reformation.”

Fifth: A good point was made related to a scribal error in p47 at Revelation 15:4 omitting the word “holy”: “If there is evidence of a scribal error involving "οσιος" at Revelation 15:4, it seems reasonable to suspect a scribal error involving the same word just one chapter later at Revelation 16:5.”

Sixth: Excellent point made about the parallel omission of kai ho erchomenos in the modern critical or Majority texts at Revelation 11:17, but, in this case, there is supporting Greek evidence for the TR reading.

Seventh: The article rightly points out the paucity of extant early mss. evidence for Revelation. It states that there are only 4 ms. of Rev 16:4 from before the tenth century and that p47 is the only papyrus ms. to include Rev 16:5.

I made a similar point in WM 114 in observation # 8 citing, Tobias Niklas, “The Early Text of Revelation” in Charles E. Hill & Michael J. Kruger, Eds., The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012): 225-238.

I think the article errs, however, in suggesting a degenerating chain from

p47 kai hosios
to Sinaiticus ho hosios
to Alexandrinus hosios

This is speculative and assumes without proof a connection between these three mss. These changes are more likely to have evolved independently.

Eighth: The article provides four theories for how Revelation 16:5 might have become corrupted.

Theory 1: John wrote ho esomenos in nomen sacrum from.
Theory 2: Bad conditions gave rise to corruption.
Theory 3: A scribe harmonized 16:5 with 11:17.
Theory 4: A Hebraist imposed Hebraic style onto the text.

Of these I find Theories 2 and 3 to be credible, and Theories 1 and 4 to be suspect.
Theory 1 is highly speculative. Examples:

“Perhaps the Apostle John himself wrote the words that refer to God in "κυριε ει ο ων και ο ην και ο εσομενος" (O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be) in an abbreviated nomina sacra form.”

“In nomen sacrum form, ‘ο εσομενος’ might be abbreviated as OЄC.”

The problem: This seems highly speculative to me. Just note how many times the words “may” “perhaps” or “might” is used by the article’s author. This is not one of the usual nomina sacra and there are no extant examples of it (see James Snapp’s online article). The argument for this in Sinaiticus without overlining seems strained to me.

Theory 4 based on the suggestion that Jewish readers would have taken the future participle as superfluous to indicating the name of God also seems strained and speculative.

Three Final Thoughts/Reflections:

First: Revelation 16:5, the Textus Receptus, and the KJV

Interpretation of Revelation 16:5 raises the question of what the standard text of the TR should be.

I think there is room in the TR camp both for those who follow the Erasmus/Tyndale reading and those who follow the Beza/KJV reading here.

I think the best reasons to accept the Beza/KJV reading at Revelation 16:5 are the following:

-The text of Revelation was corrupted in its early transmission and it is admitted by all to be difficult to reconstruct.

-p47 at least provides evidence for the conjunction kai in the earliest extant mss.

-Internal evidence in Revelation argues for a three-fold description of God as present, past, future (see Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8; and 11:17).

-The reading ho esomenos, however, argues for originality, in part, based on its uniqueness. If invented for the purposes of harmonization why would it not have read ho erchomenos, as at Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8; and 11:17?

-We do not completely understand all the evidence and reasoning of Beza and the KJV translators in choosing this reading, but we might reasonably assume they had compelling reasons to adopt it, especially since it went against the tide of respected earlier editions of the TR and, especially, English translations of it.

-One can see the inclusion of this reading in the KJV as of providential importance without arguing for the KJV as a product of special revelation (a view which would be contrary to WCF 1:8).

Second: On the most difficult to defend TR readings and the propriety of conjectures:

I think that in general we would prefer to have TR readings supported by at least some extant Greek NT mss, even if they represent a minority of mss., which may also be late mss. In addition, we would prefer to have early versional and Patristic evidence. Thankfully, we usually have this.

We should recognize, however, that the NT books which were acknowledged the latest in the canonical recognition process will provide the least sufficient and reliable extant evidence. Our most difficult texts to defend will not most generally be with the Gospels or Pauline epistles but with Acts, the Catholic Epistles, and Revelation.

This admission goes against a standard conservative evangelical apologetic which has typically stressed the great number of existing NT mss. whatever their date, content, and condition.

Finally, this raises the question of the propriety of conjectures. As the author of the article noted, this was not a problem of Bruce Metzger (see the quote in the article from The Text of the NT, 182). It is not a problem for the modern editors of the NA28 using the CBGM (see the rendering of 2 Peter 3:10). So, it is affirmed in both modern and post-modern text criticism.

This brought to my mind the modern historical-critical study of the Synoptic Gospels and the conjecture of a hypothetical reconstructed sayings source Q. Such a view is embraced by evangelical scholars like Craig A Evans, who argued for the “two source” in the recent book The Synoptic Gospel: Four Views (Baker Academic, 2016). I find it ironic that Evans’s and others’s embrace of Q (an entire hypothetical book with no external support) does not raise an eyebrow, while Beza’s supposed conjecture of perhaps few words in Revelation 16:5 is pilloried as outrageous and absurd?

This is another reason I was puzzled by JW’s stated rejection of any conjectural emendations. Does this mean he rejects Metzger? The CBGM? The NA28, 29, 30…?

Third: On Method:

First, I think the historical study of the text of the Bible (textual criticism) is vital and a discipline from which we have nothing to fear. Second, I think defenders of the TR can and should make able use of historical evidence yielded by this field of study. Given this, however, I also think we should be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we might simply use the modern reconstructionist method to defend the TR. This is perhaps the biggest problem I perceive with the article reviewed. It does not explicitly rely on a confessional method. If you try to fight the modern “methodists” only with their method, in their eyes you will always come up short.

I thought this comment from Maurice Robinson on the Evangelical Text Criticism blog related to the discussion of my review of the THGNT (here) was perceptive:

In terms of attempting to establish the original text (or the Ausgangstext if one is so inclined), a "TR-priority" position indeed is illogical, as Mr Spock would say. 

However, within the "Confessional Bibliology" or "Ecclesiastical Text" framework, holding such a position actually appears quite reasonable to its practitioners, much in the same way that the Greek Orthodox church remains quite content to use a form of the 1904/1912 Antoniades text for all their practical purposes, even though from a more scientific text-critical standpoint (including my own) their position is equally defective.



Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

Excellent post, Jeff!

James White does not have any right to condemn those who uphold Rev. 16.5, because he does the same with the Conjectural emendations made in the Critical Text.

I liked Nick Sayers' article, also the article present in the King James Today website, but I still agree with Edward Hills that Beza made a conjectural emendation in the text. We cannot forget Romans 7.6 and his Latin translation of Hebrews 6.6, where he adds the "if", which was followed by the King James Bible translators. I think The KJB translators had a huge respect for him as a biblical scholar and because of that, they followed him in these passages.

I don't any problems with TR defenders, like Nick, that defend Rev 16.5 as found in the KJB as genuine, but I think that is important doing it in a Confessional-traditional grounds. I Think that the Sociedad Bíblica Trinitaria (Spanish TBS branch) it is correct in its statement:

"Should we 'canonize' an edition of the Greek Received Text, especially from a particular author? We do not think so, because God does not share his glory with men. God did not raise a single man and only one edition of the Textus Receptus, for history shows us that there were several scholars in this work."


Blessing, Jeff!

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your feedback and for sharing the quote from the SBT. Very interesting.


diathyky said...

Jeff, I would copy here a portion of an article on Rev.16:5 which I am preparing. It concerns the matter of Beza's supposed 'conjecture'. It is not a conjecture at all according to Beza's own note, which appears to have been incorrectly translated from the Latin.

The Latin note is as follows:
Legitur vulgo και ο οσιος ostendente articulo, praeter omnem loquendi morem, depravatam esse scripturam. Vulgata vero sive articulum legit sive non legit, nihilo rectius vertit οσιος, Sanctus, male extrita particula και, prorsus necessaria ut δικαιος & οσιος connectantur. Sed quum Ioannen reliquis omnibus locis ubi Iehova nomen explicat, sicuti diximus supra, 1.4, addere consueuerit tertium, nempe και ο ερχομενος, cur istud hoc loco prateriisset? Itaque ambigere non possum quin germana sit scriptura quam ex vetusto bonae fidei manuscripto codice restitui nempe ο εσομενος. Causa vero cur hic non scribatur ο ερχομενος, ut supra quatuor locis, nempe 1.4. & 8. Item 4.8:&11.17, haec ist, quoniam ibi de Christo ut iudice venturo agitur: in hac vero visione proponitur ut iam in tribunali sedens, & decreta iudicia, & ea quidem aeterna exercens.

When translated into English the note reads:

Commonly καὶ ὁ ὅσιος is read, but the article is against all usage of speech and shows that the reading is corrupt. And the Vulgate, whether it reads the article or not, translates not more correctly “Sanctus” [“holy”], ὅσιος, wrongly omitting the particle καί, which is outright necessary in order to connect δίκαιος and ὅσιος. But as we have said above at Rev 1:4, at all the other places where he extends the name of Jehova, John used to add a third [element], namely καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος; why then would he have left it out here? Therefore I cannot doubt that the original reading is the one I restored from an old and reliable manuscript, namely ὁ ἐσόμενος. The reason that here not ὁ ἐρχόμενος is written, as in the four places above (1:4, 1:8, 4:8, and 11:17), is that those places concern Christ as the coming judge, whereas in this vision he is presented as already sitting on the tribunal, and delivering judicial decisions.

From this note we may observe that Beza acknowledged that, καὶ ὁ ὅσιος, was the common or majority reading, but he preferred the minority reading, ὁ ἐσόμενος, because of certain grammatical difficulties with καὶ ὁ ὅσιος, and because, ὁ ἐσόμενος, was consistent with the Apostle John’s uniform practice of including a ‘third element’ in the name of Jehova. It was therefore no conjecture on Beza’s part, but a textual decision which lead him to favour a minority over a majority reading. But that minority reading came from 'an old and reliable manuscript'.

So how has the claim arisen that ‘καὶ ὁ ἐσόμενος’ in the Received Text, translated as ‘and shalt be’ in the King James (Authorized) Version at Revelation 16:5, is due to a conjecture on Beza’s part? Quite evidently, the claim has no foundation in fact but is due to a lack of sound Latin scholarship.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for sharing this. I look forward to reading your article. Please share it when done.

Grace, JTR