Thursday, December 17, 2020

WM 185: Text Note: Matthew 1:7-8: Asa or Asaph?


Notes from WM 185:

The issue:

I was preaching last Sunday through the genealogy which begins the Gospel of Matthew and noted a textual variation at Matthew 1:7-8.

The TR reads Asa, ασα, while the modern critical text reads Asaph, ασαφ (Westcott and Hort, NA 28, THGNT).

Translations based on the TR, then, read “Asa” while those based on the modern critical text read “Asaph” (see, e.g., the RSV/NRSV/ESV; though some, like the NIV, demur and follow the traditional reading “Asa”).

In spelling the difference is but one letter.

The external evidence:

The TR reading is supported by:

K, L, W, Γ, Δ, 33, 565, 579, 892, 1241, 1424, and the Majority text. It is also in the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac.

The modern critical text is supported by:

P1 (vid), א, B, C, family 1, family 13, and 700. It is also found in the Old Latin, in some mss. of the Harklean Syriac, and in the Coptic.

The internal evidence:

Metzger’s Commentary gives the modern critical text a {B} rating (17).

Metzger begins by noting that “Asaph” is “the earliest form of text preserved in the manuscripts” and that it comes from geographically diverse sources.

He adds:

“Furthermore, the tendency of scribes, observing that the name of the psalmist Asaph (cf. the titles of Pss 50 and 73 to 83), would have been to correct the error, thus accounting for the prevalence of [Asa] in the later Ecclesiastical text and its inclusion in the Textus Receptus.”

He cites the scholar LaGrange’s demurral from the scholarly consensus, noting that the author would not have drawn up this list “without consulting the Old Testament.” Asaph then, must be “a very ancient [scribal] error.”

Metzger contrarily concludes, “Since, however, the evangelist may have derived material from the genealogy, not from the Old Testament directly, but from subsequent genealogical lists, in which the erroneous spelling occurred, the Committee saw no reason to adopt what appears to be a scribal emendation in the text of Matthew.”

So, Metzger’s theory is the following:

The original author of Matthew derived his genealogical list not directly from the OT, but from some later genealogical list, in which the name of Asa had been misspelled (it was not even an alternative spelling for Asa but an error). In a footnote, Meztger does not that Asa is spelled Asab in one ms. of the genealogy of 1 Chron 3:10 and that it is spelled Asanos in Josephus’s Antiquities, viii.xi.3-xx.6 (and spelled Asaph in a Latin translation).


This is a minor variation (one letter), but it is significant.

Would the Gospel of Matthew have included an erroneous spelling of the name of a king of Israel (Asa), possibly confusing the name with a Psalmist (Asaph)?

Would Matthew (a Jewish apostle, steeped in the OT) have included “Asaph” in a Gospel that most scholars agree was likely aimed at a Jewish Christian audience?

The traditional reading has ancient attestation. W is one of the earliest uncials. Only one papyrus favors Asaph and its reading is unclear. The clear consensus reading, confirmed by its appearance in the Majority of extant mss., was Asa.

There is a plausible explanation for the brief appearance of Asaph in the tradition: an early scribal error.

The modern critical text’s preference for a historically incorrect reading is that they are supposedly restoring the hypothetical original. This decision shows their bias against historical accuracy in the original and in the consensus text. Thus, it subtly undermines the historical reliability of Scripture.

Metzger’s approach gives us insight into the mind of the modern reconstructionist text critic. As David C. Parker so colorfully puts it, “The editor is the person who confronts this terrifying anarchy of competing variants, [and] is in effect the scholarly world’s exorcist who drives out the legion demons and leaves the work sitting and clothed and in its right mind” (104).

So, the modern scholar sees the traditional text as a demon possessed monstrosity, which he must exorcized in order to restore the text to its “right mind.”

In this case, however, it appears to be an anti-exorcism with the original and correct Asa being removed and replaced by the corruption, Asaph!

How would a preacher or teacher who uses a translation such as the ESV handle his exposition of this passage? Would he say, “This reading is historically inaccurate, appears only in a minority tradition, but we believe it was probably the original and we are going to accept it in our Bibles even though (and perhaps even because of the fact that) it is historically wrong.”?

The traditional reading is to be preferred.

Note: A very similar divergence appears in Matthew 1:10 where the TR reads “Amon,” while the modern critical text reads “Amos.”


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