Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#15)
02/14/2005 - James WhiteThe next variant noted by Bentley in reference to Codex Sinaiticus (a) is that found in Luke 24:51. The original reading of a does not have the phrase "and was carried up into heaven." D likewise omits the phrase, as does a wide spectrum of Latin sources and the Sinaitic Syriac. The 25th ed. of the Nestle-Aland did not place the phrase in the main text, but the 26th and following included it. Bentley writes,
The evidence of the manuscript from Mount Sinai was proving more and more difficult to digest. In the received text, Luke chapter 24, verse 51, tells how Jesus left his disciples after his resurrection. He blessed them, was parted from them, 'and was carried up into heaven'. Sinaiticus omits the final clause. As the textual critic C.S.C. Williams observed, if this omission is correct, 'there is no reference at all to the Ascension in the original text of the Gospels'.Once again, a is not the only witness to the end of Luke. We have even earlier witnesses, such as P75, that contain the phrase. It is anticipated by Acts 1:1-2 ("The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up"), though using a different term (which argues for the inclusion, as a later scribal emendation to attempt to bring the shorter version of 24:51 into line with Acts 1:2 would have used the same verbal form, while Luke uses two different forms). So what accounts for the shorter version in a* and D and the Latin manuscripts? One interesting possibility is an error of sight known as homoeoarcton ("similar beginings"), the cousin of a better known error, homoeoteleuton ("similar endings"). While homoeoteleuton is more common, the eye can catch common openings to clauses and as a result skip a clause. In this case, the Greek text reads, into verse 52,
kai. evge,neto evn tw/| euvlogei/n auvto.n auvtou.j die,sth avpV auvtw/n kai. avnefe,reto eivj to.n ouvrano,nÅ kai. auvtoi. proskunh,santej auvto.n u`pe,streyan eivj VIerousalh.m meta. cara/j mega,lhjNow keep in mind, of course, that we are talking about a variant arising in the period of the uncial scripts: all capital forms, no spaces. Hence, a portion of that would actually look like this:
KAIANEFERETOEISTONOURANONKAIAUTOIPROSKUNHSANTESAUTONUPESTREYANTwice you have the recurring section of letters, KAIA, first at the beginning of the phrase that is not found in a, and then immediately at its end. Let me bold the relevant character strings to make sure it is clear:
KAIANEFERETOEISTONOURANONKAIAUTOIPROSKUNHSANTESAUTONUPESTREYANA person writing the the Greek of "from them" may see that the next word he is going to be writing is "kai," but as his eyes go back to the manuscript from which he is copying, he finds the "kai" farther down the line, picking up his transcription at that point, inadvertently resulting in the deletion of the intervening phrase.
The modern editions of the Nestle-Aland text were right to place the phrase back in the main text, in my opinion. a is not infallible, and no one should treat it as if it is. But the reason for the variant does not have to be found in conspiracy theories, nor does the presence of such variation in this valuable ancient manuscript prove that the correct reading 1) is not present, or 2) cannot be determined.