Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Islamic Apologetics and New Testament Transmission (#16)
02/16/2005 - James WhiteJames Bentley uses very poor, or at the least, misleading language, in his description of the text of a. He writes, "Persistently and disturbingly, the codex from Mount Sinai omits cherished sentences of Holy Scripture. In Matthew chapter 17, the disciples of Jesus fail to cast out a devil from an epileptic. Verse 21 in the received text gives Jesus's explanation that such a healing requires much prayer and fasting. Codex Sinaiticus omits the explanation." No, that is not completely true. Bentley seems ignorant of "parallel corruption," a very common phenomenon, especially in the Synoptic Gospels. When one gospel contains a particular phrase, or in this case, explanation, some scribes assumed each gospel would have to contain the same words. If one did not, someone, at some point, either inadvertently (i.e., if the longer version in, say, Luke, is the most commonly cited in the liturgy of the day, a scribe could expand the shorter version in, say, Mark, without even noticing it) or purposefully sought to "harmonize" the parallel accounts. And that is exactly what is taking place here. Compare the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark:
Matthew 17:17-21 17 And Jesus answered and said, "You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me." 18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not drive it out?" 20 And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21 "But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."
Mark 9:25-29 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again." 26 After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, "He is dead!" 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. 28 When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, "Why could we not drive it out?" 29 And He said to them, "This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer."
So, as one can see, a does contain the line, only in Mark 9:29. This may seem like a small point, but it is not. Once again we see the danger of looking at textual critical issues "backwards." We look backwards upon the manuscript tradition. How else can we? We look into the past and seek to understand the genealogical relationships the manuscripts bear to one another. But the texts were created in "the other direction." When we try to move back to the point of origin and look forward at the tradition, we gain an important perspective. If Bentley wanted to be accurate here, he would say, "Sinaiticus displays a text marked at times by brevity, rather than the fuller, later ecclesiastical text, as seen here in an example where the phrase is found in Mark, but not included in the parallel passage in Matthew." But it is easier to simply isolate the manuscript and put it in opposition to the "traditional text," use all the emotional buzz words like "remove" or "delete," and move on from there. And surely that is the usefulness our Islamic authors find in this lengthy quote as well.