Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
01/07/2009 - James White
Monday morning I posted two items on my ministry resources list at Amazon, both commentaries on John by Origen. By Tuesday evening the books were sitting on my desk, being put to use (thank you CR!). They led me to the needed location in a resource I've had for many years so as to have the exact citations, in Greek, that Bart Ehrman has based an important portion of his external argumentation relating to the textual variant at Hebrews 2:9. Specifically, in his earlier work, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, he speaks of the external sources that support the reading "without God" (χωρις θεου) over against the reading of the vast majority of manuscripts and sources, "by the grace of God" (χάριτι θεοῦ). I will be addressing this variant, along with the one from Mark 1:41, in the opening session of the conference the day of the debate, for those of you who can get there early. It will be recorded, of course, for those who can't. In any case, the reading is found in only two tenth century manuscripts, which would normally be enough to dismiss the reading. However, Ehrman points out that 1) one of those manuscripts is 1739, from Mount Athos, an important minuscule that is an excellent copy of a 4th century exemplar that itself is a copy of a (probably) 2nd century manuscript (1739 and 1881 are important later minuscules). 1739 is pictured to the right. 2) Early writers knew of the reading. And here is what I wanted to check out, for he says the reading "was acknowledged by Origen himself as the reading of the majority of the manuscripts of his own day, manuscripts that consequently must have been produced no later than the end of the second century or the very beginning of the third." He provides at this point a footnote (he repeats the same assertion in Misquoting Jesus, but without the references) that gave me three references in Origen's commentary on John, 1.35, 28.18 and 32.28.
In only one of these is there any reference to other manuscripts, and it simply does not substantiate Ehrman's claim that Origen said "the majority of the manuscripts" of his day read as 1739 reads. The citation is very short, but it reads, "For 'apart from God he tasted death for all.' This appears in some copies of the Epistle to the Hebrews as 'by the grace of God.'" I wanted to see if the underlying text in any way suggested that "some copies" here would be "a few, or a minority," so I found the text in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. The Greek reads, "οπερ εν τισι κειται της προς Εβραιους αντιγραφοις χαριτι θεου." I see nothing in the phrase εν τισι αντιγραφοις that in any way indicates that these are the minority of manuscripts. It seems Ehrman is assuming that if Origen prefers the reading of "apart from God" that this means it is in the majority of the manuscripts available to him. But the reasons why Origen may have preferred one reading over another can be quite complex, to be sure. In any case, all we can glean from the references Ehrman himself provides is that Origen knew of the variant in the third century. The idea that it was a majority reading at that time is not substantiated by the references he offers, and there is good reason to think otherwise, given that the reading simply disappears from the manuscript tradition outside of two 10th century witnesses. It is hard to imagine a scenario, especially in Alexandria, where we have the greatest papyri witness (P46 contains this text and reads "by the grace of God"), where a majority reading could simply disappear, only to be found in a 10th century manuscript.
In any case, more on this in a few weeks in Florida! Once again, my thanks to those who have assisted me in my studies through the ministry resource list. I will keep it current for those who like to support the work by providing study and research resources.