I know, I know, I started this in December of 2004. I continue with my response to Saifullah & Azmy’s article on the transmission of the text of the New Testament, focusing upon their almost plagiaristically long citation of Bentley’s work on Sinaiticus (see the 23 previous installments for background details). Bentley writes,
It must not be supposed from these examples that Codex Sinaiticus invariably supports an ‘unorthodox’ view of Jesus. On the contrary, in the genealogy of Jesus given by St Matthew, for instance, Codex Sinaiticus is (unlike some other manuscripts) one that carefully supports the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus, ending the list of his ancestors with the words, ‘Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ’.
A quick glance at the textual data immediately reveals that while a with the vast majority of the textual tradition, the minor variations present in the text do not, in fact, contradict the doctrine of the virgin birth. Hence I confess to being a bit lost as to what Bentley is trying to insinuate, outside of the already documented error on his part of assuming a manuscript (especially one like a) can be said to “support” or “deny” a particular viewpoint. A particular reading may be said to “support” or “deny” only upon one’s reading of the text and one’s theology. In any case, the insinuation seems to be that a is purposefully “supporting” the doctrine of the virgin birth, as if the author of the manuscript was altering his text so as to communicate a particular theological belief. And surely if that is the accusation being made, the text of Matthew 1:16 in a is hardly a good place to attempt to base your case.
Often, too, the additions to the text which are found in later documents but not in Sinaiticus are merely harmless, and indeed sometimes positively useful additions. Two such examples may be cited from St John’s Gospel. In chapter 4 a woman of Samaria is asked by Jesus for a drink. She answers ‘How do you, a Jew, ask a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ Later scribes add an explanation to the original authentic text: ‘for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans’.
Similarly in chapter 5 of John’s Gospel, Jesus comes across a great many sick persons lying by a pool. A later scribe has added an explanation not found in Codex Sinaiticus: ‘for an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had’.
Once again Bentley assumes a very simplistic and simply wrong-headed concept of textual transmission. The vast majority of variants are not at all so simplistically credited to purposeful emendation. First Bentley notes the variant at John 4:9 where the explanation concerning the relationship of the Jews and Samaritans is not found in a and a small number of other witnesses (D a b e j). Ironically, Bentley shows his incapacity in this area by identifying this as a later scribal addition, a “harmless” explanation. Yet, the text is read by all the papyri which pre-date a! How can later scribes “add” this in when the earlier papyri manuscripts contain the reading? Yet another face-plant in the light of the facts. Why is it not in a*? I would suggest a simple reason: the phrase explaining the relationship of Jews and Samaritans (which would be natural information for John himself to include, given his audience) comes somewhat parenthetically following a question. It is natural, upon writing a question, to move to the answer, which is what comes immediately after the parenthetic comment. It could be as simple as the mental process involved in how we write questions and answers, and the fact that rarely is there a phrase between the question and the answer given, resulting in the eyes automatically returning to the exemplar (original) and catching the word “answered” and moving on from there. There is no reason to assume any kind of motivation on the part of the scribes outside of simple scribal error, given the textual data itself.
The second variant is quite different. I have commented on John 5:4 numerous times (it is one my favorite variants to use when I know a large number of folks in the audience are carrying the NIV) and have a section on it in my book, The King James Only Controversy. In this case I have argued that we have here a marginal note, an explanation of a geographical/cultural reference, that has been assimilated into the text due to the natural conservatism of scribes. That is, when faced with uncertainty as to whether something in a column was a note, or was meant to be in the text, the scribal tendency was to keep the material and incorporate it into the text. Once again, by connecting these two readings, which are quite different from one another in nature and textual background, shows that Bentley is not accurately handling the materials.