Fast “weekend” so I’m behind already. Peoria, IL, this weekend, back Tuesday, gone again Thursday for LA and the debate/conference/cruise! Time is short, blogging will be brief for a while.
So as to utilize my time better, I tried to find a textual variant in the New Testament that involved an infinitive but that would also allow me to make some comments regarding the proliferation of anti-Christian Muslim apologetics materials criticizing the textual basis of the Bible. Muslims, operating on the false assumption of the perfection of the text of the Qur’an (a false assumption that simply cannot survive the reality of the Uthmanian revision and the presence of major textual variation in early versions of the Qur’an that, in many cases, are not easily examined today due to the tendency of Muslims to kill people who dare question such things, whether those people are Muslim or non-Muslim), point to the presence of textual variation in the New Testament manuscript tradition as evidence of the imperfection and corruption of the biblical text. Most Christians are completely ignorant of the backgrounds of the Bible and the process of textual criticism (something I tried to help address in my own way by writing The King James Only Controversy), and hence are easily stymied by the simple citation of textual data that is available to any first year Greek student.
I came up with the variant found at 2 Cor. 11:32. The verse reads in the NASB,
In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me,
The final phrase reads in the UBS/NA27 texts, “pia,sai me,” “to seize me.” This is the reading of B, D*, a number of early translations, and some early Fathers. F and G, two witnesses that are clearly transcriptionally related and that often go off on their own, read, qe,lwn pia,sai me, which would be, “wishing to seize me.” And then a large number of witnesses, including Aleph, H, Y, uncials, a number of minuscules, and the Byzantine text (hence, the reading of the TR), reads pia,sai me qe,lwn, which is also translated “wishing to seize me” (this is the reading of the KJV, “desirous to apprehend me”). Now, the infinitive by itself (as translated by the NASB) can carry with it this concept of purpose or result, and hence is rendered “in order to seize me.” The variant is three fold, for it includes the absence of the word “wishing,” and its presence twice, first before the infinitival phrase, then after (which is translationally negligible at this point).
The first thing to note is that the meaning of the text is not materially altered by any of the choices made. The majority of variations in the NT are of the same kind, and very rarely is the ultimate meaning of the text at stake in the textual choice. Secondly, one of the three readings is the original. The original reading has not been “lost,” but remains with us. Third, while the Majority Text reading (the third listed) has the largest variety of support, the NA27/UBS editors chose the shorter reading, reasoning that there is no textual reason for the omission of qe,lwn, but there is reason why later scribes would wish to insert it to smooth out the text and fill out the implied function of the infinitival phrase.
One thing is truly clear: we should cherish the freedom we have in non-Muslim nations to even discuss such things, for to raise questions about the textual purity of the Qur’an in many nations today would result in swift imprisonment and even death. We should truly pray for God’s continued blessing (in the form of repentance and revival, the only things that will stop the Muslim expansion!) so that we will be able to freely, and without fear, speak the truth.