Bible Reading Blog — January 18,2016

18 Jan

Today’s Readings — BREAK & Mark 3:20-34

I want to use today’s passage to look at the Greek manuscripts which are behind the English translations of the New Testament we enjoy. There are thousands of fragments and portions of the New Testament which have been hand copied through the centuries. A few of these are from within decades of the original text, others within a century or so, and many others from the early centuries of the last millennium. The New Testament has more copies in existence than any other work from the ancient world, and it is not even close. The next several works with the most copies could have all their copies combined and still fall short of the 24,000 or so New Testament manuscripts.

With that said, there are lots of differences between the manuscripts. Most of these are small matters that don’t affect anything significant. Most scholars say the differences do not affect anything important in 90-95% of the cases. Even in the cases where meaning is affected in a significant way, because there are so many manuscripts, we can usually do some detective work and determine which is the original reading. As we compare manuscripts to one another by age and by place of origin, we can usually construct plausible ideas about when the text was changed and why.

The text for today’s reading is one of the cases where we can see a probable altering of the text in some manuscripts. In Mark 3:20 and 21 we read,

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” The phrase “his family” in verse 21 is the Greek phrase hoi par autou, which means “the one’s close by him” (i.e., “his family” or KJV “his friends”). The phrase is a little vague but seems to point to Jesus’ family. Jesus’ family tried to take Him out of the crowd, saying, “He is out of His mind.”
But a couple of manuscripts have a different reading. These manuscripts have the reading,

peri autou hoi grammateis kai hoi loipoi (“when the scribes and the rest close by him”). Now this reading is obviously very different than the other reading. It is not just a matter of someone copying the wrong letter from one manuscript to another. This is an intentional alternate reading. What is the explanation? It seems most likely that this reading exists because of a desire to protect the family of Jesus from criticism. If the religious leaders can be implicated in calling Jesus crazy, this is more palatable than the words coming from Jesus’ family. But the context of the passage, along with the overwhelming number of manuscripts which support the first reading, point toward an alteration. The context where Jesus points to His true family as those who do the will of God would seem to close the case on the original reading in verse 21 being a reference to Jesus’ family.
Copyists are humans too. Sometimes, out of a motivation to protect those whom the church would later revere (Mary and the brothers of Jesus), a change is made to the text.
Those who haven’t studied Greek can still know something about manuscript differences by reading the footnotes in the Bible or by comparing translations. Most of the time the reasons for differences can be easily explained, giving us a New Testament we can fundamentally trust.


2 Responses to “Bible Reading Blog — January 18,2016”

  1. jpkight January 18, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    That was very interesting, Pastor Scott.  And it is not such a stretch to accept that Jesus’ family may not have been completely in his corner.   Jesus did say, “a prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”  (Mark 6:4 KJV) Thank-you for your daily posts,Jill

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

    • jsf08 January 18, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

      Yes, that’s right Jill. I also saw a reference to John 7:3, where Jesus’ brothers counsel Him to show Himself publicly. In that passage, there seems to be some skepticism. Thankfully, when we get to the book of Acts, we find Mary and the brothers of Jesus with the apostles and believers gathered in prayer (Acts 1:14). Maybe the resurrection made a difference for Jesus’ brothers, they seem to have come around.

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