From the Ancient Manuscripts
I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book. —Revelation 22:18, ASV
Occasionally a Scripture may seem completely out of harmony with the rest of Scripture, and checking translation has not helped. In this case it is worthwhile to check the ancient manuscripts.
The twentieth-century-discovered Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew Old Testament go back to the time of Christ and even before. And the Greek New Testament is now represented by about a hundred papyri (second to eighth centuries), three hundred uncials (fourth to tenth centuries), and twenty-nine hundred cursives (since the ninth century). Though none is perfect, dozens of the best point to an early text far less diverse than the manuscripts of the “Majority Text.” In only a few places the meaning is substantially changed, as notably in John 1:18, 1 Corinthians 15:51, and Revelation 20:5.
Dead Sea Scrolls: Approximately one-third of the Dead Sea Scrolls attest to how well the Massoretic text has been preserved for over a thousand years. The most significant change may be an addition, which may be designated verse zero of 1 Samuel 11: “Nahash king of the Ammonites oppressed the Gadites and the Reubenites viciously. He put out the right eye of all of them and brought fear and trembling on Israel. Not one of the Israelites in the region beyond the Jordan remained whose right eye Nahash king of the Ammonites did not put out, except seven thousand men who escaped from the Ammonites and went to Jabesh-gilead.” [Added by 4QSama and Josephus, Antiq. VI, v, 1. Omitted by Massoretic, Sept., Aram., Vg.] This text logically explains the historical account in the following verses. It could easily have been accidentally omitted if a scribe’s eye skipped from Nahash in verse 0 to Nahash in verse 1.
The principal New Testament manuscript discovery of the twentieth century has been that of over a hundred papyrus manuscripts, about half of which are from the second and third centuries, preceding Constantine. These are signified by the letter “P” with a superscript number.
P52 (J. Rylands 457) of ca. A.D. 125. The nineteenth-century school of higher criticism had ostensibly proved that John’s writings could not have been written before the late third century. That conclusion had already been largely discounted by the time this manuscript of John 18:31-33,37-38 trashed it.
P45, the Chester Beatty I manuscript of the early third century, contains fragments of all four gospels and Acts. Thus, the four gospels were recognized at least a century before Constantine supposedly canonized them. [P75 of similar date contains Luke and John.]
P46, Chester Beatty II of ca. A.D. 200, has Paul’s epistles in a sequence of Romans, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Corinthians, etc. Thus, Paul was very early considered the author of the book of Hebrews.
P47, Chester Beatty III of the early third century, contains most of the center one-third of Revelation. It is evidence that Revelation was written much earlier, and not later.
There are now 80-120 known manuscripts or fragments
earlier than the oldest known “Textus Receptus” manuscript, Q (026) of the fifth
century. Thus, a commonly-repeated claim that “Textus Receptus” (from which the
KJV was translated) was exactly what the
apostles wrote simply retains no credibility.
Notable New Testament Corrections
Accordingly, the following corrections to the KJV (some of which apply also to other versions) are recommended:
Matthew 5:22 omit “without a cause.” [By the fifth century a scribe probably felt a need to justify himself or his organization by adding a word (a four-letter word in the Greek).]
Matthew 6:13 omit “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” The three best manuscripts of Matthew omit these words. This appears to have been adapted from 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. But “thine is the kingdom” appears to directly contradict “Thy kingdom come” in verse 10. [GNT also confidently omits these words.]
Matthew 19:17 read “Why askest thou me concerning good? One is good; but if thou wilt…” [This might be one of the few Arian alterations.]
Matthew 24:36 add “nor the Son,” after “angels of heaven”
Mark 3:29 read “sin” for “damnation”
Mark 16:9-20 Omit all these verses. [GNT also confidently omits these words. There is also a shorter ending in some manuscripts, but it too should be rejected.]
Luke 23:34 omit “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” [But the Sinaiticus original scribe (a*; fourth century) and Regius (L, eighth century), among about 1,630 manuscripts, include the text. The destruction of the temple and fall of Masada within forty years might indicate they were not forgiven.]
John 1:18 read “an only begotten god” for “the only begotten Son.” [The four oldest and best manuscripts read “god.” This reading would appear to support the view that John 1:1 refers to two separate and distinct “gods.” (Allen Wikgren dissented on this text from the other four GNT committee members. But E. C. Colwell acknowledged the correction.)]
John 7:53-8:11 Omit all these verses. [GNT also confidently omits these words. Some manuscripts put them other places in Luke or John; others mark them as dubious; still others include only some of these verses.]
Acts 13:19-20 read “he gave them their land for an inheritance, for about four hundred and fifty years: also after these things he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.”
Acts 20:28 read “the blood of his own Son” for “his own blood.” [Compare 1 Timothy 5:8.]
1 Corinthians 5:7 omit “for us” [Was Christ’s sacrifice so limited?]
1 Corinthians 15:51 read “We shall all fall asleep, but we shall not all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in the last trump” for “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…” [This correction is a clear case of quality vs. quantity. Six of the best nine manuscripts (plus four others) read as corrected, while only two support KJV (plus 575 lesser manuscripts). The ancient versions are split. A few manuscripts have ‘not’ in both places or in neither place. (The incompatibility between the early reading and the ‘immortality of the soul’ teaching is easily seen. That likely explains why the change was made.)]
Ephesians 5:30 omit “of his flesh and of his bones”
1 Timothy 3:16 read “who” for “God” [A later single penstroke changed ‘who’ to ‘God’ in several manuscripts. Isaac Newton protested against this alteration seen in KJV.]
2 Timothy 4:1 read “by both his appearing” for “at his appearing”
2 Timothy 4:14 read “will reward” for “reward” [Paul was not evidently vindictive.]
1 John 5:7,8 omit “in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.” [These words are found in no reputable Greek manuscript, in only nine total (in seven variations), and in the text of only five (as against five hundred manuscripts which omit these words).]
The history of this interpolation is unusually well known. The Trinitarian controversy had begun in the fourth century, and in the fifth century two Latin commentaries quoted the interpolation: Speculum and Contra Varimadum arianum (Varimadum). In later times it was inserted into the Latin Vulgate text, but it had not entered the Greek manuscripts.
When Erasmus hurried a Greek New Testament to press in 1516, Cardinal Ximemes and his editors at Alcalá (Complutum), Spain, were angered that their Complutensian Polyglot (1514-1517) had been upstaged. They harried Erasmus for allegedly corrupting the Bible by omitting this interpolation. In desperation, Erasmus promised to include it in his third edition if he should be shown even one Greek manuscript containing it. The ink was barely dry when they brought him one (#61)! As Tischendorf’s successor, C.R. Gregory, put it, “It was a great pity that Erasmus did it. It has taken centuries to get the words out again.”
Jude 22-23 read “And on some who are wavering, have mercy; and some save, seizing them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” [Three stages of sin are distinguished, but mercy is appropriate to all.]
Revelation 1:11b omit “which are in Asia” [in late Vulgate; not in the Greek]
Revelation 20:5 “This is the first resurrection.” should probably be the whole verse1. However, many ancient manuscripts have an extra sentence to read (beginning in the latter part of verse 4), “…they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until were finished the thousand years. This is the first resurrection.”
A problem becomes immediately evident: The extra sentence says that the first resurrection is really the absence of a resurrection! So we should look at the ancient manuscripts.
It is reasonable to suspect that the extra sentence was accidentally omitted when a scribe’s eye skipped from “thousand years” at the end of verse 4 to “thousand years” at the end of the extra sentence, as most text critics do. Yet, there are five observations that point to omission as being the earlier reading:
1. There are no pre-Constantine manuscripts covering Revelation 20 discovered yet. The only pre-Constantine evidence we have is Victorinus’ commentary (ca. 300 A.D.). The manuscripts of Victorinus of Pettau omit the extra sentence, while Jerome a century later says Victorinus included it. [Victorinus was a chiliast (believer in a literal thousand-year kingdom of Christ on earth); so it is less credible that the manuscripts he saw would have contained the sentence.]
2. The oldest manuscript we possess of Revelation 20 is the Sinaitic (a) of the mid-fourth century, and it omits the sentence, while the next oldest is the Alexandrian (A) of the early-fifth century, which adds it. [Not strong evidence, based on just one manuscript, as even the best manuscript contains some mistakes.]
3. There are two “Majority Texts” in Revelation, the “Koine text,” MK, of the fourth or possibly early fifth century, and the “Andreas-commentary text”, MA, which is unlikely to precede Andreas himself, ca. A.D. 600. The Koine omits, while the Andreas adds, the sentence.
4. The Aecumenius-commentary text is found in two forms. The earlier (represented by manuscripts 2053 and 2062), originating with Aecumenius near A.D. 540, omits the sentence in the Revelation text but includes it in his commentary. The later text (represented by a family of manuscripts, ƒ1678, including manuscripts 1678, 2080, 1778, and 052), apparently partially re-edited to conform more to the commentary, includes the sentence in both text and commentary.
5. From the fourth to thirteenth century, about equal numbers of manuscripts omit and add the disputed sentence. In the fourteenth century the fraction adding it jumps to about 69%, and it rises thereafter to 100% in the seventeenth century.
All five observations reveal a trend towards adding the disputed sentence, not deleting it. Such a change would be in keeping with the new political situation when Constantine released Christians from persecution: Now that this is Christ’s kingdom, were we wrong in expecting the resurrection to begin? or, Are Christ’s Kingdom and its resurrection still future? Thus, there was a perceived need to add a comment in the margin, “The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished.” After the sentence was incorporated into the text, and seen to read roughly, some scribes prefixed “And”, while others prefixed “But.” Centuries later other scribes inserted “again” after “lived not.” Thus this sentence is found in five different forms among the manuscripts which do add it.
The first sentence in Revelation 20:5 of the
KJV should be omitted, as indeed Syriac (Aramaic) Bibles
always have, at least until manuscripts of the second or third centuries are
discovered and published.
Ancient Motivations for Alteration
While most changes were undoubtedly made with benign intent, a few appear to have been made to support changing doctrines:
w To squelch belief in Christ’s coming Millennium: Matthew 6:13; Revelation 20:5
w To justify Trinity theology: John 1:18; 1 John 5:7-8; Acts 20:28
w To remove an impediment to belief in immortal souls: 1 Corinthians 15:51
But we should let the Bible change us, rather than the other way around.