“Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts” by C.S.C. Williams

Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts
by Charles Stephen Conway Williams
Basil Blackwell, 1951



«The scribes familiar with parallel passages to the one that they were copying were tempted, sometimes unconsciously but more often quite consciously, to assimilate their text to its parallel. For instance, a scribe working on the Synoptic Gospels may well have been familiar with the text of Matthew, which was the most popular and most frequently copied gospel; when he came to copy out Mark’s gospel, he would add Matthean words or phrases to Mark’s text; e.g. in Mk. xi, 26 A C D N a b Syr.p add words closely resembling Mt. vi, 15; but in Mk. xiv, 30 D Θ 565 700 a Cop.sa omit σήμερον to agree with Mt. xxvi, 34.

In the same way Luke was sometimes harmonized; e.g. in Lk. xi, 25 B C L l add σχολάζοντα from Mt. xii, 44. Even the text of Matthew has suffered from assimilation too; e.g. in Mt. viii, 9 B ℵ add τασσόμενος from Lk. vii, 8. Further, when Harmonies of the Gospels like Tatian’s became popular, scribes working on one of the four separate gospels must have found the impulse even stronger within them to add or to omit so as to make parallel passages agree if these were included in some familiar harmony. But scribes did not always need Tatian’s Harmony before them to make them harmonize, as von Soden should have realized (Die Schriften des neuen Testaments).

Similarly in Acts parallel passages are harmonized; assimilation is naturally not so common in this book as in the Synoptic Gospels but it is found, e.g., in the three accounts of St. Paul’s conversion; Acts ix, 5, σκληρόν σοι πρὸς κέντρα λακτίζειν is inserted from Acts xxvi, 14 before εἶπε in E 431 Syr.pesh. The Bezan text of the Gospels, D, was peculiarly prone to assimilation the Caesarean clan or family is by no means free from it and the Alexandrian family alone can claim to have been little infected by it.»


«In the original MSS. it seems that New Testament writers can seldom have quoted from the Septuagint, still less from the Hebrew, of the Old Testament with a high degree of accuracy. Sometimes quotations seem to have come from Testimonies or lists of Old Testament proof-texts current in the early Church from the time of the Evangelists themselves, if J. R. Harris is to be believed (Testimonies, 1916). As time went on scribes showed an increasing tendency to harmonize the loose Biblical quotation or allusion that they were supposed to be copying with the exact words of the Old Testament. Mk. i, 2-3 quotes Malachi iii, 1 and Isaiah xl, 3, perhaps from a Testimony bearing the name of Isaiah alone; Mark no doubt wrote καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ but later scribes altered the last clause to ἐν τοις προφήταις. Similarly in Mt. iv, 6 χειρῶν has been altered in Syr.vet to ‘arms’ from Ps. xci, 12 (Syr.vg).»


«Christian scribes belonged to a worshipping community. It would be strange if they were uninfluenced by liturgical formulae familiar to them. The influence of the longer, liturgical form of the Lord’s Prayer found in Mt. vi, 9ff upon the text of Lk. xi, 2-4 is apparent, to which some MSS. add Ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ after πειρασμόν. B. H. Streeter thought that the Lord’s Prayer was derived by Matthew and Luke from material peculiar to each (M and L respectively) and not from a common source Q and that later scribes assimilated the Lukan text more and more to that of Matthew (Four Gospels, 1924). In the same way the words of the Institution of the Last Supper probably assumed a fixed form in the course of the second century and were familiar liturgically to Christians. Whereas Matthew’s text alone originally had εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν in Mt. xxvi, 28, the words are inserted into Mk. xiv, 24 in W. Some scholars think that the Pauline account of the Last Supper (1 Cor. xi, 23ff) influenced the ‘Longer Text’ of Luke (Lk. xxii, 19b-20), though, as will be seen later others take the Longer Text to be original. On the other hand there is little to be said, as will appear later, for taking Mt. xxvilii, 19 to be a scribal interpolation of the threefold name of God in place of ‘in the name of Jesus’ by those who were familiar with the Church’s baptismal rite.»


«Just as Matthew and Luke refined the Greek of Mark, smoothing out rough or uncouth words and phrases, so scribes working on the Gospels did the same; e.g. after a verb of motion like ἤγετο in Lk. iv, 1 the accusative is used in A in place of the better attested dative, ἐις την ἐρήμον instead of ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ. A similar motive underlay the scribal alterations of Mk. viii, 26, to which C. H. Turner drew attention (New Commentary). If Mark wrote originally “Tell it to nobody in the village” (k (c) = μηδὲνι εἴπῃς ἐν τῇ κώμῃ) then the other variants introducing a verb of motion and an accusative are understandable […]

Sometimes late Koine Greek expressions were replaced by older or more exact Semitic or classical Greek words or phrases; e.g. by Καπερναοὺμ by Καφαρναοὺμ; εἶπαν by εἶπον. Again, the broken speech is mended by scribes; in Mk. vii, 2 for instance the original text broke off abruptly after ἄρτους. Verbs were added to complete the grammatical construction, D adding κατεγνωσαν, 33 579 W fam.1 a c d ἐμέμψαντο.»


«In Mk. vi, 47 παλαι is added after ἦν (to show that the boat had been out on the lake for a long time) in 𝔓45 D a b fam.1 28. In Mt xxvi, 15 αργυρια is replaced in D a b d q by στατήρας possibly because the stater was the recognized piece of silver at Antioch or wherever the ‘Western’ text originated. In Lk. xxiii, 32 we read Ηγοντο δε και ετεροι δυο, κακουργοι, συν … which, if read without commas, is liable to give offence; ετεροι is omitted by c e Syr.s Cop. Similarly in Lk. ii, 41 οι γονεις αυτου may seem to deny the doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus if the words are not taken to imply that Joseph was the legal parent or putatively the father of Jesus; a and b read ‘Joseph et Maria’ (mater eius), Syr.s-pesh ‘his kinsmen’. The names of the two thieves, Mt. xxvii, 38 are given in c as Zoatham and Camma. After Lk. vi, 4 D gives what may well have been a floating piece of oral tradition. ‘And on the same day seeing someone working on the sabbath day He said to him, Man, if thou knowest what thou art doing, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not accursed art thou and a transgressor of the law.’

After Mk. xvi, 3 the African Latin k has the additional phrases,ab ostio (?) subito autem ad horam tertiam tenebrae die factae sunt per totum orbem terrae, et descenderunt de caelis angeli et surgente in claritate filio dei simul ascenderunt cum eo et continuo lux facta est (cf. Evang. Petri ix). At the end of the same verse the reference to the stone at the door of the tomb being very great has been transferred in D Θ 565 Lat. (except k) Tatian and Eusebius from the end of xvi, 4, where it appears awkwardly after ‘They saw that the stone had been rolled away’.

Such additions are characteristic of the Western text of Acts rather than of the Western text of the Gospels. The Pericope Adulterae, Jn. vii, 53-vii, 11, is perhaps the most famous of these ‘floating scraps’; it has been incorporated in some other MSS. in addition to D.»

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