Sunday, July 27, 2008

On the Proper Reading of Matthew 5:22

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court (Matthew 5:22a, NASB)

But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:22a, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Matthew 5:22 is a disputed text. At issue is whether the word εἰκῇ ("in vain, for nothing, thoughtlessly") should or should not appear in the sentence. The UBS Greek New Testament apparatus lists this as a B-class variant. It does not show the εἰκῇ in the text, even in brackets. Bruce Metzger, in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, had this to say about why the critical text stands as it does:

Although the reading with εἰκῇ is widespread from the second century onwards, it is much more likely that the word was added by copyists in order to soften the rigor of the precept, than omitted as unnecessary.

The external evidence does not exclude εἰκῇ. As to the question of date, both readings were in evidence before the third century (as Metzger acknowledged above), since Origen refers to both readings (personally favoring the omission). As to geographical distribution, the inclusion of εἰκῇ is diffuse. Irenaeus, Eusebius, Chysostom, Hilary, and Cyprian all included εἰκῇ. Augustine quoted the verse in both styles, although he seemed to favor the omission. The Vulgate omitted εἰκῇ, but an impressive array of relatively early texts from the various textual families support the inclusion of the word. The "rock star" for omission of εἰκῇ is P64+67. The external evidence is a mixed bag. Whatever happened to this verse, it happened very early.

The case against εἰκῇ seems to depend (as Metzger's commentary suggested) preponderantly upon speculative internal evidence. Metzger's theory was that a copyist was pulling a "What Jesus really meant to say was…" by adding the word εἰκῇ to "soften the rigor" of Matthew 5:22. But is that a safe assumption? I think I know as many people who delight in construing a passage in its MOST rigorous interpretation as I know people who engage in "softening." Are we concluding that the first and second centuries knew nobody in the church who enjoyed the proclamation of "hard sayings"? Might not such a person just as easily have omitted εἰκῇ as a "softener" would have added it?

Besides that, we've all (of those who've been to seminary) studied about how easy it was to skip a word inadvertently while copying a manuscript. For every good explanation of how the word might have been added, I can think of an equally plausible explanation for how the word might have been dropped. And with the variation taking place so early, how remarkable is it, really, that P64 came out one way or the other?

So now we come to my point. Is the case here so incredibly clear-cut that εἰκῇ/"without cause" does not even merit inclusion in brackets or mention in a footnote (in English translations like the NASB)? I think not. I think some preconceptions about the person and message of Jesus are on display here, not in the willingness to question εἰκῇ, but in the willingness to pretend that those questions are a lot more lopsided in favor of the shorter text than they really are.

Now, do you think that I ought to be angry about that? And if I were, would it be "without cause"?

25 comments:

Grosey's Messages said...

Well done.. i enjoyed the examination of the text. And it highlights just how difficult it actually is the decry either of the two positions.
Its sort of like Sinaiticus.. was it hidden in a garbage area of the monastery to protect it as a valuable earliest text, or to destroy it as an errant text? I don't know, I wasn't there at the time!
Steve

Bart Barber said...

Grosey,

I struggled all last week with a Sinaiticus infection, but I'm better now.

:-)

No, I'm glad you liked the post. BTW, actually BOTH readings appear in Sinaiticus. The original reading omits the word, while the second corrector inserts it!

Dave Miller said...

At my advanced age, my studies in textual criticism are pretty rusty. But, I remember reading that the scribes carried a high regard for the text.

It seems to me, from my distant memory, that it would be more likely that in the boredom of the copying process, a word might be left out than that a copyist would alter the sacred text intentionally.

Anonymous said...

Bart,
I am impressed that a pastor is willing to engage at this level with the Greek text. May your eagerness encourage us all!

Dave,
You write that you don't think "a copyist would alter the sacred text intentionally". Such a position is problematic at least, and actually simply wrong. Later in this verse (Matt 5.22) scribes added "to his brother" (sorry no Greek fonts) to balance the third clause with the first two. See the text notes in NA27. Also, 1 John 5.7-8 proves that many where willing to add to the text. Any decent commentary will discuss the problem with this text.

One cannot make the blanket claim that "scribes carried a high regard for the text". Some scribes may have been professionals that did not even care about the text they were copying. They were simply doing their job. Others were poor scribes who made many mistakes, but may have cared deeply about the meaning of the text as well as the words themselves. Every manuscript must be evaluated on its own terms.

Textual criticism is extremely difficult and, if done right, requires more than a simple knowledge of Greek. One must look at original manuscripts, study other languages (Latin, Coptic, etc) and spend many hours in dusty libraries.

Jason

Bart Barber said...

BTW, Steve,

It was such an extraordinary occurrence that our news in Dallas carried video of some Australians (Sydney, I think?) playing in their first snowfall since the 1800s. Should we take up a collection and send you a sleigh?

Bart Barber said...

Dave Miller,

There is middle ground between "alter[ing] the sacred text intentionally" and leaving the thing alone. Some of the people in my church "mark up" their Bibles with personal notes and the like. My wife keeps careful note of when I have preached whence in the Bible. Sometimes the people with the highest regard for the sacred text are the folks most motivated to study it and make a few notes to remind themselves of the fruit of their studies.

Likewise, sometimes our earliest Christian forefathers would pencil in explanatory notes in the margins. Then, someone copying that particular text might come through and misunderstand what was scripture and what was personal note, accidentally including in the copy a "gloss."

It happened.

Bart Barber said...

Jason,

Well, I guess I've officially impressed SOMEBODY. Finally, my goals in blogging have been achieved. :-)

But please allow me a disclaimer to avoid giving a false impression: I ought to do more study than I actually accomplish. My Hebrew, for example, is a bit rustier than my Greek.

Also, not every textual issue gets this much attention from me. I dig deeper where it seems to matter more. I briefly examined the variant in verse 11, concluding in favor of the text as it stands, but I gave it very little time. Where the textual case is pretty doggone clear or where the implications of any serious candidate reading are pretty much the same, I give far less time to the process.

Bart Barber said...

...and, obviously, I think that this one matters. "Without cause" is a pretty significant caveat if that is genuinely what Jesus said. That reading has respectable support. The average person reading the NASB ought at least to receive some kind of an alert that this reading exists as one possibility.

Dave Miller said...

I was aware of the gloss phenomena, which might explain this text.

I think this is all silly anyway.

Just find out what the King James says and go with that!!

Bart Barber said...

Hey, Dave, if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul...

JP said...

Bart — To your liking, the NIV omits "without cause" but includes a footnote.

Bart Barber said...

JP,

I am glad that the folks at NIV took this particular liberty. Thanks for pointing that out. My ultimately preferred position would be inclusion with a "some manuscripts do not include" footnote. But as I have indicated above, I am comfortable with a translator leaning the other way on this one, so long as the evidence of the longer reading persists in the translated text in at least a footnote.

debbiekaufman said...

I agree with you Bart. Even Augustine seems to favor the omission, believing it was added and not in the original manuscripts.

However, there is a righteous anger. This is evident in Christ throwing out the money changers, and in Ephesians 4:26, where the passage tells us to anger and sin not. We must however, make sure that our anger is righteous, and not the hate anger that is murder,which is what I think Christ was speaking of.

Billy Edwards said...

We all agree that none of us know the true rendering, but my question is, "What is a justifiable cause - regardless of what Jesus said exactly?"

Debbie argues for righteous anger and appeals to Jesus as her example. Here, here. But I ain't Jesus. As much as I like to think I'm capable of "righteous anger", I don't believe I've ever experienced that in my life. All of my anger seems to be the good old fashioned kind - I'm hurt and offended, and I get angry so I don't have to deal with the pain.

We always appeal to Jesus throwing out the money changers as an example of His anger, but the text never tells us that. We assume that He was angry because if we chunked somebody out of church, we'd be mad. But we have no evidence that Jesus was mad there.

The only time we know for sure that Jesus was angry is in Mark 3.5, where the text implicitly tells us so. And then He heals a guy - right then, without hesitation. I figure whatever "righteous" anger is, that's it. So...if you want to call your anger "righteous" - or "with a cause" - then immediately bless somebody, and I'll believe it. Otherwise, I'm seriously skeptical of righteous anger from humanity.

Bart Barber said...

Billy,

Having preached on this recently, I'm loaded for bear. :-)

It seems to me that the Bible tells us a great deal about anger.

1. It presumes that even we mortals are capable of anger that is not sinful when God commands us to "be angry and yet do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26).

2. It makes much of the temporal aspect of our anger. Viz.

a. As to our getting angry, we are to be slow (James 1:19) rather than quick (Proverbs 14, for example). Indeed, slowness to become angry is one of the virtuous attributes of God (Exodus 34:6).

b. As to our getting over being angry, we are to be quick rather than slow, not letting a day elapse with ourselves yet angry (Ephesians 4:27). Indeed, quickness to get over His anger is yet another attribute of our God (Psalm 30:5).

3. God also prioritizes the cause out of which our anger arises. The very first question that God ever asked about anger is "Why are you angry?" (Genesis 4:6). And I think that the Genesis 4 passage is particularly important when it comes to our reflection upon Matthew 5:22. I believe Jesus had this very episode in mind in His linkage of anger and murder.

So, what is it about anger that can make it sinful? When we leap into it quickly, linger in it excessively, or arise to it "without cause" or for the wrong reasons.

CB Scott said...

If Scripture does interpret Scripture would not such a passage as Romans 12:18 give credibility to the longer text of Matthew 5:22?

cb

Billy Edwards said...

Bart,
Good to know where to go when the bear shows up...

Being pretty much an expert, experientially speaking, on anger, I've got a thought or two (re your expose).

1. How are we mortals angry, yet without sin? That was my initial question. Not rhetorical, I might add. Seriously, what are the boundaries for "OK" anger? Again, I don't think I've ever stayed within the boundaries, at least when I'm honest about it.

2. The commands to be slow to anger and quick to get over it do not, IMHO, give us the license for anger. It just tells us that anger is a bad place to go...which is my point. Why, especially if anger can be righteous, are we to be slow to get there and quick to get out?

3. God's question in Gen. 4 may not be prioritizing anger, but instead a question to promote conviction. At the minimum, it's merely a diagnostic question that we ought to ask ourselves when we are angry. But there is no way to conclusively state that God was really asking, "Is your anger 'OK' or is it the bad stuff?"

I guess that in my decades on this planet, I've rarely - if ever - seen anger as a positive force - in my life or in anybody else's. Sure, good stuff has come from anger, but that's another verse - the old Rom. 8.28 deal.

Billy Edwards said...

CB,
Not necessarily. If the "right" version of Mt. 5.22 is "without cause", that still does not preclude us from attempting to be at peace with everyone. Now, it takes 2 people to be at peace; only 1 to be angry. I can't reconcile with someone who doesn't care for it - hence Rom. 12.18.

Grosey's Messages said...

brrr... send.. blankets...brrr....
Steve

Bart Barber said...

Billy,

My dear brother, not only do I believe that you are wrong (and I don't think that you can meet any burden of proof to suggest otherwise from the Bible), but I further believe that there are situations in this world in which it is a godly thing to feel anger and something other not to feel anger. With Bonhoeffer, lived we through what he experienced, would we not be right to be "Trembling with anger at despotisms"?

Bart Barber said...

And the ironic thing about Bonhoeffer is that he would very likely have taken your side in this matter, Billy, yet among the noblest things he ever did was to get angry enough to rise up against evil when others passively watched six million people be murdered.

CB Scott said...

Billy, (and Bart since he has chosen to continue to ignore me:-)

Would not Romans 12:19-21 lend a possibility to my argument? If we are mandated not to take revenge is it not probable that there would be a time anger at another was, in fact, valid?

Yet, we are instructed as to how to handle the situation very specifically.

We are told not to pay back with revenge because vengeance is God's and He will repay. We are told to feed a hungry enemy, although, obviously, we recognize him as a true enemy and not a friend and possibly not a brother. In feeding him we do two things: 1. Obey God and not be conquered by evil. 2. Conquer evil by good.

Results: 1. We please God and do no damage to our fellowship with the Father. 2. We "pile burning coals" on the head of our enemy.

Therefore, would not Romans 12:18, in context give credibility to the longer rendering of Matt 5:22?

cb

Anonymous said...

CB,

Rom 12.18 would not help establish which reading of Matt 5.22 is correct. The text of Matt 5.22 must be determined based on external and internal evidence, that is, the methods of textual criticism, such as Bart has done in this post.

Rom 12.18 would help us interpret Matt 5.22 after we have determined (to the best of our ability) which text we think was original.

Jason

Billy Edwards said...

Bart,
I'm not sure what I can't biblically support, but I do have another thought or two.

It seems that most of us are assuming that we can only rectifiy gross injustices when we get angry. Why can't we do so without becoming angry? Again, we know for sure of only one time Jesus was angry - and nobody addressed more injustice than He.

And if some anger is righteous (maybe 1%?), then how do I know if my anger is OK? What are the bounds? You appeal to Bonhoeffer, and I sure ain't arguing with him, but that's one case in the last 70 years. And that's my point. If there is righteous anger, it's extremely rare.

I guess why this is a pet peeve of mine (anger, maybe???) is that I never seen anything but destruction come from anger. If somebody can give me the boundaries of righteous anger, or tell me (other than Bonhoeffer) when anger has been righteous, I'll shut up and work on my sermon.

Billy Edwards said...

CB,
You make the best argument yet. If we are not to take revenge, then the Bible assumes anger...I agree.

But, is that assumption a non-sinful one? I mean, just because the Bible assumes we will be angry, does that validate our anger?

We're supposed to love and bless our enemies. I just can't bless those folks I'm mad at. I can't pray for them either. I have to get over my mad to pray for and bless them.