An Anti-Fasting Doctrine in Egypt
- Consider the possibility that Matthew 17:21 and the fuller text of Mark 9:29 are original. What could have elicited the loss of references to fasting in passages such as Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29?
Doctrinal tampering, maybe?
In 1912, E. A. Wallis Budge (on p. lv of Coptic Biblical Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt) drew attention to a lengthy annotation (or maybe it's an extract) that follows Acts in Sahidic MS Or. 7954 (produced c. 300-320, containing Deut., Acts, Jonah), and a little later, Thompson made some corrections to Budge's rendering of the text. Budge said this about it, after some initial presentation: "In the lines following it is said that 'fasting is nothing, and God did not ordain it', and that [those who practice it] 'make themselves strangers to the covenant of God'. The mutilated condition of the text makes it difficult to say whether the writer is condemning those who declared that fasting is an ordinance of men, and not of God, or whether his opinion on the matter agrees with theirs." Budge goes on to lean toward the first option, and deduces that the writer shared the view of fasting that is expressed in a tradition about Pachomius.
But Thompson, in The New Biblical Papyrus, rendered the material differently, with the result that the writer is describing the anti-fasting stance of antinomian heretics: . . . "for they will set up teachings which are not from God, who will reject (AQETEIN) the law (NOMOS) of God, they whose god is their belly, who say that there is no fast (NHSTEIA), nor hath God appointed it, who make themselves strangers to the covenant (DIAQHKH) of God," etc., -- "Remember that the Lord brought (?) fasting (N.) [= NHSTEIA] ever since he created the heavens..."
Either way, somebody in Egypt had a strong aversion to fasting. Maybe this should be interpreted so as to imply that the Egyptian text without Mt. 17:21 and without "and fasting" in Mk. 9:29 (and I Cor. 7:5?) was not in the earliest layer of the text in Egypt, allowing such a view to arise. But it seems like another possibility is that a fuller text collided with a dislike of fasting -- a dislike so strong that it provoked textual tampering.
The note in MS. Or. 7594 can't resolve the question, but at least it shows that those who favor the idea that references favoring fasting were excised from some early Egyptian copies are not positing altogether imaginary change-agents; there was a theological view, in the early 300's and probably at least a little earlier, that specifically opposed fasting.
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.