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Matthew 11:19 - TEKNWN or ERGWN?

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  • Vox Verax
    The textual question in Matthew 11:19 is, at its outset, very straightforward: did Matthew write that wisdom is justified by her TEKNWN (children) or by her
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 12, 2013
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      The textual question in Matthew 11:19 is, at its outset, very straightforward: did Matthew write that wisdom is justified by her TEKNWN (children) or by her ERGWN (works)? The path toward the resolution of this question, though, takes some interesting turns.

      TEKNWN is supported by over 99% of the Greek manuscripts, but the ones that support ERGWN include Vaticanus and Sinaiticus and Codex W. In addition, according to Wieland's TCGG, a few Byzantine manuscripts read ERGWN, too: 202, 1319, and 2145. And minuscules 124 and 288, which are members of family-13, read PANTWN TWN ERGWN. Family-13, collectively, has its own distinct reading: PANTWN TWN TEKNWN (all her children), which is drawn from the parallel-passage in Luke 7:35.

      Metzger accounted for TEKNWN as a harmonization to Luke 7:35. The same idea is conveyed in the NET. That theory, however, faces two obstacles.

      First, harmonization in the Synoptic Gospels typically follows a trail from Matthew to one or both of the others. Copyists simply knew Matthew's text better; it was considered to have a sort of seniority: copyists consistently placed the Gospel of Matthew first in Gospels-collections; Matthew's account was believed to have been written first; Matthew was an apostle (unlike Mark and Luke); the proportion of quotations from Matthew, in the writings of the leaders of the early church, is much greater than Mark's and Luke's. So when harmonization from Luke to Matthew is proposed, and it is proposed that this harmonization infiltrated multiple transmission-lines, particularly strong evidence should be required, because the natural flow of the harmonization-river went in the opposite direction.

      Second, if harmonization occurred from Luke 7:35 to Matthew 11:19, we would expect to see it take the form in which we see it in the harmonized Caesarean Text, represented by family-13: PANTWN TWN TEKNWN ("all her children"), not simply TEKNWN ("children"). (Regarding this, it should be noted, as Wieland said, that the textual apparatus in NA-27 misplaced the testimony of Old Latin Codex Bobbiensis (k): its reading, AB OMNIBUS FILIIS SUIS, agrees with "all her children," drawn from Luke 7:35, not with "all her works." The placement in the apparatus in UBS-4 is correct.)

      However, inasmuch as everyone agrees that Luke wrote TEKNWN, then if Matthew wrote TEKNWN, how did the reading ERGWN originate, if it is not original? ERGWN is the less harmonious reading.

      Although the extant witnesses for ERGWN are very few, two patristic quotations indicate that it was once widely known: Ambrose of Milan, in his commentary on Luke (chapter 66), mentioned that "many Greek copies" state that wisdom has been justified "by all her works" – "omnibus operibus suis." He does not treat this variant as if it is dangerously heretical; he somewhat casually mentions it, as if it shines light upon the meaning of the reading that he uses ("all her children"), and moves on. And Jerome, in the course of interpreting Matthew 11:19, after presenting the usual text, stated, "In some Gospels it reads, 'wisdom is justified by her works.'" Instead of brutally condemning this variant, he states that its sentiment is correct, because wisdom does not seek the testimony of words but of deeds.

      Now let's explore some internal evidence. One of the reasons why ERGWN has been adopted involves a theory about the production of the Gospel of Matthew. Papias mentioned that Matthew composed the "Logia" of the Lord in Hebrew, and this has been widely understood to refer to a Hebrew or Aramaic collection of Jesus' sayings, which was utilized in the production of Matthew's Gospel. So some researchers, as they have approached this variant, have done so with the premise that a written Aramaic document existed which contained Jesus' saying. And in Aramaic, there is a word for "children" that, without vowel-pointing, can also be read as "works." (See Metzger's footnote in TCGNT and compare it to Nestle's critical note on the passage in his 1901 Intro to NTTC.)

      This has elicited the theory that (a) the original Greek text of Matthew 11:19 read ERGWN and that (b) this is the author's rendering of a word in an Aramaic source-document, and that (c) Luke's TEKNWN descends from a different understanding of the word in the Aramaic source-document; this was either the understanding of Luke himself, or of someone who translated the Aramaic source-document into a Greek document which was then used by Luke.

      Against that theory a couple of objections may be expressed: (a) While the theory that Matthew used an Aramaic source-document, and that Luke used a Greek translation of its contents, is capable of accounting for this difference (and some others) between their records of Christ's words, it is a relatively complex way to account for a one-word difference. (A translator's confusion between two similar words might be, however, a plausible explanation for the Peshitta's support for "works" in Matthew 11:19.) And, (b) while the theory explains why Matthew could have written "works," it does not explain how or why the passage was harmonized to Luke in a way that affected the text in multiple transmission-streams. It does not really make a scenario in which Matthew wrote TEKNWN any less plausible.

      Some further details about the external evidence are in order: Edward Miller, in his 1899 Textual Commentary on Matthew 1-14, listed B2 (that is, the person who reinforced the lettering in Codex Vaticanus; B's main copyist wrote ERGWN but the lettering-reinforcer did not reinforce ERGWN, and wrote TEKNWN in the side-margin to the left of the column), C, Phi, N, Sigma, D, E, F, G, K, L, M, S, U, V, X, Gamma, Delta, Pi, and "All but all cursives" in support of TEKNWN. He also listed the following as versional support for TEKNWN: most Old Latin copies, the Vulgate, Curetonian Syriac,
      Sinaitic Syriac, the margin of the Harklean Syriac, some Armenian MSS, and the Coptic version. Miller also listed the following patristic witnesses also support TEKNWN: "Irenaeus (98). Origen (iii. 211; iv. 48). Didymus (Galland. vi. 310). Basil (i. 98). Gregory Naz. (i. 871). Epiphanius (i. 681). Chrysostom (loc. vii. 179, 419). Theophylact (loc. i. 54). Nicetas (Cat. in Matt. i. 159)," and more.

      To that testimony, we must add the support of Sahidic manuscripts, and the Middle Egyptian manuscript known as Codex Schiede (from the 400's), if the NA-27 apparatus is correct. The other Middle Egyptian manuscript (Codex Schoyen) is not extant for Mt. 11:19.

      Details about the testimony of Irenaeus are appropriate, because his testimony is not listed in the apparatus of UBS-4. Irenaeus does not tell us directly if he is quoting from Matthew or from Luke, but the quotation itself tells us, in Against Heresies, Book One, chapter 8, paragraph 4. In the course of describing the imaginative teachings of the Valentinians, and how they turn the narrative about Simeon and Anna into a symbol description of celestial beings -- Anna being a representation of the entity called Sophia -- Irenaeus states (referring to the Valentinian teachings), "Her name, too, was indicated by the Savior, when he said, `Yet wisdom is justified by her children.'" Irenaeus does not say, as Luke does, "all her children," and thus it is clear that he is quoting from Matthew.

      Some details about the testimony of Origen may be helpful: he does not, as far as I know, specifically quote Matthew 11:19. But in Homily 14 on Jeremiah, he states: TA DE TEKNA THS SOFIAS KAI EN TW EUANGELIW ANAGEGRAPTAI, KAI APOSTELLEI H SOFIA TA TEKNA AUTHS. Which means something like, "Regarding the children of wisdom, it is also written in the gospel, `Wisdom also sends out her children.'" This is not an exact quotation of Matthew 11:19 or Luke 7:35; it might be based on Luke 7:35 rather than Matthew 11:19, and it might be a blurry misattributed paraphrase of Proverbs 9:3. (Is there any other alleged use of Mt. 11:19 in Origen's writings?)

      Now then: remember that tendency of copyists to harmonize the text of Luke so as to make it conform to the text of Matthew? We see that tendency at work in Luke 7:35. In Codex Sinaiticus, the copyist wrote PANTWN TWN ERGWN in Luke 7:35, although the genuine text is undoubtedly PANTWN TWN TEKNWN (regardless of whether AUTHS is placed before, or after, these words). A corrector of Codex
      Sinaiticus overdotted the word PANTWN, thus signifying that it should be considered a scribal error, but it is not a scribal error: the "corrector" might have thought that he was making a correction, but he was, instead, partly harmonizing the passage to Matthew 11:19 (where the word PANTWN does not appear).

      The harmonization of Lk. 7:35 to Mt. 11:19 occurs in other witnesses. In Codices D, L, M, X, Theta, and Psi, and in family-1, family-13, 2, 22, 28, 700, 1241, 1342, and some versional witnesses, including the Armenian version, the Georgian version, and the Latin text of Codex Bezae, PANTWN is absent from Luke 7:35. This constitutes harmonization to the text of Matthew 11:19, which implies that in the lines of transmission that produced these documents, there was a copyist who was aware of a form of Matthew 11:19 that read TEKNWN; he was so used to reading TWN TEKNWN in Matthew that when he read PANTWN TWN TEKNWN, in Luke 7:35, he wrote the Matthean form of the sentence.

      Thus it should be spectacularly clear that the attestation for the text of Matthew 11:19 with TEKNWN is remarkably old, remarkably abundant, and remarkably diverse, not only in terms of geographic diversity but also in terms of text-type diversity; its supporters come from Byzantine, Western, and Caesarean
      witnesses (and from the text represented by the Sinaitic Syriac and Curetoniac Syriac).

      Now then: if ERGWN is not original in Matthew 11:19, how did it originate? As a simple substitution, undertaken by a copyist who felt that the text with TEKNWN gave too large a platform to heretics who, he thought, would treat it, not as a non-literal personification, or as a reference to the Holy Spirit, or
      as a shorthand-reference to wisdom given by God (cf. James 3:17-18), but as a reference to a celestial goddess. This overprotective tamperer, concerned lest readers imagine that a child-bearing wisdom must be a celestial person, and not a simple personification, replaced "children" with "works."

      Someone might ask, "But why, if this person thus altered Matthew 11:19, did he not also alter Luke 7:35?" I would answer, first, that either the alteration was made when the Gospel of Matthew was still circulated as an individual book, and the tamperer simply did not have a copy of Luke handy, or else he simply was not energetic. And, second, that in one of the three ancient Greek manuscripts that support ERGWN in Matthew 11:19, the text of Luke 7:35 /is/ altered so as to read ERGWN instead of TEKNWN. And, third, when Ambrose mentions that "many Greek copies" say that wisdom has been justified "by all her works," he is commenting on Luke, not on Matthew. So it appears that some copyists *did* make the adjustment in Luke as well as in Matthew.

      The attractiveness of the reading ERGWN, as a means of preventing misinterpretation, is suggested by the mild manner in which Ambrose and Jerome react to this variant; they both clearly use TEKNWN, but they are rather gentle with the reading ERGWN and attempt to salvage it as something which casts additional light upon the meaning of the passage, rather than as something which casts a shadow.

      In closing: the original text of Matthew 11:19 reads TWN TEKNWN AUTHS. ERGWN is an adjustment created by an overprotective copyist. The same protective tendency to adjust the text so as to prevent readers from using it as the basis to picture wisdom as an actual celestial being appears to be evident in the modern versions which have represented AUTHS as "its" instead of "her." Of course the translators would tell you, if asked about this, that they were simply making the text more understandable to readers, so they don't get the wrong idea. That is probably exactly what the early copyist who changed TEKNWN to ERGWN would say.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

      Post-Script:
      Simon Gathercole wrote an article about the meaning of the last sentence of Mt. 11:19 and Lk. 7:35 in
      2003: "The Justification of Wisdom (Mt. 11.19b/Lk 7.35)" in New Testament Studies, Vol. 49, on pages 476-488. I have not yet read this article, but the abstract indicates that he accepts the revised text, and proposes that APO in the sentence should be construed so as to mean "apart from," and that the phrase in Matthew, and in Luke, means something to the effect that the critics of Jesus and John were justifying wisdom but not what wisdom produced (i.e., Jesus and John). No major English translation, it seems, agrees with him.
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