Sunday, October 15, 2023

Eusebius of Caesarea: his Doctrine of God, Christology, and Subordinationism

Last week, I started rereading Eusebius' Church History (volume one in the second series of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Schaff and Wace). It had been a number of years ago since I began reading this book from the beginning, and this reading is different than any previous one. In addition to Arthur Cushman McGiffert’s NPNF English translation, I am also using Kirsopp Lake's parallel Greek-English edition from the Loeb Classical Library—Volume 153, Eusebius Ecclesiastical History I (1926).

This new endeavor has become quite informative and revealing. I did not get very far—the third chapter of book one—before realizing that during my past readings of Eusebius' Church History I had failed to grasp the import of certain passages concerning the relationship between God the Father and His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ that are contained in the second and third chapters of book one. By comparing the English translations of these passages with the Greek, I began to discern that my previous understanding of Eusebius’ doctrine of God and Christology was not as fully formed as I had thought.

The English translation(s) passages concerning the doctrine of God and Christology contained in chapters two and three of Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, brought back to mind the germane passages I had read in two of Eusebius’ extensive apologetic works: Preparation for the Gospel and The Proof of the Gospel. I pulled both books off of the shelf and started comparing the relevant passages found in all three works with the Greek.

A number of very important themes have made an impression on me whilst engaged in these current readings: first, the unique titles Eusebius reserved exclusively for God the Father—e.g. “the one/only true God”, “the Supreme God”, “the Almighty God”, “the Most High”, “the God of the Universe”, “the First”, “the Unbegotten”. Second, the emphasis on the causality of the Son of God from God the Father as a distinct, separate person. Third, the repeated related references to the Son of God as being, in a very real sense, “second” to God the Father—e.g. “second God”, “second Lord”, “second  light”, “the Second”,  “secondary”. Fourth, two terms used to describe the causality of the Son from the Father—begotten and created (and their cognates)—are synonyms for Eusebius. Fifth, the concept that the Father “precedes” the Son.

[The following English excerpts are from Eusebius’ Church History (CH) [PDF], trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert’s; The Proof of the Gospel (Proof) [PDF], trans. W. J. Ferrer; Preparation for the Gospel (Prep) [PDF], trans. Edwin Hamilton Gifford. [Supplemental Greek texts will be from J. P. Migne’s Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, Volumes 20, 21, and 22.] Elements from the five above listed themes will be underlined for easier recognition. Bold emphasis has also been added to some quotes that particularly stood out to me.]



No language is sufficient to express the origin and the worth, the being and the nature of Christ. Wherefore also the divine Spirit says in the prophecies, "Who shall declare his generation ?" For none knoweth the Father except the Son, neither can any one know the Son adequately except the Father alone who hath begotten him. For who beside the Father could clearly understand the Light which was before the world, the intellectual and essential Wisdom which existed before the ages, the living Word which was in the beginning with the Father and which was God, the first and only begotten of God which was before every creature and creation visible and invisible, the commander-in-chief of the rational and immortal host of heaven, the messenger of the great counsel, the executor of the Father's unspoken will, the creator, with the Father, of all things, the second cause of the universe after the Father, the true and only-begotten Son of God... (CH, P. 82)

"The Lord created me [κύριος ἔκτισέν με] in the beginning of his ways, for his works; before the world he established me, in the beginning, before he made the earth, before he made the depths, before the mountains were settled, before all hills he begat me [γεννᾷ με]. When he prepared the heavens I was present with him, and when he established the fountains of the region under heaven I was with him, disposing. I was the one in whom he delighted; daily I rejoiced before him at all times when he was rejoicing at having completed the world." That the divine Word, therefore, pre-existed, and appeared to some, if not to all, has thus been briefly shown by us. (CH, P. 84)

Then, when the excess of wickedness had overwhelmed nearly all the race, like a deep fit of drunkenness, beclouding and darkening the minds of men, the first-born and first-created wisdom of God, the pre-existent Word himself [ἡ πρωτόγονος καὶ πρωτόκτιστος τοῦ θεοῦ σοφία καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ προὼν λόγος], induced by his exceeding love for man, appeared to his servants, now in the form of angels, and again to one and another of those ancients who enjoyed the favor of God, in his own person as the saving power of God, not otherwise, however, than in the shape of man, because it was impossible to appear in any other way. (CH, P. 84)

Who would have believed common and uneducated men who told them they must despise their fathers gods, condemn the folly of all who lived in the ages past, and put their sole belief in them and the commands of the Crucified—because He was the only-beloved and only-begotten Son of the One Supreme God? (Proof, p. 159)

And as the Father is One, it follows that there must be one Son and not many sons, and that there can be only one perfect God begotten of God, and not several. For in multiplicity will arise otherness and difference and the introduction of the worse. And so it must be that the One God is the Father of one perfect and only-begotten Son, and not of more Gods or sons. (Proof, p. 166)

But the Father precedes the Son, and has preceded Him in existence, inasmuch as He alone is unbegotten. The One, perfect in Himself and first in order as Father, and the cause of the Son's existence, receives nothing towards the completeness of His Godhead from the Son: the Other, as a Son begotten of Him that caused His being, came second to Him. Whose Son He is, receiving from the Father both His Being, and the character of His Being. And, moreover, the ray does not shine forth from the light by its deliberate choice, but because of something which is an inseparable accident of its essence: but the Son is the image of the Father by intention and deliberate choice. For God willed to beget a Son, and established a second light, in all things made like unto Himself. (Proof, pp. 166-167)

Then surely the All-Good, the King of kings, the Supreme, God Almighty, that the men on earth might not be like brute beasts without rulers and guardians, set over them the holy angels to be their leaders and governors like herdsmen and shepherds, and set over all, and made the head of all His Only-begotten and Firstborn Word. (Proof, 175)

In these words surely he names first the Most High God, the Supreme God of the Universe, and then as Lord His Word, Whom we call Lord in the second degree after the God of the Universe. And their import is that all the nations and the sons of men, here called sons of Adam, were distributed among the invisible guardians of the nations, that is the angels, by the decision of the Most High God, and His secret counsel unknown to us. Whereas to One beyond comparison with them, the Head and King of the Universe, I mean to Christ Himself, as being the Only-begotten Son, was handed over that part of humanity denominated Jacob and Israel, that is to say, the whole division which has vision and piety. (Proof, 176)

It is now time to see how the teaching of the Hebrews shews that the true Christ of God possesses a divine nature higher than humanity. Hear, therefore, David again, where he says that he knows an Eternal Priest of God, and calls  Him his own Lord, and confesses that He shares the throne of God Most High in the 109th Psalm [LXX], in which he says as follows—

"The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet. 2. The Lord shall send the rod of power for thee out of Zion, I and thou shall rule in the midst of thine, enemies. 3. With thee is dominion in the day of thy power, in the brightness of thy saints. I begat thee from my womb before the Morning Star, 4. The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek."

And note that David in this passage, being king of the whole Hebrew race, and in addition to his kingdom adorned with the Holy Spirit, recognized that the Being of Whom he speaks Who was revealed to him in the spirit, was so great and surpassingly glorious, that he called Him his own Lord. For he said "The Lord said to my Lord." Yea: for he knows Him as eternal High Priest, and Priest of the Most High God, and throned beside Almighty God, and His Offspring. (Proof, 197)

"Thou, O God, hast loved righteousness and hated injustice; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed thee," and established Thee as Christ above all. The Hebrew shews it even more clearly, which Aquila most accurately translating has rendered thus "Thy throne, God, is for ever and still, a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy Kingdom. Thou hast loved justice and hated impiety : wherefore God, thy Ciod, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness apart from thy fellows." Instead therefore of " God, thy God" the actual Hebrew is, "O God, thy God." So that the whole verse runs : "Thou hast, O God, loved justice and hated impiety": therefore in return, O God, the highest and greater God, Who is also thy God"— so that the Anointer, being the Supreme God, is far above the Anointed, He being God in a different sense. (Proof, 202)

But yet as Holy Scripture first says that He is the Firstborn of every creature, speaking in His Person, "The Lord created me [κύριος ἔκτισέν με] as the beginning of his ways," and then says that He is the Begotten of the Father in the words: "Before all the hills he begets me [γεννᾷ με]"; here we, too, may reasonably follow and confess that He is before all ages the Creative Word of God, One with the Father, Only-begotten Son of the God of the Universe, and Minister and Fellow-worker with the Father, in the calling into being and constitution of the Universe. (Proof, 233)

Whereas the Word of God has Its own essence and existence in Itself and is not identical with the Father in being Unbegotten, but was begotten of the Father as His Only-begotten Son before all ages; while the fragrance being a kind of physical effluence of that from which it comes, and not filling the air around it by itself apart from its primary cause, is seen to be itself also a physical thing. We will not, then, conceive thus about the theory of our Saviour's coming-into-being. For neither was He brought into being from the Unbegotten Being by way of any event, or by division, nor was He eternally coexistent with the Father, since the One is Unbegotten and the other Begotten, and one is Father and the other Son. And all would agree that a father must exist before and precede his son. (Proof, 234)

The Lord upon thy right hand! The Psalmist here calls "Lord," our Lord and Saviour, the Word of God, " firstborn of every creature," the Wisdom before the ages, the Beginning of the Ways of God, the Firstborn and Only-begotten Offspring of the Father, Him Who is honoured with the Name of Christ, teaching that He both shares the seat and is the Son of the Almighty God and Universal Lord, and the Eternal High Priest of the Father. First, then, understand that here this Second Being, the Offspring of God, is addressed. And since prophecy is believed by us to be spoken by the Spirit of God, see if it is not the case that the Holy Spirit in the prophet names as His own Lord a Second Being after the Lord of the Universe, for he says, "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand." The Hebrews named the First Person Lord, as being universally the Lord of all, by the unspeakable Name expressed in the four letters. They did not call the Second Person Lord in a like sense, but only used the word as a special title. (Proof, 238)

According to this, then, the true and only God must be One, and alone owning the Name in full right. While the Second, by sharing in the being of the True God, is thought worthy to share His Name, not being God in Himself, nor existing apart from the Father Who gives Him Divinity, not called God apart from the Father, but altogether being, living and existing as God, through the presence of the Father in Him, and one in being with the Father, and constituted God from Him and through Him, and holding His being as well as His Divinity not from Himself but from the Father. (Proof, p. 245)

And yet though the Word of God is Himself proclaimed divine by the word "Lord," He still calls One Higher and Greater His Father and Lord, using with beautiful reverence the word Lord twice in speaking of Him, so as to differentiate His title. For He says here, "The Lord, the Lord has sent me," as if the Almighty God were in a special sense first and true Lord both of His Only- begotten Word and of all begotten things after Him, in relation to which the Lord of God has received dominion and power from the Father, as His true and Only-begotten Son, and therefore Himself holds the title of Lord in a secondary sense. (Proof, p. 251)

Therefore He that said before, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy Father, and the God of Isaac, to whom godly Jacob raises the pillar, was indeed God and Lord : for we must believe that which He Himself says. Not of course the Almighty, but the Second to Him, Who ministers for His Father among men, and brings His Lord. Wherefore Jacob here calls Him an Angel: "The Angel of God said to me, speaking in my sleep, 'I am the God who was seen by thee in this place.'" So the same Being is clearly called the Angel of the Lord, and God and Lord in this place. (Proof, pp. 254-255)

It was said to Moses, No one shall see My face and live. But here Jacob saw God not indefinitely but face to face, And being preserved, not only in body but in soul, he was thought worthy of the name of Israel, which is a name borne by souls, if the name Israel is rightly interpreted "Seeing God." Yet he did not see the Almighty God. For He is invisible, and unalterable, and the Highest of all Being could not possibly change into man. But he saw Another, Whose name it was not yet the time to reveal to curious Jacob. (Proof, p. 255)

I have already shewn Who it was that appeared to the fathers, when I shewed that the angel of God was called God and Lord. It will naturally be asked how He that is beyond the universe, Himself the only Almighty God, appeared to the fathers. And the answer will be found if we realize the accuracy of Holy Scripture. For the Septuagint rendering, "I was seen of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, being their God." Aquila says, "And I was seen by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as a sufficient God," clearly shewing that the Almighty God Himself, Who is One, was not seen in His own Person ; and that He did not give answers to the fathers, as He did to Moses by an angel, or a fire, or a bush, but "as a sufficient God" so that the Father was seen by the fathers through the Son, according to His saying in the Gospels, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." For the knowledge of the Father was revealed in Him and by Him. But in cases when He appeared to save men, He was seen in the human form of the Son... (Proof, p. 258)

And I have already shewn that this was not the Almighty God, but another Being Whom we name, as the Word of God, the Christ Who was seen for the sake of the multitude of Moses and the people in a pillar of cloud, because it was not possible for them to see Him like their fathers in human shape. (Proof, p. 259)

Notice the way in which the Lord Himself addressing the Father in these words as "long-suffering and of tender mercy," calls Him also "true," agreeing with the words: "That they may know thee the only true God," spoken in the Gospels by the same Being, our Saviour. Yea, with exceeding reverence He calls the Father the only true God, given meet honour to the Unbegotten Nature, of which Holy Scripture teaches us He is Himself the Image and the Offspring. (Proof, p. 261)

The lord prays to another Lord, clearly His Father and the God of the Universe, and says in the opening of His prayer, "O Lord, thou art my strength," and that which follows. (Proof, p. 270)

But now that we have, by thirty prophetic quotations in all, learned that our Lord and Saviour the Word of God, a Second God [δεύτερον θεὸν]after the Most High and Supreme... (Proof, p. 271)

Next to the Being of the God of the universe, which is without beginning and uncreate, incapable of mixture and beyond all conception, they introduce a second Being and divine power, which subsisted as the first beginning of all originated things and was originated from the first cause, calling it Word, and 'Wisdom, and Power of God.'

And the first to teach us this is Job, saying: 'But whence was wisdom found? And what is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the way thereof, nor yet was it found among men, ... but we have heard the fame thereof. The Lord established the way thereof, and He knoweth the place thereof.'

And David also somewhere in the Psalms, addressing Wisdom by another name, says: 'By the word of the LORD were the heavens established': for in this manner he celebrated the Word of God the Organizer of all things. Moreover, his son Solomon also speaks as follows in the person of Wisdom herself, saying: 'I Wisdom made counsel my dwelling, and knowledge and understanding I called unto me. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice.'  And again:

'The LORD created me as the beginning of His ways unto His works [Κύριος ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ], from everlasting He founded me, in the beginning or ever He made the earth, and before the depths were made, . . . before the mountains were settled, and before all hills He begat me [γεννᾷ με];  . . . when He was preparing the heaven I was beside Him; . . . and as He was making safe the fountains beneath the heaven, . . . I was with Him arranging. I it was in whom He daily delighted, and I was rejoicing before Him in every season when He was rejoicing in having completed the habitable world.' (Prep, pp. 320, 321.)

IN regard then to the First Cause of all things let this be our admitted form of agreement. But now consider what is said concerning the Second Cause, whom the Hebrew oracles teach to be the Word of God, and God of God, even as we Christians also have ourselves been taught to speak of the Deity.

First then Moses expressly speaks of two divine Lords in the passage where he says, 'Then the LORD rained from the LORD fire and brimstone upon the city of the ungodly ': where he applied to both the like combination of Hebrew letters in the usual way; and this combination is the mention of God expressed in the four letters, which is with them unutterable.

In accordance with him David also, another Prophet as well as king of the Hebrews, says, 'The LORD said unto my Lord, sit Thou on My right hand,'  indicating the Most High God by the first LORD, and the second to Him by the second title. For to what other is it right to suppose that the right hand of the Unbegotten God is conceded, than to Him alone of whom we are speaking?

This is He whom the same prophet in other places more clearly distinguishes as the Word of the Father, supposing Him whose deity we are considering to be the Creator of the universe, in the passage where he says, 'By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made firm.'

He introduces the same Person also as a Saviour of those who need His care, saying, 'He sent His Word and healed them.'

And Solomon, David's son and successor, presenting the same thought by a different name, instead of the 'Word' called Him Wisdom, making the following statement as in her person:

'I Wisdom made prudence my dwelling, and called to my aid knowledge and understanding.'  Then afterwards he adds, 'The LORD formed [i.e. created] me as the beginning of His ways with a view to His works [Κύριος ἔκτισέ με ἀρχὴν ὁδῶν αὐτοῦ εἰς ἔργα αὐτοῦ]: from everlasting He established me, in the beginning before He made the earth, . . . before the mountains were settled, and before all hills He begat me [γεννᾷ με]…When He was preparing the heaven, I was beside Him."(Prep, pp. 531, 532.)


Before ending, I would like to provide one more excerpt from Eusebius, which is actually a quote from Clement of Alexandria who Eusebius quotes:

Now they were misled by what is said in Wisdom: "Yea, she pervadeth and penetrateth all things by virtue of her purity": since they did not understand that this is said of that wisdom which was the first-created of God. (Preparation for the Gospel, trans. Gifford, 1903, pp. 722-23 – bold emphasis mine)

The following is William Wilson’s English translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe:

They were misled by what is said in the book of Wisdom : "He pervades and passes through all by reason of His purity;" since they did not understand that this was said of Wisdom, which was the first of the creation of God. (The Stromata, 5.14; ANF 2.465 – bold emphasis mine)

The phrase “the first-created of God” (Gifford)/ “the creation of God” (Wilson) is their respective translations of the following Greek: τῆς πρωτοκτίστου τῷ θεῷ.

Interestingly enough, just a few pages earlier, Wilson translates prōtoktistos (πρωτοκτίστος) as “First-born”:

The golden lamp conveys another enigma as a symbol of Christ, not in respect of form alone, but in his casting light, "at sundry times and divers manners," on those who believe on Him and hope, and who see by means of the ministry of the First-born [τῶν πρωτοκτίστων]. (The Stromata, ANF 2.452)

It seems that Wilson is cognizant of the fact that the terms beget/begotten and create/creation (and their cognates) in the pre-Nicene writers are in many instances used as synonyms.

Shall end here for now, hoping to hear what others have to say about Eusebius’ reflections on the doctrine of God and Christology.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Tetragrammaton in the New Testament

Earlier today, I discovered that Volume 6 of the Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992) is now online for reading at the Internet Archive [LINK].

There is an entry in this volume that I have wanted to read for a good number of years now—Tetragrammation in the New Testament by George Howard. I have encountered quotes from the entry over the years in a number of articles, but until today, did not access to the full entry. I have reproduced the entire entry below for those folk who may have interest in this topic.


TETRAGRAMMATON IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. There is some evidence that the Tetragrammaton, the Divine Name, Yahweh, appeared in some or all of the OT quotations in the NT when the NT documents were first penned. See also NAMES OF GOD IN THE OT; YAHWEH (DEITY). The evidence for this is twofold.

A. Jewish Scribal Evidence

The extant pre-Christian copies of the Greek OT that include passages which in Hebrew incorporate the Divine Name also preserve the Hebrew Divine Name in the Greek text. These copies are (1) P. Faud 266 (=Rahifs 848), 50 B.C.E., containing the Tetragrammaton in Aramaic letters; (2) a fragmentary scroll of the Twelve Prophets in Greek from Wâd Khabra (=W.Khabra XII Kaige), 50 B.C.E.–50 C.E., containing the Tetragrammaton in Paleo-Hebrew letters; and (3) 4QLXXLevb (=Rahifs 802), 1st century B.C.E., containing the Tetragrammaton written in Greek letters in the form of IAO. The well-known Jewish- Greek versions of the OT that emerged in the 2d century C.E., i.e., those of Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus, continued the Jewish practice of writing the Hebrew Tetragrammaton into the Greek text. The evidence, therefore, suggests that the practice of writing the Hebrew Divine Name into the text of the Greek OT continued throughout the NT period. From this it may be concluded (1) that the NT writers had access to copies of the Greek OT that contained the Hebrew Divine Name, and (2) that the NT writers who quoted from the Greek OT had reason to preserve the Tetragrammaton in their quotations.

B. Christian Scribal Evidence

By the time of the earliest extant Christian copies of the LXX (2d or early 3d century C.E.), a clear break with the Jewish practice outlined above is to be observed. The Christian copies of the Greek OT employ the words Kyrios (“Lord”) and Theos (“God”) as substitutes or surrogates for the Hebrew Tetragrammaton. The evidence suggests that this had become the practice of Christian scribes perhaps as early as the beginning of the 2d century. Curiously, the surrogates for the Tetragrammaton have been abbreviated by the writing of their first and last letters only and are marked as abbreviations by a horizontal stroke above the word. Thus, for example, the word for “Lord” is written KS* and for God THS*. These two so-called nomina sacra, later to be joined by thirteen other sacred words, appear also in the earliest copies of the NT, including its quotations from the Greek OT. The practice, therefore, in very early times was consistently followed throughout the Greek Bible.

A conjecture is that the forms KS and THS were first created by non-Jewish Christian scribes who in their copying the LXX text found no traditional reason to preserve the Tetragrammaton. In all probability it was problematic for gentile scribes to write the Tetragrammaton since they did not know Hebrew. If this is correct, the contracted surrogates KS and THS were perhaps considered analogous to the vowelless Hebrew Divine Name, and were certainly much easier to write.

Once the practice of writing the Tetragrammaton into copies of the Greek OT was abandoned and replaced by the practice of writing KS and THS, a similar development no doubt took place in regard to the quotations of the Greek OT found in the NT. There too the Tetragrammaton was replaced by the surrogates KS and THS. In the passing of time, the original significance of the surrogates was lost to the gentile Church. Other contracted words which had no connection with the Tetragrammaton were added to the list of nomina sacra, and eventually even KS and THS came to be used in passages where the Tetragrammaton had never stood.

It is possible that some confusion ensued from the abandonment of the Tetragrammaton in the NT, although the significance of this confusion can only be conjectured. In all probability it became difficult to know whether KS referred to the Lord God or the Lord Jesus Christ. That this issue played a role in the later Trinitarian debates, however, is unknown.


Barthélemy, D. 1953. Redécouverte d‘un chaînon manquant de l‘histoire de la Septante. RB 60: 18–29.

———. 1963. Les devanciers d’Aquila: Première publication intégral du texte des fragments du Dodécaprophéton. Leiden.

Dunand, F. 1966. Papyrus grec bibliques (Papyrus F. Inv. 266) Volumina de la Genèse et du Deutéronome. Cairo.

Howard, G. 1971. The Oldest Greek Text of Deuteronomy. HUCA 42: 125–31.

———. 1977. The Tetragram and the New Testament. JBL 96: 63–83.

———. 1978. The Name of God in the New Testament. BAR 4: 12–14, 56.

———. 1987. The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text. Macon, GA.

Paap, A. H. R. E. 1959. Nomina Sacra in the Greek Papyri of the First Five Centuries A.D. Leiden.

Pietersma, A. 1984. Kyrios or Tetragram: A Renewed Quest for the Original Septuagint. Pp. 85–101 in De Septuaginta, ed. A.

Pietersma and C. Cox. Toronto.

Skehan, P. W. 1957. The Qumran Manuscripts and Textual Criticism. Pp. 148–60 in Volume du Congrès, Strasbourg 1956.


———. 1980. The Divine Name at Qumran, in the Masada Scroll, and in the Septuagint. BIOSCS 13: 14–44.

Traube, L. 1907. Nomina Sacra: Vesuch einer Geschichte der christlichen Kürzung. Munich.

Waddell, W. G. 1944. The Tetragrammaton in the LXX. JTS 45: 158–61.


[The Anchor Bible Dictionary: Volume 6, Si - Z, 1992, pp. 392, 393.]


George Howard’s related, and more detailed JBL article, “The Tetragram and the New Testament”, is also available online [LINK].

Grace and peace,


*NOTE: In the original contribution, KS and THS (which replaced KURIOS and THEOS, had an overline instead of an underline).

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon) – an enigmatic passage from his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

Over this last weekend, I spent a number of hours comparing the four English translations I have of Irenaeus’ Demonstration/Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. One particular passage made an impression on me, that no previous reading had done. The following are the four English translations of that passage [the bold emphasis concerns the portion of passage that caught my eye]:

11. Now, by His hand He created man taking the purest and finest particles from the earth, mixing a determined portion of His power with the dust. Moreover He gave His image to the creature that even what is visible might have the divine form, because the created man was placed upon the earth as one having the divine image and that he might be living, he breathed in his face the breath of life that, both by this breathing and by this creation, man might be like God. (Bishop Karapet and S. G. Wilson, Patrologia Orientalis, vol. 12, 1907, p. 667 - link to pdf)

11. But man He formed with His own hands, taking from the earth that which was, purest and finest, and mingling in measure His own power with the earth. For He traced His own form on the formation, that that which should be seen should be of divine form : for (as) the image of God was man formed and set on the earth. And that he might become living, He breathed on his face the breath of life ; that both for the breath and for the formation man should be like unto God. (J. Armitage Robinson, St. Irenaeus -  The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 1920, p. 80 - link to pdf)

11. But man He fashioned with His own hands, taking of the purest and finest of earth, in measured wise mingling with the earth His own power; for He gave his frame the outline of His own form, that the visible appearance too should be godlike — for it was as an image of God that man was fashioned and set on earth — and that he might come to life, He breathed into his face the breath of life, so that the man became like God in inspiration as well as in frame. (Joseph P. Smith, S.J., St. Irenaeus - Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 1952, p. 54 - link to pdf)

11. But He fashioned (πλάσσω) man with His own Hands, taking the purest, the finest <and the most delicate> [elements] of the earth, mixing (συγκράννυμι) with the earth, in due measure, His own power (δύναμις); and because He <sketched upon> the handiwork (πλάσμα) His own form—in order that what would be seen should be godlike (θεοειδής), for man was placed on the earth fashioned <in> the image (εἰκών) of God—and that he might be alive, "He breathed into His face a breath of life": so that both according to the inspiration and according to the formation, man was like (ὃμοιος) God. (Fr. John Behr, St. Irenaeus - On the Apostolic Preaching, 1997 pp. 46, 47 - link to Google Books preview)

A question that immediately came to mind is, what did Irenaeus mean by “His [God] own form”?

An interesting answer to my question has been provided by Joseph P. Smith in his note on the passage:

"He gave his frame the outline of His own form, that the visible appearance too should be godlike": stelcuacin ziwrsn paragreac jews, zi ew or tesanic'inn Astuacajew ice, more literally "for the formation He outlined His own form, that also what would be seen should be deiform"; there can be no doubt that Irenaeus is here teaching man's bodily resemblance to God. (pp. 148, 149)

Man’s bodily resemblance to God? I would like to hear from folk who take the time to read is post—is Smith correct, or are there better interpretations?

Grace and peace,


Monday, August 14, 2023

The Parliament of the World’s Religions (2023)

Today is the first day of the five-day event known as The Parliament of the World Religions [link]. The following is from their ‘Our History’ page [link]:

The organization was founded on a mission to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to address the critical issues of our time. The Parliament was incorporated in 1988 to carry out a tradition and legacy that dates back to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where the historic first convening of the World’s Parliament of Religions created a global platform for engagement of religions of the east and west.

Since the historic 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, modern Parliament Convenings have attracted participants from more than 200 diverse religious, indigenous, and secular beliefs and more than 80 nations to its international gatherings in Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004), Melbourne (2009), Salt Lake City (2015), Toronto (2018) and virtually (2021). These Parliament Convenings are the world’s oldest, largest, and most inclusive gatherings of the global interfaith movement. Nearly 60,000 people across the world have convened in an enduring commitment to justice, peace, and sustainability through the lens of interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

Global leaders such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall, Nobel Peace Laureates Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi, and President Jimmy Carter have addressed the Parliament Convenings throughout their history.

I would now like to point out that two of the religious traditions I have been studying and writing on for over three decades now had representatives attending the first PWR event, and will also be participating the one convening this week.

The Catholic Church was represented by Cardinal Gibbons in 1893, and he opened the event [link]; Cardinal Blase Joseph Cupich will be attending in 2023 [link].

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent B, H. Roberts and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1893 [link]; in 2023, they are one of the events sponsors  [link], and one of the exhibitors [link].

Interestingly enough, representatives of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses) have never attended any of the PWR events. I suspect that their stance reflects the position that members of the church Jesus Christ and His apostles founded actually practiced.

Grace and peace,


Monday, May 22, 2023

A 13th century (B.C.) Hebrew inscription on a lead tablet discovered at Mt. Ebal

On May 19th, I received an email from the Biblical Archaeology Society that contained a link to a Bible History Daily post with the title, An Early Israelite Curse Inscription from Mt. Ebal? [LINK TO POST]

From the post we read:

In early 2022, a research team led by scholars from the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) announced the discovery of a lead tablet from Mt. Ebal that they claim contains the oldest extant Hebrew inscription. Now, after more than a year, a peer-reviewed article presenting one part of the inscription has been published in the journal Heritage Science [LINK].

According to the team, the inscription, which they date to the Late Bronze Age II period (c. 1400–1200 BCE), is a legal text and curse that invokes the Israelite deity Yahweh. The team believes the tablet is one of the most important inscriptions ever found in Israel, predating the previously earliest known Hebrew inscription by several hundred years, and one that could drastically alter our reconstruction of ancient Israel’s earliest history…

As translated by the team, the tablet reads:

You are cursed by the god yhw, cursed.

You will die, cursed—cursed, you will surely die.

Cursed you are by yhw—cursed.

The team claims the inscription is written in an archaic script, similar in style to other early alphabetic inscriptions known from the southern Levant, which they term proto-Hebrew alphabetic. Furthermore, they suggest that the use of the name Yhw, a shortened version of the divine name Yahweh (YHWH), is clear evidence that the text is an early Hebrew inscription. If true, this would make the tablet hundreds of years older than previously known early Hebrew inscriptions.

According to the team, the Mt. Ebal tablet is a type of legal text, which threatens curses upon individuals who transgress a covenant. They connect it directly to the covenant renewal ceremony on Mt. Ebal, described in Deuteronomy 27 and Joshua 8. Moreover, the team claims the tablet is evidence that certain books of the Hebrew Bible could have been written down hundreds of years earlier than most biblical scholars previously thought. As stated by the ABR’s Director of Excavations, Scott Stripling, during the initial press conference, “One can no longer argue with a straight face that the biblical text was not written until the Persian period or the Hellenistic period, as many higher critics have done, when we clearly do have the ability to write the entire text [of the Bible] at a much, much earlier date.” One of the project’s epigraphers, Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa reiterated the point, saying, “The scribe that wrote this ancient text, believe me, he could write every chapter in the Bible.”

Skeptics and liberal Biblical scholars who have embraced the theories of higher criticism have wasted no time in attacking the paper, for the evidence and conclusions presented have raised some serious questions concerning a number of the theories promoted by higher critics of the Bible.

Now, the paper itself was published in the Heritage Science journal on May 12, 2023 under the title, “You are Cursed by the God YHW:” an early Hebrew inscription from Mt. Ebal. Six scholars contributed to this peer reviewed paper of 26 pages. The post published by the Biblical Archaeology Society provides an adequate summation of the paper, but the paper itself is a must read for all folk who have an interest in Biblical studies.

Once again, here is THE LINK.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, February 23, 2023

The New Testament and textual criticism – “the shorter reading is preferred” (Part 2)

In my last post (link), I delved into the “venerable maxim lectio brevior lectio potior” (the shorter reading is the more probable reading); pointing out that, “many of the assumptions/criteria used support the lectio brevior potior canon/rule are problematic.” I then provided lengthy quotes from two scholars—Harry Sturz and George Kilpatrick—who maintained that scribes more often than not shortened the texts they were copying, rather than adding. In other words, it is the longer reading that ‘is the more probable’, not the shorter.

In this post, I will focus primarily on a New Testament textual critic who has spent decades comparing the oldest extant NT manuscripts—James R. Royse, Ph.D. (1969) in Philosophy, University of Chicago, Th.D. (1981) in Biblical Studies, Graduate Theological Union. The following quotes will be from his magnum opus, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (Brill, 2007, pb. SBL, 2010 – entire book can be read online HERE). This massive tome (1,051 pages), “is based on a dissertation of the same title submitted to the faculty of the Graduate Theological Union in 1981 for the degree of Th.D.” (p. XIII). From the first chapter we read:

One of the crucial principles of Hort’s masterly survey of the materials methodology, and results of New Testament textual criticism is: “Knowledge of documents should precede final judgement upon readings.” As Hort’s own comments make clear, knowledge of the sorts of errors that a particular scribe tended to make, and of his overall method and accuracy of copying, is an essential portion of this “knowledge of documents.” Accordingly, one finds in Hort’s work and in the works of other critics various assertions concerning the copying habits of scribes of significant manuscripts. (p.1)

Concerning these “various assertions”, Royse then writes:

 … as we shall see in detail in chapters 4–9, numerous scholars have attempted to characterize the habits of the scribes of the most important of the papyri. Unfortunately, however, the comments found in the works of Hort, von Soden, and others, appear usually to be based upon data that are incomplete and that have not been selected by means of a carefully formulated and implemented methodology. One consequence is that critics differ ab initio on the value to be ascribed to the various manuscripts, and even where they agree it is not clear what the evidence supporting the common position really is.

This lack of evidence is seen most clearly when one moves to the next level of generalization, namely, from the habits of the scribes of particular manuscripts to the determination of the habits of scribes in general. These general habits are presumably discovered, of course, on the basis of a detailed knowledge of the specific habits attributed to the scribes of some sample of the extant manuscripts. The general habits serve, then, as the basis of our knowledge of transcriptional probability (and improbability): what sorts of alterations scribes are likely (or unlikely) to have made in the text. Finally, this knowledge permits us to formulate the several canons of internal evidence, which are found in various textbooks and prolegomena, and which are an essential tool in the critic’s task of reconstructing the history of the text of the New Testament.

Regrettably, though, most presentations of these canons are not—as far as one can tell from the exposition—based on the actual knowledge of documents of which Hort speaks, but rather appear to rest upon a priori reflections on how scribes behaved (or must have behaved). And when particular readings are cited—presumably as evidence—the evaluation of one reading as the original and another as arising by a scribal error is frequently suspect from a methodological point of view, and so one is left wondering why the direction of scribal error may not have been other than is stated. (pp. 3, 4 – bold emphasis mine)

Royse’s observation that the canons presented by many textual critics are not “based on the actual knowledge” of the documents under consideration, but rather, “rest upon a priori reflections on how scribes behaved” is telling. Further, when many textual critics actually cite “particular readings” their “evaluation of one reading as the original and another as arising by a scribal error is frequently suspect from a methodological point of view.”

Royse then adds:

It would, of course, be beyond the scope of the present study to deal with all the secondary literature that makes assertions, justified or not, concerning the habits of scribes. But a few references may indicate that the appropriate sort of evidence for such assertions is often lacking, and that various problems may arise as a consequence in the evaluation of particular variants.

For instance, one of the most detailed and influential statements of the canons of textual criticism has been that of Griesbach. If we look at, say, his first canon, that of lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is to be preferred”), we will gain the impression that Griesbach had the wideranging knowledge of documents necessary to delineate precisely when scribes were likely to add and when, as exceptions, they were likely to omit. We may, of course, be sure that Griesbach did have such knowledge, and may well regard his distillation of this knowledge into various rules as having sound authority. Nevertheless, it is significant that no specific reading of a manuscript is cited as a foundation for this first canon. And in fact, no specific reading of a manuscript is cited anywhere within Griesbach’s Prolegomena, Sectio III, which is titled: “Conspectus potiorum observationum criticarum et regularum, ad quas nostrum de discrepantibus lectionibus judicium conformavimus.”* The fact that Griesbach does not even attempt to present evidence for his statements about how scribes copied makes it difficult (if not impossible) for later students to know what exactly he would have considered as evidence, to check the evidence upon which his statements rest, or to revise his statements in the light of the new evidence provided by subsequent manuscript discoveries. (pp. 4, 5 – bold emphasis mine)

[*Novum Testamentum Graece 1:lxiii–lxxxii: “Survey of the more important critical observations and rules, by which we have formed our judgment about variant readings.”]

Royse moves from Griesbach to Metzger, writing the following:

As a result of the lack of clear evidence on scribal habits, many decisions about specific textual problems appear arbitrary and subjective. This judgment even applies to the Textual Commentary published by Metzger as the explanation and justification of the various decisions made in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. The fact that the editors have recorded their reasons for their decisions on the most important variations permits us to follow their views throughout the text, and to compare their arguments at one place with those at another. Although it is clear that the editors do have a wide knowledge of documents and have utilized this knowledge in a careful manner, the assertions made about scribal habits remain without explicit foundation. (pp. 5, 6 – bold emphasis mine)

Royse then drops the following ‘bombshell’:

It is remarkable that critics and editors seem often not even to appreciate that evidence is lacking in the matter of scribal habits.

Royse proceeds to remedy what Griesbach, Tischendorf, Hort, von Soden, Metzger and so many other textual critics have woefully neglected. In pages 103-704 he provides “explicit foundation[s]” for his assertions concerning the “scribal habits” of those folk who wrote six of the oldest and most extensive manuscripts of the extant papyri: P45, P46, P47, P66, P72, and P75.

I shall now move on to one of Royse’s major assessments: the scribal habits of the writers of P45, P46, P47, P66, P72, and P75 demonstrates that more often than not it is the longer reading that is to be preferred, rather than the shorter. In chapter 10 (Shorter Reading?), he shares some of his thoughts concerning the canon/rule lectio brevior potior. Note the following:

One of the most venerable canons of textual criticism is that the shorter reading is generally to be preferred. This principle and some possible applications of it have already been examined briefly in chapter 1, but the discovery that all six of the papyri analyzed here omit more often than they add makes it important to return to this principle, and to ask how earlier scholars could have formulated a rule that so clearly—as it turns out—goes against the scribal activity evidenced in our papyri. (p. 705)

After citing Griesbach’s first canon1, he then writes:

The principle of preferring the shorter reading has been utilized most influentially within the field of New Testament textual criticism by Westcott and Hort…(p. 705)

In pages 706-708 he provides clear examples of Westcott and Hort’s almost slavish application of the “principle of preferring the shorter reading.” He moves on to examples from Metzger and the Alands2, after which he concludes:

The frequency with which scholars such as Hort and Metzger appeal to the preference for the shorter reading is doubtless in part due to the ease and objectivity of its application. Whether a particular reading fits the style of the author, is grammatically smoother, follows Semitic idiom, or is theologically more acceptable, is usually very much a matter of debate, and reaching any decision on such issues would involve the weighing of a great deal of evidence. But deciding whether one reading is shorter than another is, at least usually, a perfectly straightforward task. It is therefore convenient to reduce textual questions to questions of length, and then to decide accordingly. (p. 711)

Though the canon/rule lectio brevior potior has been, and still is, embraced by the vast majority of NT textual critics, Royse in pages 714-717 provides excerpts from a few scholars who, prior to the publication of his book, found significant problems with the maxim—e.g. Scrivener, Kilpatrick, A.C. Clark, Elliott, and Colwell. He follows those selections with:

And, whatever may be the status of the specific theories put forward by Clark (and others), the fact is that the six papyri studied here all demonstrate a tendency to shorten the text. Often the omissions appear to be accidental, just as many of the additions may have arisen by accidental assimilation to the context, parallel passages, or similar constructions. Many of the accidental omissions involve scribal leaps, but many have no such cause. Sometimes the omission may have been deliberate. But in any case the direction is clearly from a longer text to a shorter text. (pp. 717, 718 – bold emphasis mine)

A bit later we read:

And, of course, these scribes differ greatly among themselves with respect to other patterns of error. Indeed, precisely because the six scribes differ in so many ways, are copying different portions of the New Testament, and are utilizing texts of different sorts, it would seem that their common habit of shortening the text is a general habit, and not an anomalous feature of one or two particular scribes. To be sure, one could contend that all six scribes are anomalous, but, given their many differences, such a view would seem highly implausible, and to be based on no evidence. Naturally, we might eventually discover other early papyri that would force us to revise these conclusions, but we have to work with the available evidence. And there seems in fact to be no reason to suppose that we just happened to have found manuscripts from the six scribes of antiquity who tended to shorten their text. On the contrary, it would seem that these six manuscripts should represent a fair sample (in so far as any sample of six could be fair) of the scribal activity involved in the copying of the New Testament in Egypt in the years from, say, 175 to 300. (pp. 719, 720 – bold emphasis mine)

Shall end here for now. Hope interested folk will take the time to explore Royse’s book for themselves..

Grace and peace,



1.  Full canon provided in my previous post (link).

2.  Same examples provided in previous post

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The New Testament and textual criticism – “the shorter reading is preferred” (Part 1)

What is the genuine Greek—what the true Text of the New Testament? Which are the very words which were written by the Evangelists and Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ under the Inspiration of the Holy Ghost?

The two above questions were posed by Edward Miller in his book, A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1886, p.1 - link to PDF). The answer to these questions is the ultimate goal of New Testament textual criticism.

As the number of extant Greek manuscripts increased, the number of variants within those extant manuscripts also increased. Before the 16th century, all the GNT manuscripts were hand written, but in the year 1514 the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament was produced (volume V of the Complutensian Polygot, which was not published until 1520), and in 1516 Desiderius Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum Omne was printed and published. Between 1519-1535, Erasmus created four more editions of the Greek New Testament that were also printed and published. Erasmus’ five editions were soon followed by four GNT editions printed by the Parisian Robert Estienne (Latin: Stephanos)—1546, 1549, 1550 and 1551. The 1550 edition was the first GNT to contain a critical apparatus of variant readings; readings that were compiled from fourteen GNT manuscripts and the GNT of the Comlputensian Polygot. The apparatus of Stephanos’ 1550 edition was principally the beginning of textual criticism of the GNT as a distinct discipline.

Following this somewhat humble beginning, the textual criticism of the GNT as a distinct discipline has grown into a massive field of study that includes the textual criticism of non-Greek New Testament translations (especially Latin), and the quotations of the NT by the Church Fathers. Interestingly enough, this field of study became dominated by liberal and nominal ‘Christians’, with one of the top GNT textual critics of our day—Bart Ehrman—becoming an agnostic, and repudiating any notion of the GNT as inspired Scripture from God.

In the 17th century, various methods, rules, and theories began to emerge within the field of GNT textual criticism in the attempt to identify which of the tens of thousands of variant readings found within the thousands of extant GNT manuscripts/texts are the purest representatives of the original texts penned by the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ—texts that Christians have termed the New Testament.

One of the earliest theories to develop was the identification of manuscripts into groups/text types based primarily—but not exclusively so—on the geographical location where the manuscript was thought to be written. Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) classified the extant manuscripts he personally was cognizant of into two groups that he termed ‘Asiatic' and ‘African’. The ‘Asiatic' group contained those manuscripts thought to have been written in Constantinople and the surrounding Greek speaking environs. The ‘African’ group being represented by the extant Latin translations and Greek texts like the codex Alexandrinus. Johann Salmo Semler (1725-1791) further developed the theory of groups/text types by classifying the extant manuscripts into three recensions: the ‘Alexandrain', “Eastern/Byzantine' and 'Western'.

A student of Semler’s, Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812), retained the three group distinctions with greater refinements and additions to each of the groups.

This identification of manuscripts into groups/types is classified as one of the 'external evidences' of text-critical methodology. Concerning the ‘evidences' utilized by textual critics, Dr. Epp wrote:

What had emerged in little more than a decade from Mill to Bentley [textual critics of the early 18th century] was a twofold set of criteria, external and internal, that, while partial and rudimentary, formed the foundation of text-critical methodology ever after. These criteria were more clearly defined over time, but basically external evidence assesses factors such as the age, quality, geographical distribution, and groupings of manuscripts and other witnesses, while internal evidence assesses what authors were most likely to write and what scribes were likely to transcribe. During the eighteenth century and through the nineteenth, virtually all notable editors stated a basic, general principle that the text should be formed from the most ancient textual witnesses, and (except for Lachmann) their editions also included a list of internal criteria. Bengel (1725 and 1742) offered twenty-seven canons, Wettstein (1730 and 1751–52) listed eighteen, Griesbach (1796–1806) fifteen, Tischendorf (1869–72, in the prolegomena by Caspar René Gregory)  five, Tregelles (1857–72) nine, and Westcott and Hort (1881–82) also offered some nine, though not in a formal list. (Eldon Jay Epp, “Traditional 'Canons' of New Testament Textual Criticism: Their Value, Validity, and Viability-or Lack Thereof”, in The Textual History of the Greek New Testament: Changing Views in Contemporary Research, 2011, pp. 83, 84)

One of the ‘canons’—i.e. rules, principles—of the ‘internal evidences’ of textual criticism found in the works of the majority of textual critics (one can add Bruce Meztger, Kurt and Barbara Aland to the above list by Epp), is lectio brevior potior—the shorter reading is preferred. A detailed description of lectio brevior potior was provided by Johann Jakob Griesbach. The following is Bruce Metzger’s English translation, with his brief introduction:

Among the 15 canons of textual criticism that Griesbach elaborated, the following (his first canon) may be given as a specimen:

The shorter reading (unless it lacks entirely the authority of the ancient and weighty witnesses) is to be preferred to the more verbose, for scribes were much more prone to add than to omit. They scarcely ever deliberately omitted anything, but they added many things; certainly they omitted some things by accident, but likewise not a few things have been added to the text by scribes through errors of the eye, ear, memory, imagination, and judgement. Particularly the shorter reading is to be preferred, even though according to the authority of the witnesses it may appear to be inferior to the other,—

a. if at the same time it is more difficult, more obscure, ambiguous, elliptical, hebraizing, or solecistic;

b. if the same thing is expressed with different phrases in various manuscripts;

c. if the order of words varies;

d. if at the beginning of pericopes;

e. if the longer reading savours of a gloss or interpretation, or agrees with the wording of parallel passages, or seems to have come from lectionaries.

But on the other hand the longer reading is to be preferred to the shorter (unless the latter appears in many good witnesses),—

a. if the occasion of the omission can be attributed to homoeoteleuton;

b. if that which was omitted could have seemed to the scribe to be obscure, harsh, superfluous, unusual, paradoxical, offensive to pious ears, erroneous, or in opposition to parallel passages;

c. if that which is lacking could be lacking without harming the sense or the structure of the sentence, as for example incidental, brief propositions, and other matter the absence of which would be scarcely noticed by the scribe when re-reading what he had written;

d. if the shorter reading is less in accord with the character, style, or scope of the author;

e. if the shorter reading utterly lacks sense;

f. if it is probable that the shorter reading has crept in from parallel passages or from lectionaries. (Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd  ed., 1968, p. 120.)

Metzger himself was an advocate of lectio brevior potior; note the following:

In general, the shorter reading is to be preferred, except where parablepsis arising from homoeoteleuton may have occurred or where the scribe may have omitted material that he deemed to be superfluous, harsh, or contrary  to pious belief, liturgical usage, or ascetical practice. (Compare Griesbach's fuller statement of this criterion, p. 120 above.) [The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2nd ed., 1968, pp. 209, 210.]

And from the ‘Introduction’ of Metzger’s, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, we read:

2. In general the shorter reading is to be preferred, except where

(a) Parablepsis arising from homoeoarcton or homoeoteleuton may have occurred (i.e., where the eye of the copyist may have inadvertently passed from one word to another having a similar sequence of letters); or where

(b) The scribe may have omitted material that was deemed to be (i) superfluous, (ii) harsh, or (iii) contrary to pious belief, liturgical usage, or ascetical practice. (1975, corrected edition, p. xxvii)

Metzger’s colleagues, Kurt and Barbara Aland, also accepted lectio brevior potior as one of their, “TWELVE BASIC RULES FOR TEXTUAL CRITICISM”:

11. The venerable maxim lectio brevior lectio potior ("the shorter reading is the more probable reading") is certainly right in many instances. But here again the principle cannot be applied mechanically. It is not valid for witnesses whose texts otherwise vary significantly from the characteristic patterns of the textual tradition, with frequent omissions or expansions reflecting editorial tendencies (e.g., D). Neither should the commonly accepted rule of thumb that variants agreeing with parallel passages or with the Septuagint in Old Testament quotations are secondary be applied in a purely mechanical way. A blind consistency can be just as dangerous here as in Rule 10 (lectio difficilior). [Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, trans. by Erroll F. Rhodes, second edition, 1989, p. 281]

Though Griesbach, Metzger and the Alands delineate criteria for exceptions to the  lectio brevior potior canon/rule, in the vast majority of cases when a textual reading has shorter and longer variants, the shorter reading is adopted the preferred one.

Now, what you will rarely hear from textual critics who have embraced the, “venerable maxim lectio brevior lectio potior (‘the shorter reading is the more probable reading’)”, is that many of the assumptions/criteria used support the lectio brevior potior canon/rule are problematic. The rest of the post will focus on one of those assumptions/criteria: scribes were much more prone to add than to omit.

If my memory serves me correctly, the first time I saw a challenge to the axiom that scribes were much more prone to add than to omit was in Dr. Harry Sturz’s book, The Byzantine Text-Type & New Testament Textual Criticism. From Dr. Sturz’s book we read:

Kilpatrick, in his evaluation of the text behind the TR, includes a discussion on conflation, in which he examines variant readings eclectically, and finds that in many instances the longer reading should be preferred as the original reading. He concludes the discussion on homoeoteluton with the following observations:

This list is ... sufficient to show both how prevalent this kind of mistake is and how frequently the Textus Receptus and its allies preserve the original reading. Westcott and Hort of course rejected their evidence and chose the shorter text even when it clearly impaired the meaning as at Mark x. 7.

lt is worth considering how this came about. One of the canons of  textual critics in modern times has been lectio brevior potior . ... On the other hand if we substitute the maxim, 'the longer text, other things being equal, is preferable', have we any reason for thinking that this is more mistaken than the conventional lectio brevior potior? We are used to this last but the fact that it is traditional is no argument for its being true. Nonetheless, Westcott and Hort do not seem to have thought of challenging it.

There are passages where reasons can be given for preferring the longer text and there are others where we can find reasons for preferring the shorter. There is a third category where there does not seem to be any reason for deciding one way or the other. How do we decide between longer and shorter texts in this third category? On reflection we do not seem able to find any reason for thinking that the maxim lectio brevior potior really holds good. We can only hope that a fuller acquaintance with the problems concerned will enable us increasingly to discern reasons in each instance why the longer or the shorter reading seems more probable.

Cited from Kilpatrick's essay: "The Greek New Testament Text of Today and the Textus Receptus," Chap. VIII in The New Testament in Historical and Contemporary Perspective, Essays in Memory of G. H. Macgregor, ed. by Anderson and Barclay (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965), p. 196. [Sturz, Harry A. The Byzantine Text-Type & New Testament Textual Criticism, p. 89]

After reading the above quote provided by Sturz, I wanted to get a broader context, as well as find out what was removed and replaced by the ellipses, so I ordered the referenced book.

Before getting to the greater context of Kilpatrick's essay (referenced above by Sturz), I will provide the full texts of those sections that contain the ellipses.

Sturz’s quote: This list is ... sufficient to show both how prevalent this kind of mistake is and how frequently the Textus Receptus and its allies preserve the original reading.

Full text: This list is far from exhaustive but is sufficient to show both how prevalent this kind of mistake is and how frequently the Textus Receptus and its allies preserve the original reading.

Sturz’s quote: lt is worth considering how this came about. One of the canons of  textual critics in modern times has been lectio brevior potior . ... On the other hand if we substitute the maxim, 'the longer text, other things being equal, is preferable', have we any reason for thinking that this is more mistaken than the conventional lectio brevior potior?

Full text: It is worth considering how this came about. One of the canons of textual critics in modern times has been lectio brevior potior. We may limit this to the form, 'the shorter text, other things being equal, is preferable', in deference to the investigations of A. C. Clark and others which have revealed how widespread has been the prevalence of ὁυ and other causes of omission. On the other hand if we substitute the maxim, 'the longer text, other things being equal, is preferable', have we any reason for thinking that this is more mistaken than the conventional lectio brevior potior?

Now, the broader context. The first paragraph of the essay presents two “basic contentions of Westcott and Hort” that Kilpatrick believes are seriously flawed. The following is the full paragraph:

One of the basic contentions of Westcott and Hort was that the Syrian text1, the text that appears with variations in A2, the Textus Receptus, and the vast majority of later witnesses, is a secondary text based on the older Neutral  and Western texts. A second basic contention was that the Western text was in general inferior to the Neutral text. The Neutral text alone preserved the Greek New Testament in something like its original purity and so served as the foundation of Westcott and Hort’s edition.

In the next paragraph, Kilpatrick provides valuable information on the “second basis contention" of Westcott and Hort:

Hort’s views on the Western text were soon challenged. Scholars like F. C. Burkitt and C. H. Turner showed that, if readings were examined on their merits, the Western text was often right and the Neutral or Egyptian text often wrong. Their contentions have been widely accepted and an increasing number of readings in D3 and its allies are recognized as probably original.

The third paragraph, sets the tone for the rest of the essay:

No such change has taken place in opinion about Syrian text. Few attempts have been made to show that any of its distinctive readings are original and Hort's account of its origins and characteristics have not been challenged by the majority of textual critics.

Kilpatrick then goes on to present substantive cases for three assessments: first, "the great majority of [N. T. textual] variants came into being before A. D. 200”; second, many of the Syrian/Byzantine text distinct readings are much older than what most textual critics have accepted as a truism (as per Westcott and Hort’s theory); and third, the lectio brevior potior canon/rule has serious flaws (see above quotes).

Kilpatrick’s first and second assessments are inextricably linked. Note the following:

Professor H. Vogels has suggested that, apart from errors [unaware copying vs. deliberate], the the great majority of [N. T. textual] variants came into being before A. D. 200. This seems reasonable. Many readings can be shown to be in existence before that date: few demonstrably came into being after it. On this hypothesis most readings distinctive of the Syrian text will be older than A. D. 200 even if the selection of these readings in that text appear later. Consequently we cannot condemn these variants a a product of the depravity of the fourth century. (p.190)

He then adds:

One of Hort’s complaints against the Syrian text was that it as characterized by conflate readings. In principle the presence of conflate readings in the New Testament need not surprise us. The evidence of the critical apparatus suggests that they are to be found up and down the Greek text. There are, however, two questions we must try to answer: (i) are conflate readings distinctive of the Syrian text? And (ii) are all readings that look like conflate readings really conflate? (p. 190)

Kilpatrick then provides examples of 'conflation' within Westcott and Hort’s so-called ‘Neutral' text by comparing certain readings from ℵB4 that are shorter than the same readings found within the Western and/or Syrian texts.

He then concludes the following:

From these examples we can see that not all apparent conflate readings are really conflate. Sometimes they present the original text and, when they do so and are peculiar to the Syrian text, then the Syrian text must have credit for preserving the correct reading. Likewise real conflations occur in other witnesses apart from the Syrian text and it would be mistaken to argue that conflate readings were characteristic of this text. Thus the argument from conflation does not serve to condemn the Syrian text in the way that Westcott and Hort had supposed. (pp. 192, 193)

On pages 194-196, Kilpatrick examines “some Syrian readings on their merits, seeing that we cannot dismiss the Syrian text as obviously secondary on grounds of conflation or harmonization” [when compared to the so-called ‘Neutral’ text]. In this section he argues that the Textus Receptus sometimes preserves Semitic expressions that are longer readings than those found in ℵB, suggesting that the ℵB readings were purposeful changes made to the texts to conform to Classical Greek, rather than Koine Greek used to retain the original Semitic expressions found in the New Testament.

He follows his examples with the following bold assessment:

These three instances of the superiority of A and the Textus Receptus justify us in looking afresh at readings that are characteristic of these witnesses and considering each on its merits. From the time of Westcott and Hort to Syrian or Byzantine or as proper to the Textus Receptus to condemn it outright. There have been exceptions to this practice such as those of van Soden, Vogels, and Bover, but there have been few formal attempts at a justification of them.

To contribute to any such justification it is necessary to show in the main categories of variants the Syrian text is sometimes right. (p. 195)

Kilpatrick then provides eight such examples (pp. 195, 196), which is followed by the quote from Sturz—cited earlier in this post—that started with, “This list is ... sufficient to show both how prevalent this kind of mistake is and how frequently the Textus Receptus and its allies preserve the original reading.

Unfortunately, few textual scholars have adjusted their sacred canons/rules—maintaining the status quo as reflected in the quotes from Metzger and the Alands provided above—retaining the lectio brevior potior axiom as a weapon in their criticisms of the Syrian/Byzantine text type.

In my next post (the Lord willing) I will delve into the substantive critique of the lectio brevior potior canon/rule by one recent textual critic who has taken Kilpatrick’s assessments seriously.

Grace and peace,



1. The ‘Syrian text’ (also know as the Antiochian, Byzantine, Constantinopolitan, Ecclesiastical, Majority, Traditional) is one of the four textual families/types identified by Westcott and Hort; the other three were termed the Alexandrian, Western, and Neutral.

2. A = Alexandrinus codex (5th century)

3. D = Bezae Cantabrigiensis codex (5th century)

4. ℵB = Sinaiticus codex and Vaticanus codex (both 4th century; most textual critics now include ℵB in the Alexandrian text-type)