21.2 Alterations: Doctrinal Considerations.
6. Alterations made due to doctrinal considerations.
Since early years, church fathers warned against those who intentionally corrupted the Scriptures with alterations to eliminate or alter what did not suit their own doctrines, or added “support” for their own favorite theological practices.
About 150 A.D. Marcion erased all references to the Jewish background of Jesus in his copies of the gospel according to Luke.
In John 7 we have an interesting problem. Porphyry (234-305) a Greek philosopher made an attack against Christianity, accusing Jesus Christ of being inconsistent, based on John 7:8 where Jesus declared : “I am not going up to this feast…” (Revised Standard Version.), yet two verses later we read: “…But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.” Without doubt there must have been manuscript(s) in circulation at that time with this rendering; otherwise his accusation could just have been set aside as based on a corrupted copy of the gospel. Looking at the evidence of surviving documents up to 500 A.D. this version is supported by two Greek manuscripts, and no less than 10 different translations, spread over the entire known world of that time, viz. 4 old Latin, 1 Vulgate, 2 Syrian, 1 Coptic (Egyptian), 1 Armenian and 1 Georgian. Quite convincing! But there is also another version stating that Jesus said: “…I am not yet going up to this Feast.” (MKJV, NIV). This version is supported the two oldest documents to our avail, one written before Porphyry’s time, the other during his lifetime as well as a Coptic (Egyptian) translation also made in the same period. Yet up to 500 A.D. we have only 3 more Greek manuscripts, a Syrian and a Gothic translation in support of this rendering. Only 8 documents up to 500 A.D. compared with the 12! What indeed did John write in his gospel? Were it not for this attack on our Lord Jesus, the second version could be accepted without much doubt, but a greater possibility is that the text had masterly been altered by some scribes, at that time. Surely the best known texts at that time must have been in accord with the one on which Porphyry based his accusation.
Another statement of Jesus in Mat.24:36 was also unacceptable to some scribes. (RSV): “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” This version corresponds with Mark 13:32. Up to 500 A.D. three Greek manuscripts, as well as four old Latin, a Syrian, a Coptic (ancient Egyptian) and an Armenian translation all agree with Mark. (3+7) It is also supported by six Church fathers including Origen (254) and Chrysostom (407) who both wrote a verse by verse commentary.
Up to the same date, the version rendered in the MKJV and the NIV, simply leaving out: “…nor the Son…” is supported by one Greek manuscript and the Vulgate, two Syrian and two Coptic (ancient Egyptian) translations. (1+5) Five Church fathers also quoted it this way. It is also common in most of the later manuscripts.
Could it be that the divinity of Jesus had been attacked in Syria (where Matthew was commonly used) and not in Rome? (Home of the gospel of Mark) This could explain the altering of one gospel and not the other.
Another form of doctrinal alteration is the addition of proof for favorite practices like fasting. It is especially common in connection with prayer. We consider the textual evidence applicable to 1 Cor.7:5: (NIV) “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. “
Let us look at the manuscript evidence:
|Witness:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:|
|201-300||Sahidic||Origen, Cyprian, Dionysius, Methodius||Dionysius|
|301-400||א, B||Vulgate, Bohairic, Fayyumic||Ambrosiaster, Epiphanius||Gothic||Ephraem|
|401-500||C, D||Old Latin, Armenian, Ethiopic||Chrysostom, Augustine, Euthalius||Syriac||Chrysostom, Theodoret|
|601-700||p11||2 Old Latin||Syriac|
|801-900||Gp, Papr, 33||4 Old Latin||Kap, Lap|
|1000-1500||9 Minuscules||2 Old Latin||12 Minuscules|
Looking at the evidence up to the year 500 we find five Greek manuscripts and no less than seven translations supporting prayer only, and only two translations supporting prayer and fasting. Most Greek Church fathers also support the prayer only reading. In conclusion one can see that the requirement also to fast is a later addition on doctrinal considerations. The same is true for Mark 9:29 and Acts 10:30.
Fasting was a common practice in the early Church. It is still a good form of dedication as many present-day Christians can testify. When it is added to the given Word of God, be it unnoticed or on doctrinal grounds, fasting becomes compulsory. That was not what God intended to have written in his Word. Therefore it should be rejected.
Fasting should always be motivated by an inner conviction to honor God and never a compulsory action.