94 How Harmonizing could have happened, Matthew 20:22-23
Have you ever read a verse in the Bible and just know it’s not complete?
Fathom yourself being a monk in the middle ages, busy copying the gospel of Matthew in your cold cell in the monastery. You come to the part where the mother of John and James requested Jesus to promise that her sons would sit beside Him on his throne in his kingdom. And when reading Jesus’ answer you just know that Jesus said more than is written in the source manuscript you are copying. He didn’t only speak of the cup He would drink, but also of the baptism He would be baptised with, didn’t He? And yet in this manuscript is written: “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give…” Surely Jesus also spoke of the baptism He would be baptised with. And you sit back and let your memory do it’s part. Yes, you remember the verse should read: “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give,” The scribe responsible for this source manuscript must have left out this important phrase! Could it be that his eye jumped to the next sentence? To make sure what Jesus really said, you run over to your neighbour next door who is copying Mark. And there the full remark is written in clear legible letters, just as you remembered them. And you hurry to correct the mistake you are sure some careless scribe in the past must have made. No word Jesus spoke should ever be lost!
And that is how a clause Matthew himself didn’t record, about 800 years later got transferred from Mark’s gospel into Matthew’s version of that conversation. And because of the high standard of this monk’s work and his very legible handwriting, his manuscript was utilised many times as source for further copies. And this version became the majority of later copies. And this version was also in the manuscript Erasmus found in Basil when he compiled the first printed edition of the Bible in 1516. And suddenly it was multiplied thousand fold not only by Erasmus, but by many publishers duplicating his publication. And Elzevir’s 1633 printed edition became known as the Textus Receptus, that was the source for the King James Bible and most of the older translations.
In modern times we have the privilege to have an overview of all known Greek manuscripts available, as well as the manuscripts of ancient translations and the quotations of the old Church Fathers. If we then notice that all documents prior to 800 A.D. contain the shorter version in Matthew, without mentioning the baptism as Mark did in his Gospel, the logic conclusion is that Matthew did not record those words of Jesus. The variation almost certainly originated as I proposed above. When modern translators of the Bible do not include this elaboration, they do not discard some of the Word of God, for that clause is still in Mark where it had been since the beginning. They only restore Matthew to it’s original form. Each evangelist had in fact the right to include as many or as few words of Jesus as he had seen necessary!
The authenticity of a Gospel is not judged by it’s concurrence with another Gospel, but rather by it’s uniqueness. Matthew mentions that it was John and James’s mother that proposed this request, while Mark remembers that in essence it was the request of the brothers themselves! A harmonising alteration causes one specific version to be carried forward, while losing the uniqueness of the other version. Therefore the restoration of the original autograph is always an improvement, even superficially it might seem that something gets lost.
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