105 Was Paul “a baby” or “gentle” among the Thessalonians?

105. Babes or gentle 1Thes. 2:7

What would you do if you were confronted with two sets of manuscripts, the one reading: “Because of her strictness, our headmistress was known as ‘Queennarrow’.” The other set of manuscripts read “…Queenarrow.” Of cource this is a foolish little sentence, but assume that it really was important and did make a substantial difference, how could one go about to discern the original autograph?
Just counting how many copies are represented by which set of manuscripts wouldn’t help, since it all started with one deviation, and now we are only confronted by which group needed the most copies. Having the most copies made, does not prove originality!

Three criteria could help us.
1. External Criteria.
Finding a manuscript with an earlier date, can al least prove that at an earlier date, that specific version had been known. Finding a really early translation of the document would prove that at that date and place of origin, that specific version had been known. And even someone quoting the one or the other version, or mentioning the headmistress by which name in his document would also help.
2. Internal Criteria.
Discovering how this deviation could originate could also help us.
It’s easy to explain how this variation could happen. Either a reading error, misreading one “n” for two, or visa versa, or else a hearing mistake, hearing “narrow” for “arrow” or visa versa. Yet it could happen both ways, so this criterion brings us no nearer to discerning the original.
3. Intrinsic Criteria.
The last criterion to our disposal is to look at intrinsic matters. If the concept of being narrow or even the word “narrow” is used repeatedly in connection with this headmistress, and not the concept or word “arrow”, it is quite convincing that the original manuscript would have named her “Queennarrow”.

The above example serves to explain how Bible translators sometimes have to struggle to find the most likely version concerning different versions of Scripture. Every possibility must be weighed thoroughly, for now we are dealing with the Word of God.

The problem is that some manuscripts read “”…we were babies (nēpioi among you.”, while others read “…we were gentle (ēpioi) among you.” One represents the original, the other a deviation. Look at the following versions:

CEV: “But as apostles, we could have demanded help from you. After all, Christ is the one who sent us. We chose to be like children or like a mother nursing her baby. “ This is an inept translation, for it contrasts what does not stand in opposition. Paul makes a statement in the form of a couplet. “We were gentle (or babies) amongst you; like a mother nursing her baby.”

NLT also opts for “…we were like children amongst you…”

NIV and KJV corresponds: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children. “

In the two sets of manuscripts, the one have “gentle” (ēpioi) and the other “babies” (nēpioi). It is not responsible to just grab one manuscript that had been available in Basil in 1516 and alleviate this manuscript’s version to be a rendering of the original autograph without any research or real evidence.
Furthermore it is interesting that the two main compiled Greek texts presently used by most Bible societies differ in their choice. The Nestle Aland Text chose “gentle” (ēpioi) as the text, “babies” (nēpioi) as the deviation while the United Bible Societies text chose the exact opposite.

Let us apply the above criteria to see if they can help us.
1. External Criteria.
First we look at the manuscripts that have survived, being kept safe in special libraries all over the world. Fortunately we are not restricted to the two manuscripts that happened to be in Basil in 1516, as Erasmus was, but all versions are incorporated into the textual apparatus of these two texts.
What can they teach us?

1 Thessalonians 2;7

Versions: Babes, nepioi: Gentle, epioi:
Source: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers:
201-300 Papyrus 65 Origen*, Clement Sahidic Origen*, Clement
301-400 Sinaiticus, Vaticanus Vulgate, Bohairic Ambrosiaster, Ephraem Fayyumic Basil
401-500 Ephraemi, Bezae, Washington Pauline 1 Old Latin, Ethiopic Jerome, Augustine, Cyril Alexandrinus Syriac, Armenian Chrysostom*, Theodore (Latin), Euthalius, Theodoret
601-700 Syriac
701-800 At.- Laurae 3 Old Latin, John-Damascus
801-900 Boernerianus 5 Old Latin Mosquensis, Porphyrianus, Minuscule 33
901-1000 1 Old Latin
1001-1600 4 Minuscules 1 Old Latin 18 Minuscules, Byzantine Lectionary Theophylact

2. External Criteria.
The oldest manuscript we have on the Pauline Epistles, Papyrus 65 (±225 A.D.) has “babes”. Yet an ancient translation a Sahidic (Old Egyptian, used in the southern parts of Egypt) of that same period has “gentle”. An ancient translation proves that a Greek document with that version had been in use at that time and at that place. During the same period two Church Fathers, Clement and Origen quote both versions. Origen, who left us a commentary on every sentence of the New Testament, quoted “gentle” thrice, but “babes” only once, while Clement has a score of two for each!
This means that the variation had started very early indeed, and had been known over a large geographic area. Both have very equal grounds.
Worldwide biblical scholars accept the Alexandrian Text type as the superior, and in most cases nearest to the original autographs, having the least amount of deviating variations. In this case and in most case two Greek manuscripts, the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus have “babes” while two ancient translations from the same type, the Sahidic and the Fayyumic have “gentle”.
By the year 500 A.D. the Greek manuscripts overwhelmingly favour “babes” with six manuscripts against only one with “gentle”. The ancient Translations balance with four each while the Church Fathers gives a little preference to “gentle” with Chrysostom who also left us with a commentary on the New Testament.
Judging on the manuscript evidence, “babes” should be favoured.
This could be why the UBS – Text favours “babes”, but warns that they consider their choice only as a “C”, meaning “…there is a considerable degree of doubt whether the text (babes) or the apparatus (gentle) contains the superior reading.”

2. Internal Criteria.
Let us try to understand how this variation originated, and see if that could bring us nearer to a definite choice of what the original autograph could be.
There are two possibilities:
1. A reading error. The preceding word ends on an “N” (egenēthemen). Bear in mind that at that time Greek had been written in scriptio continua, leaving no spaces between words. In such a case a double “N” could easily be mistaken for a single, and visa versa.
But another reading error was as easily made. When the last word in a line ended on a “N”, that N was not written, but indicated by a horizantal line above the preceding letter. How easily could that be missed, especially if both possibilities makes good sense!

2. A hearing error. In any language a single or double or single “N” cannot audibly be discerned easily. As illustrated in my little foolish example above with “Queenarrow”, one can appreciate that the same mistake could have caused this variation.
It is easy to explain how this variation could have originated, yet it could have gone in any direction. The internal evidence brings us no further to any certain choice as to what Paul had written to the Thessalonians in the first place! We need something else!

3. Intrinsic Criteria.
The only other evidence that can help us discern which version could be the original, and which the deviating variation, is the intrinsic evidence, looking at the typical language, grammar and words Paul himself used, as well as the context in which this variation occurs.
1. The word itself. The word “gentle” (ēpioi) is found in the New Testament only in 2 Timothy 2:24 where Paul mentions it as a requirement of the servant of God. Yet Paul himself uses “babes” (nēpioi) ne less than twelve times. But in each instance “babes” refer to his converts, and never to himself. According to the way Paul used the words, preference should be given to “gentle”.

2. Context. In verses 1-6 Paul gives clear evidence that he fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, even though it lead to suffering and bad treatment like in Philippi(1-4). He also is not concerned about human praise or flattery (5-6). Why would he now submit himself as a helpless baby?
bear in mind that it is either the one or the other. Either he presents himself as a “baby”, or he presents himself as “gentle” to the Thessalonians.
Had Paul in fact referred to himself as a babe, the whole presentation needs to be suddenly inverted to being like a mother nursing her children in the second part of the sentence. This is possible, but being gentle in the first part of the sentence makes much more sense. The context of verses seven b through twelve again stresses the fact that Paul could have demanded certain privileges, but he had been gentle and never a burden upon them. In that sense “gentle” should also be preferred.

The manuscript criteria give a little favour to the choice of “babes” over “gentle”.
How the variation could have originated is easily explained, but that gives no indication of which could have been the original and which the deviating variation.
The intrinsic criteria have a much stronger appeal on “gentle” than “babes’. Both the way Paul uses the words as well as the direct and larger context almost demand “gentle” as the appropriate word.

Any and every variation calls for responsible examination and sound evaluation of all facts involved. The Bible Translator is accountable to God in the first place.
Paul emphasizes in this verse that he had been gentle in proclaiming the gospel, even when it lead to persecution. He would never succumb to the demands of anybody or any situation. He is accountable to God alone.

God bless,


Your comments are welcome at the bottom of this page, or to me at bibledifferences@gmail.com


About Herman of bibledifferences.net

The reasons for the differences between older Bibles like the King James Version and newer Bibles like the New International Version have fascinated me ever since my studies in Theology at the University of Pretoria in the seventies. I have great respect for scribes through the ages as well as Bible translators, so there must be good reasons for the differences. With more than 5600 Greek manuscripts and more than 19000 manuscripts of ancient translations to our disposal, the original autographs of the New Testament can be established without doubt. I investigate the reasons behind the differences and publish the facts in a post on my blogs www.bibledifferences.net (Afrikaans: www.bybelverskille.wordpress.com) to enable my readers to judge for themselves. Personally I love to make an informed decision based of facts. That is why I endeavor to provide that same privilege to the readers of my blogs. Since 1973 I am married to my dear wife and greatest friend, Leah Page, founder director of Act-Up Support (www.actup.co.za) a prayer ministry for families struggling with drug-, occult- and other dependencies. We are blessed with two daughters and two sons, four grand sons and two grand daughters. God is alive and omnipotent! Glory to His Name! Herman Grobler.
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