Why would such an important indication as “after the order of Melchizedec” be left out of Hebrews 7:21 in most modern versions of the Bible? When there is an important departure from the King James Version, there should be a good reason for. In the King James Version we read how Jesus became priest: ”For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord swore and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek:”
Other versions that include this specification are the ALT, the AMP and the LITV.
In the NIV we read: but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ “
Most modern translations like the RSV, ASV, BBE and GNT agree with this version.
Such an obvious deviation needs our objective examination.
We have the following criteria to examine the deviation:
- External evidence.
The first criterion is to examine the manuscripts of Hebrews available. The oldest manuscripts we have are all without this specification. They include for instance the Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (±350 A.D.) as well as Atous Laurae. (±750 A.D.) It is also present in some minuscule manuscripts, all later than 950 A.D.
On the other hand this specification is only present in Alexandrinus (±450) and some late manuscripts like the Moscuensis and Angilicus (±850 A.D.) and Uncial No. 0142 (±950 A.D.) It is also present in most minuscule manuscripts after 950 A.D.
From this we can conclude that this specification had most probably not been stated in the original autograph. Some scribe must have added it to the text, and it had then been present in the initial manuscript used by the Greek Orthodox Church whence it found its way into the many copies made by that church. It was also present in the manuscript used by Desiderius Erasmus to publish the first printed Greek New Testament in 1516. From there it had been present in the Textus Receptus, utilized by the translators responsible for the King James Version.
- Internal Criteria
The second criterion is to examine how such a variation could have originated. There are two possibilities. Either it had been removed from the original autograph, or it had been added to it. From examining the many variations present in New Testament manuscripts it is obvious that words were only removed from a text for very important indications. No such indication is present in our text. On the other hand, it often happened that words would rather be added for fear of leaving out something from the Word of God. With the same expression just two verses earlier, a scribe might easily have remembered the expression and inattentively added it to the text.
There is also the possibility of haplography. Metzger states: the omission of the phrase “kata ten tazin melchisedek” could be explained if the eye of the scribe wandered from “kata” to the “kata” that follows Melchisedek.”
It is obvious that this variation can more easily be explained as an addition to the original autograph rather than an omission.
- Intrinsic Criteria
The third criterion we can employ is to try to understand or explain why someone wanted to add these words to his copy. We find Melchizedec twice in chapter five, once in six and five times in seven, viz. 1, 10, 15 and 17; eight times in this short passage, excluding our verse 21 under examination. The direct construction “priest forever” is found four times, three of them with the addition of the words “after the order of Melchizedec.” It is almost like a refrain belonging to the preceding sentence. And that might explain exactly how and why it was added to verse 21.
But there is another aspect we have to consider where verse 21 differs from all the other verses. Verse 21 is a direct quotation from Psalm 110:4. Looking at the extremely accurate way the writer of Hebrews handles quotations from the Old Testament it is highly improbable that he would add words to any quotation. This just is not the way he handles quotations; someone else must have added these words.
The Common English Bible print this quotation in the form it is found in Ps. 110:4:
“The Lord has made a solemn pledge
and will not change his mind
You are a priest forever.”
Our examination clearly indicates that the manuscript evidence, and the typical way scribes work as well as the way the writer of Hebrews did his work, all indicate that this specification must be considered a later addition to the original autograph. When modern translators of the Bible do not include “…after the order of Melchizedec”, they do not corrupt the text, but rather restore it to the version found in the original autograph.
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