Could damage to a manuscript cause a variation? That is the question on the table in our research to find the cause for a variation found in some manuscripts in 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
Paul refers to the coming of the opponent of Christ whom John calls the Antichrist. Does he call him the lawless man, or “the man of sin”. Two different Greek synonyms are in the focus. Did Paul use “anomias”, lawless, or “hamartias”, sinful? In reality it might not make a huge difference, but it gives us an indication of how some variations might be caused.
KJV: “Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
NIV: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for [that day will not come] until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.”
To research this variation we make use of three objective criteria.
- External Criteria:
First we look at the evidence available in the manuscripts to our disposal.
According to the United Bible Societies Text, “anomias”, lawless, has a small gain over “hamartias”, sinful.
But we would like more certainty.
- Internal Criteria.
Our second criterion is to examine how this variation could have come about. There are two possibilities.
- A memory slip.
It can easily happen that a scribe moving from his source manuscript to the copy he is making, could in his mind replace one synonym for another. This is indeed quite possible in this case. But in such a case, one could not at all discern which word would be the original, and which the variation.
- A reasoning mistake.
The Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were originally written in the Uncial Script, comparable with our capital letters. It was also written in scriptua continua, leaving no spaces between words and breaking the word at the end of the line with whatever letter fills the line, continuing on the next line with the next letter of the word. This has the result that any part of a word can stand as the last letters of the line.
Damage caused by wear, especially of the brittle papyrus codices, occurs on the corners and the end of the lines. It is therefore understandable that the last letters of a line can be completely lost. With scriptua continua this could mean any letter of the last word in that line. Usually this would not pose any problem, for the scribe can estimate with what is left what the word would be. But in our present variation this is not so easy.
One could explain the problem as follows:
The beginning of the last word in the line is clear, as is the end of the word on the next line. But the center part of the word is completely missing. Two sets of letters could fill the gap. Both words could fill the missing letters and both words would make perfect sense in this case. How could he decide which word had originally been written by Paul?
Note the corner of a page from a papyrus codex illustrating how the problem could occur:
Though we can assume with moderate surety how this variation could have originated, it does not give us any indication on which of the two possibilities would be the original word, and which the variation. We need to look into further criteria.
- Intrinsic Criteria.
Our third criterion is to look at the words Paul uses in this periscope and look at the context as a whole.
In all his epistles, Paul uses both words “lawless” and “sinful” to describe lost people. One could not indicate any preference.
Yet looking at the direct context of 2 Thessalonians, we notice that the adversary of Jesus, or “Antichrist” as John describes him, is only referred to in this pericope. Before the return of Christ, this person will make his presence known and he will be revealed.
The word “hamartia” is nowhere else found in 2 Thessalonians.
But the word “anomias” lawless is used in verse 7, a recurrence of one variation in our examination. It is also found in verse 8 (anomos), meaning the lawless (man).
It is clear that in describing the character of the “antichrist”, Paul emphasises his rebellion against God and specific God’s orderly reign, constituted in his laws and institutions. It is not sin per se, but rebellion against the orderly reign of God.
The intrinsic criteria strongly indicate “lawless” to be the original word Paul used in his autograph, and “sinful” being the deviating variation.
With two of the three criteria indicating “lawless” as the original, we should accept “sinful” as the deviating variation.
The effect of the deviation.
Though in practice the difference might not seem great to us, the essence of the adversary of Christ is not merely his sinful nature. We all fall in sin. But Christ’s adversary is directly against the orderly reign of God, as is instituted by his laws and institutions. It can be indicated and measured. His rebellion is not something merely happening as a result of weakness, but a direct, deliberate rebellion against the revealed order of God. There is no uncertainty.
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