Did Paul write that the covenant ‘was confirmed of God”, or did he write that it “was confirmed of God in Christ”? That is what is on the table when we find two variations in the manuscripts available to us.
One group of manuscripts in two versions corresponds with the KJV, that indeed the covenant was confirmed in Christ, while the other version, corresponding with the NIV, omitting “in Christ”, which means that it was confirmed by God. Was it God, or Christ? Both can’t be correct. One must be a variation on the original.
The words in dark, are lacking in modern versions.
And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
To discern which version corresponds with the original autograph and which represents an variation, we use three objective criteria.
1. External criteria
The first criterion is to examine the information we have in the manuscripts to our disposal.
|Variation:||God confirmed the covenant:||God confirmed the covenant “in Christ”:|
|Witness:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:||Greek:||Translations:||Church Fathers:|
|301-400||Sinaiticus, Vaticanus||Vulgate, Bohairic||Aphraates, Ephraem||Ambrosiaster|
|401-500||Alexandrinus, Ephraemi||Ethiopic||Jerome, Augustine, Cyril, Euthalius||Washington Pauline, Bezae, 1 other Uncial||Armenian, 1 Old Latin, Syriac||Chrysostom*, Theodore, Theodoret, Pelagius|
|601-700||1 Old Latin||Paschal Chronicle|
|701-800||Atous- Laurae||1 Old Latin||John-Damascus|
|801-900||Porphyrianus, Minuscule 33||2 Old Latin||Boernerianus, Mosquensis||3 Old Latin|
|901-1600||8 Minuscules||1 Old Latin||12 Minuscules, Byzantine Lectionary||Theophylact|
When we look at the table above, we notice that the three oldest Greek manuscripts, as well as the three oldest ancient translation, confirmed by two Church Fathers up to the year 400 A.D. confess God Himself as the One who confirmed the covenant and not Christ.
From 401 to 900 five manuscripts have “in Christ”, and five are without those words. Seven antique translations are with “in Christ” and five without, while more church fathers also have “in Christ”.
According to the manuscript evidence it seems more likely that the original autograph had been without this stipulation.
2. Internal criteria.
Sometimes a logical explanation of how a variation could have come about, can also be an indication of which version would represent the original, and which the variation. It is unthinkable that any scribe would deliberately remove such an important stipulation. There also is no obvious repetition of words that would that could cause this variation to be attributed to haplography.
That makes the addition rather than the omission of these words in later copies, a greater possibility. But if it was added to the manuscript, where could it have been originated?
In this paragraph Paul indicates that the covenant has precedence above the law. (Verses 15 – 18) In the direct preceding verse, the seed of Abraham is indicated as the Christ. It is possible that a scribe could have had this intimate connection between Abraham and the Christ in his mind and unobserved added it to his copy. It is also a possibility that a scribe could have deliberately have added this stipulation to the text to emphasize that the covenant is indeed intimately connected with Christ.
However one looks at it, it is obvious that this stipulation could rather be explained as an addition, and not as an omission, pointing towards the original being without this stipulation. Therefore one should rather accept the version without “in Christ” as representing the original autograph.
3. Intrinsic criteria.
Last we look at the words Paul use as well as the context. Is there any obvious indication that could help us to make a legitimate choice between the versions?
Words and terminology.
Paul uses the term “in Christ” about 94 times in his epistles. It is almost like a refrain that is repeated time and time again. Therefore it could easily be a term he also used in this instance. But it could just as easily be that a scribe familiar with this term could have unnoticed added it from memory.
Paul’s usage of the term “in Christ” therefore does not bring us closer to a decision on whether the version with or that without that stipulation would rather render the original.
Paul handles the precedence of the covenant over the law in verses 15 to 18. In these verses Paul also handles the deeper meaning of the covenant and its relationship with Christ. That is where the words we examine play a vital role.
Whoever confirms a covenant, or in whom it is confirmed, undertakes to realize the conditions of that covenant.
If God confirms the promises of the covenant, He Himself is responsible to realize the promises. If God confirms the promises “in Christ”, He undertakes that Christ will realize them.
If the promises of the covenant had been to Abraham and his seeds, meaning the Christians, then “in Christ” would have been the logic choice. Then Paul would certainly have written “in Christ”.
But Paul stresses it that the covenant was allocated to Abraham and his Seed, being Christ himself.
It makes no sense to confirm the covenant in the person to whom the promises of the covenant are designated. How would He promise to fulfil what He himself undertook to bestow on Himself? Had the promises of the covenant been promised to the followers of Christ, it should indeed have been confirmed “in Christ”. But because this covenant with Abraham had been allotted to Christ, it makes no sense that it would be confirmed “in Christ”. God would not say: “Christ, You have to guarantee that You will realize to Yourself the promises of this covenant. It just makes no sense.
The addition of “in Christ” at this point makes the statement illogic.
According to the context it is obvious that the original autograph would have been without “in Christ”.
The external, internal as well as the intrinsic criteria all point towards the original autograph being without “in Christ”.
If we superficially look at the omission of “in Christ” in this verse, we might think that modern versions renounce Christ. But when we look deeper at this verse and the implications of confirming a covenant, and the deeper meaning Paul had, we realize that even a seemingly “improvement” on the original, can be a deviation from the real truth.
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