Is wisdom justified by God’s children, or by God’s deeds?
KJV: Matthews 11:18 – 19: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say; Behold a man gluttonous and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of “her children.”
NIV: “The son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”. But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
To establish the variation that most probably renders the original autograph, we use three objective criteria.
- External criteria
Deeds or works is supported by two Greek uncial manuscripts dating ±350 A.D. (The Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and one from ±450(Washingtoniensis), and also family 13 comprising of about 12 minuscule manuscripts. Only the Bohairic (±350), two Syriac and a late Ethiopic antique translation support “deeds” instead of “children.”
“Children on the other hand is supported by two Greek uncials of ±450 A.D. (Ephraemi and Bezae) and six others later than 750 A.D. It is also found in a Byzantine lectionary and more than 20 later minuscule manuscripts, including family 1 with 7 manuscripts. The oldest antique translation of Matthews, the Sahidic (±250 A.D.) also supports “children”. Though we cannot make any nearer assumptions, the existence of a translation confirms that a Greek manuscript with that version had been in use at the time and place this translation had been made. The large majority of Old Latin, as well as Syriac, Gothic, Armenian, Ethiopic and Georgian translations between ±350 to 1250 A.D. correspond with “children”.
Though Nestle/Aland and the United Bible Societies texts choose for “deeds”, the UBS renders their choice a B; “There is some doubt…”
- Internal criteria.
Matthew and Luke used three sources in the compilation of their gospels. First the gospel of Mark, though this specific narrative is absent from Mark. Secondly they used a source consisting of quotations of Jesus. It is called “Q” for quelle, German for source. Their third source was their own research.
The fact that the present paragraph corresponds almost word for word in both gospels points to a common source, making “Q” the logic option. In the parallel in Luke 7:35 it is written: “Wisdom is justified of all her children.” With Luke and numerous Greek manuscripts as well as most Antique Translations spread over most of the known Christian world, rendering “children” and not “Works”, it is a strong indication that “children” should be the original version.
This criterion strongly points towards children being the original and works the deviation.
- Intrinsic criteria.
Both words are often used by Jesus and Matthew. Anyone of the two have an equal chance to represent the original.
We also look at the context to establish whether one fits better than the other. What would be the function of this sentence within this paragraph?
Looking at the build-up of this paragraph, this sentence seems to be a final depiction of “this generation” (Vs.16) The point Jesus makes is that these people would grab any excuse to ignore the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself.
The Greek is translated directly as: “But wisdom is justified by:” either her children, or by her deeds.
The point that Jesus is making is that, though many do not respond to the salvation through Jesus Christ , the wisdom of God’s method is confirmed by the results it brings. It is either the people save (His children) or the convincing power that bring people to accept His way of salvation. (the deeds) Each of the two variations would fulfill the same function.
But there is even another possibility. Jesus uses the passive form in this sentence. “But wisdom is justified of ‘her children.’ ” Very often the passive was used to describe an action by God. Therefore this sentence could even be translated: “But God justifies wisdom by her children (or deeds). This could have the meaning that God judges these people on the results of their actions.
The manuscript evidence gives a clear preference for “children” rather than “deeds” or “actions”.
Q as the most likely origin of this paragraph gives preference to “children”.
Looking at the context any of the two variations would fulfil the same function.
According to these criteria, “children” has a greater possibility to render the original autograph.
Paul echo’s this principle in 1 Corinthians 1:21: “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (NIV)
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