123 Is Wisdom justified by his children or his deeds? Matthews 11:19

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.

  1. 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…”

  1. 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.

  1. 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)

God bless,


Comments and suggestions are welcome at the bottom of this page, or via e-mail to 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.
This entry was posted in Ancient Translations, External Criteria, Internal Criteria, Intrinsic Criteria. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to 123 Is Wisdom justified by his children or his deeds? Matthews 11:19

  1. Jim Kerr says:

    Hi Herman, I like what you’re doing here. Well done!

    As to the meaning of the phrase “Wisdom is justified by her children (or works),” I think you might be mistaken. It simply means “The wisdom of a thing is proven by the results.” Both “children” and “works” mean “results,” so either ending way is correct (the word “fruits” could be used as well; or any other metaphor for “results” or “what is produced.”). Jesus is saying that the Pharisee’s wisdom is proven false (or unwise) in concluding that both John the Baptist and Jesus are demonised and drunken respectively. God’s wisdom, espoused by John and Jesus, is proven right because it produces “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3;8), etc.

    Oh, and I’m curious, why do you use the masculine “his” in the title (and elsewhere) for “wisdom’s children/works?” In the Greek and in the English versions the feminine pronoun is used–is “Wisdom” masculine in Afrikaans, perhaps? Or are you referring to God?

    Thanks again for the work you’re doing, brother. God bless!

    • Good day Jim,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      Concerning the masculine / feminine question, our words in Afrikaans are all neuter, and then we use the masculine form.
      But, as you suppose yourself, I am more thinking of God and his wisdom, and not wisdom per se.
      That is why my very first sentence reads: “Is wisdom justified by God’s children, or by his deeds?”
      To a certain extent this sentence is almost standing alone. Something that could have been added from Q as a source of non – connected statements by Jesus.
      I do agree that both “children” and “deeds” could be correct. But if you were a Bible translator and had been confronted with the two versions, how would you choose. What could be indicators of which version would render the autograph and which the variation?
      That is what my studies on this blog is mainly about.
      There are very few cases where “Q” as source could be clearly identified, let alone be influential in the decision of a variation. Therefore I couldn’t resist the temptation to study and write this post. The matter might be trivial, but the history from where it comes, is astounding!
      God bless.

      • Jim Kerr says:

        Thanks for that, Herman.

        Although I understood that the textual issues are “what [your] studies on this blog [are] mainly about,” I still felt it important to mention the interpretive issue I raised. I meant no disrespect by doing so and hope none was taken. Forgive me if I caused any offense.

        As for text critical issues, I never consider them “trivial.” That’s the reason I visited your site. I was over at Michael Kruger’s Canon Fodder and saw your post there and thought I’d take a wee nosy….

        Anyway, in the case of Matt 11:19, I have no dispute with your conclusions regarding the Q source for τῶν τέκνων; I think you made a fair and reasonable argument. However, I did think that, in failing to name the earliest mss supporting τῶν ἔργων (א B* W, as per the NA28 apparatus), you somewhat dulled the impact of the 100 year age gap and the support of the original hand of Vaticanus vs a second corrector. As well, Metger’s Textual Commentary says a {B} rating “indicates that the text is almost certain,” which is semantically more positive than “There is some doubt.”

        Metzger further notes:
        “The Committee regarded the reading τέκνων (widely supported by B2 C D K L X Δ Θ Π and most minuscules) as having originated in scribal harmonization with the Lukan parallel (7:35). The readings with πάντων represent further assimilation to the passage in Luke.”

        For these reasons, I would personally side with the UBS Committee and choose to translate τῶν ἔργων in Matt 11:19 and τῶν τέκνων in Luke 7:35. But, again, the argument you made for the other reading was just as good.

        Ὁ ἐν Χριστῷ ἀδελφός σου,

        (Btw, if you get bored, you can visit my blog at http://www.thestingofsaltandlight.blogspot.co.

      • Dear Jim,
        I just love your comments. They surely do not offend me at all!
        As for not mentioning by name the early manuscripts supporting both readings, I agree and added the info. I almost never mention alterations by later correctors, since I try to establish the oldest witness of the variations.
        As for the choice of NA and UBS, their choices are based on the manuscript evidence only. I try to incorporate also the internal as well as the intrinsic criteria. It is exactly the internal criteria that brought me to the possibility of Q in this variation. And since there are no manuscripts of Q at all, they could not be taken into account of by NA or UBS. But to me, Q’s influence is important in this specific variation.
        God bless!

  2. Jim Kerr says:

    That’s a good point about the textual limitations of the NA/UBS committees. Of course, the lack of primary evidence for Q does force us into inspired speculation from the artistic end of the textual criticism spectrum.

    Thanks again, Herman. God bless.

    (I broke the url for my blog the last time and dislodged the “dot-nz” ending; here’s the intact link: http://www.thestingofsaltandlight.blogspot.co.nz )

  3. Pingback: Playing with the Children – Formingfaith

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