In many places in the Bible two or more groups of people are mentioned in opposition to one another. To which group we identify ourselves can blind us for something important in that Scripture. Do we see ourselves as part of the original tribe of Israel, or do we identify with people who have been saved out of the heathen world? In Romans fifteen verse seven we have such a case where our point of observance can make a difference.
Look at the different versions. Superficially seen, it might not make much of a difference to us today, but might something important be going amiss?
KJV: “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.”
Most of the modern versions agree with the NIV: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
Let us examine this difference and see what we can learn from it.
We employ three criteria to help us to make an objective evaluation.
1. External Criteria.
First we look at the manuscripts that survived. Both variations are supported by strong manuscripts, but the variation with “you” do have better and older manuscripts than that with “us”.
2. Internal Criteria.
Next we try to discern how the variation could have originated. That might give us an indication of which variation could render the original. In the uncial letters used till the ninth century to copy manuscripts, a writing mistake in this case is almost impossible.
This variation could have originated as a mind – confusion. In the first part of chapter fifteen up to verse four, Paul include all Christians in his instructions. In verses five to six Paul moves to the subject of unity among the Christians in Rome specifically. A scribe could have had the whole part in his mind, including all Christians, thus writing “us”, or the latter aspect, writing “you”. But this gives no indication to which would be the original and which the variation.
The third possible origin for the variation is a hearing mistake which could very easily have happened. In Greek the plural first (hemõn = us) and third (humõn = you) personal pronouns sound much alike and can easily be confused. Hearing mistakes only happened after the Christian Religion had been legalized in the fourth century and many copies of the New Testament were needed for the newly established churches. To handle this demand, copies were made in scriptoria. In a scriptorium a lector slowly read from his exemplar while as many scribes as copies were needed, wrote down their copies. Of course this kind of variation could have happened both ways. But now the date of the manuscripts are more important. Though all manuscripts to our avail were written after the legalization of Christianity, it is noteworthy that four manuscripts till ±450 A.D. have the variation with “you” while we find the first variation with “us” only after ±550 A.D. The same tendency is found in the ancient translations. The ancient translations with “you” also come from a much wider geographically area, indicating a wider existence of manuscripts that had been used as source for the translations. This calls for accepting the variation with “you” to be the in agreement with the original.
3. Intrinsic criteria.
Our third criterion is looking at the typical usage of words, the context or any other peculiarity that can help us further on the line towards a logical conclusion.
Roughly seen, the two variations have the following implications:
1. With “us”: “I urge you Christians in Rome to accept one another as Jesus had accepted us, fellow Jews, having grown up in the Jewish culture, of whom some are even educated in the Law of Moses.” This would be easy to Jesus. It would almost pose no challenge at all.
2. With “you”: “I urge you Christians in Rome to accept one another as Jesus had accepted you, coming from the heathen world, you with feeble flesh (6:19), you arguing with God (9:20), you who are arrogant (11:19), you who are disputing with one another (14:1), you who judge one another (14:13) and so much more!” Do read between the lines and see the real state of the Christians in Rome as Paul sees them. This is a challenge. That Jesus in fact accepted these otherwise unacceptable people and reconciled them to be children of God, is an example to follow, posing quite an appeal! Therefore it is more logic that Paul would urge the Christians in Rome to accept one another as Christ had accepted them, rather than as He had accepted his fellow Jews.
The compilation of the chapter thus far, as explained above, going from the general in verses 1 – 4, to specifically to harmony between the Christians in Rome in verses 5 – 7 is also a strong appeal for “you” rather than than for “us”.
Intrinsically the variation with “you” has a much stronger appeal to render what Paul had originally written down.
With all three criteria in favour of “you” rather than “us”, the logic conclusion is that that version renders the original autograph as Paul had written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Though this variation might not seem important to us, who are in fact also from the heathen like the Romans, looking deeper into the matter opens the true depth of an aspect of Scripture itself.
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