Luke tells us of Jesus’ healing of the man who suffered of unusual swelling of the body due to water retention, also known as dropsy. This happened on a Sabbath day. Jesus defended Himself by asking the Pharisees who of them would not save something from a well on the Sabbath. What example did Jesus mention that had to be saved from the well?
KJV: “And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?”
NIV: “If one of you, has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?”
In the manuscripts we find three versions.
1. Internal Criteria.
To try to come to a decision, we first examine the manuscripts that has this verse.
“A son or an ox” is found in Papyrus 45 and 75, both from ±250 A.D. Also in four other Uncials (350 – 850) and eleven Minuscules later than 850 A.D. Also in the majority of Byzantine manuscripts and Greek lectionaries. Lectionaries are copies of the passages of Scripture that were read in the Greek Orthodox Church on specific Sundays and holidays according to the Christian year, starting with Easter. This version is also found in seven antique translations dating between 250 – 650 A.D. Even the Diatessaron, a compilation of the four gospels made by Tatian the Syrian (±150 A.D.) has this version.
“A donkey or an ox” is found in six Uncials dated 350 – 850 A.D. and ten Minuscules and one Greek lectionary. It is also found in thirteen antique translations dated between 350 – 1300 A.D.
“A sheep or an ox” is found in codex Bezae (500) and one Old Latin translation from the same time.
Several other manuscripts have different sequences of these variations and even all three together, “a son or donkey or sheep or ox”. One manuscript ha an obvious misspelling where an “n” was substituted by an “r”, causing the version “a mountain or an ox”! Humans do make mistakes!
According to the manuscript evidence the version “son or ox” clearly has the older and better evidence and should be seen as the greatest possibility to represent the original autograph.
2. Internal Criteria.
But why and how could these variations have come about?
To have a son and an ox together could be seen as an uneasy fit by some scribes. Two animals mentioned together would not cause any offence or uneasiness. Therefore the version urging alteration would be the son and ox combination, causing the variations. That version should therefore have the greater possibility to be the original.
But why then combined with a donkey or a sheep?
Jesus had just beforehand (Luke 13:15) mentioned that anyone would untie his ox or donkey on the Sabbath and give it water. So the donkey and ox combination is easily acceptable.
And some scribe could have remembered that Jesus mentioned that one would save his sheep from a pit on the Sabbath when He had to defend His healing of the man with a shrivelled hand. (Matthews 12:11) Thus the combination of sheep and ox is also easily explained.
After the three variations were created, the sequence or combinations or compilations could easily originated.
Looking at these facts, it is obvious that the version with “son and ox” would rather render the original, calling for alteration to prevent offence.
3. Intrinsic Criteria.
Lastly we look at any possible markers from the context or use of words or expressions that could help us further to a definite choice. Unfortunately I find nothing and have to rely on the previous two criteria.
With the first two criteria urging the “son or ox” variation to be in agreement with the original autograph, the version found in the NIV should be accepted rather than that in the KJV.
Although these variations makes no real difference in interpretation or application of this verse, these variations prove that men made mistakes, being it per chance or deliberately. Therefore all variations should be taken seriously and examined with all objective instruments to our disposal. We would like to have the Bible as near as possible to the very words the Holy Spirit had inspired the authors to write down. Even insignificant variations like these give us trust in the work of Script examiners and the Bible translators.
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