While at school, we often had to copy a lot of information from the blackboard. I remember how easily we would make a mistake when the eye jumped from one line to another, either duplicating a word or sentence (Dittography) or leaving out a word or sentence (Haplography). If such a mistake could happen so easily, the same thing might have happened during the copy of the Biblical Scriptures.
In 1 John 5:13 we have such a variation. Let us study it.
1. External criteria.
First we look at the manuscripts that contain the different variations.
The NIV and most modern versions read: “I write these things to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
This version we find in the oldest codices like the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from around 350 A.D. Also in the Alexandrinus and Ephraemi (Both ±450 A.D.) as well as several manuscripts in the minuscule or running hand, dating from 850 and later.
The KJV. Reads: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
This version is first found in codex Atous Laurae, dating about 800 A.D., but then in most of the later minuscules. It is also found in the first printed New Testament by Desiderius Erasmus (1516), and via his work also in the KJV and other older versions of the New Testament.
According to the external criteria, preference should be given to the version without the duplication of this phrase.
2. Internal criteria.
Sometimes the way a variation could origin can give an indication as to which version would rather render the original autograph.
If the original had been with the repetition of this phrase like the version found in the KJV, then some scribe must have left it out to create the variation. This could very easily have happened that his eye jumped, and due to haplography he missed out this phrase. The only other possibility is that he deliberately left it out if it posed some difficulty or offence, but there is nothing in the text to support such.
If the original had been the version with this phrase only once, the variation could also have originated due to dittography when his eye jumped, and he duplicated this phrase. The other possibility is a deliberate duplication of this phrase, but again there is no indication for the need of such.
Looking at the way the variation could have originated, no choice for the one or the other is possible. Any one of the versions could render the original.
3. Intrinsic criteria.
The only other possibility is to look at the context to determine which version makes most sense. The variation with the phrase only once, makes perfect sense. John writes to those believing to assure them that they have eternal life. But the variation with the duplication of this phrase poses a challenge for the translators. Why would John again say that those who have been assured of eternal life due to their believing in the Name of the Son of God, have to believe in the Name of the Son of God? To encourage people who have just been assured of the privileges of their belief, to keep on believing, makes no sense unless there was an obvious danger of falling away is mentioned.
To make some sense of this, the New King James added “keep on believing”. Even Martin Luther who used the edition of Erasmus with the double phrase, left one out.
According to the intrinsic criteria the version duplicating this phrase makes no sense. The original must have been the version as is found in the NIV and other modern translations.
To me this variation emphasizes two things. First that the scribes through the ages did indeed make mistakes. But it was God who decided to employ man in his great plan of salvation of us humans. Even up to this very time, He still uses men and women in his eternal walk with man. On the other hand the perpetual duplicating of a clause that obviously would have been nonsensical to the scribes, proves the determination with them to deliver faultless what they received. They would not deliberately alter the script before them, though they might be tempted. This gives me new respect for the work of the scribes. Furthermore a variation like this one and the study of it, gives me new certainty that we can trust modern versions of the Bible and the source texts like the Nestle Aland text and the UBS Text. For we would like to have the Word of God as He had inspired it to the authors of the New Testament – nothing added, but also nothing omitted. We need nothing more!
A last note of information. The name in New Testaments times indicated the very person. Therefore believing in the “Name of the Son of God” actually means believing in “the Son of God in person”!
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