To boast. 2 Corinthians 12:1
In 2 Corinthians 12:1 the translator of the Bible is confronted with no less than four variations that are caused by a very slight difference in the Greek. There is a little word that could either be: “dei” = must/should;
or “de” = and/but;
or “dy” = therefore/in reality;
or “ei + dei” = if indeed + should.
1. External criteria.
Let us first consider how these variations are represented in the manuscripts in our possession. A summary is given in brackets.
1) “dei” must/should; “I must go on …”: (Papyrus 46 (±200); 4 Uncials; 15 Minuscules; 8 Antique Translations)
“I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.” New International Version.
2) “de” and/but; “But for me to take glory to myself …”: (3 Uncials; and one Antique Translation)
“It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” New King James Version.
3) “dy” therefore/in reality; “But therefore to boast …”: (2 Uncials; 4 Minuscules and a Byzantine lectionary)
“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” King James Version: Pure Cambridge Edition.
4) “ei + dei” if indeed + should; “If indeed … I should …”: (1 Uncial; 3 Minuscules and a Byzantine lectionary; as well as 5 Antique Translations)
“This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations of the Lord.” New Living Translation.
According to the manuscripts in our possession, the first version has an abundance of manuscript evidence, as well as the oldest. Therefore it has the greatest possibility to represent the original autograph.
2. Internal criteria.
The second criterion is to try and discern how these variations could have originated.
All four have the same possibility to be an ordinary reading mistake. Grammatically each could be correct, and anyone could be the original, with each of the variations being a reading mistake.
Therefore the internal criteria bring us no nearer to a definite answer.
3. Intrinsic criteria.
Our third criterion is to try to make a reconstruction to see whether the one or the other fits in best in the context of this paragraph.
It is clear that Paul indeed comes to the point of boasting concerning his spiritual growth and a living relationship with the Lord. But in the same paragraph he also comes to his own humbleness, revealing the precautionary measure God had given him – the thorn in the flesh! Yet again any of the four variations could fit in perfectly within this context!
One honestly has to conclude that no guidance can be deduced from the context where these four variations are found!
This sentence is only introductory to the arguments Paul will be presenting next. The choice of a variation only lets the light shine in a certain direction on the arguments that will follow.
With all four variations presenting equal possibility to represent the original autograph, it would be the safest to choose the variation with the best and oldest manuscript evidence. That would be the first as is found not only in the NIV, but in most of the modern translations.
It is the responsibility of the translator to choose the variation that he deems best in this case.
But in the second part of the same sentence another variation is found.
Some manuscripts read: “… it is not profitable to …”; others read: “… it is not profitable for me to …” and others: “… it is not profitable for us to …” and even other small differences.
Again the variations are often represented by the same manuscript evidence as the first group of variations.
As for the internal and intrinsic criteria, one comes to the same conclusions as with the first. Therefore again nothing will be gained by studying each variation.
Though these variations might be trivial, they still reveal the reality of human error in copying the manuscripts of the New Testament. Yet it also emphasizes the effort and honesty with which copies were made. A scribe would write down what is before him in his source manuscript, though is might let the light fall on a certain angle of the material at hand.
The modern translator of the Bible has a huge responsibility to deliver a text that is understandable, yet as near to the original as can be concluded. Therefore he has to study each possibility and choose with great care what he considers the best.
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