Romans 1:1 and Manuscript Tendencies

“Knowledge of documents should precede final judgement upon readings.” Useful though this adage by Westcott and Hort is, it is also a little bit of an open door: lots of things should precede ‘final judgement’ (and when is anything ‘final’ in our discipline?) But what are the things that one needs to know about a document? It seems to me that ‘knowledge of documents’ includes also ‘knowledge of its readings’. Because manuscripts are not just characterised by their appearance, their dating, and their paratextual apparatus, first and foremost they are carriers of a text with a specific wording. The particulars of the wording of a manuscript, its ‘readings’, make a manuscript textually different from others and are an accumulation of inherited readings and scribe-created ones, but for our purposes today this latter distinction is irrelevant. What I want to demonstrate is how important it is to know about the tendencies a manuscript exhibits in the wording of the text, that is patterns within their readings. None of these individual readings needs to be unique to the witness, as long as one can make a case for a certain inclination to a type of reading. So we are talking ‘manuscript habits’ rather than ‘scribal habits’, or perhaps better, ‘manuscript tendencies’. Today I will share an example that explains a difference between the Tyndale House Edition and the modern critical editions.

Romans 1:1 starts as follows in the current Nestle-Aland, UBS, and SBL texts: Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, ‘Paul a servant of Christ Jesus’. The Tyndale House Edition breaks the mold of modern critical texts and has, Παῦλος δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ, ‘Paul a servant of Jesus Christ’ [edited: Initialy I claimed wrongly that we had retained the reading of Tregelles]. The difference is that of the word order in ‘Jesus Christ’. Both orders are found widely elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, though ‘Christ Jesus’ is typically Paul, with hardly any occurrence outside his writings.

The evidence for ‘Christ Jesus’ here in Rm 1:1 is limited though, only B(03) and P10, a roughly written papyrus that doesn’t seem to have been part of a whole text of Romans, but contains nothing more than the opening of the epistle. Both manuscripts are palaeographically dated to the fourth century. In addition there are the minuscules 81 and 1838. Neither the two minuscules or P10 in themselves would be sufficient to tip the scales in favour of considering ‘Christ Jesus’ in the main text, but it is the presence of B(03) that opens up the possibility.

I assume that one of the main reasons why ‘Christ Jesus’ is preferred is that it is more likely that typically Pauline usage is harmonised to the more general pattern than the other way around. It would almost require a scholarly and editorial mind in order to make a text more ‘Paul’ than Paul himself was, and since we don’t know of such source, the reading of B(03) and P10 is more likely original than not.

This is where manuscript tendencies come in.

There are a number of variants elsewhere in Romans where B(03) occupies also a heavy minority position in its readings. In the following five places B(03) has Christ Jesus where almost everyone else has Jesus Christ: 5:17; 5:21; 13:14 (’Christ Jesus’ for ‘Lord Jesus Christ’); 16:25 (together with minuscule 1739); 16:27. In addition there is 3:22 where B(03) has ‘Christ’ for ‘Jesus Christ’, whilst A(02) has ‘Christ Jesus’, and also 5:15 where minuscule 1739 has ‘Christ Jesus’ for ‘Jesus Christ’. The changes in B(03) are not systematic or exhaustive by any means, but they are remarkable, and concentrated in this particular witness.

There are two things one can do: accept the text of B(03) in all these places, or conclude that B(03) has in this particular feature the tendency to do what we above rejected as highly unlikely, namely to make Paul’s text more like Paul. I believe it is the latter, but this implies something quite interesting: the text-critical canon to prefer the reading that is most in line with the style of the author has been applied apparently already in this fourth century manuscript! In B(03) we find an intensification of Pauline style, at least when it comes to the order ‘Christ Jesus’ (I believe that I have found similar intensification of author’s style elsewhere in B(03), but that is not for now).

Summing up, B(03)’s tendency throws a large shadow over the value of B(03) in Rm 1:1 and makes it hard to accept its reading. More broadly, I hope this shows how important it is to know the tendencies of some of the key witnesses (and constellation of witnesses) in order to understand and explain the evidence at any given point. And that is why we need good and deep studies of our main manuscripts. To come back to Παῦλος δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ in the Tyndale House Edition, now you know the story—it is more than just a numbers game.