An Exercise In Textual Criticism and Syntax
This morning I was reading Mark 1 and was staring at verse 4 in a printout I had of the text based on Tauber’s MorphGNT (which doesn’t have any textual variants or punctuation), thinking "that is an unusual bit of syntax." Before our morning study class at church I was looking at it again, but this time in my NA27. I noticed that the first article in the verse was in brackets, showing that the reading was very debatable. So then I looked through the variants and realized that I wasn’t the only one who found the wording to be a little unexpected. I figured this might be an interesting thing to ponder for some, because a) this is a good example of an intentional scribal change to the text, b) is one that affects how you translate this verse and, c) is one that involves both Textual Criticism and Greek syntax. Here are the readings:
ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης [ὁ] βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
John came, who was baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
John came, the one who baptizes in the wilderness and preaches a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
This one is supported by Sinaiticus, a few uncials, and most bohairic, and is the one included as the text of the NA27. So what makes this awkward? If βαπτίζων is functioning as a label like βαπτιστής would as you see in Matthew when John is introduced, then so is κηρύσσων, which doesn’t make sense. The καί pretty much requires that both βαπτίζων and κηρύσσων have the same basic syntactic function.
ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
In the wilderness John the baptizer came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
This reading is supported by Vaticanus, 33, 892 (sorta), 2427, a few others, and some bohairic manuscripts. The text here is less awkward. By removing the καί, κηρύσσων becomes adverbial and βαπτίζων remains adjectival, making it okay for a title without including κηρύσσων.
ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
This option is the popular choice, used by some uncials, families 1 and 13, the Byzantine text-type, the Harklean Syriac, and perhaps some Sahidic. This one, like the last, is not awkward, because it removes the article that would make both βαπτίζων and κηρύσσων adjectival.
ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ βαπτίζων καὶ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.
John came in the wilderness, baptizing and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
This option is followed by couple uncials, some minuscules, the lectionaries (I think that’s what the italic l by itself means), the Latin traditions, and the Syriac Peshitta. Once again, a perfectly reasonable text. In this case the removal of the article and the shifting of the placement of βαπτίζων makes both participles adverbial, which yields a clear meaning. If I’m right about the lectionaries, this would make a great option for them if it occurs at the beginning of a reading, as they tended to smooth out rough starts.
So what to do with all these options? There are at least two very important canons of textual criticism that should be applied here, and both lead in the same direction. First, the reading that is more difficult is more likely the proper reading, unless the change is likely unintentional. In this case the changes look intentional, though it is possible the article could have been dropped or added unintentionally. Since it is most likely intentional and the first reading is definitely more awkward, it is to be preferred.
Second, and more important than the last, is the canon that states the most reliable reading is the one that most likely gives rise to the others. So let’s think about that. I could see option 3 giving rise to option 4, but most of all I could see option 1 as giving rise to all of the others. In this case they would all be clarifications of the original reading, reading 1. Even though I could see option 3 giving rise to 4, all of these could have been made independently, as they all are reasonable clarifications to option 1.
Notice that the earlier traditions, the Alexandrian and Western, are all split on this issue. This means that this variant is an early one and that you can’t resort to external evidence to solve this one.
So unless I am missing something with this variant, option 1 is the strong winner.