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Jan 23, 2020

Welcome to this SECOND podcast in a series that I am calling the Every Word Podcast. This is a podcast series for those who enjoy studying details found in God’s Word. In every episode I will read from Dr. Wilbur Pickering’s fresh-sounding translation of the  New Testament. The NT was named, “The Sovereign God Has Spoken,” and I will read from the 2016 2nd edition. In today’s episode, I will read and comment on Pickering’s translation of Mark 1:29-45.

This is the kind of podcast where it might be better to look at the episode notes while listening. If you are flying down the freeway right now, just bear it in mind that you may want to check this out later.

With a few exceptions that I will discuss today, Dr. Pickering’s translation is based on the Majority Text of the Greek New Testament, which is also called the Byzantine Text. I consider the Majority Text to be superior to the Eclectic Greek Text which was used as the basis of most of the NT translations of the last century. The shift in the Greek text used for our Bible translations began around 1881, with the publication of Wescott and Hort’s Greek New Testament, which was based on an extremely small sampling of manuscripts of the Alexandrian Text Type*— that is from Egypt. 

*Footnote: The two are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. These are dated at 330-360 AD and 300-325 respectively. At the time Wescott and Hort were working, it was anticipated that research into newly discovered ancient New manuscripts from Egypt would reveal a coherent textual stream that would point to the authentic initial form of the Greek text. Now, over a century later, those ancient Egyptian papyrus manuscripts have been analyzed, but they do not reveal a coherent textual stream that can be followed. Instead the papyri manuscripts reveal that Egyptian scribes very freely edited the texts they copied. In contrast, the Majority Text of the New Testament was made by copyists who lived in the same places as the original recipients of the apostles’ writings. Individual scribal errors have been weeded out, since this text type is based on the majority reading of thousands of Greek manuscripts.

The Majority Text has been stable over the centuries and is the best academically defendable text of the Greek New Testament that we have today. In this podcast, I am trying in a small way to undo the damage caused by Wescott and Hort’s Greek New Testament, which passed a legacy of mistakes down to all succeeding editions of the Eclectic/Critical Greek Text.** The damage I speak of can be found in almost all of the English Bible translations of the last century, starting with the ASV (1901), and including RSV, NASB, NIV, GNT, NLT, NET, and ESV.

**Footnote: The Eclectic Text is also called the Critical Text, the Nestle-Aland text, and the United Bible Societies (UBS) Text. The succeeding editions of the Eclectic Text have primarily followed Wescott and Hort, while the apparatus (or footnotes) dealing with textual variations has grown significantly to show details about textual variants found among Alexandrian manuscripts.

You may ask, “How can I find the damage that you speak of in my Bible?” The quick answer is to examine the footnotes found in the New Testament. Then check out what Pickering has to say in his NT translation. 

 

Mar 1:29-45: Pickering’s footnotes are indented and italicized.

Peter’s mother-in-law 

29 Immediately upon exiting the synagogue they went into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 

30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying down with a fever, so without delay they told Him about her. 

*WP footnote: The parallel passage in Luke 4:37 specifies that it was a high fever—she was burning.

31 So He went and grasping her hand lifted her up; immediately the fever left her and she began to serve them. 

*WP footnote: A high fever usually leaves a person weak, even after it passes, so we really have a double miracle here: Jesus dismissed the fever, but also reversed its effect. 

Many healings 

32 That evening, when the sun had set, they started bringing to Him all who were sick and the demonized. 33 So much so that the whole town was gathered at the door, 34 and He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew He was Messiah

*WP footnote: I here follow some 40% of the Greek manuscripts, including the best line of transmission; most versions omit “He was Messiah”. 

Alone to pray 

35 Now very early, still night, He got up, slipped out, and went off to a solitary place, where He was praying.

36 Simon and those with him hunted for Him,

37 and upon finding Him they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for you”.

38 But He said to them: “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so I can preach there also; that is why I have come.” 

*WP footnote: I here follow some 40% of the Greek manuscripts, including the best line of transmission; most versions have ‘come forth’, presumably referring to why He had slipped out of town.

39 He was constantly preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and also casting out demons. 

The hinge—proof, evaluation, rejection, blasphemy A leper—the proof 

40 A leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling before Him and saying to Him, “If you want to, you are able to cleanse me”.

41 So being moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him

*WP footnote: Wow! In those days, no one would touch a leper, because of contamination. Notice that Jesus agreed with the leper: “I want to; be cleansed!” Beautiful! 

and said to him: “I want to; be cleansed!”

42 And when He said this, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

43 And He sent him away at once, sternly warning him,

44 by saying: “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing the things that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 

*WP footnote: This would be the first case the priest had ever had of evaluating a cleansed leper, because only the Messiah could cure leprosy. By instructing the cleansed leper in this way, Jesus was serving notice to the priests that the Messiah had come.

45 However he [the leper] went out and began to proclaim it freely, spreading the news, 

But he did go to the priest, which resulted in the following evaluation—Luke makes this point clearly in his parallel account. That said, however, I can sympathize with that leper—he had good reason to sound off! But it did increase the pressure on Jesus.

so that He [Jesus] was no longer able to enter a town openly, but remained outside in deserted places; yet [people//they] kept coming to Him from all over. 

*WP footnote: There were an awful lot of sick people who all of a sudden had hope.

 

My comments:

Before commenting on two textual variants footnoted by Pickering in the portion I just read, I would like to go back to the first episode to verse 1, and the variant that I pointed out at the end of the verse:

1 A beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God!

Pickering has a footnote that says, “There is no definite article with ‘Son’, which in this case emphasizes the inherent quality of the noun.”

So Pickering makes this comment about his translation, not about a textual variant. He says that in Greek, ‘Son of God’ has no article before it. In other words, Greek doesn’t say, ‘the Son of God’. His comment may be right that in Greek, the absence of an article gives emphasis. Unfortunately, English doesn’t work that way, and not using the article ‘the’ before ‘Son of God’ makes the sentence sound odd to me, and an odd-sounding sentence doesn’t give me a feeling of emphasis. Pickering also leaves out a ‘the’ in a similar place is verse 34, and to me his translation sounds odd there too. (“and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew He was Messiah.”)

So here’s a little translational principle for free from me: Forcing an English translation to follow the Greek in tiny little grammatical things often doesn’t work very well. It just makes the translation sound odd, and perhaps alert the reader to look at the footnote. To add emphasis in English, we may need to add a word or two, or switch around the order of the words.

But I mentioned in the last episode that there is a variant that Pickering didn’t mention. To be complete I should have said that Wescott & Hort’s Greek text include ‘Son of God’ in brackets. The brackets indicate that they had some doubts that the words were in the original text, but decided to keep not erase the words in the text. Most of the time W&H were bolder in their choice of variants, and the mention of them was relegated to the footnotes. 

W&H started a giant game of follow-the-leader in such things. Succeeding editions of the Eclectic Greek NT followed W&H in similarly casting doubt about the authenticity of those three Greek words in Mark 1:1 by putting them in brackets. And now finally the popular SBL Greek Text* totally deletes the words. As I said in the last episode, 98.4% of ancient Greek manuscripts have those words.

*Footnote: The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) is jointly published in partnership with Logos Bible Software.

Thankfully, the translators of nearly all of the Bible versions of the last century decided to include the bracketed words, ‘the Son of God’ in Mark 1:1. That is probably why Pickering didn’t mention that variant.

So why am I even bringing all this up? Because I want to point out a rather interesting thing about Bible translation in the last century. Since W&H and the ASV of 1901, modern Bible translators have inherited the extra responsibility to choose whether or not to include words in brackets in the Greek text in their translation. You might think that diligent translators would carefully research each variant when brackets appeared in the text. But I have shown in my article entitled, “Playing follow-the-leader in Bible translation” that most Bible translators simply followed the choices that were made by the ASV of 1901. (See the link to that article in the episode notes.)

Indeed, whether a variant is in brackets or in the footnotes, Bible translators of the last century rather often switched between the Greek text they used, and often did not mention in a translation’s footnotes. So when you read in the preface of the NET, NIV, or the ESV that the translators followed the Eclectic Text (which might be called the Critical Text, Nestle-Aland Text, or the UBS Text), do not take that to mean that they followed that text 100% of the time. I give data in my follow-the-leader article which shows that for 44 significant variants in the Greek text, the translators of the last century followed their Eclectic Text an average of 71% of the time. 29% of the time they were following the Majority Text (or probably, whatever the KJV had).

The reason for the giant game of follow-the-leader is that the 1901 ASV and the RSV NT of 1946 bore the brunt of negative reactions from readers to the things that they missed in their KJV Bibles. So the safe thing for all succeeding Bible translators has been to just make the same decisions as the previous versions. Meanwhile they continue the appearance of scholarship by imitating the misleading footnotes that say, “Some ancient manuscripts say x y z.” 

Let me say it again in a different way: The Bible translators for the major Bible versions of the last century didn’t follow ANY Greek text faithfully. They played follow-the-leader with decisions that were made in 1901 based on following W&H. This method of switching back and forth between different Greek source texts is not academically or objectively supportable. It is time that we insist that our New Testament translations be made following just one Greek text in a consistent manner.

Now, everything that I have just said about how Bible translators have used published Greek texts is a backdrop for the two textual variants that Pickering footnotes in the portion of his translation I read. These are located at verses 34 and 38.

32 That evening, when the sun had set, they started bringing to Him all who were sick and the demonized. 33 So much so that the whole town was gathered at the door, 34 and He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew He was Messiah

*WP footnote: I here follow some 40% of the Greek manuscripts, including the best line of transmission; most versions omit “He was Messiah”. 

ESV: … And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

PCF: Pickering translates Greek kriston here as ‘Messiah’. Messiah is a word we transliterate from Hebrew and it means ‘the anointed one’, and kriston (Christ) is the Greek word meaning ‘the anointed one’. I like how this variant completes the text by saying WHAT INFORMATION the demons knew about Jesus. The ESV translation might be misunderstood to say that the demons knew Jesus in a friendly relationship.

36 Simon and those with him hunted for Him,

37 and upon finding Him they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for you”.

38 But He said to them: “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so I can preach there also; that is why I have come.” 

*WP footnote: I here follow some 40% of the Greek manuscripts, including the best line of transmission; most versions have ‘come forth’, presumably referring to why He had slipped out of town.

ESV: … that is why I came out.

PCF: I respect Pickering’s control of Greek as being WAY better than mine. However, if we follow the Eclectic Text and translate ‘come forth’, it is still not clear whether Jesus was meaning coming forth from heaven to earth, or from Peter’s town. I believe that either of the two Greek words here (ἐξῆλθον or ἐξελήλυθα) could be taken either way. I think it likely that this is one of several places which have a double meaning. The disciples might have understood, ‘why I came out of town,’ while Jesus may have been thinking, ‘why I came forth from heaven to earth’.

But now I want to discuss what Pickering said in both of the two footnotes that I just read to you. He said, “I here follow some 40% of the Greek manuscripts, including the best line of transmission …” Hey, 40% is not a majority of the Greek texts! So whenever Pickering says something like this, he is actually departing from the Majority or Byzantine text and following a subset of Byzantine texts which is called the f35 family of texts. Wow! The plot thickens here! Googling F35, I see that this is the name of a line of Lockheed-Martin fighter jets. That’s not what we mean. From my very limited reading I am concluding that Pickering has constructed a somewhat more restrictive version of the Majority Text. 

Here is Pickerings explanation, which can be found as the last footnote in each book of his Greek NT:

The citation of f 35 is based on thirty-five MSS*—18, 35, 141, 204, 510, 547, 586, 645, 689, 789, 824, 928, 1023, 1072, 1075, 1133, 1145, 1147, 1199, 1251, 1339, 1435, 1503, 1572, 1628, 1637, 1667, 1705, 2253, 2323, 2382, 2466, 2503, 2554 and 2765—all of which I collated myself. None of them is a ‘perfect’ representative of f 35 in Mark, as it stands [an unreasonable expectation, presumably, for a book this size, besides being a Gospel]. But 586 is only off by one letter, and its exemplar, and that of 35 and 2382, probably were perfect! And several other exemplars come close—that of 1628 was off by one variant, those of 510 and 2253 were off by two variants, those of 824, 1435, 1503 and 1637 were off by three, several by four, and so on. [This refers to the MSS I have collated—there may be even better ones out there! In fact, since I have collated scarcely 10% of the family representatives for this book, there probably are better ones out there.] The uniformity is impressive. Since these MSS come from all over the Mediterranean world (Sinai, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Patmos, Constantinople, Aegean, Tirana, Mt. Athos [six different monasteries], Corinth? , Athens, Grottaferrata, Vatican, etc.) they are certainly representative of the family, giving us the precise family profile—it is reflected in the Text without exception. 

*Footnote: In the preface to the F35 Greek NT Pickering states, “I call that segment [of Greek manuscripts that formed the basis for his NT] Family 35, because cursive [manuscript] 35 is the complete New Testament, faithful to the family archetype, with the smallest number.” So Pickering compiled his Greek NT from the 35 manuscripts listed above, but he named the family based on just one of them, number 35, which is the earliest manuscript that contains a complete NT and was faithful to the family archetype. For much more about this, see Pickering’s book, The Identity of the New Testament Text IV, or the other articles in the section of Prunch.net entitled Objective Authority of the Biblical Text.

Pickering has taken the time to compile his Greek text of the NT with two different sets of footnotes. One gives footnotes that show textual variants with all known manuscripts, then a second one shows variants found just within the f35 family, which represents 40% of the Greek manuscripts. Can you imagine the time it took for Pickering to painstakingly compare every letter of 35 Greek manuscripts?!

Here is my tentative conclusion about the f35 family of manuscripts: It is impressive that such a consistent family of manuscripts can be grouped together. But this designation has something I don’t like: It doesn’t seem right to me to depart from the historically unvarying Majority Greek Text to adopt a subset defined in the last century by Pickering. Let me explain this from my perspective of translating for the majority Islamic nation of Indonesia. There are Muslim scholars who love to point out that Christian Bibles have been fiddled with. They claim that our Greek texts have been corrupted. All they have to do to prove their assertion about textual instability is to point out the footnotes in the Bible translations of the last century. But if we translate the historical Majority Text, we don’t need any such footnotes, because it has remained stable since the third century. So although I am attracted to the two variants Pickering translated in verses 34 and 38, I believe I would still choose the Majority Text to translate for my audience. 

Please don’t take my words as a harsh criticism of Pickering. I think we will see that he doesn’t often choose the minority 40% in his translation. It just so happens that two times happened in our reading for today.

Quite a few other footnotes in today’s reading had to do with Pickering pointing out cool details. He loves to comment on Jesus’ miracles. I particularly like what he said about verse 45:

45 However he [the cured leper] went out and began to proclaim it freely, spreading the news, 

*WP footnote: But he did go to the priest, which resulted in the following evaluation—Luke makes this point clearly in his parallel account. That said, however, I can sympathize with that leper—he had good reason to sound off! But it did increase the pressure on Jesus.

so that He [Jesus] was no longer able to enter a town openly, but remained outside in deserted places; yet they kept coming to Him from all over. 

*WP footnote: There were an awful lot of sick people who all of a sudden had hope.

PCF: By the words ‘which resulted in the following evaluation …”, Pickering is talking about what happened next in the story. His next section heading at Mark 2:1 is A paralytic—the evaluation. In other words, Pickering considers the juxtaposition of the story of the healing of the leper and the arrival of Pharisees and teachers of the law from Jerusalem in the next story to show that the leper not only told everyone in his town about his healing, but he followed Jesus’ instructions and went to the temple in Jerusalem to tell his story to the priests. We can’t prove that, but it is a neat little insight to consider.



The episode notes for all of the Every Word podcasts will include a Resources section which gives links to articles that will give further documentation about all of my claims about the Majority Text, the Eclectic Text, and about different Bible translations.

All of Dr. Wilbur Pickering’s works are released according to the Creative Commons License and are available at PRUNCH.net. Additionally, his second edition (2016) NT translation is available for a free download via the Kindle app. It is also freely available as a module in the MyBible program for Android and Apple devices. 

Dr. Pickering named his NT, “The Sovereign Creator Has Spoken.” That title contains three concepts that were not believed by Wescott and Hort. In their age Darwinism had invaded the church. W&H  did not believe that our Creator created humans as described in Genesis. They did not believe in the sovereignty of God. Nor did they believe that God has actively inspired every word of Scripture and has made sure that every word has been preserved.

Moses and Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by Every Word of God.” (Deut. 8:3; Luk. 4:4)

Let’s pray: Lord Jesus, we want to know You better. Like the leper in today’s story, we come to You in our sin and sickness and say, “If You want to, You are able to cleanse me.” Yes, Lord, we DO believe in You. In faith we see you reaching out and touching us, saying “I want to.” Thank You, Lord, for your power and love revealed to us today in Mark 1.

Resources:

Fields, Philip:

Playing Follow the Leader in Bible Translation, 2019, by Phil Fields. See the Resources list in that article for many more helpful articles on the superiority of the Majority Greek Text.

Friberg, Timothy: 

On the text of the Greek New Testament that also happens to be the right one for cousin audiences

Although the title of this four-page paper refers to translating for Muslims, the principles and summary is widely applicable. 

I suggest reading this paper before reading Friberg’s other articles listed below.

Layman’s Guide A modest explanation for the layman of ideas related to determining the text of the Greek New Testament, 2019.

What is what? Differences between the Traditional Text and the Bible Society Text of the Greek New Testament. Some data for the reader to weigh, 2019.

Pickering, Wilbur:

New Translation of the New Testament: The Sovereign Creator has Spoken

Greek Text of the New Testament based on Family 35

Articles and other major works:

See PRUNCH.net.

Robinson, Maurice: The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, 1991, 2005, 2018. 

This is available in free digital form in the MyBible Bible app, and in other ways.

Article:

Full Text of the 105 verses lacking overall Greek Manuscript Support in the NA edition 27