Feb 9, 2020
Welcome to this THIRD 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, to which he gave the name, “The Sovereign God Has Spoken.” In today’s episode, I will read and comment on Pickering’s translation of Mark chapter 2.
Please bear in mind that the episode notes for all of my podcasts provide the text of everything I’m saying and links to supporting documentation.
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.
**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.
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. It is my hope that these podcasts will build awareness of the faulty Greek text that underlies 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.
It is high time (now that I’ve reached the 3rd podcast) that I admit to you that— although I have worked as a Bible translator for most of my life— I am a new-comer to the whole study of textual criticism. In my article Playing Follow-the-Leader in Bible Translation, I speak about how little missionary Bible translators of my generation were trained in the area of textual criticism. I— unlike many of my colleagues— did not have the benefit of seminary education. My degrees are in the field of music. But from what I have heard from my seminary-trained colleagues, there is not much taught to normal seminary students about textual criticism. Few pastors today know anything about the subject.
It was in April of 2018 that I had the opportunity to visit Timothy and Barbara Friberg in Indonesia. Four years prior to this my team and I had published the Plain Indonesian NT. Dr. Timothy Friberg is famous for compiling the Analytical Greek New Testament, which is a reference work that virtually all Bible translators use. (Incidentally the AGNT is now being released in a new and improved edition.) I sought Dr. Fribergs advice because of his experience translating the NT for Muslim background audiences, because I am a consultant for such a project. During my two-day visit, I received excellent advice, but also received a bonus I didn’t expect. Tim Friberg convinced me that the Majority Greek Text should be used in translating the New Testament for Muslim background believers.
But then he asked, “Well, what about your Plain Indonesian New Testament? Are you going to revise that to follow the Majority Text?” This was a hard question for me because that NT was already published. I had just played follow-the-leader in basing that translation on the Eclectic text. After some thought and prayer, I concluded that God would be most glorified if my translation team and I revised our published New Testament to follow the Majority Text. The revisions are now about 75% complete. Please pray for us in this:
As I admitted above, I do not have training in the field of textual criticism. Because of that, I am sure that I have already made mistakes in these EveryWord podcasts. If you find errors in my statements, feel free to use the contact button at dailybiblereading.info to send your input to me.
Pickering’s footnotes are indented and italicized in the PDF attached to this podcast. Find EveryWord003 at dailybiblereading.info and use the red Download PDF button to get it.
¹ Well a few days later, He again entered Capernaum, and it was heard that He was at home.
² Without delay so many were gathered together that there was no more room, not even around the door, and He was speaking the Word to them.
³ Then four men came, carrying a paralytic to Him.
⁴ And not being able to get near Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof where He was;
The roof was presumably flat, with an outside staircase leading up to it. I suppose damaging someone else’s roof could be considered a crime, but they were determined. If Jesus was in His own house, there would be no problem.
upon breaking through they lowered the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.
⁵ So seeing their faith Jesus says to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you”.
⁶ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts:
⁷ “Why does this guy speak blasphemies like that? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
⁸ Immediately Jesus perceived in His spirit what they were reasoning within themselves
*Time and again the Inspired Record will point out that Jesus could read people’s thoughts.
and said to them: “Why are you reasoning these things in your hearts?
⁹ Which is easier:
*I suppose the point to be that the first is easier to say, because no one can see whether it happened or not. But if you tell a paralytic to get up and he doesn’t, you get egg on the face. The Lord did it that way to help them believe that He could really forgive sin. There was nothing wrong with the scribes’ inference; indeed only God can forgive sin, so in fact Jesus was claiming to be God!
to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins have been forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your pallet and start walking!’?
¹⁰ But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on the earth to forgive sins” —He says to the paralytic:
¹¹ “To you I say, get up, pick up your pallet and go to your house!”
¹² So forthwith he got up, picked up his pallet and went out in front of them all; so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Quite right; they never had!
PCF: I agree heartily with Pickering’s footnote on v. 8. I think especially of the Gospel of John that repeatedly shows that Jesus could read people’s thoughts.
I do not agree with Pickering’s first sentence about ‘which is easier to say’. The idea he supports is that it would be easier to forgive sins because no one could tell if it happened. But even he seems a bit doubtful about saying that, because his sentence starts with, “I suppose the point to be …” Yes, the interpretation he gives— that forgiving the man’s sins would be the easier to say— can be found in some commentaries. But that is worldly thinking. Jesus would have known that saying ‘I forgive your sins’ would mean that He would pay for those sins on the cross.
But Pickering is right in the last part of that footnote. Only God can forgive sin, so the scribes’ inference was right. He might as well as said, ‘I am God’.
There is interesting linguistic support for only God being able to forgive sins. In the Orya language of Papua, Indonesia, and in many other languages, ordinary persons cannot ‘forgive’ someone else’s wrongs or sins. The word the Orya language uses for forgiving on a person-to-person level is simply to ‘forget’. You can choose to ‘forget’ a sin someone commits against you. But the real word for ‘forgive’ in Orya means to ‘finish’ or ‘nullify’ the sin. Only God can finish all the liabilities of a sin or nullify the consequences. So the scribes were right that it takes an action of God to have one’s sins forgiven.
¹³ Then He went out again by the sea; and the whole crowd came to Him, and He began to teach them.
¹⁴ As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow me”. So he got up and followed Him.
¹⁵ Now it happened, as He was reclining at the table in his house,
Matthew’s—he evidently put on a big dinner and invited all his associates.
that many tax collectors and sinners
‘Tax collectors and sinners’ seems to have been almost a frozen idiom. A Jew who collected taxes for Rome was viewed as a traitor and held in very low esteem.
joined Jesus and His disciples at the table; for there were many and they followed Him.
¹⁶ The scribes and the Pharisees, seeing Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, said to His disciples, “Why is it that He is eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners?”
¹⁷ Upon hearing it Jesus said to them: “It is not the healthy who have need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Perhaps 10% of the Greek manuscripts omit ‘to repentance’, to be followed by NIV, NASB, LB, TEV, etc.
¹⁸ Now John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and those of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?”
¹⁹ So Jesus said to them: “Can the groomsmen fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom to themselves they cannot fast.
²⁰ But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast, in those days.
Some 15% of the Greek manuscripts read ‘day’ instead of ‘days’ (as in NIV, NASB, TEV, etc.), but obviously the fasting would take place on more than one day.
PCF: The two textual variants from the Majority Text that Pickering points out in verses 17 and 20 both make better sense than what is found in the Eclectic text. In particular, it seems a shame that most Bibles of the last century left out the words ‘to repentance’ in verse 17. The men who compiled the Eclectic Text chose a principle that would favor the Alexandrian manuscripts. They decided that a shorter variant in a text was more likely to be correct. Verse 17 is shorter without the two words ‘to repentance’ but it leaves the reader wondering, “Where is Jesus calling sinners to come to?” In the early years of the Eclectic Text movement, people did not yet realize that Alexandrian copyists frequently shortened the texts they copied. This goes for secular works as well as NT books. Alexandrian copies of Homer’s poems are much shorter than manuscripts found in other places.
Together with verse 17, there are four places where Mark’s account uses the words ‘repent’ and ‘repentance’. Clearly the call to repentance was an important part of what both John the Baptist and Jesus taught. In Mark, Jesus sent the disciples out preaching that people ‘should repent’. (6:11) So having Jesus say that his mission was to call sinners to repent makes good sense in the context of this gospel.
²¹ “Further, no one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, or else the new tears away some of the old, and a worse hole results.
²² And no one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine spills out and the skins will be ruined; rather, new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
There is no way of renewing an old wineskin. Whenever a church becomes an ‘old wineskin’, any introduction of new wine will always cause a split.
Between verses 22 and 23 all of John chapter 5 takes place—that chapter revolves around the second Passover of His public ministry, in 28 A.D. A year and a half have passed since His baptism.
Now it happened, on a Sabbath, that He was passing through some grain fields, and His disciples began to make a path, picking the heads of grain.
²⁴ So the Pharisees said to Him, “Just look, why are they doing on a Sabbath that which is not permitted?”
²⁵ And He said to them: “Did you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him?
²⁶ How he entered the house of God (making Abiathar high priest)
My rendering is rather different than the ‘in the days of Abiathar the high priest’ of the AV. We are translating three Greek words that very literally would be ‘upon Abiathar high priest’. When we go back to the Old Testament account, we discover that David actually conversed with Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father, who was the high priest at that moment (1 Samuel 21:1-9). Within a few days Saul massacred Ahimelech and 84 other priests (1 Samuel 22:16-18), but his son Abiathar escaped and went to David, taking the ephod with him (1 Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6). That David could use it to inquire of the LORD rather suggests that it had to be the ephod that only the high priest wore (1 Samuel 23:9-12). That ephod was to a high priest like the crown was to a king; so how could Abiathar have it? The Text states that David’s visit filled Ahimelech with fear, presumably because he too saw Doeg the Edomite and figured what would happen. Now why wasn’t Abiathar taken with the others? I suggest that Ahimelech had a pretty good idea what would happen, so he deliberately consecrated Abiathar, gave him the ephod, and told him to hide; Abiathar escaped, but carried the news of the massacre with him; only now he was the high priest. Putting it all together, it was David’s visit that resulted in Abiathar’s becoming high priest prematurely, as David himself recognized, and to which Jesus alluded.
and ate the consecrated bread, which only priests are permitted to eat, and shared it with those who were with him?”
²⁷ Then He said to them: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
This is a crucial point. The Pharisees, etc., had turned the Sabbath into an instrument of domination that they used to impose their authority on the people.
²⁸ Therefore the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The Lord of the Sabbath can change the rules, or even retire it!
Some of my readers may be aware that this verse has destroyed the faith of at least one scholar in our day, although he was reared in an evangelical home. He understood Jesus to be saying that Abiathar was the priest with whom David dealt, when in fact it was his father, Ahimelech. If Jesus stated an historical error as fact, then he could not be God. So he turned his back on Jesus. I consider that his decision was lamentable and unnecessary, and in the interest of helping others who may be troubled by this verse, I offer the following explanation:
“How he entered the house of God (making Abiathar high priest) and ate the consecrated bread, which only priests are permitted to eat, and shared it with those who were with him.”
My rendering is rather different than the ‘in the days of Abiathar the high priest’ of the AV, NKJV and NIV. We are translating three Greek words that very literally would be ‘upon Abiathar high-priest’ (but the preposition here, επι, is the most versatile of the Greek prepositions, and one of its many meanings/uses is 'toward'―the standard lexicon, BDAG, lists fully eighteen areas of meaning, quite apart from sub-divisions). When we go back to the Old Testament account, we discover that David actually conversed with Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father, who was the high priest at that moment (1 Samuel 21:1-9). Within a few days Saul massacred Ahimelech and 84 other priests (1 Samuel 22:16-18), but his son Abiathar escaped and went to David, taking the ephod with him (1Samuel 22:20-23; 23:6). That David could use it to inquire of the Lord rather suggests that it had to be the ephod that only the high priest wore, since only that ephod had the Urim and Thummim (1 Samuel 23:9-12; cf. Numbers 27:21, Ezra 2:63).
That ephod was to a high priest like the crown was to a king; so how could Abiathar have it? The Text states that David’s visit filled Ahimelech with fear, presumably because he too saw Doeg the Edomite and figured what would happen. Now why wasn’t Abiathar taken with the others? I suggest that Ahimelech foresaw what would happen (Doeg probably took off immediately, and Ahimelech figured he wouldn't have much time), so he deliberately consecrated Abiathar, gave him the ephod, and told him to hide―he probably did it that very day (once the soldiers arrived to arrest Ahimelech and the other 84, it would be too late). Abiathar escaped, but carried the news of the massacre with him; only now he was the high priest.
Putting it all together, it was David’s visit that resulted in Abiathar’s becoming high priest prematurely, as David himself recognized, and to which Jesus alluded in passing (which is why I used parentheses). But why would Jesus allude to that? I suppose because the Bible is straightforward about the consequences of sin, and David lied to Ahimelech. Although Jesus was using David's eating that bread as an example, He did not wish to gloss over the sin, and its consequences.
Recall that Jesus was addressing Pharisees, who were steeped in the OT Scriptures. A notorious case like Saul's massacre of 85 priests would be very well known. And of course, none of the NT had yet been written, so any understanding of what Jesus said had to be based on 1 Samuel
(“Have you never read…?”). If we today wish to understand this passage, we need to place ourselves in the context recorded in Mark 2:23-28. The Pharisees would understand that if Abiathar was in possession of the ephod with the Urim and Thummim, then he was the high priest. And how did he get that way? He got that way because of David's visit. It was an immediate consequence of that visit.
Some may object that 'making' is a verb, not a preposition. Well, the 'in the days of' of the AV, etc., though not a verb, is a phrase. Both a pronoun and an adverb may stand for a phrase, and a preposition may as well. TEV and Phillips actually use a verb: ‘when… was’; NLT has ‘during the days when… was’. Where the others used from two to five words, I used only one.
PCF: Just a little comment from me on the this topic. The problem in this verse is very hard to deal with, and I am linking an article here written by Dr. Daniel Wallace to illustrate how hard this is. As I said before, we can’t prove anything because of how vague Greek prepositions are. An added thing to think about is that Jesus could have been speaking in Aramaic, not Greek, because that was the everyday language for him. I am willing to set this aside as a problem we cannot solve for sure. But one thing I hold onto is that God’s Word is true in the Old Testament record, and what Jesus said was also true. It seems more likely to me to conclude that He knew much more than us about it, and various things could have happened like what Pickering posits.
Secondly I think the comment about this verse destroying the faith of a Christian scholar is interesting. If you know who that scholar was, please let me know. My searches on the internet for likely choices failed to turn up the answer. Just the other day my son, David, mentioned how a little thing like this that erodes one’s faith puts a person on a dangerous slippery slope. He told about a fellow graduate of his Christian university who was his friend. But the friend learned things that shook his faith. He ended up as a pastor in an extremely liberal denomination. But now he has left even that and has taken up with Hindus in India, but it is unclear if he really believes what they teach either.
A little thing like the presence of footnotes in our Bibles could be the thing that would cause someone to embark on that slippery downward slope. People will think, “Well, who knows what the apostles really wrote?” This has been a problem with the adoption of the Eclectic Text starting in 1901, which has contributed to liberalism in the church for over a century. Now I ask my listeners, Would your church hire someone as (let’s say) an associate pastor if the person did not believe in the inspiration of the Bible? I think I can hear the answer. My church wouldn’t. If someone interviewed for a job at my church without believing in Jesus or the inspiration of the Bible, the interview would quickly change to my pastor seeking to share the Gospel with that person. So then I ask, Do you think that it would be a good idea to trust a person with beliefs like that to manage the Greek text that is translated for our Bibles? I don’t think so! I recommend an an article I found about the beliefs of Kurt Aland, the one whose name is on the publications of the Nestle-Aland Eclectic Greek Text. It is linked here in the episode notes.
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)
May the Lord bless you ‘real good’!
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.
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.
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:
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.