Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Caesarean Omission of the Phrase ‘Son Of God’ in Mark 1:1

  • Alexander Globe (a1)


Whether the phrase ‘Son of God’ should be included in the first verse of Mark is one of the thorniest New Testament textual cruxes. Nineteenth-century scholars, overawed by its omission in the newly discovered codex Sinaiticus (ℵ = 01) and wary of theological features that did not appear to be primitive, tended to view the phrase with suspicion. Thus Tischendorf, Westcott-Hort, and Nestle banished it from their Greek testament texts, while von Soden placed it in brackets. Although all modern English translations include the phrase (as do the Greek editions of Lachmann, Tregelles, Souter, Merk, and NEB Greek), it is placed in brackets by the widely used United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament and is omitted by the British and Foreign Bible Society's Greek, Aland's Greek Synopsis, Nestle's 25th edition, and some current European vernaculars (including the French version by Jean Grosjean in La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade [Paris, 1971], and the Dutch version of the Netherlands Bible Society, 1951). Three recent discussions of the text reflect the same variety of opinion. Cranfield adduces five “very strong reasons for regarding [the longer text] as original.”



Hide All

1 Tischendorf published the fourth-century codex Sinaiticus in 1862. The title ‘Son of God’ reflects early Christian kerygma as recorded in Acts and the Epistles, while ‘Son of man’ is the more primitive synoptic title; see TDNT 8. 366–92, 430–61. Cf. the radical German championing, after 1894, of the Sinaitic Old Syriac variant in Matt 1:16; see my article on “Some Doctrinal Variants in Matthew 1 …,” CBQ 42 (1980) 63–65 and n. 43.

2 Cranfield, C. E. B., The Gospel According to Saint Mark: An Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1963) 38. Commentaries have little discussion of the variant; most English-speaking exegetes accept the longer reading as genuine.

3 Metzger, Bruce M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) 73; quotation from p. xxviii. Westcott, B. F. and Hort, F. J. A. (“Notes on Select Readings,” The New Testament in the Original Greek [2 vols.; London: Macmillan, 1881] vol. 2, App. I, p. 23) comment that “neither reading can be safely rejected.”

4 Slomp, Jan, “Are the Words ‘Son of God’ in Mark 1.1 Original?BT 28 (1977) 143–50. This article is vitiated by a faltering grasp of NT textual criticism (on p. 144, the Textus Receptus is represented as the Greek version underlying the RV of 1881, while lines 20 and 32 do not give a clear account of codex 01) and by the apologetic purpose for preferring the shorter text (so that “Non-Christian readers will not find a stumbling block in the very first verse” — see p. 150).

5 The Greek New Testament, ed. Aland, Kurt et al. (3d ed.; New York: United Bible Societies, 1975) xxxvi. Other Greek testaments rely heavily on Tischendorf and von Soden for patristic evidence.

6 Irenaeus, Adv. haer. 3.10.5 (Latin) and 3.16.3 (Latin and Armenian); ed. Harvey, W. W. (2 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1857) 2. 39,84; ANF 1. 425, 441; Irénée de Lyons: nouveaux fragments arméniens, ed. Charles Renoux (P0 39, fasc. 1 [1978]) 50–51; see also Sanday, William, Novum Testamentum Sancti Irenaei Episcopi Lugdunensis, being the New Testament Quotations … (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923) 44. Adv. haer. 3.16.2–3 cites Rom 1:1–4, Gal 4: 4 - 5, and Mark 1:1–2; Irenaeus’ exposition repeats the phrase ‘Son of God’ several times. Ambrose Expos. Luc. 10.118 (CCSL 14. 379 PL 15.1926). Jerome Tract. Marc. 1, Comm. Matt. 1, Comm. Hiezec. 1.1.6/8 (CCSL 78.451; 77. 17; 75. 11). Augustine De cons. evan. 2.6 (CSEL 43. 114; PL 34. 1084–85). Cyril of Alexandria Contra Julian. 10.330 (PG 76. 1007–8). Serapion of Thmuis, Against the Manichees (ed. Casey, Robert P.; HTS 15; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1931) chap. 25 (p. 41, also in PG 40. 921–22) and chap. 37 (Casey ed., p. 55, not in the corrupt text in PG 40). Cyril of Jerusalem Cat. led. 3.6 (PG 33. 533–36; trans. Win. Telfer, LCC 4 [London, 1955] 93) offers an ambiguous context, but Cyril has several agreements with 01, W, Θ, fam-1, fam-13, 28, 565, and Origen in Mark; see Greenlee, J. H., The Gospel Text of Cyril of Jerusalem (SD 17; Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1955) 34–35

7 Turner, C. H., “A Textual Commentary on Mark 1,JTS 28 (1926/1927) 150. Cf. Metzger's, B. M. caveats in “Patristic Evidence and the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” NTS 18 (1971/1972) 379400, esp. 396§2.

8 Adv. haer. (ed. Harvey 2.49); ANF 1. 428; Sanday, Novum Testamentum Sancti Irenaei, 44. In Sanday's work (p. cxxix), A. Souter, discussing “The New Testament Text of Irenaeus,” concludes that there “seems no doubt that Iren. had the fuller text” of Mark 1:1.

9 Victorini Episcopi Petavionensis Opera, ed. Iohannes Haussleiter (CSEL 49 [1916] 52; reprint in PL Supp 1. 123, with Victorinus’ original and Jerome's recension on the same page. On Jerome's revisions, see CSEL 49. xxxvi-xlv.

10 Comm. in Ioan. 1.13 and 6.24 (GCS 10, Origen 4, pp. 18, 134; cf. ed. A. E. Brooke [Cambridge, 1896] 1. 17, 140). The first four books were written in Alexandria ca. 226–29, and the sixth in exile ca. 232; see Quasten, Johannes, Patrology (3 vols.; Utrecht: Spectrum, 19501960) 2.49.

11 Contra Celsum 2.4 (GCS 2, Origen 1, p. 131; Extraits des livres I et II du Contre Celse d'Origène d'après le papyrus, ed. Jean Scherer [Institut Francais d'Archéologie Orientale, Bibliothéque d'étude 28; Cairo: L'Institut, 1956] 106–7). On the date, see Henry Chadwick, trans., Origen: Contra Celsum (2d ed.; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1965) xv.

12 Comm. in Rom. 1.3 (.Origenis Opera omnia, ed. Delarue, Charles [4 vols.; Brussels/Paris, 17331759] 4. 464= PG 14. 846–47). On the date, see Quasten, Patrology, 2. 49–50. The passage does not appear in Scherer's, Jean reconstruction of the Greek text in Le commentaire d'Origène sur Rom. III.5-V.7 d'après les extraits du papyrus (Cairo: L'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, 1957). On Rufinus’ liberties in translating this work, see Scherer's introduction, 85–121; cf. Quasten, Patrology, 2. 37, 58.

13 Titus’ third book as given in PG 18.1213–56 reproduces Serapion Against the Manichees chaps. 36–53 verbatim (Casey ed., p. 52, line 5 to p. 77, line 56). Migne's corrupt edition reappears in Βιβλιοϑήχη ῾Ελλήνων Πατέρων χα⋯ ᾽Εχχλησιαστιχ⋯ν Συγγραφέων 19, Τίτος Βόστρων … (Athens: ᾽Αποσ- τολιχ⋯ς Διαχωνίας τ⋯ς ᾽Εχχλησίας τ⋯ς ῾Ελλάδος, 1959) 9–116. On the disarranged MSS forming the basis of these editions of Titus, see Casey, R. P., “The Text of the Anti-Manichaean Writings of Titus of Bostra and Serapion of Thmuis,” HTR 21 (1928) 97111. Casey's promised critical edition (109 n. 22) never appeared, but Titus may be consulted using (a) the Greek of Books 1.1–3.7 and the early Syriac translation edited in 2 vols. by Paul A. de Lagarde (Berlin, 1859), reprint ed., Titus Bostrenus syriace et graece (Osnabrück: Zeller, 1967), and (b) the Greek of Book 3.7–29, ed. Peter Nagel, “Neues griechisches Material zu Titus von Bostra (Adversus Manichaeos III 7–29),” Berliner Byzantinische Arbeiten 44= Studia Byzantina 2 (1973) 285–350. Lagarde prints the Greek interpolations from Serapion as an appendix to Titus’ Greek Book 3 (pp. 69–103). The indexes of scriptural quotations in Lagarde (Greek vol., pp. 125–27) and Nagel (“Neues griechisches Material,” 350) l i s t few NT citations in Titus’ genuine treatise, including only one from the Gospels (John 1:5, in Book 2.36 = Lagarde ed., p. 47). Titus’ name should be replaced with Serapion's at three other places in the UBS apparatus: Matt 19:4 χτίσας = Serapion Man. 52 (Casey ed., p. 74); Mark 1:2 ⋯ν ᾽Ησαίᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ = Serapion Man. 25 and 37 (Casey ed., 41, 55); John 1:18 ⋯ μονογεν⋯ς υἱός = Serapion Man. 40 (Casey ed., 58), but cf. ⋯ μονογεν⋯ς ϑεός = Serapion Man. 48 (Casey ed., 67).

14 Westcott and Hort (“Notes on Select Readings,” 23) speculate that Mark 1:1 appeared twice in Severian's Bible, once with the phrase ‘Son of God’, the other time without. Severian's quotation does not substantiate this view.

15 I have collated freshly all the uncials and over a hundred minuscules, versions, and fathers from printed editions, facsimiles and microfilms (purchased with the aid of Humanities Research Grants from the University of British Columbia). MS 255 is also cited in support of variant F by Westcott and Hort (“Notes on Select Readings,” 23), followed by Legg and the commentaries of H. B. Swete (p. 1), E. Gould (p. 4), and Cranfield (p. 38). This number now refers to a MS of the Acts and Epistles. In the nineteenth century, however, it applied to a codex of the Gospels from Mount Athos that Matthaei saw in the Synod Library in Moscow during the eighteenth century. The MS was no longer there in 1894; see Tischendorf, C., Novum Testamentum graece, 8th ed., vol. 3, Prolegomena by C. R. Gregory (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1894) 514–16. Dated to the twelfth or thirteenth century and containing 299 folios, this is probably the same MS as codex 1555 (now Athos, Vatopediu 918), which also has a thirteenth-century date, 298 folios, and the shorter text in Mark 1:1

16 Cf. Westcott and Hort, “Notes on Select Readings,” 23.

17 See Colwell, Ernest C. and Riddle, D. W., eds., Prolegomena to the Study of the Lectionary Text of the Gospels (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1933) esp. 2 and 18 on the secondary nature of many lectionary incipits. On the date, see Metzger, B. M., The Early Versions of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977) 77. Unaware of these facts, Eberhard Nestle argued that syrpal had best preserved Mark's original opening; see “How Does the Gospel of Mark Begin?” Expositor ser. iv/10 (1894) 458–60.

18 For a list of Caesarean authorities and bibliography on them, see Metzger, B. M., The Text of the New Testament (2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1968) 214–15. Before the Caesarean sources were isolated, Westcott and Hort (“Notes on Select Readings,” 23) thought that the omission was “possibly Alexandrian.”

19 See Greenlee, Gospel Text of Cyril of Jerusalem, 32. I hope to offer full evidence about Serapion's text in the near future; as an example of a Caesarean reading, his quotation of Luke 16:16 in Manichees 37 (Casey ed., p. 55) reads μ⋯χρι (ς) for ἓως with 01, B, L, R, X, fam-1, fam-13, Justin, Origen, and Eusebius. That Serapion's text has Caesarean readings presents little surprise in a writer from fourth-century provincial Egypt, where the third- and fourthcentury Caesarean papyri 37 and 45 were found.

20 On the problematic affinity of syr-pal, see Metzger, Early Versions, 82.

21 On codex 01, see Metzger, Text of the NT, 46; and Gordon D. Fee, “Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John,” NTS 15 (1968/69) 23–44. Gregory's MS 1555 is von Soden's ε 1341; see Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments (Göttingen, 1913) 2. xv for the grouping and 1 §§ 238–40 for Ir characteristics.

22 Souter, “NT Text of Irenaeus,” civ: “When Irenaeus is not in company with D he is with the Old Latin or the Old Syriac or some other early authority for the Western text.”

23 Such is Turner's conclusion in “A Textual Commentary on Mark 1,” 150. Cranfield (Mark, 38) records the argument that “at a time when the divine Sonship of Jesus was taken for granted the phrase could have been omitted [intentionally] on stylistic grounds in order to reduce the ugly piling up of genitives.” The MS in question could have started a chain of MSS with the same omission. But if this factor swayed more than one scribe, the shorter reading might have spread more randomly among different text types.

24 Cf. Johnson, Sherman E., A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Black, 1960) 32; on the phrase in the epistles, see TDNT 9. 551–55.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed