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Matthew 16.2b–3: New Considerations for a Difficult Textual Question

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 February 2020

Charles L. Quarles*
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 120 S. Wingate Street, Wake Forest, NC27587, USA. Email:


A survey of the current state of research shows that scholars are at an impasse regarding the text of Matt 16.2b–3. A fresh application of reasoned eclecticism to the unit uncovers new evidence supporting the longer reading. A reappraisal of the Greek manuscripts, early versions and early Christian literature shows that the longer and shorter readings are of approximately equal antiquity as far as can be established from presently available evidence. Analysis of the Eusebian apparatus strongly suggests that the shorter reading was often the result of intentional scribal change. Of the various explanations for such change, the most persuasive view is that proposed by Scrivener, Tregelles and Weiss – the shorter reading was probably an assimilation to Matt 12.39.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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1 Hirunuma, T., ‘Matthew 16:2b–3’, New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis. Essays in Honor of Bruce Metzger (ed. Fee, G. D. and Epp, E. J.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1981) 3545Google Scholar.

2 Westcott, B. F. and Hort, F. J. A., The New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper, 1881) lxxxixGoogle Scholar; idem, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882; repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988) Appendix 1.13; Aland, K. and Aland, B., The Text of the New Testament (trans. Rhodes, E. F.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989 2) 307Google Scholar.

3 von Tischendorf, C., Novum Testamentum Graece (Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1869; repr. New York: Cambridge University Press, 20138), 1:9293Google Scholar.

4 NA28, 55*.

5 NA28, 55*.

6 Metzger, B. M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994 2) 33Google Scholar.

7 Albright, W. F. and Mann, C. S., Matthew (AB 26; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971) 192Google Scholar; Grundmann, W., Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament 1; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1972) 381Google Scholar; J. Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium (2 vols.; Herders Theologischer Kommentar Zum Neuen Testament; Freiburg: Herder, 1988) II.39–40; U. Luz, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (4 vols.; Evangelisch-Katholischer Kommentar Zum Neuen Testament; Zürich: Neukirchen-Vluyn: Benziger, 1990) II.443–4; Davies, W. D. and Allison, D. C., The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. II: Matthew 8–18 (ICC; London: T&T Clark, 1991) 580–1Google Scholar; D. J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew (Sacra Pagina 1; Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 1991) 243; Blomberg, C. L., Matthew (NAC 22; Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1992) 247–8Google Scholar; L. Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 413–14; U. Luck, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (Zurcher Bibelkommentare; NT 1; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1993) 184; R. H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on his Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 19942) 323–4; D. Hagner, Matthew 14–28 (WBC 33B; Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) 453–4; H. Frankemölle, Matthäus: Kommentar (2 vols.; Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1997) II.212; W. Wiefel, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus (Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament; Leipzig, Germany: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1998) 290; C. S. Keener, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 422; R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel of Matthew (trans. R. R. Barr; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 154; F. D. Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13–28 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rev. and enl. edn 2004) 111–12; J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (NIGNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005) 648–9; R. T. France, Matthew (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 604–5; D. A. Carson, ‘Matthew’, Matthew–Mark (EBC 9; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, rev. edn 2010) 411; G. R. Osborne, Matthew (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament 1; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 612–13; C. A. Evans, Matthew (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 308; M. Konradt, Das Evangelium nach Matthäus: Übersetzt und erklärt (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015) 254; G. Maier, Das Evangelium des Matthäus (2 vols.; Witten: SCM R. Brockhaus, 2015–17) II.47–8; Turner, D., Matthew (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 397–8Google Scholar; Quarles, C. L., Matthew (EGGNT; Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2017) 181–3Google Scholar.

8 See Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament, 106. The use of these categories is intended only to be a convenient means of highlighting similarities in readings in some texts. For recent challenges to the use of text types in classifying manuscripts, see especially Epp, E., ‘Textual Clusters: Their Past and Future in New Testament Textual Criticism’, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (ed. Ehrman, B. D. and Holmes, M. W.; NTTSD 42; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2014 2) 519–77Google Scholar.

9 The asterisks are in vermillion and the material in vermillion in this manuscript appears to be from a different hand than the text. Scrivener correctly recognised (contra Burgon) these as the work of a later scribe. See Scrivener, F. H. A., A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament (2 vols.; ed. Miller, E.; 1894Google Scholar; repr. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 19974) I.132–3.

10 Scrivener, Plain Introduction, I.152.

11 Note that the assignment of the section to canon 6 in E is confused since the scribe lists a Lukan, rather than Markan, parallel. The identified parallel is based on the inclusion of the longer reading but the assignment to canon 6 assumes the shorter reading.

12 Jongkind, D., Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus (Text and Studies Third Series 5; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2007) 118–19Google Scholar. Jongkind added that though Sinaiticus rarely deviates from the standard Eusebian canon and section numbers in Mark, the manuscript's omission of Mark 9.44 and 46 apparently creates confusion with the section numbers there. Similar irregularities occur in the numbering system at Mark 15.28. See also Head, P., ‘Some Observations on Various Features of Scribe D in the New Testament of Codex Sinaiticus’, Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript (ed. McKendrick, S., Parker, D., Myshrall, A. and O'Hogan, C.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2015) 127–37Google Scholar, at 128.

13 Minuscule 1045 is defective and begins at Matt 14.2.

14 Although H assigned the section number ρκγ (123), the kappa is clearly a product of scribal error, since the section numbers that precede and follow are ρξβ (162) and ρξδ (164) respectively. The error was probably influenced by the kappa in ekthesis in close proximity to the section number.

15 Kiraz, G. A., Comparative Edition of the Syriac Gospels: Aligning the Sinaiticus, Curetonianus, Peshitta and Harklean Versions, vol. I: Matthew (New Testament Tools and Studies 21.1; New York: Brill, 1996) 235–6Google Scholar.

16 See Schenke, H.-M., Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, vol. I: Coptic Papyri (Oslo: Hermes, 2001) 94Google Scholar.

17 Souter, A., Novum Testamentum Graece (Oxford: Clarendon, 1947 2)Google Scholar. The UBS3 also listed the Diatessaron as a witness to the longer reading, but the reference to the Diatessaron was dropped in the UBS4 and UBS5. This revision is probably a product of the editors’ caution regarding use of the Diatessaron as a witness to the text of the New Testament especially in citations from parallel pericopes in the Synoptic Gospels. See UBS5, 44–5*.

18 Ciasca, A., Tatiani Evangeliorum Harmoniae Arabice (Rome: n.p., 1888) 26, 41Google Scholar; Marmardji, A.-S., Diatessaron de Tatien (Beirut: Catholic Press, 1935) 136–9Google Scholar, 220–1.

19 McVey, K. E., Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1989)Google Scholar; Brock, S., trans. Saint Ephrem: Hymns on Paradise (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladmir's Seminary, 1990) 235Google Scholar; Wickes, J. T., trans., St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Faith (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2015) 423Google Scholar.

20 See McCarthy, C., Saint Ephrem's Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron: An English Translation of Chester Beatty Syriac MS 709 with Introduction and Notes (JSSSup 2; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) 360Google Scholar.

21 McVey, Ephrem the Syrian, 440.

22 On the difficulties in reconstructing the readings of the Diatessaron and using them in New Testament textual criticism, see U. Schmid, ‘The Diatessaron of Tatian’, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research, 115–42; and Baarda, T., ‘Tatian's Diatessaron and the Greek Text of the Gospels’, The Early Text of the New Testament (ed. Hill, C. and Kruger, M.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 336–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 348–9.

23 Oxford Society of Historical Theology, The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905) 139. See also Gregory, A. F. and Tuckett, C. M., The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 349Google Scholar.

24 For a brief but helpful survey of the current debate over the origin and nature of this gospel, see Gregory, A., The Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Ebionites (Oxford Early Christian Gospel Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017) 269–74Google Scholar.

25 Although von Soden listed Justin as a potential witness to the shorter reading, he indicated his uncertainty by marking the reference with a question mark. See von Soden, H., Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments, vol. II: Text mit Apparat (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1913) 57Google Scholar.

26 The UBS3 also listed Theophilus as a witness to the longer reading. Oddly, the UBS3 listed Euthalius as a witness to the longer reading, even though the Euthaliana do not contain the Gospels. The editors probably misread the abbreviation Euth in Tischendorf as a reference to Euthalius when Tischendorf probably intended to refer to Euthymius Zigabenus whose commentary on Matthew is based on the longer reading. Although Euthymius mentions that the pericope adulterae was absent or marked with the obelisk in manuscripts available to him, he makes no such comment on Matthew 16.2b–3. Compare PG 129.460–61 with PG 129.1280 (παρὰ τοῖς ἀκριβέσιν ἀντιγράφοις ἢ οὐχ εὕρηται ἢ ὠβέλισται).

27 Grant, R., Theophilus of Antioch: Ad Autolycum (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Clarendon, 1970) 149Google Scholar. Hirunuma also noted the absence of a reference to Matt 16.3 in Grant's index. See his ‘Matthew 16:2b–3’, 37.

28 Theophilus did quote Matt 6.3 in Ad Autolycum 3.14. Perhaps Tischendorf confused a reference to 6.3 with a reference to 16.3.

29 See Hirunuma, ‘Matthew 16:2b–3’, 36; UBS5; and Heine, R., The Commentary of Origen on the Gospel of St Matthew (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) 91 n. 19Google Scholar.

30 Kim, K. W., ‘The Matthean Text of Origen in his Commentary on Matthew’, JBL 68 (1949) 125–39Google Scholar, at 133. Although Kim did not list examples of Origen's omission of whole verses, Origen's commentary on the next pericope (16.5–12) offers such an example. Origen neither quotes the text of 16.9–10 nor alludes to the content of these verses in his commentary, though there are no grounds for suggesting that they were absent from his text of Matthew. Origen's silence here and elsewhere (cf. Matt 15.23, and plausibly 16.2b–3) is merely due to the fact that his commentary did not intend to be exhaustive in its treatment of Matthew. A cursory examination of the commentary on the preceding and following chapters locates several other similar examples. Origen passes over Matt 15.23 in his commentary on the exorcism of the Canaanite woman's daughter (11.17). Nevertheless, his text clearly contained the verse since he later quotes it out of context in his discussion of the feeding of the four thousand (11.19). Origen also passes almost completely over Matt 17.6–7. Only the statement ‘the Logos touched them’ indicates the presence of these verses in Origen's text. These examples are sufficient to confirm the old adage that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

31 Kim, ‘The Matthean Text of Origen in his Commentary on Matthew’, 125–39.

32 PL 26.117a. See also A. Donaldson, ‘Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin Church Fathers’ (2 vols.; PhD diss., University of Notre Dame, 2009) II.372–3.

33 For a recent English translation, see Teske, R., ‘Questions on the Gospels’, The Works of Saint Augustine, vol. i.15–16: New Testament i and ii (ed. Ramsey, B.; Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2014) 348415Google Scholar, at 367–8. Compare Cons. 2.51.106. This example demonstrates that failure to comment on specific verses does not necessarily indicate that the verses were absent from the biblical text used by the commentator. See again the discussion on Origen.

34 Gundry, Matthew, 323–4. More recently, Yuanhui Ye pointed to several other features overlooked by Gundry that support the text's authenticity. See Y. Ye, ‘“By What Authority?”: The Literary Function and Impact of Conflict Stories in the Gospel of Matthew’ (PhD diss., University of Edinburgh, 2014) 133–5.

35 Klostermann, E., Das Matthäusevangelium (Handbuch zum Neuen Testament 4; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1909) 137Google Scholar; Zahn, T., Das Evangelium des Matthäus (Leipzig: A. Deichertsche, 1922 4) 530Google Scholar; McNeile, A. H., The Gospel according to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980) 235Google Scholar.

36 On this basis, Harry Fleddermann argued that Matt 16.2b–3 must be a ‘late interpolation’ (Fleddermann, H., Q: A Reconstruction and Commentary (Leuven: Peeters, 2005) 652Google Scholar.

37 See Lev 13.19, 42, 43, 49; 14.37 and Philo, Det. 1.16.

38 BDF §108, 4. A search of lexical entries in BDAG located 118 verbs ending with the -αζω suffix and 209 with the -ιζω suffix used in the NT and early Christian literature. Andrew Sihler (New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) 516) referred to these two suffixes as ‘enormously productive suffixes’ that ‘form denominatives from stems of all kinds to the number of several thousands’. For the various nuances of the suffixes, see J. A. C. Greppin, ‘Greek Verbs in -άζω and -ίζω’, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 50 (1997) 107–9.

39 Matthew's usage is the earliest in the TLG database.

40 Ezek 27.35; 28.19; 32.10; Mark 10.22.

41 Polybius, Hist. 4.21 (trans. W. R. Paton).

42 France, Matthew, 604–5.

43 Pallis, A., Notes on St. Mark and St. Matthew (Oxford: Clarendon, 1932) 88–9Google Scholar; Couchoud, P.-L., ‘Notes de critique verbale sur St Marc et St Matthieu’, JTS 34 (1933) 113–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 136.

44 b. B. Bat. 83b.

45 Aratus, Phaen. 835–9.

46 For an argument against the derivation of Matt 16.2b–3 from Luke 12.54–6, see März, C. P., ‘Lk 12,54b–56 par Mat 16,2b–3 und die Akoluthie der Redequelle’, SNTU A 11 (1986) 8396Google Scholar. März argues for the longer reading in Matthew.

47 Lehoux, D., Astronomy, Weather, and Calendars in the Ancient World: Parapegmata and Related Texts in Classical and Near Eastern Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 5Google Scholar.

48 Luz, Matthäus, ii.347.

49 Taub, L., Ancient Meteorology (Sciences of Antiquity; London: Routledge, 2003) 28, 32Google Scholar; Theophrastus, De signis 1.3; Pliny, Nat. 18.57.210–17.

50 See 1 Kgs 18.44–5; Job 37.17. The appearance of a cloud in the west signals rain in a region with a western seaboard and a wind from the south signals hot temperatures if deserts are located to the south of a region. Both weather signs are appropriate to Palestine. See Fitzmyer, J., The Gospel according to Luke x–xxiv (AB 28A; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985) 9991000Google Scholar; Edwards, J. R., The Gospel according to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015) 387–8Google Scholar. See especially the discussion in b. Yom. 21b in which favourable wind directions in Israel are the opposite of those in Babylonia. Francis Bovon argues that Luke's meteorological signs fit the conditions in Egypt and Greece rather than Palestine and that Luke adapted Jesus’ examples to the climate that he knew best since his home country was north of the Aegean Sea. See Bovon, F., Luke 9:51–19:27 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013) 256Google Scholar. However, Elaine Philips has recently demonstrated that the descriptions in both Luke and Matthew fit Palestine well (Phillips, E., ‘Jesus’ Interpretation of Weather Patterns’, Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels (ed. Beitzel, B. J.; Bellingham, WA; Lexham, 2016) 278–85Google Scholar.

51 See n. 7. For a helpful discussion of scribal assimilation, see W. Wisselink, ‘Assimilation as a Criterion for the Establishment of the Text: A Comparative Study on the Basis of Passages from Matthew, Mark, and Luke’ (D.Th. diss., Theologische Universiteit te Kampen; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1989). For data on assimilation tendencies among major witnesses, see Lanier, G., ‘A Case for the Assimilation of Matthew 21:44 to the Lukan “Crushing Stone” (20:18), with Special Reference to 𝔓104*’, TC 21 (2016) 1216Google Scholar.

52 Scrivener, Plain Introduction, II.326; Tregelles, S., An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1854) 205Google Scholar; Weiss, B., Textkritik der Vier Evangelien (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrich, 1899) 184Google Scholar.

53 Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium, II.39.

54 Theophrastus, De signis 10.

55 Aratus, Phaen. 858–71, 880–92.

56 Pliny, Nat. 18.78.

57 Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos 2.13.

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