Monday, March 9, 2015

What Have They Said About 1 Thess. 2:7: Gentle or Infants?

Leon Morris calls this a "first-class textual problem" (The First Epistle to the Thessalonians, 68). Gary S. Shogren says it is "the most difficult textual problem in these two letters" (1 and 2 Thessalonians, 99). Gene L. Green made a point that I didn't even recognize, specifically that this textual issue is not even mentioned in the footnotes of the NIV, something he calls a surprise (The Letters to the Thessalonians, 126). You know what? It surprised me too? After all, how could such a significant textual variant be skipped over? They include variant readings elsewhere in the NIV (e.g., in Matt. 5:22). I wonder why they did not do include this one, especially if Shogren is right? Robert L. Thomas simply says this textual issue is "difficult" ("1 Thessalonians," 255).

So, what are we to do with this variant? I just took a trip over to the library, spent no more than 30 minutes grabbing some resources, and wanted to give you some of what the scholarly field has said about this issue. It's interesting to see where they place their arguments and why.

Before doing so, let me share with you what D. Michael Martin tells us. He says that either reading is possible based solely on scribal miscopy: "In Paul's days Greek texts were written without any spaces between the individual words. Thus the variant could have resulted either from the accidental doubling of the nu at the end of [ἐγενήθημεν] . . . or the accidental omission of a nu . . . . These particular scribal errors could occur in a scriptorium where the words were being read aloud and multiple copies made (a hearing error) or as the result of a single scribe either dropping or doubling a nu (a visual error)" (1, 2 Thessalonians, 78).

I. The Reading in Favor of νήπιοι.

1. James Everett Frame says this: "νήπιοι (Gal. 4:1, 3; 1 Cor. 13:11; Rom. 2:20, etc.), with its implication of the unripe and undeveloped, far from being meaningless (Schmidt) is a capital antithesis of ἀπόστολοι. Not only does νήπιοι fit the immediate context admirably, it is also in keeping with the spirit of brotherly equality that characterises Paul's attitude to his readers not only in I [Thessalonians] but also in II [Thessalonians]. He is just one of them, ὡς εἷς ἐξ ὑμῶν (Chrys.)" (Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, 100). Frame goes on to say that this reading is "admirably adapted to the context" and he calls it the "better attested reading" (100). He points out how Westcott and Hort refuse to even "allow an alternative reading" (100). He says the argument that convinces him is the internal evidence, pointing out that "[s]ix of the ten cases of νήπιοι in N.T. (including Eph. 4:14; Heb. 5:13) are found in Paul" (100). The other reading is only found once elsewhere in the NT, that usage also in Paul (2 Tim. 2:24).

Gene L. Green runs through a lot of the arguments in favor of the reading "gentle" (which are covered more in detail below). Nevertheless, he writes, "[A]s attractive as this reading is, the manuscript evidence clearly favors the reading 'infants,' as recent editions of the Greek critical text recognize. Moreover, a basic canon of textual criticism is that the more difficult reading is to be preferred (scribes had the tendency to clarify words or grammar that was difficult to understand)" (The Letters to the Thessalonians, 127).

Gary Shogren has probably the most in-depth discussion of this variant issue in a commentary. He opts for νήπιοι based on the "stronger early manuscript evidence" (1 and 2 Thessalonians, 99) and "because of the rule of preferring the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior)" (99). Definitely check out Gary's discussion. Since he gives so much attention to the variant, it really behooves us to check it out. Most do not provide such a discussion.

Leon Morris walks through the evidence for each reading and concludes the following: "When the arguments are so nicely balanced it is not possible to be absolutely sure of the original text. In general the balance of probability seems to favor 'babies'" (The First and Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, 69).

II. The Reading in Favor of ἤπιοι.

D. Michael Martin says the external evidence "is somewhat stronger for 'infants' than it is for 'gentle'" (1, 2 Thessalonians, 78). He also says that the internal evidence is inconclusive. Martin adds, "On favor of 'infants' it may be observed that in the preceding context the apostle denied that he engaged in flattery or deceit. What can be more guileless than a babe? Also Paul used 'infant' twelve times in other letters, but 'gentle' occurs only in 2 Tim 2:24" (78). The switch from "babes" to maternal imagery is something he believes has logical flow (78). Why does he think the variant reading appeared? He says, "The sudden shift in images (i.e.., 'we were babes among you, like a mother') is difficult enough to make it improbable that a scribe would intentionally create such a mixed metaphor" (78). But it is reasonable to think that a scribe saw the difficulty of the reading here and intentional cut out the nu to make it read "gentle." So says Martin. Earlier he said the external evidence is only somewhat stronger for "infants." He later points out that it is "far from decisive" (78). He deals with all of this evidence, clearly trying to put himself in the shoes of someone who opts for the reading "infants." In the end, though, Martin says "gentle" is the original reading because it (1) "removes the unlikely and sudden shift in image from 'infant' to 'mother'; (2) Paul never uses the word "infant" elsewhere to refer to himself; (3) it is plausible that a scribe tried to harmonize the passage "in a place where Paul had actually used the rarer 'gentle'" (78-79).

F. F. Bruce says νήπιοι is "strongly attested" by external evidence (1 and 2 Thessalonians, 29). Bruce says that a scribe probably accidentally carried over the nu from the previous word. In the end, though, he does not believe νήπιοι fits the context. He says νήπιοι is "inappropriate in the immediate context" (31). What connection, then, does ἤπιοι have in the immediate context? Bruce says it fits nicely as a contrast to "'being burdensome' in the preceding clause" (31). Robert L. Thomas says almost the same thing as Bruce, even pointing out that the external evidence is "much stronger" for νήπιοι ("1 Thessalonians," 255). In the end, though, he does not give a definitive answer. He only gives you the evidence for both sides.

Abraham Smith opts for ἤπιοι "because Paul does not usually use νήπιοι . . . positively (cf. Rom 2:20; 1 Cor 3:1; 13:11; Gal 4:1, 3)" and because the ideas of "gentleness" and "nurse imagery" go together nicely ("The First Letter to the Thessalonians," 699).

III. Final Thoughts

The evidence is really strong in both cases. That's not something I can say I find with most textual issues. In the end the external evidence is the most important criteria for me. Most of the discussions, however, deal with the internal evidence. When we look at the internal evidence, I think that we can see a case for both. When we look at the external, I think that we can see a case for both. If only there was a reading confined to one geographical location! Wouldn't that have made this variant issue easier to navigate through? These are choppy waters in 1 Thess. 2:7. Hold on and get ready to toss and turn over this one. Just when you think your anchor grabbed the sea floor, it pops up and your vessel swirls around again.

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