Variorum New Testament
(The Variorum Edition of the New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: Translated Out of the Original Greek, and with the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Revised by His Majesty’s Special Command: with Various Renderings and Readings)
The zealous student of the holy Scriptures who desires to arrive at the knowledge of the truth would be greatly assisted by being able to examine where the ancient manuscripts and various textual sources of the Bible differ from one another. By having this information readily available, the Bible student can meditate upon the variant readings of the most ancient Scriptural sources, and, with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, have some hope of arriving at the original author’s meaning.
Adopting an essentially literal translation method does not guarantee a flawless Bible version that is faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Bible translators must choose what is the best, most authentic, and accurate rendering of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. The majority of English Bible translations provide only one rendering of a word, phrase, or sentence. Yet, the source texts that they are working from may present more than one possible meaning. Because of the way in which ancient Hebrew was written, having no vowels, a large number of words had to be determined by the context in which they were found. To give an example in English, if we remove all vowels, then the letters “wrd” have many possible interpretations. They could represent the following: word, ward, wired, weird, wearied, etc.. We would only know which is the proper word by the context in which it is found. In some cases, more than one possibility may make sense. Additionally, there are a significant number of Hebrew and Greek words that contain multiple meanings. The translators must determine which definition of a word is most appropriate in the context in which it is found. For example, consider the various meanings that the following short English phrase could convey.
The fan roared.
Many words in Hebrew and Greek carry multiple possible meanings, even as they do in English. It is the task of the Bible translator to determine which word best conveys the author’s intent. In many instances Bible scholars have sincere differences of opinion on how a word should be translated, yet most readers of a particular Bible version would not know that there is any dispute about the meaning of a passage unless there is some marginal note explaining that a variant reading exists.
There are some Bible versions that provide such notes. One Bible that was created specifically to make the reader aware of many of the significant variant readings is called the Variorum Bible. It was produced in 1880. The Variorum Bible took the KJV Bible as its main text, noting wherever a variant reading existed. The Variorum Bible did not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of variant readings, rather it focused upon those textual differences that could alter the meaning of a passage.The KJV Bible used the Textus Receptus as its basis for translating the New Testament from Greek into English. The Textus Receptus was produced by Erasmus a century prior to the publication of the King James Bible. Erasmus had only five Greek manuscripts to work from, and none of them were complete, nor were they chosen for their accuracy. They were simply those manuscripts Erasmus could get his hands on at short notice. In the Preface to the Variorum Bible, we find the following statement.
(2) With regard to the Various Readings, it is necessary to remind the reader that the text from which the Authorised Version (KJV) of the New Testament is translated is substantially identical with that of the first edition of the Greek text published by Erasmus in 1510, an edition based upon not more than five MSS., and those chosen almost at random without any regard to their intrinsic value. The discovery of some of the most ancient and valuable MSS. of the New Testament, and the systematic use of others, both ancient and valuable, which, though known in Western Europe in the 16th century, were scarcely used, and, in general, a more comprehensive study of MSS. and ancient Versions, has shewn that this ” Received Text,” as it is called, labours under manifold corruptions.
Regarding the Hebrew Old Testament, the editors of the Variorum Bible include the following note:
The Hebrew text of the Old Testament stands upon a somewhat different footing. The form in which it appears in the printed Bibles is that in which it has been fixed by the Jews themselves for centuries. But a close examination reveals the fact that, jealously guarded as it thus has been, there must have been an earlier period in its transmission, during which errors and alterations crept in. The existence of such errors may be easily shewn, without passing beyond the limits of the Hebrew text itself, by a comparison of the corresponding chapters in the Books of Samuel and Kings on the one hand, and in the Chronicles on the other. Of the MSS. which have as yet been examined, but few date back as far as the 10th century A.D., and these few contain only portions of the Bible. But the ancient Versions at once carry us back to a period from 500 to 1000 years anterior to this: they thus reflect, with more or less exactness, a text far older than that represented by the earliest Hebrew MSS. Certainly to classify and account for all the divergences which they exhibit is a problem of extreme complexity, and perhaps insoluble: but, if used with tact and sobriety, the ancient Versions afford invaluable aid in restoring order and sequence where the Hebrew, as we possess it, appears involved in much confusion.
Cases, however, occur in which a suspicion of corruption attaches to the text, which even a comparison of the Versions does not avail to remove. Here, then, nothing remains but to make a temperate use of critical emendation. However reluctant we may be to admit the principle of conjecture, an exceptional application of it is justified in the case of the Old Testament (1) by the long interval which elapsed between the composition of most of the books and the earliest date to which we can trace them, and (2) by the nature of the Hebrew characters, which, in every phase through which the alphabet has passed, are very liable to be confounded. Purely arbitrary emendations are, of course, inadmissible; but there are many passages which become at once intelligible on a slight alteration in the form of one or two of the letters. Changes of the vowel-points are also occasionally of service, but these do not in the same sense fall under the head of conjecture, for the vowel-points merely represent a valuable, but still post-Christian, exegetical tradition.
The editors of the Variorum New Testament utilized Westscott and Hort’s Greek New Testament, which had not yet been published. The pre-publication manuscript was made available to them. This Greek New Testament utilized more ancient and more reliable manuscripts than Erasmus’ Textus Receptus. Westscott and Hort’s Greek New Testament is considered a much more accurate and valuable Greek translation than that which the KJV Bible translators used.
The editors of the Variorum Bible collated a great many writings from both modern and ancient Bible scholars. When citing a variant reading, they frequently mention some scholarly authority’s thoughts on that particular rendering. The list of Bible scholars whose works they consulted is extensive, and is found in the introductory material at the front of the Bible.
These Bible scholars themselves made reference to a large number of sources in setting forth their comments on plausible variant readings of the Scriptures. Among these sources are the following:
• Papyri Manuscripts
• Uncials (Ancient manuscripts written in capital letters)
• Miniscules (Slightly less ancient manuscripts written with lower case letters)
• Lectionaries (Arrangements of the Bible created to be read in congregational meetings)
• Early Bible Translations (Latin Versions, Syriac Peshitta, Septuagint, Coptic translations from Egypt, etc.)
• Writings of the Early Church Fathers
The Variorum Bible is useful in learning about a great number of variant word renderings, but it does not contain all possible variants. The editors did not include variant renderings they deemed to be implausible, and undoubtedly a significant number of possible interpretations remained unknown to them. Following are a couple of examples of variant readings that I find interesting which are not mentioned in the Variorum Bible.
Crows and Camels
Most Christians are familiar with the story found in I Kings of Elijah being instructed to hide himself at the Brook Cherith during a time of famine. Yahweh promised to feed the prophet there. All of the popular English Bibles tell us that Yahweh used ravens to bring Elijah his daily food.
I Kings 17:4-6
And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.
Although this appears to be a miraculous account of Yahweh’s provision for one of His servants, and the Bible contains numerous accounts of animals behaving in extraordinary ways at Yahweh’s command, some have been troubled by the fact that the raven is an unclean bird.
These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds; they are abhorrent, not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard, and the kite and the falcon in its kind, every raven in its kind…
Although Elijah did not “eat” the ravens, one wonders why Yahweh would choose an unclean animal to deliver Elijah’s daily food. It is no different than if a herd of swine had daily brought his food. There is a variant reading to this passage, however, which resolves this apparent incongruity. The word for “raven” and the word for “Arab” are spelled similarly in Hebrew.
Some time back I did a study on the word “tent” in the Bible. I found that the Bedouin (Arab) tents were renowned for being black, made from black goatskins. The raven and the Arab both had an association with the color black. It was a prominent association, for even as a raven is recognized by its black feathers, a Bedouin of the desert is recognized by his black tent.
Following is an entry for the word “Tent” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
TENT (‘ohel; skene; ‘ohel is a derivative of ‘ahal, “to be clear,” “to shine”; hence, ‘ohel, “to be conspicuous from a distance”): In the great stretches of uncultivated lands in the interior of Syria or Arabia, which probably have much the same aspect today as in Abraham’s time, it is an easy matter to espy an encampment of roving Bedouin, “a nation …. that dwelleth without care …. that have neither gates nor bars” (Jer 49:31). The peaks of their black (compare Song 1:5) goats’ hair tents stand out in contrast against the lighter colors of the soil. There seems to be little doubt about the antiquity of the Arab tent, and one can rightly believe that-the dwelling- places of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and their descendants were made on the same pattern and of the same materials (Gen 4:20; 9:27; 12:8; 13:3; 18:6; 31:25,30; Ps 78:55; Heb 11:9, etc.).
In the Song of Solomon the Shunamite compares herself to the black tents of the Arab Bedouins.
Song of Solomon 1:5
“I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar…”
Keep in mind that the ancient Hebrew did not contain vowels. Words were written in consonants only. The Hebrew word for raven is “oreb.” The Hebrew word for a Bedouin is “Arab.” They have the same consonants. What then is the proper interpretation? Most of the ancient manuscripts, including the Greek Septuagint, have understood the passage to be speaking of ravens. Yet there is plausible reason to conclude that “Arab” is the appropriate translation. Elijah was sent to a remote wilderness area with a water source. This would be a likely location for Bedouins to camp. Also, when the brook dried up, Yahweh sent Elijah to Zarephath in Sidon where He had prepared a widow woman to feed the prophet. There is a consistency in Yahweh choosing Arabs to feed the prophet, then choosing another foreigner, a Sidonian woman to feed him.
Yesterday a brother in Christ asked me for my thoughts regarding a specific Bible translation he had recently come across. When visiting the website of the organization that produced this version of the Scriptures, I noted that they listed a number of variant readings. They were comparing and contrasting their Bible version with the King James Bible. Following is one example that they listed.
(Note: I am not going to name this Bible translation at this time, but I intend to address it in a following chapter.)
Compare the next scripture;
Mat 19:23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Mat 19:23 And Yahshua said to His disciples, Truly I say to you that a rich man will with great difficulty enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
24 And again I say to you, It is easier for a heavy rope to pass through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of YAHWEH.
In Aramaic as in Hebrew there are no vowels, simply markings under the words, which many times are not listed. The word for camel in Aramaic is gamla and would look like this “gml”. The word for heavy rope is gamala and would also look like “gml” without the vowels. So when the translator translated this scripture from Aramaic to Greek, he simply made a mistake and put camel instead of heavy rope. This is a Jewish idiom. You cannot put a heavy rope through a needle, but if you take it apart strand by strand, then one strand can go through. Yahshua is using this idiom to show that a rich person would need to give up his possessions strand by strand or piece by piece to enter the Kingdom of Yahweh.
A translator’s understanding (or lack thereof) of a particular phrase or expression may lead him to favor one reading over another. In the example above, it is possible that the translator did not understand what Christ was referring to when He spoke of a camel going through the eye of a needle. I think what comes most readily to the modern reader’s mind when the eye of a needle is mentioned is a sewing needle. We know that camels cannot go through an eye of a sewing needle, yet Christ said that it was difficult, but not impossible, for a rich man to enter into heaven.
And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking upon them Yahshua said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
If we try to envision a camel going through the eye of a sewing needle, the image is one of impossibility. Yet, when the eye of the needle is defined according to a more ancient understanding, the matter becomes comprehensible.
In the days of Christ cities were surrounded by walls for protection against invading enemies. Gates were set in the walls to allow people and materials to come and go. These gates were closed at night and in times of danger, but it was still necessary to allow a limited flow of people in and out. Therefore, built into the large gates was a small door which could be opened to let a man in or out. This small door was called “the eye of the needle.”
Camels at the time were used for transport of goods. They would be piled high with merchandise and goods to be traded. If a man came to the gates after they had been closed and needed to enter, it was possible to go through and take his camel along, but it was very difficult. The master of the camel would have to take all the merchandise off of the camel, and the camel would have to go through the gate on his knees.
This is a picture of how a rich man must enter the kingdom of heaven. Getting on one’s knees speaks of humility, and removing all the goods from the camel’s back speaks of the necessity of Christians being unburdened from their possessions.
Yahshua said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.
Although interpreting the word as “heavy rope” does no great harm to the meaning of the passage, we see that the more common translation of “camel” makes very good sense. In this writing I am not advocating for one reading over another. My goal is to demonstrate that there are a great many variations in the way Scriptures may be translated.
Being aware of the variants may help you to resolve a difficult passage that has troubled you. Awareness of the many variants further affirms the need for Christians to apply themselves to a study of the Scriptures. If you would arrive at truth, you must be a truth seeker. If you take a casual approach to the study of the Scriptures, relying on others to tell you what a passage means, or you have placed your trust in a specific Bible version to convey truth perfectly to you, you will certainly be hindered in the quest for truth. I would admonish all the saints to embrace the apostle Paul’s counsel to Timothy.
II Timothy 2:15
Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.