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Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Who did Jesus say He was in John 9?

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, January 4th 1809, whose braille gave ‘sight’ to the blind. His invention was occasioned by a self-inflicted wound to his own eye, which drove him to help himself and others by finding an effective remedy. It reminds me of another who gave sight to a blind man, though unnamed, if he would receive it:

KJV John 9:35 Jesus heard that they had cast [the blind man] out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? 36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.

For this the NIV reads:

“ . . . When he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"

If the Holy Scriptures are breathed out by God, so as to protect them from all error, it follows that the Holy Spirit also has a vested interest in preserving and protecting every word of Scripture – ever since it was written - so we may know exactly what God said, and enjoy its certainty. The vast majority of preserved manuscripts (MSS) of the Gospel of John testify to the accuracy of traditional text, preserved down through the many Christian centuries. This text reads in 9:35: “the Son of God,” not “the Son of Man.” There are over two thousand (2000+) preserved Greek MSS of John’s Gospel, and all but a mere handful of them bear witness to the exact words Jesus said to the blind man: Dost thou believe on the Son of God? If God the Holy Spirit is in the business of actively preserving his inspired words, where would we expect to find an answer to our question, as to the accuracy of the Text [“Son of Man,” or “Son of God”]. Will we more likely find it in a mere handful of MSS, or in the vast majority?

Accordingly, we find the text “Son of God” throughout the early Latin manuscript tradition in the West (with very little variation), and thus carried into St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. We find it also in the major Syriac tradition (with but one dissenting voice). We find it in the Coptic MSS, and the Armenian, and the Georgian. It is witnessed to in Tertullian’s writings (220 AD). The Scripture reading service manuals of the Eastern Greek churches uniformly contain it – there are 500 of these lectionaries, and they all agree Jesus said, ”Son of God.”

Why, then, do the Bible Society (UBS) editors unite to disagree with this very strong witness, and say of the rendering “Son of Man”: “the Committee regarded the reading adopted as virtually certain”? (1) There are two reasons for this. First, they based their judgements on the work of Professor AF Hort, who hitched his wagon over a century ago to one “star manuscript” (Codex B lodged in the Vatican). This, he said, was the almost only witness among Greek MSS to the purest and authentic New Testament. Dean Burgon pointed out the folly of making such an extreme judgement, but Hort won the day anyway with the great majority of critics, who chose not to argue with him. Hort’s judgements are still followed today, in the absence of a better way of doing textual criticism. The later discovery of two papyri (P66; P76) which support Codex B should still not weight the evidence towards “Son of Man,” because these papyri (dated early to mid 3rd century), both post-date the damaging effects of Gnosticism on the Text.

The second reason for claiming virtual certainty for “Son of Man” is clear in the words of Bruce Metzger, “the improbability of theou (God) being altered to anthropos (Man) is so great . . .” Well, is that really so?

To begin with, there is much uncertainty among well-known textual critics, as to the reading “Son of Man,” if we take their printed Greek Texts as a guide to what they believed. Thus, Alexander Souter left “Son of God” just as it was in the Text! So did JM Scholz. So also did JJ Griesbach. Likewise Dean Alford – to name a few. Wise men all!

Secondly, there is an adequate explanation as to why some unscrupulous scribe changed “Son of God to “Son of Man,” and at an early date. The great enemy of the Faith in the years 150 – 250 AD was Gnosticism. This powerful intellectual movement had infiltrated the churches (as the Apostle Paul had warned, Acts 20:29) and it denied that God could have any direct contact with matter. Matter was evil, as being the source of all evil. Confused or unsound Christians bought into this false idea. However, it entailed the denial that Jesus Christ was God come in the flesh. He may have appeared to be flesh-and-blood human, but it was an illusion. A prominent Gnostic ‘Christian’ teacher in Rome was Valentinus (135 – 155 AD), who overwhelmingly preferred the Gospel of John to the other three Gospels. He and his disciple Heracleon had ample opportunity and motive to corrupt the fourth Gospel in many places, by deliberately ‘dumbing down’ references to Christ’s deity. Codex B - Hort’s star manuscript - does this, in fact, in several places. Dean Burgon lists these places: John 3:13, 31; 8:35, 59; 9:35; 14:14; 16:6; 21:23. (2)

John Burgon explains this wicked behaviour of professing Christians in the second century, as follows:

“Numerous as the heresies were for the first two or three centuries of the Christian era, they almost all agreed in this; - that they involved a denial of the eternal Godhead of the Son of Man: denied that He is essentially very and eternal God. This fundamental heresy found itself confuted by the whole tenor of the Gospel, which nevertheless it assailed with restless ingenuity: and many are the traces alike of its impotence and malice which have survived to our times. It is a memorable circumstance that it is precisely those very texts which relate either to the eternal generation of the Son, - to His Incarnation, - or to the circumstances of his nativity, - which have suffered most severely, and retain to this hour traces of having been in various ways tampered with.” (3)

Bishop JC Ryle says of John 9:35:

We should note that this is one of the very few occasions on which our Lord called himself directly “the Son of God.” (See John 3:18; 5:25;10:36; 11:4) (?)

John the Apostle gives us his motive for writing the Gospel:

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (20:30-31)

Because he had his mind filled with false Gnostic ideas, Valentinus could not accept that the disciples’ use of that title was actually attributing deity to Jesus. For him, Jesus was the Saviour in the sense that we find healing when we have our ignorance cured, and gain insight into life’s values – Jesus supplied this. There was no need for Jesus to be God, and for God to take the penalty for our sins. Indeed, today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses have the same view as Valentinus concerning Jesus. For them, as for Valentinus, Jesus is the first created being through whom all else came into existence. Any description of Jesus as being actually God come in the flesh was dismissed as impossible. Correspondingly, to call Jesus “Son of God’ must merely be a reverent courtesy title. In John 9:35, however, we have Jesus Himself claiming the title “the Son of God.” This sounds suspiciously like a claim on his own part to be God. Thus, “Son of Man” would have suited the Gnostic better.

In summary, the manuscript evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of retaining ”Son of God.” For today’s textual critics to see this, they would first have to remove the blinders that Prof. Hort has put over our eyes. Codex B is not the purest MS, it is one of the most corrupt, and few existing manuscripts follow it. It survived physically intact, not because it was revered but because it was not used!! It didn’t take long for the Christian churches to see through its specious errors, and they rejected it. As for the internal evidence for reading “Son of God,” I believe I have shown how the heretical movement of the second century would have motivated an intellectual like Valentinus to tamper with this Text, and change it to “Son of Man,” according to Gnostic tastes.

KJV 1 Tim. 6:20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science [Gk. Gnosis] falsely so called.

(1) Metzger, BM 1971 A textual commentary on the UBS Greek New Testament, Lon: United Bible Societies.
(2) Burgon JW 1896 The Traditional text of the holy gospels, Lon: George Bell, pp. 288-289.
(3) Burgon, JW 1896 The Causes of the corruption of the traditional text of the holy gospels Lon: George Bell, pp. 196-197.