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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

"Let your light so shine . . . "

I was visiting a nearby local church last Sunday, and the minister asked the congregation to suggest how to resolve an apparent contradiction between two sayings of Jesus in Matthew 5 and 6. The first saying is in Mat 5:16:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Compare this with Mat. 6:6 . . .
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Open prayer

In the second quotation, Jesus asks the disciples to keep their prayers secret behind closed doors. The same applies to giving money to the needy, or fasting to strengthen their link with God. However, in the first (Mat. 5:16) Jesus says that the disciples should do good works openly for God, because this glorifies God when others see and know God is at work in them, and so they praise God for them.

The implied assumption here is that prayer, and giving and fasting are all ways of letting our light shine before men. However, is this true? William Kelly, commenting on this verse, says the light which shines before men is our confession of Christ as Saviour and Lord:

This light is what comes from Christ. It is not, Let your good works shine before men. When people talk about this verse thinking of their own works, they are generally not good works at all; but even if they were, works are not light. Light is that which comes from God, without admixture of man. Good works are the fruit of its action upon the soul; but it is the light which is to shine before men. It is the confession of Christ that is the point before God. It is not merely certain things to be done. The light shining is the great object here, though doing good ought to flow from it. If I make doing good everything, it is a lower thought than that which is before the mind of God. An infidel can feel that a shivering man needs a coat or a blanket. The natural man may be fully alive to the wants of others; but if I merely take these works and make them the prominent aim, I really do nothing more than an unbeliever might. . . . This is what the Lord warns the saints against. They are not to be thinking about their works, but that the light of God should shine. . . . . Let your confession of what God is in His nature and of what Christ is in His own person and ways — let your acknowledgment of Him be the thing that is felt by and brought before men; and then, when they see your good works, they will glorify your Father which is in heaven. Instead of saying, What a good man such a one is, they will glorify God on his behalf — connecting what you do with your confession of Christ.

A mutilated sermon?

It is disappointing to see the critical Greek Text has excised three times the word “openly” from Jesus’ words (vss. 4, 6, and 18). Other passages in Matthew 5-7 get similar treatment. Jesus certainly is contrasting here, between a secret gift and a public reward, (1)

Leave the word “openly” in, and it is readily seen that Jesus is referring to the effects of “giving with simplicity” (Rom 12:8), both in this life and the next.

Others [who give secretly] shall have their reward from God, who seeth in secret and so needeth not such a publication of our good deeds; and he will reward them openly before men and angels at the last day, chapter xxv. 31, 32, 34, and ordinarily in this life, Psa. xxxvii.25; xli.1; xcii. 9,10. (2)

The entire context of the Sermon on the Mount has this eschatological perspective in mind. The Kingdom is present in Jesus, the open manifestation of that kingdom is future (Matt 6:10). Meanwhile the disciples are to expect it, to look for its in-breaking and get ready to be members of it:

Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

In this context, the coming reward is real and public (Mat 5:12), and is offered as a motive (6:1) for action (“reward” is mentioned seven times in ch. 6). In Mat. 16:27 the reward is given in the presence of others. The reason for offering a reward as an incentive is to offset the cost and sacrifice involved, from which the disciple naturally and honestly shrinks. Jesus’ own personal reward (Heb 12:2) was the joyful prospect of union and communion with those the Father had given him (John 17:24) – for that reason He endured the cross, despising the shame . . . Likewise, the disciples are sustained by the prospect of a reward in Luke 6: 23 35:

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest:

Here in Luke 6:35 there’s a distinction between “hoping for nothing again” and “your [coming] great reward.” The cost of unconditional love can be very great, and may be accompanied by loneliness and misunderstanding. But the ultimate prospect of vindication and reward on that Day (a public day before angels and men) makes it more than worthwhile. Rev 11:18 and 22:12 abundantly prove the eschatological perspective of the New Testament:

. . . and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great;
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Rev 22:12 12

Has the critical Greek text taken away from God’s words?

The critical Text (UBS) omits the word “openly” on all three occasions (6:4, 6, 18). Why did some scribe omit “openly,” when copying the Text in front of him? Had not Jesus said:

Luk 8:17 For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.

However, uppermost in the scribe’s mind is the question, why would Jesus offer public reward as an incentive, if he has already denied it as a valid motive for action? He thought it was incongruous for Jesus to have said ‘do it secretly,’ while in the same breath saying, ‘you will be praised afterwards, when it becomes publicly known.’ We are the victims of such arrogance where the scribe tampers with the Text, thinking he knows better than the Manuscript (MS) in front of him. Was not the Holy Spirit as keen to preserve every word God breathed out, as He was to communicate it in the first place – with an infallible correctness? Your answer to this question will be ‘No!’ if the Critical Text’s departure from what the Churches have always believed (until the year 1881)is a sound and reliable approach to Scripture. But, ‘yes’ would be a more logical expression of God-honouring faith, rather than ‘No!’ Was the scribe dealing with God’s Word dependent on the power and wisdom of the Spirit in doing his work, or was he intruding his own natural wisdom on to the Text? Was Prof. Hort also so dealing with the Text?!

The evidence supports "openly"

There are over 2000 complete Greek MSS of Matthew’s Gospel. (3) Over 90% of these MSS representing every age of the Church have the words “openly” in (verses 4 and 6). Likewise. there are 500 Greek lectionaries (Daily Service Manuals for public reading of Scripture) and they uniformly have the word “openly” in. It is found in most of the Versions, including the Armenian, the Ethiopic, the Gothic, the Slavic. It is found in the Syriac MSS from an early date. Sheer weight of numbers surely is one significant (if not deciding) factor, in weighing up evidence.

Prof. FJA Hort.

If different witnesses in a court of Law, many from different parts of the world, speaking different languages, and agreeing in their testimony to the exact wording of someone’s statement – are these all to be marginalised, for the sake of a few putatively delinquent MSS?!

The effect of omitting “openly” is debilitating. It perhaps limits the reward to a 1-1 commendation between God and the giver, or with the pray-er, or with the one fasting. Yet the Kingdom parables are not presented as private affairs, any more than was the later teaching of the apostles Paul and John, when describing the judgement seat of Christ, when rewards and punishment will be handed out. Jesus will later go on to tell some parables which make precisely that point – rewards will be public. For example,

Mat 25:22 Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.

So with the parable of the pounds,

Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. Luke 19:16-17

Hardly a private reward!

Critical grounds for omitting “openly.”

The Bible Society editors are confident that “openly ‘was an addition by some scribe, not an omission from the original Text.

Bruce Metzger says:
The phrase en to phanero, which is absent from the earliest witnesses of the Alexandrian, Western, pre-Caesarean, and Egyptian types of texts, appears to have been added by copyists in order to make more explicit an antithetic parallelism with the preceding phrase en to krupto. The point in the whole section, however, is not so much the openness of the Father’s reward as its superiority to mere human approval (compare verses 6 and 18) (4)

Let’s look critically at Metzger’s argument for the omission:

He rightly says the earliest witnesses of the Alexandrian texts Codex B and ALEPH omit it. For most textual critics, still enamoured of Prof. Hort’s theories - which have been shown by Dean John Burgon to be flimsy (5) - this is often enough to make suspect any textual reading which contradicts them. However, these manuscripts so beloved of Hort and Tischendorf, are shown to be untrustworthy witnesses to the original text, despite their great age (Burgon calls these MSS “liars”).

Dean John Burgon

The witnesses ALEPH and B show a far greater number of disagreements between each other, than do the way other MSS interrelate, - between the two they show over 3000 non-trivial disagreements, in the four Gospels alone. Would you trust two witnesses in a court of law who could not agree their testimony in important details, more than 3000 times! Indeed, you would probably trust neither of them! Yet Westcott and Hort put these two MSS both on a pedestal and in consequence ruled the great majority of dissenting witnesses out of court.

An older manuscript is no more a superior testimony to accurate transmisson than are the words of an older person, who bears witness to facts on a witness stand. We might even say it’s inferior testimony, if the witness shows internal inconsistency in what he says. Which is exactly what Cod. B and ALEPH do between them, in thousands of places.

The Western text Metzger mentions is divided in its testimony. Many Old Latin MSS have “openly” in, and even fewer of them have it omitted. Nevertheless, because the Latin Vulgate left it out, the UBS editors seem to assume that is prima facie evidence that Jerome (editor of the Vulgate) found it omitted from the earlier MSS he was using to edit the Text. But, what if he found it as much in as it was out, so he had to make his own decision. Does that make his decision correct?

The pre-Caesarean texts mentioned are not worthy of trust above any other MS. This is because their supposed distinctiveness is based on the existence of a Caesarean Text-type. Yet the existence of the latter is so poorly established, it caused one textual critic - who had published his critical labours in learn-ed journals - to abandon the whole idea, and to seriously question the very existence of Text-types, period! Edward Hills came to believe he had been chasing a chimera, and that it was better to return in faith to the Received Text of the Reformers, and believe that God had so providentially and supernaturally guided those (Erasmus and others) who had given us the first printed Text, that we should trust its wording completely. (6) He who had preserved all His words down through the centuries would not abandon that preservative work in detail, at a crucial moment in the history of transmission of the original Text.

Desiderius Erasmus

The “Egyptian texts” mentioned refers to Coptic MSS which uniformly leave it out (four of them). But, when was anything emanating from Egypt to be relied on? What! The home and fountain head of Gnosticism, remote from the biblical sites, and to which no apostle wrote any NT letter.

Metzger says, “The point in the whole section however, is not so much the openness of the Father’s reward as its superiority to mere human approval (compare verses 6 and 18)"

This comment has no force whatsoever, if the external evidence for omitting the word “openly” is flimsily based. As a comment, it assumes the critical text is correct, and then extrapolates from that.

However, I have shown from various New Testament quotations, that Jesus was very concerned to teach the disciples the difference between behaviour reflecting the hiddenness of the Messianic kingdom (which is present in the physical person of Jesus), and the results of that behaviour, when the Kingdom is finally and openly manifested to the world at the last Day. In such a context, it is only right for the disciples to express their faith in Jesus as Messiah in a secret fashion, whereas Daniel prayed conspicuously at an open window! (Dan. 6:10) One day all will see just who Jesus is, and bow the knee. Meanwhile the disciples must be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Mat 10:16)

(1) Stott, John R.W. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, The Bible Speaks Today, Lon: IVP. p. 131. Dr. Stott disagrees here.
(2) Poole, Matthew, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Banner of Truth.
(3) Aland, Kurt, (1981/1985) The Text of the New Testament, An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, MI: Eerdmans. P. 83
(4) Metzger, Bruce M. (1971/75) A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Lon: UBS. P. 15
(5) Burgon, J.W. (1883) The Revision Revised, PA: Conservative Classics, pp. 258 - 262
(6) Hills, Edward F. (1979) The King James Version Defended, IO: Christian Research Press.