What did Peter Say? [Mis]-Adventures in Textual Criticism

([Geek alert]: This post is for people interested in understanding what the actual words that were written down when a New Testament writer penned them to papyri.  For the rest of you who avidly read this blog this will be a snooze fest.  You have been warned)

“Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”” (John 6:68–69 ESV)

There is some difficulty in ascertaining what Peter actually said [or rather what John actually wrote that he said] in the words in bold.  As the NET Bible notes comment: “The witnesses display a bewildering array of variants here.”  What are those variants?  I’m glad you didn’t asked.  Here are some of the other readings biblical scholars have found:

  • the Christ – Tertullian
  • the Christ, the son of God – various papyri and manuscripts
  • the son of God – two manuscripts
  • the Christ the son of the living God – Byzantine text
  • the Christ, the Holy One of God – a few manuscripts

How do scholars figure out which words were actually written by John?  They make their best guess based on the evidence.  The words in the ESV: you are the Holy One of God, are well supported by the majority of the papyri and documents.

The point is that in cases like these, one compiles all the evidence and then makes a judgment call based upon that evidence.

Here’s the thing, and this is true about most of the cases in the New Testament in which the exact wording differs among manuscripts.  Even if the scholars got it wrong and John really wrote one of the other statements, it doesn’t change the meaning at all.  Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, the one whom God had promised to send to deliver his people, and that is important here.

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