The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Alright guys, so if you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of different versions of the Bible out there, each one slightly different from the next. Most of the time those differences between bibles aren’t earth-shattering and just amount to different methods of translation and phraseology. The end result, as far as the ultimate meaning goes, is pretty consistent. That said, there are also some differences that are more significant, that do change the meaning of the text — and I’m not just talking about the 1631 Bible where printers forgot to print the “not” in “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. In this episode, I just wanted to introduce you to one more complex example for you to take home and mull over for a while. I think it can help refine our paradigm of what scripture is, and perhaps what it is not.

Alright so let’s take a closer look at a verse from arguably the most important sermon ever given in the history of the world. The words of Christ from the Sermon on the Mount. Specifically, Matthew 5:22. Here’s what the King James Version says:

“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” Here’s what the English Standard Version, or ESV, says: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…” 

Did you notice anything different between these two versions? In one of these, you’re not supposed to get angry at all. In the other, it’s OK to get angry if you have a good reason for it. They teach two very different things, and I don’t see a way for them both to be correct at the same time. So which one is it? This isn’t a meaningless textual difference. Both versions agree that judgment is at stake. Both of these versions of the Bible are very popular and have been revered by Christians as the word of God for a long time. But one of them gets the words of Christ in this verse wrong. So, which one is right?

We don’t have any of the original manuscripts of anything found in the Bible today, so we don’t know what the original said. The oldest manuscript we do have is Papyrus 67, which omits “without a cause”; thus, you shouldn’t get angry at all. That said, scholars Daniel Judd and Allen Stoddard (whose work I’m using a lot in this episode) compiled a list of the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of Matthew 5:22, and most of them do include “without a cause.”

The debate over the correct reading dates back to the early Christian fathers themselves. The fourth-century Catholic priest who translated the Latin Vulgate Bible, Jerome, said, “…in the authentic codices the statement is unqualified and anger is completely forbidden, for if we are commanded to pray for those who persecute us, every occasion for anger is eliminated. ‘Without a cause’ then should be deleted…”

The Catholic bishop John Chrysostom, who lived at the same time as Jerome, disagreed, saying that “…he who is angry with cause will not be guilty, for without anger, teaching will be ineffective, judgments unstable, crimes unchecked.” Like early biblical manuscripts, early Christian fathers were divided on the issue. Early English translations also didn’t agree. And as mentioned previously,  the English translations we have today also do not all agree, though today the vast majority have removed “without a cause.”

Scholar Bruce Metzger wrote that “Although the reading with [“without a cause”] is widespread from the second century onwards, it is much more likely that the word was added by copyists in order to soften the rigor of the precept, than omitted as unnecessary.” In other words, this could be an example of someone messing with the Bible. That said, if “without a cause” shouldn’t be there, and it’s wrong to get angry at all, then was it wrong for Jesus to be angry in Mark 3:5? What about righteous anger? Scholar David Alan Black argues that this Matthew 5:22 question is still an open one. Now, my goal in this video is not to tell you which version is correct. I just want to dip your toes into some of this complexity and get you thinking.

For example, does this Matthew 5:22 issue pose a problem for the idea of Biblical inerrancy, or the idea that there are no errors in the Bible? Well from a Latter-day Saint perspective this isn’t a problem because we don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy. Our 8th Article of Faith teaches, “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly….” We do consider the Bible to be inspired scripture, but we also believe that it was written, translated, transcribed, and transmitted by fallible human beings. So we do leave room for potential errors. Interestingly, while the KJV Bible, which Latter-day Saints use, does contain the phrase “without a cause,” this phrase is not found when Christ repeats this sermon to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. It’s also eliminated in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Latter-day Saints are grateful for additional scripture like the Book of Mormon which, among other things, helps to clarify and corroborate what is taught in the Bible.

This Matthew 5:22 debacle also may not be a problem for those who do believe in biblical inerrancy, because as I understand it, inerrancy technically only applies to the original manuscripts of the Bible — not to the Bible in your hands today. One popular Evangelical platform reports, “So far as the original autographs have been faithfully copied, translated, and passed down, Scripture is inerrant in its copies.” Of course, again, we don’t have any of those original manuscripts, so it’s impossible to verify that claim. In my mind, that sort of throws a wrench into the whole concept. That said, the idea is that we do have a large quantity of very old manuscripts from different times and places, which largely agree with each other, so we can be confident that what we have today is likely fairly true to the originals. 

But when it comes to the Bible, the fact is that the text is sometimes not always as squeaky clean and clear-cut as we’d like it to be. Sometimes there’s more to the story — more information that may or may not challenge and hopefully refine your paradigm of what scripture is and perhaps is not. There are things you might need to prayerfully chew on for a while. And on that note, if you want to dive deeper into this topic, check out the resources in the YouTube description, and have a great day!


Learning More:

  • “Adding and Taking Away ‘Without a Cause’ in Matthew 22,” by Daniel K. Judd and Allen W. Stoddard (BYU Studies):
  • “Jesus on Anger: The Text of Matthew 5:22a Revisited,” by David Alan Black: 

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