Part 2

by Yuri Kuchinsky

This information was posted in Dec. 2003.
Here's a link to Part 1 of this article.

Greetings, all,

Now, in the second part of this article, I will provide some more support for my reconstruction of the history of this passage based on the work of other scholars, such as WL Petersen. In actual fact, this passage of Mt 19:16-17 is rather famous by now, because it has already been discussed in academic literature for some time, as well as on the Net (as we shall see below).

There is a fundamental question that will need to be considered at this point, What value should early patristic evidence have in Textual Criticism? This question, of course, goes far beyond our present case of Mt 19:16-17 -- it is of great significance for Textual Criticism of the New Testament, as a whole.

All too often, we see the defenders of the standard Egyptian text trying to generally dismiss the value of patristic evidence, or to minimise it in various ways -- which is, I think, extremely misguided.

Of course, there's no great mystery as to why they would want to do this -- the answer is very simple there... Quite simply, early patristic evidence goes directly against the idea that the Egyptian text was the earliest gospel text.

In fact, it's already been known for a long time that, to all intents and purposes, every one of the early Church fathers cites his gospels according to what is known as "Western text". So this clearly seems like one of the biggest Achilles' Hills for the Egyptian text priority theory. (There's a lot more on this subject in some other articles on my webpage, as well.)

Of course, it must be admitted that there are also some dangers in accepting the patristic witnesses uncritically. There are clearly some difficulties that one may encounter when working with such evidence, and they will be considered in more detail in the material that follows. Often, the early fathers tend to cite their gospels with what may seem as amazing freedom... But when two or more fathers from different parts of the world agree on some unusual, non-canonical wording of a particular gospel passage, we must sit up and listen. We have no right to dismiss such phenomena with a wave of the hand...

And in so far as the Byzantine text supporters go, often their attitude towards the patristic evidence is not much better than that of the Egyptian text supporters. Yes, the Byzantine folks do try to appeal to patristic evidence from time to time, but this only seems to go so far... As we saw in Part 1 of this article, Dr. Hills did cite some important patristic evidence to buttress his case, but his citations were a bit too short, one must say...

It is true that, quite often, the citations from early fathers do sound somewhat Byzantine, but since, in general, "Western" and Byzantine texts are so often very similar, one needs to be quite careful about such things, and study each passage individually, checking all the earliest manuscripts for supporting evidence.


In recent English-language scholarship, WL Petersen has been perhaps the most active defender of patristic evidence. So the following long article that he posted to TC-List would be a very worthwhile reading for anyone interested in these issues (and Petersen also discusses this same evidence recently in a number of professionally published articles of his),

From: William L. Petersen (Jun 12, 1996)

In this rather eloquent defence of patristic evidence, Petersen is saying that patristic quotes have been unjustly neglected by most modern textual critics. And it seems like the reasons for this have been primarily political -- since these patristic quotes tend to expose the problems with the Egyptian text!

So here are some quotes, especially in reference to those very important citations from Justin Martyr,


The "apparently" odd (= non-standard) citations of the gospels by Justin were variously attributed to

-- lapses of memory (so Semisch in 1848),
-- use of extra-canonical gospels (so Credner in 1832),
-- use of pre-synoptic traditions (so Bousset in 1891),
-- dependence upon a post-synoptic harmony (so von Engelhardt in 1878), etc.

The conclusion from all of these dismissive statements was that "Justin's text need not be taken seriously." I beg to differ. ...

... many contemporary scholars seem to have no idea of what has been done by people like Alfred Resch, Bousset, Schmidtke and others in the last century. Permit me to quote F.C. Burkitt:

"[Clement of Alexandria's gospel citations] cut off the only channel by which we might have thought to connect the 'non-Western' text, as an organic whole, with apostolic times. With Clement's evidence before us, we must recognise that the earliest texts of the Gospels were fundamentally 'Western' in every country of which we have knowledge, even in Egypt. If we have any real trust in antiquity, any real belief in the continuity of Christian tradition, we must be prepared to admit many 'Western' readings as authentic, as alone having a historical claim to originality."
... I know that these empirical findings clash with the pet theories of the Westcott-Hort crowd, as well as the Byzantine crowd... on the other hand, facts are facts.

... we only charge "loose citation" when the Father ("particularly...the earliest"!!) doesn't agree with OUR text; do the later Fathers cite "more accurately" because they actually cite more accurately, or just because they have a text which is closer to ours? (This is too cute a circular argument: let the evidence be your guide.)


And, of course, in this article, Petersen also analyses the very same passage of Mt 19:16-17! He provides some additional textual evidence there as well.

But, to be sure, I also don't necessarily agree with Bill Petersen about everything... In fact, for this particular case of Mt 19:16-17, he seems to be saying that what Justin cited for this passage was the original version of it... Whereas, in my own reconstruction, this was actually Stage 3 in the development of this passage!

In the article cited above, Petersen also asks,

"Anyone have an EARLIER version of this passage, from ANY source? I'm waiting..."
Well... I do! <grin>

And my sources are three in number, as listed already -- Aphrahat, Latin Origen, and the Magdalene Gospel!

So it would be my general opinion that the Big Puzzle of our earliest texts is even bigger and more complex than even Bill Petersen may suppose... He didn't go far enough in his analysis, that's what!

All the best,


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