“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

The Problem

Romans 5:1 is our next textual problem study. As will be the case most of the time in this series, this verse makes the list because it contains a variant that is both viable (it has a chance of representing the original) and significant (it changes the meaning to some degree).

Romans 5:1 reads in the NA27 (the standard Greek critical text of the New Testament):

Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως εἰρήνην [ἔχομεν] πρὸς τὸν θεὸν διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Therefore, having been justified by faith [we have] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Chri

Brackets have been added to show where the variant lies. As you can see, the NA27 has ἔχομεν (echomen) which is the first person plural present active indicative of ἔχώ (echo) meaning “we have”. This reads, “we have peace with God”.  But the earliest and most respected manuscripts (Aleph, B, C, D, K, L, 33, 81, 630, 1175, 1739, pm lat bo) have the subjunctive mood ἔχώμεν (echomen) meaning “Let us have”. See the difference? It is only the later manuscripts (Aleph1, B3, F, G, P, Y, 0220vid, 104, 365, 1241, 1505, 1506, 1739c, 1881, 2464, pm) that contain the reading opted for in NA27.

I would give a parallel list of the English translations, but every English translation that I know of opts for the indicative “we have”. There are variations, however, in some Greek translations. While all three eclectic texts (Greek texts that draw from all available manuscript evidence; USB4, NA27, SBL GNT) have the indicative, both Tischendorf NT (8th Ed; 1872) and Wescott and Hort (1881), who primarily used the great Alexandrian manuscripts (Aleph, B), have the subjunctive, “let us have”. As well, if I remember correctly Harold Hohner believed the subjunctive was original.

Significance

As I excitedly told some people at the Credo House about this problem I was writing on, they looked at me somewhat confused and said, “So. What difference does that make?” First, there is the obvious issue of doctrine. If the subjunctive is preferred, it may be the case that having peace with God involves our effort that comes subsequent to faith. Therefore, there may be something Christians must do in order to have this peace. This could imply a works based salvation and a type of justification that does not solve the enmity that we have with God. If the indicative is preferred, then peace with God is something that justification by faith produces.

However, as we will see, this is one of those rare cases where the later variant is preferred to the earliest manuscripts. This makes it significant in that it illustrates how internal evidence is sometimes preferred to external. It also illustrates how scholars behind the eclectic text do not always follow the Alexandrian type manuscripts (as is often the charge).

The Solution

You may be questioning the viability of this variant since none of the English translations choose the subjunctive. This is a valid question, but, remember, I included this primarily because of how it demonstrates the importance of internal evidence.

Since these textual critical studies are new to many of you, let us review. When looking for a solution to these type of problems, we must look at both external and internal evidence. External evidence has to do with the dating and distribution of the manuscripts. Internal evidence has to do with, among other things, the context of the passage, the viability of possible mistakes, and the character of the author.

 External Evidence

The external evidence is decidedly in favor of the subjunctive “let us have”. Again, it is represented in the earliest and most respected manuscripts. But the indicative does have its share of support. If you are a careful reader, you notice that listed in support of the indicative, “we have,” were Aleph1 and B3. The subscripts on these indicate that there was a scribe who believed the reading was wrong and corrected it sometime later. As the NET Bible says, “the first set of correctors is sometimes, if not often, of equal importance with the original hand”. As well, the indicative has a wide distribution, being evidenced in Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine text-types. And geographical distribution is a weighty factor (so long as it is evidenced early enough). Nevertheless, as Metzger says in his Textual Commentary on the New Testament, the subjunctive has “far better external support” (452).

Internal Support

Sometimes (though, certainly not always) the reading that makes better sense is preferred. For example, if you were to read this, “Atheists say God is now here”, you may think it is rather odd. So odd that you would look for a typo or alternate reading. If later copies of this had “Atheists say God is no where”, you would prefer this due to its accuracy. You may attribute the error to a wrong division of words (fusion). The reading GODISNOWHERE could go either way. Which one makes more sense? It is internal evidence that will cast a decisive vote, even when the earlier reading goes the other way.

It is the same here with Paul in Romans 5:1. The indicative is a better option since it makes more sense considering Paul’s argument and Pauline theology. In chapters 1 through 11 of Roman, Paul is not exhorting his readers, but indicating facts (Metzger, 452). Therefore, an exhortation concerning finding peace with God would not make much sense here (Cranfield, Romans [ICC], Vol 1, p. 257). In chapter 12, the subjunctives and imperatives increase as Paul’s argument has changed from what God has done to what we are to do. As well, it is clear in many other places that Paul believes peace with God is something that, for the Christians, is already accomplished (Romans 1:7, 5:1;  2 Cor. 5:8; Col 1:20).

It is difficult to explain this variant as an intentional change. An unintentional error seems likely. The variant may have been produced by something we call a “homophony”. This is where the scribe was copying the passage by voice rather than sight. The letters that distinguish the indicative from the subjunctive are the omicron and omega and they were pronounced alike in ancient Greek.

While Metzger’s commentary opts for the indicative and gives it an “A” as far as certainty, it is probably more like a B.

Hope you enjoyed this post.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    15 replies to "Textual Problem Study: Romans 5:1"

    • jonathan

      Wow…..I really did enjoy this post. I am going to go back and read the previous!

      This type of study (textual criticism) was a universe away from me, until I read this. You did an excellent job of bringing it down to earth for the uneducated!

      Thank you.

    • jonathan

      I did have to read some of it out loud because there was a lot of new words and stuff though……subjunctive, indicative and such.

    • Steve

      Excellent summary, Michael. Keep up the good work.

    • veryrarelystable

      > I would give a parallel list of the English translations, but every English translation that I know of opts for the indicative “we have”.

      I thought I’d check out some “likely suspects” to see if this holds up universally. First on my list, the English Revised Version, as this follows the WH text quite slavishly, and you had indicated the WH reading. Sure enough, it’s an exception to your rule. The American equivalent (ASV) however does follow your rule.

      Then the New English Bible is my second exception to your rule. But its successor (the Revised English Bible) is back in agreement with your line.

      Finally, I took a look at the Jehovah’s Witness’ New World Translation, which also often follows the WH text (I doubt the translators had any particular skill in textual criticism). Indeed, it too is an exception to your take on it.

      So my count is 3 exceptions, but to be fair I checked out a few others as well, and I couldn’t find any that were particularly up-to-date. Many translations do, though, mention the subjunctive reading in a footnote with something like, “many manuscripts read…”

    • John

      I really enjoyed this post. It causes me to dig deeper yet again. And to check other scriptures. I appreciate this very much.

    • Jeff Ayers

      This type of study begs the question:

      Where and/ or what is the final authority for the Christian?

      Is there one single final authority for ALL matters of FAITH AND DOCTRINE?

      Lip service is often made to the “Bible” being the FINAL AUTHORITY… but then, the “Bible” they refer to is:
      1. The orginal MSS that NO LONGER exist.
      2. A preponderance of the verses as they are found in the 1,000’s of extand MSS’s.
      3. One of many greek texts, that do not agree with each other (but supposedly do not disagree on any major doctrine–whatever that means)
      4. The greek text used by the professor who “interprets” the text for us, since we can only find the authorial intent as found in greek gramar, lexicons and 8-case exegesis.

      While I am willing to see what the 56+ extent greek texts have to say on any given verse (i.e. any of the 23 TR’s, UBS’s 4 editions, tischendorf’s, Scrivener’s, NA’ 27 editions etc.

      The Bible that I hold in my hands is what I consider to be the FINAL AUTHORITY…IT is inerrant, infallible, verbal, plenary, jot and tittle perfect book.

      What a comfort to not be on the slippery slope of always having to ask “I know what the KJB text says, but I wonder what the greek says about it.”

    • C Michael Patton

      Not that I agree with your rather pessimistic view, I would further your disillusionment with this: We have an inerrant word, but do we have an inerrant interpretation?

      So those in your camp (and I assume it is KJV only—which is riddled with its own manuscript issues) have your cake but you cannot eat it due to the fact that your faith falls short of being inerrant since we don’t have any inerrant interpreters. I guess the only option for you, to be consistent in your quest for absolute certainty, is to go Roman Catholic.

    • Jeff Ayers

      Is is difficult to see the point of your pejorative insult.

      “to be consistent” I must “go Roman Catholic”?

      The catholics neither have a book they can hold in their hands as an innerrant infallible preserved scripture, nor an interpretation of the same.

      ex cathedra infallibility is not in the same class or genus of the preservation of the scriptures and its ultimate translation of the preserved text into my language.

      why must you scoff at someone who actually BELIEVES WHAT MOST GIVE ONLY LIP SERVICE TO?

      The same pastor who says “The Bible is the perfect word of God”, while holding a KJB in his hand in the pulpit, and then in private say that “no translation is perfect and only the originals are without error.” is at best a confused soul and at worst a self deluded liar.

      My position on the preservation of the scriptures in both the original languages and through the God honored text of the KJB is neither Pessimistic nor catholic.

      God never promised to provide inerrant interpretters (although he did promise to guide us into all truth, and we have an unction from the Holy one etc.) but he DID promise to PRESERVE HIS WORD and WORDS (and jots and tittles)…..

      My faith does not “fall short”, rather I have an emboldened faith in BELIEVING BIBLE STUDY…. I will continue to STUDY to shew myself approved unto GOD and to rightly divide the word of truth, in order to attempt my “inerrant translation” of his Perfect and Preserved text!!!!!!

      BTW I know that being justified by faith WE HAVE PEACE with God through our lord Jesus Christ…
      FPP PAI ….. I do not need to strive to have peace with God, after I am justified, in some personal effort.

      Having said all this….. as noted before: I count you not as enemy, but admonish you as a brother…. I love your site, your efforts and your articles… Thank God for you and your ministry

    • […] letters may or may not have been edited to produce the form in which we know them today. Michael Patton discussed textual issues in Romans 5:1. Mike Kok introduced redaction criticism. The British Library posted about the New Testament in […]

    • casey

      Jeff,

      Why do you think that the TR was the only “right” Greek text out of all the other manuscripts available to the churchat that time?

      Even the TR was created from six Greek manuscripts that differed from each other in some ways and were ultimately incomplete (he used the Latin Vulgate to fill in a few holes).

      But even if you don’t accept that last bit, what made Erasmus’ TR “the” only good Greek text out of hundreds of others available at the time?

    • Jeff Ayers

      Casey,
      The reason for the superiority of the TR over “all the other MSS available” is evidenced at such websites as:

      http://www.deanburgonsociety.org/;

      http://av1611.com/kjbp/articles/waite-fourfold1.html

      and http://www.trinitarianbiblesociety.org/site/articles/tr-art.pdf

      Your “facts” are so inaccurate about the TR and the translation of the KJB, that they evidence your bias toward people who are less than scholarly, if not outright clueless, on this subject.

      The TR was NOT “created from 6 MSS”, but rather collated from thousands of early and late MSS based derived from the majority of the texts.

      Erasmus TR’s are NOT the basis for the KJB; however, one of the most important editions of the Textus Receptus is the Beza edition of 1598. This edition, in addition to the Stephens 1550 and 1551 editions, was used as the Greek basis of the Authorised Version of 1611.

      Thanks for the comments, please give yourself the opportunity to find the truth regarding this critical issue.

      Jeff Ayers

    • Mike

      It is easy to comment (wrongly) on just a porton of scripture. You hace failed in that this scripture sums up Pauls writings in chapters one through four. He does not indicate whatsoever that man has to do anything to be justified. His whole commentary is based on faith. I didn’t see where you addressed this. Too, there are only two “english”‘translatioms that are an accurate word for word translation of the greek. These are the KJV and the ASV. Please don’t take scripture out of contex. The greek for “havining been” is eros perfect which can only mean an individual “we” to be true.

    • Jim McClain

      In trying to follow your rule that sometimes the reading that makes the most sense is preferred over the better textual evidence, I have run into some problems when reading the passage in the indicative:

      1. Since justification is peace with God, in the indicative the verse would nonsensically read, “Since we have peace with God, we have peace with God.”
      2. Verse 3 would be stating something that is not generally true. We who claim justification by faith do not as a general rule “exult in our tribulations.”

      On the other hand, when I read it with the subjunctive translation “let us have,” then the passage means something like, ‘Since we have peace with God, let us have his peace rule in our hearts experientially, despite life’s sufferings.’ It is only when we are reminded that God who made peace with us works all things together for good that we are able to rejoice in our sufferings. Therefore, “since we have peace with God… let us rejoice in our tribulation” makes much more sense.

      If 5:1-3 are commands, “let us have,” they also become a much more fitting conclusion for what Paul has just said (“Therefore…”). Since we are able to obey such commands only by crediting God’s promises, we then see how it was written “for our sakes” that Abraham’s faith was a confident “hope” (4:19) that God would keep his promises. And so Paul is urging us, “therefore,” to emulate the faith of this man who, against the darkness of visible circumstances, nevertheless rejoiced in the way God would glorify himself by fulfilling his promise to him (Rom. 4:18-22).

    • Julie

      Wouldn’t subjunctive be more accurately translated “that we might have”? Seems like a reading of “let us have” would belong to hortative.

    • Hruaikima Reang

      Is our theological presupposition led us to hold that verb as an indicative mood? if it so, I think we have to reconsider once again and see what does really it means? There is no wrong to hold it as subjunctive mood also. Any way, thanks to you all those who explained on this issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.