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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hangin' with 'the brothers'--The NIV and John 2:12

As I've mentioned before in this series on translation, there is a glaring exception to the NNIV's general policy of using search-and-replace to add 'and sisters' to every mention of 'brothers' in the NT: Jesus' siblings, which are never so mentioned.

Our most recent example of such is in John 2:12--

NIV '73 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. Here they stayed for a few days.

NIV '78, '84, '01, '11 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

So, this verse got attention in the very first NIV revision, when the entire Bible was published. But none since. Interestingly, there is a textual problem in this verse--one that does come through in the various translations--

Jerusalem Bible
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and the brothers, but they stayed only a few days.

You see, very early on in the history of the Bible, the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary took a strong hold among those who read it--and those who copied it. Thus it came about that certain passages in the gospels were altered to, on the one hand, downplay the possibility that Mary had any other children, and, on the other hand, to present Joseph as Jesus' father, so as to equate the possibilities of him parenting Jesus and his "brothers." The Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic translation, goes probably the farthest in subsuming the disciples themselves into a band of "brothers" (despite wide textual variation in this verse, no manuscript that leaves out 'disciples' has 'the brothers').

The reigning Greek text in 1973 was NA26, a.k.a. UBS-2. This text follows the Perpetualist manuscripts in leaving out the 'his' with 'brothers,' but the CBT's translation philosophy allowed them to translate in such a way as to not disclose which text they were following. This textual decision was never reconsidered, either by the compilers of the two subsequent Greek texts, or the latest two iterations of the CBT.

Apparently a commitment to the handful of NT manuscripts (p66*, p75, B, L, Psi, 0141, 0162, 1071) that follow the Perpetualist line so ruled the retention of this verse as-is that the CBT never considered the possibility that, in addition to his still-virgin mother and his stepbrothers, Jesus hung out in Capernaum with at least one of his stepsisters as well.

I guess the CBT felt that their place was back home in Nazareth. Just hangin' around.


  1. One of man's greatest sins is trying "improve" on God's Word and God's work.

  2. This is a detail I had never noticed. I guess I get so frustrated with the New Living Translation that I can't see beyond it.

    Grace and peace.

  3. Hooray, the latest recension of the NLT reads the Traditional Text here:

    After the wedding he went to Capernaum for a few days with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples.

  4. And, the ESV, which "takes out the Thee and Thou but leaves in the He and She," has the obligatory footnote here, as in most of the cases where the NNIV adds 'and sisters,' that "depending on the context, adelphoi can refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings"


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