Mark 1:4

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John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. (ASV)



Transmission Error = "John the Baptizer" is not original

Summary of Error

"John the Baptizer" is the reading in about half of the Bibles where "baptizer" is a title. Textual Criticism though indicates that the definite article part of the phrase, "ὁ", is likely not original. Without the definite article the "baptizer" part of the phrase is likely just a verb so the phrase becomes "John was baptizing".

Detailed Argument

"John the Baptizer" is the reading in about half of the Bibles

A review of English Bibles at:

Bible Gateway

shows that about half of the popular bibles and half of all bibles have "John the Baptist".

Textual Criticism

Bruce Metzger/Bart Ehrman give the majority textual criticism opinion as follows:

     "1:4      [ὁ] βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καί {C}
In view of the predominant usage in the Synoptic Gospels of referring to John as “the Baptist” (ὁ βαπτιστής occurs in Mk 6:25 and 8:28, as well as seven times in Matthew and three times in Luke), it is easier to account for the addition than for the deletion of the definite article before βαπτίζων. The omission of καί in a few Alexandrian witnesses is the result of taking ὁ βαπτίζων as a title. p 63"

Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (p. 62). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

Translation = Implication of a minimum of quality external evidence for with and without ("ὁ" = "the"). Explicitly, the Internal evidence (difficult reading principle) favors without. Secondary observation that related textual variation of with and without "καί" (and) for External evidence with "ὁ" also supports no "ὁ" in original.

Expansion of Textual Criticism with Laparola:

"ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ] ‭א L Δ 205 1342 copbo geo1 slavms (NA [ὁ]) TILC = with "ὁ" and "καὶ"
ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ] B 33 2427 pc copbo(mss) WH NR Riv Nv NM = with "ὁ"
βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ] A E F G H K Pvid W Π Σ f1 f13 180 565 579 1006 1009 1010 1071 1079 1195 1216 1230 1241 1242 1243 1253 1292 1344 1365 1424 1505 1546 1646 2148 2174 Byz Lect (l751) (l1074) itf syrh syrpal (copsa omit καὶ) goth arm eth slavmss ς (CEI) (Dio) = with "καὶ"
βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ] 892 = without
ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ βαπτίζων καὶ] D Θ 28 700 l2211 ita itaur itb itc itff1 itl itq itr1 itt vg syrp (Eusebius Cyril-Jerusalem omit καὶ) Jerome Augustine ND = changed order
ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ] geo2 = changed order"

Josephus as Possible Source

Josephus has the only known reference to this John who was baptizing prior to GMark:

Antiquities of the Jews - Book XVIII CHAPTER 5

"2. Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a :punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and :commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to :come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to :the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the :soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they :were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the :people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he :should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself :into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent :a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. :Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's :displeasure to him."

Note that only going by the English translation, "John, that was called the Baptist", we have a difference between Josephus' description and the common Christian Bible phrase "John the Baptist". "The Baptist" in Josephus is a substitute name for John while "the Baptist" in the Christian Bible is a title for John. Thus we have no direct extant evidence that anyone used the phrase "John the Baptist" before GMark but it is easy to get there from Josephus. If 1:4 did not contain the Greek word for "the" in the phrase and meant "John was baptizing" (verb and not part of a title) than "Mark" used his own previous narrative in 1:4 as the basis for his subsequent narrative title "John the Baptist".

Transmission Error

Textual Criticism indicates that the likely original phrase here was "John was baptizing". "Mark" would than have used this phrase, which is the first to describe John the Baptist in his Gospel, as the basis for his subsequent description of the same character as "John the Baptist". About half of Christian Bibles instead show "Mark's" first related usage as "John the Baptist". The difference is that with an original "John was baptizing" it would appear that "Mark" was the one who first created the title "John the Baptist".


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