Hebrews 1:3 Textual Variant

Recently, I was speaking about the afterlife in a message at Flint River and engage in a tangent about the concept of Purgatory. My point was simple; at death, a person goes to one of two places: Paradise or Torments. If a person has been redeemed by Christ, their soul goes to be with Him in Paradise at death. If yet in their sins, a person goes to torment in Hell. This brought up the thought of Purgatory, a place where saved people have their remaining sins purged prior to going to Heaven. Obviously, there’s no reference to such in scripture and it contradicts many clear passages, not the least of which is Jesus’ statement to the dying thief, “today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Further, and even more audacious, this teaching assumes Christ’s redemptive work is incomplete in its efficacy. Did Jesus purge our sins or did He not? If Purgatory is necessary, our sins are not fully purged. If our sins are fully purged, there is no need for a place called Purgatory. I hope you see my point.

During this off-the-cuff tangent, I cited one of our most beloved statements regarding the effective nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us, Hebrews 1:3. The relevant portion of this passage reads, “when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…” So this passage is quite clear. Jesus – by Himself – purged our sins. Now, he is seated at the right hand of God, making intercession for us. Our sins were purged by Jesus as he made intercession for us on the cross.

Interestingly enough, later that week my oldest son, a professional video editor, asked me about this very passage because of a work project. In a video he was editing, a pastor cited this passage from the ESV, but something was glaringly missing. The powerful and often emphasized words from the KJV, “by Himself,” were absent. Prior to mentioning it to me, he learned that as with many omitted phrases and passages in modern Bibles, the phrase under consideration is missing from the modern “Critical Text” (CT) because a few, often contradictory ancient manuscripts omit the phrase. No surprise. The two major manuscripts behind the Critical Text disagree with each other in thousands of places in the four gospel alone, and contrary to the claims of modern textual critics, doctrine is affected by these omissions. Using the CT, you have no Tri-Unity (1 John 5:7 is missing). You have a begotten God (John 1:18’s corruption). You have no woman taken in adultery. Jesus’ request on the cross for the forgiveness of others is missing (an example Stephen followed at his death). He, not God, was manifest in the flesh in 1 Timothy 3:16. And you have a gospel missing its resurrection account (Mark 16 ends early). Some of those manuscripts might be older, but calling them better is laughable and insulting.

Back to Hebrews 1:7, I did some digging that you might find interesting. First, the CT does omit the phrase “by Himself.” And, as expected, the Textus Receptus (the TR is the underlying text of the KJV) contains the phrase, which reads δι᾽(by) εαυτοῦ (himself) καθαρισμὸν (purged). But what I learned about the phrase illustrated to me, once again, at how deficient the CT really is, and how the methods of modern textual critics are dangerous and ridiculous. Just a casual perusal of presently available manuscripts (some once cited are lost to time, others are yet to be found) revealed that these words not only have majority testimony, a variant of them are also in the most ancient manuscript we have available.

The Byzantine Text is sometimes referred to as the Majority Text. That just means there are more available copies in this text family than others. Worth mentioning is that the CT comes from Alexandrian influence. While not identical with the TR, the Byzantine and the TR often agree with each other over the CT. In reviewing the Byzantine text on Hebrews 1:3, I learned that the words δι’ εαυτου DO in fact exist in it, as with the later TR and English KJV. This places the variant “by Himself” as the majority reading.

If the phrase is in the majority of manuscripts, what about the oldest manuscript? This brought me to P46, a papyrus Greek manuscript of Hebrews. This is presently the oldest known copy of Hebrews. So what does THIS copy read? It’s not identical to the Byzantine, but it’s close! The phrase from P46 is δι’ αυτου καθαρισμὸν. That’s right, a single letter, ε, is missing. But the actual theological point is identical! Jesus – by Himself – has purged our sins.

As you see, the oldest manuscript and the majority of manuscripts agree on this phrase. So why then do modern translators use CT reading? Well for starters, they prefer it over other readings, despite 1) its many corruptions and 2) the lack of its usage among sound theologians of history. Why? Why use it? I have no idea. Perhaps they want to be accepted by academia? Are they influenced by higher critics? Have they, professing themselves wise, become fools? Your guess is as good as mine.

In closing, I’ll cite this passage along with the phrase in question a little louder from the pulpit. It’s one of many under attack from so-called scholars and God’s spokesmen need to affirm it.

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