John 16:16

John 16:16 has an interesting variant. Here are the two versions:

1. A little while and you will no longer see me, and again, a little while and you will see me.

2. A little while and you will no longer see me, and again, a little while and you will see me, because I go to the Father.

In other words, there is an add/omit variant which reads 'because I go to the Father' at the end of the verse (5 words in the original Greek).

The manuscript witness is divided as follows:

Omit: P5, P66, 01, B, D, L 0141, 0250, some Old Latin manuscripts and most Coptic versions

Add: A, E, G, H, N, 037, 038, 044, 0233, the Byzantine majority of manuscripts, some Old Latin manuscripts and the Vulgate, the Syriac versions and most minor versions (Arm, Eth, Slav).

So, evaluating the external evidence using our PANEL method:

Propinquity favours the addition, although not by a great distance: the northern (Byzantine) evidence favours the addition, the Eastern evidence favours the addition, and the Western evidence is divided, while the southern (Alexandrian) evidence favours the omission.

Antitiquity favours the omission (the two papyri from the third century omit the words).

Numbers favours the addition (the great majority of manuscripts contain the words).

In Explanatory terms (transcriptional probability), there are no mechanical reasons which would explain the omission (HT or HA), however, scribes often omitted medium-length stretches of text like this (5 words) for no detectable mechanical reason (see the table). 

This leaves us, finally, with the criterion of Logic - the internal coherence of the Biblical argument in John 16.

In the very next verse, the disciples reply to Jesus' enigmatic comment by repeating verse 16 in its entirety: 'therefore the disciples said to one another, 'What is this that he says to us, "A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me", and "because I go to the Father"? Verse 17 seems to rehearse for us what the disciples found puzzling in verse 16 and, quite obviously, verse 17 contains the disputed phrase. Verse 16 appears to require the phrase and the text makes less sense in context once we omit the disputed words.

Here, however, we need to consider one final transcriptional argument: textual commentators suggest that the reason that scribes added the text to verse 16 was under the influence of verse 17. However, it is unlikely that such an addition was the result of unconscious harmonization; why would a scribe add text from a verse that he has not yet copied? The words are not necessary to the logic of verse 16. This leaves us with only one option - that a scribe added these words after copying verse 17, in order to tidy up the discrepancy between verses 16 and 17.

In other words, we are not dealing with a case of harmonisation here, so much as a case of a harder reading that (so the argument goes) prompted some later scribe to try to tidy up its more tortuous logic.

However, remember: Prefer the Dumber Reading is a Dumb Rule. We should be very reluctant to accept the harder reading (here, the omission) unless the easier reading is an extreme minority reading (which it is not). In probabilistic terms, it is far more likely that scribes actually omitted the 5-word stretch of text than that they tried to improve the text: scribal improvements amount to less than 1% of all scribally-introduced variants, while omissions of medium-length variants occur frequently. In addition, such an addition is psychologically unlikely: why would a scribe who is conserving the text (by copying) be so quick to alter the text by conjecturally adding words not found in his exemplar?

In summary then, the logical and transcriptional arguments strongly favour the inclusion of the words, and the retention of the words finds broader support in the manuscript and versional evidence. The shorter reading is most likely the result of an unintentional omission in an early Alexandrian manuscript.

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