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Hebrews 2:9 – Separated by Grace (Part 1)

by Stephen Hebert on Monday - 13 July 2009

in Biblical Studies, New Testament

Part one of the series “Hebrews 2:9 – Separated by Grace.”

Bruce M. Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament explains why the committee behind the text of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece (NA) and the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (UBS) chose one reading over another. However, as Metzger himself admits, given the nature of such meetings it was at times difficult to construe the actual reasons for choosing a particular reading.1 Given this information, the user of Metzger’s Commentary must question how faithfully Metzger reported the committee’s opinions, and where the line between faithful reporter and knowledgeable commentator becomes less than clear. It is with this cautious attitude that we must approach Metzger’s entry for the variant with which we are concerned.

The textual variant in Heb 2:9 centers around Jesus’ relationship to God when he “tasted death” (γεύσηται θανάτου), an important issue in the second century. Our current critical editions favor the idea that Jesus died χάριτι θεοῦ (“by the grace of God”), while the alternative reading claims that Jesus died χωρὶς θεοῦ (“apart from God”). The reasons for the committee’s decision to favor χάριτι θεοῦ seem innocuous enough, being based almost solely on strong external evidence from many of the manuscripts that scholars have deemed “best.”2 Indeed, the external evidence is so strong that the committee assigns it a grade of “A” to attest their confidence in this reading.3 A quick overview of the paragraph that Metzger provides certainly yields a great deal of confidence for χάριτι θεοῦ. But a more cautious look raises questions. The internal evidence in support of χωρὶς θεοῦ forms an intriguing case as well. When the evidence for the two possible readings is set side by side, internal and external criteria conflict. These readings can illustrate and illuminate not only how we choose to practice the art of textual criticism, but also how we view the effect of early christological debate in early Christianity on the transmission of the New Testament.


  1. Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2002) vii.
  2. Ibid., 594. “Best” implies that the manuscripts which cite χάριτι are spread over a range of text-types and geographical places. They can be found in witnesses from the Alexandrian and Western types, as well as patristic authors both in the East and West. See n. 5 for more information on text-types. For more on internal evidence and external evidence in the field of New Testament textual criticism, see ibid., 11*–14*.
  3. The Committee assigned a letter rating to each variant to represent their confidence in the reading. According to Metzger, “The letter {A} signifies that the text is certain” (Textual Commentary, 14*).

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