Post image for Hebrews 2:9 – Separated by Grace (Part 3)

Hebrews 2:9 – Separated by Grace (Part 3)

by Stephen Hebert on Monday - 27 July 2009

in Biblical Studies, New Testament

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

When we turn to internal evidence, however, the argument no longer favors χάριτι; indeed, as Bart Ehrman has argued regarding χωρίς, “there can be no doubt concerning the superiority of this poorly attested variant.”1 This certainty can be illustrated best if we assume the priority of one variant and then attempt to explain how it was altered or corrupted into the other. The majority of commentaries side with NA27/UBS4 in presenting χάριτι θεοῦ as the preferred reading.2 Therefore, they must explain how χάριτι θεοῦ was changed, intentionally or unintentionally, into χωρὶς θεοῦ. This proves to be a very difficult task.

Beginning with the idea of an intentional alteration, there is little reason why a proto-orthodox scribe would favor changing χάριτι to χωρίς. From a christological perspective centered on the idea of Christ as both man and God, the notion that Jesus died “separated” from God (χωρίς) is more troublesome than the idea that he died by the grace of God (χάριτι).3 Therefore, we must find a plausible scenario in which χωρίς might have been unintentionally written for χάριτι. Metzger provides the common arguments for this change:

The latter reading [χωρὶς θεοῦ] appears to have arisen either through a scribal lapse, misreading χάριτι as χωρὶς, or, more probably, as a marginal gloss (suggested by 1 Cor 15.27) to explain that “everything” in ver. 8 does not include God; this gloss, being erroneously regarded by a later transcriber as a correction of χάριτι θεοῦ, was introduced into the text of ver. 9.4

The first suggestion—that of the scribal lapse—even Metzger and the committee do not accept, admitting that it is less probable than the other explanation. First of all, such a lapse would require substituting a less common word (χωρίς) for a more common word (χάρις). Second, while the nominative χάρις looks and sounds similar to χωρίς,5 the dative χάριτι neither looks nor sounds similar. In addition, even if we consider that manuscripts may have been copied in scriptoria through oral recitation, the difference in accent still discounts the prospect of itacism—even if χάρις were in the nominative. The second suggestion occurring in Metzger’s Commentary, which also seems to be the majority opinion of the various commentaries, is that χωρὶς θεοῦ was a marginal gloss incorporated into the text.6 This too is highly unlikely. Were this so, the marginal gloss would have to refer to οὐδέν or τὰ πάντα a full 30 words (several lines) back from where it was later incorporated into the text—a theory that requires no small leap of faith.7 In addition, if the hypothetical gloss was done with regard to 1 Cor 15:27, it would be more likely that the scribe would use ἐκτός, since this is the term used in 1 Corinthians.8


  1. Bart D. Ehrman, “Text and Tradition: The Role of New Testament Manuscripts in Early Christian Studies,” TC 5 (2000).
  2. Harold W. Attridge, Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (ed. Helmut Koester; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989); Samuel Benetreau, L’Epitre aux Hebreux (Vaux-sur-Seine: Édifac, 1989); Franz Delitzsch, Der Hebräerbrief: Mit einem Geleitwort von Otto Michel (Geißen: Brunnen Verlag, 1989); Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993); Erich Gräßer, An die Hebräer (Zurich: Benziger Verlag, 1990); Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977); Craig R. Koester, Hebrews: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary (eds. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday, 2001); James Moffatt, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (eds. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C. A. Briggs; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1924; repr., 1979); Gerd Shunack, Der Hebräerbrief (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 2002); Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The Greek Text with Notes and Essays (2nd ed.; New York: MacMillan, 1892). One of the few commentaries that prefers to adopt the χωρίς reading is Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).
  3. Though, it should most certainly be noted that both notions are troublesome. The idea of Jesus dying “by the grace of God” is not without its own problems.
  4. Metzger, Textual Commentary, 594.
  5. The notion that χάρις in the nominative is the original has been posited based on the idea that gratia in the Vulgate manuscripts is actually a nominative rather than an ablative. In this theory, χάρις θεοῦ becomes a title for Jesus. This theory was first put forth by Moffatt, but only as a possibility; and he does not seem to take it very seriously. See Hughes, Epistle to the Hebrews, 97; and Moffatt, Epistle to the Hebrews, 27.
  6. Metzger, Textual Commentary, 594; Constantin Tischendorf, Novum Testament Graece (8th Major Edition; Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1872) 785–86; Moffatt, Epistle to the Hebrews, 27; Attridge, Epistle to the Hebrews, 77. Westcott (Epistle to the Hebrews, 46) dismisses the reading based on the difficulty of the Greek—what could χωρὶς θεοῦ possibly mean? This seems to be a common problem. See also Ceslas Spicq, L’Épitre au Hébreux (Paris: Librairie Lecoffre, 1977) 419.
  7. J. C. O’Neill, “Hebrews II.9,” JTS 17 (1966) 79; and Gräßer, An die Hebräer, 125. There is an instance of τὰ πάντα that occurs a little closer to χωρίς, but it would make little sense for the marginal gloss to refer to this phrase. It makes far more sense in connection with the οὐδέν and the other τὰ πάντα.
  8. O’Neill,“Hebrews II.9;” Ehrman,“Text and Tradition.”

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