46 Now about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which is “My God, My God, why have you deserted me?”) 47 And some of the ones standing there after hearing this were saying, “This one is calling Elijah!” 48 And immediately, one of them ran and took a sponge filled with sour wine and put it on a staff and gave it to him to drink. 49 And the rest were saying, “Leave him alone! Let us see if Elijah comes to deliver him.” 50 And Jesus, crying out again with a loud voice, released the spirit.
Matthew 27:46-50 is a very familiar passage that describes Jesus’ last moments before his death. My scholar friend, Jim Leonard, brought this passage to my attention in a recent visit to the Center for New Testament Textual Studies on the Campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. While we were discussing Textual Criticism, he brought to my attention that there was a significant variant reading that occurs right before verse 50. A scribe decided to insert a paraphrase from John 19:34. The reading is ἄλλος δὲ λαβὼν λόγχην ἔνυξεν αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευράν, καὶ ἔξηλθεν ὕδωρ καὶ αἷμα (And another one taking a spear stabbed his side, and water and blood came out). First of all, this variant reading is supported by some really good 4th and 5th century witnesses including Codex Sinaiticus which is the oldest complete Greek Bible. Now at first glance, this seems to be just an attempt to make the passage conform with John 19:34, but in the process, the scribe makes it seem that it was the spear that killed Jesus and not the crucifixion! The reading didn’t make as future scribes corrected it. If this reading had stood, it would have presented us with a quite different outlook on the death of Jesus. This is how the reading would have looked within the main passage:
49 And the rest were saying, “Leave him alone! Let us see if Elijah comes to deliver him.” And another one taking a spear stabbed his side, and water and blood came out. 50 And Jesus, crying out again with a loud voice, released the spirit.
The question now remains: Why would a scribe present such a reading as this in a place where it would seem that a spear was responsible for Jesus death? We may never know for sure, but I can say this, The Center for New Testament Textual Studies is dedicated to studying Biblical Manuscripts. If an answer can be found, they will find it!