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I'm studying Matthew 3:16 and have encountered a question regarding the original Greek text. The verse typically reads "περιστερὰν" (peristeran), translated as "dove." However, I'm curious about the possibility of a textual variant or scribal error where it might have been "περισσότερον" (perissoteron), meaning "supreme" or "greater."

"καὶ βαπτισθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνέβη εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν τὸ Πνεῦμα τοῦ Θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν καὶ ἐρχόμενον ἐπ’ αὐτόν." Matthew 3:16 Greek Text on Bible Hub.

  1. Is there any historical or manuscript evidence that supports the possibility of such a variant in this verse?
  2. How would the meaning and interpretation of this verse change if "περισσότερον" were the original word used?
  3. Are there known instances in biblical manuscripts where similar types of scribal errors have occurred, potentially altering the meaning of a passage?

I'm interested in understanding the implications of such a textual variation from a hermeneutical perspective.

Here are links to dictionary articles about the Greek word "περισσότερον" (perissoteron):

Blue Letter Bible - Strong's Greek Lexicon for περισσότερον (G4053)

  • out of the common way, extraordinary, uncommon, remarkable, strange
  • (of persons) extraordinary, eminent, remarkable
  • (with genitive) beyond others
    περισσός on Wiktionary
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  • quote the english verse as well. I think such advance questions on Textual criticism or variants is suited better for the facebook group of NT textual criticism . Here it is hard to find such answers.
    – Michael16
    Dec 5, 2023 at 12:41
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    I didn't find any such variants in the NA27 apparatus, and ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/ecm this means it is an opinion based question. The answer is simply no. Unless there maybe an isolated variant where the scribe was not an expert. If there was a significant variant, it must have been listed in some apparatus and bible versions, or metzger commentary of variants.
    – Michael16
    Dec 5, 2023 at 13:34

2 Answers 2

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You write, "Is there any historical or manuscript evidence that supports the possibility of such a variant in this verse?"

The answer is simply: no.

I've looked at the general apparatus in the the UBS/NA text, and there is no variant listed for περιστερὰν. So I looked at the more comprehensive CNTTS database. Likewise, there is no variant listed.

Your second and third questions would be worthy of walking through if point one were true.

If, however, you would like to speak about actual textual variants, even though Textual Criticism, is at best, pre-hermeneutical, those sorts of questions are still allowed here.

But there is no variant here to work with.

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  • Thanks for your answer. I think such a close connection between words worth some analysis per se. Especially given the almost perfect fit of the “supreme” or “extraordinary” here. Maybe it was the inspiration for the original writer… I’ll think about editing my question to address this consideration.
    – grammaplow
    Dec 5, 2023 at 15:43
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There are several textual variants in the MSS tradition concerning Matt 3:16, but not one of these involves the word περιστερὰν.

Further, if περιστερὰν were replaced by περισσότερον it would be unacceptable for several reasons

  1. It would be ungrammatical: the verb καταβαῖνον (descending) already has an adverb, ὡσεὶ ("like") and if περισσότερον followed that, it would be bad grammar. If περισσότερον followed the verb, then ὡσεὶ would have to be eliminated.
  2. While Matthew does used the word περισσότερον (Matt 5:37, 47, 11:9, 23:14), it is never used as an adverb, only as an adjective. Indeed, the only place the word is used as an adverb is in John 10:10. [Paul uses the word 8 times but always as an adjective.] Indeed, the only places in all the NT where it is an adverb is in John 10:10.
  3. It is also out of character to use this word to describe the Holy Spirit. If a NT writer wants to say that the Holy Spirit came upon someone greatly, they usually use a phrase like,
  • "with power" (Luke 4:14, Acts 1:8, 10:38, Rom 15:13, 1 Thess 1:5, etc)
  • "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41, 67, 4:14, Acts 2:4, 4:8, 31, 9:7, 13:9, etc)
  • Only in the OT Hebrew do we find phrases like "the Spirit came upon him mightily/powerfully" (eg, Judges 14:6, 19, 1 Sam 10:6, 11:6). But even here, it is never the Holy Spirit descending "greatly".

Thus, there is no evidence that in Matt 3:16 has a scribal error or variation concerning the word περιστερὰν. Such would be ungrammatical and out of character with NT writers.

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