Between Suffering and Flesh
Wednesday of Pentecost 15
25 September 2019
Debates about the manuscript evidence of the New Testament texts are an intriguing, if serpentine, study. The study of the ancient manuscripts has as its goal to gain a complete text that best reflects the content of the text written by the original author. This study is not a question of whether or not scholars accept the inspiration of the texts under their scrutiny; they may believe it or not. The outcome of their study would be largely the same in either case. The first systematic vernacular translations; Luther's German and the King James Version, were dependent on a Greek text that was not based on the oldest texts, that is, texts closest to their original authorship. This means that inclusions that might not have reflected the best manuscript tradition had crept into those manuscripts. The majority of these changes to the texts seldom were anything more than variations in spelling or word order. Occasionally, the copyists would transfer from memory to their text some variation that was to be found in the church's liturgical practice, such as the conclusion to the Lord's Prayer: "for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Amen," which had its origin in the service of the church. Suffice it to say, all the manuscript errors of which we are aware would not make a single difference to the faith of the church. It isn't like there is some manuscript somewhere that says, "The Word did NOT become flesh and dwell among us." No matter what the conspiracy theorists might want you to think.
One of those manuscript inclusions crops up in today's reading from Athanasius of Alexandria. His Four Discourses Against the Arians was written about the mid-fourth century A.D. He was quoting a biblical text that was already well-known in Alexandria, Egypt where he was the bishop, and perhaps elsewhere in the ancient world. He is quoting from 1 Peter 4:1, which includes the words "Christ suffered in the flesh" in the ESV text known to us. The KJV, reflecting a manuscript tradition that was not so carefully sorted out, includes the words, "for us." That is how Athanasius quoted the text that was known to him. I have no doubt that those words do not belong in that verse because the older manuscripts now known to us do not include them. However, the question remains how did those words find their way into the text used in Alexandria in the fourth century?
While I am not an expert on the New Testament manuscripts (far from it!), I do have a speculation about how it was that the Alexandrians had a text that read (in Greek word order): "Christ suffered for us in the flesh." It came about as a clear confession of the substitutionary atonement worked by our Lord Jesus through His suffering; all was done "for us." So when it was added it was added as a theological reflection on the purpose of the suffering of Christ. The larger point is that this error slipped into the text for entirely good reasons; and it witnesses to the early church's steadfast belief that the suffering of Christ was substitutionary. He suffered "for us" in the sense that he suffered in our place. Whoever slipped in these two words also had good reason to do so based on the rest of the letter, in which Peter elsewhere said, "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps" (1Pt 2:21). Perhaps it is true that this clarity about the substitutionary nature of the suffering of Christ, the God-man, was obscured later in the history of the church. But the earlier testimony of the church was clear even in the mistake it made by adding these two glorious words, found elsewhere in the Scripture, into their text of 1Pt 4:1.
Even the literary structure of the inclusion is instructive. The Greek word order (see above) showed that between Christ's suffering and His flesh we are kept safe, incorporated as we are between Christ's suffering and His flesh which bore such suffering. There is no better place to be: between Christ's suffering and His flesh.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  Athanasius of Alexandria
"To attain a more exact knowledge of the impassibility of the Word's nature and of the infirmities ascribed to Him because of the flesh, it will be well to listen to the blessed Peter. For he will be a trustworthy witness concerning the Savior. He writes then in his Epistle: 'Christ suffered in the flesh for us' (1Pt 4:1 KJV). Therefore also when He is said to hunger and thirst and to toil and not to know, and to sleep, and to weep, and to ask, and to flee, and to be born, and to lament the cup, and in a word to undergo all that belongs to the flesh, let it be said, as is appropriate, in each case Christ then hungering and thirsting 'for us in the flesh;' and saying He did not know, and being struck, and toiling 'for us in the flesh;' and being exalted too, and born, and growing 'in the flesh;' and fearing and hiding 'in the flesh;' and saying, 'If it be possible let this cup pass from Me' (Mt 26:39), and being beaten, and receiving, 'for us in the flesh;' and in a word all such things 'for us in the flesh.' For on this account has the Apostle himself said, 'Christ suffered,' not in His Godhead, but 'for us in the flesh,' that these affections may be acknowledged as, not proper to the very Word by nature, but proper by nature to the very flesh.
"Let no one then stumble at what belongs to man, but rather let a man know that in nature the Word Himself is impassible, and yet because of that flesh which He put on, these things are ascribed to Him, since they are proper to the flesh, and the body itself is proper to the Savior." 

Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 3.34
Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet - I can count all my bones - they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all that He might bear our sins on the cross. Grant that our eyes may ever behold our Savior and His cross, that we may not fear the power of any adversaries but rather rejoice in His victory for us; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For the elders of Memorial Lutheran that they might grow in wisdom, faith, and service through study of the Word of God
For Bobbi Phelps, that her gracious Lord would continue to grant her healing and full recovery
For Michael Koutsodontis, that the Lord Jesus would grant him health and strength
For all teachers, that the Lord would grant them patience and wisdom as they lead children from darkness to light through instruction
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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