Living By Bread Alone!

By: Martin A. Shue


It is no secret to those that have actually studied Greek manuscripts (mss.) that there are some instances of what is called assimilation. Assimilation is simply the process by which “the expressions of one Evangelist get improperly transferred to another.” While assimilating has caused not a few depravations from the sacred text this writer does not believe any intentional maliciousness was intended.


Concerning assimilation John William Burgon made the following comments,


When we speak of Assimilation, we do not mean that a writer while engaged in transcribing one Gospel was so completely beguiled and overmastered by his recollections of the parallel place in another Gospel,--that, forsaking the expressions proper to the passage before him, he unconsciously adopted the language which properly belongs to a different Evangelist. That to a very limited extent this may have occasionally taken place, I am not concerned to deny: but it would argue incredible inattention to what he was professing to copy, on the one hand,--astonishing familiarity with what he was not professing to copy, on the other,--that a scribe should have been capable of offending largely in this way. But in fact a moderate acquaintance with the subject is enough to convince any thoughtful person that the corruptions in MSS. which have resulted from accidental Assimilation must needs be inconsiderable in bulk, as well as few in number (Causes of Corruption, pp. 101-102).   


I draw special attention to Burgon’s final words, viz. “the corruptions in MSS. which have resulted from accidental Assimilation must needs be inconsiderable in bulk, as well as few in number.” The reason I draw attention to these words is because modern scholars would have us believe the exact opposite. If you were to listen to them or read their textual explanations you would be inclined to believe that assimilation was the reason for large scale corruptions in the New Testament.


With the above facts before us I would like to look at Luke 4:4 in this brief article. Before we get into the external and internal evidence I would like to quote two well known scholars regarding this verse.


Bruce Metzger writes, “The shortest reading, which has good and early support, must be original; the longer forms of text have been assimilated by copyists to the Matthean parallel (Matt. 4:4) or to the Septuagint of Dt. 8:3, either verbatim or according to the general sense. If any of the longer forms of text had been original, its omission from N B L W 1241 syr S  copSA, BO would be unaccountable (Textual Commentary, p. 113).”


Daniel Wallace notes, “Most mss (A [D] Q Y [0102] Ë1,13 33 Ï latt) complete the citation with ajll* ejpiV pantiV rJhvmati qeou' (ajll' ejpi panti rJhmati qeou, "but by every word from God"), an assimilation to Matt 4:4 (which is a quotation of Deut 8:3). The shorter reading is found in Í B L W 1241 pc sa. There is no good reason why scribes would omit the rest of the quotation here. The shorter reading, on both internal and external grounds, should be considered the original wording in Luke (Luke 4:4 note, NET Bible, )


 It is clear from both Mr. Wallace and Mr. Metzger that they firmly believe “the shorter reading” is the original reading and that the words “but by every word of God” has been added by some scribe trying to assimilate Luke 4:4 with Matt. 4:4. As you can see from the complete quotes above these men offer very little, if any, evidence to prove what they are asserting happened. To make broad sweeping hypotheses concerning the words of scripture is one thing---to prove these lofty assumptions is another thing all together. In this article I will examine Luke 4:4 as found in our Authorized Version (AV) and will demonstrate that Mr. Wallace and Mr. Metzger are wrong in their theory that a scribe assimilated Luke 4:4 to Matt. 4:4 (or Deut. 8:3 for that matter).


Here is Luke 4:4 in some of the more popular translations. I’ll give the verse as it is found in our AV first.


AV-And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.


NIV-Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'"


NASV-And Jesus answered him, "It is written, `MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE.' "


NLT-But Jesus told him, "No! The Scriptures say, 'People need more than bread for their life.'


ESV-And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'"


Side note: the NLT is quite fanciful in its translation! No known text reads that way.


The Traditional Reading (the reading found in our AV) enjoys very large and very widespread support. Nearly every uncial ms. contains the final phrase. Some of these would include—A, D, Gamma, Theta, Psi, Delta, Pi and others. Every cursive copy save 1 (see below) retains the clause. All the Latin testify to these words including the Old Latin and the Vulgate. In addition to these witnesses the Peshitta (150AD) reads, “Jesus answered and said to him, It is written, That it is not by bread alone that man can live, but by every word of God.” The Gothic and the Armenian versions also contain the reading.


The Coptic is split in its support. In discussing the Coptic tradition, Canon Cook listed the Coptic as containing the phrase then adds that “one edition of the Coptic Version” omits the phrase. Tischendorf also lists the Coptic in support of the phrase. Likewise the Bohairic lends its support to both sides.

As usual the reason the words are wanting in most modern versions is because they are not found in the Westcott/Hort Greek text. It is this text that the new versions are primarily based upon. With little regard for the sacred Deposit Westcott/Hort cast away words that even Lachmann and Griesbach were not even willing to depart with. Even Scholtz, who was very sympathetic to the Alexandrian text, retains the words in his Greek text.


There is more that could be said in favor of the authenticity of the reading but perhaps the best way to illustrate my point is list the evidence against the reading.


Among the Greek uncials we find Aleph, B and L. One cursive copy (1241) also omits the phrase. This is the total support among the Greek manuscripts. This is to be arrayed against the overwhelming ms. support listed above. We read and marvel!


I would now like to turn my attention to the internal evidence and the assimilation theory espoused by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Metzger (both without any proof I might add). If these men would be completely honest—the real reason they are in favor of omitting these precious words of Holy Scripture is because they are not found in their two venerated codices, Siniaticus and Vaticanus. The idea of assimilation is nothing more than that---just an idea to cover up for the omission of these manuscripts. I will proceed to demonstrate what I’m talking about.


Wallace and Metzger (and others) attribute the fact that “but by every word of God” is found in nearly every Greek and Latin ms. to some scribe attempting to assimilate Luke 4:4 to Matt. 4:4 (or Deut. 8:3). The intelligent reader may ask, “If indeed this were a case of assimilation wouldn’t the small handful of mss. contain the assimilation and the vast majority (999 out of 1,000) contain the true reading?” This is certainly a valid question and one to be considered. According to Wallace and Metzger we are expected to believe that the authentic reading is to be found (i.e. preserved) in the 4 lone copies listed above. While at the same time we are expected to ignore the testimony of nearly EVERY ancient ms. (Greek and Latin) extant. This idea is sure to astound both the casual reader as well as the serious student of textual matters!


In examining this theory of assimilation between Luke 4:4 and Matt. 4:4 it will benefit us greatly to look more closely at the actual Greek texts. Below is the Greek of each verse. I will also include Deut. 8:3 from the Septuagint (as mentioned by Metzger above).


Deut. 8:3 (LXX) - και εκακωσεν σε και ελιμαγχονησεν σε και εψωμισεν σε το μαννα ο ουκ ειδησαν οι πατερες σου ινα αναγγειλη σοι οτι ουκ επ αρτω μονω ζησεται ο ανθρωπος αλλ επι παντι ρηματι τω εκπορευομενω δια στοματος θεου ζησεται ο ανθρωπος


Matt. 4:4 (TR) - o de apokriqeiV eipen gegraptai ouk ep artw monw zhsetai anqrwpoV all epi panti rhmati ekporeuomenw dia stomatoV qeou


Luke 4:4 (TR) - kai apekriqh ihsouV proV auton legwn gegraptai oti ouk ep artw monw zhsetai o anqrwpoV all epi panti rhmati qeou


I do not intend to abuse the patients of my readers by belaboring the point but oftentimes in a battle of this nature it becomes necessary to fire a few more rounds of mortars into the citadel of the enemy to ensure absolute and total defeat. This being said I want to look now at the English of the 3 examples above. (bold portions only)


Deut. 8:3 – but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God shall man live.


Matt. 4:4 – but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.


Luke 4:4 – but by every word of God.


The wording both in the Greek and English are noticeably different in each verse. It would stand to reason that if a scribe was seeking to assimilate Luke 4:4 with either Matt. 4:4 or Deut. 8:3 that he would’ve followed the wording of that particular verse. The fact is Luke 4:4 does not match the wording of either verse in question. This indicates that the words of Luke 4:4 are the words of Luke and not the words of some scribe seeking to make Luke’s account correspond with what Matthew wrote.


Both the internal and external evidence testifies to the authenticity of the words “but by every word of God”. The only reason we’ve had this gross error forced upon is solely because Aleph and B omit the phrase. Their testimony has been time and time again demonstrated to be false. The modern version supporters can continue living by bread alone but as for me I’ll keep living by every word of God! Selah!

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