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A Brief Note on a Textual Problem in 2 Peter 3:10

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“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the heavenly bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare” (NET Bible).

One of the most difficult textual problems in the NT is found in 2 Peter 3:10. The reading εὑρεθήσεται (“will be found” or, as the NET Bible reads it, “will be laid bare”), which enjoys by far the earliest and best support (א B K P 1241 1739text et alii) is nevertheless so difficult a reading that many scholars regard it as nonsensical. Indeed, several translations adopt a different reading often because of the difficulty of this one: KJV and ASV have “shall be burned up”; NASB and NJB have “will be burned up.” These latter three translations are somewhat surprising since the text-critical principles on which they are based would strongly argue against such a reading. On the other hand, the NRSV, NIV, and REB all follow the more difficult reading, εὑρεθήσεται, even as the NET Bible has done (“will be disclosed” [NRSV], “will be laid bare” [NIV], “will be brought to judgement” [REB]). 

As Bauckham has pointed out, solutions to the problem are of three sorts: (1) conjectural emendation (which normally speaks more of the ingenuity of the scholar who makes the proposal than of the truth of the conjecture [e.g., Bradschaw’s suggestion of αργα for εργα with the meaning, “the earth and the things in it will be found useless”]); (2) adoption of one of several variant readings (all of which, however, are easier than this one and simply cannot explain how this reading arose [e.g., the reading of Ì72 which adds λυομενα to the verb—a reading suggested no doubt by the threefold occurrence of this verb in the surrounding verses: “the earth and its works will be found dissolved”; or the simplest variant, the reading of the Sahidic manuscripts, ουχ preceding ευρεθησεται—“will not be found”);1 or (3) interpretive gymnastics which regards the text as settled but has to do some manipulation to its normal meaning.

Bauckham puts forth an excellent case that the third option is to be preferred and that the meaning of the term is virtually the equivalent of “will be disclosed,” “will be manifested.” Thus, the force of the clause would be that “the earth and the works [done by men] in it will be stripped bare [before God].” BAGD suggests a slight modification of this: be found as a “result of judicial investigation” (s.v. εὑρίσκω, p. 325. 2), citing Acts 13:28; 23:9; John 18:38; 19:4, 6; and Barnabas 21:6 as approximate parallels. Danker2 suggested a parallel between 2 Pet 3:10 and Ps Sol 17:10 (“Faithful is the Lord in all his judgments which he executes on the earth”; the link here is conceptual, though in v. 8 εὑρίσκω is used of the exposure of men’s sins before God).

We might add that the unusualness of the expression is certainly in keeping with Peter’s style throughout this little book. Hence, what looks to be suspect because of its abnormalities, upon closer inspection is actually in keeping with the author’s stylistic idiosyncrasies. The meaning of the text then, is apparently that all but the earth and men’s works will be destroyed. Everything will be removed so that humanity will stand naked before God. Hence, the NET Bible’s translation is thoroughly appropriate and is consistent with both Peter’s style and the internal as well as external text-critical evidence.

1The Byzantine MSS, following codex Alexandrinus and the Bohairic and Syriac-Harclean witnesses, read κατακαήσεται, the second future passive form of κατακαίω (“burn up”). This makes good sense and has the advantage of a biblical motif, viz., that works (ἔργον) and or the earth (γη) are sometimes mentioned in eschatological texts as being burned up (cf. Matt 3:17; 1 Cor 3:15; Rev 8:7; 17:6). However, its basic difficulty internally is that it is all too convenient. It could not have developed accidentally from ευρεθησεται (nor is the opposite likely to have occurred); an intentional change is the only natural explanation. Thus, we come back to the basic text-critical principle: Choose the reading that best explains the rise of the others.

2 F. W. Danker, “2 Peter 3:10 and Ps Sol 17:10,” ZNW 53 (1962) 82-86.

Related Topics: Textual Criticism

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