Textual Transmission and ‘Itacism’

Posted: January 30, 2012 in General

‘Itacism’ is also called ‘Iotacism’ [1]. When scribes made copies from dictation, or even when a solitary scribe in his own cell pronounced to himself the words which he was transcribing, confusion would sometimes arise over words having the same pronunciations as others, but differing in spelling (as the English words ‘there’ and ‘their’ or ‘grate’ and ‘great’). The confusion between and was common, accounting for such variants as echōmen (Gk., omega instead of omicron) and echomen (Gk., omicron) in Romans 5:1 [2], and hode (Gk., omicron) and hōde (Gk., omega) in Luke 16:25 [3].

The pronunciation of ou and u was sometimes distinguished, and accounts for the variation in Revelation 1:5. Metzger says, “The translation of the KJV followed a text of this verse which had lousanti (‘unto him that loved us, and “washed” us from our sins in his own blood’), where the text used by modern translators [4] reads the verb lusanti (‘…and “freed” us from…’), which is found in the earlier Greek manuscripts” [5]. In Colossians 1:7 the texts divide between the readings hēmōn (‘us’, ‘ours’) and humōn (‘you’, ‘yours’) [6]. Bible translators, pastors, teachers, preachers and interpreters must  take up this sort of textual issues strenuously in order to save the scripture from erroneous readings.


[1] In Textual Criticism, the name applied to the phenomenon whereby a variety of vowels and dipthongs (i, ei, e, oi, u, ui, and others) came to be pronounced like the ‘iota’.

[2] Black, David Alan. New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide. Michigan: Baker Books, 1994, p. 60.

[3] Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. Third Edition. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 190.

[4] The versions like NIV, NRSV and others read the verb lusanti instead of lousanti. Here, the Malayalam Bible (translation by the Bible Society of India) is close to the modern English versions.

[5] Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 191.

[6] Cf. Aland, Kurt, and Black, Matthew, et. al., eds. The Greek New Testament. Fourth Edition. United Bible Societies, p. 693. Also see Martin, Ralph P. New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students. Vol. 1. Michigan: Eerdmans, 1975, p. 162.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India


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