Ephesians 2:21 in the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, fourth edition, hereafter referred to as UBSGNT4, reads, "e)n w!| pa=sa oi)kodomh\ sunarmologoume/nh au&cei ei)$ nao\n a%gion e)n kuri/w| ("in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord"). The textual problem pa=sa oi)kodomh versus pa=sa h{ oi)kodomh in Ephesians 2:21is not listed in UBSGNT4, though it is found in the apparatus of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, twenty-seventh edition. This is not surprising, since UBSGNT4 is intended for translators rather than exegetes or scholars per se.

This writer’s contention is that pa=sa h{ oi)kodomh is an early corruption of pa=sa oi)kodomh because, though it is possible that the definite article "h" was a part of the original writing, the weight of external evidence overshadows that possibility adequately enough to justify its exclusion. Further, as B.M. Metzger writes, copyists would have been tempted to insert the definite article in order to clarify the sense (Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament). In translation there is little difference, and theologically there is seemingly no difference either. In order to justify one reading over another, however, the weight of the external and internal evidence must be weighed.


External Evidence

The witnesses for each reading are as follows: for pa=sa h{ oi)kodomh – A C P 6. 81. 326. 1739. 1881. pc. For pa=sa oi)kodomh a B D F G y 33. 1739. M. The latter witnesses include some of our earliest MSS. Given that the reading in these MSS is shorter, and adding to the fact that later readings are typically longer, this reading fits in with a more accurate rendering of the text. Though the former readings lie generally in the Alexandrian text-type their dates are much later than the most reliable witnesses of the same Alexandrian text-type. In addition, some very important Western text-type MSS also support the earlier rendering of the passage.


On the side of the reading with the definite article are some very significant witnesses. These include three uncials, two of which come from the more ancient Alexandrian text-type (fourth century).

The reading which does not contain the definite article, however, carries even greater weight with regard to external evidence. These also include MSS from the Alexandrian text-type, and have very early dates. The great uncials a and B (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus respectively) support the reading of the UBSGNT4. Also, 33 and 1739 as well as MSS from the Byzantine text-type (which may date back to the fourth century) and the Western text support this reading.

There are no papyri that support either reading, but most would admit to the fact that the UBSGNT4 carries the correct reading of Ephesians 2:21.


Geographical distribution does not favor the reading which contains the definite article. (as it is found only in the Alexandrian text-type and a few other less significant witnesses. On the other hand, the reading which does contain the definite article has a wide distribution of early witnesses. Aleph and B (uncials which date back to the fourth century BC) as well as 33 (9th century) and 1739 (10th century); three very important Western MSS, D (6th century), F (9th), and G (9th). Also in favor of the reading in the text is the Byzantine text-type which is assumed to be based upon MSS of the fourth century.

To sum up, pa=sa oi)kodomh is supported by a wide range of geographically distributed early MSS as opposed to pa=sa h{ oi)kodomh which is limited to one area within the Alexandrian tradition.


Each major text-type stands solidly behind the preferred reading which omits the definite article. With Aleph and B, which date back to the fourth century, their agreement in this instance cause this writer to conclude that the date which supports this reading can be pushed back even further, thus giving the reading an even earlier date. As for the important Western readings, their agreement in this instance pushes their dates back as well to an earlier time – giving them more credence as well. Finally, the Byzantine text, as already alluded to, comes from a tradition dating back to the fourth century, and its agreement with this preferred reading is well worth noting.


Given the early date of the readings which support the reading of the Nestle-Aland 27th and UBSGNT4 as well as the vast geographical distribution and genealogical solidarity, the reading in this instance receives an A. This rating takes into account the variant readings and their witness but sees the overwhelming support of the earliest and most reliable witnesses. However, it must be said that external evidence alone is not the final mediator in choosing the best reading for the text.

Internal Evidence


In order to understand the possible problems that scribes may have had to deal with one should consider what the original text may have looked like to a scribe.







Unintentional Change. An unintentional change may have occurred through the process of copying the MS and seeing the line two lines up – and copying that line (as indicated by the bold type placed on the script). The scribe might have been writing late at night or he may have been working all day up to this point and lost his place without ever having known it. In this case the P might have looked like a H and caused the scribe to make a mistake.

Intentional Change. On the other hand, the scribe might have done what Metger proposes by adding the definite article in order to bring about clarification (TCGNT, p. 534).

To sum up, going with the shorter reading in this case, which also happens to be the more difficult reading, seems to be the best choice. Paul uses the word oikodomh fifteen times in his writings, and only three times does he use the definite article to precede the word. Furthermore, scribes, if they intentionally changed the text, were far more likely to have added to the text rather than take away from it. As Metzger has proposed it does seem more likely that the change was intentional and done in order to clarify.


In conclusion, the evidence, both internal and external, seems to overwhelmingly favor the reading pa=sa oi)kodomh (no definite article). The definite article is not found in the earliest and most reliable – and widespread MSS, nor is it a style that Paul seemed to use often in his writings. In this case the reading of the text must receive an A rating because the evidence is so strong.

There is really no theological problem with either reading. The case of Ephesians 2:21 is really all about finding the original reading – not trying to solve a theological issue found in the words of the text. The insertion of the definite article found in some MSS is not cause for any alarm but seems to be inserted due to clarification purposes by a later scribe.