In the Gospel of Matthew 11:19, one version says wisdom is justified of her children(KJV) and another version says wisdom is justified by her deeds(ESV). Please explain this variant “children and deeds”


This is a familiar example of a textual variant with a fairly well-understood explanation.  The explanation of the textual variant is found by comparison to Luke 7:35. which is translated as “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”  The conclusion that textual critics have reached is that a copyist was copying Matthew 11:19, but lost focus, and accidentally “harmonized” it with Luke 7:35.  If true, and it very likely is, then the original of Matthew 11:19 was “But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”  It is worth noting that the majority of Greek texts actually favor the reading of Matthew 11;19 as “children” rather than “deeds,” but the few which favor the latter reading are some of the oldest manuscripts, including Codex Vaticanus.   The logic of textual critics is that it is much more likely that a copyist of Matthew would have accidentally harmonized it with Luke than that the copyist, knowing both Luke 7:35 and Matthew 11:19, would have accidentally (or on purpose?) changed it to “deeds.”
Another rule of textual criticism is that, when there are two variants, the more “difficult” (ie surprising) of the two is to be preferred.  In other words, it is far less likely that anyone would turn “deeds” into “children”, but it is not inconceivable that a sincere but mistaken copyist might have tried to “improve” Matthew 11:19, by changing the more obscure and metaphorical “children” to the more clear “deeds.”  We cannot prove this, and I can imagine how a sincere copyist might have wanted to “explain” what Jesus meant by the more metaphorical “children” by inserting the more literal “deeds.”  We cannot rule this out.
But here is the point.  We have thousands of manuscripts, which gives us fantastic evidence through which to use the evidence plus common sense, in order to reconstruct the original.  Let us imagine, for a moment, that we get this one wrong.  What is the damage to the gospel of this “error?”  The literal meaning of metaphorical  “all her children” is, in fact, all of her deeds.  The meaning is the same in any case, so the very slight doubt as to the original has absolutely no effect on what we can learn from either Luke 7:35 or Matthew 11:19.
I hope this helps.
John Oakes

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