Textual Criticism - Lesson 7

The Materials Used for Making a Codex Manuscript

Various materials were used in creating NT manuscripts. Wallace discusses papyrus, parchments, and paper, each with advantages and disadvantages for transmitting the text faithfully.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 7
Watching Now
The Materials Used for Making a Codex Manuscript


A. From Egypt

B. Suggests the codex was used so all four gospels could be bound together


A. Animal skins (vellum)

1. 350 sheep for Codex Sinaiticus

2. Oldest complete NT (4 columns)

3. Write around the holes

B. Orientation

1. Recto – always the front page

2. Verso – always the back page

C. Examples

1. Sinaiticus

2. Codex 2882

3. Lectionary on paper

4. Palimpsest (“again scraped”)

5. Lectionary 2258



  • Since the original autographs of the Bible no longer exist, the primary goal of Biblical Textual Criticism is to determine the exact wording of the original inspired text dispatched from the author with as much accuracy as possible. As a secondary goal, we desire to trace changes to the text and get a window into ancient Christianity.

  • Contrary to popular textual critics, the wrong way to record textual variants is to count each unique variant and multiply by the number of existing manuscripts, rendering millions of variants. On the contrary, the correct method is to count the same variant that occurs across all manuscripts as one variant, rendering not millions but hundreds of thousands of predominantly minor variants.

  • Compared to other ancient literature, the field of Biblical textual criticism possesses “an embarrassment of riches.” New Testament TC absolutely dwarfs the resources of other ancient literature, not only in number of manuscripts and the recent time in which they were produced, but also confirming quotations by extra-biblical writings.

  • The vast majority of NT Variants are minor, easily explained scribal errors that don’t affect the meaning of the text. Among 400,000 textual variants of the NT, over 99% make no difference to the meaning, and less than 1% are both meaningful and viable.

  • Recent attempts to change the goals of NTTC such that critics no longer seek to obtain the original autographs in favor of understanding a writer’s historical contexts undermine the original goal of NTTC. However, faithful textual critics must not subscribe to the notion of a “multivalence” of the original text, but instead pursue the primary goal: to get as close as possible to the original autographs.

  • The vast majority of all copies of the New Testament were probably recorded on scrolls, but copied in codex format. This may lend to the theory that Christians used cutting-edge, easier-to-use media technologies to further the word-based faith.

  • Various materials were used in creating NT manuscripts. Wallace discusses papyrus, parchments, and paper, each with advantages and disadvantages for transmitting the text faithfully.

  • There are three fundamental issues that significantly affect the transmission of the NT Text: early copies and causes of corruption, the role of canon in shaping the text, and the emergence of localized text forms.

  • Because of the radical nature of Christianity, it took some time for OT-based Jews to accept the NT as canonical. But over time, coinciding with the progressive development of a certain “canon-consciousness,” scribes were compelled to modify texts in various ways, not for malicious reasons, but in efforts to clarify, preserve, and revere the sacred scriptures.

  • Although questioned by some critics, most TCs acknowledge four major localized forms of the NT text: Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and (questionably) Caesarian. These “cross-pollinated” text families have arisen from diverse historical, cultural and socio-political factors, but all serve to strengthen, and not weaken the integrity of the NT text.

  • While it is undeniable that NT scribes made mistakes of various types in copying the inspired text, understanding the often simple reason for these mistakes renders much reward in understanding the sacred text. The fundamental principle of textual criticism is this: select the reading that best explains the rise of the other readings.

  • Contrary to popular belief, intentional scribal changes were not malicious in nature, but rather displayed pious intentions and a high view of scripture. Scribal corruptions for the most part, did not reflect a desire to obfuscate, but to clarify the scripture.

  • This lecture introduces papyri, critically important as the earliest witnesses of New Testament text. Papyri are some of the most important documents of NT MSS.

  • Since papyri are the earliest records of NT text (containing 50% of NT) they are critical in revealing the original text shape of the NT text. Even Codex Sinaticus and Vaticanus, the two most important NT MSS in the world, are confirmed by Papyri.

  • This lecture describes the most important new Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. These documents contain the full text of the NT written many times over, on parchment, written in all caps.

  • This lecture continues the discussion about the most important New Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. This lecture describes Codex Alexandrinus - A, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus - C, Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), and Codex Washingtonianus - W - 1906.

  • Since the field of TC is so small, obtaining resources are very expensive. However the internet is still a great place to conduct free TC research. In this lecture, major internet resources for studying NT manuscripts are compared and contrasted.

  • Founded 2002 by Daniel Wallace, the mission of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is to be a premiere resource in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament. This is facilitated through high-resolution digital photography of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.

  • The KJV has been rightfully called “the single greatest monument to the English language,” but this is more from a literary rather than a translation standpoint. This is because the Greek MSS behind the KJV text is far inferior to that of modern translations in terms of textual basis, late MSS dates, and a less than perfect process of creation.

  • The arguments used to position the Textus Receptus as the sole textual basis for the true word of God range from questionable to downright irrational. Proponents of this position rely on view of the so-called “doctrine of preservation,” which illegitimately uses certain Bible texts to argue its dubious claims.

  • This lecture describes the major problems of TR-only people, who subscribe to an unbiblical Doctrine of Preservation, which as defined, effectively emerges as a Marcionite view of the Bible. Wallace claims that while there is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation, God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient literature.

  • In this lecture, Daniel Wallace describes the discovery of Sinaiaticus, and its importance to the field of textual criticism. He recounts fascinating details about his visits to St. Catherine’s, the oldest Christian monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

  • This lecture summarizes the life of Constantine von Tischendorf [1815-1874], and his very important discovery of Codex Sinaiticus.

  • This lecture describes highlights of the history of NT TC since the TR. Describing the formation of the textus receptus, Wallace also characterizes major players in the process of arriving at the modern text.

  • This lecture describes Westcott and Hort, and how they dethroned the Textus Receptus by proving that the Textus Receptus was late, inferior, and secondary.

  • This lecture is 1 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism. Eclecticism is the process of compiling a text from multiple sources, while reasoned eclecticism consists of rectifying the differences and evaluating variants based on both their attestation and intrinsic merit.

  • This lecture is 2 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism.

  • This lecture illustrates the principles of reasoned eclecticism.

  • Was Jesus "moved with compassion" or "indignant" when he saw that his disciples could not heal the man with leprosy?

  • Why was the man waiting for so many years at the pool of Bethesda? Was there really an angel stirring up the waters and healing the first one in?

  • Do these two passages call Jesus “God”? Thankfully, the Bible affirms the divinity of Christ many other ways and in many other passages than these two.

  • This lecture presents some very technical arguments for why Daniel Wallace believes that the phrase “ουδεουιός” (nor the Son) is not an authentic part of Matthew 24:36.

  • This lesson teaches you to appreciate the rigorous historical research required in biblical studies and the importance of respecting dual authorship. It sharpens your understanding of external and internal textual evidence and their implications for a passage's authenticity.
  • The text of Mark 16:9-20 is most likely not part of the original inspired text of scripture, and v 8 is Mark's intended ending.

  • This lecture evaluates popular translations of the Bible in terms of their textual basis. The bottom line is that while all translations are interpretations, The Spirit of God has ensured that the truth of the scriptures can be found in any one of them, and reading widely among different versions is good to promote understanding about different concerns of TC.

  • As time progresses in the field of Textual Criticism, we continue to get razor-thin closer to the original manuscripts. The good news is that with all the known variants, no essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any viable variant, so we can have great confidence in the text of our Bibles to provide us all we need for life and godliness.

Dr. Daniel Wallace is one of the world's leading textual critics. His ministry, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) is currently the most prolific organization for discovering, photographing, and cataloging ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. In this class, he discusses the issues of textual variants, how ancient manuscripts were made, the types of errors that we can see in the manuscripts, the issue of the Textus Receptus and its role in the King James translation of the Bible, the historic work of Westcott and Hort, and ends with discussions of the most famous textual problems.

Dr. Wallace gives a three hour summary of this class in our Academy program. The first of the lectures is here.

Please visit Dr. Wallace's ministry, Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and support them financially. 

Thank you to our friends at Credo House for sharing this class with us. You can purchase their workbook or the DVDs for the class from them.



1. The Materials for Making a Codex: Three Different Materials were Actually Used

A. Papyrus

Papyrus which would have always come from Egypt and then there was Parchment which were animal skins. You have parchment which is a general generic term and then vellum which is a term used for very fine parchment and then much later comes paper. The earliest New Testament manuscripts
were all written on papyrus. They were used from the 2nd century through the 7th century and even perhaps the 8th century for New Testament manuscripts. Parchment manuscripts began to be used, perhaps as early as the 2nd century. There may be one or two manuscripts from the late 2nd century written on parchments. They were certainly used from the 3rd century through to the 16th century. These parchment manuscripts would be animal skins which had to go through a rigorous process of skinning and scrapping all the hair off and sometimes you can still see the hair on one side of the parchment. It is even possible to tell what kind of animal was used by the hair patterns and other things on these parchment leaves. They could even tell what animals lived in the region where the parchment was made. Sheep were often used along with gazelles and also deer. Codex Sinaiticus, our earliest complete New Testament and which was originally a complete Bible would have taken as least three hundred and fifty sheep to have made the codex. It was one of the most fabulous Bibles ever produced in history. Keep this mind when we talk about the last category of manuscripts we have today which is palimpsestos, old manuscripts that were re-scraped. Paper manuscripts were used from the 9th century through the 16th century. Until 1975, we didn’t know of any New Testament manuscripts that were that early. But in 1975, there was a hidden storeroom found at Saint Catherine’s monetary at Mount Sinai, Egypt. They found among the manuscripts, some 9th-century paper manuscripts. We do know that the Chinese who invented paper first brought it to Egypt. But now this discovery that happens in 1975 is rewriting the history of how paper got into the west.

B. Parchment

Parchment manuscripts are the predominant; the vast majority of our New Testament manuscripts are written on parchment. We have talked about how papyrus was made and how you had to take these long fibers of papyrus and beat them down and make them go perpendicular and then they
would soak them in water, either for seven or fourteen days. The longer you soaked them, the darker the papyrus got. The lighter color papyrus is something that looks better and easier to read because you get a stronger contrast with the ink. But it wasn’t considered as elegant. P46 was written on darker papyrus. I am not sure whether it is the making of the papyrus or the browning over time. When I was in Cairo, they showed me how the papyri were produced. The first manuscript to be cataloged is at the University of Pennsylvania and it is in their archaeological museum. They also had massive Egyptian stone statues. Interestingly, the vast majority of the things museums have are not on display. They kind of rotate things around at times. Only about five people a year see this papyrus that was located in the basement of this museum. The first part of Matthew chapter one is on verso, the second part is on rectos going with the fibers. The second half of the quire may have been the Gospels, but that wasn’t always the case. Not too many things could have come before Matthew chapter one and here is a manuscript that starts on the verso. Some have suggested that the codex form of the book was invented precisely so that you could have all four Gospels under one cover. T C Skeet who was the curator at the British Library for many decades; was actually working on December 7, 1933, when Codex Sinaiticus was brought into the British Library. He was the one who got to publish the text in a number of ways. Skeet argued that the codex form was invented precisely to get all four Gospels in one book which you could not have done on a scroll. A scroll could be up to thirty-five feet at the most where one roll could contain perhaps Luke or John or Acts.

This tells us that when Luke wrote his Gospel and the Book of Acts, he stood these out most likely at the same time, one being volume one and the other volume two, simple because he couldn’t put them in one scroll. So we have the scroll and the limitations of it. That may be why the codex form was used with papyri. For Parchment manuscripts, we have a little more information. As I have already mentioned there was parchment, ultra-thin animal skins, almost translucent. You could see through to the other side a little. You could see the ink coming through the parchment on the other side, so you got some bleed through. It was kind of like the Bible paper of today, ultra-thin paper sometimes used in printing Bibles on. So, codex Sinaiticus was discovered in 1859; it is the only four column codex in the world. It is a complete New Testament; the oldest complete New Testament we have by five hundred years. It was discovered by Constantine von Tischendorf at St Catherine’s in Egypt. There is a textual problem at Romans 5:1, but before that, you can see thousands of images of papyrus, parchment and paper manuscripts at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts website. And one of the things you will notice on these parchment images are holes that look like oval-shaped holes for the most part in the leaves. The reason for them; they were made by the person preparing the parchment for writing on it. He scrapped it very thin with a crescent-shaped knife and every once in a while, he punctures the parchment where they had it on a stretched loom. So they would write around the hole and sometimes they would write with the assumption that you would know what word the following word was. The very finest parchment has no holes and yet I have seen only one manuscript that doesn’t have holes in it. Codex Sinaiticus has holes in it along with Codex Vaticanus which is a facsimile, all signed by Pope John Paul II on Christmas Day, 1999. If there is a hole in the manuscript, there is also a hole in the facsimile.

So the key characteristics of vellum verses normal parchment are that you will not have very many holes or none at all. It is going to be a thinner leaf and it will typically be wider. When they put the letters on the parchment, the scribe would go back and get some egg white and cover the text with the egg white which kept the ink from get hurt too much. So we have Codex Sinaiticus housed in the British library right next to Codex Alexandrinus and this is in the second column on that same page leaf 63 verso. I mentioned earlier that when it came to papyri, the verso and recto has to do with the direction of the fibers. This is how you look at papyri. If you look at it horizontally, we always call that the recto regardless whether it is the front of the page or back of the page. Vertically, we call that the verso. But when it comes to parchment, there is a difference. What is called the recto, this is always the front page and the verso is always the back page. I am looking at Romans 5:1 on the parchment before you, we have what is called the echomen or echomen (this makes the verb ‘have’ a hortatory subjunctive instead of an indicative), a variant, ‘therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.’ So, we have peace with God or let us have peace with God, Paul says. Echomen with the Omega and a round ‘w’ in the middle means ‘let us have peace with God.’ The original scribe wrote Echomen with the Omega, ‘let us have peace’ where a later scribe changed it to the omicron and that now says ‘we have peace.’ So do we have peace or should we have peace with God? Quite frankly, both of these are true in different senses. We do have peace with God positionally; what is affected here is not theology but exergies, how we interpret Romans chapter 5.

In Codex Sinaiticus, as helpful as we might have thought it would be; you have an original scribe that did this and then a later scribe that does something else. That later scribe in the scriptorium is the one who checks out the work of other scribes before it gets sent out to the owner. It’s the same as getting a paperback from a professor and you see corruption. The obvious best answer is what the teacher wrote. So is this what we have here; is this by that scribe. The original corrector of these manuscripts may have done this before the manuscript left the monastery. We have a 10th to 11th-century manuscript; Codex 2882 of Luke’s Gospel which has 46 leaves and 92 pages. It was registered in Munster, Germany in January 2008. It contains all of Luke except for 22.5b-35, a single leaf which was the first leaf of an original 8-leaf quire. The manuscript currently ends with the kephalaia for John and a hymn about the evangelist on 46b. In regards to text size, these are minuscule which means that it is written with a running hand, lower case letters. It is now owned by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. You can see the hair side of the animal skin of the manuscript. In matching the hair side to the hair side, it is always darker and they try to match the flesh side to the flesh side which is always lighter because it is the inside of the animal. There are also quotations from Old Testament sources seen in the margins of the leaves. These were helpful for readers. There are also some Greek letters in the margins and so these manuscripts were known as the Eusebian canons and the sections that stood out were also known as Ammonian Sections. These divided the four Gospels into chapters and verses used in modern texts dates. These were used between late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Eusebius himself in the early 4th century had this table to show them certain letters in the margins which meant that a person was in a certain chapter and verse and it had a parallel to the other Gospels. Note that this was before chapters and verses were put into the Bible. It is still valuable today for when we go on expeditions to photograph manuscripts and we want to find where we are in the Gospels, we use the Eusebia Canons. It tells us what that verse is in modern versification. It has nomina sacra, an abbreviated name of Jesus with a horizontal bar over the top saying not to read it as a word but as something else. There is also what is called an arche meaning the beginning or the first place and then it ends with an abbreviation called telos or end as in reaching the end. So in these manuscripts they mark them for Old Testament quotations, they mark them to show where they were in the Gospels, they would mark them to show certain words that were not to be read but instead they were sacred names that you were supposed to pronounce out. And they marked them to say that this was the beginning or this is the end of what you were supposed to read for certain holy days. These were reader helps. But they didn’t number the pages, things that we think are more important, they left out.

We have a lectionary, a book that is not continuous Scripture but passages of Scripture that would be read for a certain day. There are two kinds: one is a self-contained Gospel story known as a pericope, an extract from a text, especially a passage from the Bible and so they would read that whole pericope for the day. One day, it might be from Matthew’s Gospel while the next day, it might be from Luke’s Gospel and then it goes to Mark and then John and then back to Matthew. So, there was a certain order that they would read these lectionaries in. And these lectionaries where always put into two columns which made it easier for reading in public. Like the Codex Sinaiticus which had four columns, it was meant to be read in public. And so, here was a two column manuscript and what I have noticed in a lot of the lectionaries; in the lower right hand corner, it is usually much darker than the rest of the manuscript. This was the result of licking your figures to turn the pages.

C. Paper

So, we have a manuscript that is on paper. In the top margin of the pages, you can see some holes which are wormholes and you also get server water damage that you don’t get as much with parchment. But the wormholes are a dead give-away; worms ate wood and rats ate animal skins. If it is a high-quality paper, it is read hard to tell from a high-quality vellum sheet. You can look for the wormholes or the rat holes. You will often see in the lower right-hand corner where the person has licked his or her finger to turn the page. You can always something new from different manuscripts that you examine. I have one manuscript that was shot with UV light so that we could see the under-text. Often, scribes would take used manuscripts and scrape off the text and use it again to finish up a book. This is called a palimpsestos as meaning, scraped again. So because it is parchment, you can scrape the letters off. The upper text is majuscule while the under-text if minuscule and UV lamps were needed to bring out the under-text. The reuse of this got so bad that Emperor Charlemagne sent out an empire wide order telling people not to do this anymore. But the practice still continued and to this day, there are approximately three hundred palimpsestos manuscripts in Europe.

I want to talk about lectionary 28 which is in some respects is the most unusual manuscript that I have ever seen. Paleographically it has been assigned to the 13th century. It contains lessons from the Gospels of John, Matthew, Luke lectionary (Evangelistarium), with lacunae. It is written in Greek minuscule letters, on 198 parchment leaves (25.5 cm by 19.5 cm, in columns per page, 20-24 lines per page. It also contains musical notes and has been ornamented. So you have this Minuscule text and then you have this Majuscule text sitting next to it on a shelf that got damp. That ink from the majuscule text got transferred over to the minuscule text and it leaves a mirror image in reverse letters. And that is all is left of the majuscule text. This was at a place in central Greece and the minuscule was on top of the majuscule but the minuscule text came later than the majuscule text. This was impossible but I figured out that I was looking at the backside of the top layer of parchment where we only have the ink left that has been pressed against the Minuscule text. This is a most unusual manuscript.

2. Summary

So, parchment was by far the most durable material, followed by papyrus then paper. Knowing about the form of the book helps to interpret the data, especially what would have been in the missing leaves.