Textual Criticism - Lesson 12

Scribal Corruptions (intentional)

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.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 12
Watching Now
Scribal Corruptions (intentional)


Not evil or malicious, but generally pious


A. Tendency to change the grammar to conform to better Greek

B. ἵνα + future indicative (corrected by Byzantine)


A. Gospel Parallels (e.g., Luke 5:30; Mark 2:16)

B. OT Quotations

C. Contextual Parallels

D. Common Expressions


Mark 1:2–3


A. Combining two readings to make a new reading (esp. Byzantine)

B. Luke 24:53


A. Jesus’ name added in Mark 6 – 8

B. Eph 4:9


A. No cardinal doctrine is effected by these

B. Romans 8:1


A. Western Text of Acts: 8.5% more material (c. 3 extra chapters)

B. Titles of some NT books (e.g., Revelation)


The harder reading is to be preferred

  • 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.



A. Illustrations of Scribal corruptions (Part 2)

1. Intentional Changes

a. Why Would Scribes Intentionally Change the Text

As we pointed out last time, there are two kinds of corruptions that we have; those that were not intentional and the kinds that were intentional. Bruce Metzger in his book, the Standard Text of the New Testament says that odd though it seems the scribes who were thought to be more dangerous than those who wished to be faithful in copying what lay before them. Many of the alterations which may be classified as intentional were, no doubt, introduced in good faith by copyist who believed they were correcting an error which they thought had previously crept into the text that needed to be rectified.

b. Seven Categories

Spelling and grammar changes. Scribes would often change the text because they thought that it needed conforming to a better Greek. They were trying to change the grammar because they thought that the previous scribes somehow changed it. The second category was harmonization which went in the direction of Gospel Parallels. It was ubiquitous; you find this on every single page of an apparatus of the Greek New Testament. There are some manuscripts that they are going to harmonize to various other parallel passages. The third category was the correcting of apparent discrepancies of a
number of sorts. They would also at times conflate readings by combining two readings to make a new reading. We have already talked about Luke 24:53 before. The fifth category involves explanatory glosses. They wanted to add material to make the text clearer, not that they were trying to change the
meaning; they wanted to make it clear to what was being said. There were also doctrinally motivated changes; although these were rather few and far between and when they did occur, it wasn’t radical as some people have suggested. In fact, we haven’t seen any doctrinal changes whatsoever. There are
those who have followed the teachings of Bart Ehrman who state something similar to this, but not to the extent of those who like to exacerbate what Bart Ehrman said, especially Muslims, atheist, and anti-Christian people. What Bart Ehrman has done, has affected thousands of students especially, turning
them against God. So they have miss-read Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman’s book. The seventh category is the addition of enriching material.

1.) The first category involved spelling and grammar changes

There was a tendency to change the grammar of the Greek to conform to better Greek. There were some ancient dictionaries that said that certain words were forbidden to be used in literary production. There was a particular author who seemed to violate that more than all the rest of them combined and that was Mark. He wrote with a little more vulgar terminology. By vulgar, I don’t mean what we would classify as ‘dirty words’ as such. What he was doing was using colloquial language that you don’t use in a literary production. So, you have these kinds of changes to the grammar and to the lexical stock, etc. One illustration of this is the conjunction henna plus the future indicative being changed to an air subjunctive. Henna means so that or in order that and Greek grammar requires it to be followed by a subjunctive not by an indicative verb. A future indicative for example would be in Revelation 6:4 where it says, ‘so that people would butcher one another.’ That would be the air subjunctive. The future indicative would read ‘so that people will butcher one another.’ This is a minor grammatical thing and usually it is a change of a single letter in the word. It was the Byzantine scribes that usually tried to correct the grammar of these manuscripts to conform them to a higher register of Greek which would look more like the Greek that existed in its golden era, up to the time when Alexander the Great conquered the world. So you have the Byzantine scribes who changed this to the kind of Greek that the New Testament wasn’t written in for the most part. It was written on a more colloquial level and was meant to appeal to the masses. It wasn’t meant to be great literature in itself. So these Byzantine manuscripts that were changes it to a more literary Greek suggested that they were out of sorts as to what the New Testament was really saying. You simply would not get a scribe that would change this subjunctive into a future indicative. It would happen the other way around.

2.) Harmonizations

Harmonizations would be changes within Gospel Parallels and another would be quoting from the Old Testament. These Greek scribes knew Greek and many of them had copied out the Septuagint. However, most of them did not know Hebrew and it may well be that the biblical author was quoting from the Hebrew text, doing his own translation or modifying it for a particular purpose he had in mind. But the scribes seem to fatten those things out. One of the things that you need to understand about scribes for the most part, they didn’t understand the broad argument of the author. They understood the near context, the things that are happening right there. But what the author was trying to accomplish in writing the book; scribes didn’t think along those lines, but rather minutely they would conform the Old Testament quotations to the Septuagint which they knew in their day. So some of those harmonizations were contextual parallels which were in the context where the scribe wanted to change the wording in order to conform to what was said earlier. In the case of John 4:16-17 which we mentioned previously, you have three manuscripts that are quoting the woman at the well while speaking to Jesus where he says, ‘go and call your husband and come here.’ The woman replied that she didn’t have a husband and correctly you have said, ‘a husband, I don’t have.’ The scribes were bothers that Jesus didn’t quote her words correctly and so they changed the woman’s words. It is strange to see how these scribes have that kind of fundamentalism as such. And these are three of the scribes that Dean Burgan said were evil, malicious and unorthodox.

Then you have common expressions which are often used over and over again by a particular author. For example, in John 1:34, John the Baptist says for I have seen and I have testified that this is truly the Son of God. This is what you have in most manuscripts, but in Codex Sinaiticus and in two early papyri, one of which was discovered in 1998, says that I have seen and I have testified that this is the unique one of God. Not the Son of God. Consequently, what would the scribe be likely to do, to say this is the elect one or to say that this is the Son of God? Well, nowhere else does John call Jesus the elect one of God, but many times, he speaks of him as the Son of God. Scribes would be prone to change the elect one to the Son of God. And I this is significant that we see this kind of thing happening. In the Gospels, we have in Luke 5:30, but the Pharisees and the experts in the law complained to his disciples saying, why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? That same pericope, that same story is found in Mark 2 and there the wording is a little different, ‘so when the experts of the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ What you have in Luke is, ‘why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ There is no contradiction between these two, but even in things like this, you get some scribes to say, well, let’s harmonize the wording here. So, later Byzantine manuscripts harmonize Mark 2:16 in order to conform to Luke 5:30 by adding ‘and drink.’ So in the Byzantine manuscripts, it says, ‘why does he eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ So it is the same wording that Luke has in his.

Even when it did involve supposed discrepancies, scripts tended to harmonize. It was a massive motivation on their part. So, virtually all manuscripts harmonized to some degree, showing that the manuscripts were not produced by heretics or at least those who may have been produced by heretics
did not seem to produce heretical ideas, at least, not very often. In fact, it’s difficult to find any place where this had been done.

3.) They also corrected apparent Discrepancies

Again, the piety of the scribes is seen here. Virtually all manuscripts correct apparent discrepancies. Mark 1:2-3 is a classic text. ‘As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’ And then you have other manuscripts that say ‘in the prophets’ instead of in Isaiah the prophet. What changed which? The quotation is not just from Isaiah; it actually starts with Malachi 3:1 and finishes off with Isaiah 40:3. Most of the later scribes changed the wording in order to generically reflect both Old Testament passages. It would be too cumbersome to mention both places. So instead they just say in the prophets. It is a predictable variant; it could have arisen in more than one place at one time. It is that later byzantine manuscripts that have the generic ‘in the prophets’ while the earlier manuscripts have in Isaiah the prophet. These are places where the scribe correct what they viewed as discrepancies which are most likely not discrepancies; in fact, we are not really sure how to resolve this issue, some have suggested that Isaiah was the head prophet. This is just like how Jesus had this view of what came first, such as Moses, then the songs and then the prophets. Perhaps it was once called the Law, the Psalms and Isaiah. We have to look at the evidence in terms of what the best manuscripts are telling us and then choose the reading that best explains the rise of the other. If we had the original reading of the text in the prophets, would the scribes have chosen Isaiah the prophet? The same scribes would have copied out the Old Testament, so would they do that knowing that it wasn’t just Isaiah but also Malachi? Or would it have been more like that the scribes saw Isaiah the prophet and chose to add, ‘and the prophets?’

4.) The fourth category of intentional errors is conflations

This is the combination of two readings to make a new reading. The vast majority of textual variants cannot be conflated. For example, you get a change in the spelling of a word. You can’t have John with two ‘n’s’ in the middle and then John with one ‘n’. You will not have these kinds of readings. So, as you look in the New Testament, you will not be able to find conflations on every page in the apparatus of these two readings being combined. It could be a different tense that is used. What we see is that the Byzantine manuscripts are especially prone to conflate. I used Luke 24:53 earlier where they were continually in the temple blessings or praising God or blessing and praising God. These included three different groups of variants in different groups of manuscripts. The Byzantine manuscripts have blessing and praising God, the Alexandrian have blessing God whereas the Western manuscripts have praising God. Theoretically, it is possible that the Alexandrian picked up just the half of this longer reading and the Western picked up the other half where the Byzantine had the original. But this is not possible in other places where we see clear inflations. It just can’t be done that way. This is the only one that I know of where the Byzantine text can make that argument. I am using this as an easy illustration, and so most likely the Byzantine text is the one that is conflating from two earlier traditions. This is one of the principle arguments that Hort used to say that the Byzantine text is therefore secondary by definition. If it is combining two readings that are found in earlier text types, then it has to be a later text form. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that misses manuscripts in every place. There are some places where the Byzantine probably contains the original wording.

5.) Next, we have explanatory Glosses

This is where scribes would add enriching material to make things clearer. We have talked about some of these places before; for example, the eighty-nine sequential verses in Mark, chapters 6-8 that never mention Jesus by name or title. So the scribes put in the name of Jesus in three key places in those eighty-nine verses. The later manuscripts put the name of Jesus in to make sure that the reader knows that it is Jesus that they are talking about. There is also Ephesians 4:9 that says, now what is the meaning of he ascended, except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth? Later manuscripts add ‘first’ before ‘descended’. So he first descended to lower parts of the earth, so that the descent would be before the ascent. There is still a problem in interpreting this text. Is this talking about a descent into hell? Most scholars would say that it is probably a descent of God into human form. So God became man and dwell among us. The lower parts of the earth would be the lower parts of the universe, namely the earth. There is a third view; he actually descended on the day of Pentecost in the form of the Spirit. If that is the case, he didn’t descend first before he ascended. Sheffield, a friend of mine, doesn’t think the word ‘first’ is authentic. In fact, this clutters the image, it gets rid of that as a possibility; Jesus ascends into heaven and then he descends again in the person of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Sometimes, these scribes think they know what the text means and they try to clarify it. So if the author is correct in the way he originally put it, then the scribes are wrong.

6.) Then, there are doctrinally motivated changes

Although these comprise a significant number of textual variants, no cardinal doctrine is affected by them, not one. I think this is a strong testimony to the Spirit’s providential care of the text. We have some places in the New Testament where it seems like scribes have changed the wording to protect certain kinds of doctrines; but did they really change completely to make it different? You have followers of Bart Ehrman and then also Muslims who have said that scribes have changed the picture of Jesus, so now he is the God-man when he wasn’t originally. That is not what Ehrman says and that is not what the Scriptures say. An illustration, Romans 8:1, the oldest witnesses say, therefore now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is an absolute statement. We are not condemned if we are in Christ. Later witnesses added the qualifier of who do not walk according to the flesh. Now, is this a description of those who are not under condemnation or is saying if you don’t want to be condemned, you have to both be in Christ and you can’t walk according to the flesh. So, it is a kind of add on; it is something that has to be true of you. If even later witnesses add the positive, but who walk according to the Spirit. So, as time goes on, the text grows; this is one of the few texts that have this kind of thing. The growth of the New Testament over fourteen hundred years is only two percent. But this is a place where the verse expanded up to nearly twice the length. So you have in these later manuscripts that read, ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’ There are some differences and what you tend to get with these later manuscripts by orthodox scribes is a kind of eclipses of grace. It is a kind of missing the absolute statement of our salvation in Christ. But it is very rare to see that kind of change. This may be the only one of them.

7.) The final category is the addition of enriching material

We have talked about the Western text of Acts having eight and half percent more material than the Alexandrian text does. That is virtually equivalent to almost three extra chapters. But it isn’t three chapters at the end, it is a phrase here or a verse there added throughout Acts. So, the Western text of Acts adds more material than any other text does of any other book of the New Testament. That is why you can say that we have a 94 percent agreement among all the manuscripts throughout the entire New Testament. This is very significant. Why would you have this addition of enriching material in the Book of Acts? I think Acts was a narrative that goes through the 60s; that is 60 AD. We are not talking about Paul’s letters and we are not talking about the Gospels. So you have in this early period, probably before Acts was viewed as Scripture. Some people added to that because there were people who were there and they remembered things about Paul and so they added marginal notes. So, you have those kinds of additions that grow in the text and expand on it. One of my doctorial students did his term paper in textual criticism on Western text of Acts. He found of all these additions, there were probably three or four that may be due to personal reminisces. He didn’t argue that they were authentic as to who actually wrote them. I think these may be due to actual personal reminisces rather than people adding personal marginal notes. You also have an addition of enriching materials especially in the title of the New Testament books. On the end of every single New Testament book, in some manuscripts you have one word that is added, ‘amen.’ Now some books actually ended that way. We find that in the earliest strata of manuscripts. Some scribes wouldn’t put it in some manuscripts because they didn’t find it in the previous manuscript. But there were other scribes who felt that they had to say ‘amen’ at the end of every manuscript. We are not talking about a massive doctrinal conspiracy here. We just saying what some scribes did.

In the Book of Revelation, it has sixty different titles in the manuscripts. And the shortest of them is simply, The Revelation of John. The standard title that you see in the King James Bible reads, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine; calling John divine doesn’t mean that he is a member of the God-head. It means Saint John the Theologian. But the longer title, found in an 18th-century manuscript, Codex 1775 reads, The Revelation of the All Glorious Evangelist, Boson Friend of Jesus, Virgin, Beloved of Christ, John the Theologian, Son of Selonian Zebedee, but adopted Son of Mary, the Mother of God and Son of Thunder. As time passes, the titles of these books actually expand. What we discovered in the Gospels, most likely the earliest titles were simply, According to Matthew, According to Mark, According to Luke and According to John. Then later they added the word, The Gospel, According to Matthew, etc. There is no conspiracy when a scribe writes out one title rather than another title. The two most important manuscripts of Mark, one says simply, According to Mark. These are not scribes that are doing the work with some kind of deviant doctrinal reason; they are not heretics, they are faithful scribes who were trying to copy out the Scriptures.

2. Summary of Intentional Changes

Scribes changed the text unintentionally which is the most common change and then there were the intentional changes. Most intentional changes were due to piety or a desire for clarification. A major criterion for determining the original wording it that the harder reading is to be preferred or choose the reading that best describes the rise of the others. This particular one is the hard reading is to be preferred; other things being equal, the one that is perhaps more difficult grammatically, the style that conforms to the Septuagint or other parallels is most likely the original because we cannot conceive as to why a scribe would change Mark’s so that it disharmonizes with Matthew or no longer harmonizes with Luke because these same scribes make those harmonizations in singular readings. So this tells us that these are some of the basics of how we view the texts and I think it is helpful for us to wrestle with these intentional changes as part of how we look at what the scribes did.