Textual Criticism - Lesson 14

Some Famous Papyri Manuscripts (Part 2)

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.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Some Famous Papyri Manuscripts (Part 2)


A. Almost all discovered after 19th century

B. 127 total so far [published], all fragmentary, containing half the NT

C. 2nd – 8th century

D. Those within c. 125 years of NT contain 43%+ of NT

E. Confirm superiority of Alexandrian text (no early Byzantine papyri)


A. F.C. Baur (dated John 160 A.D.)

B. C.H. Roberts (1934)

1. Codex fragment of John 18

2. AD 100 – 150 (could be earlier)

3. Earliest manuscript written as a codex

4. Basically Alexandrian


A. Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland

B. Purchase of MSS in Egypt

C. 30 leaves of P46 at University of Michigan

D. Published in 1930’s


A. 3rd century

B. Gospels of Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, Acts (Western order)

C. Oldest MS of Mark’s Gospel

D. 30 leaves of an original A.D. 112

E. Text is a bit puzzling


A. 3rd century

B. Revelation

C. Oldest MS of Revelation

D. Ten leaves

E. Excellent text


A. AD 200

B. Paul’s letters + Hebrews

C. Oldest MS of Paul

D. 86 leaves of an original 104

E. Single quire

F. 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Pastorals missing

G. Ephesians 1.1

Class Resources
  • 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. Papyri (part 2)

a.) Bodmer Papyri 

Continuing on with famous papyri manuscripts, we want to look briefly at the Martin Bodmer Papyri, P66 and P75. These were purchased by Martin Bodmer of Geneva and housed in a small two-building museum on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was published by his associated in the 1950’s and 60’s. P66 was published first and then P75 was published a little later. P66 has most of John’s Gospel, the first fourteen chapters. It is virtually complete and dated about AD 175; some date it as early as AD 150 while others date it as late as AD 200. However, P75 has most of Luke and John and it is dated about AD 200 or a little later. Even though it is not as early as P66, what we will see is the fact that it is a significantly better manuscript than P66. But P66 isn’t a necessarily bad manuscript; it is just that P75 is a phenomenal manuscript. Remember in the last lecture, we saw that P52 was important because of how early it showed that John’s Gospel existed before the second half of the second century. P66 and P75 will show us the actual text of John and Luke and how some of the 4th-century manuscripts reflect the early texts.

P66: P66 doesn’t contain the pericope of the adulteress that was brought before Jesus to be judged, John 7:53-8:11. This is one of two disputed large passages in the New Testament in terms of its authenticity. This is, however, one of the most beloved passages of Scripture. For me, it is my most favorite passage not in the Bible. It’s one of these where we have a lot of emotional baggage associated with it. We want it to be part of the Bible and I have heard pastors preach on this passage even though it isn’t authentic. The earliest manuscript we have with this story is from the 5th century, but the vast majority of the manuscripts did not have this passage in it for the first eight centuries. It was only in the 9th century that is appears in the majority of readings. It is not even found in most lectionaries, nor do we have a church father quoting on the passage until the 12th century. It doesn’t fit into John’s vocabulary or his style; there are all sorts of reasons why it is not authentic. It was obvious that the scribes wanted this story to be part of the Scriptures. They weren’t sure where it went but they decided that it was a true story about Jesus putting it after John 7:52. It also goes in other places in John, at the end as a standalone story. It also goes between Luke and John, after Luke 21.38. It is what is called, a floating text. If you had never read this passage before in your life, I don’t think your faith would be any different. We see Jesus forgiving sinners elsewhere in the Gospels. So, is it canonical? Is it historical? We will deal with these two questions later. So P66 does not have this passage. Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus don’t have this passage either. Codex Alexandrinus, a Byzantine manuscript, doesn’t have it. Interestingly the story is actually a Byzantine reading.

We see that the scribe of P66 was very concerned with calligraphy in the text. This was a professionally trained scribe. The letters of the text are more uniform in terms of the size; it is a handsome manuscript, well written. The scribe was very concerned with making pretty letters. And what is also interesting about this, is what he calls the Gospel of John. He lists it, ‘The Gospel, According to John.’ We will come back to this issue later when we look at the major majuscules. But what is important now; many manuscripts say ‘according to John’ but instead P66 calls it ‘the Gospel According to John.’ So late 2nd century is the date and it has the Gospel According to John.

P75: The other famous Bodmer Papyrus is P75. Like P66 it doesn’t have the story of the woman caught in adultery. It is also an important early manuscript of Luke and John. Next to the Codex Vaticanus, this is the most important manuscript we have for Luke and John. I would consider it to be probably 3rd most important New Testament manuscript in the world because of how carefully it was done. The scribe wasn’t a professional; probably he did this for personal use, yet he was faithful. It agrees with Codex Vaticanus more than any other early manuscript. These two manuscripts have the closest agreement of any two earlier manuscripts. It is very significant when we begin to think about that. The scribe copied one letter at a time, did a faithful copy with strict rigorous controls; it was a private copy. This manuscript was a gift to the Vatican in 2006 and has a curious twist in regards to the history. When I visited the Bodmer museum in 2003, it was being renovated and this had gone on for some time. For some reason, they decided to sell their most precious item in the entire museum, P75. I wanted to go there to see P75 and secondarily P66, the second most important item in the museum. Perhaps they ran out of money; I don’t know. They sold this manuscript so that they could renovate the museum further. In 2006 when they offered it to the world for sale, Yale University offered them fifty million dollars. They were turned down. It was donated to the Vatican by an anonymous donor who purchased it at an undisclosed price, presumably more than fifty million dollars.

We have Luke chapter 24 and John chapter 1. What they typical did on these manuscripts when they got to the end of the books, they would also repeat the name of it. So, it says, ‘The Gospel According to Luke’ and then the beginning of the next section, ‘The Gospel According to John.’ This is the oldest manuscript with the end of one Gospel and the beginning of another on the same page. What this tells us, we know in our earlier manuscripts, the order of the Gospels were Luke and then John, rather than John and then Luke. At the same time, we know of other early manuscripts that the order was John and Luke. The Western Order had Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. Whole dissertations have been done of the order of the books in the New Testament and why they were done in the way they were. The order we know being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but the Western order which may have been the original order of the earliest manuscripts. Just like in Codex P66, it is ‘The Gospel According to John.’

In comparing P66 to P75, you will see that we are dealing with something that is pretty ugly. This shows us that professional scribes aren’t always the most faithful scribes. When Bart Ehrman argued with me in our second debate at SMU, that the earlier scribes were not professionally trained, and therefore they made a lot of mistakes. Those two points don’t necessarily go together. P75 was not a professional scribe and yet he was one of more careful scribes we have of all our New Testament manuscripts. There are seventeen early papyri that are not professionally done but have very good quality texts. So, there is no direct correspondence between the quality of a scribe’s professional training and quality of his text. Those two things are hit and miss.

One last textual problem: We have talked about the title, the story of the woman caught in adultery and now we will look at a textual problem in John chapter 1. In John 1:18 in the Kings James Bible, it says, ‘no man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.’ In the original King James Bible, the word ‘him’ at the end is put in italics. Then the Net Bible, a modern translation that I was a senior editor for, says ‘no one has ever seen God, the only one himself God who is in closest fellowship with the Father has made him known.’ The changing of the ‘only begotten’ to ‘only one’, the Greek seems to mean, ‘the unique one’ rather than ‘the only begotten one.’ The only other difference here, really, is in the Greek word after ‘begotten’ or ‘only one.’ So is it ‘Son’ or is it ‘God?’ Those two words are what are at debate here. The King James has ‘the only begotten Son.’ We see this again in John 3:16 and John uses this as it is one of his favorites usage. Do we see, ‘the unique one, himself, God’ anywhere else in John’s Gospel? It doesn’t occur in John’s Gospel and nowhere in the New Testament does it occur. So the question is what is likely to have happened here? Did the scribes change ‘Son’ to ‘God’ where nowhere else in the New Testament do you have that expression? Or did they see God in text and decided to change it to ‘Son’. I take it that the second thing is exactly what happened. What is significant in the manuscripts, P66 and P75 and other early Alexandrine manuscripts have the unique one or the only one, himself, God. That suggests that this is what the original text says.

I also mentioned the word ‘him’ in italics. The King James Bible follows the tradition that was started with the Geneva Bible in 1560 of putting words in italics that was not in the original language. We use italics today to emphasize something, something that is really strong. It is emphatic in the original. There is one translation, a modern translation that still uses, or did until very recently, italics to indicate it is absent in the original. That is the New American Standard Bible, but I’m perplexed by this. This Bible is supposed to be a revision of the King James and the two things it does, it puts words in italics that should probably be put in brackets instead. The other thing, it begins each verse in a new paragraph. Now, later additions of the NASB allow larger paragraphs. But having each verse as a new paragraph encourages people not to read verses within their context. We need to read the Bible within their paragraph in order to understand what it is saying within context. The reason why the NASB does it that way; in 1551, Robert Stephanus produced a Greek New Testament which was called the fourth edition; it was the first New Testament ever to have verse numbers in it. He had the Greek text of Erasmus, the Latin Vulgate and then Erasmus’s Latin translation. In order for people to see where these verses lined up, he actually gave them numbers for the first time. The chapters had already been done by a scholar several centuries before they had these verse numbers. When he did this, he started each new verse and indented it like it was a new paragraph. The first translation that used verse numbers was the Geneva Bible in 1560, indenting each verse making it a new paragraph. The King James did this as well. The various forms of the Word of God have influenced how people read it. If we read this as emphatic because it is in italics, we see something that is much stronger than what the original text says. In reading verses in isolation rather than within their own paragraph, we are wrenching them from their own context that makes claims that may not be true. So this influences how Scripture is being interpreted.

I think that these early papyri represent the original wording of John 1:18. More than likely someone changed the word for God to Son because that was what he was used to and consequently the King James Version doesn’t affirm the deity of Christ quite as strongly as modern translations do in this verse. Some claim that modern translations strip out the deity of Christ. But I think they are only trying to be faithful to what the text says. There are two other places where modern translations affirm the deity of Christ where the King James doesn’t. This is on the basis of Greek grammar. In being honest with the text, this affirms clearly the deity of Christ.

2. Summary

Papyri are extraordinarily important for the text of the New Testament. We have half of the New Testament from these papyri manuscripts. They especially tell us what the scape of that text looks like at that time in history. And compared to the fully later manuscripts, they confirm the text of the better manuscripts. They are our majuscules of 4th century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus which most scholars would regard as being the two most important New Testament manuscripts that we have as of now. The readings of those manuscripts are confirmed by what these papyri say. In conclusion, Hort of the Westcott Hort duo found a number of places in Luke and John where he felt that the text of Codex Vaticanus had the original wording where no other manuscripts has. When P75 was discovered and published in 1961, scholars began to realize P75 also had that same wording as Codex Vaticanus in several of those places, thus confirming that the way Hort was doing textual criticism was absolutely valid.