Textual Criticism - Lesson 15

Some Famous Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 1)

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.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 15
Watching Now
Some Famous Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 1)


A. Most important mss

B. Majuscule (capital letter) ms on parchment

C. Previously known a “uncials”

D. Break at end of sentences between syllables

E. Whole NT reproduced many times over (3rd–10th century)


A. Latin Letters

B. Greek Letters

C. Hebrew Letter (e.g., Hebrew aleph א)

D. Arabic number with zero in front (e.g., 01, 032)


A. 322 majuscules

B. 127 papyri

C. 2900 minuscules (latest one discovered by CSNTM)


A. Known 1475 (Vatican Library)

B. Used by Erasmus indirectly and minimally

C. Description

1. Early 4th century codex with most of the Bible (through Heb 9:13)

2. Most important MS to the Bible, not published until 19th century

3. Best Alexandrian ms (lacks <>i>Pericope Adulterae)

D. Comments

1. Heb 1:3

2. Lacks long ending of Mark’s Gospel


A. Known 1581, donated to Cambridge University by Theodore Beza in 1581

B. Description

1. Early 5th century (400-410), but text is early 2nd century

2. Diglot of Gospels and Acts (8.5% more text of Acts than others mss)

3. Most eccentric NT MS, Western text, and oldest MS with Pericope Adulterae

C. Variants

1. Luke 6:4

2. Mark 1.40-41





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. Majuscule Manuscripts (part 1)

Introduction: In this lecture, we will look at some famous manuscripts that are known as majuscules. This will be divided into two lectures and these are the most important manuscripts that we have. They are early ‘capital letter’ manuscripts created on parchment covering the whole of the New Testament.
They are the ones that were made for churches and places where they would be read publically. Because of this, the intention was to have them done faithfully and in addition, many of them were done very carefully. These manuscripts were previously known as unscules; this word refers to Latin words and doesn’t have any reference to Greek. But Greek New Testament scholars always called them unscules, including Bruce Metzger. In the fourth edition of his book, The Text of the New Testament, he says, ‘these are majuscules, formerly called unscules.’ Once Metzger changed it, everybody else changed it and starting calling them majuscules. Everybody knew that unscules were never appropriate for Greek manuscripts. They are also called ‘capital letter manuscripts’ and were written without any division between the words. Another important thing, they would always end a line in terms of syllabification; they would never do that. Their dates are from the 3rd century and possibly even the 2nd century to the 10th century. We have one or two that are right between the 2nd and 3rd century. We don’t designate them by a ‘P’ in front of them or by ‘M’ for majuscule, but by one of four ways; we use Latin letters which is the same as our alphabet (except with no ‘J’). We also used Greek letters and a Hebrew letter in the singular or an Arabic number with a zero ‘0’ in front. So, there are four different designations and this is due more to historical reasons than anything else. J J Vetchstine in 1750-51 produced a two-volume New Testament with marginal notes from various literatures. He also gave designations to the manuscripts; this was the first time they had some kind of identification. Principally, he used the letters of the Latin alphabet. Later, when there were more manuscripts than letters, scholars then changed to the Greek letters which were distinct from the Latin alphabet. One manuscript even has a Hebrew letter for it; only one and it is a fascinating story as to why this occurred and who came up with it. We will discuss this letter.

The last designation uses an Arabic number with a zero in front. Note that for the Latin manuscripts, we have two that are known as Codex D. One is actually manuscript 05 and the other 06. The reason you can use the same Latin letter for more than one manuscript is because they don’t overlap in the text they have. The first Codex D, Codex Bezae at Cambridge University is a 5th century manuscript with the Gospels and Acts. The second one, Codex Clare Montanus is in Paris. It is from the 6th century with the Epistles in it. There is no overlap between the content of the two. All of these manuscripts have the Arabic number with a zero in front. This is the universal way in which they are recognized. So Codex Sinaiticus, also known as the letter Aleph has another designation, known as 01. There is only one manuscript that is 032, also known as Codex W. Now, note that there is one translation that will cite these manuscripts in its apparatus and gives a lot of textual critical notes; this translation is the Net Bible. Rather than say most ancient authorities or some ancient manuscripts say this, they are listed and described. This is helpful to understand those textual critical notes. If you would reduce those notes just to the text itself, there would be a hundred pages of very fine print.

So far to date, we have discovered 322 majuscules. There are 127 papyri and 322 majuscules and 2,900 minuscules. The later you go in time, the more manuscripts you have. The latest majuscule to be discovered was found by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts in 2004. It is known as Codex 0322 and it is a palimpsest of Mark 3 and Mark 6. A palimpsest is one that has been scraped over and reused. You can see on this manuscript, background capital letters that they attempted to scrape off. There is also red lettering which is known as rubrication of the 1st millennium. Somehow they must have used a different kind of ink because that red lettering usually is stronger than that of later manuscripts. These red letters tell us some very interesting things and you can almost not read any of the capital letter text beside the red letters. You have the word telos written which means end of the lection that is read for that day and then a top arrow going horizontally to the left which start with art kay indicating that is the beginning. That is the beginning of the lesson you read for the next day. In the margin, there are two letters over another letter; this is called the Eusebian Cannon telling the scribes and the readers where they are in the Gospels. It is these three things that help us understand and identify where you are in the text.

Codex 0322: The discovery of Codex 0322 happened when we were in St George’s Cathedral in Istanbul at the Ecumenical Patriarchy of Constantinople. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is the direct administrative superior of dioceses and archdioceses serving millions of Eastern Orthodox churches around the World. They kept bringing manuscripts out to us that often would be the wrong manuscript. We had actually asked to photograph specific manuscripts; however, the numbering system they used was a little unusual. They had about three hundred manuscripts in their library which wasn’t very many. Around the 1900 they had sixty Greek New Testament manuscripts. Manuscript #67 out of that 300 went missing for some reason. They didn’t want to have any gaps in the sequences, so manuscript #68 would get tagged as #67 and all others would be moved down. Once that happened, the catalog became irrelevant. So the manuscripts numbering system along with their names were all messed up. It was because of this that they had brought out another wrong manuscript but then, one of our people noticed something was different about it. One person said they thought that manuscript was a Palimpsest (This is a manuscript page either from a scroll or a book from which the text has been scraped or washed off so that it could be used again. No manuscript in Constantinople had ever been discovered that had capital letters in it. A capital letter manuscript or majuscule, codex 0322 was the first-ever discovered in Constantinople. The reason for this was due to it being a Palimpsest, thus very easy to miss such a thing. Ivan Young, the person who discovered it, held it up to the window and could see the capital letters in it. We spent an entire day photographing these two leaves, four pages resulting in six gigabytes of photographs. They discovered that the date and some of the text placed it somewhere in the 9th century; so it is not really early, but our organization discovered it.

a. Codex Vanticanus (B)

Some famous manuscripts listed in order of their discovery are: 1475 Codex Vanticanus (B); 1581 Codex Bazae (D); 1627 Codex Alexandrinus; 1859 Codex Sinaiticus; and 1906 Codex Washintonianus. We begin with Codex Vanticanus. The earliest book list that was ever published about the Vatican’s library’s holdings came out in 1475. It listed just a few hundred volumes and among them was Codex Vanticanus. We don’t know how long it was at the Vatican before that. There is some evidence that it was in Caesarea in the 6th century. We don’t know where it came from; so there are a lot of questions about the manuscript; as it is a very old one. Erasmus, in putting together his Textus Receptus, the text behind the King James Bible, he used indirectly and minimally. He had friends at the Vatican who helped him. This story of Erasmus involved the Trinitarian Formula in 1st John 5:7 where it says, ‘there are three who bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit and these three are one. This is not in our oldest manuscript or in our more recent manuscript; but it is found in nine manuscripts of which are of very recent vintage. So when Erasmus published his text, he didn’t at first include this Trinitarian Formula in it. The Catholic Church said that he had to put it in and so by 1522 it was entered in. This was his third edition. I will come back to this later. So Erasmus wrote to a friend of his at the Vatican asking for information on the Codex Vanticanus manuscript. He asked whether it had the Trinitarian Formula in 1 st John 5:7. It wasn’t. This manuscript is probably from the 4th century and it has most of the Bible, not just the New Testament. There is a facsimilia that has been done of this; four hundred and fifty copies altogether have been made, all signed by Pope John Paul the 2nd. This is a three-column manuscript which is very unusual in itself; I know there are only one or two other three column manuscripts in existent. It has most of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament but at Hebrews 9:13, it stops.

The remaining leaves contain text from hundreds of years later that somebody wrote in by minuscule hands, just to finish out what it had to say in the New Testament. But it is not from the same original manuscript this was copied from. I personally think that this manuscript is actually our most important
manuscript of the Bible and thus the most important document in the world. I examined this manuscript in 2001 for a week and what an experience that was. I was given permission to study it from the assistant librarian at the Vatican. Even though Codex Vanticanus was known earlier, it wasn’t published until the 19th century. It is the best representative of the Alexandrian text. It is accurate and has a shorter text than most others. The text was traced over many centuries later, marring the original. It doesn’t have the story of the woman caught in adultery and the long ending of Mark’s Gospel. At the end of 2nd Thessalonians and the beginning of Hebrews; note that the order of the books weren’t exactly what we are used to. You have three red crosses and a blue-green horizontal line above it. There is a marginal note at Hebrews 1:3 where it says not to change the old reading, but to leave it. Note also that Codex Vanticanus is known as Codex B or 03. Hebrews 1:3 says that the Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence and he ‘reveals’ all things by his powerful word. This is the only manuscript to have the word ‘reveal’ here. All other manuscripts have, ‘he sustains all things by his powerful word.’ The difference in Greek between the two is between pheron and fanheron. So, two letters were deleted in Codex B. It doesn’t seem to be the original reading and the corrector that made this marginal note about a later scribe who was changing the text, probably knew that fanheron was not the normal reading but he wanted to preserve what this manuscript had to say. That shows the respect some of the scribes had for these older manuscripts. So this was the end of Mark’s Gospel and here the third column was completely blank and is the only completely blank column we have in the entire New Testament of Codex Vanticanus. But it is not the only completely blank column we have in Vanticanus. This occurs three times in the Old Testament and there have been theories put forth to the reason why. When Vanticanus and Sinaiticus agreed, Westcotts and Hort thought that we had the original wording, almost everywhere.

b. Codex Bezae (D)

This was called Bezae because it came from the reformer Theodore Bezar. He donated it to Cambridge University in the year 1581. He wrote a letter telling them that it was a bazaar and eccentric manuscript. I actually was able to read his letter that he wrote to the university and then spending the day with the manuscript in 1995. I did this with a scholar by the name of Peter Head who is a professor at Cambridge University and I believe we are still the last people to have examined the manuscript. It is a fragile manuscript and so they don’t like people seeing it often. It is early 5th century, somewhere around 410 AD and it is a diaglot, written in two languages. Such a manuscript is done in two or three ways. Either you have one page that is one language while the other page is in the other language. One column that is in one language and the second column is different or sometimes you will have an interlinear text where you have a line and then right above it or below it you will have the other language. This manuscript is a page kind of diaglot. The left-hand side or the place that is given the place of honor is Greek and the right-hand side is Latin. The Latin side is considered to be a different manuscript. So you have capital ‘D’ for the Greek side and then a smaller letter, d, for the Latin side. It has the Gospels and Acts and a few verses of the Johannian letters. It is also called a Western text even though it isn’t originally from the west. The scribe copied as many as nine words at a time. What makes it special is being a very old text and it also has the western order of the Gospels, just like P45 did. It has Matthew and John and then Luke and Mark. It is the oldest manuscript we have with the story of the woman caught in adultery.

It has 8.5 percent more material in Acts than the Alexandrian manuscripts do. For many years they had a Bezan club at Cambridge University that would meet and discuss the readings of this particular manuscript. I will show you one of these fascinating reading later. The age of the text, the manuscript is
early 5th century. So, how old is the text that is in it? I would say that it goes back to the early 2nd century. There are also good reasons why the church fathers quoted from this manuscript. It is written phrase by phrase. One reading at Luke chapter 6:4, you have a reading that is not found in any other manuscript, no church father and no versions, nobody else talks about this. This is unique and is called an agriphone, something that isn’t written down in the canonical Gospels but yet Jesus is supposed to have said it. So here it is written in this one manuscript but not in others. It says, ‘on the same day when he (Jesus) saw someone working on the Sabbath, he said, man if you know what you are doing then you are blessed. If you don’t you are cursed and a transgressor of the law.’ Is this authentic? Did Jesus really say this? This is the only manuscript that has it. It is certainly creative even if it isn’t authentic.

There is one other variant in Mark 1:40-41 in Codex Bazae. Now a leper came to Jesus asking, ‘if you were willing, you could heal me.’ And getting angry, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him saying, ‘I am willing, be healed.’ Other Greek manuscripts don’t have the words, ‘getting angry.’ They say, ‘and filled with compassion.’ The difference in Greek between the two is two words with similar endings. This is the only Greek manuscript in the world that has this reading and I think it is probably authentic that Jesus got angry and healed the man. Here is a place where I think that the internal evidence is so compelling that Codex Bezae has probably got the correct reading. It is the only Greek manuscript, but it’s not the only manuscript that has ‘getting angry.’ We have three Latin manuscripts that have the same, yet not directly related to Codex D as such. The only thing that I can think of is perhaps it comes from an earlier source.