Textual Criticism - Lesson 16

Some Famous Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 2)

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.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 16
Watching Now
Some Famous Majuscule Manuscripts (Part 2)







A. Known 1627

B. Description

1. Gift intended for King James but delivered after the KJV published

2. 5th Century

3. Byzantine in Gospels; Alexandrian for rest of NT

4. Most important MS for Revelation

C. Gospel of John

1. Section titles (4th – 5th century)

2. Pericope Adulterae is missing


A. Date: Early 5th century

B. Description

1. Mixed text but mostly Alexandrian

2. Palimpsest

3. 1 of 4 great majuscules, originally the entire Bible

4. Deciphered by Constantine Tischendorf (1840s)

C. Revelation 13:18

1. 2nd most important ms for Revelation, and it has the number of the beast as 616

2. Our second oldest papyri of Revelation (1998) also has 616


A. Known 1859

B. Discovered by Tischendorf at Mt. Sinai in 1844

1. He claimed the monks were burning its leaves

2. Two more visits(1853, 1859)

C. Description

1. Date: 4th century

2. Alexandrian text

3. Oldest complete NT

D. Tischendorf’s evangelical motivation (contra Baur)

E. History of MS since 1859


A. Purchased 1906 by Charles Freer

B. Description

1. Date: late 4th early 5th century

2. Western order of Gospels

3. Most important Gospels MS in US

C. Patchwork Gospels MS

1. All four text-types

2. Theory: during Diocletian era scribe was trying to save text

3. Faithfully transcribed (number abbreviations)

D. Freer Logion (Mark 16:14 and 15)

  • 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 2)

In this lecture, we want to finish discussing some of the major majuscule manuscripts. We started with codex Vaticanus located in the Vatican library. Then we talked about Codes Bazae which is also known as Codex Cambridge, as it is located in Cambridge University. Today, we will discuss Codex Alexandrinus, Ephraemi Rescriptus, Sinaiticus and Codex Washingtonianus in the order of discovery: 1627, 12th century, 1859 and 1906.

a. Codex Alexandrinus (A) – 1627 AD

In order of discovery, the first one is Codex Alexandrinus which was a gift meant for King James of the King James Bible. It was given to the crown sixteen years after the King James Version was produced. It came from Cyril Lurker, then patriarch of Constantinople. James died before it could be delivered and so he ended up giving it to the next King, King Charles in 1627. This manuscript is remarkable, had it been known before the King James Bible was published, it is such a good manuscript. It would have been difficult to dislodge the King James Bible if it had been based on this version. It is from the 5th century and is a two-column manuscript. It is Byzantine for the Gospels but Alexandrian for the remainder of the New Testament. But for the Book of Revelation, it is the most important manuscript there is. This manuscript is sitting in the British Library next to Codex Sinaiticus. One of these mixed text manuscripts like Codex Washingtonianus, which we will talk about later. It originally had the whole Bible in it but that part is now missing. The beginning of John in Codex Alexandrinus you have in the left column section titles. The right column is actually the text of John. The evidence that this is a 5th-century manuscript rather than fourth, it has large letters that each verse or section begins with. It is a letter that is sitting out in the margin to introduce a new section or a verse or division. This was before we had verse numbers; a lot of these manuscripts go in the direction that the verse numbers follow. But this one begins with section titles or headings.

These section titles start with hyrea which means ‘concerning’. For example, we have, concerning the five loaves and the two fish. You see in the margins letters that tell you that these letters will also be in the margin of the actual Gospel of John itself. Then we have, concerning the walking on the sea. Jesus and Peter walked on the water. The third one is concerning the blind man and the fourth is concerning Lazarus. The story of the woman caught in adultery is missing here. That is an important story to miss. The five loaves and two fish section is from John chapter 6 and by the time you get to Lazarus, it is John
chapter 11. So it skips a lot of things. Our center has a manuscript for Luke’s Gospel and at the end it has these same section headings for John. Nor does it list the story of the woman caught in adultery. So I begin to look at a number of manuscripts to see their section headings and found a number of them that did have a section heading for the woman caught in adultery and sure enough, they had the passage in it. But curiously, I also found some of the manuscripts that didn’t have section headings but had the story of the woman caught in adultery. From this, most likely, once these section headings began to be used in the late 4th century, certainly by the 5th century, that passage wasn’t found in these manuscripts and it wasn’t put in these section headings. Later scribes decided to put that passage in but they didn’t adjust the section headings, where some did. So I can’t tell whether the woman caught in adultery was in John or not. But with Alexandrinus, we are actually missing some material in the manuscript right where the story of the woman caught in adultery should be. We know many leaves are missing in it and we know how many lines per column are in this manuscript and therefore, we know approximately how many letters per line. So scholars have been able to reconstruct this and realized that it did not have the story of the woman caught in adultery. This is the earliest or perhaps the second earliest Byzantine manuscript of the Gospels. It is fascinating because the vast majority of the Byzantine manuscripts have this story.

b. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C) – 12th Century Palimpsests

This manuscript is housed at the Bibliotheque National de France in Paris, an early 5th century manuscript with a mixed text. It is not on display. It isn’t a pure Alexandrian or Byzantine or Western manuscript. It is a mixed text, yet largely Alexandrian and it is a palimpsest and it is the most important palimpsest we have of the New Testament manuscripts. There was a scribe around the 12th century who scraped the text of this parchment manuscript and wrote out the Sermons of Ephraim the Syrian on top of it, not realizing that sermons were as important as Scripture. Perhaps the scribe couldn’t even read the underlining Greek text! So what happens with these palimpsests? The leaves are often trimmed and fitted in any way they can put them. These manuscripts are not in any order and there are one hundred and forty-five New Testament leaves and sixty-four Old Testament leaves. It was originally a complete Bible and it is the second-best manuscript for Revelation. For the other books, it is not nearly as important as it is for the Book of Revelation. It is considered one of the four great majuscules. We have these four manuscripts: Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus and Ephraemi Rescriptus. These four manuscripts have the entire Bible in them and are the only four manuscripts of the 4th and 5th century that had the whole Bible in them. Only one of those has the complete New Testament in it. So, being a palimpsest, it was difficult to read Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus; in fact, it is almost impossible to read the under text.

A person by the name of Constantine Tischendorf deciphered the text in 1840. He was just 26 years old when he began this. It was next to impossible to understand the text. It took Tischendorf two years to decipher the text. But the chemical agents that had been applied to the leaves in 1830 caused the leaves to turn the color of blue and also cause severe damage to the manuscript. I examined the manuscript in 2011 to see if I could decipher the one percent that Tischendorf couldn’t decipher, but couldn’t make anything out. The part that he couldn’t read was the initial lines of each book of the Bible. They were written in red letters which were so faint that it couldn’t be read. I couldn’t make out a single letter of any of these rubricated texts. The manuscript is now in an extremely fragile shape so much so that each leaf is so thin when held up to the light. I suggested in 2011 that they needed to get the manuscript digitized. They have now done that. Another interesting aspect of this manuscript is the reading of Revelation 13:18. Remember that this is the second most important manuscript that we have for the Book of Revelation. Revelation 13:18 has the number of the beast as being 616 instead of 666 in this manuscript. Until 1998, it was the only manuscript known to have this reading. However, in 1998 there were seventeen papyri at Oxford University that were published and one of those had 616 for the number of the beast. Now we have two manuscripts that read 616 for the number of the beast. Due to the chemicals used on Ephraemi Rescriptus, the leaves may not last that much longer. So by deciphering this manuscript, it gave Tischendorf immediate fame.

Tischendorf was commissioned to go to Egypt to discover more manuscripts and is now considered the greatest New Testament critic who has ever lived. He went to Saint Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai and claimed that the monks were burning the leaves of Codex Sinaiticus. He made two more visits in
1853 and in 1859 and then he saw the New Testament part of it. Saint Catherine’s is the oldest continuous inhabited monastery in the world built in the middle of the 6th century by Emperor Justinian. In 1975 a storeroom was discovered which contained 1200 manuscripts and fifty thousand fragments of manuscripts. I examined four of these manuscripts in 2002 where I discovered two more manuscripts.

c. Codex Sinaiticus (Hebrew alef) - 1859

Some of the background of Codex Sinaiticus shows that the date of the manuscript is 4th century, the same as Vaticanus. It has the Alexandrian text type. It has the oldest complete New Testament found intact in this manuscript. Tischendorf discovers the Old Testament part of it when he was twenty-nine years old. Remember we talked about manuscript P52 and F C Bower who said we didn’t have enough manuscripts to really tell if we had the complete New Testament. Now, Tischendorf was motivated by evangelical zeal to prove Bower wrong by saying that we do have the original New Testament. So, it was in 1859 when he discovered the New Testament portion of it. It was on display at one time in Saint Petersburg and now the manuscript is in the British Library. This is the only manuscript that has the Hebrew letter aleph associated with it. It is manuscript 01 and in the order of majuscule manuscripts
discovered, this manuscript would have been designated the letter ‘S’. But Tischendorf came up with a new cataloging system decided that this manuscript would be aleph. It is possible that he considered this as his most favorite manuscript and wanted it to be known as the very first manuscript by assigning it the letter aleph. Codex Sinaiticus is indeed very special; it is the only four column codex in the world.

d. Codex Washingtonianus (W) – Purchased 1906

This manuscript was purchased by Charles Freer, an American, in 1906 becoming part of the Freer Gallery at the University of Michigan and then later donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. It is located in the basement of the Freer Gallery and has only been on display once that I know of. Note: years ago before there was digital photography, there were hard copy prints made of this; exactly four hundred and thirty-five of them and in the published edition of it, it listed every library that had a copy. The University of Michigan got two of those copies. The University gave one of those copies to Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana. And Robert Ibock who worked there, transferred to the Dallas Seminary and brought that copy with him. We photographed it some years ago and then later got a microfilm from the Smithsonian of it. It is a late 4th, early 5th-century manuscript and known as Codex W, not for Washington but this is the letter it was assigned from Greek manuscripts. It is a western order of the Gospels of Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark. It is the most important manuscript of the Gospels in the United States and is a patchwork text of Matthew and Luke 8:13-24:53 and has a Byzantine text to it. In Mark 1:1-5:30 it is western but in Mark 5:31 to the end, it is the so-called Cesarean if there is such a text. It is not Byzantine, western or Alexandrian. But then in Luke 1:1-8:12 and John 5:12-21:25, the end of John; it is Alexandrian. But for the first five chapters of John, it is actually mixed. The original editor, Henry Sanders, argued that this manuscript was probably put together because of the Diocletian persecution. He was destroying Scripture and the scribe of Codex W was trying to patchwork these together from the Manuscripts that he had available. It was obvious that he wasn’t able to find any complete Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke or John. In recent years this manuscript has been considered perhaps as late as the 7th century. There was a scholar in Germany who argued this.

A student by the name Zachery Cole wrote his master thesis on numbers in early manuscripts. He wasn’t aware that this manuscript was a patchwork. In researching all of these manuscripts to see which ones had these number abbreviations and which ones didn’t, he came to Codex W and contacted me telling me that it had abbreviations in different sections of the manuscript. This matched what Henry Sanders was saying in regards to the patchwork nature of the manuscript. So, the scribe of Codex W was a very faithful transcriber of the manuscript that he had put together, even to the point of using number abbreviations in some places and writing out the text fully in other places. What is also famous about this manuscript are the sayings (called the Freer Logion) of Jesus found between Mark 16:14-15. Jerome knew about this but until this manuscript was discovered, we didn’t know of any other manuscript that had this. This is the famous passage where the disciples see Jesus and he tells them that if they pick up snakes and get bit, they would not die, etc. This was post-resurrection. It doesn’t sound like the way they would have talked to Jesus. It says, ‘this age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan who doesn’t allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore, reveal thy righteousness now. Thus they spoke to Christ.’ And Christ replied to them, ‘the term of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but there are other terrible things on the earth and for those who have sinned, I was delivered over to death that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.’ This is Bruce Metsker’s translation of it. Does this sound like anything that you have read in the New Testament? So, the Freer Logion is part of another one of these endings to the Gospel of Mark. We actually have five different ways in which Mark’s Gospel ends in the manuscripts and this is one of those.