Textual Criticism - Lesson 17

Resources for NT Manuscripts

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.

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 17
Watching Now
Resources for NT Manuscripts

Resources for NT Manuscripts

1. Institute for New Testament Textual Criticism

2. British Library: Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus

3. Evangelical Textual Criticism

4. Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

  • 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. Resources for New Testament Manuscripts

This is in two different groups: internet resources rather than books which can be cost-prohibitive. Many of which are very expensive. So I will concentrate on four different websites on textual criticism. The four websites include the Institute of Virtual Manuscripts, a German website; the next one is the British Library and the online Codex Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus; the third website is the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog site and then our own Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts which will be covered in the following lecture.

1. Institute for New Testament Textual Criticism

The largest resource is the Institute for New Testament Textual Criticism or INTF which is a German web- site. The internet address is
ntvmr.uni-muenster.de as of at the time for this lecture. This is the best resource in the world for New Testament Textual Criticism. It was founded in 1959 by Doctor Kurt Aland and part of the University of Munster in Northwest Germany, a little community very close to Holland. During Christmas, they have huge outdoor festivities with people coming from all over. Doctor Aland’s purpose was to offer a complete investigation and publication of all New Testament manuscripts. He had very lofty goals and has accomplished a lot of these goals. Their Nestle-Aland Novum Greek New Testament Text named after Erwin and Eberhard Nestle. Kurt Aland took over the project in the mid-fifties and then founded the Institute in 1959. There is also the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament which has exactly the same text as the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, but it has a different apparatus; it has different textual problems with English sub-titles but the text between the two is now the same. One of these two will be used at ninety-nine percent of the seminaries in the world. Then there is the ECM or Editio Critica Major which is major critical addition of the Greek New Testament produced by the Institute for Neutestamntlich Textforschung or the Institute for New Testament Textual Research. The K-Lista is a shortlist of Greek New Testament manuscripts. It is the Bible for Bible hunters; first published in 1963 and then in 1994 by the German Publisher, Vaulter de Gurder. We have three or four copies of this K-Lista at CSTM and it was the primary tool for us to find out where Greek New Testament manuscripts were in the World. It is somewhat dated now, being nearly twenty years old, but it is still a good reference as to see where these manuscripts are located. Then there is the VMR, the Virtual Manuscript Room; that is an internet site and is in conjunction with the University of Birmingham in England.

The initial work that they did was to make microfilms of Greek New Testament manuscripts throughout the world; started this in 1959, they did it for several years. The quality of these microfilms is of very bad quality. They were able to get ninety percent of all Greek New Testament manuscripts on microfilm. It is of poor quality but it is something. However, if you want to see those manuscripts, you would have had to go to Munster. This is, of course, easier than going to the 253 different sites to view them.

Doctor Kurt Aland lived from 1915 to 1994 and the K-Lista came out in the year he died. He was a professor in Halle in East German after World War II. The University is the largest in Saxony-Anhalt and one of the oldest in Germany. He was conscripted and fought in WWII and got injured while in the army; however, he didn’t care at all for the Nazi Regime or for communist and often wouldn’t keep his opinions to himself. He was imprisoned in 1953 for speaking out in terms of academic freedom when he was in East Germany. This was only for a few months but five years later, he and his family escaped from East Germany and came to West German and founded INTF in Munster in 1959 and started working on the Nestle-Greek New Testament. This was actually first started in the year 1898 and continued on during the years. Eventually, he took the project over and then it became known as the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The latest edition is the Nestle-Aland 28th edition which came out in November 2012. The person who did the microfilming would go to these places and get his college students to go in to do all the microfilming while he would talk to the faculty and smoke his cigars.

In 1989, an American scholar who owned some Greek New Testament manuscripts came to the Institute at Munster. He had purchased a Greek New Testament manuscript from a dealer in New York. He was a systematic theologian but he could read this Greek. All the leaves of the manuscript were separated. He spent a year putting the leaves together. He sent the manuscript to another scholar in the States and after studying the manuscript, they had decided to date it as a 13th Byzantine manuscript. It contained the Gospels. There were two or three manuscripts yearly being discovered at that time and date. To have someone to walk into the institute and tell them about a manuscript that they didn’t know anything about; this was unusual and just didn’t happen every day. In fact, this may have been the only time it ever happened. So there was a flurry of activity about it. Professor Aland comes out of his office to see it while smoking his cigar with signs all over the institute saying no smoking and here was this document that was worth tens of thousands of dollars and while he is smoking the cigar. He indicates that he wants to see the manuscript and Aland immediately said, ‘looks like a 13th century Byzantine to me and hands it back to him.

The ECM’s objective is to list every variant through the first millennium and so they have been working on this for a long time. There is the shortlist or K-Lista of 1963 and 1994 which gives us the number of the Gregory-Aland Cataloguing system. What happens, it is listed within the Gregory-Aland Catalogue; all of the Papyri, all the Majuscules up to 0322 and the Minuscules and lectionaries; these are the four categories. Where the information is given for each manuscript, it will tell you what city it is in, the name of the library that holds it and what the shelf number that library uses for it. Usually, libraries will assign their own shelf number which will be different to the Gregory-Aland numerical system. But the cataloging system will tell you the number of pages, columns per page and even the number of lines in the manuscript. It will also include the dimensions and the type of manuscript: papyrus, parchment or paper and the actual contents of the manuscript. It is a kind of fingerprint of each manuscript. This can even tell us if we have discovered a numbered manuscript by comparing it to the indexed information. So they are the official catalogers of Greek New Testament manuscripts. Newly discovered Greek New Testament manuscripts are not necessarily acknowledged or rather simply unknown until they are registered in the Gregory-Aland Catalogue.

So these are now online tools at INTF internet website, ntvmr.uni-muenster.de. You can use Google (a web-site search engine) to find INTF. They offer the website both in German and in English. The key pages are the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room and the sub-section on the left written as Liste.
You can investigate the site and its different sections. They don’t allow you to download VMR manuscripts. If you want to find all the manuscripts that have John 2:6, for example, this can easily be done using the NTVMR of the INTF internet website.

2. The British Library

Codex Sinaiticus: So the next one is the British Library with the Codex Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus; we have already discussed both of these manuscripts. Sinaiticus now exists in four different countries: Egypt, Russia, Germany and the British Library in England. A few years ago, there was a virtual reunification of this manuscript by all four parties, making all the images available online. So you have English, German, Greek, and Russian. So you can read this in the four different languages of the four places that own part of the manuscript. It has been a massive project to do this well and has involved transcriptions and translations of this text. Even if you don’t know any Greek at all, you can see the translation of Codex Sinaiticus. I want to show you the end of Mark’s Gospel where you can zoom in and out and actually see where on the page you are. You can see the transcription giving you the Greek and also a translation. I have picked the English translation where you can see Mark 16:8 and then 1:1 which starts with Luke chapter 1. Even though you can’t download the images, you do have a huge amount of information available.

Codex Alexandrinus: You can’t do nearly as much with Alexandrinus; I don’t think the pictures are nearly as good, but it is still helpful material as you can zoom in on it in any chapter and verse. You will not get a translation or transcription but you can get the photographs and have a look at it. It is still very
helpful. Those are the two main manuscripts at the British Library. The Vatican is working on making their entire collection digitized, but it isn’t done yet. But these two sites are often in competition, the British Library, and the Vatican. After the British Library came out with Codex Sinaiticus; first the Vatican comes out with a great facsimilia of Codex Vaticanus and then the British library develops this online text of the Codex Sinaiticus and so now the Vatican says that they are going to digitize their own collection.

3. Evangelical Textual Criticism

The Evangelical Textual Criticism website has been produced by scholars at Tyndale House, an evangelical think tank, a place to live and study. They have several apartments and a very nice fifty thousand volume library. People who are working on their doctorates at Cambridge and elsewhere can live there to study. At one time there were twenty of us living at Tyndale house from eighteen different countries. So, you find out what interesting things people are working on. They have a blog site called Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog Spot dot com, but they don’t have manuscript images or transcriptions. This is a current events site to critical review a number of things that are going on in textual criticism. It has links to other sites and they call it a forum for the Bible in its original language in order to discuss manuscripts and textual history from the perspective of historical evangelical theology. They are very up to date with current discussions. They have links to many different sites in order to investigate different aspects evangelical theology, manuscripts, and Biblical knowledge.

Summary: Visit these sites and investigate what they have and see how they can be of value to your own studies and research. The INTFVMR is in conjunction with the University of Birmingham. A very helpful site, but it takes a little while to get used to. The British Library is help for famous manuscripts: Codex Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus. The Evangelical Textual Criticism is helpful for current events and links to other sites.