Text and Manuscripts of the New Testament



No other ancient lit. has affected the Western world so profoundly as has the Bible, and in particular the NT. Nor has any ancient writing or body of lit. been preserved in quantity even comparable to the number of extant MSS of the NT in Gr. and in other ancient VSS. The writings of some ancient authors (e.g., part of the Annals of Tacitus) are represented by only one MS from ancient times. Other writings have survived in a few or a few dozen copies. A few hundred MSS of the works of some authors, including Euripides and Cicero, are known. Of the NT, on the other hand, nearly 3,000 handwritten copies in Gr. are preserved—ranging from fragments of a few verses to the entire NT—plus some 2,000 additional Gr. MSS in which the text is arranged in lectionary form for daily readings, as well as 8,000 MSS in Lat., and 2,000 or more in other ancient VSS.

In another respect, too, the MS tradition of the NT is distinctly superior to that of other ancient lit. The oldest known MSS of the works of some ancient authors date from a thousand years or more after the death of the author. A time interval of several hundred years is not uncommon, ranging downward to a mere three hundred years, as in the case of Virgil. In contrast, two of the most important existing MSS of the NT were written less than 300 years after the NT was completed, and an appreciable amount of the NT is extant on papyrus MSS written from one to two centuries after the Biblical authors wrote. Since classical scholars assume the general reliability of these secular works even where the time interval is great and where only a few MSS are available, it is clear that with far greater assurance the student of the NT may assume that the presently-available NT text reliably represents what the authors originally wrote.

At the same time, the multiplication of any piece of lit. in ancient times was a very different matter from that of the period since the invention of printing from movable type. It is now possible to print any number of identical copies of a work; but in ancient times, when each individual copy had to be made separately by hand, the only certainty was that no two copies of a book of any length would be identical. This period of handcopying of MSS includes three-fourths of the time from the completion of the NT to the present; and the vast number of copies made of parts or all of the NT during these early centuries means that multiplied thousands of textual variants were introduced into these MSS. The originals (autographs) of the NT books were doubtless lost at a very early date. This means, technically speaking, that it is not possible to determine the exact original wording of the NT from any given MS. Rather, a comparison of MSS must be made and principles established for determining as nearly as possible the exact form of the original text. This process of studying copies of a work whose original is unknown, for the purpose of determining the form of the original text, is called textual criticism. Whereas the NT is the largest and most significant area of this study, textual criticism is necessary for virtually every piece of ancient lit., since in only the rarest instances has the autograph of an ancient writing been preserved to modern times.

Textual criticism is a basic discipline, a prerequisite to all further NT studies, for the determination of the text to be used must precede the interpretation of the text.

In making a copy of a book by hand, an ancient scribe—and a modern scribe as well—would almost certainly introduce errors and changes of various sorts into his copy, accidentally or, at times, intentionally. When his MS was copied, then, most of his variants would be carried over into the next MS along with any additional errors and changes that the next scribe might make. Thus the more copies that intervene between a given MS and the original, the more differences there will generally be between that MS and the original form of the text. Moreover, a MS from a later cent. will usually have more copies between it and the original than a MS from an earlier cent. would have. This is an over-simplification, because in actual fact a MS of the 11th cent., for example, might have been copied directly from a 4th-cent. MS that was only a few copies removed from the original, whereas an 8th-cent. MS might have been copied from a 7th-cent. MS that was itself twenty copies removed from the original.

In the case of NT MSS, even the relatively large number now known doubtless represent only a small percentage of the total number that were produced during the early centuries. In virtually no instance is it possible to show that any extant MS is the direct ancestor of another MS, and it is impossible to determine how many copies lie between any given MS and the original. Scholars therefore commonly assume that a later MS is further removed from the original in number of copies intervening than is an earlier MS, but recognize that there are exceptions to the rule.

It must not be supposed, however, that the text of the NT rests upon precarious grounds because of the multitude of copies through which it has passed or because of the great number of variants found in the MSS. There is in fact virtually no question concerning by far the greater part of the words of the NT. Indeed, the same is true of ancient lit. in general. It is only a relatively small portion of the words of the text that requires the attention of the textual critic. Virtually all MSS of any given part of the NT say essentially the same thing. It has been stated that there is no question at all concerning seven-eighths of the words of the NT; if differences of no significance be disregarded, only about one-sixtieth of the words can be regarded as in doubt; and only about one word in a thousand involves both a substantial question of meaning and serious doubt of the correct text (Westcott and Hort, The NT in the Original Greek, “Introduction” and “Appendix 2). No Christian doctrine rests upon insecure textual evidence.


Book forms

Papyrus roll.

In the 1st Christian cent., when the books of the NT were written, the accepted form for a literary work was a papyrus scroll. The papyrus plant was a tall reed that grew along the banks of the Nile River but almost nowhere else. The stalk of this plant was peeled, and its pithy center was cut into thin strips, which were laid side by side with another layer over them at right angles. After being pounded to aid adhesion of the layers and left to dry in the sun, the resulting thin sheet served fairly well to receive writing when written upon lengthwise of the papyrus strips with a pen made from a reed. These sheets, measuring from six by nine inches to twelve by fifteen inches, were slightly overlapped and glued together to make a roll of twenty sheets, the form in which papyrus was generally sold. If a work were too long for one roll, several rolls could be fastened together. There were practical limits for the length of a scroll, but a long work could be extended to more than one scroll. The scroll was generally simply rolled on itself; there is little evidence of the use of rollers.

The columns of text of a scroll were usually narrow, so that the scroll need not be unrolled widely to read it. Writing was done on the inside surface of the roll. On this side the papyrus strips were laid horizontally. The text of a work was not generally written on the outside surface of the roll, both because of the inconvenience to the reader and the fact that the papyrus strips on this surface would be vertical and writing across the grain of the papyrus would be more difficult. Exceptions occur, however, as in Revelation 5:1, “a scroll written within and on the back.”

The scroll form of book had certain disadvantages, including some with which the modern user of microfilms is familiar. The scroll needed to be completely rerolled after being used, although a careless reader might leave this task for the next reader. Moreover, consultation of various passages of a scroll was much more difficult than with the modern book form. This latter factor was one of the principal influences that led, not long after the beginning of the Christian era, to the replacement of the scroll by another book form.

Papyrus codex.

From antiquity, waxed tablets had been used for school exercises and other temporary writings. These tablets were somewhat like a child’s slate, with a surface of wax instead of slate, and with a stylus as the writing instrument. As time went on, the practice developed of fastening two or more of these tablets together by thongs tied through holes at the edge of the tablets. Even before the Christian era this led in turn to the development of notebooks composed of folded sheets. These notebooks were used for informal and nonliterary purposes. They also came to be used at times for the first draft of an author’s literary works, which would then be copied onto a papyrus scroll for their final form.

At first the number of sheets folded together into a quire varied; each sheet might be folded separately, or several sheets—sometimes even an entire book—might be folded together into one quire. Later, however, a quire of four sheets, which made sixteen pages, became standard.

Parchment codex.

From antiquity, skins of animals were used in writing. About 200 years before the Christian era, however, a new process was developed whereby the skins were scraped, soaked in quicklime, and rubbed with chalk and pumice stone, which produced a thin, firm, and very durable writing surface. Writing could be done on this surface with a quill pen as well as with the softer reed pen. This material, known as parchment, or vellum (although “vellum” originally referred to the finer grades of calfskin), likewise came to be used for notebooks in codex form.

When the NT books were written, therefore, the codex book form—made of papyrus or parchment—was known, but the recognized book form for literary publications was still the papyrus scroll and continued to be so for some centuries for secular classics. Early in the Christian era, however, the codex form was developed into full book size and began to be used for published works, particularly for the Bible; for even the very oldest MSS of the NT are in codex form, not scrolls. The NT likewise led in the transition from papyrus to parchment for literary purposes; whereas the NT was copied on papyrus codices in the earliest period, beginning in the 4th cent., parchment almost completely displaced papyrus as the writing material for NT MSS.

Even the originals, therefore, of the various NT books may have been written in the modern book or codex form. On the other hand, the books of the NT that were more nearly “literature” as they were published, such as the gospels and Acts, may have been written on scrolls in accordance with the current literary tradition; whereas those that were more nearly personal communications, such as the letters of Paul, may have been written originally in codex form. All of the NT books were prob. originally written on papyrus. In any event, whether the autographs were in scroll or codex form, it was not long before the codex was the one form in which NT MSS were copied. Indeed, the habit of the early Christians of consulting their Scriptures may have been a factor in popularizing the codex form and in causing it to replace the scroll as the accepted form for lit.

Of the extant MSS, the oldest are papyrus codices, with the papyrus codex giving way to parchment codex in the 4th cent. Not until shortly before the invention of printing from movable type was parchment displaced by paper in the Western world.

To summarize, NT book forms and materials in the earliest centuries were approximately as follows:

Autographs: papyrus codices (and papyrus scrolls?)

2nd and 3rd centuries: papyrus codices

4th cent.: parchment codices.

occasional papyrus codices are known, however, from as late as the 7th cent.

Other forms.

Small portions of the NT were occasionally written in two additional forms, although neither their purpose nor their extent entitles them to be classified on the same level as MSS. More than twenty portions of the NT, representing six books, are preserved on broken pieces of pottery, which was used by the poorest people as writing material. These broken pieces, or “potsherds,” are called “ostraca” when they contain a written text. In addition, brief NT passages were sometimes inscribed on talismans, or good luck charms, although they were condemned by church authorities (see Metzger, Text of the NT, 33). A few of these talismans are extant.



From before the beginning of the Christian era, two forms of Gr. handwriting were current. For letters, business documents, and other nonliterary purposes, a connected “cursive” style of handwriting was used, somewhat analogous to Eng. longhand writing. For literary purposes, a style known as “uncial” was used. Uncial letters, corresponding approximately to Eng. printed capital letters, were written separately. Taking into account the respective uses of these two styles of writing, the autographs of the books of the NT that were written for publication, such as the gospels, were presumably written in uncial letters; whereas those that were personal communications, such as the letters of Paul, may have been written in the cursive hand. Since, however, these letters were very soon being copied for distribution and were being thought of as lit., they too were soon circulating in uncial MSS; and even the very earliest extant MSS of the Pauline letters, as of all of the NT, are written in uncials. For practical purposes, therefore, it may be said that the transmission of the NT was in uncial MSS from the beginning.


The two styles of handwriting existed side by side for several hundred years. About the 9th cent., a major change occurred by the development of a refined and more formal style of handwriting out of the nonliterary cursive. This “minuscule” hand, as it is called, produced very attractive MS and could be written much more rapidly than the uncial hand. The oldest known minuscule MS of the NT is dated a.d. 835, which is also the oldest NT MS known that contains a date. The minuscule hand was readily accepted, and by the end of the 10th cent. it had completely displaced the uncial hand. Thus a rather clear division of the history of NT MSS can be drawn: uncial MSS in early centuries, uncials and minuscules in the latter part of the 9th and the 10th centuries, and minuscule MSS thereafter.

Within both the uncial and the minuscule periods, certain other characteristics help to establish approximate dates of MSS. The earliest uncials on papyrus are almost entirely devoid of ornamentation. Even a new section is indicated, if at all, by nothing more than a point for punctuation and a small space within the line. The early uncials on parchment have no ornamentation and very few diacritical marks or marks of punctuation. A new section may be indicated by beginning a new line or by a slightly larger initial letter extending into the left margin. With the passage of time, accents, breathings, and punctuation marks were added. Initial letters of sections were enlarged and ornamented, and illustrations and other adornments were added, although the handwriting itself tended to deteriorate, the letters becoming heavier and less neat.

The minuscule MSS passed through somewhat the same stages. Although diacritical marks and punctuation occur in the minuscules from the beginning, the early minuscules were neatly written and had relatively little adornment, and developed toward more adornment and less neatness in the later centuries (see W. H. P. Hatch, The Principal Uncial MSS of the NT, and Facsimiles and Descriptions of Minuscule MSS of the NT).

One characteristic of Gr. MSS that remained constant was the absence of spacing between words, both in uncial and minuscule handwriting. This was simply a convention of style, not from any attempt to save space. Word division at the end of a line, however, followed definite rules of syllable division.


Although papyrus was a very satisfactory material for writing, it did not lend itself to extensive erasing. Parchment, on the other hand, was so durable that it could be erased and reused. Thus, if the text of a parchment MS were no longer needed, or if the sheets had become worn or torn, the MS would sometimes be taken apart, sheets that were too badly damaged would be discarded, the leaves might be cut in half along the center fold, and the original text would be scraped off. The sheets would then be rearranged into new quires and used to receive a new text. Even MSS of the NT were not exempt from being thus erased, so much so that church authorities were forced to condemn the practice. Such an erased and rewritten MS is called a palimpsest, from πάλιν, G4099, meaning “again,” and ψάω, “I scrape.” Fortunately, standards of erasure were not too effective for these palimpsests, and it is possible to read much of the erased text under the later writing. One very important NT palimpsest is Codex C, known as Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus because the NT text is written over with writings of the Syriac Church Father Ephraem. In all, some fifty palimpsest MSS are known in which the erased text was an uncial NT text.


In the oldest NT MSS, abbreviations were almost entirely limited to fifteen words, such as “God,” “Lord,” “heaven,” and certain words with sacred associations. Abbreviations for these words were contractions—i.e., the first and last letter or letters, with a horizontal line above to indicate the contraction. In addition, the letter nu at the end of a line was sometimes indicated by a raised horizontal line instead of the letter. In the minuscule period, various other words came to be abbreviated by suspension, which consisted in writing the first part only of the word. In additon, ligatures, in which two or more letters were combined into one unit, were introduced, as well as symbols, which were a sort of shorthand of forms representing certain endings or words.

Divisions of the text.

Many Gr. MSS of the NT contain numbers (indicated by Gr. letters) in the margin that indicate the Ammonian sections and the Eusebian canons. At a very early date, the four gospels were divided into sections of greatly varying extent. These sections are attributed to a certain Ammonius. In the 4th cent., the Church Father Eusebius constructed a gospel harmony based on the Ammonian sections. Using the Ammonian numbers, he made tables listing the passages in which parallels occurred in all four gospels, in the various combinations of three gospels and two gospels, and of the passages that occurred in one gospel. He then added the table number to each Ammonian section number throughout the gospels. This system made it easy to find parallels between any of the gospels. These numbers are also used in some printed editions of the Gr. NT.


In addition to NT MSS with a continuous text, two other MS formats are of interest. One of these is the MS with a catena, in which the Biblical text is accompanied by a series of selections from the writings of Church Fathers, to form a commentary on the NT text. MSS with catenae took various forms: the patristic commentary might be written in the outer margins, with the Biblical text occupying a smaller part of the page; the Biblical text and the commentary might be written in alternate sections; or the text and commentary might be written in parallel columns. In the oldest MSS with catenae, the authors of the passages of the catena were usually indicated. In later MSS, the names were often either abbreviated, indicated by symbols, or omitted. A symbol or number was often placed at the beginning of a passage in the catena and in the body of the NT text to indicate the NT passage to which the commentary referred.


A second variation from a straight-text MS is the lectionary, in which NT passages are arranged in the order in which they are to be read in church services during the year. A reflection of lectionary usage is likewise found in many regular NT MSS, in which the word ἄρχη, “beginning,” and τέλος, G5465, “end,” or their abbreviations, are found.

Witnesses to the text

The text of the NT is known from three basic sources: Gr. MSS, ancient translations or VSS, and quotations from ancient writers.

Greek MSS.

When early editors began to refer to Gr. MSS, they were cited in various ways, such as by name or by other designation associating the MS with its owner or the library in which it was located. With a citation of increasing numbers of MSS, it became necessary to use a less cumbersome system. Various attempts were made in this direction before the system now in use was perfected. Under the present system, papyrus MSS (referred to as “papyri,” all of which have an uncial text) are indicated by a capital or Gothic “P” followed by a superscript number to designate each MS. Seventy-six papyri are currently listed. Uncial MSS on parchment (called simply “uncials”), some of which had already been designated by capital letters of the Eng. and Gr. alphabets, are also designated by a number preceded by a zero (e.g., 02, 056), because of the limitations of the alphabetical designations. Minuscule MSS are designated by number (e.g., 33, 565, 2065). Lectionaries are designated by a number preceded by “Lect.” or an italic 1 (e.g., Lect. 299, 1 1301).


All of the very earliest extant MSS of the Gr. NT are papyri. They date from the middle of the 2nd cent. through the 4th cent., although one (P74) is as late as the 7th century. Although most are fragmentary, together they include a considerable portion of the NT. In spite of their early date, the reliability of the papyri is reduced by the fact that many of them were copied by nonprofessional scribes and show a consequent lack of attention to small details.

Two collections of NT papyri are esp. significant. The Chester Beatty collection, acquired in 1930-1931, includes the following:

a) P45, containing approximately one-seventh of the text of the gospels and Acts, dating from the early 3rd cent.

b) P46, which includes a large portion of the Pauline epistles (except the pastorals), plus Hebrews, dating from the early 3rd cent.

c) P47, comprising roughly one-third of the text of Revelation, dating from the 3rd cent.

Most of the leaves of the Beatty papyri are in the Chester Beatty collection in Dublin, although thirty of the eighty-six leaves of P46 are in the University of Michigan collection, and some fragments of one leaf of P45 are in Vienna. These three papyri were published by Sir Frederic Kenyon, in fascicules containing the printed text as well as photographs.

The second and perhaps even more significant collection of NT papyri is that of the Bodmer Library in Geneva, Switzerland. Little is known of the actual source of these MSS. The collection includes the following MSS of the Gr. NT:

a) P66, containing a large part of the gospel of John, dated by some authorities as early as the middle of the 2nd cent. and thus the oldest extensive MS of any part of the NT.

b) P72, which includes the Epistle of Jude and the two Epistles of Peter together with numerous other writings, dating from the 3rd cent.

c) P73, a small fragment of Matthew.

d) P74, noteworthy in that it is a papyrus MS although written in the 7th cent., containing Acts and the Catholic Epistles in fragmentary form.

e) P75, which contains much of Luke and John, dating from near the end of the 2nd cent. or slightly later.

Except for P73, these Bodmer papyri have been published, with text and photographs.

f) The oldest known fragment of the Gr. NT, possibly even older than P66, is a small fragment in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England, designated P52, containing a few lines from John 18. Dated in the first half of the 2nd cent. by its editor and by other paleographers, it furnishes evidence that prior to the date when the Tübingen critics claimed the fourth gospel was written (c. 160), it had actually been in circulation long enough to reach into the interior of Egypt.

Other papyri, individually or parts of collections, are located in libraries in various parts of Europe, the United States, and the Middle E.


Extant uncial MSS (on parchment) number 250, varying from small fragments of a few vv. to the complete NT. Dating from the 4th through the 10th centuries, and thus later than most of the papyri, their significance is greater than that of the papyri because they are so much more extensive in content. In addition, by the uncial period, the Christian religion had gained official recognition, and consequently most uncial MSS give evidence of having been professionally copied. The following are some of the more significant or representative uncials:

a) א (Aleph, 01), Codex Sinaiticus, from the 4th cent., containing both OT and NT complete, in the British Museum in London. Its discovery by Constantin Tischendorf in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai (hence its name) is a fascinating story (see C. Tischendorf, Codex Sinaiticus, 8th ed. [1934]). It is one of the most important MSS of the NT in existence. Its text is arranged in four columns to the page, in a neat hand with little adornment. The pages are about fifteen by thirteen inches. Brought from Mt. Sinai to Russia in 1859 by Tischendorf, who considered it so important that he was unwilling to have it assigned to an obscure place in the then-current alphabetical listing of MSS, he assigned to it instead the first letter of the Heb. alphabet. In 1933, it was purchased by the British government from the Soviet government for £ 100,000.

b) A (02), Codex Alexandrinus, a 5th-cent. MS, containing most of both Testaments (lacking, in the NT, almost all of Matthew, part of John, and most of 2 Corinthians), is displayed in the British Museum alongside Codex Sinaiticus. It was presented in 1627 to King Charles I of England by the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had obtained it in Alexandria. Its pages are approximately ten by thirteen inches. The text, two columns to the page, has somewhat more ornamentation than Codex Sinaiticus.

c) B (03), Codex Vaticanus, written about the middle of the 4th cent., and located in the Vatican Library since the 15th cent. or longer, is perhaps the single most important extant MS of the NT. It originally contained both Testaments and part of the Apocrypha; the MS now lacks most of Genesis and part of the Psalms in the OT, and part of Hebrews and all of Titus, Timothy, Philemon, and Revelation in the NT. The pages are approximately eleven by eleven inches in size. The text, very neat and without adornment, is printed in three columns to the page.

d) C (04), Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, is the most important palimpsest MS of the Gr. NT. It is located in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris. Written in the 5th cent., it evidently originally contained both Testaments. In the 12th cent. its Biblical text was scraped off, most of the leaves were discarded, and the remaining ones were written over with some of the writings of St. Ephraem. Tischendorf read and published the Biblical text, but the use of chemicals in an attempt to restore the erased text have further defaced the MS. The extant portions of the MS include parts of almost all of the NT books.

e) D (05), Codex Bezae, is a 6th-cent. MS of the gospels and Acts, which has been in the Cambridge University library since it was presented to the university by Theodore Beza in 1581. The text is written in one column to the page, but in lines of greatly varying length. It is a bilingual MS, with Gr. and Lat. on facing pages. The gospels are in the order—Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark. The chief representative of the so-called “Western text” (see discussion of text-types below) has many textual peculiarities, and its text of Acts is about one-tenth longer than the common form of the text.

f) Dpaul (06), Codex Claromontanus, of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, is a 6th-cent. MS containing the Pauline epistles and Hebrews. By remarkable coincidence, both MSS designated “D” are bilingual, both have Gr. and Lat. on facing pages (Gr. on the left), both have the text in “sense lines” of irregular length, and both are representatives of the peculiar “Western text.”

g) N (022), Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus, is written in silver letters on purple vellum, as are also Codex O (023), Σ (042), and Φ (043). All four of these MSS are from the 6th cent. Most of Codex N is in Leningrad, but parts of it are in several other locations.

h) W (032), Codex Freerianus, or Washingtonensis, is a 4th or 5th cent. MS of the Freer Art Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Like Codex D, it contains the gospels in the Western order.

i) 14 (040), Codex Zacynthius, in the library of the British and Foreign Bible Society in London, is a palimpsest of the gospel of Luke from the 8th cent. It is the oldest known NT MS with a catena and the only such MS in which both the NT text and the catena are in uncials.


Minuscule MSS outnumber uncials ten to one. Although a larger percentage of uncials than minuscules may have perished because of the greater antiquity of the uncials, the disparity in numbers of the surviving MSS doubtless points to the fact that the minuscule handwriting made the copying of MSS a much more rapid and less expensive process. The following minuscule MSS should be mentioned:

a) 1, a 12th-cent. MS containing the NT except Revelation, in Basel, Switzerland. It was one of the MSS used by Erasmus in the preparation of the first published ed. of the Gr. NT. “Family 1” is the term given to a group of minuscules—1, 118, 131, 209, and 1582— all dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries, whose text is very closely related and is significantly different from the type of text current in the minuscules in general.

b) 2, a 12th-cent. MS of the gospels located in Basel, which was also used by Erasmus.

c) 13, a 13th-cent. MS of the gospels now located in Paris. “Family 13” is a closely-related group of minuscules, including 13, 69, 124, 346, 543, 788, 826, 828, and a few others. One unique feature of this group is that the story of the woman taken in adultery follows Luke 21:38 instead of John 7:52. Family 13 is in turn textually related to Family 1.

d) 33, called “queen of the cursives [i.e., minuscules]” because of its excellent text, dates from the 9th or 10th cent. and contains the NT except Revelation. It is located in Paris.

e) 81, one of the few MSS containing the date of its composition (1044), contains Acts in an excellent text. It is located in London.

f) 565, a 9th-10th cent. MS of the gospels, located in Leningrad, written in gold letters on purple vellum, is one of the most beautiful of the MSS of the NT. Its text frequently differs from the common minuscule text and is related to the text of Families 1 and 13.

g) 700, dating from the 11th or 12th cent., also differs frequently from the common text of the minuscules and has affinities to 565 and Families 1 and 13. It shares with one other (162) the reading, “May thy Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us,” instead of “Thy kingdom come,” in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2.

h) 1424, owned by the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Maywood, Illinois, is a 9th-or-10th cent. MS that contains the entire NT, with an accompanying catena for all except Revelation. Together with Codex M and more than twenty-five other minuscules it comprises Family 1424.


Although lectionaries originated in the uncial period, most of the extant copies are minuscules. Very little study has been made of lectionaries until in recent years at the University of Chicago. In very early times, certain Scripture passages were designated for reading on each day of the year, and for special services and days; and numerous NT MSS contain indications of the beginning and endings of lections within their text. As early as the 4th cent., however, special MSS were prepared in which the NT text was written in the order in which it was to be used for the daily readings, or for the readings for Saturdays and Sundays, beginning with Easter. This type of lectionary is called a synaxarion. Another type giving readings for such special occasions as feasts and saints’ days, is called a menologion. Lessons in the lectionaries include all parts of the NT except Revelation. A lectionary that contains lessons from the gospels is called an evangelistarion; one containing lessons from other parts of the NT is called an apostolicon.

In addition to presenting the text in a different order, the first words of the Scripture lesson in lectionaries are sometimes modified to avoid undue abruptness or to clarify a reference (e.g., the substitution of “Jesus” for “he”). In addition, many lections are introduced by one of a number of set formulae preceding the first words of the Scripture text, such as “The Lord said to his own disciples,” “At that time,” “The Lord said this parable,” and others.

Of approximately 1,800 extant lectionaries, varying from small fragments to complete MSS, about two-thirds are evangelistaria, somewhat less than one-third are apostolica, and the remainder are combinations of both types.

Ancient versions

(see also NT, ANCIENT VERSIONS). The tr. of a literary work from one language into another was not common in ancient times. In those instances in which it was done, the resulting tr. was generally too free a rendering to be useful in determining the wording of the original. The Gr. tr. of the OT is therefore virtually the only example of a generally reliable tr. of ancient lit. prior to NT times.

With the spread of the message of the Christian faith, missionaries began to tr. the Bible into the language of the people to whom they ministered. Since these trs. were generally faithful to the original language, they also provide additional attestation to the NT text.

There are certain cautions that must be observed in using a VS as evidence for the Gr. text from which it was tr. The translator’s command both of Gr. and of the receptor language would affect his tr., and allowance must be made for possible errors in tr. Allowance must also be made for features in one language that are not normally reflected in another language. For example, Lat. has no definite article; therefore the word “boat” in Lat. could be the tr. of either “a boat” or “the boat” in Gr. In a language in which meaning is largely dependent upon word order, as in Eng., many variations in word order that are possible in Gr. could not be attested. Further, in no instance is the original MS of an ancient tr. extant, and the textual student must base his study on copies that may include both copyists’ errors and changes introduced into the VS at a later date. The VS itself must therefore be subjected to textual criticism to establish as nearly as possible the original form of the VS before the VS can be used in the determination of the Gr. text.

It is not the VS itself that is of interest in NT textual criticism, but rather the information that the VS gives as to the form of the Gr. text from which it was tr. If the approximate date of the tr. is known, a VS can help to indicate the form of the Gr. text that was known at the time and in the geographical area in which the tr. was made.

The following are the significant ancient VSS of the NT:


Although Syr. is a dialect of Aram. the language of Pal. at the time of Jesus, the extant Syr. MSS are all trs. from Gr. originals and thus farther removed from the original accounts than is the Gr. text.

a. The Diatessaron. Although it is not even certain whether this work was composed in Gr. or Syr., it may be discussed along with Syr. VSS because of its influence on the Syrian church. Written in the middle of the 2nd cent. by a certain Tatian, the Diatessaron (“through the Four”) was a continuous gospel harmony that combined material from all four gospels. In 1933, a fragment in Gr., supposedly from the Diatessaron, was found in the Middle E. No other MSS of this work are known, the closest evidence being the NT quotations in St. Ephraem’s Syr. commentary on the Diatessaron. Harmonies in several other languages are assumed to show influence of the Diatessaron.

b. The Old Syriac. Apart from the Diatessaron, part or all of the NT had been tr. into Syr. by the beginning of the 3rd cent. or slightly earlier. This early VS survives in two MSS of the gospels: a 5th cent. MS edited by William Cureton in 1858 and known as the Curetonian Syriac (Syrc), and a 4th cent. palimpsest MS, discovered in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai in 1892 and known as the Sinaitic Syriac (Syrs). These two MSS differ from each other more than the normal scribal differences between MSS: the Sinaitic may represent an earlier form of which the Curetonian is a later revision.

c. The Peshitta. Near the end of the 4th cent. a new VS of the NT in Syr. was made. This VS did not include 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Since both branches of the Syrian church accept the Peshitta (Syrp), it must have been in use prior to their split in a.d. 431. The Peshitta, which is still the Syriac VS in common use (the missing books being supplied from the Philoxenian version), is known in more than 300 MSS, some of which date from the 5th and 6th centuries.

d. The Philoxenian. In 508, a Syr. NT was completed by a certain Polycarp for Philoxenus, Bishop of Mabug in Syria. What is possibly the only extant MS of the Philoxenian (Syrph), contains only the books that were not included in the Peshitta: 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

e. The Harkleian. It is not clear whether Thomas of Harkel, who was Bishop of Mabug after Philoxenus, in 616 merely reissued the Philoxenian VS and added some marginal notes from a few Gr. MSS, or whether his work was a thorough revision entitled to be called a new VS, to which he added marginal readings that he believed were significant but not warranting a place in the text itself. If the latter is true, then the Philoxenian VS survives only in the MS referred to above. It is the marginal readings of the Harkleian version (Syrh) that have been of particular significance in textual criticism, esp. in Acts.

f. The Palestinian. Probably about the 5th cent., another Syr. VS was produced, which is not closely related to any of the other Syriac VSS. Known as the Palestinian Syr. (Syrpal), it is unique in that, except for a few fragments of continuous text MSS, it has survived only in lectionary form, which is preserved in three MSS of the 11th and 12th centuries. It may have been tr. originally from a Gr. lectionary.


a. The Old Latin (itala). Although Gr. was commonly known and spoken throughout most of the Rom. empire during the first two or three centuries of the Christian era, the need for a Lat. tr. of the Scriptures soon arose. By the end of the 2nd cent., the gospels and perhaps all of the NT were prob. current in Lat. in North Africa, and soon afterward in other parts of the empire. The MSS of the Old Lat. (OL or It. [Itala]) differ so much among themselves that it appears that the OL is not one VS but numerous trs., which accords with the statement by Augustine that in the early days of the Christian era anyone who had a Gr. MS and thought he knew both Gr. and Lat. attempted to make a Lat. tr. Colloquialisms and unsophsiticated expressions in the OL support the theory that it originated among the common people.

Of the fifty or so OL MSS that are known, none contains the NT in its entirety, although together they include most of the NT. The MSS date from the 4th through the 13th centuries, which indicates that the OL was in use to some extent long after it had officially been superseded by the Vul. OL MSS are cited by single lower-case letters plus abbreviations such as aur, ff2, gig, and ph.

b. The Vulgate. With the passage of time, the great variations within the OL became more evident and more unacceptable. In 382, Pope Damasus appointed Jerome, the outstanding Biblical scholar of that day, to undertake a revision of the Lat. to bring it into conformity with the Gr. Within two years Jerome had completed his revision of the gospels, stating that he changed the Lat. only where he felt it was actually necessary. The rest of the NT was eventually finished, although the revision was more cursory; some have questioned the extent to which the revision outside the gospels is the work of Jerome himself.

Jerome’s revision, known as the Vulgate, or “common” VS, revised numerous times through the centuries, formed the basis of what is still the official VS of the Roman Catholic Church. Some 8,000 MSS of the Lat. Vul. are extant, twice as many as the number of Gr. MSS, which suggests that the Vul. Bible was the most frequently copied work of ancient lit.

Manuscripts of the Vul. are commonly designated by abbreviations of their names (am, cav, fu, harl), or by their capital initial letters.


Early in the Christian era an alphabet was developed for the Egyp. language using Gr. letters with some additional forms taken from the older demotic script that, with the hieratic, were derivatives of the hieroglyphic writing of more ancient times. From the Nile delta to the southern part of the country, some six dialects of the language existed. The most significant for NT study are from each end of this geographical area.

a. Sahidic. Part of the NT was tr. into Sahidic, the dialect in use from Thebes and S, by the beginning of the 3rd cent., and the complete NT was available within a cent. Almost the entire NT is preserved in the extant MSS, the oldest of which is from the 4th or the 6th cent.

b. Bohairic. The dialect of Alexandria and Lower Egypt, Bohairic, seems to have received the NT later than Sahidic; perhaps in the region of the literary capital of Egypt, it was sufficiently well-known that a tr. was not needed until later. Some one hundred MSS of the NT in Bohairic are extant, but the oldest known of these, until recently, was written in the 12th cent., which caused some scholars to postulate a very late date for the origin of the VS. The recent publication, however, of a 4th-cent. papyrus MS of John in Bohairic, from the Bodmer Library, makes it clear that the VS originated in the 4th cent. or earlier.

c. Middle Egyptian dialects. Between the regions of the Sahidic and the Bohairic dialects, at least part of the NT was tr. into other dialects of Coptic. In Fayumic and sub-Achmimic most of John is extant. Manuscripts in Achmimic include parts of the gospels and Catholic Epistles dating from the 4th or 5th cent.


The NT was tr. into Gothic at the middle of the 4th cent. by Ulfilas, whom Metzger (Text of the NT, 82) and others credit with having reduced the language to writing as well. This VS survives in about six MSS, all from the 5th and 6th centuries and all fragmentary. One, Codex Argenteus, in the University Library of Uppsala, Sweden, containing portions of the gospels, is written in silver ink on purple vellum (hence its name). All of the other MSS are palimpsests.


The NT was tr. into Armenian in the first half of the 5th cent. It was tr. directly from Gr. by St. Mesrop, who also created the Armenian alphabet, with the help of St. Sahak; or, according to another tradition, it was tr. by St. Sahak from Syr. A revision appeared later, which became the dominant form of the VS by the 8th cent. and is the basis of the Armenian text still in use. Not only is the Armenian VS regarded as a very beautiful and accurate tr., but there are also more extant MSS—more than 1,500—of this VS than of any other NT VS except the Vul. Almost all of the MSS, however, are later than the 9th cent. and represent the revised form of the VS.


Christianity was introduced into Georgia, situated between the Black and Caspian Seas, in the 4th cent. The origin of the Georgian VS of the NT is uncertain, but it is attributed by some to the same St. Mesrop who is associated with the Armenian VS, and its origin placed in the early 5th cent. It was evidently either tr. from or influenced by the Armenian VS. The last of several revisions, which was made by about the 11th cent., is the basis of the Georgian VS still in use. Extant MSS are numerous, although three that date from the late 9th and 10th centuries are believed to retain more elements of the Old Georgian.


Although some one hundred MSS of the Ethiopic VS are known, the fact that none of them are earlier than the 13th cent. has added to the difficulties of establishing a date for the origin of the VS, with extreme views of the 2nd cent. and the 14th cent. having been suggested. Most likely it originated near the 6th cent., although possibly earlier, tr. either from Syr. or directly from Gr.


The NT in Old Slavonic is credited to two brothers, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who seem to have originated the two forms of the Slavonic alphabet, the Cyrillic and the Glagolitic. These brothers, who became missionaries to the Slavs, tr. the NT in the second half of the 9th cent. The VS may originally have been in lectionary form, which is the form of the text in most of the extant MSS.

Other versions.

After the rise of Islam, numerous trs. of the NT into Arab. were made, including one in the rhymed prose style of the Koran, and made or corrected from several different language VSS. The Pers. VS is known from a few MSS from the 14th cent. and later. A Frankish VS, a language of west-central Europe, is known from one 8th-cent. MS of part of Matthew in Frankish and Latin. Fragments are extant of a Sogdian VS, a trade language of south-central Asia prior to the 10th cent. A fragment of a 10th-cent. lectionary attests to the existence of a VS in Nubian, spoken in a region between Egypt and Ethiopia. A VS in Anglo-Saxon is known from nine MSS of the 11th to the 13th centuries.

Although appreciable work has been done in some of the NT VSS, far more remains to be done in order that the VSS may make their full contribution to NT textual research.

Patristic quotations.

In addition to actual MSS of the NT in Gr. and other ancient VSS, Scripture quotations in the works of the early ecclesiastical writers form an important source of information concerning the text of the NT. Most of the works of these Church Fathers are in Gr. and Lat., with a lesser amount in Syr. and some other languages. These quotations are so extensive that the NT could virtually be reconstructed from this source alone.

As in the case of the VSS, there are limitations in the use of the writings of the Fathers as aids in determining the text of the NT. The original of the patristic work is not extant, so the textual critic must first study the known MSS of the work in question to determine as nearly as possible its original wording, in particular the NT quotations in the work. The NT quotations within a Father’s writings are the very parts that a scribe would most likely change intentionally—if, for example, the quotation did not agree with the form of the NT text with which the scribe was familiar. Even when the original form of the NT quotation in the patristic work has been determined as nearly as possible, if the author is merely giving the general sense of the passage instead of a verbatim reference, or if he (or his amanuensis) is quoting from memory instead of copying the quotation from a NT MS, the value of the passage for textual criticism will be limited. For example, the 4th cent. St. Cyril of Jerusalem bases an argument concerning the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper on what he himself says is the precise statement of St. Paul; yet his quotation concerning the institution of the Holy Communion is neither 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 nor any one of the parallel accounts in the gospels, but is rather a conflation from the various accounts, evidently quoted from memory (see Greenlee, The Gospel Text of Cyril of Jerusalem, pp. 19, 20). In general, however, longer quotations are more likely to have been copied from a MS than are shorter quotations.

As with the VSS, the goal for the patristic quotation is the information it gives concerning the NT text. To the extent to which the NT text that a Church Father used can be determined, that particular form of the text can be assumed to have been known and used at the time and in the general location in which that church father lived. In other words, the NT quotations of a writer’s works form, so to speak, a fragmentary MS of the NT from his date and region. In addition, ancient writers at times refer to alternative readings of which they are aware in MSS of the NT, and may even give their opinion of these readings.

For an extensive survey of the ecclesiastical writings and their works, reference must be made to a volume of patrology. The following are a few of the more significant of the Fathers:

Irenaeus (c. 140-210), Bishop of Lyons.

Tertullian (c. 150-240) of Carthage, one of the most prolific of the Lat. Fathers.

Origen (c. 185-254) of Alexandria and later of Caesarea, author of significant exegetical writings and other works.

Eusebius Pamphili, Bishop of Caesarea (c. 313-340), author of an ecclesiastical history, commentaries, and other works.

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (328-373), author of apologetic works and writings against the Arians.

Gregory of Nazianzus in Cappadocia (c. 330-389), author of forty-five orations and other works.

Gregory of Nyssa in Cappadocia (d. 394), author of exegetical, dogmatic, and ascetic writings.

Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (374-397), author of an exposition of Luke and other writings.

John Chrysostom (c. 344-407), Patriarch of Constantinople, brilliant preacher (hence, his title “golden mouth”), whose extant works are the most extensive of any patristic writer.

Jerome, or Hieronymus (c. 331-420), who produced the Lat. Vul. Bible, author of Lat. commentaries and other writings.

Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, author of philosophical, dogmatic, and exegetical works.

Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria (412-444), author of apologetic, dogmatic, and extensive exegetical works.

Although the potential value of the patristic quotations for NT textual criticism is very great, much work remains to be done both in preparing critical edd. of the works of the Church Fathers and in making analyses of their NT quotations.

Transmission of the NT text

Before the invention of printing

The rise of textual variants.

When the books of the NT were first written, they were largely “private” works rather than “literature” in the ordinary sense. This was esp. true of most of the NT epistles, which were simply correspondence between individuals and groups. Even the gospels were written for a purpose that was different from that of ordinary lit. When a book of the NT was copied in this very earliest period, therefore, it was generally copied privately for personal use rather than by a professional scribe. Furthermore, since the message of the book or letter was the important thing, a person making such a copy of a NT book might not necessarily feel obligated to strictly duplicate the word order or details that did not affect the sense. In the case of the narrative books, moreover, the earliest copyists apparently sometimes felt free to add small details of information. Moreover, in the earliest period of the NT, the status of the Christian religion in the political situation would not encourage widespread comparison of NT MSS. In addition, variants and errors are almost inevitable, even with a scribe’s best intentions of verbal exactness. All these factors, therefore, combined to produce divergence of MSS during the earliest period after the NT was written. This period continued until Christianity gained official recognition in the early 4th cent., although almost all of the variants that are significant in textual criticism may well have arisen during the first half of this period.

At the same time, the significance of this divergence between the MSS must not be exaggerated. The books of the NT doubtless came to be considered as “literature” soon after they began to be circulated, and those who copied the MSS would then have a double reason for copying with care: the preservation of the exact words of the sacred message as well as the common requirements for copying a literary work.

The differences between MSS that arose by repeated copying led to the development of “families” of MSS, or what is known as “local texts.” Copies of the NT, each with its own peculiarities and variants, were carried by Christians to various lands and localities. As each MS was copied and further copies multiplied, these copies, to a large extent, shared a common group of variants that were descended from their common ancestor and in varying degrees differed from the variants of the MSS that had been carried to other localities. In this way, the common peculiarities of a group of MSS serve to indicate their common ancestry as distinct from other groups of MSS. In some instances, a certain group of such MSS can be traced back to a specific region and a definite period of time by the fact that these MSS contain a group of variants characteristic of writings of a certain Church Father or which are found in a VS that originated at a certain time and place.

When Christianity gained official recognition under the emperor Constantine, MSS of the NT no longer needed to be concealed for safety. Soon the emperor himself ordered new copies of the Scriptures for the churches of Constantinople. It was evidently not long before comparison was being made between MSS and it was being discovered that there were many differences, esp. between MSS of different localities. During the next three centuries or so, then, whether deliberately and officially, or unintentionally and informally, there occurred a period of convergence of MSS. During this period the MSS that were produced tended more and more to conform to the same standard. This standard could now be better maintained, since the copying of MSS was to a larger extent the work of trained scribes. In addition, there was evidently some degree of editing, in the course of which the wording of parallel accounts in the gospels were harmonized to some extent, grammatical irregularities were corrected, and a text was produced that was in general smooth and easy to read.

More than nine-tenths of all extant MSS of the NT are from this period of convergence of the MSS or later. Thus only a small percentage of the MSS preserve a form of the text that antedates the late standardized text. Although copying of MSS by hand continued to mean that virtually no two MSS were completely identical, nevertheless from the 8th cent. on almost all MSS represented in a general way the standardized form of text, and this form of the text was still current when the printing press revolutionized the world of lit.

Types of variants.

The changes that scribes introduced into the NT MSS are of several types, which may be classified as either (1) unintentional, or much less frequently (2) intentional variation (see Metzger, Text, 186-206, for a much fuller discussion).

a. Unintentional variants. Unintentional, or accidental, variants include errors of seeing, of writing, and of judgment.

Errors of seeing include esp. the confusion of letters or pairs of letters that look much alike in uncial writing such as ΕΘΟΞ, ΑΛΑ, ΗΝ, Ν́ΛΙ, and Π́ΓΊΙΤ. Occasionally, an abbreviation might be mistaken for a full word of similar appearance or vice versa (e.g., ΘΞ and ΟΞ—“God” and “who”—in 1 Tim 3:16); a scribe’s eye might skip from the first to the second occurrence of the same word, causing omission of the intervening material; he might read the same word or phrase twice; or he might confuse a word for a word of similar appearance (e.g., ἔλαβον and ἔβαλον—“they took” and “they cast”).

Errors of memory might result in a mere change of word order in a series, substitution of one synonym for another, or the accidental inclusion of a word or phrase from a parallel passage.

Errors of writing might include the addition or omission of a letter or letters (e.g., ἐγενήθημεν νήπιοι, “we became infants,” and ἐγενήθημεν ἤπιοι, “we became gentle”; cf. 1 Thess 2:7), or the omission of an indication of abbreviation.

Errors of judgment, in addition to some of the preceding errors, might cause a scribe to include a marginal note, thinking that it was a part of the text itself. This may be the origin of the explanation of the troubling of the water in John 5:3, 4.

b. Intentional variants. Intentional changes are the result of scribes’ attempts to correct what they thought were errors, to make the text less ambiguous, or to strengthen the theology. On the other hand, there is virtually no evidence of a scribe’s intentionally weakening the theology or purposely introducing heresy into his MS.

Probably the most common type of intentional variant is the harmonization of parallel accounts in the gospels. To mention only two such instances, the much shorter VS of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2-4 has been amplified by scribes in accordance with the longer form of Matthew 6:9-13; and the form of the conversation between the rich young ruler and Jesus in Matthew 19:16, 17 has been modified to agree with the form of the parallels in Mark and Luke.

Scribes also attempted to resolve apparent difficulties in the text. In Mark 1:2, the original reference to “Isaiah the prophet” was modified to “the prophets,” since the first part of the following reference was from Malachi (Mal 3:1). Since the Prodigal Son says in Luke 15:19 that he will say to his father, “Make me as one of thy hired servants,” scribes of several good MSS have added these words in v. 21.

Scribal changes in the interests of a strengthened theology or piety sometimes occurred. The most notable of these is the reference to the three heavenly witnesses of 1 John 5:7, 8 in the KJV, which is found in no Gr. MS earlier than the 15th cent.; although this variant may have originated as a marginal comment in a Lat. MS rather than as an intentional addition to the Biblical text. Other instances include the addition of “and fasting” to “prayer” (Mark 9:29), and the word “openly” following “shall reward you” in Matthew 6:4 to provide a happy contrast with the earlier words “in secret.”

Although all sorts of variants may be found among the thousands in the extant MSS, these are minutiae in the total text of the MSS. The scribes generally copied the text with great care, even when the text may not have seemed to make sense (see Metzger, Text of the NT, 206, and G. D. Kilpatrick, “The Transmission of the NT and Its Reliability,” Proceedings of the Victoria Institute LXXXIX, reprinted in The Bible Translator 9, 3 [July 1958], 127-136).

The Greek NT in print

The establishment of the “Received Text” (1516-1633).

Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing from movable type, in the middle of the 15th cent., had the most far-reaching consequences for the entire world of lit. and culture. For the first time it became possible not only to produce books more cheaply than ever before but also to produce any number of identical copies of a work. Paper had come into common use in the Western world by this time, having displaced parchment by the beginning of the 15th cent. Although some handwritten MSS continued to be produced for another cent. or so, with the invention of printing the age of MSS was at an end.

The first major publication of Gutenberg’s press was a beautiful Lat. Vul. ed. of the Bible in folio size, produced in 1456, appropriately known as the Gutenberg Bible, of which forty-seven copies are still known. Not until half a cent. later, however, was the first Gr. NT printed. For one reason, the Bible of the scholars was the Lat. Bible, with comparatively little concern being given to the Gr. text. A second reason may have been the problem and expense involved in preparing Gr. type in imitation of the current minuscule style, which involved several forms of a given letter as well as numerous ligatures.

Eventually, in 1502, the preparation of a Gr. Bible was begun, under the direction of Cardinal Ximenes of Spain, and ed. by several scholars. The NT was printed in Lat. and Gr., the OT with the Heb., Vul., and Gr. LXX in parallel columns. The project was undertaken in the town of Alcalá (known as Complutum in Lat.); hence, the Bible is known as the Complutensian Polyglot. The NT was completed in 1514, the OT volumes in 1517, but the approval of the pope was not given until 1520, and for some reason the work was not actually “published” until 1522.

In the meantime, the Swiss printer Froben, doubtless having heard of the Spanish cardinal’s project, urged the scholar Erasmus to undertake the editing of a Gr. NT. In July, 1515, Erasmus hastily obtained a few Gr. NT MSS, which happened to be available in Basel, none of which contained the entire NT; and the only MS that was not essentially the late standardized form of text he used sparingly because of its differences from the others. His one MS of Revelation lacked the final six verses, and at some other points the Biblical text was confused with the accompanying catena. In these passages he therefore inserted his own Gr. tr. from the Lat., resulting in a Gr. text that in some passages agrees with no known Gr. MS. This ed., accompanied by Erasmus’ own Lat. tr. (which differed at numerous points from the current Vul.), was published in March, 1516, the haste of the work being reflected in its many typographical errors. Thus, whereas the Complutensian was the first Gr. NT to be printed, Erasmus’ edition was the first to be published—i.e., actually placed on the market.

Altogether Erasmus published five edd. of his NT, but the subsequent edd. included little additional consultation of MSS and few changes. One change, however, was significant. When one of the editors of the Complutensian protested to Erasmus the omission of the reference to the three heavenly witnesses in 1 John 5:7, 8, which was included in the Vul., Erasmus rashly agreed to include it in his next ed. if it could be found in any Gr. MS. When such a MS (Codex 61) was shown to him (prob. prepared for the purpose), he dutifully included the passage in his third edition (1522). He again omitted it from his subsequent edd., yet somehow it was his third ed. that most largely influenced the textual tradition, and thus this passage found its way into the works of other editors and into the accepted tradition of the text for more than three centuries.

In this way, the subsequent tradition of the printed Gr. NT was based on the uncritical use of a very few MSS, which for the most part represented a late stage in the development of the text rather than adequately representing the original.

Four edd. of the Gr. NT were published by Robert Estienne (Stephanus), between 1546 and 1551. His third ed., which indicated the variant readings of a number of MSS and of the Complutensian, was the first Gr. NT to contain something like a critical apparatus. This third ed. became the generally-accepted form of the text for Great Britain and the United States. In the fourth edition, Stephanus introduced the verse numeration, which is still in use.

Theodore Beza, Protestant scholar and successor to John Calvin at Geneva, published nine edd. of the Gr. NT, between 1565 and 1604, five of which are merely small reprints. Beza’s reputation helped to popularize the form of the text of the Erasmus and Stephanus tradition.

Two brothers of the Elzevir family, publishers of many edd. of the classics, published seven edd. of the Gr. NT, between 1624 and 1678, primarily as a commercial enterprise. The Lat. preface to their second ed. (1633) assured the reader, “You have therefore the text now received by all, in which we give nothing altered or corrupt.” The words “received text” (textum receptum) of this advertisement passed into common use, and the phrase “Received Text” (Textus Receptus) described the printed form of the Gr. text of the Erasmus tradition. It was specifically the Elzevir ed. of 1633 that became the Textus Receptus for continental Europe, as the third ed. of Stephanus was for Great Britain and the United States.

The accumulation of textual evidence (1633-1830).

With the publication of the Elzevir edd., some one hundred edd. of the Gr. NT had been printed, and it was generally available. Next, scholars turned their attention to the examination of ancient MSS to see whether the text could be improved. During this period of two centuries, the dominance of the Textus Receptus was not broken, but evidence was gradually collected that was to lead to a better text.

John Mill’s ed. of 1707 cited the evidence of nearly a hundred MSS as well as numerous patristic writers and several VSS. Even his presentation of variant readings, however, was attacked as undermining the Scriptures.

Richard Bentley published no NT, but was an influential scholar who defended the study of the MSS against those who opposed Mill’s work.

Johann Albrecht Bengel published a Gr. NT in 1734, in which he altered the Textus Receptus in a limited number of instances, generally only where other edd. had previously done so. He included a critical apparatus with variant readings classified as to the degree of their superiority or inferiority to the text of his ed. Most importantly, Bengel recognized that the witnesses to the text must be classified into groups, not merely counted individually. By dividing the witnesses into two or three groups and by formulating the principle, which is now recognized as being fundamental, that a more difficult reading is generally more likely to be original than is an easier reading, Bengel came to be called the father of modern textual criticism of the NT.

Johann Jakob Wetstein published a two volume ed. of the Gr. NT in 1751-1752, using the Textus Receptus but indicating in his apparatus the readings that he believed were correct. He held, however, to the superiority of the later MSS. His unique contribution was his system of citing uncial MSS by capital letters and minuscules by Arab. numerals, a system followed until the present.

Johann Salomo Semler’s contribution to textual criticism was his development of Bengel’s classification of MSS into three main groups: Alexandrian, Western, and Eastern.

Johann Jakob Griesbach, a student of Semler, carried forward and popularized this professor’s work. He identified three families of witnesses in the gospels, which he designated Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine; and two families in the Pauline epistles—Alexandrian and Western. He also elaborated fifteen principles of textual criticism, which are generally sound. Using these principles in his three edd. of the NT, he abandoned the Textus Receptus in numerous instances. His work and method made him one of the most important textual scholars.

The struggle to overthrow the Textus Receptus (1830-1882).

Until well into the 19th cent., the printed NT continued to be basically that of Erasmus and StephanusElzevir. There were departures from the received text, but not a basically different text. The first editor to set aside the Textus Receptus completely and edit a text on the basis of ancient witnesses and principles of textual criticism was Karl Lachmann, whose first ed. appeared in 1831. At best such an ed. would have been violently attacked by those who regarded the Textus Receptus as sacrosanct; but by failing to make clear his principles—merely referring readers to an article that he had published in an obscure periodical—even scholars of a more liberal point of view took issue with him. In his second ed. (1842-1850), however, he included a full statement of his principles, which won appreciable support for his text.

In England, the critical text of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, published in 1857-1879 subsequent to publication of a careful statement of his principles of criticism, did much to influence British opinion toward the acceptance of a “critical text”—i.e., a text based upon principles of textual criticism. His principles, arrived at independently, closely paralleled those of Lachmann. He also examined most of the then known uncial MSS and a number of important minuscules.

The greatest single name in NT textual critticism is doubtless that of Constantin Tischendorf. His publications of texts and collations of MSS and of critical edd. of the Gr. NT exceed those of any other scholar. He published the text of twenty-one uncial MSS, including the famous Codex Sinaiticus, and collated, or copied, the text of more than twenty others. The first of his edd. of the NT was published in 1841. His eighth and final ed. (1869-1872), published in two vols. includes a critical apparatus that is so comprehensive in its citation of MSS, VSS, and patristic writings that it is still, a cent. later, indispensable for serious study of the NT text. A volume of prolegomena, edited by Caspar René Gregory, was published in 1894 as the third volume of Tischendorf’s eighth ed.

The triumph for a NT text based upon critical principles was climaxed in the publication in 1881-1882 of an ed. that was the joint labor of two scholars of Cambridge University—Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. Their ed. contained no critical apparatus as such. On the other hand, their text was accompanied by an entire volume in which they carefully set forth their principles. The thoroughness of their work, the handy form of their NT ed., and the extensive use of their text in the ERV of the NT, contributed to the success of their ed. Virtually all subsequent work on the NT text looks back to the work of Westcott and Hort. With their publication, the reign of the Textus Receptus was ended.

There was, of course, a reaction against the critical text, notably by J. W. Burgon and Edward Miller. They argued that God would not have permitted the Church to follow a corrupt text for fifteen centuries. The answer was that the TR is not a bad or misleading text; that, moreover, before the invention of printing there was no rigidly fixed text at all. They also argued that the critical text amounted to rejecting the testimony of the vast majority of the (later) MSS. The reply was that any number of MSS that can be traced to a common ancestor indicates only one witness, not many; and that this procedure is commonly followed in textual criticism of the secular writings of antiquity.

Their argument that the readings of the late MSS are intrinsically superior is subjective; the consensus of scholarly opinion is to the contrary.

The modern period of textual criticism

The theory of Westcott and Hort.

The principles that WH set forth may be examined in detail elsewhere (e.g., their own volume, The NT in the Original Greek. Introduction and Appendix, or Metzger’s excellent presentation in his Text of the NT, 129-135). Basically, in addition to using valid principles of criticism to decide the correct reading in a given variant, they pointed out that the degree of reliability that a given MS exhibits in a large number of instances should also be taken into account in deciding other instances. Further assurance of conclusions may be gained if, instead of considering the characteristics of individual MSS, the witnesses are grouped with others whose text is similar. Then, if individual peculiarities are eliminated and the consensus of the group is determined, the variants may be studied in terms of these groups of MSS instead of individual MSS.

WH recognized four principal groups, or text-types:

1) The Syrian text is the latest, and is found in most of the later witnesses. It represents a revision, produced in Syria (hence its name) about the 4th cent., which characteristically smoothed out rough grammar and harsh transitions, clarified obscurities, harmonized parallels, and is generally smooth, clear, and theologically safe.

2) The Western text, which was in existence in the 2nd cent., is most notable for its extensive paraphrases and additions (esp. in Acts), substitution of synonyms, and occasional significant shorter readings, although it has many less spectacular variants as well. Among its chief witnesses are Codices D and Dpaul (05 and 06) and the OL.

3) The Alexandrian text originated in Alexandria, the seat of scholarly criticism of the Gr. classics. Its witnesses include Codices C, L, 33, the Coptic VSS, and certain Alexandrian fathers. This text-type WH believed to be characterized not by variants of content and substance but by corrections of grammar, syntax, and similar matters of the sometimes unsophisticated style of NT Gr., as might be expected in the scholarly environment of Alexandria.

4) The Neutral text, generally represented by the consensus of codices א and B, WH felt represented a textual tradition that preserved the original text with a minimum of change. They believed that readings in which these two MSS agreed could rarely be rejected, and that frequently B alone preserved the original text. On the other hand, they did not automatically accept the Bא text, rejecting it when they felt that textual principles so dictated.

WH theorized that from the original text (substantially preserved in the Neutral text) the Western text was developed by extensive alteration. From the Neutral text, modified by philological alterations and slight admixture from the Western, the Alexandrian text was produced. When the Christian Church became recognized and MSS could be openly produced and compared, a revision incorporating these three texts—but significantly less Western elements—plus editorial and theological refinements, produced the Syrian text, which in turn became the general form of the text of MSS until the invention of printing, and the TR of printed edd.

The work of von Soden.

The most notable attempt to reach the original NT text on a basis radically different from that of WH is the work of Hermann von Soden a professor in Berlin. Between 1902 and 1913, von Soden published a critical text with a very extensive critical apparatus, together with a large volume detailing his textual theory. His apparatus utilized a completely new system of MS designation, which was intended to indicate something of the date and contents of each MS. As a result of its complicated nature and the fact that his theories have not generally been accepted, his system has not been adopted. A published key to his nomenclature is generally used to read his apparatus.

Von Soden theorized the existence of three ancient text-types, designated by the Gr. letters: k for Κοινή, which approximated the WH Syrian; h for ̔Ησύχιος, which compares to the WH Neutral plus Alexandrian; and i for ̔Ιερουσαλήμ, which includes the WH Western plus other elements. Von Soden felt that the agreement of two of these three groups, qualified by certain other principles, could lead to their common ancestor “I-H-K,” which was current in the 3rd cent. By then eliminating the corrupting influence of Tatian, the text of the mid-2nd cent. could be determined, which von Soden believed was essentially the original text.

Van Soden’s work made significant contributions to certain aspects of textual study. His basic textual theory, however, has largely been rejected on the grounds that his evaluation of text-types is faulty, that his estimation of the corrupting influence of Tatian on the text is unwarranted, and that even the NT text of the mid-2nd cent. prob. already contained virtually all of the variants that are significant in textual study. It is noteworthy, however, that von Soden’s text, based upon principles so different from those of WH, agrees largely with that of WH.

Current view of text-types.

It is now generally agreed that WH were too optimistic in their evaluation of a “Neutral” text, and that the Neutral witnesses are in fact representatives of the same basic text-type as their “Alexandrian” text. These two are now commonly combined under the designation Alexandrian. The Alexandrian is the best of the individual texttypes, but its readings must nevertheless be submitted to the canons of criticism and compared with the other text-types.

The Western text has been subject to much study since WH, and a few scholars have even maintained that it best represents the original. Its actual origin is perhaps even more of an enigma now than at the time of WH. As were WH, however, the majority of scholars are still reluctant to accept most readings of the typically Western type.

The “Syrian” text of WH is now called the Byzantine, or Antiochian. Much more is now known of this text-type, its subdivisions, and its stages of development, thanks to the work of von Soden and others. This late text may occasionally preserve an ancient reading lost from the other texts. Generally speaking, however, readings typical of the Byzantine text do not commend themselves as being original.

Since the time of WH, a number of MSS have come to light that agree sufficiently to warrant grouping them as an additional texttype (at least in the gospels) known as the Caesarean, so named because Origen seems to have used it during his residence in Caesarea. Its characteristics place it midway between the Alexandrian and the Western, but without the major deviations of the Western text.

Some of the more important witnesses to each of the text-types are as follows: Alexandrian: P&sup4,5,34,75;, א, A outside the gospels, B, C, L, 33, Bohairic, Cyril of Alexandria, and Origen in part; Western: P²5,38,41,48;, D (05), Dpaul (06), a few minuscules, Old Latin, Old Syriac, Tertullian, and Irenaeus; Byzantine: most later uncials, most minuscules, Gothic and later VSS, later church fathers; Casesarean: P³7,45?;, Θ, W in most of Mark, family 1, family 13, 565, 700, Old Georgian, Old Armenian, Palestinian Syriac, Cyril of Jerusalem, Eusebius, and Origen in part.

Principles of textual criticism

Internal evidence.

In deciding between variant readings, the basic principle is that the reading that at first sight seems more difficult in the context is likely to be original, unless it is an accidental error that makes no sense. The point is that an ancient scribe, faced with two or more readings, would generally choose the one easiest to understand at first glance. Thus in John 1:18, “the only God....” is preferred over “the only Son....”

A second principle, which is in part a corollary of the above, is the principle that a shorter reading is more likely to be original than a longer reading, if the difference is the result of an intentional alteration. In other words, a scribe was more likely to add an explanatory comment than to omit a phrase intentionally. On the other hand, if an accidental alteration is involved, the longer reading may be original and the short reading an accidental omission—e.g., if the same word or syllable occurs twice in a passage, and the scribe’s eye skipped from the first occurrence to the second, as in Matthew 5:19 where some MSS omit the second part of the v. by skipping from the first occurrence of “shall be called...in the kingdom of heaven” to the second.

A third principle, likewise in part related to the first, is that the reading from which the other readings could most easily have developed is likely to be original. For example, in Mark 9:49, the original text was doubtless the rather enigmatic, “For everyone shall be salted with fire,” which a prosaic scribe altered to the inocuous “For every sacrifice shall be salted with salt”; and the Byzantine text then characteristically combined both readings, as in the KJV. By the same token, a reading that has a definitely heightened theological or devotional emphasis is likely to be a scribal alteration rather than the original; e.g., St. Paul’s exhortation, “So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20) led a scribe to make the pious addition, “and in your spirit, which are God’s” (KJV).

An important application of the above principle relates to parallel passages, as between the gospels. Since scribes would be tempted to harmonize parallels, a reading that is not thus harmonized is generally to be preferred. For example, after the words, “salute it,” in Matthew 10:12, some MSS add, “saying, ‘Peace be to this house,’” from the parallel in Luke 10:5. Similar harmonization is common in the synoptic gospels.

External evidence.

The application of the above principles of internal evidence to a large number of variants will make it possible to evaluate the degree of reliability of individual witnesses and, more importantly, of groups of witnesses or text-types. It then becomes possible to decide between readings of a variant by considering the general reliability of the text-types that support each reading as well as by the principles of internal evidence, since the latter are to some extent subjective. The combination of internal and external evidence produces a more balanced judgment than reliance on either one alone.

The Alexandrian is the best individual texttype, but either the Western or Byzantine, when standing alone, are generally the least reliable. On the other hand, since evidence of a wide geographical distribution of a reading suggests its originality, support by good witnesses of more than one text-type is preferable to support by one text-type exclusively.


The evangelical view of inspiration relates to the Scriptures in the form in which they were originally given. No addition or modification of the original, therefore, no matter how long enshrined in MSS or trs., partakes of this inspiration. The determination of the original form of the text as nearly as possible is, therefore, a solemn responsibility. At the same time, the precise original wording of the NT cannot be determined with finality in every instance. Consequently, the best form of the text that can be reached will be, from a technical point of view, only an approximation to the original. From a practical view, however, the difference involved in most variants is so slight that little or no difference of meaning is involved.

One may safely conclude, then, that when sound principles of textual criticism are judiciously followed, a NT text may be constructed of which it may be said, in the words of Sir Frederic Kenyon, that “we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable word of God” (Story of the Bible, 113).


B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek. Introduction and Appendix (1882); C. R. Gregory, Die griechieschen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments (1908); E. M. Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography (1912); K. Lake, The Text of the New Testament, 6th ed., rev. by S. New (1928); W. H. P. Hatch, The Principal Uncial Manuscripts of the New Testament (1939); M. M. Parvis and A. P. Wikgren, eds., New Testament Manuscript Studies (1950); W. H. P. Hatch, Facsimiles and Descriptions of Minuscule Manuscripts of the New Testament (1951); H. G. G. Herklots, How Our Bible Came to Us (1954); A. Vööbus, Early Versions of the New Testament. Papers of the Estonian Theological Society in Exile 6 (1954); B. M. Metzger, Annotated Bibliography of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. Studies and Documents XVI, ed. by S. Lake and C. Heg (1955); L. D. Twilley, The Origin and Transmission of the New Testament (1957); F. G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 5th ed., rev. by A. W. Adams (1958); F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable?, 5th ed., rev. (1960); V. Taylor, The Text of the New Testament (1961); F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, 3rd ed., rev. (1963); J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (1964); F. G. Kenyon, The Story of the Bible, 2nd ed., rev. by B. M. G. Reardon (1964); B. M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (1964).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Autographs of the New Testament Writers

2. Papyrus Fragments of the Greek New Testament

3. Greek Copies or Manuscripts of the New Testament Text

4. List of Manuscripts of the Greek New Testament

(1) Uncials

(2) Minuscules

5. Vernacular Versions

6. Patristic Quotations

7. Lectionaries and Service-Books





The literary evidence to the text of the New Testament is vastly more abundant than that to any other series of writings of like compass in the entire range of ancient letters. Of the sacred books of the Hebrew Bible there is no known copy antedating the 10th century AD. Of Homer there is no complete copy earlier than the 13th century. Of Herodotus there is no manuscript earlier than the 10th century. Of Vergil but one copy is earlier than the 4th century, and but a fragment of all Cicero’s writings is even as old as this. Of the New Testament, however, we have two splendid manuscripts of the 4th century, at least ten of the 5th, twentyfive of the 6th and in all a total of more than four thousand copies in whole or in part of the Greek New Testament. To these copies of the text itself may be added the very important and even more ancient evidence of the versions of the New Testament in the Latin, Syriac, and Egyptian tongues, and the quotations and clear references to the New Testament readings found in the works of the early Church Fathers, as well as the inscriptions and monumental data in Syria, Asia Minor, Africa, Italy, and Greece, dating from the very age of the apostles and their immediate successors. It thus appears that the documents of the Christian faith are both so many and so widely scattered that these very facts more than any others have embarrassed the final determination of the text. Now however, the science of textual criticism has so far advanced and the textual problems of the Greek Testament have been so well traversed that one may read the Christian writings with an assurance approximating certainty.

Professor Eberhard Nestle speaks of the Greek text of the New Testament issued by Westcott and Hort as the "nearest in its approach to the goal." Professor Alexander Souter’s student’s edition of the Revisers’ Greek New Testament, Oxford, 1910, no doubt attains even a higher watermark. It is the purpose of the present article to trace, as far as it can be done in a clear and untechnical manner, the process of connection between the original writings and this, one of the latest of the editions of the Greek New Testament.

I. Sources of Evidence for the Text of the New Testament.

1. Autographs of the New Testament Writers:

Until very recent times it has not been customary to take up with any degree of confidence, if at all, the subject of New Testament autographs, but since the researches in particular of Dalman, Deissmann, Moulton (W. F.) and Milligan (George), the task is not only appropriate but incumbent upon the careful student. The whole tendency of recent investigation is to give less place to the oral tradition of Christ’s life and teaching and to press back the date of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels into the period falling between Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem. Sir William M. Ramsay goes so far as to claim that "antecedent probability founded on the general character of personal and contemporary Greek of Gr-Asiatic society" would indicate that the first Christian account of the circumstances connected with the death of Jesus must be presumed to have been written in the year when Jesus died" (Letters to the Seven Churches, 7). W. M. Flinders Petrie argues to the same end and says: "Some generally accepted Gospels must have been in circulation before 60 AD. The mass of briefer records and Logia which the habits and culture of that age would produce must have been welded together within 10 or 20 years by the external necessities" (The Growth of the Gospels, 7).

The autographs of the New Testament writers have long been lost, but the discovery during the last few years of contemporary documents enables us to form fairly clear notions as to their general literary character and condition. In the first place papyrus was probably the material employed by all the New Testament writers, even the original Gospel of Matthew and the general Epistle of James, the only books written within Palestine, not being excepted, for the reason that they were not originally written with a view to their liturgical use, in which case vellum might possibly have been employed. Again the evidence of the writings themselves witnesses to the various literary processes followed during the 1st century. Dictation was largely followed by Paul, the names of at least four of his secretaries, Tertius, Sosthenes, Timothy, and Sylvanus, being given, while the master himself, as in many of the Egyptian papyri, appended his own signature, sometimes with a sentence or two at the end. The method of personal research was pursued, as well as compilation of diverse data including folklore and genealogies, together with the grouping of cognate matters in artistic forms and abundant quotation in writings held in high esteem by the readers, as in the First and Third Gospels and the Book of Acts. The presentation copy of one’s works must have been written with unusual pains in case of their dedication to a patrician patron, as Luke to "most excellent Theophilus." For speculation as to the probable dimensions of the original papyrus rolls of New Testament books, one will find Professor J. Rendel Harris and Sir F. G. Kenyon extremely suggestive, and from opposite viewpoints; compare Kenyon, Handbook of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament; Harris, New Testament Autographs.

Comparatively few papyrus fragments of the New Testament are now known to be extant, and no complete book of the New Testament has as yet been found, though the successes in the field of contemporary Greek writings inspire confidence that ere long the rubbish heaps of Egypt will reward the diligent explorer. Of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) somewhat more has come to light than the New Testament, while the papyrus copies and fragments of Homer are almost daily increasing.

The list below is condensed from that of Sir Frederick G. Kenyon’s Handbook of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 2nd edition, 1912, 41 ff, using Dr. Gregory’s method of notation.

2. Papyrus Fragments of the Greek New Testament:

P1 Mt 1:1-9,12,14-20. 3rd century. Found at Oxyrhynchus in 1896, now in the University of Pennsylvania.

See illustration under PAPYRUS.

P2 Joh 12:12-15 in Greek on the verso, with Lu 7:18 ff in Sahidic on the recto. 5th or 6th century. In book form, at the Museo Archeologico, Florence.

P3 Lu 7:36-43; 10:38-42. 6th century. In book form. In the Rainer Collection, Vienna.

P4 Lu 1:74-80; 5:3-8,30-6:4. 4th century. In book form. Found in Egypt joined to a manuscript of Philo; now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

P5 Joh 1:23-31,33-41; 20:11-17,19-25. 3rd century. An outer sheet of a single-quire book. Found at Oxyrhynchus and now in the British Museum.

P6 Joh 11:45. University of Strassburg.

P7 Lu 4:1,2. Archaeological Museum at Kieff.

P8 Ac 4:31-37; 5:2-9; 6:1-6,8-15. 4th century. In the Berlin Museum.

P9 1 Joh 4:11-13,15-17. 4th or 5th century. In book form. Found at Oxyrhynchus; now in Harvard University Library.

P10 Ro 1:1-7. 4th century. Found at Oxyrhynchus; now in Harvard University Library.

P11 1Co 1:17-20; 6:13-18; 7:3,4,10-14. 5th century. In the Imperial Library at Petersburg.

P12 Heb 1:1. 3d or 4th century. In the Amherst Library.

P13 Heb 2:14-5:5; 10:8-11:13; 11:28-12:17. 3rd or 4th century. Found at Oxyrhynchus; now in the British Museum.

P14:1Co 1:25-27; 2:3-8; 3:8-10,20. 5th century. In book form; at Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai.

P15:1Co 7:18-8:4; Php 3:9-17; 4:2-8. 4th century. Found at Oxyrhynchus.

P16 Ro 12:3-8. 6th or 7th century. Ryland’s Library, Manchester.

P17 Tit 1:11-15; 2:3-8. 3rd century. Ryland’s Library, Manchester.

P18 Heb 9:12-19. 4th century. Found at Oxyrhynchus.

P19 Re 1:4-7. 3rd or 4th century. Found at Oxyrhynchus.

3. Greek Copies or Manuscripts of the New Testament Text:

Greek copies or manuscripts of the New Testament text have hitherto been and probably will continue to be the chief source of data in this great field. For determining the existence of the text in its most ancient form the autographs are of supreme value. For determining the content or extent of the text the versions are of highest worth. For estimating the meaning and at the same time for gaining additional data, both as to existence and extent of usage of the New Testament, the quotations of its text by the Church Fathers, whether as apologists, preachers, or historians, in Assyria, Greece, Africa, Italy or Gaul, are of exceeding importance. But for determining the readings of the text itself the Greek manuscripts or copies of the original autographs are still the principal evidence of criticism. About 4,000 manuscripts, in whole or in part, of the Greek New Testament are now known. These manuscripts furnish abundant evidence for determining the reading of practically the entire New Testament, while for the Gospels and most important Epistles the evidence is unprecedented for quantity and for clearness. They are usually divided into two classes: Uncial, or large hand, and Minuscule, or small hand, often called Cursive. The term "cursive" is not satisfactory, since it does not coordinate with the term "uncial," nor are so-called cursive features such as ligatures and oval forms confined to minuscule manuscripts. The uncials comprise about 140 copies extending from the 4th to the 10th centuries. The minuscules include the remaining manuscripts and fall between the 9th century and the invention of printing. Herewith is given a brief description of a few of the chief manuscripts, both uncial and minuscule, of the New Testament.

4. List of Manuscripts of the Greek New Testament:

(1) Uncials.

Codex Sinaiticus found by Tischendorf at Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai and now in the Imperial Library at Petersburg; 4th century. This is the only uncial which contains the New Testament entire. It also has the Epistle of Barnabas and part of the Shepherd of Hermas and possibly originally the Didache. The marks of many correctors are found in the text. It is written on 147 1/2 leaves of very thin vellum in four narrow columns of 48 lines each. The pages measure 15 X 13 1/2 in., and the leaves are arranged in quaternions of four sheets. The open sheet exposing eight columns resembles greatly an open papyrus roll. There is but rudimentary punctuation and no use of accent or initial letters, but the Eusebian section numbers are found on the margin of the Gospels.

Codex Alexandrinus (A), so named since it was supposed to have come from Alexandria, being the gift of Cyril Lucar, at one time Patriarch of that Province, though later of Constantinople, to Charles I, through the English ambassador at the Turkish court in 1627, and in 1757 presented to the Royal Library and now in the British Museum. It doubtless belongs to the 5th century, and contained the entire New Testament, lacking now only portions of Matthew, John, and 1 Corinthians, as well as the two Epistles of Clement of Rome and the Psalm of Solomon. It is written on thin vellum in two columns of 41 lines to the page, which is 12 5/8 X 10 3/8 in.; employs frequent initial capitals, and is divided into paragraphs, but has no marginal signs except in the Gospels. Several different hands are discovered in the present state of the MS.

Codex Vaticanus (B), since 1481, at least, the chief treasure of the Vatican Library, and universally esteemed to be the oldest and best manuscript of the Greek New Testament; 4th century. Written on very fine vellum, the leaves nearly square in shape, 10 X 10 1/2 in., with three narrow columns of 40-44 lines per column and five sheets making the quire. A part of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Pastorals, Philemon and Revelation are lacking. It is without accents, breathings or punctuation, though corrected and retraced by later hands. In the Gospels the divisions are of an earlier date than in Codex Sinaiticus. The theory of Tischendorf that Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus were in part prepared by the same hand and that they were both among the 50 manuscripts made under the direction of Eusebius at Caesarea in 331 for use in the emperor Constantine’s new capital, is not now generally accepted.

Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C). This is the great palimpsest (twice written) manuscript of the uncial group, and originally contained the whole New Testament. Now, however, a part--approximately half--of every book is lacking, and 2 Thessalonians and 2 John are entirely gone. It belongs to the 5th century, is written on good vellum 9 X 12 1/2 in. to the page of 41 lines, and of one column in the original text, though the superimposed writings of Ephraem are in two. Enlarged initials and the Eusebian marginal sections are used and several hands have corrected the MS. See Fig. 2. Brought to Italy from the East in the 16th century, it came to France with Catherine de’ Medici and is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

Codex Bezae (D). This is the early known manuscript which Theodore Beza obtained in 1562 from the monastery of Irenaeus at Lyons and which he gave in 1581 to the University of Cambridge, where it now is. It is a Greek-Latin text, the Greek holding the chief place on the left-hand page, measuring 8 X 10 in., and dates probably from the end of the 5th century. Both Greek and Latin are written in large uncials and divided into short clauses, corresponding line for line. The hands of no less than nine correctors have been traced, and the critical questions arising from the character of the readings are among the most interesting in the whole range of Biblical criticism and are still unsettled. It contains only the Gospels and Ac with a fragment of 3 John.

Codex Washingtoniensis (W). The United States has now in the National Library (Smithsonian) at the capital one of the foremost uncial manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. It is a complete codex of the Gospels, in a slightly sloping but very ancient hand, written upon good vellum, in one column of 30 lines to the page, and 6 X 9 in. in size. By all the tests ordinarily given, it belongs to the period of the earliest codices, possibly of the 4th century. Like Codex Bezae (D), it has the order of the Gospels: Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, and contains an apocryphal interpolation within the longer ending of Mark for which no other Greek authority is known, though it is probably referred to by Jerome. It has been published in facsimile by Mr. C. L. Freer of Detroit, who obtained the manuscript in Egypt in 1906, and is edited by Professor H. A. Sanders for the University of Michigan Press, 1911.

(2) Minuscules.

Out of the thousands of minuscule manuscripts now known only the four used by Erasmus, together with one now found in the United States, will be enumerated.

1. This is an 11th-century codex at Basel. It must have been copied from a good uncial, since its text often agrees with Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.

1R. Of the 12th century, and now at Mayhingen, Bayaria: This is the only manuscript Erasmus had for Revelation in his editio princeps, and being defective at the end, 22:16-21, he supplied the Greek text by retranslating from the Latin; compare Textus Receptus of the New Testament and the King James Version. Generally speaking, this manuscript is of high quality.

2. This is a 15th-century manuscript at Basel, and was that on which Erasmus most depended for his 1st edition, 1516. It reflects a good quality of text.

2AP. Some have assigned this manuscript to the 12th century, though it was probably later. It is at Basel, and was the principal text used by Erasmus in the Ac and Epistles.

667. An illustration of a good type of minuscule of the Gospels is taken from Evangelistaria 667, which came from an island of the Sea of Marmorn; purchased in Constantinople by Dr. Albert L. Long in 1892 and now in the Drew Seminary Library at Madison, N.J.

5. Vernacular Versions:

Vernacular VSS, or translations of the Scriptures into the tongues of western Christendom, were, some of them, made as early as the 2nd century, and thus antedate by several generations our best-known Greek text. It is considered by many as providential that the Bible was early translated into different tongues, so that its corruption to any large extent became almost if not altogether an impossibility, since the versions of necessity belonged to parts of the church widely removed from one another and with very diverse doctrinal and institutional tendencies. The testimony of translations to the exact form of words used either in an autograph or a Greek copy of an author is at best not beyond dispute, but as evidence for the presence or absence of whole sections or clauses of the original, their standing is of prime importance. Such extreme literalness frequently prevails that the vernacular idiom is entirely set aside and the order and construction of words in the original sources are slavishly followed and even transliterated, so that their bearing on many questions at issue is direct and convincing. Although the Greek New Testament has now been translated into all the principal tongues of the earth, comparative criticism is confined to those versions made during the first eight centuries.

6. Patristic Quotations:

Patristic quotations afford a unique basis of evidence for determining readings of the New Testament. So able and energetic were the Church Fathers of the early centuries that it is entirely probable that the whole text of the Greek New Testament could be recovered from this source alone, if the writings of apologists, homilists and commentators were carefully collated. It is also true that the earliest heretics as well as the defenders of the faith recognized the importance of accurately determining the original text, so that their remains also comprise no mean source for critical research. It is evident that the value of patristic quotations will vary according to such factors as the reliability of the reading, as quoted, the personal equation or habit of accuracy or looseness of the particular writer, and the purity or corruption of the text he employs. One of the marked advantages of this sort of evidence arises from the fact that it affords additional ground for localizing and dating the various classes of texts found both in original copies and in versions. For general study the more prominent Church Fathers of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries are sufficient, though profitable investigation may be made of a much wider period. By the beginning of the 5th century, however, the type of text quoted almost universally was closely akin to that now known as the Textus Receptus.

7. Lectionaries and Service-Books:

Lectionaries and service-books of the early Christian period afford a source of considerable value in determining the general type of texts, together with the order and contents and distribution of the several books of the Canon. As the lectionary systems both of the eastern and western churches reach back to post-apostolic times and all are marked by great verbal conservatism, they present data of real worth for determining certain problems of textual criticism. From the very nature of the case, being compiled for a liturgical use, the readings are often introduced and ended by set formulas, but these are easily separated from the text itself, which generally follows copy faithfully. Even the systems of chapter headings and divisions furnish clues for classifying and comparing texts, for there is high probability that texts with the same chapter divisions come from the same country. Probably the earliest system of chapter divisions is preserved in Codex Vaticanus, coming down to us from Alexandria probably by way of Caesarea. That it antedates the codex in which it appears is seen from the fact that the Pauline Epistles are numbered as comprising a continuous book with a break between Galatians and Ephesians and the dislocated section numbers attached to Hebrews which follows 2 Thessalonians here, though the numbers indicate its earlier position after Galatians. Another system of chapter divisions, at least as old as the 5th century, found in Codex Alexandrinus, cuts the text into much larger sections, known as Cephalia Majora. In all cases the enumeration begins with the 2nd section, the 1st being considered introductory. Bishop Eusebius developed a system of text division of the Gospels based upon an earlier method attributed to Ammonius, adding a series of tables or Canons. The first table contained sections giving events common to all four evangelists, and its number was written beneath the section number on the margin in each Gospel, so that their parallels could readily be found. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th Canons contain lists of sections in which three of the Gospels have passages in common (the combination Mark, Luke, John, does not occur). The 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th contain lists in which two combine (the combination Mark, John, does not occur). Canon 10 contains those peculiar to some one of the Gospels.

II. Necessity of Sifting and Criticizing the Evidence.

Criticism from its very nature concerns itself entirely with the problems suggested by the errors of various kinds which it brings to light. In the writings of the New Testament the resources of textual evidence are so vast, exceeding, as we have seen, those of any other ancient literature, sacred or secular, that the area of actual error is relatively quite appreciable, though it must be remembered that this very abundance of textual variety ultimately makes for the integrity and doctrinal unity of the teaching of the New Testament books. Conjectural emendation which has played so large a part in the restoration of other writings has but slight place in the textual criticism of the New Testament, whose materials are so abundant that the difficulty is rather to select right renderings than to invent them. We have catalogued the principal sources of right readings, but on the most casual investigation of them discover large numbers of wrong readings mingled with the true, and must proceed to consider the sources of error or various readings, as they are called, of which approximately some 200,000 are known to exist in the various manuscripts, VSS, patristic citations and other data for the text.

"Not," as Dr. Warfield says, "that there are 200,000 places in the New Testament where various readings occur, but that there are nearly 200,000 readings all told, and in many cases the documents so differ among themselves that many various readings are counted on a single word, for each document is compared in turn with one standard and the number of its divergences ascertained, then these sums are themselves added together and the result given as the number of actually observed variations." Dr. Ezra Abbott was accustomed to remark that "about nineteen-twentieths of the variations have so little support that, although there are various readings, no one would think of them as rival readings, and nineteen-twentieths of the remainder are of so little importance that their adoption or rejection would cause no appreciable difference in the sense of the passages in which they occur." Dr. Hort’s view was that "upon about one word in eight, various readings exist supported by sufficient evidence to bid us pause and look at it; about one word in sixty has various readings upon it supported by such evidence as to render our decision nice and difficult, but that so many variations are trivial that only about one word in every thousand has upon it substantial variation supported by such evidence as to call out the efforts of the critic in deciding between the readings." The oft-repeated dictum of Bentley is still valid that "the real text of the sacred writings is competently exact, nor is one article of faith or moral precept either perverted or lost, choose as awkwardly as you will, choose the worst by design, out of the whole lump of readings." Despite all this, the true scholar must be furnished rightly to discriminate in the matter of diverse readings.

From the very nature of the case it is probable that errors should be frequent in the New Testament; indeed, even printed works are not free from them, as is seen in the most carefully edited editions of the English Bible, but in manuscripts the difficulty is increased in direct proportion to the number of various copies still extant. There are two classes of errors giving rise to various readings, unconscious or unintentional and conscious or intentional.

1. First Class:

Of the first class, that of unconscious errors, there are five sorts:

(1) Errors of the Eye.

Errors of the eye, where the sight of the copyist confuses letters or endings that are similar, writing e.g. capital eta for capital sigma; capital omicron for capital theta; capital alpha for capital lambda or capital delta; capital pi (P) for capital tau and capital iota (written together, TI); PAN for TIAN; capital mu (M) for a double capital lambda (LL). Here should be named homoeoteleuton, which arises when two successive lines in a copy end in the same word or syllable and the eye catches the second line instead of the first and the copyist omits the intervening words as in Codex Ephraemi of Joh 6:39.

(2) Errors of the Pen.

Here is classed all that body of variation due to the miswriting by the penman of what is correctly enough in his mind but through carelessness he fails rightly to transfer to the new copy. Transposition of similar letters has evidently occurred in Codices E, M, and H of Mr 14:65, also in H2 L2 of Ac 13:23.

(3) Errors of Speech.

Here are included those variations which have sprung from the habitual forms of speech to which the scribe in the particular case was accustomed and which he therefore was inclined to write. Under this head comes "itacism," arising from the confusion of vowels and diphthongs, especially in dictation. Thus, iota (i) is constantly written as epsilon-iota (ei) and vice versa; alpha-iota (ai) for epsilon (e); eta (ee) and iota (i) for epsilon-iota (ei); eta (ee) and omicron-iota (oi) for upsilon (u); omicron (o) for omega (oo) and epsilon (e) for eta (ee). It is observed that in Codex Sinaiticus we have scribal preference for iota (i) alone, while in Codex Vaticanus epsilon-iota (ei) is preferred.

(4) Errors of Memory.

These are explained as having arisen from the "copyist holding a clause or sequence of letters in his somewhat treacherous memory between the glance at the manuscript to be copied and his writing down what he saw there." Here are classed the numerous petty changes in the order of words and the substitution of synonyms, as eipen for ephee, ek for apo, and vice versa.

(5) Errors of Judgment.

Under this class Dr. Warfield cites "many misreadings of abbreviations, as also the adoption of marginal glosses into the text by which much of the most striking corruption which has entered the text has been produced." Notable instances of this type of error are found in Joh 5:1-4, explaining how it happened that the waters of Bethesda were healing; and in Joh 7:53-8:12, the passage concerning the adulteress, and the last twelve verses of Mark.

2. Second Class:

Turning to the second class, that of conscious or intentional errors, we may tabulate:

(1) Linguistic or Rhetorical Corrections.

Linguistic or rhetorical corrections, no doubt often made in entire good faith under the impression that an error had previously crept into the text and needed correcting. Thus, second aorist terminations in -a are changed to -o and the like.

(2) Historical Corrections.

Under this head is placed all that group of changes similar to the case in Mr 1:2, where the phrase "Isaiah the prophet" is changed into "the prophets."

(3) Harmonistic Corrections.

These are quite frequent in the Gospels, e.g. the attempted assimilation of the Lord's Prayer|Lord’s Prayer in Luke to the fuller form in Matthew, and quite possibly the addition of the words "of sin" to the phrase in Joh 8:34, "Every one that doeth sin is a slave." A certain group of harmonistic corruptions where scribes allow the memory, perhaps unconsciously, to affect the writing may rightly be classed under (4) above.

(4) Doctrinal Corrections.

Of these it is difficult to assert any unquestioned cases unless it be the celebrated Trinitarian passage (King James Version, 1 Joh 5:7,8 a) or the several passages in which fasting is coupled with prayer, as in Mt 17:21; Mr 9:29; Ac 10:30; 1Co 7:5.

(5) Liturgical Corrections.

These are very common, especially in the lectionaries, as in the beginning of lessons, and are even found in early uncials, e.g. Lu 8:31; 10:23, etc.

III. Methods of Critical Procedure.

Here as in other human disciplines necessity is the mother of invention, and the principles of critical procedure rest almost entirely on the data connected with the errors and discrepancies which have consciously or unconsciously crept into the text. The dictum of Dr. George Salmon that "God has at no time given His church a text absolutely free from ambiguity" is true warrant for a free and continued inquiry into this attractive field of study. The process of textual criticism has gradually evolved certain rules based upon judgments formed after patiently classifying and taking into account all the documentary evidence available, both internal and external.

(1) An older reading is preferable to one later, since it is presumed to be nearer the original. However, mere age is no sure proof of purity, as it is now clear that very many of the corruptions of the text became current at an early date, so that in some cases it is found that later copies really represent a more ancient reading.

(2) A more difficult reading, if well supported, is preferable to one that is easier, since it is the tendency of copyists to substitute an easy, well-known and smooth reading for one that is harsh, unusual and ungrammatical. This was commonly done with the best of intentions, the scribe supposing he was rendering a real service to truth.

(3) A shorter is preferable to a longer reading, since here again the common tendency of scribes is toward additions and insertions rather than omissions. Hence arose, in the first place, the marginal glosses and insertions between the lines which later transcribers incorporated into the text. Although this rule has been widely accepted, it must be applied with discrimination, a longer reading being in some cases clearly more in harmony with the style of the original, or the shorter having arisen from a case of homoeoteleuton.

(4) A reading is preferable, other things being equal, from which the origin of all alternative readings can most clearly be derived. This principle is at once of the utmost importance and at the same time demands the most careful application. It is a sharp two-edged-sword, dangerous alike to the user and to his opponents.

(5) A reading is preferable, says Scrivener, "which best suits the peculiar style, manner and habits of thought of an author, it being the tendency of copyists to overlook the idiosyncrasies of the writer. Yet habit or the love of critical correction may sometimes lead the scribe to change the text to his author’s more usual style as well as to depart from it through inadvertence, so that we may securely. apply the rule only where the external evidence is not unequally balanced.".

(6) A reading is preferable which reflects no doctrinal bias, whether orthodox on the one side or heretical on the other. This principle is so obvious that it is accepted on all sides, but in practice wide divergence arises, owing to the doctrinal bias of the critic himself.

These are the main Canons of internal evidence. On the side of external evidence may be summarized what has already been implied:

(1) A more ancient reading is usually one that is supported by the most ancient manuscripts.

(2) A reading which has the undoubted support of the earliest manuscripts, versions and patristic writers is unquestionably original.

(3) A disagreement of early authorities usually indicates the existence of corruption prior to them all.

(4) Mere numerical preponderance of witnesses (to a reading) of any one class, locality or time, is of comparative insignificance.

(5) Great significance must be granted to the testimony of witnesses from localities or times widely apart, and it can only be satisfactorily met by a balancing agreement of witnesses also from different times and localities.

These rules, though they are all excellent and each has been employed by different critics with good results, are now somewhat displaced, or rather supplemented, by the application of a principle very widely used, though not discovered, by Westcott and Hort, known as the principle of the genealogy of manuscripts. The inspection of a very broad range of witnesses to the New Testament text has led to their classification into groups and families according to their prevailing errors, it being obvious that the greater the community of errors the closer the relationship of witnesses. Although some of the terms used by Westcott and Hort, as well as their content, have given rise to well-placed criticism, yet their grouping of manuscripts is so self-convincing that it bids fair, with but slight modification, to hold, as it has thus far done, first place in the field. Sir Frederick G. Kenyon has so admirably stated the method that the gist of his account will be given, largely using his identical words (Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 2nd edition, London, 1912). As in all scientific criticism, four steps are followed by Westcott and Hort:

(a) The individual readings and the authorities for them are studied;

(b) an estimate is formed of the character of the several authorities;

(c) an effort is made to group these authorities as descendants of a common ancestor, and

(d) the individual readings are again taken up and the first provisional estimate of their comparative probability revised in the light of the knowledge gained as to the value and interrelation of the several authorities.

Applying these methods, four groups of texts emerge from the mass of early witnesses:

(a) The Antiochian or Syrian, the most popular of all and at the base of the Greek Textus Receptus and the English King James Version; in the Gospels the great uncials Alexandrinus and Ephraemi (C) support it as well as Codex N, Codex Sigma and Codex Phi, most of the later uncials and almost all minuscules, the Peshitta-Syriac version and the bulk of the Church Fathers from Chrysostom;

(b) the Neutral, a term giving rise to criticism on all sides and by some displaced by the term Egyptian; this group is small but of high antiquity, including S B L T Z, A and C, save in the Gospels, the Coptic versions (especially the Bohairic) and some of the minuscules, notably 33 and 81;

(c) the Alexandrian, closely akin to the Neutral group, not found wholly in any one manuscript but traceable in such manuscripts as S C L X, 33, and the Bohairic version, when they differ from the other members headed by B;

(d) the Western, another term considered ambiguous, since it includes some important manuscripts and Fathers very ancient and very Eastern; here belong D D2 E2 F2 G2 among the uncials, 28, 235, 383, 565, 614, 700, and 876 among the minuscules, the Old Syriac and Old Latin and sometimes the Sahidic versions.

Of these groups by far the most superior is the Neutral, though Westcott and Hort have made it so exclusively to coincide with Codex Vaticanus that they appear at times to have broken one of the great commandments of a philologist, as quoted by Dr. Nestle from a German professor, "Thou shalt worship no codices. Now, the only serious dispute centers on the apparent slight which this system may have put upon the so-called Western type of text in group four. The variants of this family are extensive and important and appear due to an extremely free handling of the text at some early date when scribes felt themselves at liberty to vary the language of the sacred books and even to insert additional passages of considerable length.

Although this type of text is of very early origin and though prevalent in the East was very early carried to the West, and being widely known there has been called Western, yet, because of the liberties above referred to, its critical value is not high, save in the one field of omissions. In Egypt, however, and especially Alexandria, just as in the case of the Old Testament, the text of the New Testament was critically considered and conserved, and doubtless the family called Neutral, as well as the so-called Alexandrian, springs up here and through close association with Caesarea becomes prevalent in Palestine and is destined to prevail everywhere. The Westcott-Hort contention. that the Antiochian text arose as a formal attempt at repeated revision of the original text in Antioch is not so convincing, but for want of a better theory still holds its place. Their objections, however, to its characteristic readings are well taken and everywhere accepted, even von Soden practically agreeing here, though naming it the Koine text. It is also interesting to find that von Soden’s Hesychian text so closely parallels the Neutral-Alexandrian above, and his Jerusalem family the Western. And thus we arrive at the present consensus of opinion as to the genealogical source of the text of the New Testament.

IV. History of the Process.

Abundant evidence exists and is constantly growing to show that critical opinion and methods were known at least from the very days of the formation of the New Testament Canon, but in such a sketch as the present the history can only be traced in modern times. The era of printing necessarily marks a new epoch here. Among available manuscripts choice must be made and a standard set, and in view of the material at hand it is remarkable how ably the work was done. It began in Spain under Cardinal Ximenes of Toledo, who printed at Alcala (Complutum) in 1514 the New Testament volume of his great Polyglot, though it was not actually issued until 1522. Meanwhile the great Erasmus, under patronage of Froben the printer of Basel, had been preparing a Greek New Testament, and it was published early in 1516 in a single volume and at low cost, and had reached its 3rd edition by 1522. His 4th edition in 1537 contains Erasmus’ definitive text, and, besides using Cardinal Ximenes’ text, had the advantage of minuscule manuscripts already named. The next important step was taken by Robert Estienne (Stephanus), whose 3rd edition, "Regia," a folio published in Paris in 1550, was a distinct advance, and, though based directly upon the work of Ximenes and Erasmus, had marginal readings from 15 new manuscripts, one of which was Codex Bezae (D). The learned Theodore Beza himself worked with Stephanus’ son Henri, and brought out no less than nine editions of the New Testament, but no great critical advance was made in them. The same may be said of the Seven Elzevir editions brought out at Leyden and Amsterdam between 1624 and 1678, the second, that of 1633, in the preface of which occurs the phrase, "Textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum," becoming the continental standard, as the 1550 edition of Stephanus has for England. Thus, we arrive at the Textus Receptus, and the period of preparation is closed.

The second period, or that of discovery and research, was ushered in by the great London Polyglot of 1657, edited by Brian Walton (later Bishop of Chester) with collations by Archbishop Ussher of 15 fresh manuscripts, including Codex Alexandrinus and Codex 59. But Dr. John Mill of Oxford was the Erasmus of this period, and in 1707 after 30 years of labor brought out the Greek Textus Receptus with fresh collations of 78 manuscripts, many versions and quotations from the early Fathers. His manuscripts included A B D E K, 28, 33, 59, 69, 71, the Peshito, Old Latin and Vulgate, and his Prolegomena set a new standard for textual criticism. This apparatus was rightly appreciated by Richard Bentley of Cambridge and a revised text of the Greek and of the Vulgate New Testament was projected along lines which have prevailed to this day. The work and wide correspondence of Bentley had stirred up continental scholars, and J. A. Bengel published in 1734 at Tubingen a Greek New Testament with the first suggestion as to genealogical classification of manuscripts. J. J. Wetstein of Basel and Amsterdam, though a very great collector of data and the author of the system of manuscript notation which has continued ever since, made little critical advance. J. S. Semler, taking Wetstein’s material, began rightly to interpret it, and his pupil J. J. Griesbach carried the work still farther, clearly distinguishing for the first time a Western, an Alexandrian and a Constantinopolitan recension.

With Carl Lachmann began the last epoch in New Testament criticism which has succeeded in going behind the Textus Receptus and establishing an authentic text based on the most ancient sources. He applied the critical methods with which he was familiar in editing the classics, and with the help of P. Buttmann produced an edition in 1842-50 which led the way directly toward the goal; but they were limited in materials and Tischendorf soon furnished these. Constantine Tischendorf, both as collector and editor, is the foremost man thus far in the field. His 8th edition, 1872, of the Greek New Testament, together with his Prolegomena, completed and published, 1884-1894, by C. R. Gregory, set a new standard. Dr. Gregory’s German edition of the Prolegomena, 1900-1909, supplemented by his Die griechischen Handschriften des New Testament, 1908, marks the further advance of the master through his master pupil. Meanwhile, S. P. Tregelles was doing almost as prodigious and valuable a work in England, and was thus preparing for the final advances at Cambridge. F. H. A. Scrivener also ranks high and did extremely valuable, though somewhat conservative, work in the same direction. In 1881 "the greatest edition ever published," according to Professor Souter, was brought out in England coincident with the Revised Version of the English New Testament. This, together with the introduction, which the same writer characterizes as "an achievement never surpassed in the scholarship of any country," was the joint product of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, friends and co-workers for many years in the University of Cambridge. Thus with the end of the 19th century the history of the process may be said to close, though both process and progress still advance with everincreasing triumph.

Von Soden’s edition of the New Testament appeared during the summer of 1913 and is of first importance. It differs from all others in the extreme weight laid on Tatian’s Diatessaron as the source of the bulk of the errors in the Gospels. This theory is not likely to command the assent of scholars and the text (which does not differ greatly from Tischendorf’s) is consequently of doubtful value. Nevertheless, for fullness of material, clearness of arrangement, and beauty of printing, von Soden’s edition must inevitably supersede all others, even where the text is dissented from. Dr. Gregory promises a new edition at some day not too far in the future which, in turn, will probably supersede von Soden’s.


C. R. Gregory, Prolegomena to Tischendorf’s New Testament, Leipzig, 1884-94, Textkritik des New Testament, Leipzig, 1900-1909, Die griechischen Handschriften des New Testament, Leipzig, 1908, Einleitung in das New Testament, Leipzig, 1909, Vorschlage fur eine kritische Ausgabe des griechischen New Testament, Leipzig, 1911; F. G. Kenyon, Paleography of Greek Papyri, Oxford, 1899, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, London2, 1912; K. Lake, The Text of the New Testament, 4th edition, London, 1910; G. Milligan, Selections from the Greek Papyri, Cambridge, 1910, The New Testament Documents, 1913; Eb. Nestle, Einfuhrung in das New Testament, Gottingen3, 1909; F. H. A. Scrivener, Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 4th edition, London, 1894; Souter, Text and Canon of the New Testament, 1913; E. M. Thompson, Handbook of Greek and Latin Paleography, 2nd edition, London, 1894; H. von Soden, Die Schriften des New Testament, I. Tell, Untersuchungen, Berlin, 1902-10; II, Tell, 1913; B. F. Westcott, and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in Greek with Introduction, Cambridge and London, 1896; Th. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, English translation, Edinburgh, 1910.