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Textual witness

Learning the Language, Part 3: Canons of Criticism

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In the first two parts (see part 1 & 2) of this article, I discussed and defined many of the key terms and concepts involved in Textual Criticism. Now it remains to examine something of how these work in practice.

To begin, it is worth taking a look at the origins of Textual Criticism:

In the early Church, we have very little evidence of this, although clearly manuscripts of the New Testament were continuously copied and collected—some evaluation of the accuracy of a manuscript must have been involved in establishing an “exemplar” for copying. Early Church Fathers occasionally mention variant readings of the NT in their writings. But it is only with Origen that we see anything like a critical concern for the text of Scripture. Alexandria (the site of Origen’s early career), in particular, had a strong tradition of scholarship and scribal practice, going back into the Hellenistic period. However, even Origen does not address variants and other textual issues as carefully or consistently as one might expect. The only other Church Father (we know of) who came close to Origen’s level of technical scholarship was Jerome.

In the Middle Ages, serious Criticism of any sort was largely absent in the Church. The situation was a little better in the Greek (Byzantine) East; while Jewish and Islamic scholars, much further ahead at the time, helped to preserve a certain level of scholarship for future generations in Western Europe. The Rabbinic scribes, in particular (the Masoretes), had established a traditional practice of evaluating and addressing variants and textual corruption in the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. However, Textual criticism, in something like the modern sense, only began following the Renaissance. After centuries of relying upon translations, scholars such as Lorenzo Valla, Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, and Desiderius Erasmus began looking afresh at the text, publishing critical studies and editions. The hunt for manuscripts was also on, though at the time of Erasmus’ critical edition of the Greek NT, relatively few MSS were available for study.

The modern science (or art) of Textual Criticism begins in earnest in the 18th and 19th centuries, following many decades of adopting Critical methods and principles in the study of Scripture. The earlier Critical editions of the 16th and 17th centuries (the so-called “Textus Receptus”) no longer sufficed. Men such as Gerhard von Mastricht, Richard Bentley, Johann Albrecht Bengel, Johann Jakob Wettstein, Johann Jakob Griesbach, Karl Lachman, Samuel Tregelles, and Constantin von Tischendorf, all edited and published Critical editions of the Greek NT, sometimes prefacing these with detailed prolegomena or critical studies that included principles for establishing the text. Griesbach, in his second edition (1796-1806), was perhaps the first to enunciate clearly a set of rules, to be adopted and modified by future scholars. (See below on “Canons of Criticism”).

In 1881-2 came the publication by Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort of their Critical edition (The New Testament in the Original Greek), and here, for the first time, was a decisive break with the Textus Receptus tradition. This proved to be momentous (and the subject of no small controversy!) for all subsequent Textual Criticism. In devaluing the Koine/Byzantine Text, they gave clear priority to the ‘earlier’ Text-types—particularly the Alexandrian Text, as represented by Codex Vaticanus (B), which they referred to as their “Neutral” Text. While future scholars were to abandon some of their premises and terminology, Westcott and Hort’s evaluation of Vaticanus and the Alexandrian Text has generally been confirmed—”a very pure line of very ancient text”.

CRITICAL EDITION: It is worth defining this here: Any Edition (see) which has been produced according to the methods and principles of Textual Criticism. That is to say, rather than simply publishing a single manuscript, multiple manuscripts are collated and analyzed, usually with the purpose of establishing (the most likely) form of the original text. Today the UBS (United Bible Societies) and Nestle-Aland critical editions are the most popular and widely used; the two editions are largely identical.

However, the question must be asked: How exactly does one determine the most likely original text?


A “canon” (Greek kanw/n, kanœ¡n) is a rule or standard, a regulating formulation or principle. So, the “Canons of Criticism” are simply the rules or guiding principles used in (Textual) Criticism. Sometimes these are referred to as “Canons of Authenticity” or “Criteria for Authenticity”—that is, for attempting to determine the authentic (original) text. There are many different rules or principles that have been established or adopted over the years, but the most important of these, I think, can be reduced down to the following set of fundamental rules—an even half-dozen (to which, of course, there are exceptions!):

  1. (Preliminary:) Negligible or insignificant variants can be discounted. This includes all nonsense readings, obvious scribal errors, and true singular readings. Only substantive/significant variants are to be considered (See Part 2 on these)
  2. The earliest and “best” manuscripts are to be preferred. Readings which occur in the earliest manuscripts—i.e., the 2nd-4th century Papyri, and the 4th-6th century uncials (such as Codex Vaticanus [B] and Sinaiticus [a])—are to be given priority. Determining the “best” manuscripts is a bit more difficult: to be considered are both (1) individual “purity”, the accuracy of the copy (number of scribal errors); and (2) relative “purity”, the relation to other accurate/reliable manuscripts. Most scholars today tend to give priority to the “best” representatives of the so-called Alexandrian text (especially Vaticanus and the related early Papyri).
  3. Readings in early and (geographically) diverse witnesses are to be preferred. For example, if a reading occurs in early Alexandrian and “Western” manuscripts as well as (relatively) early versional (i.e., Old Latin, Syriac, Coptic, etc.) manuscripts, it is likely to be original.
  4. The more difficult reading is to be preferred. This was most famously stated by J. J. Griesbach by the Latin proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua, but usually formulated as the maxim difficilior lectio potior. It can be broken down under several categories:
    * The more obscure reading vs. the more “intelligible”
    * The rougher (harsher or ungrammatical) reading vs. the “smoother”
    * The more unusual expression or vocabulary vs. the more customary
    * The reading which more conforms to ecclesiastical or doctrinal norms vs. the more challenging
    The tacit assumption being that scribes are more likely, in the process of copying (which involves some degree of interpretation), to smooth over rough, difficult or challenging passages. Such changes, usually intentional, were typically made simply for the purpose of explaining or clarifying the text (not for mischievous or malicious reasons!)
  5. (Corollary:) The shorter reading is typically to be preferred. This is the maxim brevior lectio potior. Again, the assumption is that scribes were more likely to expand the text, than to shorten it. Some have questioned this assumption, but analysis of the manuscripts and ancient scribal practice seems to bear it out. This is one of the more difficult areas for evaluation, especially when manuscript evidence is evenly divided between a longer and shorter reading—which is original? Is the longer reading an expansion/interpolation, or is the shorter reading the result of a scribal mistake (parablepsis, homoioteleuton)?
  6. The reading is to be preferred which best explains the rise of all others. Griesbach worded it as the reading that “…lies midway between the others”. A most useful rule (often decisive) when the manuscript evidence is evenly balanced; unfortunately, it can be most difficult to determine which is, in fact, the “midway” reading. Here theories regarding scribal practice and transcriptional probability (see below) need to be examined most closely.

* TRANSCRIPTIONAL PROBABILITY: This refers to the probable (or likely) process by which variant readings arose in the copying (transcription) of the text. Arguments and theories in this area can be complicated, and subject to considerable dispute among scholars. However, a careful analysis of transcriptional probability is often necessary in evaluating variants where the manuscript evidence is evenly divided.


The citing of Textual Witnesses is central to the science of Textual Criticism, but it can be a complicated and laborious process. Fortunately, professional scholars have already done most of the legwork in collating manuscripts, documenting and evaluating variant readings. The student is likely to encounter this information at first in two places:

1) In Textual Commentaries or Commentaries which contain specific textual notes.

2) In the “apparatus” (footnotes and appendices) to critical editions, such as the UBS or Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (or the BHS Hebrew Old Testament).

Textual witnesses are cited according to fixed conventions, which nearly all scholars have adopted. To avoid cumbersome citation of manuscripts, etc., a technical shorthand was developed, using a standard set of abbreviations, referenced in the following order (for the New Testament):

  1. The early Papyri: Indicated by capital P, usually in script (Ë), followed by the number (according to a standard list),  typically in superscript—for example, Ë45, Ë 46, Ë 47 (Chesty Beatty Papyri); Ë66, Ë75 (Bodmer Papyri)
  2. Greek Majusucules (Uncials): These are numbered (standard list), prefixed with “0” (to distinguish them from the Minuscules)—i.e., 01, 02, 03, etc. However, up to manuscript 045, it is more common to use a letter to indicate the MS. Hebrew aleph (a), followed by English A-Z, followed by select Greek letters up through 045. Here are some of the most commonly cited manuscripts in the list:
    a [01] — Codex Sinaiticus
    A [02] — Codex Alexandrinus
    B [03] — Codex Vaticanus
    C [04] — Codex Ephraem Syri Rescripti
    D [05] — Codex Bezae (Codex Claromontanus [06] also indicated by D)
    W [032] — Codex Freerianus
    Q [038] — Codex Coridenthianus
    Y [044] — Codex Athous Lavrensis
    (The name of the codex is, by convention, a latinized version related to its provenance—where it was discovered or where it is being housed)
  3. Greek Minuscules: These are simply referred to by number (1, 2, 3, etc.) according to a standard list. f1 (“Family 1”) and f13 (“Family 13”) are commonly cited groups of related minuscules.
  4. The broader Greek MS evidence: Following the citation of specific MSS, the following abbreviations are sometimes used to indicate further support of a reading:
    Byz — the majority of (Byzantine) manuscripts (generally synonymous with the Majority text)
    Koine — also synonymous with the majority (Byzantine) reading, commonly indicated by K in decorated script (Š)
    ª — M in script, to indicate the Majority text; this has somewhat replaced Koine/Š.
    pc — (pauci), a few manuscripts
    al — (alii), some manuscripts
    pm — (permulti), a large number of manuscripts
    rell — (reliqui), the rest of the manuscript tradition (includes the Majority text)
  5. Versional Manuscripts: that is, the important early translations.
    Latin Versions
    it — (Itala), the Old Latin versions (sometimes also indicated by “OL”);
    individual manuscripts are represented by lower case letters and abbreviations (a, b, d, ff, gig, etc.)
    vg — the Latin Vulgate
    lat — part of the wider Latin MS tradition (including the vulgate)
    latt — the entire Latin MS tradition (possibly with exceptions)
    Syriac Versions — indicated by “sy” or “syr”; individual Syriac versions are indicated by superscript, or with separate abbreviations:
    s (or c) = Old Syriac [Sinai or Curetonian] p = Peshitta; ph = Philoxenian; h = Harklean
    Coptic Versions — indicated by “co” or “copt”; individual (dialect) versions are indicated by superscript, or, more often, with separate abbreviations, such as:
    ac (or ach) = Akhmimic
    bo (or boh) = Bohairic
    sa (or sah) = Sahidic
    Other Versions — aeth (or eth) = Ethiopic; arm = Armenian; geo = Georgian; arab = Arabic; goth = Gothic; slav = Old Church Slavonic.
    Typically Latin witnesses are cited first, then Syriac, Coptic, and so forth, generally as indicated above.
  6. Church Fathers (as textual witness): These leading figures and authors of the early and early-medieval Church, who cite/quote Scripture in their writings, are indicated (along with a few anonymous works), by a set of abbreviations. For example, Or = Origen, Aug = Augustine, Chr (or Chrysost) = Chrysostom, Cyr (or CyrAl) = Cyril of Alexandria, and so forth.
  7. Lectionaries: Usually indicated by a cursive “l” (Û) followed by a number, again from a standard list. Lectionaries are only rarely cited.

In addition, there are some superscript notations which may be applied (primarily with the Papyri and Uncials):

* — an asterisk indicates the original hand of a manuscript (when it has been corrected)
c — when the manuscript has been corrected
1, 2, 3, — a first, second, third, etc., hand which has corrected a manuscript
mg — textual evidence in the margin of a manuscript
v.l. — (varia lectio) when a variant reading has been recorded as such in a manuscript
txt — the text of the manuscript when a variant reading (above) has also been recorded
vid — (ut videtur) = apparent support for a reading when the condition of the MS makes it impossible to be certain how it reads
supp (or s) — when a portion of the manuscript is missing, and the text has been supplied by a later hand

I will now provide a couple of specific examples, to demonstrate how these textual witnesses are cited in practice:

Example 1: John 1:18monogenh$ qeo$ (monogen¢s theos) vs. monogenh$ ui(o$ (monogen¢s huios)
The textual evidence is fairly evenly balanced, and the question remains disputed among scholars, though the majority would accept the reading qeo$ (God) rather than ui(o$ (Son). The diagrams below show the evidence as it is cited in the critical apparatus of the UBS and Nestle-Aland (27th ed.) Greek texts (with some modification and simplification); first the evidence for qeo$, then that for ui(o$:


Example 2: Luke 23:34a — addition (interpolation) vs. omission
Here again the evidence is divided, between witnesses which include Jesus’ famous prayer (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”) and those which do not. The diagram first indicates the witnesses which either do not have this portion (or have it marked with asterisks); then those which include it:



The information in this three-part article relates specifically to New Testament Textual Criticism; however, many of the terms and concepts apply to analysis of the text of the Old Testament as well. By comparison to the NT, Old Testament Textual Criticism is still, one might say, in its infancy, having really begun in earnest only in recent decades (with publication of all the Dead Sea Scrolls). In a future post, I hope to explore some of the issues relating to the Text of the Old Testament.

Learning the Language

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Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows how rewarding and satisfying it can be, but also how difficult at times — it has been said it takes a lifetime truly to learn a language. Consider the student—the young scholar or minister—struggling in the first efforts to learn Biblical Hebrew or Greek. But there is another “language” that serious students of Scripture should learn: the language of Textual Criticism. Like any scientific (or artistic) discipline, Biblical Criticism (and Textual Criticism, in particular) has developed a kind of language, a technical terminology that is vital to understand, but which can seem most confusing at first. It takes patience and devotion to study, in order to gain experience and facility with this language, but the rewards are great: for it can result in a much better appreciation and understanding of the text of Scripture.

To begin with the very word criticism: from the Greek (kri/si$, noun; kritiko/$, adj.; kri/nw, vb.; and other related words). Kri/nw (krínœ) has the basic meaning “select”, “decide”, “judge”; kri/si$ (krísis) is usually translated “judgment”. Indeed, this word group has a similar range of meaning as “judge/judgment” in English; it can be understood: 1) in a positive sense, i.e., to use or offer good/sound judgment; 2) in a legal or neutral sense, i.e., to pass/render judgment on an issue; 3) in a negative sense, i.e., to judge harshly/unfairly. The words “criticism/critical” can also be understood in a similar way. Often it is meant in a negative sense (to criticize someone), but it also can have an objective or positive meaning (to think or analyze critically). When referring to Biblical Criticism, it is in this latter sense: to offer informed, sound analysis regarding different aspects of Scripture.

Biblical Criticism can be divided into a number of specialized fields of study:

* Textual Criticism: Analysis of the text of Scripture.
* Historical Criticism: Analysis of the historical background of a book or passage, this may also include: a) an examination of the historicity of any events or details recorded; b) study of the historical development of the writing itself.
* Literary Criticism: Analysis of the book or passage within its literary context (i.e., as a written work). This term can be understood narrowly, or broadly, touching upon the following related fields:
Form Criticism (Formgeschichte): Study of the form, function, and purpose of a passage, usually at the level of an individual section (pericope), including a determination as to the literary type (genre) and “life setting” (Sitz im Leben).
Source Criticism (Urgeschichte): Examination of the (possible or likely) sources used by the Biblical author/editor; these may be earlier documents, or other traditional (oral or written) material.
Redaction Criticism (Redaktionsgeschichte): Study and evaluation of the way the Scriptural text may have been put together, generally assuming the use of various (oral or written) sources, by the author/editor(s). This term is largely synonymous with “Composition Criticism” (Kompositionsgeschichte), which examines authorship more generally. See further below on “Redaction”.
Rhetorical Criticism: Analysis of a passage (or book as a whole), according to the standards and practices of ancient rhetoric. This ofter refers more narrowly to Greco-Roman practices shared by New Testament authors, but can also be used broadly to cover a wide range of literary devices (esp. figures of speech, and the like).
* Canonical Criticism: Study of the passage (or book) within the context of the established, traditional Canon of Scripture. This looks specifically at: (a) a book in its final form, as it would have been transmitted through Church history, and (b) its role in the development of doctrine, liturgy, etc. within the wider Christian community.
* Other specialized terms could be cited, but these are the most familiar and widely used.

In the past, one might occasionally refer to texual criticism as “Lower” (i.e., simply examining the text), and other types of study (especially historical and source criticism) as “Higher” (i.e., questions of authorship, date, historicity, etc.). However, this distinction was never very helpful, and has long since been abandoned. The label “Higher Criticism” has survived—largely as a term of derision—only within Traditional-Conservative circles.

It should be pointed out that a gulf still exists between Critical and Traditional-Conservative scholarship. This is less of a polarity than it is a continuum—scholars today would ‘fit’ somewhere between the extremes. This also applies to Evangelical Protestant scholars, who typically adopt and apply most basic Critical methods (if not always accepting their premises). It is in the area of Textual Criticism that there is most common ground, largely free from thorny (and often contentious) questions of authorship, historicity, nature/extent of inspiration, and so forth. And yet, for Protestants, at least, who accept the maxim Sola Scriptura, can there be a more vital, fundamental area of study than the text of Scripture?

What follows below is a kind of “Outline Introduction” to Textual Criticism.



An Outline Introduction to Textual Study and Textual Criticism

Basic Terms:

  • TEXT: Latin textus, from texere (“to weave”); the common word “text” can be defined as “the content of any written document”; or, perhaps better, “the written content of any document”, to distinguish text from accompanying visual illustrations, and so forth. A text is generally understood as a literary (written) product, but for ancient texts there is often an aspect of oral production and transmission as well (see below).
  • Document: Latin documentum (“lesson, instruction, proof”) from docere. Any written record of information. The “text” is the verbal, literary content of any specific document.
  • Text-form: The specific form or shape of any text, the (complete) content of any literary or written document. The term refers to any unique written product (e.g., an individual book such as the Gospel of John), or any smaller writing which makes up a larger work (i.e., a source used by the Gospel).
  • Original Text: Sometimes referred to as the “autograph” (see below): the original authored (or redacted) text, either in the sense of a documentary draft or original published version.
  • Final Text: This term sometimes means the same as “Original Text”, that is, the “final” authored or published form of a text, from which all copies and authorized versions would be made
  • Established Text: May mean the same as “Original Text” or “Final Text”, with the sense of having been “established” as correct by later scribes or scholars.
  • Authorized Text: An authoritative copy, sometimes referred to as a “Textual Archetype” or “Archetypal Text”; synonymous with the term “exemplar” (see below); careful scribes would normally make copies from an established authorized copy
  • RECENSION: From Latin recensere, recensio (“review, enumerate, enumeration”); “recension” is the common term to describe a significant or major revision of a text, generally in the sense of a secondary modification of an established text or literary work.
  • VERSION: From Latin vertere, versio (“to turn, turning”); “version” has a broad range of meaning; here it normally refers to a (secondary) description, adaptation, arrangement, or translation of a text. Generally speaking, a “recension” is closer to the original text than a secondary version; however, occasionally “version” is used to refer to a form of the original text. As indicated below (under “Textual Witness” and “Manuscript”), the term often has a specific technical sense of “Foreign Language Version” (translation).

Note on Oral Production & Transmission: From ancient and prehistoric times, down to the present (in some parts of the world), much documentary and narrative content has been modified and transmitted orally, at least to a large extent. The public production or performance of oral material is, in many respects, tantamount to publishing a text. Many ancient texts (such as the Old and New Testament Scriptures) would have had a significant oral component to their transmission and publication, and may also have incorporated oral traditions in the authoring. In ancient times, letters (epistles) and other texts would have been dictated or recited to a secretary or scribe. It is a mistake to think of ancient texts as entirely written products, the way they would be created through writing (or typing) today.

Textual History:

See also the section below on “Establishing the Text”.

  • AUTHOR: Latin auctor, from auctere (“to increase”); here meaning the source or originator of a text. For ancient documents, it is often impossible to establish a single author; likewise, it is generally difficult to determine authorship, as many ancient texts are technically anonymous. Sometimes, scholars will use the term “author” in a broad or generic sense, as referring to any and all persons involved in creating the “original” (or “final”) form of a text.
  • Traditional Sources: In some instances, the original written form of a text may indicate a long or substantial development, involving the inclusion of earlier oral and/or written sources (which may no longer survive). Many ancient religious and narrative texts, in particular, likely contain much traditional material.
  • Transcription: Many ancient texts also were, or may have been, given their original written form by scribal transcription – that is, an oral recitation or production which is recorded by a private secretary or professional scribe. In such instances, the writing style and technique of the scribe can effect the form of the text, adapting an oral form to the conventions of writing.
  • EDITOR/REDACTOR: An “editor”, is one who “edits” – from Latin edere (“to bring forth”); here the term indicates one who prepares a text for public use or presentation (that is, to publish a text). If an ancient author were not a scribe, it would likely be given to a professional scribe for publication, involving corrections and other possible modifications. A “redactor” (or “redaction”), from Latin redigere (“to bring back, reduce, compress”), usually refers to more significant or substantial editing of a text. Sometimes, if an author has shaped previously existing traditional or written sources to form a new original text, such an author is considered a redactor. Occasionally later scribes or editors, may (either intentionally or unintentionally) produce an entirely new recension or version of the text (see below).
  • SCRIBE: A literate writing professional, specifically a copyist (see below), who may also be an “Editor”
  • COPYIST: Scribes throughout history would also be engaged in copying ancient texts; ideally the copies would be made from established authorized texts (or “exemplars”). Throughout the process of hand-copying, numerous changes – many, if not most, unintentional – may be introduced into the text. These hand copies are called “manuscripts” (see below).

Establishing the Text:

A fundamental aspect of studying ancient texts is the recognition and analysis of the textual history of a document or written work, looking at all surviving textual evidence – that is, all forms and versions of the text which exist today (see below on “textual evidence”) – and attempting to establish a reliable form of the text for study. The “established text” (see above on “authorized text”) will ideally be as close as possible to the “Original Text”. Texts surviving from ancient times will have gone through centuries (perhaps millennia) of copying, editing, correcting, and other modifications – over such a long time, with all work done by hand, numerous changes and corruptions naturally occur (see below on “textual variants” and “textual corruption”). A principal goal of textual study and criticism is to (try to) recover the original form of the text.

  • AUTOGRAPH: As indicated above, the “autograph” (from the Greek, “writing from one’s own [hand]”) is basically synonymous with the “original” form of the text; a hand written (or transcribed) copy of the authored text. This may be a draft, by a first documentary hand, or a secondary edition for publication. Very few autographs of ancient texts have survived.
  • EXEMPLAR: Another term for an Authorized Text or Archetype (see above); a reliable and authoritative form of the text (identical with, or close to, the original), from which manuscript copies would be made. After centuries of copying, accurate exemplars would be harder to preserve.
  • MANUSCRIPTS: Hand-written copies of a text. Manuscripts (sometimes abbreviated MS[S]) can be divided into two basic categories:
  • Original Language Manuscripts: Copies of the text (or a recension) preserving the original language in which it was authored. For the New Testament scriptures, these are copies of the original Greek texts.
  • Versions and Translations: These generally refer to copies of the text translated into other languages. For the Old and New Testament scriptures, there are many foreign language manuscripts (translations), which are important for establishing the original text. For some texts, special versions of the original text, in the same language, may also exist.
  • EXTRACTS AND CITATIONS: Portions of a text may also be preserved in other sources, including other written texts. For example, ancient Christian authors quote or cite portions of the New Testament scriptures. In addition, extracts of ancient texts may be written or inscribed on stone, pottery, clay tablets, jewelry, amulets, paintings and works of art, and so forth.
  • PRINTED EDITIONS: Printed editions of texts do not appear, at least in Europe and the Near East, until the mid-15th century (c. 1450 A.D.). Most printed editions are, in some sense “Critical Editions” (see below). Of course, many printed translations of major texts have also been made. Early printed editions (from the Renaissance, 15th-17th centuries) of ancient texts have helped to preserve and transmit texts from ancient and medieval manuscripts which might otherwise have been lost.

Analyzing the Text (with the intent of establishing the text) — Textual criticism proper:

Below are the fundamental terms related to the work of analyzing and establishing the (original) text, which is the primary goal of Textual Criticism.

  •  TEXTUAL WITNESS: A witness to a particular text(form). Any document which contains (any portion of) the text. For New Testament, the main categories of Textual witness are as follows:
  • Greek Manuscripts — Manuscript copies of the New Testament writings. Which can be divided into:
  1. PAPYRI: The early papyrus copies (codex or scroll), found in Egypt, but representing substantially the text as it would have been known in various locations throughout the Roman world. There have been discovered more than 120 such manuscripts (indicated by the symbol Ë), most of which date between 200-600 A.D., though a few are (or may be) from the 2nd century. Among the earliest and most important of these are:
    The Chesty Beatty Papyri: Ë45 (four Gospels and Acts), Ë 46 (Pauline epistles), and Ë 47 (Revelation)
    The Bodmer Papyri: esp. Ë66 (John), and Ë75 (Luke-John)
  2. UNCIALS: Manuscripts (Codices) written in Uncial letters — large, rounded (“majuscule”) letters, something akin to writing with capital letters in English. This handwriting style dominated codex production 200-800 A.D. More than 300 Uncials have been found, including many of the earliest and best MSS:
    a (Codex Sinaiticus, 4th cent.), A (Codex Alexandrinus, 5th cent.), B (Codex Vaticanus, 4th cent., the earliest complete NT), etc.
    These MSS are numbered “01”, “02”, and so forth, with common letter designations up to “045”.
  3. MINUSCULES: Manuscripts written in a smaller, cursive-style script, which became the dominant style after 900 A.D. The majority of New Testament MSS (more than 2800) are minuscules.
  • Versional Manuscripts — Manuscripts of early translations (i.e., foreign-language versions). For New Testament studies, the most important of these are the (Old) Latin, (Old) Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Georgian. Occasionally Arabic and Gothic versions are also cited.
  • Patristic Citations— The text of the New Testament as it appears in the writings of the so-called Church “Fathers” (i.e., “patristic”), the prominent Christian leaders and writers (bishops, apologists, theologians, monastic figures) of the ancient and medieval periods. The early Church Fathers (c. 150-450 A.D.) especially are a valuable witness for the text; however, analyzing them can be a very tricky business. Older scholarship is rife with unreliable or inaccurate citations. New critical editions of writings of key Fathers, as well as solid studies on their use of Scripture, have helped greatly — but much work remains to be done.
  • Lectionaries — These are the books with lessons (“lections”, i.e., Scripture passages) for liturgical use — that is, for public reading in the churches and monasteries. The lessons are arranged in order, according to the Church calendar. More than 2,000 lectionaries have been catalogued, nearly all from the Byzantine period proper (10th-15th cent. A.D.), but they may often preserve much older liturgical information. The synaxarion portion covers the “regular” holy days of the year, the menologion portion, the days specifically related to the lives of Mary, the Apostles, and other Saints.
  • TEXT TYPE or TEXT FAMILY: Groupings of Manuscripts which are closely related. “Text Type” especially implies a broad grouping, extending back many centuries, and including a large number of MSS. “Text Family” is the more general term to discuss any significant grouping of related MSS. Typically four major Text Types have been defined:
    1) Koine (or Byzantine): Representing the majority of MSS, dating primarily from the Medieval period (10th-15th centuries), from the region of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire. Some scholars today would refer to this properly as a “Recension”.  In older parlance, it was sometimes called the “Syrian” text.
    2) Egyptian (Alexandrian): An early and widespread Type, represented by a number of important Papyri and Uncials (such Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). It is especially in connection with Vaticanus (B), that this text was called “Neutral” by Westcott and Hort (meaning an especially reliable, “pure” form of the text). With some misgivings, this opinion has been generally confirmed by scholars today.
    3) “Western”: The label is something of a misnomer, and is almost never used without quote marks today. However, this does seem to represent an early and discernible form of the text, most notably in the important (and somewhat peculiar) Beza Codex (D), but also in a number of other MSS, including some of the Old Latin and Syriac versions.
    4) “Caesarean”: Many scholars today are unwilling or reluctant to refer to this as a meaningful Type, as it seems to be represented by a relatively small number of MSS, and even then often of a mixed character.The entire terminology of “Text types” has been, to some extent, abandoned today, in favor of more localized “textual clusters” or “textual groups”. The discovery and detailed study of the Papyri has led to a shift in methodology—instead of starting with later manuscripts (with the assumption of established “types”) and working backward, there is an increased tendency to begin with the Papyri and important uncials, with clusters grouped around these key early MSS. These relationships also must be determined from book to book, rather than for the entire NT. For example, a primary early textual group (at least for the Gospel of Luke & John) would be Ë75-B-Ë66.
    In recent decades, especially following the pioneering work of E. C. Colwell and E. W. Tune in the 1960s, there has also been an increase in quantitative methods (such as the Claremont Profile Method) for analyzing these Manuscript relationships. A basic thumbnail for textual affinity is about 70% agreement between MSS, with a gap of 10% between their neighbors (see Colwell, Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the NT [Leiden: Brill] 1969, p. 59).
    Such relationships are determined by the differences (“variant readings”) which exist between manuscripts.
  • TEXTUAL VARIANT(S): or, “Variant Reading(s)”. Any variation in how the text reads — that is to say, differences between the text, at any given point, between two (or more) textual witnesses. In the case of the New Testament, of course, this refers almost exclusively to differences between the Greek Manuscripts. This topic will be discussed in much more detail in the next part (follow-up article). However, at least one important term will be defined here:
  • Variation Unit: This is a term coined by E. C. Colwell & E. W. Tune (see their 1964 article “Variant Readings: Classification and Use”, reprinted in Colwell, Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the NT [Leiden: Brill] 1969, p. 96-105). A variation-unit is any portion of text, delimited according to the natural (grammatical-syntactical) “elements of expression”, where the Greek MSS present at least two variant forms. These “elements” of expression would typically entail (connected) parts of speech, or a specific phrase. Larger units of variation, such as entire sentences or sections, in instances of major add/omit variants and interpolations, do not as readily apply.
    NOTE on the term “Textual Corruption: Believers may find the term “corruption” unsettling in relation to the Scriptures; for those unfamiliar with the terminology, some explanation is warranted. Certainly no sense of moral or doctrinal corruption is intended—it is entirely an objective, neutral term. Anytime changes (accidental or intentional) are introduced into the text during the process of copying: that constitutes textual “corruption”. This assumes that there was, in fact, a specific original text which was “pure”, and that all variants are evidence of scribal corruption. The primary goal of Textual Criticism is, and should be, to establish the original text; though there is much debate as to how far it is possible to achieve this goal.



Part 2 >