What Christian apologists don’t tell you:

 

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...

Recto of the Rylands Papyrus

 

The Greek New Testament
by Bruce M. Metzger

Quoting from: The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Eds. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1993, pp.488-90

By 1989 the Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research had catalogued the number of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament at a total of 5488, in the customary categories: 96 papyri, 299 uncials, 2812 minuscules, and 2281 lectionaries (containing selected passages arranged according to the liturgical year, for use in church services).  Most lectionaries are in miniscule script, but the oldest are in uncial.  When compared to the numbers of existing manuscripts of ancient classical writers, these numbers are extraordinarily large.  However, most of the papyri are fragmentary; some consist of only one or two leaves.  Moreover, only 59 manuscripts contain the entire New Testament, and of these only one (Codex Sinaiticus) is uncial; roughly 1500 contain only the Gospels, and the book of Revelation survives in only 287 copies (many of which alternate between sections of text and patristic commentary).

Date. Very few manuscripts were dated by their scribes, and the exceptions tend to be late.  Fortunately, secular documents of various sorts carrying dates have survived, enabling paleographers to compare handwriting and ascertain within broad limits the date of a biblical manuscript.

The oldest known New Testament manuscript is a papyrus fragment, ca. 9 by 6.35 cm (3 ½ by 2 ½ in), dated to 100-150 CE, which preserves five verses from John 18.  P52 as it is called, is now kept at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England.  The oldest substantial portions of the New Testament are the Bodmer papyrus of John (P66), now in Geneva, and the Chester Beatty papyrus (p46) in Dublin and Ann Arbor, which contains ten Pauline letters; both have been dated to ca. 200 CE.  The oldest parchment New Testament copies are Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, both from the fourth century.  From roughly 300-1000 CE, about three hundred manuscripts remain; and from about 1000-1500 (Gutenberg invented movable-type printing around 1450), about two thousand copies have survived.  Since of all of these known copies only fifty-nine contain the entire New Testament, it is clear that prior to the invention of printing relatively few individuals or even congregations possessed a complete New Testament.

 

Identification of Manuscripts. Previously, a manuscript was identified by the name of the owner (e.g., Codex Bazae), the place where it is now preserved (Codex Vaticanus, Codex Washingtoniensis), or the place of its purported origin (Codex Alexandrinus).  A simpler, more systematic nomenclature was invented by a Swiss scholar, Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693-1754), who assigned a capital roman letter to each uncial and an Arabic numeral to each minuscule.  Over time, however, the letters of the alphabet proved too few for the growing number of known uncial manuscripts, so Hebrew and Greek letters came into use; eventually, however, these too proved insufficient, and Caspar René Gregory (1846-1917) proposed that each uncial manuscript be assigned a numeral prefixed by o.  Only for the chief uncials (such as Vaticanus) is the earlier letter system retained.

Format. Early on, Christian communities abandoned use of the scroll in favor of the leaf-book (codex), which was less expensive and more convenient.  Over time, parchment slowly supplanted papyrus as the material of choice for books.  Several deluxe copies of the scriptures survive from the sixth century; these were prepared for nobles and high ecclesiastics on purple-dyed parchment, in script written with silver ink (and in some cases gold for initial letters).  Once scribes had finished copying the text, artists added illumination and illustrations (miniatures).  The text of the Gospels—and eventually that of other New Testament books—was divided into numerous sections; Eusebius (d. ca. 342) collected these into tables that showed parallel passages in four Gospels, in three Gospels, in two and finally in those sections unique to each gospel.  In some cases, scribes provided information as to the total number of lines in a gospel or letter.

In time individual books of the New Testament were provided with a variety of prologues and other prefatory material, supplying certain information about the author, contents, and character of the work.  Some prologues are anonymous, while others are attributed to patristic authors (such as Chrysostom, Theodoret, Euthalius).  Occasionally, lectionary notations were entered into straight-text gospel manuscripts.  Likewise, musical notations to assist readers in chanting the lessons were placed above the line of text in green or red to contrast the text’s brown or black ink.

Important Manuscripts. The following lists specify the siglum (identification), date, contents and place of preservation:

Papyri.

P38: ca. 300; portions of Acts 18.27-19.16; Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Library.

P45: third century; portions of the four Gospels and Acts; part in Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, and part in Vienna, Austrian National Library.

P46: ca. 200; ten letters of Paul, part in Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, and part in Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Library.

P47: third century; Revelation 9.10-17.2; Dublin, Chester Beatty Library.

P52: first half of second century; John 18:31-33, 37-38; Manchester, John Rylands Library.

P66: ca. 200; portions of the gospel of John, part in Cologny-Geneva, Bodmer Library and part in Dublin, Chester Beatty Library.

P75: third century; most of the gospel of Luke and two-thirds of the gospel of John; Cologny-Geneva, Bodmer Library.

Uncial manuscripts.

Aleph: fourth century; entire New Testament; London, British Library (Codex Sinaiticus).

A: fifth century; New Testament, with a few lacunae; London, British Library (Codex Alexandrinus).

B: fourth century; Gospels, Acts, letters (lacking 1 Timothy through Philemon, and Hebrews 9.14 through the end of Revelation); Rome, Vatican Library (Codex Vaticanus)

C: fifth century; New Testament (a palimpsest with many lacunae); Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale (Codex Ephraemi).

D: fifth century; Gospels and Acts in Greek and Latin (with lacunae); Cambridge University Library (Codex Bazae).

W: fifth century; four Gospels (with lacunae) in the order Matthew, John, Luke, Mark; Washington, Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art (Codex Washingtoniensis).

Θ: ninth century; four Gospels (with a few lacunae); Tiflis, Manuscript Institute (Codex Koridethi).

o169:  fourth century; Rev. 3.19-4:3; Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

o212: third century; Diatessaron, brief portions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; New Haven, Yale University, P. Dura 10.

Minuscule manuscripts.

1: twelfth century; New Testament, lacking the book of Revelation; Basel, University Library.  Related to manuscripts 118, 131, 209 and others as family 1, reflecting the kind of text used as Caesarea in the fourth century.

13: thirteenth century; four Gospels; Paris; Bibliothèque Nationale. Related to 69 and ten other minuscule manuscripts as family 13 (They have John 7.53-8.12 after Luke 21.38), which goes back to an archetype of Calabria.

33: ninth century; New Testament, lacking the book of Revelation; Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale.  Sometimes called “the queen of the minuscules,” its text is similar to that in B and Aleph.

461: 835 CE (oldest dated New Testament Greek manuscript); four Gospels; St. Petersburg Public Library.

565: ninth century; four Gospels; St. Petersburg Public Library; a magnificent purple parchment manuscript written in gold letters.

614: thirteenth century; Acts and letters (lacunae in Jude 3-25); Milan, Biblioteca Amrosiana. Related to the text of Acts in Codex Bazae.

700: eleventh century; four Gospels; London British Library.  In Luke 11.2 it replaces the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” with “Thy holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.”

1739: tenth century; Acts, general letters, Pauline letters, Mount Athos, Lavra.  Agrees frequently with the text used by Origen (d. ca. 254).

2400: thirteenth century; New Testament but without the book of Revelation; Chicago, University of Chicago Library.  A splendid manuscript with ninety-eight miniatures, in a silver case.

Editions. The earliest printed Greek New Testament was volume 5 (1514) of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, which was sponsored by Cardinal Ximénes of Alcalá, Spain; however the pope did not grant permission to publish it until 1520.  The first published Greek New Testament, edited by Erasmus of Rotterdam and issued by Johannes Froben of Basel in 1516, relied on only a few late manuscripts.  For the book of Revelation there was only one Greek manuscript available, and it lacked the last six verses; for them Erasmus translated the Latin Vulgate into what he supposed the Greek text should read.  This type of New Testament text, based on late and sometimes imperfect manuscripts, became the so-called textus receptus (“received text”).  Only toward the end of the nineteenth century, once much earlier and superior New Testament manuscripts became available, could scholars produce more accurate editions.

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “What Christian apologists don’t tell you:

  1. You seem to miss the point in following the textual lineage of the NT Scriptures. When they say ‘there are thousands of ancient manuscripts’, they usually point out – and all texts on the subject make it clear – that this means well into the Medieval period. It isn’t just going back to the earliest manuscripts, it’s comparing it to the train of tradition. Did the earliest manuscripts have Jesus as a rock-about soldier with a harem who fought as a mercenary and later taught that we should all buy stock in Microsoft, only to be gradually changed by the Church over the centuries into the great Christ of human redemption? Well, no. Most of the discrepancies (most, not all) are minor. A misspelled name here, an off the cuff reference to some geographical region there. Was John the one who came baptizing, or was it John the Baptist? Comparing the earliest fragments to texts a thousand years later demonstrates an phenomenal continuity. That’s the point of all those ancient manuscripts. In fact, most of what critics outside the faith say about the development of the New Testament is pretty much known and agreed upon by Christian scholars just the same (outside of some fundamentalist segments). John 8 isn’t in the earliest versions! Oh no!! (the usually awesome Bart Ehrman was fond of making that point). And a great point it would be! If not for the fact that just about every Bible published today has a footnote on John 8 stating that it’s not found in most early manuscripts. On the whole, nothing new. it’s hard not to tip a hat to the amazing consistency and continuity you find in the New Testament (or, as the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated, in the Hebrew Scriptures), esp. when compared to the sparse witness of other ancient manuscripts, and the often overwhelming discrepancy one finds in those cases.

    Posted by Dave G. | July 6, 2013, 5:41 pm
    • You can copy fables meticulously from books (not fragments) that are hundreds of years after the “fact” and they are still fables. Fragments of books don’t give you complete reliability and even if they did it doesn’t mean that the extraordinary claims in the New Testament are true. Let me know when they find the originals, when someone proves that the ascribed authors are actually the authors, and also (very important) when all or at least some of the claims are proven.

      The inconsistencies in the New Testament between the gospels are astounding, especially if you take into account that the authors were present and/or living during that time: what happened when Jesus died, who found the empty tomb, who did they find in the tomb, ascension, death of Judas, even the genealogy of Christ/Joseph… among many many other things.

      Posted by Jaiver | November 28, 2013, 10:33 am
  2. I’m a bit surprised you gave this article the title, “what christian apologists don’t tell you:” People like Wallace, Evans, White, Bock, Wegner all explain stuff like this. Look up CSNTM on i-Tunes. They have a whole series of videos on this sort of stuff.

    Posted by alancossey | January 11, 2013, 3:48 am
  3. How can you say that this is something that Christian Apologists don’t tell you, when in fact, the book is written by a Christian that is telling us this material…..? I don’t get your point.

    Posted by Guarani | September 16, 2011, 8:42 am
    • Thanks for stopping by, Guarani.

      Perhaps you are confused by not understanding the difference between credible and credentialed Biblical scholars and dishonest Christian apologists. This seems to happen a LOT.

      I’ll give you an example,
      This is Christian apologetics:

      From the CARM website regarding “Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability”
      “There are presently 5,686 Greek manuscripts in existence today for the New Testament”
      http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence

      WOW !! That is a LOT of manuscript evidence.

      What they DO NOT tell you is that the majority of those manuscripts date to a thousand years, or more, after the fact.

      What did Bruce Metzger say in the Oxford Companion to the Bible?
      “The oldest known New Testament manuscript is a papyrus fragment, ca. 9 by 6.35 cm (3 ½ by 2 ½ in), dated to 100-150 CE, which preserves five verses from John 18. P52 as it is called, is now kept at the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. The oldest substantial portions of the New Testament are the Bodmer papyrus of John (P66), now in Geneva, and the Chester Beatty papyrus (p46) in Dublin and Ann Arbor, which contains ten Pauline letters; both have been dated to ca. 200 CE. The oldest parchment New Testament copies are Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, both from the fourth century. From roughly 300-1000 CE, about three hundred manuscripts remain; and from about 1000-1500 (Gutenberg invented movable-type printing around 1450), about two thousand copies have survived. Since of all of these known copies only fifty-nine contain the entire New Testament, it is clear that prior to the invention of printing relatively few individuals or even congregations possessed a complete New Testament.”

      Posted by Xcntrik | September 16, 2011, 4:44 pm
    • Absolutely, Guarani! People like Jaiver, Xcnt, and their kind should learn from the CSNTM and from the scholars you cited like Wallace, Bock, Evans, White et al. They’ll learn that their ‘arguments’ are nothing more than anti-Christian polemics now, and this would be a real educational experience that’s for their own good!

      Posted by Hamzah Abd.Rahman | February 1, 2015, 4:14 am
  4. Do you teach X?

    Posted by Cherokee | November 26, 2010, 12:21 am

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