Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "BIBLICAL
Part II - Introduction to MANUSCRIPTS
III. THE TRANSMISSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TEXT
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
INTRODUCTION TO MANUSCRIPTS AND VERSIONS
- THE TRANSMISSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TEXT
- Description of the New Testament text
- Manuscript materials
- Papyrus - a fragile material, soon ruined by
handling, and preserved only under exceptional conditions in a dry
climate like that of Egypt. Made from interwoven reeds which grew along
the Nile (the "bulrushes" among which Moses was hidden!). Generally used
for copies of Scripture up to the fourth century.
- Vellum - made from skins of animals. More durable,
but more expensive. Did not come into general use for Scriptures until
the fourth century AD, when a new method of preparing the skins made
them less exorbitant in cost.
- Manuscript forms
- Scrolls - the writings were preserved in the scroll
(or roll) form until about the fourth century AD. (Some scholars urge an
earlier date for the introduction of the codex form.)
- Codices - from the fourth century or perhaps sooner
it became the custom to cut the skins (or papyrus) like a sheet or page
and bind these sheets together somewhat like a present-day photograph
album by punching holes in one or two places along the left side and
holding it together by a strip of raw hide. The book-like thing was
called a codex (plural, codices)
- Manuscript lettering
- Uncial - there are over 150 uncial MSS of all or part
of the New Testament. The script in these MSS is much like the Greek
capitals. This is the form of writing used in the earlier New Testament
MSS which range in date from the second to the ninth century.
- Cursive - these were written in small running-hand
letters (as we write). There are over 3000 cursive MSS of all or part of
the New Testament. They are usually later MSS, but may have been copied
from very early MSS now lost. They range in date from the ninth to the
- Papyri discoveries
- New Testament papyri - these finds have served to
substantiate the text. Dating back before the time of Constantine and
the earliest texts previously possessed, they shatter the skeptic's
claim that Constantine tampered with the text, changing it to suit
- Extra-Biblical papyri - they have shown that the NT
is not full of grammatical errors as scholars formerly taught. The
language used by the NT writers is not literary Greek or an attempt at
it, but is the ordinary written and spoken Greek of the first century
AD. It was the Bible for the common people! Compare newspaper English of
today. Cobern, New Archaeological Discoveries, pp.3-119 and 166-174.
- Chief Greek MSS of the NT
- The Papyri MSS Ė 76 available
The writing on papyri is chiefly in a course, flowing style, and sometimes
in uncials. Punctuation, accents, and breathings are almost entirely
lacking in these documents. Textual critics have designated them by an
antique P and a raised number. Some of the more recent papyrus discoveries
are of great significance for textual study.
- P1 contains eighteen verses of Matthew 1 (vv. 1-9,
12-20). Third century.
- P4 has parts of Luke 1 (w. 74-80), 5 (w. 3-8, 30-39),
and 6 (vv.1-4). Fourth century.
- P5 has thirty-two verses of John (1:23-31,33-41;
20:11-17,19,25). Third century.
- P13 contains Hebrews 2:14-5:5; 10:8-22; 10:29-11:13;
11:28-12:17. Late third century.
- P38 contains Acts 18:27-19:6; 19:12-16. Early fourth
The most important papyrus texts are the Chester Beatty Papyri. These
papyrus leaves were purchased in Egypt in 1932. Eight OT portions in
Greek and three Greek NT portions are in the collection. These papyri
are all from the third century or earlier and are in codex form,
indicating that this form may have been in use much earlier than
- P45 Chester Beatty Papyrus I. Originally contained
the four Gospels and Acts. Third century.
- P46 Chester Beatty Papyrus II. Includes Pauline
Epistles. Early third century.
- P47 Chester Beatty Papyrus III. This MS contains Rev,
9:10-17:2. Third century.
- P52 Rylands Papyrus 457. This portion was discovered
by Grenfell in Egypt in 1920 and is dated the first half of the 2nd
century. Contains five verses of John 18 (w~31-33,37-38). This discovery
has done much to confirm the traditional date of the Gospel of John
(important due to Johnís stressing of the Diety of Christ).
- The Uncial MSS
See chart on page 9/25 (opposite).
- The Cursive MSS
Since the cursives are later than the uncials, as a class they are of less
importance than the uncials. But there are exceptions to this rule. Some
cursive codices bear testimony to an earlier text than the uncials. Their
value depends, like that of all the other MSS, upon the approximation of
their text^to that of the original. Around 3,000 cursive MSS from the 9th
to the 16th century have been listed. Some of these cursives are listed in
groups called families (their value is in their great numbers).
- Family 1 consists of cursives 1 (10th century), 118
(13th century), 131 (11 century), and 209 (12 century).
- Family 13 consists of cursives 13, 69, 124, 346,
which are all of the 12th century, except 69, which is of the 14th or
- Cursive 33, called the "queen of cursives, " 9th
- Cursive 565, 9th century.
- Cursive 81, AD 1044.
- The Lectionaries
These were reading lessons that were used in the public services of the
church; they do not have a continuous text. More than 1600 lectionaries
are in existence which were written from the 6th century and onward. These
selections are usually written in an uncial script and show use of a
conservative type text.
- Ancient VSS of the NT
- The Syriac VSS
- Tatian's Diatessaron is a harmony of the Gospels made
by interweaving the materials of the four Gospels into a continuous
story, AD 170.
- Old Syriac VS from the 2nd century.
- The Peshitta VS probably originated around AD 425.
- The Latin VSS
- The Old Latin VSS includes the African Latin VS,
which may be dated as early as AD 150, and the European Latin VS, which
probably originated in the 3rd century.
- The Latin Vulgate was translated by Jerome late in
the 4th century.
- Other VSS
Some Coptic VSS originated late in the 2nd century and early in the 3rd
century; Gothic VS, AD 350; Armenian VS, AD 400; Georgian, AD 570.
- Value of VSS
Some of these may actually take us to an earlier Greek text than we have.
- Early quotations of the NT
- Quotations of the NT in the writings of the Church
Fathers have definite value in determining the type of text in use in a
given locality at a given time.
- These quotations sometimes serve as guides in
determining the true text of the N.T.
- The Church Fathers often quote loosely from memory,
not having the particular MS with them or finding it too difficult to
turn it up in a cumbersome roll. They remind us of loose quotations from
the pulpit today.
- b. Only copies of the writings of the Church Fathers
- Variations in NT MSS or estimate of purity of text
Bishop Westcott: "It cannot be repeated too often that the text of the NT
surpasses all other Greek texts in antiquity, variety, and fulness of
evidence by which it is attested. About seven-eighths of the words are
raised above all doubt by a unique combination of authorities: and of
questions which affect the remaining one-eighth, a great part are simply
questions of order and form, and such that serious doubt does not appear to
touch more than one-sixtieth part of the whole text." Encyclopedic Handbook
of Bible, p. 76.
Dr. Hort: "... about Due word in every thousand Jias upon it substantial
variation supported by such evidence as to call forth the efforts of
scholars in deciding between the readings."
Dr. Ezra Abbott: "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 remaining
one-twentieth 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." International \ Standard Bible Encyclopedia,
p. 2955. (There are approximately 200, 000 variations l/20th equals 10, 000;
l/20th of 10, 000 equals only 500 variations which would make an appreciable
difference in sense.
(Note: The rather astronomical number of variations should be explained. The
number is obtained by this method. A MS is taken and all variations from it
are counted; then the same thing is done with each of the other MSS--each
treated as though it were the official MS with which all others are being
compared. Hence, the rather fictitious number of variations which ignorant
magazine writers and even liberal preachers like to quote with much
head-shaking and an unctious tone. The actual number is relatively small.)
- Summary statements leading to assurance that the
Church has essentially the autographs of the New Testament
- Wealth of MS material (e.g., Bishop Westcott above).
- Fidelity and ability of copyists.
There is every indication that the copyists realized the seriousness of
making mistakes and did everything in their power to avoid them.
- Absence of any motive for falsification.
There is no valid or satisfactory motive, which can be suggested and
proven, why the scribes should have deliberately falsified their copies.
False theories, like that of Constantine's tampering with the text,
explode before the facts.
- The minor character of the variations; often only order
of the words is involved.
- The providence of God.
God has graciously preserved the texts of both Old and New Testaments with
a minimum of error, which is almost miraculous despite the fact that the
texts have been in the care of fallible man.
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