Glossary of Technical Terms for New Testament Textual Studies


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The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

by Dr. Don Wilkins, Senior Translator NASB

Don Wilkins_02Alexandrian Text: the Greek text was produced in Alexandria, Egypt, where there was a high degree of scholarship due to the famous library and museum. This was undoubtedly responsible in large part for the more meticulous care taken in the copying of manuscripts. The chief manuscripts representing the Alexandrian text are Codex Vaticanus, also designated as B and 03; Codex Sinaiticus, designated by the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, א (aleph), and 01, and the papyri p75 and p66. Codex Alexandrinus designated 02, is characteristic of the Byzantine text in the Gospels, but Alexandrian elsewhere. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are both dated fourth-century. One of the more notable characteristics of the Alexandrian text is the tendency to display the harder variant readings, which usually are the best candidates for the original reading or autograph. Vaticanus seems to be slightly superior to Sinaiticus in its readings. It also rates as closest to the initial text (q.v.) of the ECM (q.v.).

Amanuensis: Latin term for a scribe or clerk (plural “amanuenses”). When used in the context of textual criticism, it refers specifically to a person who served as a secretary to record first-hand the words of a New Testament book, if the author chose to use a secretary rather than write down the words himself. Tertius (Rom. 16:22) is an example. The degree to which an amanuensis may have contributed to the content of any particular book is a matter of speculation and controversy. At one end of the spectrum is the amanuensis who merely took dictation (the position preferred here); at the other is the possibility that a New Testament author may have told his amanuensis what he wished to communicate in general terms, leaving it to the amanuensis to actually compose the book.

From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts

Apparatus: information about variant readings to the text chosen for a critical edition of the Greek New Testament. Such information is also called a textual or critical apparatus. The standard layout is footnotes covering all the variants identified on the page, listing the manuscripts supporting the variants. With the exception of the ECM (see below), it is not the intent of the editors to note every known variant to the text, because doing so would expand the edition to a large, multi-volume work. Thus only a selection of all the variants is actually provided, usually focusing on variants deemed to be of some significance. The extent of the selection varies from one apparatus to another. The two that are best known are included respectively with the Nestle-Aland text and the United Bible Societies’ text (GNT). The former, designed principally for scholarly research, notes more variants than the latter, while the latter is easier to read and provides ratings of confidence levels for many variants. Bruce Metzger also provided A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament as a companion volume to the GNT, sharing valuable notes about committee decisions for the readings that have ratings. Since the NA and GNT have had the same texts for many years under the same leadership, Metzger’s Textual Commentary is relevant and helpful for both. It should be noted, negatively, that translator’s notes or notes about alternate translations in modern versions are not the same as a textual apparatus, though the information may also be helpful. The apparatus must list variant readings and the ancient manuscripts that support them.

Archetype: the original text, or ancestor (in genealogical terms), from which a group of manuscripts ultimately derive. Using “ultimately” in the fullest sense, all biblical manuscripts ultimately derive from the autograph as their archetype, but in textual criticism “archetype” is distinguished from the autograph. Since it is by definition the original text behind a group (larger or smaller) of copies, it is not possible to identify a particular manuscript as an archetype, and typically archetypes are assumed to be lost.

Assimilation: a deliberate alteration of the text by a scribe when he encountered a parallel passage elsewhere that exhibits some differences with the one he was copying. The resulting manuscript has the passages in agreement, while another extant manuscript–possibly exhibiting the text of the scribe’s exemplar–reveals differences between the passages; there may, of course, be others with differing texts as well. Assimilation is assumed as a variation of the harder reading (lectio difficilior) principle. That is, a scribe would have found differences in the parallel passages, e.g. OT quotations, troubling, and therefore would have “corrected” them in his copy. This may sometimes be indicated more or less by interlinear or marginal notations in a manuscript used as an exemplar. If so, the textual critic can select the text with the differing parallel as the most likely original with considerable confidence. Otherwise, unless the differences are accountable as errors, the same text is still preferable because there is no good reason why the scribe of that text would change it to make it differ from its parallel.

Asterisk (*): a common notation in the apparatus of a critical text. Often a reading in a manuscript has been altered by a scribe as a correction from the scribe’s perspective. Scribes were careful not to blot out the original lettering etc., but to make an interlinear or marginal notation of the correction instead. Sometimes readings have been “corrected” in this way more than once, and by different scribes. To show the distinction, a superscript number is added to the notation for the manuscript in question, such as “B1.” By this format the reader is informed that a particular variant is supported by the first corrector of manuscript B; other correctors, if there are others, are indicated by successive superscript numbers. When one or more corrections are listed as support for variants, an asterisk (e.g. “B*”) is usually added to a manuscript notation to indicate that the variant reading is the one originally found in that manuscript, as opposed to a correction. When this happens, then, the same manuscript will be listed with at least two different variant readings. Therefore it is very important to be aware of these superscript characters attached to manuscript notations, especially the asterisk.


Atticism: a stylistic, grammatical, or lexical feature in New Testament Greek that is thought by many to be secondary, added by a later scribe who was trying to “improve” the Greek. Attic Greek, the Greek of golden-age Athens that was so often imitated for so many centuries later, is taken to be the standard. The position assumed here is that Attic Greek really did become the standard for Greek, including that of the New Testament, and so-called Atticisms are not necessarily foreign to the language of the New Testament. One could say that the New Testament basically is Attic Greek, so long as one allows that for the most part it is not literary Greek, and eyewitness accounts of events seem to have been kept in the style of the original language.

Authorities: often used as a general term for manuscripts, but can have a wider application to other sources (e.g. ancient translations and patristic citations) that have some value as support for variant readings.

Autograph: The autograph (self-written) was the text actually written by a New Testament author, or the author and scribe as the author dictated to him. If the scribe was taking it down in dictation (Rom: 16:22; 1 Pet: 5:12), he might have done so in shorthand. Whether by shorthand or longhand, we can assume that both the scribe and the author would check the scribe’s work. The author would have authority over all corrections since the Holy Spirit did not move the scribe. If the inspired author wrote everything down himself as the Spirit moved him, the finished product would be the autograph. This text is also often referred to as the original. Hence, the terms autograph and original are often used interchangeably. Sometimes textual critics prefer to make a distinction, using “original” as a reference to the text that is correctly attributed to a biblical author.  This is a looser distinction, one that does not focus on the process of how a book or letter was written.

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Base Text: in a collation, the text chosen to display to the reader. The readings of any other texts are listed as variant readings to this text and included in an apparatus, usually as footnotes. The first Greek text used as a base text was the Textus Receptus. In modern times the common practice has been for the editors of the Greek text to display a base text which they have determined themselves by following principles of textual criticism. The principles vary from one circle of critics to another and undergo some refinement as research in textual criticism continues. The leading base texts today are the text shared by Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Societies, and the Majority Text (edited by the late Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad). A third text may gain traction at some point, that of the Greek New Testament published by the Society of Biblical Literature and edited by Michael Holmes.

Biblical Uncial: a traditional term for manuscripts written in the large Greek letters loosely described as “capitals.” This term has fallen into disfavor, and “majuscule” (see below) is preferred.

Byzantine Family: the second of the three principal families recognized today, along with the Alexandrian and Western. For a traditional account of the Byzantine family or text, see above p. 51. Most modern scholars doubt the traditional explanation of the rise of the text or view it as unhelpful in understanding it. It seems clear that the text existed in some form as early as the fourth century, but that it continued to be developed after that. The ECM editors have confirmed that the Byzantine text took a consistent form after the ninth century. They have also defined it for their own purposes of collation: Byzantine readings are those which agree with the majority of witnesses but differ from the initial text of the ECM.  In contrast, Majority Text readings are those supported by the majority of witnesses and may also agree with the ECM initial text.

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Caesarean Family: a group of manuscripts once identified as a fourth family of manuscripts. The family is discussed above on pp. 174 f. It is no longer considered viable by most scholars, in view of the high degree of mixture among NT witnesses and the difficulty of establishing consistency in such families.

Canon: used in two senses: 1) the 27 New Testament books accepted as inspired and uniquely comprising the New Testament; and 2) a term for the principles or rules of textual criticism accepted by most critics (see above p. 159). Most textual critics today would use less absolute language for these principles, in some cases even calling them “guidelines.” Most of the principles are subject to qualification, with exceptions, and even to debate in some cases.

CBGM: the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, a computer-assisted system for determining genealogical relationships between manuscripts. For details see the chapter on the same. The system relies on internal evidence and is designed to cope with the high level of contamination or mixture of texts found in NT manuscripts.

Cluster: a replacement term for the geographical nomenclature traditionally associated with families of texts. As applied by Eldon Epp (see above, pp. 234 f.), the Western text becomes, for example, the “D-text cluster,” referring to the manuscripts exhibiting common traits associated with the text represented by manuscript D (05). Positively, one can say that new terminology is desirable given that we are now aware of the high degree of mixture or contamination among NT witnesses that makes geographical identifiers largely obsolete. Negatively, “cluster” is a vague concept and does not account for the genealogical connections between witnesses. Retaining “family” without a geographical reference might be better.

Codex: a physical book of scripture in contrast to the ancient scroll. The church began to produce codices early in the second century or perhaps at the end of the first. Aside from whatever monetary savings may have resulted, the codex provided a great advantage in locating passages: quite literally what we can call random access as opposed to the serial access necessitated by unwinding a scroll.

Collation: a base text of the Greek New Testament together with an apparatus of variant readings for any place in the text where the manuscripts selected for the collation disagree. Disagreements can range from a single letter to a phrase, and the latter sometimes includes the order of the words. Diacritical marks are noted as well, but of course, these marks are late additions and are subject to change at the will of the critic. The formal term for places of disagreement is “variation unit” (q.v.).

Colophon: from a Greek word for “finishing.” In the context of copying manuscripts, “a finishing touch,” referring to comments that scribes sometimes added at the end of a copy. The comment could be anything but might provide valuable information as to when and where the manuscript was written.

Commentaries: these exist in two forms: 1) a more or less complete set of marginal or interlinear notes added by instructors to the text of a manuscript, and 2) conventional commentaries written by church fathers. The latter can be valuable to the extent that they usually include scripture quotations, often of substantial length, which may provide insight into the text used by the father. If that can be established, then the dates associated with the father also stand as evidence for dating the text.


Conflation or Conflated Readings: when a variation unit (q.v.) includes a reading that in effect combines the other variant readings for the unit, that reading is considered a conflation (or conflated reading) according to the principles of textual criticism. The assumption behind this conclusion is that when faced with two (or possibly more) choices that seemed to have equal merit as original, the scribe’s primary concern was that the original reading not be lost. The other possibility is that the conflation is the original reading, and the other readings are shorter due to erroneous omission. However, conflation is usually the more likely explanation (see above p. 241).

Conjectural Emendation: this is a controversial practice, highly so in some circles. It is based on the corollary to the “harder reading” principle that the harder variant reading is to be rejected if it is so difficult as to be impossible. Usually, the alternative is to choose an easier reading, but in rare instances, some textual critics may conclude that there is no acceptable alternate reading. In that case, they may propose, based on conjecture (a highly educated “guess”), another reading that does not exist in any extant manuscript. In defense of this practice, it can be argued that in fact many early manuscripts have been lost to us, and the practice has been routinely used to repair other ancient Greek manuscripts. I (Wilkins) can attest to the latter, having seen at least one instance where a conjectural emendation on a classical text later proved to be correct. However, there are major differences between classical and biblical manuscripts, one of which is that we have many more of the latter, arguably eliminating the need for this practice. There is also the theological issue of divine preservation (a case in which defenders of the Textus Receptus and textual critics at large ironically find some common ground). Most textual critics of faith take a de facto position that God has preserved the NT text in extant Greek manuscripts. Defenders of conjectural emendation can argue, along with advocates of the MT or TR, that the resultant text of any of these critics does not exist in any extant manuscript (and never will). The response is the fact of mixture (or contamination) in all extant manuscripts: we are trying to reconstruct the original; if the result agreed with any extant manuscript, then it would either be a failure, or we would have the incredible outcome that the resultant Greek text would both be the original, and the extant manuscript with which it agreed would be a copy of the original.

Copyist: generally a synonym for an ancient scribe, in the context of textual criticism. The quality of the manuscript is a good indicator of the professionalism of the copyist, and a colophon (q.v.), if included, may provide information about the copyist’s credentials. If the quality seems more like that of an amateur, it is quite possible that the copyist was not a scribe, but just someone with the ability to write who made a copy for his own purposes or for the benefit of friends or others. Thus “copyist” can have a wider reference than “scribe.”

Corpus: a Latin term meaning “body,” this refers to a complete collection of some kind. One typical use is the reference to all of Paul’s letters as the “Pauline corpus.” Any group of writings with a common trait can be collected together under that trait as a category.

Corrector and Corrections: the term “correction(s)” can have its ordinary meaning, but in the context of TC often refers to a change in the text of a manuscript made by a scribe or copyist, sometimes the same person who made the copy of the manuscript, and sometimes by one or more others. The one who has made the change is often called the “corrector,” and if the handwriting indicates that writers other than the original copyist have added corrections, they may be designated as separate correctors (see on “Asterisk” above; see also “Assimilation”). From the viewpoint of the critic, these corrections are always intrusions on the text, unless it is clear that they have been made by the same person who produced the manuscript, in which case they indicate what exemplars (q.v.) he had before him. Corrections result in mixed (contaminated) texts, and they can be very difficult to sort out. When made by the copyist of the manuscript, they are simply a choice of wording that is only recognized by comparison with other texts that have different wording.


Corruption: a reading in the text that is judged by textual critics to be a mistake grammatically or lexically and virtually unreadable or senseless. If it is readable but does not seem to make good sense in the context, reasonable scholars may disagree, depending on their tolerance of the NT author’s flexibility in the Greek and the range of possibility for the context. It is probably safe to say that more corruptions are observed or declared in the Hebrew OT than in the NT.

Critical Edition or Critical Text: any biblical text in the original language that includes a legitimate apparatus of variant readings linked to the text. To be legitimate, the readings must consistent mainly of alternatives found in ancient manuscripts, which usually include ancient versions (translations) and citations in the church fathers. This format, which is a collation (q.v.), is the most practical way to provide the user a convenient source providing a great deal of textual information for making textual decisions. The text itself represents all the choices of its editors for every variation unit (q.v.) in the text.

Cursive Manuscripts: from a Latin word meaning “running,” cursive refers to a handwriting style in smaller (minuscule, “rather small”) Greek letters developed for the purpose of easier, quicker writing. Cursive manuscripts seem to have come into existent about the beginning of the ninth century. One can therefore easily identify these copies as late.

Dittography: a scribal error, the copying of a letter, word, or combination of words twice. It is easy for any writer to commit from a momentary lapse of concentration, particularly if the doubled wording has the same ending as that of the text to which it was added. See above p. 142 for an example.

Documentary Evidence: extant manuscripts of significance supporting a variant reading. The date of the manuscript and the quality of the text it contains according to text-critical principles are the chief determinants of significance. Documentary evidence is usually contrasted with internal evidence and often posed in opposition to it, though in fact the quality of the text is decided by internal evidence. Earlier manuscripts usually have better readings by this standard. However, textual mixture or contamination is always assumed, so in the minds of many or most textual critics, internal evidence should prevail over documentary when the two are in opposition. Others maintain that superior documentary evidence should prevail over internal. This amounts to deciding whether a manuscript is consistently presenting superior readings elsewhere should be preferred when its reading in a passage seems in some way inferior to that of lesser manuscripts.

Eclecticism: within the discipline of textual criticism, eclecticism can be viewed as a preference for internal criteria in deciding variant readings in opposition to external criteria. The degree to which this is done has led to two recognized types of eclecticism, most often called “thoroughgoing” and “reasoned” (see pp. 248 ff.). The former ignores external criteria while the latter accords value to it. In practice, internal and external criteria usually point to the same readings. When they conflict, however, thoroughgoing eclecticism prefers the choice of internal criteria, while reasoned eclecticism may allow external evidence priority over internal.

Eclectic Edition: an edition of the Greek New Testament created by using some form of eclectic method (see above). It is assumed that the readings chosen for the editions have to some extent been chosen by favoring internal criteria over external. The text of NA28/GNT5 is an example. Unless one were to assume, however, that a particular manuscript actually was a copy of the original text (as described hypothetically under Conjectural Emendation), every extant manuscript ultimately is a result of some degree of eclecticism on the part of ancient scribes. Thus distinguishing any Greek NT text as “eclectic” is a matter of degree depending to some extent on the perspective of the critic. In most circles, an edition called “eclectic” is substantially based on internal criteria.


ECM (Edition Critica Maior): the critical text and apparatus published by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Munich. Now in its second edition, the ECM2 is based on a nearly exhaustive collection of Greek manuscripts, ancient versions that attest to readings in the Greek text, and readings attested by the Greek fathers. The text, which appears in NA28 and GNT5 is, as noted elsewhere, eclectic, relying on genealogical relationships between witnesses that are determined by statistical agreements of variant readings. For details about the text, see chapter 13 on the CBGM, the computer-based methodology used to produce the ECM. At the time of this writing, only the General (Catholic) Epistles have been published.

Ellipsis: for our purposes, this term has two contexts. The first is a piece of missing text in an ancient manuscript or fragment due to wear and tear or other misfortunes. When ellipses occur, the task of the textual critic is to use the spacing of other letters in the text to estimate one or more letters that were lost. The context as found in corresponding manuscripts may make the task easy, or it may be difficult or impossible to arrive at certainty if more than one option is plausible. The second context is that of a negative apparatus in ECM2, indicated by an ellipsis in the a-reading; see note 423 on p. 295 above. This is simply a space-saving device, and the bulk of information included in ECM2 needs to be streamlined whenever possible.

Emendation: see Conjectural Emendation above.

Exemplar: from a Latin word for “pattern” or “archetype,” a manuscript that a scribe was tasked to copy. It seems probable that in many instances a scribe used more than one exemplar, though probably not more than two or three for any one copy. In these cases one exemplar probably served as the primary source to be copied, while another was used for comparison, and “correction,” so to speak. That is, the scribe could “correct” the primary exemplar by sometimes choosing a reading for his copy found in another exemplar he was using. Whenever a reading is found in at least one other extant source, we can assume for practical purposes that the scribe of the manuscript copied the reading and did not invent it.

Extant: i.e. actually existing, as opposed to a hypothetical reading or manuscript. Many textual critics take the position that only readings found in extant texts are acceptable for consideration in a variation unit. The argument against this position is that many manuscripts–particularly the earlier ones–have been lost, so there is always the possibility that a conjectured reading could have existed. Conjectural emendations are the logical opposite to extant readings. Since they are typically invented to solve a problem in the text, one argument against them is that they are easier readings which should have survived. Yet one or more harder readings survived, while the (easier) conjecture did not.

External Evidence: nearly synonymous with Documentary Evidence (q.v.), which focuses on particular manuscripts. External evidence focuses on external criteria for evaluating manuscripts. Originally the chief criteria were the dates of the manuscripts supporting a reading, the geographical distribution of the manuscripts, and the overall quality both of the individual manuscripts and textual “families.” For textual critics who favor traditional methods, all three criteria continue to carry weight, and external evidence, as a rule, prevails over internal when the two sets of criteria point to opposing readings. Among other critics, research on NT manuscripts such as that pursued with the CBGM has eliminated geographical distribution as a criterion due to textual contamination/mixture. The same research has also cast doubt on the value of dating and has largely homogenized text families (the Byzantine text continues to be recognized as its own family). The superiority of some manuscripts continues to be acknowledged both by traditionalists and other critics, but this factor only plays a role in the decision practice of the former. Non-traditionalists rely on internal evidence.


Facsimile: in the context of textual criticism, a photographic reproduction in accurate color of a manuscript. A facsimile copy is essential for the expert who must evaluate a reading, because even slight differences in color may help to determine the outline of a character or other mark in a text. Facsimiles can be very expensive; today, fortunately, photographs on the internet may suffice.

Folio: a single leaf, or page, of a book. The “front” of the page is called the recto, while the back that is read after turning it is called the verso. This is the system for describing an ancient codex.

Fragment: as the name indicates, a portion of a text, the remainder of which has been lost. The term may be used to refer to a fairly significant amount of text or as little as a mutilated piece containing only a few letters. The value of very small fragments is that if they can be dated and identified, they may establish an early date for a particular reading. Identification is often very difficult or impossible, however.

Generation: in the language of genealogy-based textual criticism, a text that is basically a copy of an earlier text and/or the exemplar for a later text. The reality is more complex, however. The distinction between “text” and “manuscript” can easily be blurred, the text being the manuscript’s content, and it is possible for the text of one manuscript to actually be earlier than that of an earlier manuscript to which it is compared. Ultimately it is the date of the text that matters. Furthermore, research has established the reality of mixture or contamination among texts, to such an extent that any two related texts will exhibit readings that appear to be both earlier and later in each text. That is, when readings differ, one text will not exhibit all earlier readings relative to the other, but both earlier and later readings, and vice-versa. So when two texts are judged sufficiently alike to be related, a system must be used to assign a genealogical priority to the one text or the other.

Genealogy: the metaphor that has gained the most acceptance among textual critics for describing the relationship between New Testament manuscripts. It has been said that all manuscripts, or more precisely, texts, are related since they all derive more or less from an autograph. In the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, which is poised to be the leading system, the texts of individual manuscripts are for example categorized as potential ancestors or descendants of each other. This system and the metaphor itself is not without its shortcomings, including assumptions that are difficult or impossible to prove.

Gloss: a very short commentary on a detail in the text, written by the scribe or a teacher. Most often it is a brief definition or explanation of an uncommon word in the text and will be written in the margin. Glosses often pose a problem for the textual critic because they may have appeared to be alternative readings to previous scribes, and in some cases, those scribes may have misunderstood a gloss in question as a preferred reading. The result, in these cases, is that a scribe replaces the word in the text with the gloss as he makes his own copy. The textual critic is left to reverse-engineer the situation and identify the original reading. It may not be difficult if one of the readings is clearly harder, but that is not always the case.

Haplography: the scribal error of copying two identical letters, words, or phrases in close proximity only once by accident. For an example see above, pp. 141 f. This is one of several “errors of the eye.”

Harmonization: an intentional scribal error, viewed by the scribe as a necessary correction. It essentially takes two forms: 1) revising a quotation of scripture to match the original, or 2) changing the reporting of any details to match the original account of the details. One sees the former mainly as NT quotations of OT passages, routinely following the LXX. It is possible that scribes sometimes made these changes unconsciously due to the intrusion of their own memories. When done intentionally, the changes can be viewed as another case of rejecting harder readings, since the scribe was uncomfortable with the quotation’s differing from the original as he knew it. The same can be said of the harmonization of details found elsewhere, such as differing reports of events in the Synoptics. It is important to distinguish harmonization in textual criticism from exegetical harmonization. Scribal harmonizations are to be rejected in the search for the original text, but interpretations of seemingly conflicting reports, etc. that harmonize them to remove contradictions can be legitimate. This approach always accepts the best text-critical readings.

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Homoeoarcton: the phenomenon of two lines of text having the same or similar beginnings, leading a scribe to skip part or all of the first line as he mistakenly copies the second line without finishing the first.

Homoeoteleuton: the phenomenon of two lines of text having the same or similar endings, the counterpart to homoeoarcton (“similar beginning”). Homoeoteleuton often is loosely used in reference to both phenomena, even though it only refers by definition to endings. See also parablepsis.

Homophony: the phenomenon of words that sound alike but are spelled differently. This undoubtedly has always been a problem for copyists, and it became an even greater problem in late Greek as certain vowels tended to be pronounced alike. For scribes, it was inevitable that mistakes would be made due to homophony when copies were being made by dictation. However, it is natural for anyone making a copy of a text to make homophonic mistakes even when working alone, as the mind unconsciously produces mistaken homophones. The confusion of “there” with “their” is one of many in English. Fortunately, homophonic errors usually result in nonsense and for the most part, can easily be identified by textual critics, but this is not always the case. The situation is complicated in Greek, where homophony results in mistakes in grammatical endings.

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Initial Text: this is defined variously, but for conservatives, it can be equated with the autograph. For others, it is the text that became the origin of all copies of the NT, but it was not the autograph itself. This conclusion is based in part on the assumption that the text of the autograph cannot be reconstructed with complete confidence, due to uncertainties about variant readings. It is also assumed that we cannot know what happened to the text between the time that it was first penned by the author (the autograph) and first copies were produced that became the exemplars for all subsequent copies.

Inscription: See Superscription:

Interlinear: writing between lines of text. Scribes sometimes did this to supply translation and notes or other helps.

Internal Evidence: evidence supporting or opposing a reading based on scribal habits or the original author’s style, in contrast to external or documentary evidence. Since the goal of textual criticism is to determine the reading most likely to be the original, the leading criterion of internal evidence is that the harder reading is to be preferred. The determination of difficulty can relate to a number of different factors, essentially anything that would make a reading uncomfortable to a scribe. Compare “Documentary Evidence,” “Eclecticism,” and “External Evidence” above.

Interpolation: the addition of spurious material to the text by a scribe, often for harmonization (q.v.). Other additions probably were glosses (q.v.) that were moved to the text, or paraphrases such as are found in the Western text.

Intrinsic Probability: internal evidence related to the original author, primarily stylistic matters. The goal is to make the best estimation of what the author is likely to have written. This can be very difficult to determine with any real confidence and should be done cautiously. For details see above, pp. 244 ff.

Itacism: scribal errors based on confusion of certain vowel sounds in Greek. The term is based on the letter iota, which tended to be the sound (a long “ee” in English) of three vowels and additional two-vowel combinations. Long and short “o” sounds were also confused, however. The substitution of mistaken vowels when copying was done at dictation could result in a confusion of Greek pronouns and verb constructions among other things. Doubtless the same mistakes might also be made as a result of homophony (q.v.) even when copying was done without dictation. The textual critic must be alert to the possibility, which can provide a simple explanation to variant readings whose vowels could be confused.

Lacuna (pl: Lacunae): an unfortunate loss of text within a manuscript due to accident or wear and tear. Even more unfortunate, lacunae usually are more frequent and more damaging in early manuscripts, especially the papyri. The essential elements of the missing text can be supplied from other manuscripts, of course, but not sufficiently to reconstruct a variant reading. To attempt any kind of reconstruction, one must have access to an accurate facsimile of the damaged manuscript.

 Leather, Vellum: See Parchment.

Leaves: the same as folios (see “Folio” above).

Lectio Brevior: Latin for “shorter reading.” In traditional TC, when there is a difference in the length of variant readings, it has been a criterion that the shorter reading is preferred as the original, other factors being equal. The reasoning is that a scribe is more likely to add material (e.g. an interpolation) than to delete it. This criterion has fallen on hard times, however, as critics have produced evidence that scribes were more likely to omit material by accident than to add it (see above, pp. 240 ff.). We take the position that the criterion still has merit, but must be applied with certain conditions in mind (pp. 241 f.).

Lectio Difficilior: Latin for “more difficult reading,” also called simply “the harder reading.” Often mentioned in this book, the criterion is the leading rule of TC, but also problematic because of the associated provision that the reading must not be so difficult as to be impossible. The criterion is based on the assumption that a conscientious scribe would not change an easy or clear reading in the text to a more difficult one, but only the reverse. Other internal criteria often relate to this criterion as subcategories of it. The provision ruling out impossibilities is easy to apply when the difficulty can be explained as an error. When that is not the case, however, critics may disagree as to whether the harder reading in question really is impossible, or extremely difficult but possible.

Lectionaries: books of NT passages chosen by the Christian church for reading at services. For the most part, they represent the Byzantine text and are of use in reconstructing the history of that text.

Lector: Latin for “reader,” referring to the person whose task it was in a Scriptorium to read the text of a manuscript for a group of copyists or scribes.


Liturgical Influence: a factor, like theology, that may have led a scribe to choose one reading over another. The tendency would be to prefer a reading that was customarily followed in a text read for services.

Majority Text: a text of the NT in which variant readings are chosen that are found in the majority of all Greek NT manuscripts (cf. “Byzantine Family” above). One could consider this external (objective) evidence and maintain that it is the leading criterion for establishing the text. Credit for this text is due primarily to Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad, though the latter once humbly told me (Wilkins) that the text was mainly Hodges’ work. Hodges maintained that mathematical probabilities pointed to the text with the greatest number of surviving manuscripts as the one closest to the original. Thus the name is an accurate description, though Hodges’ theory about the text’s relation to the original is arguable at best. Of greater value and importance, the Majority Text has essentially purged the Byzantine text of its negative association with the Textus Receptus. Nevertheless, most textual critics maintain that those favoring the MT rely heavily on theological arguments and thin objective evidence in their defense of the text. In particular, easier readings tend to prevail over harder in the MT and BT.

English Bible Versions English Bible Versions English Bible Versions

Majuscule: Latin for “somewhat larger,” referring to the large Greek letter set that is commonly considered the capitals. All of the earlier manuscripts were written in this style. Other features of the style in its pristine form are the lack of punctuation, spaces between words, and accents (in some majuscules punctuation and accents have been added). The lack of spacing, one would think, was perhaps due in part to writing down words as they were spoken, without pauses or other space markers between the words. It is assumed that spacing was omitted beginning with papyrus, which was expensive, and it may be true that some expense was saved thereby. However, margins were wide, which certainly was not a cost-saving measure.

Manuscript (MS), Manuscripts (MSS): essentially any physical container of text, but usually a reference to a codex of some length in contrast to a papyrus of short length, and typically excluding fragments. In the context of the CBGM (q.v.), a manuscript is carefully distinguished from the text it contains.

Metathesis: the scribal error of switching the order of one or more letters in a word, such as “hte” for “the” in English. For a Greek example see pp. 142 f. above.

Minuscule: from a Latin word meaning “somewhat smaller,” a set of small, cursive Greek letters as opposed to majuscules (q.v.). In a loose sense, minuscles are often thought of as lowercase Greek letters. They seem to have been invented in the ninth century to speed and lower the cost of book production.

Nomen Sacrum, Nomina Sacra: standard abbreviations developed by Christian scribes for sacred names or nouns such as “God,” “Jesus,” “savior,” etc. Usually, the formula was the first and last letters of the word, with a horizontal line drawn over the top of them. There is no definitive explanation for their invention, but one can guess that the nomina sacra made a small contribution to the saving of space and time in the copying process. It has been observed that they provide the benefit today of indicating at first sight that the manuscript in which they occur is a Christian work. For the textual critic, however, the nomina sacra mostly are another source of scribal errors and complications in reconstructing the original text. For an example, see above, pp. 153 f.

Oral reading: reading aloud. This was the typical way that anything was read, even when the reader was alone. It was of course done when an NT letter was read to a church, and when a lector (q.v.) dictated a text to be copied by scribes. The prevalence of oral reading must be borne in mind by the textual critic because of the potential for confusion between vowels due to itacism (q.v.), and between any words that happen to be homophonic (see “Homophony”).

Original Text: see “Autograph.”

Oral tradition: in the context of textual criticism, biblical texts as preserved in the memory of early Christians, including the church fathers. Considerable accuracy often is attributed to these versions of the NT text on the ground that oral tradition was highly valued and great care was taken to preserve it. In TC, however, authority cannot be accorded to oral tradition (at least in most conservative circles), and it mainly provides an explanation for deviations from bona fide texts.

Orthography: Greek for “correct writing,” this term is used loosely to refer simply to the spelling of words, which (for Greek) can include breathing and accent marks. Thus one can refer to variations in the orthography of a word, or even to incorrect orthography. When a variation in orthography is due merely to dialectical or historical changes in spelling for variant readings, the variations are often ignored in the decision process because the reading in question is identical to another reading, once the orthographical differences are factored in (mutatis mutandis).

Paleography: from Greek for “old writing,” the study of ancient writing, primarily the form of the letters, e.g. majuscule vs. minuscule (q.v.). There are distinct differences that Greek letter sets have in common from various historical periods, and paleographers and textual critics can usually make an immediate guess as to the relative and general dating of texts from different periods, based on these common differences.

Palimpsest: a Greek word meaning “scraped again,” referring to a manuscript that has been written on used parchment as a cost-saving measure. In these cases, the parchments originally contained biblical texts, and the ink was scraped off so that a new text of some kind could be written on the erased parchment. Almost needless to say, the new text is usually worthless compared to the old, whose loss can bring tears to the eye of any Bible student. Fortunately, modern technology can be used to recover most of the original text.

Papyrus, Papyri: named for the Egyptian plant from which it is made, in the proper climate this is a very durable writing material that was made by bonding vertical strips of the papyrus pith to horizontal strips. Writing could easily be done on the side with the horizontal strips, and with some difficulty on the other side (called an “opisthograph” when written on both sides). The oldest manuscripts of the NT were written on papyrus; some of them are as early as the second century.

The Challenge Of Translating Truth The Challenge Of Translating Truth The Challenge Of Translating Truth

Parablepsis: (“looking to the side”) another scribal error of the eye, resulting in the omission of material when the scribe skips a line due to homoeoteleuton (see above). Parablepsis describes the visual process (looking at the right side and missing the left), while haplography describes the result.

Paraphrase: this term usually is understood as a relatively loose translation, conveying the meaning of the text as the translator understands it rather than a translation meant to exhibit a direct correspondence between the words in the original and those in the translation. In textual criticism, it is an appraisal of a reading that is typically longer than corresponding readings and appears to explain or “correct” difficult terminology in another reading. It seems to be a trait of the Western text, as exhibited in particular by D (05). It is also typical of citations by the church fathers.

Parchment: thin leather, the best material for the ancient production of books. It was naturally more durable than papyrus, and since both sides of a parchment page could be smoothed out for writing, it was much better for writing on both sides and producing books. It seems to have begun to replace papyrus in the early fourth century. Like papyrus, however, it was expensive, as one can imagine, and as the existence of palimpsests (see above) confirm.

Passage: most often a general term referring to a single verse, but not limited to that. The term may refer to a larger or smaller selection of text, and sometimes variant readings cross traditional verse boundaries. One must keep in mind, of course, that verse divisions are simply a modern convenience and can be changed at will. They do not play a role in textual criticism.

Pericope: a particular passage of several verses or longer on a single event or story. One of the more famous is the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), known (in Latin) as the periscope de adultera. To have this designation, a passage usually needs to have special significance. It is well-known, often cherished, and in textual criticism a periscope is usually suspect for being of doubtful authenticity. Critics frequently conclude that such an account is not scriptural but has marks of historical authenticity. It lacks scriptural authenticity if it does not have credible manuscript support.

Quire: in book production, a sheet of writing material folded into a number of rectangles that are to become pages. Once folded, the edges of the rectangles are cut to form pages.

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Reasoned Eclecticism: the method of textual criticism that aims to give about equal weight to external and internal evidence (cf. “Eclecticism”). It is also called the local-genealogical method as developed by Kurt and Barbara Aland. Variant readings are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The extent to which external evidence, e.g. the age of important manuscripts, is taken into account can be difficult to judge.

 Recension: a revision of the Greek NT combining various sources. The term has particular relevance to Lucian, a presbyter of Antioch, who was martyred in 312. In the traditional criticism of Westcott and Hort, Lucian produced the recension that came to be called the Byzantine Text (among other names) and was adopted by the church. There is no absolute proof of the recension, the theory of which rests largely on references to it by Jerome. Even assuming the veracity of the theory; however, the value of it has been called into question in modern research. The Byzantine Text does not appear to have reached a consistent form until after the ninth century.

Recto: Latin for “directly” or “rightly,” but a technical term for papyri and codices. For papyri, it is the side of the page with the fiber strips running horizontally, preferred for writing. For codices, the meaning “rightly” applies because the term refers to the right-hand page when the codex (book) is open.

Redaction: editorial work on a manuscript that involves deletions and additions of material. The product of the work is also called a redaction.

Rigorous Eclecticism: see Thoroughgoing Eclecticism.

Scholium, Scholia: interpretive or explanatory notes added (normally in the margin) to a Greek manuscript by a teacher or scribe.

Scribe(s): in Jewish culture scribes were meticulous copyists of scripture who also were recognized as experts on the scripture as a result of their work. Scribes of the NT, on the other hand, could have been either professional copyists or amateurs, and the quality of their work varied. Research shows, however, that NT scribes recognized the value of works they were producing and for the most part were careful to preserve what had been entrusted to them.

Scriptio Continua: a written form of text without spaces between words, punctuation, or other marks (see “Majuscle” above). This was the oldest form of New Testament Greek. For the most part it does not pose a problem for the textual critic. Sometimes, however, options in word divisions and diacriticals (e.g. breathing marks) create ambiguity in the deciphering of individual words. This becomes serious when more than one option is plausible in the context. We assume that what is unclear to the modern reader was clear to the original reader.

Scriptorium: a professional business that was a crude version of a modern printer. Books were mass-produced by scribes who hand-copied pages dictated to them by a lector reading aloud. When the copies were completed, they were usually reviewed by correctors. Scriptoria (plural) became mainstream sources for New Testament copies in the fourth century.

The Epistle to the Hebrews The Epistle to the Hebrews The Epistle to the Hebrews

Scroll: the original form of a copy of scripture. A roll of papyrus sheets would be glued together, or parchment sewed together.

Sigla: from Latin for “stamped figures,” a list of special signs used in a critical text of the Greek NT to indicate variant readings by types, such as omissions and replacements. If NA28 and UBSGNT are compared, one can see that the signs are harder to follow in the former. The NA28 sigla are designed to save space, and more variant readings are noted there than in UBSGNT.

Significant Reading: one can interpret “significant” in two ways: 1) readings with adequate textual support, and 2) readings that are significantly different, as opposed to having differences (like a movable Greek nu or final sigma) that do not distinguish them in meaning from another reading. Adequate textual support can be a matter of opinion, however (compare “Singular Reading” below). For example, a reading with only Byzantine Text support would be rejected by those who favor the position taken by Westcott and Hort. It would be chosen by those who prefer the Majority Text.

Singular Reading: technically, a variant reading that occurs in only one Greek manuscript and is therefore immediately suspect. There is some quibbling over this because critics who reject the Westcott and Hort position on the combination of 01 (sinaiticus) and 03 (Vaticanus) might call a reading “nearly singular” if it has only the support of these two manuscripts. Moreover, it is understood that not all manuscripts are comparable. Thus, for example, one would comfortably reject a reading found only in a single late manuscript, while many critics would not find it so easy to reject a reading supported uniquely by 03. Some also give more credit to singular readings that have additional support from versions.


Solecism: any reading that is a conspicuous error of some kind in the original language, at least by conventional standards. One such example is found in Rev. 1:4, where the preposition APO is followed by an object in the nominative (subject) case. The case is “corrected” in a number of inferior texts. If the error can be accounted for, then the reading displaying it is to be preferred as the harder reading (lectio difficilior).

Text: this term has several meanings, the simplest of which is the content of a manuscript as opposed to its materials. This is a non-technical meaning, the same as the content of any book, or a portion of the content. The term also has two technical meanings, one of which is roughly synonymous with “text-type.” This use of the term is accompanied by a geographical or qualitative adjective, usually proper, such as “Alexandrian” or “Byzantine.” There is a significant difference between it and “text-type”: “text” by itself takes into account modern considerations regarding textual contamination and redefinitions of traditional text-types. The other technical meaning is roughly synonymous with “witness” (q.v.). It focuses, as one would expect, on content, while “witness” focuses on the text as content entirely separate from the manuscript and predating it, possibly by many centuries.

Text-Type: a technical term in textual criticism referring to a unique combination of characteristics that a specific group of manuscripts is thought to have in common. These characteristics, such as longer variant readings and harmonizations, are determined by comparison of the variant readings found in different manuscript groups. Often the term “text-type” is used not only of the characteristics but of the variant readings themselves. In modern textual criticism, the term is generally considered no longer viable, due mainly to textual contamination (q.v.). The term “text” by itself (see above) is, however, sometimes used to refer to much the same thing, taking into account contamination and other issues.

Textual Mixture: a positive term for textual contamination (q.v.).

Textual Contamination: or often simply “contamination.” Previously mentioned under several topics above, this is the inclusion of material from other manuscripts into a text being copied from an exemplar. We cannot know the circumstances under which a case of contamination took place, but it seems likely that the scribe who incorporated the text was attempting to correct or improve upon the exemplar. Some scholars prefer a neutral or positive term for the phenomenon–granting that the incorporated text is scripture–but the result of contamination is a complication that makes it more difficult to construct a genealogy of manuscripts or the texts they contain.

Textual Critic: a scholar whose goal is to reconstruct from extant manuscripts either the autograph or the initial text of the NT from which all existing copies originated. The methodology is the same in either case. The critic uses mental, and computer-based toolsets to decide between variant readings among the manuscripts. There are different schools of thought, which tend to prefer either the early manuscripts with more difficult readings or the later manuscripts exhibiting what has been called the Majority Text.


Textual Criticism: the art and science (some would say only art) of determining the original text from variant readings exhibited by extant manuscripts. At present, a good deal of scientific methodology seems to be used as statistics, and computer processing is heavily employed. At the same time, however, TC is also faith-based (at least among conservative theologians), and the results are arguably impossible to verify. Faith plays a role in the belief by many that God has preserved His word somewhere among extant Greek manuscripts, which makes conjectural emendation unnecessary and unacceptable. As to verification, logic and the genealogical relationships between texts than can be constructed are often very convincing, but sometimes a decision is somewhat tenuous. Some critics would claim that no decision can really be verified, but many theories are accepted today without physical verification, on the strength of reasonable probability.

Textual Family: a group of manuscripts that are observed to share common traits. The groups have been distinguished by geography, but textual contamination has cast major doubt on the relevance of that factor (see “Cluster” above). The concept of a family (or sub-family) of manuscripts is certainly relevant, however, and it appears that the old geographic identifiers continue to be used for convenience at least.

Textus Receptus: for the history of the Textus Receptus (TR), see pp.. The name is Latin and usually translated as “received text,” based on a comment in Latin in the publisher’s preface to the 1633 edition, referring to the text and (again) usually translated “…now received by all…” (nunc ab omnibus receptum). We doubt, however, that “received” as it is normally understood is what the Elziver brothers had in mind. Much more likely is the possibility that receptum was to be understood as “accepted” in the fullest sense of that term. For some time now a very loyal audience of readers has preferred the TR, which should be distinguished from the MT/Byz text. The TR contains passages such as the Johannine Comma (the Trinitarian version of 1 John 5:7-8) that are foreign to the majority of NT Greek manuscripts.

Thoroughgoing Eclecticism: as briefly described above (see “Eclecticism”), this form of eclecticism, also known as “radical” or “rigorous” (among other designations), uses internal criteria to evaluate variant readings without giving significant attention to external criteria. It does not matter what manuscripts support a reading, and in the mind of a thoroughgoing eclectic, the support of a particular manuscript or group of manuscripts should not be allowed to prevail when internal evidence points to a different reading. We have noted before that internal evidence usually is consistent with external, in that the manuscripts or texts with better external credentials tend to display readings with strong internal support, so the interplay between internal and external evidence usually is significant only when the two are in opposition. In these circumstances, reasoned eclectics may choose a reading with better external support over another with better internal support. This would draw the disapproval (and even the ire) of a thoroughgoing eclectic.


Transcription: this term is commonly used in two contexts: 1) an ancient scribe’s process of copying a text, and 2) the modern reproduction of an ancient text in printed form, as opposed to a facsimile. See more on (1) below under “Transcriptional Error.” As to (2), this is what we encounter for any edition of the NT, including the readings found in the apparatus of a critical edition. While the great majority of the time the printed reproductions are trustworthy, they cannot be trusted by the textual scholar when there is any question about the identification of characters or other marks. Full-color facsimiles are best consulted under these circumstances.

Transcriptional Error: this is any error in the text that is a result of the copying process by a scribe. Many are mentioned in this book, such as haplography and metathesis. Variant readings that can be attributed to transcriptional errors can be dismissed, provided that it is reasonable for an otherwise competent scribe to have committed the error in question.

Translation: see Version.

Transposition: the scribal error of accidentally inverting words or phrases (sometimes letters are included, but see “Metathesis”). Usually, the words themselves are correct; only their order is mistaken. The error is common enough that it has its own markers in an apparatus.

Uncial: a term commonly used to refer to majuscule (q.v.) letters. It is agreed, however, that the term, taken from Latin and meaning “one-twelfth,” should be applied only to a particular type of Latin script or document.

 Variant Reading(s): differing versions of a word or phrase found in two or more manuscripts within a variation unit (see below). Variant readings are also called alternate readings.

Variation Unit: any portion of text that exhibits variations in its reading between two or more different manuscripts. It is important to distinguish variation units from variant readings. Variation units are the places in the text where manuscripts disagree, and each variation unit has at least two variant readings. Setting the limits and range of a variation unit is sometimes difficult or even controversial because some variant readings affect others nearby. Such variations may be considered individually, or as elements of a single reading. One should also note that the terms “manuscript” and “witness” may appear to be used interchangeably in this context. Strictly speaking “witness” (see below) will only refer to the content of a given manuscript or fragment, which it predates to a greater or lesser extent. However, the only way to reference the “witness” is by referring to the manuscript or fragment that contains it. In this book, we have sometimes used the terminology “witness of x or y manuscript” to distinguish the content in this way.

Vellum: See Parchment.

 Version: in textual criticism and some other fields, this term refers exclusively to ancient Bible translations, such as the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac. An abbreviation of the term is often found in an apparatus or other textual notes.


 Verso: from Latin for “turn,” the opposite (left) page to the right (recto, q.v.) page in an open codex. For papyri, the back side of the page, where the fiber strips run vertically. Usually, this side is left blank because it is hard to write across the vertical strips.

Vorlage: the German equivalent of “Exemplar,” q.v.

Western Text: another textual family or “type” in traditional TC with a geographical identifier that continues to be used more for convenience than for accuracy. Compared to the Alexandrian text, the so-called Western text appears to feature paraphrased readings and other significant departures from the original. There are significant exceptions, however, such as places where Western and Alexandrian readings agree, and some places where the Western seems preferable. Most scholars are on the whole skeptical of Western readings, but some defend them.

Witness: the content of a manuscript, viewed as existing separately from it and predating it. Since all biblical manuscripts are copies of other manuscripts, the content of any manuscript predates it by at least one generation in the form of its exemplar(s), which is (are) probably lost. No two manuscripts agree completely, and the unknown exemplar or exemplars may predate the manuscript in question to an insignificant degree, or perhaps by many centuries. It is theoretically possible that the witness of a late manuscript predates the witness of an earlier manuscript. This calls into question the significance of the dates of the manuscripts themselves. The dates do at least establish terminal points for the creation of the exemplars; that is, the later the date of the manuscript, the later the date that its exemplar(s) could have been produced.



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