Please Help Us Keep These Thousands of Blog Posts Growing and Free for All
One of the greatest tragedies in the modern-day history of Christianity [1880 – present] is that churchgoers have not been educated about the history of the New Testament text. They are so misinformed that many do not even realize that the Hebrew text lies behind our English Old Testament, and the Greek text lies behind our English New Testament. Sadly, many seminaries that train the pastors of today’s churches have also required little or no studies in the history of the Old or New Testament texts.
Again, New Testament textual criticism is the study of families of manuscripts, especially the Greek New Testament, as well as versions, lectionaries, and patristic quotations, along with internal evidence, in order to determine which reading is the original. Comparing any two copies of a document even a few pages long will reveal variant readings. “A textual variant is simply any difference from a standard text (e.g., a printed text, a particular manuscript, etc.) that involves spelling, word order, omission, addition, substitution, or a total rewrite of the text.”
Again, it needs to be repeated, when we use the term “textual criticism,” we are not referring to something negative. In this instance, “criticism” is a reference to a careful, measured or painstaking study and analysis of the internal and external evidence for producing our New Testament Greek text, generally called a “critical text.” The goal of many New Testament textual scholars today is to recover the earliest text possible, while the objective of the remaining few, such as the author of this book, is to get back to the ipsissima verba (“the very words”) of the original author.
Variant readings occur only in about 5 percent of the Greek NT text, and so all the manuscripts agree about 95 percent of the time. Only about 2,100 variant readings may be considered “significant” and in no instance is any point of Christian doctrine challenged or questioned by a variant reading. Only about 1.67 percent of the entire Greek NT text still is questioned at all. We may be confident that our current eclectic, or critical, Greek NT text (an eclectic, or critical text is one based on the study of as many manuscripts as possible), is far beyond 99 percent established. In fact, there is more variation among some English translations of the Bible than there is among the manuscripts of the Greek NT. God’s Word is infallible and inerrant in its original copies (autographs), all of which have perished. Textual critics of the Greek NT will continue their work until, if possible, the original of every questioned reading is firmly established.
An investigation of the enormous supply of Greek manuscripts, as well as the ancient versions in other languages, shows that they have preserved for us the very Word of God.
Throughout the period of the first five books of the Bible being penned by Moses (beginning in the late sixteenth century B.C.E.), and down to the time of the printing press (1455 C.E.)–almost 3,000 years–many forms of material have been used to receive writing. Material such as bricks, sheets of papyrus, animal skin, broken pottery, metal, wooden tablets with or without wax, and much more have been used to pen or copy God’s Word. The following are some of the tools and materials.
Stylus: The stylus was used to write on a waxed codex tablet. The stylus could be made of bone, metal, or ivory. It would be sharpened at one end for the purpose of writing and have a rounded knob on the other for making corrections. The stylus could also be used to write on soft metal or clay.
Reed Pen: The reed pen was used with ink to write on papyrus or parchment manuscripts. Καλαμoς (kalamos) is the Greek word for “pen.” (2 John 12; 3 John 13) There is no doubt that all the early extant papyrus manuscripts were copied with a reed pen, which can produce an impressive and pleasing script.
Quill Pen: The quill pen came into use long after the reed pen. Quill would have been unsatisfactory for writing on papyrus, but parchment would have been an excellent surface for receiving writing from a quill pen. Of course, history shows that as parchment more fully displaced papyrus, the quill pen likewise replaced the reed pen. The quill was sharpened for use much like the reed, by having the tip sharpened and slit.
Papyrus: Papyrus was the writing material used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans that was made from the pith of the stem of a water plant. It was cut into strips, with one layer laid out horizontally and the other vertically. Sometimes it was covered with a cloth and then beaten with a mallet. Scholarship has also suggested that paste may have been used between layers, and then a large stone would be placed on top until the materials were dry. Typically, a sheet of papyrus would be between 6–9 inches in width and 12–15 inches long. These sheets were then glued end to end until scribes had enough length to copy the book they were working on. The writing was done only on the horizontal side, and it was rolled so that the writing would be on the inside. If one were to attempt to write across the vertical side, it would be difficult because of the direction of the papyrus fibers. The scribe or copyist would have used a reed pen to write on the papyrus sheets (cf. 3 John 13). Papyrus was the main material used for writing until about 300 C.E. It was used with a roll or scroll (a document that is rolled up into itself), as well as the codex (book) form.
Writing on the papyrus sheet, even the correct side, was no easy task by any means because the surface was rough and fibrous. “Defects sometimes occurred in the making through retention of moisture between the layers or through the use of spongy strips which could cause ink to run; such flaws necessitated the remaking of the sheet.” The back pain from long periods of sitting cross-legged on the ground bent over a papyrus sheet on a board, dealing with running ink, the reed pen possibly snagging and tearing the papyrus sheet, having to erase illegible characters, all were a deterrent from personally writing a letter.
Early papyrus manuscripts, such as P4/64/67 P32 P46 P52 P66 P75 P77/103 P101 P87 P90 P98 P104 P109 P118 P137, which date 100-150/175 C.E. Then we have P1 P5 P13 P20 P23 P27 P29 P30 P35 P38 P39 P40 P45 P47 P48 P49/65 P69 P71 P72 P82 P85 P95 P100 P106 P107 P108 P111 P110 P113 P115 P121 P125 P126 P133 P136, which date 175-250 C.E., to mention only a few. Then, the notable, renowned Codex Vaticanus (300-325 C.E.) and Codex Sinaiticus (325-350 C.E., were written on parchment: creamy or yellowish material made from dried and treated sheepskin, goatskin, or other animal hides.
One may wonder why more New Testament manuscripts have not survived. It must be remembered that the Christians suffered intense persecution during intervals in the first 300 years from Pentecost 33 C.E. With this persecution from the Roman Empire came many orders to destroy Christian texts. In addition, these texts were not stored in such a way as to secure their preservation; they were actively used by the Christians in the congregation and were subject to wear and tear. Furthermore, moisture is the enemy of papyrus, and it causes them to disintegrate over time. This is why, as we will discover, the papyrus manuscripts that have survived have come from the dry sands of Egypt. Moreover, it seems not to have entered the minds of the early Christians to preserve their documents because their solution to the loss of manuscripts was simply to make more copies. Fortunately, the process of making copies transitioned to the more durable animal skins, which would last much longer. Those that have survived, especially from the fourth century C.E. and earlier, are the path to restoring the original Greek New Testament.
Animal Skin: About the fourth century C.E., Bible manuscripts made of papyrus began to be superseded by the use of vellum, a high-quality parchment made from calfskin, kidskin, or lambskin. Manuscripts such as the famous Codex Sinaiticus (01) and Codex Vaticanus (03, also known as B) of the fourth century C.E. are parchment, or vellum, codices. This use of parchment as the leading writing material continued for almost a thousand years until it was replaced by paper. The advantages of parchment over papyrus were many, such as (1) it was much easier to write on smooth parchment, (2) one could write on both sides, (3) parchment lasted much longer, and (4) when desired, old writing could be scraped off and the parchment reused.
Papyrus or Parchment?
The Hebrew Old Testament that would have been available to the early Christians was written on the processed hide of animals after the hair was removed, and the hide was smoothed out with a pumice stone. Leather scrolls were sent to Alexandria, Egypt, in about 280 B.C.E., to make what we now know as the Greek Septuagint. Most of the Dead Sea scrolls that were discovered between 1947 and 1956 are made of leather, and it is almost certain that the scroll of Isaiah that Jesus read from in the synagogue was as well. Luke 4:17 says, “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written.”
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (1QIsa) dates to the end of the second century B.C.E., written on 17 sheets of parchment, one of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls that were first recovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1947. The Nash Papyrus is a collection of four papyrus fragments acquired in Egypt in 1898 by W. L. Nash, dating to about 150 B.C.E. It contains parts of the Ten Commandments from Exodus chapter 20, along with some verses from Deuteronomy chapters 5 and 6. It is by far one of the oldest Hebrew manuscript fragments.
Both leather and papyrus were used before the first-century Christians. Vellum is a high-quality parchment made from calfskin, kidskin, or lambskin. After the skin was removed, it would be soaked in limewater, after which the hair would be scraped off, the skin then being scraped and dried, and rubbed afterward with chalk and pumice stone, creating an exceptionally smooth writing material. During the first three hundred years of Christianity, the secular world viewed parchment as being inferior to papyrus, it being relegated to notebooks, rough drafts, and other non-literary purposes.
A couple of myths should be dispelled before continuing. It is often remarked that papyrus is not a durable material. Both papyrus and parchment are durable under normal circumstances. This is not negating the fact that parchment is more durable than papyrus. Another often-repeated thought is that papyrus was fragile and brittle, making it an unlikely candidate to be used for a codex, which would have to be folded in half. Another issue that should be sidelined is whether it was more expensive to produce papyrus or parchment. Presently there is no data to aid in that evaluation. We know that papyrus was used for all of the Christian codex manuscripts up to the fourth century, at which time we find the two great parchment codices, the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts. Parchment of good quality has been called “the finest writing material ever devised by man.” (Roberts and Skeat, The Birth of the Codex 1987, 8) Why then did parchment take so long to replace papyrus? This may be answered by R. Reed, in Ancient Skins, Parchments, and Leathers:
It is perhaps the extraordinary high durability of the product, produced by so simple a method, which has prevented most people from suspecting that many subtle points are involved…. The essence of the parchment process, which subjects the system of pelt to the simultaneous action of stretching and drying, is to bring about peculiar changes quite different from those applying when making leather. These are (1) reorganization of the dermal fibre network by stretching, and (2) permanently setting this new and highly stretched form of fibre network by drying the pelt fluid to a hard, glue-like consistency. In other words, the pelt fibres are fixed in a stretched condition so that they cannot revert to their original relaxed state. (Reed 1973, 119-20)
Where the medieval parchment makers were greatly superior to their modern counterparts was in the control and modification of the ground substance in the pelt, before the latter was stretched and dried …. The major point, however, which modern parchment manufacturers have not appreciated, is what might be termed the integral or collective nature of the parchment process. The bases of many different effects need to be provided for simultaneously, in one and the same operation. The properties required in the final parchment must be catered for at the wet pelt stage, for due to the peculiar nature of the parchment process, once the system has been dried, and after-treatments to modify the material produced are greatly restricted. (Reed 1973, 124)
This method, which follows those used in medieval times for making parchment of the highest quality, is preferable for it allows the grain surface of the drying pelt to be “slicked” and freed from residual fine hairs while stretching upon the frame. At the same time, any process for cleaning and smoothing the flesh side, or for controlling the thickness of the final parchment may be undertaken by working the flesh side with sharp knives which are semi-lunar in form…. To carry out such manual operations on wet stretched pelt demands great skill, speed of working, and concentrated physical effort. (Reed 1973, 138-9)
Enough has been said to suggest that behind the apparently simple instructions contained in the early medieval recipes there is a wealth of complex process detail which we are still far from understanding. Hence it remains true that parchment-making is perhaps more of an art than a science.
Scroll or Roll: The scroll dominated until the beginning of the second century C.E., at which time the papyrus codex was replacing it. Papyrus enjoyed another two centuries of use until it was replaced with animal skin (vellum), which proved to be a far better writing material.
The writing on a scroll was done in 2- to 3-inch columns, which allowed the reader to have it opened, or unrolled, only partially. Although movies and television have portrayed the scroll being opened while holding it vertically, this was not the case; scrolls were opened horizontally. For the Greek or Latin reader, it would be rolled to the left as those languages were written left to right. The Jewish reader would roll it to the right as Hebrew was written right to left.
The difficulty of using a scroll should be apparent. If one had a long book (such as Isaiah) and were to attempt to locate a particular passage, it would not be user-friendly. An ancient saying was, “A great book, a great evil.” The account in the book of Luke tells us:
Luke 4:16–21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 And he [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. And he unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Codex: The trunk of a tree that bears leaves only at its apex was called a caudex in Latin. This name–modified to codex–would be applied to a tablet of wood that had raised edges, with a coat of wax placed within those raised edges. The dried wax would then be used to receive writing with a stylus. We might compare it to the schoolchild’s slate such as seen in some Hollywood Western movies. Around the fifth century B.C.E., some of these were being used and attached by strings that were run through the edges. It is because these bound tablets resembled a tree trunk that they were to take on the name “codex.”
Codex Vaticanus (“Book from the Vatican”), Facsimile, Fourth century. It is one of the earliest manuscripts of the Bible, which includes the Greek translation of the bulk of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as most of the Christian Greek Scriptures
As we can imagine, this bulky item also was not user-friendly! Sometime later, it would be the Romans who would develop a lighter, more flexible material, the parchment notebook, which would fill the need before the development of the later book-form codex. The Latin word membranae (skins) is the name given to such notebooks of parchment. In fact, at 2 Timothy 4:13 the apostle Paul requested of Timothy that he “bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books [scrolls], and above all the parchments [membranas, Greek spelling].” One might ask why Paul used a Latin word (transliterated in Greek)? Undoubtedly, it was due to the fact that there was no Greek word that would serve as an equivalent to what he was requesting. It was only later that the transliterated “codex” was brought into the Greek language as a reference to what we would know as a book.
The ink of ancient manuscripts was usually one of two kinds. There was ink made of a mixture of soot and gum. These were sold in the form of a bar, which was dissolved in water in an inkwell, and produced a very black ink. There was also ink made out of nutgalls, which resulted in a rusty-brown color. Aside from these materials, the scribe would have had a knife to sharpen his reed pen, as well as a sponge to erase errors. With the semi-professional and professional scribe, each character was written with care. Thus, writing was a slow, tedious, and often difficult task.
‘I, Tertius, Greet You in the Lord’
Tertius is among the many greetings that we find at the end of the letter of Paul to the Romans, wherein he writes, “I am greeting you, I, Tertius, the one having written this letter, in the Lord.” (Rom. 16:22) Of Paul’s fourteen letters, this is the only occurrence where we find a clear reference to one of his secretaries.
Little is known of Tertius, who must have been a faithful Christian, based on the greeting “in the Lord.” He may have been a member of the Corinthian congregation who likely knew many Christians in Rome, which is suggested by the fact his name is Latin for “third.” Quartus for “fourth” is one of the other two who added their greetings: “Erastus the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus the brother, i.e., a member of the Corinthian congregation. (16:23b) Some scholars have suggested that Quartus could have been the younger brother of Tertius. Others have suggested that Tertius was a slave or a freedman. This is also suggested by his Latin name and the fact that slaves were commonly involved in the scribal activity. From this, we could conjecture that Tertius likely had experience as a professional scribe, who became a fellow worker with the apostle Paul, helping compile the longest of Paul’s letters. It was common for Bible authors to use a scribe, as for example Jeremiah used Baruch in a similar way, just as Peter used Silvanus (Jer. 36:4; 1 Pet. 5:12). Of Paul’s fourteen letters, it is certain that six involved the use of a secretary: Romans (16:22), 1 Corinthians (16:21), Galatians (6:11), Colossians (4:18), 2 Thessalonians (3:17), and Philemon (19).
Penning the Book of Romans
The letter of Paul to the Romans was written while he was on his third missionary journey as a guest of Gaius in Corinth, about 55-56 C.E. (Ac 20:1-3; Rom. 16:23). We do know for a certainty that Paul used Tertius as his secretary to author the book of Romans. However, we cannot say with absolute certainty how he was used. Some have argued, “from evidence outside of the New Testament that it was common practice for authors to dictate their letters to an amanuensis or secretary.” Did the secretary take that dictation down in shorthand, and then go on to compose the letter, even contributing content, with the New Testament author giving the final approval? Alternatively, was the secretary used in a more limited fashion, such as editing spelling, grammar, and syntax? Otto Roller makes the point that for an author to dictate a letter to a scribe verbatim would require the author to speak very slowly, i.e., syllable by syllable. There will be more on this later. For now, whatever method was used, the work of a secretary was no easy job. What we do know is that the sixty-six books of the Bible were “inspired by God,” and “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21.
SCROLL THROUGH DIFFERENT CATEGORIES BELOW
BIBLE TRANSLATION AND TEXTUAL CRITICISM
BIBLICAL STUDIES / INTERPRETATION
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM
CHURCH ISSUES, GROWTH, AND HISTORY
 A version is a translation of the New Testament into another language, such as Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, and so on.
 A Lectionary is a book containing readings from the Bible for Christian church services during the course of the year.
 Patristic quotations are New Testament quotations from early Christian writers, such as the Apostolic Fathers, including Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Hermas, and Papias. There were also the Apologists: Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, to name a few. After them came the Church Fathers, e.g. St. Augustine or St. Ambrose whose works have helped to shape the Christian Church.
 Dr. Don Wilkins writes. “This goal, which will be mentioned in passing throughout the book, is a philosophical difference with some implications for TC practice. Both groups of critics will arrive at what they consider the earliest form of the text, but the authors take this to be the autograph as a matter of faith. One of the implications for practice is that conjectures are not considered viable options for variant readings. Another is that every word of the autograph can be found in some extant Greek NT manuscript.”
 Charles W. Draper, “Textual Criticism, New Testament,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1574.
 The quill pen was the principal writing instrument in the Western world from the 6th to the 19th centuries C.E.
 Nabia Abbot, STUDIES IN ANCIENT ORIENTAL CIVILIZATIONS (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1938), 11.
 Cf. J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), 11.
 A very light porous rock formed from solidified lava, used in solid form as an abrasive and in powdered form as a polish.
 A Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible started in about 280 and completed about 150 B.C.E. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine.
 R. Reed, Ancient skins, parchments and leathers (Studies in Archaeological Science) Cambridge, MA: Seminar Press, 1973, 172.
 Or a roll
 Or roll
 Or the gospel
 Or roll
 Chad Brand et al., eds., “Tertius,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1573.
 When the Roman Empire was in power, one who was released from slavery was called a “freedman” (Gr apeleutheros), while a “freeman” (Gr eleutheros) was free from birth, having full citizenship rights, as was the case with the apostle Paul – Ac 22:28 (Balz and Schneider 1978, Vol. 1, P 121).
 See Gordon J. Bahr, “Paul and Letter Writing in the First Century,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (1966): 465-77.
See also, John McRay, Paul: His Life and Teaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2003), 270.
 Again, there is the slight possibility of Tertius or other Bible author’s scribes taking it down in shorthand and after that making out a full draft, which would have been reviewed by both Paul and Tertius. This is only the case if it is comparable to what a modern-day court reporter does. In some sense, they are taking down whoever is speaking down in shorthand. Imagine a courtroom where you have a witness talking fast, the prosecution interrupts, the defense jumps in with his rebuttal and the judge snaps his ruling, and the witness resumes his or her account of things. All of that is taken down explicitly word for word in shorthand, and if ever turned into longhand, it would be exactly what was said, down to the uh and um common in speech. So, if the shorthand of the day had that kind of capability; then, it is conceivable. We must remember these are the Bible author’s dictated words to the scribe based on their inspiration, not the word choice or writing style of the scribe.
 Otto Roller, Das Formular der Paulinischen Briefe: Ein Beitrag zur Lehre vom antiken Briefe (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1933), p. 333.