The Early Christian Copyists

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The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored 170+ books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Today, about two billion people call themselves Christians who own or are aware of the Bible. Most are unaware of just how that book came down to them, yet many, if not most, would acknowledge that it is inspired by God and free of errors and contradictions. In this chapter, we will take a brief look at how the early Christians went about the work of making copies of what would become known as New Testament books, books that they felt were Scripture, just like the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. Such background cannot only build confidence that we have been carrying the very Word of God, but it also allows us to do as the apostle Peter said, to ‘be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.’ (1 Pet 3:15) One might say that the 140+ New Testament papyrus manuscripts known today are hardly a notable amount.[1] Most of those are regarded as the earliest witnesses to the original text of the Greek New Testament. When we consider that the ancients wrote on perishable materials, we understand why relatively few manuscripts have been preserved to our day.

Further, early Christianity suffered much persecution. Both emperors, Nero (64 C.E.) and Domitian (95 C.E.) persecuted Christians, but this likely did not significantly affect the survival of manuscripts. However, throughout the second and third centuries C.E., other Roman Emperors persecuted Christians on an empire-wide scale, which substantially affected manuscript survival.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Many scholars tend to speak disapprovingly of the work of the early Christian copyists. First, they maintain that copyists were not concerned with the importance of accurately copying the manuscripts, resulting in many mistakes. Second, they claim that most of the copyists were untrained in the practice of making copies, resulting in more copyist errors. Third, they say that the copyists were taking liberties by freely changing words, clauses, even whole sentences, omitting and inserting to improve the account, and at times to strengthen orthodoxy. However, as we have seen and will see shortly, this observation is not the case. We do not claim the early copyists or any copyists, for that matter, were error-free or that they were inspired, moved along by the Holy Spirit, producing a full inerrant copy, as they were not. However, professional and semi-professional scribes copied many of the early New Testament manuscripts, with most being done by copyists who, at a minimum, had experience making documents.[2] Nevertheless, there undoubtedly were copyists with no training at all who did copy some manuscripts.

Therefore, some of the early Christian copyists because they were untrained in the task of making copies, did make errors. However, were these errors noteworthy? No. Again, we can say that the vast majority of the Greek text from the early papyri until the Byzantine text, about 92.6 percent, is not affected by variants. “The stability of the New Testament text under consideration, from the early papyri to the Byzantine text, achieves an average of 92.6 percent.”[3] Of the small amount of the text affected by variants, the vast majority are minor slips of the pen, such as misspelling words. Also, they are minor intentional changes, e.g., using a synonym in place of the word in the text, using a pronoun for a noun, and spelling the same word differently. With these insignificant mishaps, we are sure what the original reading is in these places.


On this, Metzger writes, “The Alexandrian text, which Westcott and Hort called the Neutral text (a question-begging title), is usually considered to be the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original. Characteristics of the Alexandrian text are brevity and austerity. It is generally shorter than the text of other forms, and it does not exhibit the degree of grammatical and stylistic polishing that is characteristic of the Byzantine type of text.[4] So, momentarily moving away from the early Alexandrian papyrus manuscripts and comparing the Alexandrian text-type and the Byzantine text-type, even they “actually exhibit a remarkable degree of agreement, perhaps as much as 80 percent!”[5] Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont have estimated that the Alexandrian text-type and the Byzantine text-type agreement to be about 90 percent.[6] Of our small amount, an infinitesimal (very small) number of variants is difficult in establishing the original reading. Lastly, there are negligible (very scarce) variants where we would say that we are uncertain about the original reading. However, these latter two categories affect no doctrine; moreover, variant readings can be placed in a footnote, giving the reader access to the original using either the main text or the footnote.

One may wonder why more Old and New Testament manuscripts have not survived. Really, the better question would be, how come so many of our Bible manuscripts survived in comparison to ancient secular manuscripts? The primary materials used to receive writing in ancient times were perishable papyrus and parchment. 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 early Christians’ minds to preserve their documents because their solution to the loss of manuscripts was just to make more copies. Fortunately, 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.[7]

Both papyrus and parchment jeopardized the survival of the Bible because they were perishable materials. Papyrus, the weakest of the two, can tear and discolor. Because of moist climates, a sheet of papyrus can decay to the point where it is nothing more than a handful of dust. We must remember papyrus is a plant, and when the scroll has been stored, it can grow mold and rot from dampness. It can even be eaten by starving rodents or insects, especially white ants (i.e., termites) when buried. When some of the manuscripts were first discovered early on, they were exposed to excessive light and humidity, hastening their deterioration.

While parchment is far more durable than papyrus, it will also perish in time if mishandled or exposed to the elements (temperature, humidity, and light) over time.[8] Parchment is made from animal skin, so it too is also a victim of insects. Hence, when it comes to ancient records, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East states, “survival is the exception rather than the rule.”[9] Think about it for a moment; the Bible and its special revelation could have died from decay in the elements.

What Do We Know About Books, Reading, and Writing; Literacy In Early Christianity?

Old Testament Textual scholars Brotzman and Tully write, “Writing is central to the theology of the OT because it is through writing that God’s mighty acts, covenant relationship with his people, and subsequent expectations are passed down to future generations. The first occurrence of the verb ‘to write’ in the OT is found in Exod. 17:14 when YHWH tells Moses to write down his promise that he will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek. YHWH says that Moses must then ‘place’ it in the ears of Joshua. The point here is that the written word would serve as a reminder of what God had promised. In 24: 4, Moses writes down all the words of YHWH’s covenant with Israel and then reads it to the people (24: 7). That writing served as a witness to what God had done and the necessity of response on their part. It was intended for all people, not just the elites, including future generations yet to be born. A few verses later, in 24:12, God has written down the stipulations of the covenant, which are for the instruction of the people. Just these three examples illustrate the central place of writing in the theological foundation of the nation of Israel. It is the written word that allows future generations access to former words and deeds which would otherwise be lost to them. This is so critical that each king was to have a copy of the Torah and was to read from it all the days of his life that he might learn to fear YHWH (Deut. 17: 18– 19). Texts such as Deut. 6, Josh. 4, and Ps. 78 emphasize the necessity of YHWH’s people instructing future generations about the character, power, deeds, and expectations of YHWH; the failure to remember would certainly result in apostasy and destruction.”[10]


Brotzman and Tully go on to say, “Those who argue for widespread literacy usually point to the relative ease of using a syllabic alphabet in contrast to the hundreds of signs in other ancient writing systems. In addition, there are a number of references in the Bible to average, everyday people, reading and writing. Although he argues that literacy was not widespread, Menahem Haran mentions the following examples. In Deut. 6:9 every Israelite is commanded to write the words of the law on the doorposts of houses and gates. In Deut. 24: 1– 3 there is a reference to a (hypothetical) man writing a bill of divorce for his wife. In Judg. 8: 14 the young man from Succoth could write down the names of seventy-seven men for Gideon (Haran, ‘On the Diffusion of Literacy and Schools in Ancient Israel,’ in Congress Volume: Jerusalem 1986, ed. J. A. Emerton, VTSup 40 [Leiden: Brill, 1988], 81– 82). Archaeologists have also found many inscribed seals, receipts for payment, and even an inscription on a tomb warning would-be thieves of the consequences for breaking and entering. This might suggest that even thieves were literate. Demsky and Bar-Ilan argue that the hundreds of seals with writing (rather than pictures), the ubiquity of vulgar script identifying the owner of everyday objects, inscriptions by and for craftsmen and farmers, and writing that popularized the message of the prophets all point to common literacy in ancient Israel (“ Writing in Ancient Israel,” 15– 16).[11]

The Mosaic Law commanded every future king, “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.” (Deuteronomy 17:18) Moreover, the professional copyist of the Hebrew Old Testament made so many manuscripts, by the time of Jesus and the apostles, throughout all of Israel and even into distant Macedonia, there were many copies of the Scriptures in the synagogues. (Luke 4:16, 17; Acts 17:11) How did our Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament survive the elements to the point where there are far more of them than any other ancient document. For example, there are 5,898 New Testament manuscripts in the original Greek alone that have been cataloged.[12]

New Testament scholar Philip W. Comfort writes, “Jews were known to put scrolls containing Scripture in pitchers or jars to preserve them. The Dead Sea scrolls found in jars in the Qumran caves are a celebrated example of this. The Beatty Papyri were very likely a part of a Christian library, which was hidden in jars to be preserved from confiscation during the Diocletian persecution.”[13] Christianity was initially made up of Jewish Christians only for the first seven years (29-36 C.E.), with Cornelius being the first Gentile baptized in 36 C.E. Much of early Christianity (33-350 C.E.) was made up of Jewish Christians, who evidently carried over the tradition of putting “scrolls containing Scripture in pitchers or jars in order to preserve them.” For this reason, some of our earliest Bible manuscripts have been discovered in unusually dry regions, in clay jars, and even dark closets and caves.

The result is that the New Testament has been preserved in over 5,898 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts and some 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages, including Syriac Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian. Some of these are about 2,000 years old—the end of the excursion.

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

Public Reading Indicates the Importance of New Testament Books

Public reading is yet another necessary inference that the first-century Christian congregation valued the books that were being produced by the New Testament authors Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude.

Matthew 24:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation,[14] which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),

This parenthetical “let the reader understand” is a reference to a public reader within the congregations.

1 Timothy 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching

Only the privileged owned scrolls of the Holy Scriptures. Most Christians in the first century gained access to God’s Word, as Paul explains here in his first letter to Timothy, by “the public reading of Scripture.” Public reading was a major part of Christian meetings, a traditional practice of the Jews from Moses’s time, and one which was carried over to the Christian congregation. – Acts 13:15; 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:15.

Revelation 1:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

This reference to “he who reads and those who hear” is to the public reader and his audience in each of the seven mentioned congregations. Another factor is how the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures viewed their own published works.

2 Peter 3:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (Bold added.)

Here, about 64 C.E., we have the apostle Peter, who has just canonized Paul’s letters, grouping them together as a collection. This is evidence of their being viewed as having authority. At 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20, the apostles Paul and Peter respectively appear to be referring to both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek Christian writings as [Greek graphe] “Scripture.” Note that Peter is comparing Paul’s letters to “the rest of the Scriptures. What exactly does that mean?

Both Jesus and the Christian Greek Scriptures writers often used the Greek word graphe in their references to Moses’ writings and the prophets, viewing them as having authority from God, being inspired. Many times, Jesus designates these Old Testament books as a whole as graphe, i.e., “Scripture.” (Matthew 21:42; 22:29; Mark 14:49; John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 18:24, 28) At other times, the singular for “Scripture” was used when quoting a specific text to make a point, referring to it as a part of the whole of writings encompassing our 39 books of the Hebrew Old Testament. (Rom. 9:17; Gal. 3:8) Still, at other times graphe is used in a single text reference, such as Jesus’ reference when dealing with the Jewish religious leaders: “Have you not read this [graphe] Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’” (Mark 12:10) Jesus’ use of graphe in such an authoritative and traditional way only strengthens the point that immediately, the New Testament authors’ writings were viewed as graphe, namely, Scripture.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity

From an Oral Gospel to the Written Record

Jesus had commanded his disciples to, “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and look, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” (Matt 28:19-20) How then was this gospel (good news) to be made known?

During the forty-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension, Jesus instructed his disciples in the teaching of the gospel. Accordingly, he prepared them for the tremendous task that awaited them on and after Pentecost.[15]

There were only ten days after Jesus’ ascension to Pentecost, when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus put it this way, in his words, it being only “a few days.” This time would have been filled with the process of replacing Judas Iscariot, prayer, and the established gospel message, which would be the official oral message until it was deemed necessary to have a written gospel some 10 to 15 years later. According to Scripture, the gospel message was quite simple: ‘Christ died for our sins, was buried, and he was resurrected on the third day.’ – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel which I proclaimed to you, which you have also received, in which you also stand, by which you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the message I proclaimed to you, unless you believed in vain.

By the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by General Titus of Rome (70 C.E.), all of the Greek New Testament books had been written, except for those penned by the apostle John. The Gospel of Matthew was penned first, published between 45 and 50 C.E. The Gospel of Luke was written about 56-58 C.E., and the Gospel of Mark between 60 to 65 C.E. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels, as they are similar in content. At the same time, John chose to convey other information, perhaps because he wrote his gospel to the second generation of Christians in about 98 C.E. Luke informs us of how the first Christians received the gospel message. Very few translations make explicit the exact process.

Luke 1:1-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)[16]

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty concerning the things about which you were taught orally [κατηχέω katēcheō].

Acts 18:24-25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been orally [κατηχημένος katēchēmenos] instructed in the way of the Lord, and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John.

Galatians 6:6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The one who is orally [κατηχούμενος katēchoumenos] taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.

We can see clearly from the above that both Theophilus and Apollos received the initial gospel message orally, just as all Christians did in the early years. Even after the written gospels were available, the gospel of Jesus was still taught by oral instruction (κατηχέω katēcheō). In time, it was deemed necessary for a written record, which is why Luke gives for his Gospel. This was not to discount what Theophilus had been orally taught but rather to give credence to that oral message that he had already received. Of course, the New Testament was not limited to these gospels.

The publishing of these New Testament books in written form would have come about in the following stages:

  • the inspired author certainly would have used a well-trusted, skilled Christian scribe to take down what he was inspired to convey, some believe by shorthand;[17]
  • The scribe would then make a rough draft if it had been taken by shorthand.[18] If shorthand had not been used, this first copy would have been the rough draft;
  • this draft would then be read by both the scribe and author, making corrections because the copyist, though professional or at least skillful at making documents, was not inspired;
  • after that, the scribe would make what is known as the autograph, original, or initial text, to be signed by the author,
  • which would then be used as the official exemplar to make other copies.

Both Tertius and Silvanus were very likely skilled Christian scribes who assisted the New Testament authors. (Rom. 16:22; 1 Pet. 5:12) It is unlikely that Paul personally wrote any of his letters that were of great length. It is clear that Peter used the trained Silvanus to pen his first letter. Some scholars have suggested, the second letter was possibly the result of Jude’s copyist skills. Why? Some as it is remarkably similar in style to the letter by Jude. They say that this may explain the differences in style between First and Second Peter. We should emphasize that this is not logical. It is not possible nor reasonable that the inspired author would give his skilled Christian scribe some latitude to serve as a coauthor regarding word choices or writing style, as some have suggested. There is no Scriptural support to suggest that the Bible authors’ scribes were inspired and moved along by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, there must be different reasons why the writing style differs between First and Second Peter, such as the subject and the purpose in writing were different because Peter is the author of both letters.

The Christian’s Use of the Codex

Going back to the first-century once again, let us take a moment to deal with the invention of the codex. Was it the first-century Christians who invented the codex, or at least put it on the stage of the world scene?

The writing tablet of ancient times was made from two flat pieces of wood, held together by a thong hinge, which looks something like our modern book. It had its limits because of the impracticality of fastening more than a few such tablets together. The center of the tablet pages was slightly hollowed to receive a wax coating. A stylus was the standard instrument used to write on these waxed tablets. The stylus was made of metal, ivory, or bone and was sharpened to a point on one side while having a rounded knob on the other for erasing and making corrections. This was the oldest form of writing for the Greeks, who borrowed it from the Hittites. History and evidence credit the Romans with replacing the wooden tablet with the parchment notebook. The apostle Paul is the only Greek writer of the first-century C.E. to mention the parchment notebook.

2 Timothy 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left behind in Troas with Carpus, and the scrolls, especially the parchments. [Gr., membranai, parchment notebooks]

However, it should be recognized that the parchment notebook was not used for literature in the first two centuries before the Christian era (B.C.E.); this was done with the roll or scroll. Even though the codex was commonly used for books, the first indication that it was going to displace the roll came toward the end of the first century C.E.  (Roberts and Skeat, The Birth of the Codex 1987, 24) Thus, again, the Jews of the late first century C.E. and after that used scrolls, while the Christians used codices. However, many of the first Christians were Jewish and likely read their Old Testament from a scroll. Before becoming a Christian, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee and would have used scrolls. However, at least until about the end of the first century C.E., Christians used scrolls primarily.

The Early Christian’s View of the Integrity of the Greek New Testament Books

Only a handful of manuscripts of the New Testament that are still in existence were written on scrolls (P13, P18, and P98). However, these were written on the backs of other writings, so they were not composed in scroll form. P22 was written on a roll, and we await more research there, as it is a peculiarity among the group of papyri. All other New Testament manuscripts were written on codices. There is evidence that the second-century Christians were trying to set themselves apart from the Jews, so they likely made the transition partly because they wished to be different. We say in part because it is quite evident that the first Christians grouped their writings together, the Gospels and Paul’s letters. The codex afforded them the means of doing this, while a scroll of the gospels would have been far too long and bulky, and finding a portion of desired text would have been difficult at best. For example, P46, dating to about 150 C.E., contained ten of Paul’s letters. P45 dates to about 225 C.E. and originally included all four Gospels and the book of Acts. In the end, it can be said that the Christians adopted the codex (1) to be different from the Jews, (2) to have the Gospels and the Apostle Paul’s letters all in one book, and (3) because of the ease of being able to find a portion of text, and this made the spread of the good news much more convenient.

We do learn a good deal from the New Testament. The apostle Peter writes, “… just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters ….” (2 Pet 3:15-16, about 64 C.E.) This shows how early Paul’s letters were grouped together. The apostle John wrote, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 12, about 98 C.E.) We see from this that John used papyrus in writing to a sister congregation. The Greek word chartou means “papyrus,” “a sheet of paper.”  The apostle Paul wrote Timothy and asked him, “when you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books [likely scrolls of OT books], and, above all, the parchments [codices].” (2 Tim 4:13, about 65 C.E) While it is thought by most scholars that Paul was talking about two different items here, it is quite possible that he was referring to only one, which is Skeat’s position. Let us look at the verse again:

When you come bring … the books, especially the parchments.

When you come, bring … the books, that is my parchment notebooks.

If the second version above is correct, Paul hoped to obtain some of his notebooks, possible rough drafts that he had left behind. The Old Testament books could have been located right where he was, but he would have been highly interested in unpublished works that he wanted to get out before his execution. Of course, this latter thought is the formation of judgments based on incomplete or inconclusive information. However, one thing is sure, that either Paul was asking for codices in complete book form or notebook form. This indicates that Paul was the first to have his books collected into codex form, and we can conclude that the Christians were using the codex at the end of the first century.

Young Christians

The Trustworthiness of Early Copyists

In his Methods in Establishing the Nature of Text-Types, E. C. Colwell notes: “the overwhelming majority of readings were created before the year 200. But very few, if any, text-types were established by that time.” (p. 55) In The Bodmer and Mississippi Collection, G. D. Kilpatrick says, “Apart from errors which can occur anywhere as long as books are copied by hand, almost all variants can be presumed to have been created by A.D. 200.” (p. 42) And Kurt and Barbara Aland say, “practically all the substantive variants in the text of the New Testament are from the second century …” – The Text of the New Testament, 295.

Lee McDonald states,

“Many mistakes in the manuscripts were made and subsequently transmitted in the churches. This suggests that these documents were not generally recognized as Scripture until the end of the second century C.E. Scribal attempts at improvements in the text occurred regularly, and apparently, no attempts were made to stop this activity until the fourth century, when more stability in the text of the NT began to take place.”[19]

Throughout much of the twentieth century, it was common to form three conclusions about the earliest copyists and their work:

  • The first three centuries saw copyists who were semiliterate and unskilled in the work of making copies.
  • Copyistsin these early centuries felt as though the end was nigh, so they took liberties with the text in an attempt to strengthen orthodoxy.
  • In the early centuries, manuscripts could be described as “free,” “wild,” “in a state of flux,” “chaotic,” “a turbid textual morass,” i.e., a “free text” (so the Alands).

Number (1) in the above would undoubtedly lead to many unintentional changes, while number (2) would escalate intentional changes. J. Harold Greenlee had this to say:

In the very early period, the NT writings were more nearly “private” writings than the classics . . . the classics were commonly, although not always, copied by professional scribes, the NT books were probably usually copied in the early period by Christians who were not professionally trained for the task, and no corrector was employed to check the copyist’s work against his exemplar (the MS from which the copy was made) …. It appears that a copyist sometimes even took liberty to add or change minor details in the narrative books on the basis of personal knowledge, alternative tradition, or a parallel account in another book of the Bible …. At the same time, the importance of these factors in affecting the purity of the NT text must not be exaggerated. The NT books doubtless came to be considered as “literature” soon after they began to be circulated, with attention to the precise wording required when copies were made.[20]  (Bold and underline mine)

Greenlee had not changed his position 14 years later when he wrote the following:

The New Testament, on the other hand, was probably copied during the earliest period mostly by ordinary Christians who were not professional scribes but who wanted a copy of the New Testament book or books for themselves or for other Christians.[21] (Bold mine)

The Alands, in their Text of the New Testament, saw the New Testament books as not being canonical, i.e., not viewed as Scripture in the first few centuries, so the books were subject to changes. They wrote, “not only every church but each individual Christian felt ‘a direct relationship to God.’ Well into the second century, Christians still regarded themselves as possessing inspiration equal to that of the New Testament writings which they read in their worship service.” Earlier the Alands had written, “That was all the more true of the early period when the text had not attained canonical status, especially in the early period when Christians considered themselves filled with the Spirit.” They claimed that “until the beginning of the fourth century the text of the New Testament developed freely.”[22]

Generally, once an established concept is set within the world of textual scholars, it is not easily displaced. During the start of the 20th century (1900–1940), there were a handful of papyri discovered that obviously represented the work of a copyist who had no training. It is during this time that Sir Frederic Kenyon, director and principal librarian of the British Museum for many years, said,

The early Christians, a poor, scattered, often illiterate body, looking for the return of the Lord at no distant date, were not likely to care sedulously for minute accuracy of transcription or to preserve their books religiously for the benefit of posterity.[23] 

The first papyri discovered (P45, P46, P66) showed this possibly could be the case. Professional scribes copied P46 and P66. P45 contains much of the Gospels and Acts, and it varies with each biblical book. Comfort informs us that “P45 (Gospels and Acts) may have also been done by professionals—at least, they display the reformed documentary hand.”[24] However, Barbara Aland says that “P45 has a great number of singular readings.”[25] On the origin of these singular readings, E. C. Colwell comments:

As an editor the scribe of P45 wielded a sharp axe. The most striking aspect of his style is its conciseness. The dispensable word is dispensed with. He omits adverbs, adjectives, nouns, participles, verbs, personal pronouns—without any compensating habit of addition. He frequently omits phrases and clauses. He prefers the simple to the compound word. In short, he favors brevity. He shortens the text in at least fifty places in singular readings alone. But he does not drop syllables or letters. His shortened text is readable.[26]

So, it would seem that P45, which came to light when it was purchased from some dealer in 1930-31, was the predominant factor for the negative view of the copyist in early Christianity. However, as more papyri became known, especially after the discovery of P75 in the 1950s in Pabau, Egypt, it proved to be just the opposite. P75 is generally described as “the most significant”[27] papyrus of the Greek New Testament to be discovered. These new discoveries prompted Sir Frederic Kenyon to write,

We must be content to know that the general authenticity of the New Testament text has been remarkably supported by the modern discoveries which have so greatly reduced the interval between the original autographs and our earliest extant manuscripts, and that the differences of reading, interesting as they are, do not affect the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.[28] 

Even though many textual scholars were crediting the Alands’ The Text of the New Testament with their description of the text as “free,” that was not the entire position of the Alands. True, they spoke of the different text styles such as the “normal,” “free,” “strict,” and the “paraphrastic.” However, like Kenyon, they saw a need based on the evidence, which suggested a rethinking of how the evidence should be described:

Our research on the early papyri has yielded unexpected results that require a change in the traditional views of the early text. We have inherited from the past generation the view that the early text was a “free” text, and the discovery of the Chester Beatty papyri seemed to confirm this view. When P45 and P46 were joined by P66 sharing the same characteristics, this position seemed to be definitely established. P75 appeared in contrast to be a loner with its “strict” text anticipating Codex Vaticanus. Meanwhile the other witnesses of the early period had been ignored. It is their collations which have changed the picture so completely.[29]

While we have said this previously, it bears repeating that some of the earliest manuscripts we now have indicate that a professional scribe copied them.[30] Many of the other papyri confirm that a semi-professional scribe copied them, while most of these early papyri give evidence of being produced by a copyist who was literate and experienced. Therefore, either literate or semi-professional copyists did the vast majority of our early papyri, with some being done by professionals. As it happened, the few poorly copied manuscripts became known first, establishing a precedent that was difficult for some to discard when the enormous amount of evidence came forth that showed just the opposite.


Distribution of Papyri by Century and Type






100-150/175 C.E.

7Q4? 7Q5? P4/64/67 P32 P46 P52 P66+ P75+ P77/103 P101 P87 P90 P98 (bad shape, differences) P109 (too small) P118 (too small) P137 0189

P. Oxyrhynchus 405

P. Egerton 2




175-250 C.E.

P1 P5 P13 P20 P23 P27 P30 P35 P39 P40 P45 P47 P49/65 P71 P72 P82 P85 P95 P100 P106 P108 P110 P111 P113 P115 P121 (too small) P125 P126 (too small) P133 P136 0220 0232
P. Oxyrhynchus 406 
P. Egerton 3

P29 (Metzger Western & Aland Free; too small to be certain) P38 P48 P69 0171 0212 (mixed) P107 (Independent)



250-300 C.E.

P8 P9 P12 P15 P16 P17 P18 P19 P24 P28 P50 P51 P53 P70 P78 P80 P86 P88 P89 (too small) P91 P92 P114 P119 P120 P129 (too small) P131 P132 too small) P134 0162 0207 0231
P. Antinoopolis 54

P37 (Free, mostly Western)



290-390 C.E.

P3 P6 P7 P10 P21 P54 P62 P81 P93 P94 P102 (too small) P117 (too small) P122 (too small) P123 P127 P130 (too small) P139 (too small) 057 058 059 / 0215 071 0160 0163 0165 0169 0172 0173 0175 0176 0181 0182 0185 0188 0206 0214 0217 0218 0219 0221 0226 0227 0228 0230 0242 0264 0308 0312
P. Oxyrhynchus 4010
P. Oxyrhynchus 5073

P21 (mixed) P25 (independent) P112 (independent) P127 (independent; like no other)



4th / 5th Century C.E.

P11 P14 P33/P58 P56 P57 P63 P105 (too small) P124 0254



P. Oxyrhynchus 1077?

Also, as we noted earlier, textual scholars such as Comfort[31] and others believe that the very early Alexandrian manuscripts that we now possess are a reflection of what would have been found throughout the whole of the Greco-Roman Empire from about 85–275 C.E. So these early papyri can play a major role in our establishing the original readings. While this is true, it might not be in the way that one might think. Have the early papyri made a difference in the critical text of the New Testament? Maurice A. Robinson has estimated that the current Nestle-Aland 28th edition of 2012 is 99.5 percent the same as the 1881 Westcott and Hort’s edition of the Greek New Testament. From the Westcott and Hort Greek text of 1881 to the 25th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament Text of 1963, the critical texts were essentially based on the accumulated evidence from the days of Desiderius Erasmus in 1516, 1522 up unto the 19th/early 20th century. In other words, the codices manuscripts, with Codex Vaticanus (c. 300–325 C.E.) and Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330–360), were leading the way. Again, there were no significant changes from 1881 to the 2012 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Text. However, that is, in fact, what makes the early papyri majorly important, extremely significant, very consequential, considerable evidence for establishing the original Greek New Testament. It simply gives validity to those who had placed much trust in the great majuscules.

The Book Writing Process of the New Testament: Authors and Early Christian Scribes

However, Epp asks, “If Westcott-Hort did not utilize papyri in constructing their NT text, and if our own modern critical texts, in fact, are not significantly different from that of Westcott-Hort, then why are the papyri important after all?”[32] From there, Epp goes on to strongly advise that the papyri should play an essential role in three areas: (1) “to isolate the earliest discernable text-types, (2) assisting “to trace out the very early history of the NT text,” and, (3) “Finally, the papyri can aid in refining the canons of criticism―the principles by which we judge variant readings―for they open to us a window for viewing the earliest stages of textual transmission, providing instances of how scribes worked in their copying of manuscripts.”[33] We should add that the early papyri have changed textual scholars’ and committees’ decisions so that they have not retained Westcott and Hort’s readings at times. Again, there has been little change between the Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament 1881 and the 2012 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The early papyri (1) have reinforced what we already knew to be original and (2) helped us improve the critical text ever slightly.


To offer just one example, both Metzger and Comfort inform us that the papyri’s external evidence resulted in the change in the NU text, adopting the reading that was also in the Textus Receptus, as opposed to what was in the Westcott and Hort text.

Matthew 26:20 (WH)

20 μετα των δωδεκα μαθητων

   With the twelve disciples

Matthew 26:20 (TRNU)

20 μετα των δωδεκα

   With the twelve

Metzger writes, “As is the case in 20:17,[34] the reading μαθηταί after οἱ δώδεκα is doubtful. In the present verse [26:20] the weight of the external evidence seems to favor the shorter reading.” (B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 1994, 53) Comfort in his New Testament Text and Translation writes, “Even though both P37 and P45 are listed as ‘vid,’ it is certain that both did not include the word μαθητων because line spacing would not accommodate it. P37 has the typical abbreviation for ‘twelve,’ as ̅ιβ; and P45 has it written out as [δω]δεκα. P64+67 is less certain, but line lengths of the manuscript suggest that it reads ̅ιβ (see Texts of Earliest MSS, 69).” Comfort more explicitly explains what Metzger hinted at; “The testimony of the papyri (with B and D) created a change in the NU text. Prior to NA26, the NU text included the word μαθητων (“disciples”). But the early evidence shows that this must have been a later addition.” Comfort continues, “Such an addition is not necessary in light of the fact that Jesus’ closest followers were often designated by the gospel writers as simply “the twelve.” (P. W. Comfort 2008, 77)

Again, many textual scholars before 1961 believed that the early copyists of the New Testament papyri were among the untrained in making documents (P45, P46, P47; P66 and P72 in 2 Peter and Jude) and that the papyri were texts in flux.[35] It was not until the discovery of P75 and other papyri that textual scholars began to think differently. Nevertheless, the attitude of the 1930s through the 1950s is explained well by Kurt and Barbara Aland:

Of special importance are the early papyri, i.e., of the period of the third/fourth century. As we have said, these have an inherent significance for the New Testament textual studies because they witness to a situation before the text was channeled into major text types in the fourth century. Our research on the early papyri has yielded unexpected results that require a change in the traditional views of the early text. We have inherited from the past generation the view that the early text was a “free” text,[36] and the discovery of the Chester Beatty papyri seemed to confirm this view. When P45 and P46 were joined by P66 sharing the same characteristics, this position seemed to be definitely established. (Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament 1995, 93)

Before P75 and other early papyri, scholars were under the impression that scribes must have used untrained copyists’ manuscripts to make a recension (critical revision, i.e., revised text); and this, according to scholars before 1961, was how Codex Vaticanus (B) came about. In 1940, Kenyon inferred the following:

During the second and third centuries, a great variety of readings came into existence throughout the Christian world. In some quarters, considerable license was shown in dealing with the sacred text; in others, more respect was shown to the tradition. In Egypt, this variety of texts existed, as elsewhere; but Egypt (and especially Alexandria) was a country of strong scholarship and with a knowledge of textual criticism. Here, therefore, a relatively faithful tradition was preserved. About the beginning of the fourth century, a scholar may well have set himself to compare the best accessible representatives of this tradition, and so have produced a text of which B [Codex Vaticanus] is an early descendant.[37]

While Kenyon was correct about the manuscripts coming up out of Egypt being a reasonably pure text, he was certainly mistaken when he suggested that Codex Vaticanus was the result of a critical revision by early scribes. P75 put this theory to rest. The Agreement between P75 and codex B is 92% in John and 94% in Luke. However, Porter has it at about 85% agreement.  Zuntz, on the other hand, went a little further than Kenyon did. Kenyon believed that the critical text had been made in the early part of the fourth century, leading to Codex Vaticanus. Zuntz believed similarly but felt that the recension[38] began back in the mid-second century and was a process that ran up into the fourth-century. Zuntz wrote:

The Alexander correctors strove, in ever repeated efforts, to keep the text current in their sphere free from the many faults that had infected it in the previous period and which tended to crop up again even after they had been obelized [i.e., marked as spurious]. These labours must time and again have been checked by persecutions and the confiscation of Christian books, and counteracted by the continuing currency of manuscripts of the older type. Nonetheless they resulted in the emergence of a type of text (as distinct from a definite edition) which served as a norm for the correctors in provincial Egyptian scriptoria. The final result was the survival of a text far superior to that of the second century, even though the revisers, being fallible human beings, rejected some of its own correct readings and introduced some faults of their own.[39]

P75 and other early papyri, as we can see from the above, influenced the thinking of Kurt Aland. While he said, “We have inherited from the past generation the view that the early text was a ‘free’ text,” he was one of those saying that very thing. However, as he would later say, “Our research on the early papyri has yielded unexpected results that require a change in the traditional views of the early text.” P75 greatly affected the Alands: “P75 shows such a close affinity with the Codex Vaticanus that the supposition of a recension of the text at Alexandria, in the fourth century, can no longer be held.”[40] Gordon Fee clearly states that there was no Alexandrian recension before P75 (175-225 C.E.) and the time of Codex Vaticanus (350 C.E.), as he commented that P75 and Vaticanus “seem to represent a ‘relatively pure’ form of preservation of a ‘relatively pure’ line of descent from the original text.”[41] New Testament textual scholarship has been aware that P75 is an extremely accurate copy for many decades now. Of the copyist behind P75, Colwell said, “his impulse to improve style is for the most part defeated by the obligation to make an exact copy.”[42] Colwell went on to comment on the work of that scribe:

In P75 the text that is produced can be explained in all its variants as the result of a single force, namely the disciplined scribe who writes with the intention of being careful and accurate. There is no evidence of revision of his work by anyone else, or in fact of any real revision, or check.… The control had been drilled into the scribe before he started writing.[43]

We do not want to leave the reader with the impression that P75 is perfect, as it is not. On this Comfort says,

The scribe had to make several corrections (116 in Luke and John), but there was no attempt ‘to revise the text by a second exemplar, and indeed no systematic correction at all.’[44] The scribe of P75 shows a clear tendency to make grammatical and stylistic improvements in keeping with the Alexandrian scriptorial tradition, and the scribe had a tendency to shorten his text, particularly by dropping pronouns. However, his omissions of text hardly ever extend beyond a word or two, probably because he copied letter by letter and syllable by syllable.[45]

As the early Nestle Greek critical text moved from edition to edition, the influence of the New Testament papyri increased. The son of Eberhard Nestle, Erwin, added a full critical apparatus in the thirteenth edition of the 1927 Nestle Edition. It was not until 1950 that Kurt Aland began to work on the text that would eventually become known as the Nestle-Aland text. He would begin to add even more evidence from papyri to the critical apparatus of the twenty-first edition. At Erwin Nestle’s request, he looked over and lengthened the critical apparatus, adding far more manuscripts. This ultimately led to the 25th edition of 1963. The most significant papyri and recently discovered majuscules (i.e., 0189), a few minuscules (33, 614, 2814), and rarely also lectionaries were also considered. However, while the critical apparatus was being added to and even altered, the text of the Nestle-Aland was not changed until the 26th edition (1979). Many of these changes to the text were a direct result of the papyri. In the 2012 28th edition of the Nestle Aland Greek Text, there were only 34 changes to the text, all of which were in the General Epistles (James-Jude). The 27th edition of the NA was the same as the 26th edition of 1979, which would mean that in 33 years up unto 2012, with many new manuscript discoveries and much research, very little has needed to be changed, even very little change with the 1881 WH Greek New Testament text. It bears repeating that Robinson[46] has estimated that the 27th edition of the NA Greek New Testament text is 99.5% the same as the 1881 WH Greek New Testament text. There were only 34 changes between the 27th edition and the 2012 28th NA Greek New Testament text. The NA is still 99.5% the same as the 1881 WH Greek New Testament text.


Returning to the First Century

The writers of the 27 books comprising the Christian Greek Scriptures were Jews.[47] (Romans 13:1-2) These men were apostles, intimate traveling companions of the apostles, or were picked by Christ in a supernatural way, such as the apostle Paul. Being Jewish, they would have viewed the Old Testament as being the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Paul said, “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). These authors of the 27 New Testament books would have viewed the teachings of Jesus, or their books were expounding on his teachings, as Scripture as well as the Old Testament. The teachings of Jesus came to most of these New Testament writers personally from Jesus, being taught orally; after that, they would be the ones who published what Jesus had said and taught orally. When it came time to be published in written form, it should be remembered that Jesus had promised them, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26.

The New Testament Secretaries and Their Materials

The early first-century Christian copyists were very much aware of the Jewish scribes’ traditions in meticulously copying their texts. It bears repeating that most of Christianity throughout most of the first century was Jewish. These copyists would have immediately understood that they were copying sacred texts. In fact, the early papyri show evidence of shared features with the Jewish Sopherim, men who copied the Hebrew Scriptures from the time of Ezra in the fifth-century B.C.E. to Jesus’ day and beyond. They were meticulous and were terrified of making mistakes.[48] We will find common features when we compare the Jewish Greek Old Testament with the Christian Greek Scriptures, such as an enlarged letter at the beginning of each line and the invention of the nomen sacrum[49] to deal with God’s personal name. Marginal notes, accents, breathing marks, punctuation, corrections, double punctuation marks (which indicate the flow of text)–all of these show adoptions of scribal practices of the Sopherim by Jewish Christian writers and scribes.

There are, unfortunately, fierce critics who reject any claims of accuracy and reliability for these early manuscripts. Former evangelical Christian, now agnostic New Testament Bible scholar, Dr. Bart Ehrman writes,

Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places. As we will see later in this book, these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.[50] (Bold mine)

As we read these remarks, it is easy to get a sense of hopelessness because “all feels lost, for there is certainly no way to get back to the originals.” Correct? Ehrman has had a long history of creating hopelessness for his readers as he carries on his alleged truth quest. He asserts that even in the very few places that we might be sure about the wording, we cannot be certain about the meaning.


Blinded by Misguided Perceptions

Ehrman clearly has been immensely impacted because we do not have the originals or immediate copies. Here we have a world-renowned textual and historian of early Christianity, emphasizing that we do not have the originals nor the direct copies. Ehrman informs his readers: (1) we do have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals, and (2) there are so many copyist errors, it is virtually impossible to get back to the Word of God at all. Even if by some stroke of good fortune, we cannot know the meaning with assurance. Ehrman is saying to the lay reader: we can no longer trust the text of the Greek New Testament as the Word of God. If so, we would have to conclude that all translations are untrustworthy as well.

Ehrman has misrepresented the evidence[51] available to us and has exaggerated the negative to his readers to the detriment of the positive in New Testament textual criticism. Mark Minnick assesses it nicely: “Doesn’t the existence of these variants undermine our confidence that we have the very words of God inspired? No! The fact is that because we know of them and are careful to preserve the readings of every one of them, not one word of God’s word has been lost to us.”[52] The wealth of manuscripts that we have for establishing the original Greek New Testament is overwhelming compared to other ancient literature. We can only wonder what Ehrman does with an ancient piece of literature that has only one copy, and that copy is hundreds or even over a thousand years removed from the time of the original.

Consider a few examples. Before beginning, it should be noted that some of the classical authors are centuries removed, and some are many centuries before the first century New Testament era, which is a somewhat unfair comparison. Why would that be unfair? Because the copying practices in the sixth to the first century B.C.E. were not as productive compared to the First to the fifth century C.E. See the chart below.[53]


The New Testament Compared to Classical Literature



Writing Completed



Years Removed

Number of MSS



800 B.C.E.

3rd century B.C.E.[54]





480–425 B.C.E.

10th cent. C.E.





496–406 B.C.E.

3rd cent. B.C.E.[55]





460–400 B.C.E.

3rd cent. B.C.E.[56]





400 B.C.E.

895 C.E.





300 B.C.E.


Fragments from 1st cent. B.C.E.




Gallic Wars

51-46 B.C.E.

9th cent. C.E.




History of Rome

59 B.C.E.–17 C.E.

5th cent. C.E.





100 C.E.

9th-11th cent. C.E.



Pliny, the Elder

Natural History

49–79 C.E.

5th cent. C.E. fragment



Eight Greek NT Authors

27 Books

50 – 98 C.E.

110-150 C.E.



The Greek New Testament evidence, as we’ve mentioned previously, is over 5,898 Greek NT manuscripts. This is made up of 140+ papyri, 323 majuscules, 2,951 minuscules, and 2,484 lectionaries[57] that have been cataloged.[58] We also have over 9,284 versions and over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, not to mention an innumerable amount of church fathers’ quotations. This places the Greek New Testament in a class by itself because no other ancient document is close to this. However, there is even more. Again, there are 60 Greek papyri and five majuscules manuscripts that date to the second and third centuries C.E. Moreover, these early papyri manuscripts are from a region in Egypt that appreciated books as literature and were copied by semi-professional and professional scribes or highly skilled copyists. This region produced what is known as the most accurate and trusted manuscripts.


Were the Scribes in the Early Centuries Amateurs?

We could go on nearly forever talking about specific places in which the texts of the New Testament came to be changed, either accidentally or intentionally. As I have indicated, the examples are not just in the hundreds but in the thousands. The examples given are enough to convey the general point, however: there are lots of differences among our manuscripts, differences created by scribes who were reproducing their sacred texts. In the early Christian centuries, scribes were amateurs and as such were more inclined to alter the texts they copied—or more prone to alter them accidentally—than were scribes in the later periods who, starting in the fourth century, began to be professionals.[59] [Bold mine]

Let us take just a moment to discuss Ehrman’s statement, “in the early Christian centuries, scribes were amateurs….” In this book, we established just the opposite. Literate or semi-professional copyists did the vast majority of our early papyri, with some being done by professionals. As it happened, the few poorly copied manuscripts became known first, establishing a precedent that was difficult for some to discard when the truckload of evidence came forth that showed just the opposite. (P. Comfort 2005, 18-19)

Ehrman is misrepresenting the situation to his readers when he states, “We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals.” The way this is worded, he is saying that we do not have copies that are three or four generations removed from the originals. Ehrman cannot know this because we have 50 copies that are 20 to 150 years removed from the death of the apostle John in 100 C.E. There is the possibility that any of these could be a third or fourth generation removed copies. Furthermore, they could have been copied from a second or third generation. Therefore, Ehrman is misstating the evidence.

Let us do another short review of the two most significant manuscripts: P75 and Vaticanus 1209 (B). P75 is also known as Bodmer 14, 15. As has already been stated, papyrus is writing material used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans made from the pith of the stem of a water plant. These are the earliest witnesses to the Greek New Testament. P75 contains most of Luke and John, dating from 175 C.E. to 225 C.E Vaticanus is designated internationally by the symbol “B” (and 03) and is known as an uncial manuscript written on parchment. It is dated to the beginning of the fourth-century C.E. [c. 300-325] and originally contained the entire Bible in Greek. At present, Vaticanus’ New Testament is missing parts of Hebrews (Hebrews 9:14 to 13:25), all of First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation. Initially, this codex probably had approximately 820 leaves, of which 759 remain.

What kind of weight or evidence do these two manuscripts carry in the eyes of textual scholars? Vaticanus 1209 is a crucial source for our modern translations. When determining an original reading, this manuscript can stand against other external evidence that would seem to the non-professional to be much more significant. P75 also one of the weightiest manuscripts we have and is virtually identical to Vaticanus 1209, which dates 175 to 125 years later than P75. When textual scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort released their critical text in 1881, Hort said that Vaticanus preserved “not only a very ancient text but a very pure line of a very ancient text.” (Westcott and Hort 1882, 251) Later, scholars argued that Vaticanus was a scholarly recension: a critical revision or edited text. However, P75 has vindicated Westcott and Hort because of its virtual identity with Vaticanus; it establishes that Vaticanus is essentially a copy of a second-century text. It is a copy of the original text, except for a few minor points.

Kurt Aland[60] wrote, “P75 shows such a close affinity with the Codex Vaticanus that the supposition of a recension of the text at Alexandria, in the fourth century, can no longer be held.”[61] David C. Parker[62] says of P75 that “it is extremely important for two reasons: “like Vaticanus, it is carefully copied; it is also very early and is generally dated to a period between 175 and 225. Thus, it pre-dates Vaticanus by at least a century. A careful comparison between P75 and Vaticanus in Luke by C.M. Martini demonstrated that P75 was an earlier copy of the same careful Alexandrian text. It is sometimes called proto-Alexandrian. It is our earliest example of a controlled text that was not intentionally or extensively changed in successive copying. Its discovery and study have provided proof that the Alexandrian text had already come into existence in the third century.” (Parker 1997, 61) Let us look at a few more textual scholars’ remarks: J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace.

Even some of the early manuscripts show compelling evidence of being copies of a much earlier source. Consider again Codex Vaticanus, whose text is very much like that of P75 (B and P75 are much closer to each other than B is to [Codex Sinaiticus]). Yet the papyrus is at least a century older than Vaticanus. When P75 was discovered in the 1950s, some entertained the possibility that Vaticanus could have been a copy of P75, but this view is no longer acceptable since the wording of Vaticanus is certainly more primitive than that of P75 in several places.’ They both must go back to a still earlier common ancestor, probably one that is from the early second century.[63]

Comfort comments on how we can know that Vaticanus is not a copy of P75: “As was previously noted, Calvin Porter clearly established the fact that P75 displays the kind of text that was used in making codex Vaticanus. However, it is unlikely that the scribe of B used P75 as his exemplar because the scribe of B copied from a manuscript whose line length was 12–14 letters per line. We know this because when the scribe of Codex Vaticanus made large omissions, they were typically 12–14 letters long.[64] The average line length for P75 is about 29–32 letters per line. Therefore, the scribe of B must have used a manuscript like P75, but not P75 itself.”[65]

Ehrman suggests that the early Christians were not concerned about the integrity of the text, its preservation of accuracy. Let us consult the second-century evidence by way of Tertullian.[66]

Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones[67] of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places,[68] in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally.[69] (Bold mine)

What did Tertullian mean by “authentic writings”? If he was referring to the Greek originals, and it seems that he was, according to the Latin, it is an indication that some of the original New Testament books were still in existence at the time of his penning this work. However, let us say that it is simply referring to well-preserved copies. In any case, this shows that the Christians valued the preservation of accuracy.

We need to visit an earlier book by Ehrman for a moment, Lost Christianities, in which he writes, “In this process of recopying the document by hand, what happened to the original of 1 Thessalonians? For some unknown reason, it was eventually thrown away, burned, or otherwise destroyed. Possibly, it was read so much that it simply wore out. The early Christians saw no need to preserve it as the ‘original’ text. They had copies of the letter. Why keep the original?” (B. D. Ehrman 2003, 217) Bold is mine.

Here Ehrman is arguing from silence. We cannot read people’s minds today, let alone read the minds of persons 2,000 years in the past. It is known that congregations valued Paul’s letters, and Paul exhorted them to share the letters with differing congregations. Paul wrote to the Colossians, and in what we know as 4:16, he said, “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” The best way to facilitate this would be to send someone to a congregation, have them copy the letter, and bring it back to their home congregation.

On the other hand, someone could make copies of the letter in the congregation that received it and deliver it to interested congregations. In 1 Thessalonians, the congregation that Ehrman is talking about here, at chapter five, verse 27, Paul says, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.” What did Paul mean by “all the brothers”? It could be that he meant it to be used like a circuit letter, circulated to other congregations, giving everyone a chance to hear the counsel. It may merely be that, with literacy being so low, Paul wanted a guarantee that all were going to get to listen to the letter’s contents, and he simply meant for every brother and sister locally to have a chance to hear it in the congregation. Regardless, even if we accept the latter, the stress that was put on the reading of this letter shows the weight that these people were placed under concerning Paul’s letters.[70] In addition, Comfort comments on how Paul and others would view apostolic letters:

Paul knew the importance of authorized apostolic letters, for he saw the authority behind the letter that came from the first Jerusalem church council. The first epistle from the church leaders who had assembled at Jerusalem was the prototype for subsequent epistles (see Acts 15). It was authoritative because it was apostolic, and it was received as God’s word. If an epistle came from an apostle (or apostles), it was to be received as having the imprimatur [approval/authority] of the Lord. This is why Paul wanted the churches to receive his word as being the word of the Lord. This is made explicit in 1 Thessalonians (2:13), an epistle he insisted had to be read to all the believers in the church (5:27). In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul indicated that his epistles carry the same authority as his preaching (see 2:15). Paul also told his audience that if they would read what he had written, they would be able to understand the mystery of Christ, which had been revealed to him (see Eph. 3:1–6). Because Paul explained the mystery in his writings (in this case, the encyclical epistle known as “Ephesians”), he urged other churches to read this encyclical (see Col. 4:16). In so doing, Paul himself encouraged the circulation of his writings. Peter and John also had publishing plans. Peter’s first epistle, written to a wide audience (the Christian diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia—see 1 Pet. 1:1), was a published work, which must have been produced in several copies from the onset, to reach his larger, intended audience. John’s first epistle was also published and circulated—probably to all the churches in the Roman province of Asia Minor. First John is not any kind of occasional epistle; it is more like a treatise akin to Romans and Ephesians in that it contains John’s full explanation of the Christian life and doctrine as a model for all orthodox believers to emulate. The book of Revelation, which begins with seven epistles to seven churches in this same province, must have also been inititally published in seven copies, as the book circulated from one locality to the next, by the seven “messengers” (Greek anggeloi—not “angels” in this context). By contrast, the personal letters (Philemon, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 John, 3 John) were not originally “published”; therefore, their circulation was small. Second Peter also had minimal circulation in the early days of the church. Because of its popularity, the book of Hebrews seemed to have enjoyed wide circulation—this was promoted by the fact that most Christians in the East thought it was the work of Paul and therefore was included in Pauline collections (see discussion below). The book of Acts was originally published by Luke as a sequel to his Gospel (see Acts 1:1–2). Unfortunately, in due course, this book got detached from Luke when the Gospel of Luke was placed in one-volume codices along with the other Gospels.[71]

Peter, as we have seen, also had this to say about Paul’s letters: “there are some things in them [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Pet 3:16) Peter viewed Paul’s letters as being on the same level as the Old Testament, which was referred to as Scripture. In the second century (about 135 C.E.), Papias, an elder of the early congregation in Hierapolis, made the following comment.

I will not hesitate to set down for you, along with my interpretations, everything I carefully learned then from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. In addition, if by chance someone who had been a follower of the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders–what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and abiding voice.[72]

As an elder in the congregation at Hierapolis in Asia Minor, Papias was an unrelenting researcher and thorough information compiler; he exhibited great indebtedness for the Scriptures. Papias determined correctly that any doctrinal statement of Jesus Christ or his apostles would be far more appreciated and respected to explain than the unreliable statements found in the written works of his day. We can compare Jude 1:17, where Jude urges his readers to preserve the words of the apostles.

Therefore, the notion that the “early Christians saw no need to preserve it as the ‘original’ text” is far too difficult to accept when we consider the above. Moreover, imagine a church in middle America being visited by Billy Graham. Now imagine that he wrote them a warm letter, but one also filled with some stern counsel. Would there be little interest in the preservation of those words? Would they not want to share it with others? Would other churches not be interested in it? The same would have been even truer of early Christianity receiving a letter from an apostle like Peter, John, or Paul. There is no doubt that the “original” wore out eventually. However, they lived in a society that valued the preservation of the apostle’s words, and it is far more likely that it was copied with care, to share with others, and to preserve. Moreover, let us acknowledge that their imperfections took over as well. Paul would have become a famous apostle who wrote a few churches, and there were thousands of churches toward the end of the first century. Would they have not exhibited some pride in the fact that they received a letter from the famous apostle Paul, who was martyred for the truth? Ehrman’s suggestions are reaching and contrary to human nature.

The Epistle to the Hebrews PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

However, Ehrman may not have entirely dismissed the idea of getting back to the original if he had agreed with Metzger in their coauthored fourth edition of The Text of the New Testament. Metzger’s original comments from previous editions are repeated there as follows.

 Besides textual evidence derived from New Testament Greek manuscripts and from early versions, the textual critic compares numerous scriptural quotations used in commentaries, sermons, and other treatises written by early church fathers. Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.[73]

How are we to view the patristic citations? Let us look at another book for which Ehrman was coeditor and a contributor with other textual scholars: The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research (1995). The following is from Chapter 12, written by Gordon Fee (The Use of the Greek Fathers for New Testament Textual Criticism).

In NT textual criticism, patristic citations are ordinarily viewed as the third line of evidence, indirect and supplementary to the Greek MSS, and are often therefore treated as of tertiary importance. When properly evaluated, however, patristic evidence is of primary importance, for both of the major tasks of NT textual criticism: in contrast to the early Greek MSS, the Fathers have the potential of offering datable and geographically certain evidence. (B. D. Ehrman 1995, 191)

To conclude, we have established that Ehrman has painted a picture that is not quite the truth of the matter for the average churchgoer while saying something entirely different for textual scholars. Moreover, he does not help the reader appreciate just how close the New Testament manuscript evidence is to the time of the original writings compared to manuscripts of other ancient works. Many ancient works are few in number and hundreds, if not a thousand years removed.

In addition, Ehrman has exaggerated the variants in the Greek New Testament manuscripts by not qualifying the level of variants. In other words, he has not explained how he counts them to obtain such high numbers. Moreover, Ehrman’s unqualified statement, “in the early Christian centuries, scribes were amateurs,” has been discredited as well. Either literate or semi-professional copyists did the vast majority of the early papyri, with some being done by professionals.

As mentioned earlier, E. C. Colwell states: “the overwhelming majority of readings were created before the year 200. But very few, if any, text-types were established by that time.” G. D. Kilpatrick says, “Apart from errors which can occur anywhere as long as books are copied by hand, almost all variants can be presumed to have been created by A.D. 200.” And Kurt and Barbara Aland say, “practically all the substantive variants in the text of the New Testament are from the second century …”

I do not see how this is even possible to make such claims. That would mean the Byzantine readings, almost all of them as the above scholar’s claim, are before 200 A.D. Even James R. Royse, in his Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri, quotes these comments without denying the possibility. (p. 20 ftn. 68) Wouldn’t the following papyri pre-200 A.D. (P52 P32 P46 P66 P75 P77/103 P87 P90 P104 P137) have to contain almost all of these variant readings (hundreds of thousands) to make such claims. When looking at the three biggest pre-200 A.D. papyri (P46 P66 P75) two were done by professional scribes. Everyone knows about (P75) and Zuntz said that (P46) was a representative of “a text of the superior, early-Alexandrian type.” (Zuntz, Text of the Epistles, 25) “According to recent studies done by Berner[74] and Comfort,[75] it seems evident that P66 has preserved the work of three individuals: the original scribe, a thoroughgoing corrector (diorthōtēs), and a minor corrector.”[76] The Alands list P66 as Category I, which means it is important when considering textual problems and viewed by many scholars as a good representation of the autograph based on early dating. P66 is very close to P75, B, and 016.

If we set aside the Aland’s “substantive variants” because we do not know what they mean by “substantive.” Nevertheless, in the case of all three quotes (Colwell, Kilpatrick, and the Alands) combined with Royse not rejecting it after having quoted them as well, they seem to simply be saying almost all textual variants were in existence before 200 A.D. It would seem that there would have to be some manuscript evidence to make such a claim, as this would mean that we would have many, many thousands of Byzantine readings in our Alexandrian papyri before 200 A.D.

Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, and author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics writes in his article, The Majority Text Theory, that “Sturz pointed out 150 distinctively Byzantine readings found in the papyri. This claim that the Byzantine text is early because it is found in the papyri (Sturz’s central thesis) has become the basis for hyperbolic claims by MT advocates. Cf. Hodges, “Defense,” 14; Pickering, Identity, 41-42; Willem Franciscus Wisselink, Assimilation as a Criterion for the Establishment of the Text: A Comparative Study on the Basis of Passages from Matthew, Mark and Luke (Kampen: Uitgeversmaatschappij J.H. Kok 1989), 32-24; Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, The New Testament in the Original Greek according to the Byzantine/Majority Textform (Atlanta: Original Word, 1991), xxiv-xxvii. But the evidence that Sturz presents is subject to three criticism: (1) Many of his readings have substantial support from other text types and are thus not distinctively Byzantine (cf. Fee’s review of Sturz [240-41]; conceded by Sturz [personal conversation, 1987]), (2) the existence of a Byzantine reading in early papyri does not prove the existence of the Byzantine text type in early papyri, and (3) whether the agreements are genetically significant or accidental is overlooked (as even Wisselink admits [Assimilation, 33]). In my examination of Sturz’s list, I found only eight Byzantine-papyrus alignments that seemed to be genetically significant; six were not distinctively Byzantine (Luke 10:21; 14:3, 34; 15:21; John 10:38; 19:11). Sturz’s best case was in Phil 1:14 (the omission of του θεου)–a reading adopted in NA27/UBSGNT4. When these factors are taken into account, the papyrus-Byzantine agreements become an insufficient base for the conclusions that either Sturz or the MT advocates build from it. For a balanced review of Sturz, see Michael W. Holmes, TrinJ n.s. 6 (1985): 225-228.—The Majority Text Theory: History, Methods, and Critique in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research Author: Daniel B. Wallace, note is #35 on pp. 718-19.



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[1] First, there are close to one million papyrus fragments in various libraries throughout the world that have not yet been published. Since only about one percent of all papyri have been published (about 10,000), there is a very high degree of probability that some of the remainders will be NT fragments. The last NT papyrus to be published was papyrus 141 or P141, a third-century (200-300 C.E.) fragment of Luke 2:32-34, 40-42; 24:22-28, 30-38 housed at Papyrology Rooms, Sackler Library, Oxford, UK. Therefore, when we speak of how many have survived, we can understand that the question is not that easy to answer.

As for dates, the papyri range in date from early second century C.E. to early seventh century C.E. I have worked up a chart of all NT MSS through the 8th century: as much as 43% of all the verses of the NT are attested by the end of the third century in the extant papyri.–Dr. Daniel B. Wallace of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.NT scholars use the term “extant” to describe MSS that have survived. It means that some have survived and are known to exist. With that definition, you might think that 140 is the number. However, there is a slight problem with that, too. Some fragments, such as P64 and P67, were later determined to belong to the same manuscript. This happens a few times for NT MSS, but mostly for minuscules (of which we now have extant about 2900). However, most scholars do not wrestle with such details. Therefore, most simply round the number to 5,500 NT Greek manuscripts instead of totaling the catalog entries that come out to 5,898.

[2] C. H. Roberts wrote, “In the second century, locally produced texts such as the scrap of The Shepherd [of Hermas] on the back of a document from the Fayum or the Baden Exodus-Deuteronomy might be carefully collated and corrected; the numerous duplications and omissions of the first hand of the Chester Beatty Numbers-Deuteronomy codex were put right by the corrector. This scrupulous reproduction of the text may be a legacy from Judaism and reminds us that no more in this period than in any other does quality of book production go hand in hand with quality of text.” (C. H. Roberts, Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt 1979, 22)

[3] K. Martin Heide, “Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and the Shepherd of Hermas,” in The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011), 138.

[4] Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), xix.

[5] Kurt and Barbara Aland, THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 28.

[6] Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, 2005 (Southborough, MA: Chilton, 2005), 584.

[7] Cf. J. H. Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), 11.

[8] For example, the official signed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence was written on parchment. Now, less than 250 years later, it has faded to the point of being barely legible.

[9] Roger S. Bagnall, The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology (Oxford Handbooks) Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009, 140.

[10] Ellis R. Brotzman; Eric J. Tully, Eric Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (p. 15). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[11] IBID.

[12] While at present here in 2020, there are 5,898 manuscripts. There are 140 listed Papyrus manuscripts, 323 Majuscule manuscripts, 2,951 Minuscule manuscripts, and 2,484 Lectionary manuscripts, bringing the total cataloged manuscripts to 5,898 manuscripts. However, you cannot simply total the number of cataloged manuscripts because, for example, P11/14 are the same manuscript but with different catalog numbers. The same is true of P33/5, P4/64/67, P49/65 and P77/103. Now this alone would bring our 140 listed papyrus manuscripts down to 134. ‘Then, we turn to one example from our majuscule manuscripts where clear 0110, 0124, 0178, 0179, 0180, 0190, 0191, 0193, 0194, and 0202 are said to be part of 070. A minuscule manuscript was listed with five separate catalog numbers for 2306, which then have the letters a through e. Thus, we have the following GA numbers: 2306 for 2306a, and 2831- 2834 for 2306b-2306e.’ – (Hixon 2019, 53-4) The problem is much worse when we consider that there are 323 Majuscule manuscripts and then far worse still with a listed 2,951 Minuscule and 2,484 Lectionaries. Nevertheless, those who estimate a total of 5,300 (Jacob W. Peterson, Myths and Mistakes, p. 63) 5,500 manuscripts (Dr. Ed Gravely /, 5,800 manuscripts (Porter 2013, 23), it is still a truckload of evidence far and above the dismal number of ancient secular author books.

[13] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 158.

[14] Abomination of Desolation: (Gr. bdelugma eremoseos) An expression by Jesus recorded in Mathew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 referring to Daniel 11:31 and 12:11. Bdelugma refers to something that is an abomination, unclean, which horrifies clean persons, leaving them disgusted. Eremoseos has the sense of an extensive desolating act or destruction, which caused total ruin, leaving no place for shelter.

[15] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, vol. 17, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 47-48.

[16] The Updated American Standard Version (UASV) is under production by Christian Publishing House. It is by permission that we use these next few verses before it is published, as their rendering better conveys the original Greek.

[17] “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.” (Rom. 16:22) “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” (1 Pet. 5:12)

[18] 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.

[19] L. M. McDonald, The Biblical Canon (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007), 359. A similar argument is made by G. M. Hahneman, The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), 96; D. W. Riddle, ‘Textual Criticism as a Historical Discipline’, ATR 18 (1936): 227; and Parker, The Living Text, 202–5.

[20] J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Revised Edition, 1995), 51–52.

[21] J. Harold Greenlee, The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (2008), 37.

[22] Kurt and Barbara Aland, THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 295, 69.

[23] F. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (1895), 157.

[24] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 159. See also Kenyon, The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, fasc. 2.1, Gospels and Acts, Text, 13–14.

[25]  Barbara Aland, The Significance of the Chester Beatty in Early Church History, in: The Earliest Gospels ed. Charles Horton, London 2004, p. 110.

[26] Ernest Cadman Colwell, “Scribal Habits in the Early Papyri: A Study in the Corruption of the Text,” in: “The Bible in Modern Scholarship” ed. J. P. Hyatt, New York: Abingdon Press 1965, p.383.

[27] Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament (1989), p. 244

[28] F. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts (1962), 249.

[29] Kurt and Barbara Aland, THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 93-95.

[30] Some may argue that we can only be confident that we have good manuscripts of an “early” form of the text but not necessarily of the originally published text. This hypothesis cannot be disproven. However, I think it is highly doubtful for four reasons: (1) The intervening time between the publication date of various New Testament books (from AD 60–90) and the date of several of our extant manuscripts (from AD 100–200) is narrow, thereby giving us manuscripts that are probably only three to five “manuscript generations” removed from the originally published texts. (2) We have no knowledge that any of these manuscripts go back to an early “form” that postdates the original publications. (3) We are certain that there was no major Alexandrian recension in the second century. (4) Text critics have been able to detect any other second-century textual aberrations, such as the D-text, which was probably created near the end of the second century, not the beginning. Thus, it stands to reason that these “reliable” manuscripts are excellent copies of the authorized published texts.” (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 269)

[31] Philip W. Comfort, The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1992).

[32] The New Testament Papyrus Manuscripts in Historical Perspective, in To Touch the Text: Biblical and Related Studies in Honour of Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J. (ed. Maurya P. Horgan and Paul J. Kobelski; New York: Crossroad, 1989), 285 (there italicized) repr. in Epp, Perspectives, 338.

[33] Ibid., 288

[34] 20:17 τοὺς δώδεκα [μαθητάς] {C}

Although copyists often add the word μαθηταίto the more primitive expression οἱ δώδεκα (see Tischendorf’s note in loc. and 26.20 below), a majority of the Committee judged that the present passage was assimilated to the text of Mark (10:32) or Luke (18:31). In order to represent both possibilities it was decided to employ square brackets. (B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament 1994, 42)

On 20:17, Comfort writes, “Either reading could be original because they both have good support and because the gospel writers alternated between the nomenclature ‘the twelve disciples’ and ‘the twelve.’” (P. W. Comfort 2008, 60)

[35] Kurt and Barbara Aland write, “By the 1930s the number of known papyri had grown to more than forty without any of them arousing any special attention, despite the fact that many of them were of a quite early date. (Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament 1995, 84)

[36] Early manuscripts (from before the fourth century) are classified by the Alands as “strict,” “normal,” or “free.” The “normal” text “transmitted the original text with the limited amount of variation.” Then, there is the “free” text, “characterized by a greater degree of variation than the ‘normal’ text.” Finally, there was the “strict” text, “which reproduced the text of its exemplar with greater fidelity (although still with certain characteristic liberties), exhibiting far less variation than the ‘normal’ text.” (Aland 1987, 93)

[37] F. Kenyon, “Hesychius and the Text of the New Testament,” in Memorial Lagrange (1940), 250.

[38] 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.

[39] G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles (1953), 271–272.

[40] Kurt Aland, “The Significance of the Papyri for New Testament Research” in The Bible in Modern Scholarship (1965), 336.

[41] Gordon Fee, “P75, P66, and Origen: The Myth of Early Textual Recension in Alexandria” in New Dimensions in New Testament Study (1974), 19–43.

[42] Ernest C. Colwell, “Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A Study of P45, P66, P75,” in Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, New Testament Tools and Studies 9 (Leiden: Brill, 1969), 121.

[43] Ibid., 117

[44] James Ronald Royse, “Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri” (Ph.D. diss., Graduate Theological Union, 1981), 538–39.

[45] (Comfort and Barret, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts 2001, 506)

[46] Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, 2005 (Southborough, MA: Chilton, 2005), 551.

[47] Some believe that Luke was a Gentile, basing this primarily on Colossians 4:11, 14. Because Paul first mentioned “the circumcision” (Col 4:11) and thereafter talked about Luke (Col 4:14), the inference is drawn that Luke was not of the circumcision and therefore was not a Jew. However, this is by no means decisive. Romans 3:1-2 says, “Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God.” Luke is one of those to whom such inspired revelations were entrusted.

[48] It is true that they took some liberties with the text, but these few places were the exception to the rule. They intentionally altered some passages that appeared to show irreverence for God or one of his spokespersons.

[49] Nomina sacra (singular: nomen sacrum) means “sacred names” in Latin, and can be used to refer to traditions of abbreviated writing of several frequently occurring divine names or titles in early Greek manuscripts, such as the following:

Lord ( ), Jesus ( , ), Christ ( , , ), God ( ), and Spirit ( ).

[50] Bart D. Ehrman, MISQUOTING JESUS: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York, NY: Harper One, 2005), 10.

[51] The argument from Ehrman that we do not even have “copies of the copies of the copies of the originals” is just misinformation. We have 15 early papyri manuscripts that datec within decades of the orifinals (100-150/175 C.E.). And we have another 35 early papyri manuscripts that are within a few decades of those (175-250 C.E.).

[52] Mark Minnick, “Let’s Meet the Manuscripts,” in From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman’s Guide to How We Got Our Bible, eds. James B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor (Greenvill, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International, 1999), p. 96.

[53] The concept of this chart is taken from The Bibliographical Test Updated – Christian Research May 04, 2017. However, some adjustments have been made as well as footnotes added.

[54] There are a number of fragments that date to the second century B.C.E. and one to the third century B.C.E., with the rest dating to the ninth century C.E. or later.

[55] Most of the 193 MSS date to the tenth century C.E., with a few fragments dating to the third century B.C.E.

[56] Some papyri fragments date to the third century B.C.E.

[57] Of the 5,898 Greek NT manuscripts cataloged, 83 percent of them date after 1000 C.E., with 17% (889 manuscripts) dating from the second to the tenth century. Between the second to the tenth century, we find in whole or in part 365 Gospels, 112 Acts and Catholic Epistles, 158 Epistles of Paul, 33 Revelation, and 313 lectionaries. The Gospel of Mark is the least attested prior to the fourth century, with chapters 2, 3, 10, and 13-16 having no representation at all. The Gospel of Mark is only represented in (P45), but about 78% of the Gospel is missing, and the fragment P137, a codex, written on both sides with text from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark; verses 7-9 on the recto side and 16-18 on the verso side. The Gospel of John on the other hand, prior to the fourth century it is very well attested, with only 14 verses not being covered between chapters 16 and 20. The Gospel of John is found in some of the earliest and most significant manuscripts (P45 P66 P75).

[58] While at present here in 2020, there are 5,898 manuscripts. There are 140 listed Papyrus manuscripts, 323 Majuscule manuscripts, 2,951 Minuscule manuscripts, and 2,484 Lectionary manuscripts, bringing the total cataloged manuscripts to 5,898 manuscripts. However, you cannot simply total the number of cataloged manuscripts because, for example, P11/14 are the same manuscript but with different catalog numbers. The same is true of P33/5, P4/64/67, P49/65 and P77/103. Now this alone would bring our 140 listed papyrus manuscripts down to 134. ‘Then, we turn to one example from our majuscule manuscripts where clear 0110, 0124, 0178, 0179, 0180, 0190, 0191, 0193, 0194, and 0202 are said to be part of 070. A minuscule manuscript was listed with five separate catalog numbers for 2306, which then have the letters a through e. Thus, we have the following GA numbers: 2306 for 2306a, and 2831- 2834 for 2306b-2306e.’ – (Hixon 2019, 53-4) The problem is much worse when we consider that there are 323 Majuscule manuscripts and then far worse still with a listed 2,951 Minuscule and 2,484 Lectionaries. Nevertheless, those who estimate a total of 5,300 (Jacob W. Peterson, Myths and Mistakes, p. 63) 5,500 manuscripts (Dr. Ed Gravely /, 5,800 manuscripts (Porter 2013, 23), it is still a truckload of evidence far and above the dismal number of ancient secular author books.

[59] Bart D. Ehrman, MISQUOTING JESUS: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York, NY: Harper One, 2005), 98.

[60] (1915 – 1994) was Professor of New Testament Research and Church History. He founded the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster and served as its first director for many years (1959–83). He was one of the principal editors of The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies.

[61] K. Aland, “The Significance of the Papyri for New Testament Research,” 336.

[62] Professor of Theology and the Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham. Scholar of New Testament textual criticism and Greek and Latin paleography.

[63] J. ED Komoszewski; M. James Sawyer; Daniel B Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI, 2006), 78.

[64] Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper & Bros., 1882; reprint, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988), 233–34.

[65]  (Comfort and Barret, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts 2001)

[66] Tertullian (160 – 220 C.E.), was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa.

[67] Cathedrae

[68] Suis locis praesident.

[69] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 260.

[70] The exhortation ἐνορκίζω ὑμᾶς τὸν κύριον ἀναγνωσθῆναι τὴν ἐπιστολὴν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς (“I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read aloud to all the brothers [and sisters]”), is stated quite strongly. ἐνορκίζω takes a double accusative and has a causal sense denoting that the speaker or writer wishes to extract an oath from the addressee(s). The second accusative, in this case τὸν κύριον (“the Lord”), indicates the thing or person by whom the addressees were to swear. The forcefulness of this statement is highly unusual, and in fact it is the only instance in Paul’s letters where such a charge is laid on the recipients of one of his letters.―Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 208-09.

[71] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 17.

[72] Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2007), 565.

[73] Bruce M. Metzger; Bart D. Ehrman, THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 126.

[74] Karyn Berner, “Papyrus Bodmer II, P66: A Reevaluation of the Correctors and Corrections,” (master’s thesis, Wheaton College, 1993).

[75] Philip W. Comfort, “The Scribe as Interpreter: A New Look at New Testament Textual Criticism according to Reader-Reception Theory” (D.Litt. et Phil. diss., University of South Africa, 1996).

[76] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 376.

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