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If we are to be able to evaluate the readings of the manuscripts that we have, we must be familiar with the manuscripts themselves. Moreover, we must understand how they are connected by their likenesses and differences. Westcott and Hort wrote in relation to internal manuscript evidence, “The first step toward obtaining a sure foundation is a consistent application of the principle that KNOWLEDGE OF DOCUMENTS SHOULD PRECEDE FINAL JUDGMENT UPON READINGS.”
TERMS AS TO HOW WE SHOULD OBJECTIVELY VIEW THE DEGREE OF CERTAINTY FOR THE READING ACCEPTED AS THE ORIGINAL
The modal verbs are might have been (30%), may have been (40%), could have been (55%), would have been (80%), must have been (95%), which are used to show that we believe the originality of a reading is certain, probable or possible.
The letter [WP] stands for Weak Possibility (30%), which indicates that this is a low-level proof that the reading might have been original in that it is enough evidence to accept that the variant might have been possible, but it is improbable. We can say the reading might have been original, as there is some evidence that is derived from manuscripts that carry very little weight, early versions, or patristic quotations.
The letter [P] stands for Plausible (40%), which indicates that this is a low-level proof that the reading may have been original in that it is enough to accept a variant to be original and we have enough evidence for our belief. The reading may have been original but it is not probably so.
The letter [PE] stands for Preponderance of Evidence (55%), which indicates that this is a higher-level proof that the reading could have been original in that it is enough to accept as such unless another reading emerges as more probable.
The letter [CE] stands for Convincing Evidence (80%), which indicates that the evidence is an even higher-level proof that the reading surely was the original in that the evidence is enough to accept it as substantially certain unless proven otherwise.
The letter [BRD] stands for Beyond Reasonable Doubt (95%), which indicates that this is the highest level of proof: the reading must have been original in that there is no reason to doubt it. It must be understood that feeling as though we have no reason to doubt is not the same as one hundred percent absolute certainty.
NOTE: This system is borrowed from the criminal just legal terms of the United States of America, the level of certainty involved in the use of modal verbs, and Bruce Metzger in his A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), who borrowed his system from Johann Albrecht Bengel in his edition of the Greek New Testament (Tübingen, 1734). In addition, the percentages are in no way attempting to be explicit but rather they are nothing more than a tool to give the non-textual scholar a sense of the degree of certainty. However, this does not mean the percentages are not reflective of the certainty.
The textual scholar has three sources which enable him to carry out his work of establishing which reading of any given text is the original:
- the Greek manuscripts, which include the papyri, the uncial manuscripts, the minuscule manuscripts, and the lectionaries;
- the versions or the translations into other languages, and
- the quotations of the New Testament by the apostolic fathers (e.g., Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Hermas, and Papias), the apologists (e.g., Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, etc.), and later church Fathers.
Before delving into the sources of the New Testament, we must again make mention of Kurt and Barbara Aland. New Testament manuscripts in Greek can be categorized into five categories, according to their assessment in The Text of the New Testament. Kurt Aland (1915 – 1994) was a German theologian and Biblical scholar who specialized in New Testament textual criticism. He founded the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (Institute for New Testament Textual Research) in Münster, where he served as its first director for many years (1959–83). In 1983, Barbara Aland became the director. The Alands were two of the principal editors of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (Greek New Testament) for the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft and The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies. Their five categories of manuscripts follow.
Description of Categories
Category I – Alexandrian Text-type
Manuscripts of a very special quality which should always be considered in establishing the original text. The papyri and uncials through the third/fourth century also belong here automatically; one may say because they represent the text of the early period (if they offer no significant evidence they are bracketed).
Category II – Egyptian Texts
Manuscripts of a special quality but distinguished from manuscripts of category I by the presence of alien influences (particularly of the Byzantine text), and yet of importance for establishing the original text.
Category III – Mixed Texts
These manuscripts are of a distinctive character with an independent text, usually important for establishing the original text, but particularly important for the history of the text (e.g., f1, f13).
Category IV – Western Text-type
These are manuscripts of the D (Codex Bezae) text.
Category V – Byzantine Text-type
Manuscripts with a purely predominately Byzantine text.
After a detailed comparison of the papyri, the Alands concluded that these manuscripts from the second to the fourth centuries are of three kinds (Normal, Free, and Strict). “It is their collations which have changed the picture so completely.” (p. 93)
- Normal Texts: The normal text is a relatively faithful tradition (e.g., P52), which departs from its exemplar only occasionally, as do New Testament manuscripts of every century. It is further represented in P4, P5, P12(?), P16, P18, P20, P28, P47, P72 (1, 2 Peter) and P87.
- Free Texts: This is a text dealing with the original text in a relatively free manner with no suggestion of a program of standardization (e.g., p45, p46 and p66), exhibiting the most diverse variants. It is further represented in P9(?), P13(?), P29, P37, P40, P69, P72 (Jude) and P78.
- Strict Texts: These manuscripts transmit the text of the exemplar with meticulous care (e.g., P75) and depart from it only rarely. It is further represented in P1, P23, P27, P35, P39, P64+67, P65(?), and P70.
Bruce M. Metzger (1914 – 2007) was an editor with Kurt and Barbara Aland of the United Bible Societies’ standard Greek New Testament and the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. We will also borrow a few paragraphs from one of his publications, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (1971, 1994), so we have additional understanding of these text-types.
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. That is, 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. Until recently, the two chief witnesses to the Alexandrian text were codex Vaticanus (B) and codex Sinaiticus (א), parchment manuscripts dating from about the middle of the fourth century. With the acquisition, however, of the Bodmer Papyri, particularly P66 and P75, both copied about the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, evidence is now available that the Alexandrian type of text goes back to an archetype that must be dated early in the second century. The Sahidic and Bohairic versions frequently contain typically Alexandrian readings.
The so-called Western text, which was widely current in Italy and Gaul as well as in North Africa and elsewhere (including Egypt), can also be traced back to the second century. It was used by Marcion, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian. Its presence in Egypt is shown by the testimony of P38 (about a.d. 300) and P48 (about the end of the third century). The most important Greek manuscripts that present a Western type of text are codex Bezae (D) of the fifth century (containing the Gospels and Acts), Codex Claromontanus (D) of the sixth century (containing the Pauline epistles), and, for Mark 1:1 to 5:30, Codex Washingtonianus (W) of the fifth century. Likewise, the Old Latin versions are noteworthy witnesses to a Western type of text; these fall into three main groups, the African, Italian, and Hispanic forms of Old Latin texts.
The chief characteristic of Western readings is fondness for paraphrase. Words, clauses, and even whole sentences are freely changed, omitted, or inserted. Sometimes the motive appears to have been harmonization, while at other times it was the enrichment of the narrative by the inclusion of traditional or apocryphal material. Some readings involve quite trivial alterations for which no special reason can be assigned. One of the puzzling features of the Western text (which generally is longer than the other forms of text) is that at the end of Luke and in a few other places in the New Testament certain Western witnesses omit words and passages that are present in other forms of text, including the Alexandrian. Although at the close of the last century certain scholars were disposed to regard these shorter readings as original (Westcott and Hort called them “Western non-interpolations”), since the acquisition of the Bodmer Papyri many scholars today are inclined to regard them as aberrant readings (see the Note on Western Non-Interpolations, pp. 164–166).
In the book of Acts, the problems raised by the Western text become most acute, for the Western text of Acts is nearly ten percent longer than the form that is commonly regarded to be the original text of that book. For this reason, the present volume devotes proportionately more space to variant readings in Acts than to those in any other New Testament book, and a special Introduction to the textual phenomena in Acts is provided (see pp. 222–236).
An Eastern form of text, which was formerly called the Caesarean text, is preserved, to a greater or lesser extent, in several Greek manuscripts (including Θ, 565,700) and in the Armenian and Georgian versions. The text of these witnesses is characterized by a mixture of Western and Alexandrian readings. Although recent research has tended to question the existence of a specifically Caesarean text-type,7 the individual manuscripts formerly considered to be members of the group remain important witnesses in their own right.
Another Eastern type of text, current in and near Antioch, is preserved today chiefly in Old Syriac witnesses, namely the Sinaitic and the Curetonian manuscripts of the Gospels and in the quotations of Scripture contained in the works of Aphraates and Ephraem.
The Byzantine text, otherwise called the Syrian text (so Westcott and Hort), the Koine text (so von Soden), the Ecclesiastical text (so Lake), and the Antiochian text(so Ropes), is, on the whole, the latest of the several distinctive types of text of the New Testament. It is characterized chiefly by lucidity and completeness. The framers of this text sought to smooth away any harshness of language, to combine two or more divergent readings into one expanded reading (called conflation), and to harmonize divergent parallel passages. This conflated text, produced perhaps at Antioch in Syria, was taken to Constantinople, whence it was distributed widely throughout the Byzantine Empire. It is best represented today by codex Alexandrinus (in the Gospels; not in Acts, the Epistles, or Revelation), the later uncial manuscripts, and the great mass of minuscule manuscripts. Thus, except for an occasional manuscript that happened to preserve an earlier form of text, during the period from about the sixth or seventh century down to the invention of printing with moveable type (a.d.1450–56), the Byzantine form of text was generally regarded as the authoritative form of text and was the one most widely circulated and accepted.
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 B.F. Westcott and F.J.A Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, Vol. II, (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1882), 31.
 Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 121.
 Ibid., 95
 Ibid., 59, 64, 93
 Ibid., 64, 95
 For a summary of the chief research on the so-called Caesarean text, see Metzger, “The Caesarean Text of the Gospels,” Journal of Biblical Literature, lxiv (1945), pp. 457–489, reprinted with additions in Metzger’s Chapters in the History of New Testament Textual Criticism (Leiden and Grand Rapids, 1963), pp. 42–72.
 B. P. Grenfell & A. S. Hunt, Oxyrhynchus Papyri I (London, 1898), p. 4.
 Philip W. Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Incorporated, 2001, p. 39