Alexandrian Text-Type of Greek New Testament Manuscripts

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The Alexandrian text-type (also called Neutral or Egyptian), associated with Alexandria, is one of several text-types used in New Testament textual criticism to describe and group the textual characters of biblical manuscripts.

The Alexandrian text-type is the form of the Greek New Testament that predominates in the earliest surviving documents, as well as the text-type used in Egyptian Coptic manuscripts. In later manuscripts, from the 9th century onwards, the Byzantine text-type became far more common and remains as the standard text in the Greek Orthodox Church and also underlies most Protestant translations of the Reformation era.

Most modern New Testaments are based on what is called “reasoned eclecticism”, such as that of the Novum Testamentum Graece, in formulating a Greek text. That invariably results in a text that is strongly Alexandrian in character.

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Manuscripts

Up until the 9th century, Greek texts were written entirely in upper-case letters, referred to as uncials. During the 9th and 10th centuries, the new lower-case writing hand of minuscules came gradually to replace the older style. Most Greek Uncial manuscripts were recopied in this period and their parchment leaves typically scraped clean for re-use. Consequently, surviving Greek New Testament manuscripts from before the 9th century are relatively rare, but nine (over half of the total that survived) witness a more-or-less pure Alexandrian text. These include the oldest near-complete manuscripts of the New Testament: Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209 and Codex Sinaiticus (believed to date from the early fourth century CE).

A number of substantial papyrus manuscripts of portions of the New Testament survive from earlier still, and those that can be ascribed a text-type, such as P66 and P75 from the second to the third century, also tend to witness to the Alexandrian text.

The earliest Coptic versions of the Bible (into a Sahidic variety of the late second century) uses the Alexandrian text as a Greek base; although other second and third century translations (into Latin and Syriac) tend rather to conform to the Western text-type. Although the overwhelming majority of later minuscule manuscripts conform to the Byzantine text-type; detailed study has, from time to time, identified individual minuscules that transmit the alternative Alexandrian text. Around 17 such manuscripts have been discovered so far and so the Alexandrian text-type is witnessed by around 30 surviving manuscripts, by no means all of which are associated with Egypt although in that area, Alexandrian witnesses are the most prevalent.

It was used by Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, and Cyril of Alexandria.

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List of Notable Manuscripts Represented Alexandrian Text-Type:

Sign Name Date Content
P45 Chester Beatty I 3rd fragments of Gospels, Acts
P46 Chester Beatty II c. 200 Pauline epistles
P47 Chester Beatty III 3rd fragments of Revelation
P66 Bodmer II c. 200 Gospel of John
P72 Bodmer VII/VIII 3rd/4th Jude; 1-2 Peter
P75 Bodmer XIV-XV 3rd Gospels of Luke and John
א Codex Sinaiticus 330-360 NT
B Codex Vaticanus 325-350 Matt. — Hbr 9, 14
A Codex Alexandrinus c. 400 (except Gospels)
C Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus 5th (except Gospels)
Q Codex Guelferbytanus B 5th fragments Luke — John
T Codex Borgianus 5th fragments Luke — John
I Codex Freerianus 5th Pauline epistles
Z Codex Dublinensis 6th fragments of Matt.
L Codex Regius 8th Gospels
W Codex Washingtonianus 5th Luke 1:1–8:12; J 5:12–21:25
057 Uncial 057 4/5th Acts 3:5–6,10-12
0220 Uncial 0220 6th NT (except Rev.)
33 Minuscule 33 9th Romans
81 Minuscule 81 1044 Acts, Paul
892 Minuscule 892 9th Gospels
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Other manuscripts

Papyri: P1, P4,64,67P5P6, P8, P9, P10, P11, P12, P13, P14, P15, P16, P17, P18, P19, P20, P22, P23, P24, P26, P27, P28, P29, P30, P31, P32, P33, P34, P35, P37, P39, P40, P43, P44, P49, P51, P53, P55, P56, P57, P61, P62, P65, P70, P71, P74, P77, P78, P79, P80 (?), P81, P82, P85 (?), P86, P87, P90, P91, P92, P95P100, P104, P106, P107, P108, P110, P111, P115, P122, P137

Uncials: Codex Coislinianus, Porphyrianus (except Acts, Rev.), Dublinensis, Sangallensis (only in Mark), Zacynthius, Athous Lavrensis (in Mark and Cath. epistles), Vaticanus 2061, 059, 068, 071, 073, 076, 077, 081, 083, 085, 087, 088, 089, 091, 093, (except Acts), 094, 096, 098, 0101, 0102, 0108, 0111, 0114, 0129, 0142, 0155, 0156, 0162, 0167, 0172, 0173, 0175, 0183, 0184, 0185, 0189, 0201, 0204, 0205, 0207, 0223, 0225, 0232, 0234, 0240, 0243, 0244, 0245, 0247, 0254, 0270, 0271, 0274.

Minuscules: 20, 94, 104 (Epistles), 157, 164, 215, 241, 254, 256 (Paul), 322, 323, 326, 376, 383, 442, 579 (except Matthew), 614, 718, 850, 1006, 1175, 1241 (except Acts), 1243, 1292 (Cath.), 1342 (Mark), 1506 (Paul), 1611, 1739, 1841, 1852, 1908, 2040, 2053, 2062, 2298, 2344 (CE, Rev), 2351, 2427, 2464.

According to the present textual scholars, they tell us that codices P75 and B are the best Alexandrian witnesses, which present the pure Alexandrian text. All other witnesses are classified according to whether they preserve the excellent P75-B line of text. With the primary Alexandrian witnesses are included P66 and citations of Origen. With the secondary witnesses are included manuscripts C, L, 33, and the writings of Didymus the Blind.

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Characteristics

All extant manuscripts of all text-types are at least 85% identical and most of the variations are not translatable into English, such as word order or spelling. When compared to witnesses of the Western text-type, Alexandrian readings tend to be shorter and are commonly regarded as having a lower tendency to expand or paraphrase. Some of the manuscripts representing the Alexandrian text-type have the Byzantine corrections made by later hands (Papyrus 66, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Ephraemi, Codex Regius, and Codex Sangallensis).

Bruce M. 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. 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.[1]

When compared to witnesses of the Byzantine text-type, Alexandrian manuscripts tend:

  • to have a larger number of abrupt readings, such as the shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark, which finishes in the Alexandrian text at Mark 16:8 (“.. for they were afraid.”) omitting verses Mark 16:9-20; Matthew 16:2b–3, John 5:4; John 7:53-8:11;
  • Omitted verses: Matt 12:47; 17:21; 18:11; Mark 9:44.46; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 17:36; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29.
  • In Matthew 15:6 omitted η την μητερα (αυτου) (or (his) mother): א B D copsa;
  • In Mark 10:7 omitted phrase και προσκολληθησεται προς την γυναικα αυτου (and be joined to his wife), in codices Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Athous Lavrensis, 892,  48, syrs, goth.
  • Mark 10:37 αριστερων (left) instead of ευωνυμων (left), in phrase εξ αριστερων (B Δ 892v.l.) or σου εξ αριστερων (L Ψ 892*);
  • In Luke 11:4 phrase αλλα ρυσαι ημας απο του πονηρου (but deliver us from evil) omitted. Omission is supported by the manuscripts: Sinaiticus, B, L, f1, 700, vg, syrs, copsa, bo, arm, geo.
  • In Luke 9:55-56 it has only στραφεις δε επετιμησεν αυτοις (but He turned and rebuked them): P45 P75 א B C L W X Δ Ξ Ψ 28 33 565 892 1009 1010 1071 Byzpt Lect
  • to display more variations between parallel synoptic passages, as in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2), which in the Alexandrian text opens “Father.. “, whereas the Byzantine text reads (as in the parallel Matthew 6:9) “Our Father in heaven.. “;
  • to have a higher proportion of “difficult” readings, as in Matthew 24:36, which reads in the Alexandrian text “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only”; whereas the Byzantine text omits the phrase “nor the Son”, thereby avoiding the implication that Jesus lacked full divine foreknowledge. Another difficult reading: Luke 4:44.

The above comparisons are tendencies, rather than consistent differences.There are a number of passages in the Gospel of Luke in which the Western text-type witnesses a shorter text, the Western non-interpolations. Also, there are a number of readings where the Byzantine text displays variation between synoptic passages, that is not found in either the Western or Alexandrian texts, as in the rendering into Greek of the Aramaic last words of Jesus, which are reported in the Byzantine text as “Eloi, Eloi..” in Mark 15:34, but as “Eli, Eli..” in Matthew 27:46.

Evaluations of Text-Types

Most textual critics of the New Testament favor the Alexandrian text-type as the closest representative of the autographs for many reasons. One reason is that Alexandrian manuscripts are the oldest found; some of the earliest Church Fathers used readings found in the Alexandrian text. Another is that the Alexandrian readings are adjudged more often to be the ones that can best explain the origin of all the variant readings found in other text-types.

Nevertheless, there are some dissenting voices to this consensus. A few textual critics, especially those in France, argue that the Western text-type, an old text from which the Vetus Latina or Old Latin versions of the New Testament are derived, is closer to the originals.

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In the United States, some critics have a dissenting view that prefers the Byzantine text-type, such as Maurice A. Robinson and William Grover Pierpont. They assert that Egypt, almost alone, offers optimal climatic conditions favoring preservation of ancient manuscripts while, on the other hand, the papyri used in the east (Asia Minor and Greece) would not have survived due to the unfavorable climatic conditions. Thus, it is not surprising that ancient Biblical manuscripts that are found would come mostly from the Alexandrian geographical area and not from the Byzantine geographical area.

The argument for the authoritative nature of the latter is that the much greater number of Byzantine manuscripts copied in later centuries, in detriment to the Alexandrian manuscripts, indicates a superior understanding by scribes of those being closer to the autographs. Eldon Jay Epp argued that the manuscripts circulated in the Roman world and many documents from other parts of the Roman Empire were found in Egypt since the late 19th century.

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The evidence of the papyri suggests that, in Egypt, at least, very different manuscript readings co-existed in the same area in the early Christian period. Thus, whereas the early 3rd-century papyrus P75 witnesses a text in Luke and John that is very close to that found a century later in the Codex Vaticanus, the nearly contemporary P66 has a much freer text of John; with many unique variants; and others that are now considered distinctive to the Western and Byzantine text-types, albeit that the bulk of readings are Alexandrian. Most modern text critics, therefore, do not regard anyone text-type as deriving in direct succession from autograph manuscripts, but rather, as the fruit of local exercises to compile the best New Testament text from a manuscript tradition that already displayed wide variations.

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History of Research

Griesbach produced a list of nine manuscripts which represent the Alexandrian text: C, L, K, 1, 13, 33, 69, 106, and 118. Codex Vaticanus was not on this list. In 1796, in the second edition of his Greek New Testament, Griesbach added Codex Vaticanus as witness to the Alexandrian text in Mark, Luke, and John. He still thought that the first half of Matthew represents the Western text-type.

Johann Leonhard Hug (1765–1846) suggested that the Alexandrian recension was to be dated about the middle of the 3rd century, and it was the purification of a wild text, which was similar to the text of Codex Bezae. In result of this recension interpolations were removed and some grammar refinements were made. The result was the text of the codices B, C, L, and the text of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria.

Starting with Karl Lachmann (1850), manuscripts of the Alexandrian text-type have been the most influential in modern, critical editions of the Greek New Testament, achieving widespread acceptance in the text of Westcott & Hort (1881), and culminating in the United Bible Society 4th edition and Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the New Testament.

Until the publication of the Introduction of Westcott and Hort in 1881 remained opinion that the Alexandrian text is represented by codices B, C, L. The Alexandrian text is one of the three ante-Nicene texts of the New Testament (Neutral and Western). The text of the Codex Vaticanus stays in closest affinity to the Neutral Text.

After discovering the manuscripts P66 and P75 the Neutral text and Alexandrian text were unified.

See Also

This article is from Wikipedia but has been updated and will be updated even more so by Edward D. Andrews for Christian Publishing House.

[1] 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.

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