Second and Third-Century Copyists of Alexandrian New Testament Manuscripts

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Alexandrian Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, Were Not Pagan Just Because They Were in Alexandria

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 over 200+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

The Alexandrian Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, were not pagan simply because they were in Alexandria. It is important to recognize that religious beliefs and practices are not inherently tied to a specific geographical location. Instead, they are determined by the beliefs, practices, and traditions followed by individuals or communities.

Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, was a major center of learning and culture in the ancient world. It was home to the famous Library of Alexandria and attracted scholars and thinkers from various backgrounds and religious beliefs. While the city had a diverse population that included pagans, Jews, and Christians, it is crucial to distinguish between these groups based on their beliefs and practices.

The term “pagan” refers to followers of polytheistic or non-Abrahamic religions, often associated with the worship of multiple gods and goddesses. In contrast, Christians adhere to a monotheistic faith, believing in one God and following the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Alexandrian Christians were part of the early Christian church, and their beliefs and practices were rooted in their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the savior of humanity.

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

It is true that some aspects of Alexandrian Christianity were influenced by the local culture, philosophy, and religious traditions. For instance, the Alexandrian School of Theology, which was instrumental in shaping early Christian thought, was known for its integration of Greek philosophy with Christian theology. However, these intellectual and cultural exchanges did not make the Alexandrian Christians pagan. They maintained their core Christian beliefs and practices, even when engaging with other religious and philosophical traditions.

In conclusion, the Alexandrian Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, were not pagan simply because they were in Alexandria. Their religious identity was based on their adherence to Christian beliefs and practices, not their geographical location. While they may have been influenced by local culture and engaged in dialogue with other traditions, they remained committed to their faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of Christianity.

Did Copyists of Alexandrian Manuscripts of the New Testament Not Care about What They Copied?

It is not accurate to say that copyists of Alexandrian manuscripts of the New Testament did not care about what they copied. While errors and variations do exist among different manuscripts, it is important to understand that these variations were not intentional on the part of the copyists but were often the result of accidental mistakes or changes that crept in over time. Additionally, many of the early copyists were professionals or semi-professionals who took great care in their work. For example, the Codex Vaticanus, a fourth-century manuscript from Alexandria, is known for its high level of accuracy and attention to detail. It is true that some copyists made errors or changes, but overall, it is inaccurate to make broad generalizations about the level of care taken by copyists based solely on the location or type of manuscript.

What Do We Know About the Early Christian Copyists?

Again, it is not accurate to say that copyists of Alexandrian manuscripts of the New Testament did not care about what they copied. However, it is important to understand the context in which these manuscripts were produced and the challenges that copyists faced.

The Alexandrian text-type is one of the major text-types of Greek New Testament manuscripts. It is considered to be generally more accurate and closer to the original text compared to other text-types like the Western or Byzantine text-types. The manuscripts were produced primarily in and around Alexandria, Egypt, from the 2nd to the 5th centuries CE.

Copyists, or scribes, had a significant responsibility in preserving the New Testament text. They often worked in scriptoriums, copying manuscripts by hand. The process was time-consuming, and the materials were expensive, which could contribute to human error.

Several factors might have contributed to variations and errors in the manuscripts:

  1. Human error: Copying a text by hand is prone to errors. Scribes could accidentally skip words, lines, or even entire sections. They could also make errors while trying to correct perceived mistakes in the text.

  2. Lack of standardization: During the early centuries of Christianity, there was no centralized authority that dictated the exact content of the New Testament or its format. This resulted in variations in the text among different communities.

  3. Intentional changes: In some cases, scribes might have intentionally changed the text to clarify, harmonize, or correct perceived theological issues.

Despite these challenges, many scribes took their work seriously and aimed to preserve the text as accurately as possible. While it is true that errors and variations exist among the Alexandrian manuscripts, it is important to consider the context in which they were produced and the dedication of many scribes to their work. Additionally, the discipline of textual criticism helps scholars identify and correct these errors, giving us a better understanding of the original text of the New Testament.

How the Professional and Semi-Professional Scribes in 2nd and 3rd Centuries Egypt Carried Out Their Work

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, professional and semi-professional scribes in Egypt played a crucial role in the transmission of ancient texts, including the New Testament manuscripts. Their work involved copying texts by hand, and while the specifics of their methods might differ, there were some general practices that were followed by most scribes.

  1. Materials: Scribes primarily used papyrus, a writing material made from the pith of the papyrus plant, which was abundant in Egypt. They also employed reed pens and ink made from soot or other organic materials mixed with water and a binding agent.

  2. Scriptoriums: Scribes often worked in scriptoriums, specialized rooms or buildings designed for the purpose of copying texts. In a scriptorium, there would be multiple scribes working simultaneously, sometimes supervised by a more experienced scribe.

  3. Writing style: Scribes used different writing styles depending on the text they were copying. For instance, they might employ a more formal and careful script for sacred texts like the New Testament and a more casual script for everyday documents.

  4. Copying methods: Scribes copied texts either by sight (reading the text and then writing it down) or by dictation (listening to someone reading the text aloud and writing it down). Both methods had their advantages and disadvantages, with sight copying generally considered more accurate but slower, while dictation was faster but more prone to errors.

  5. Proofreading and correcting: After a manuscript was completed, it was often proofread and corrected by the scribe themselves or by another scribe. Corrections could be made by erasing the ink with a sponge or a knife and writing the correct text over it or by adding annotations in the margins.

  6. Binding: Once the copying process was complete, the individual sheets of papyrus would be joined together to form a scroll or a codex (an early form of a book). The codex format, which started gaining popularity in the 2nd century, allowed for easier storage and access to specific passages within a text.

It’s important to note that not all scribes were equally skilled or careful in their work, leading to variations in the quality and accuracy of the copied texts. However, many scribes took their work seriously and aimed to preserve the texts as faithfully as possible. This dedication has helped ensure that ancient texts, including the New Testament manuscripts, have survived through the centuries.

What Are Textual Variants [Errors], and How Many Are There?

Tell-tale signs that a 2nd and 3rd centuries scribe making New Testament papyri manuscripts were semi-professional or professional

It can be challenging to definitively determine the skill level of a scribe from the 2nd and 3rd centuries just by examining the New Testament papyri manuscripts they produced. However, there are some tell-tale signs that can help us assess whether a scribe was professional or semi-professional:

  1. Penmanship: A professional scribe would typically exhibit consistent, clear, and well-formed lettering. The letters would be evenly spaced, with well-proportioned characters and consistent use of capitalization and punctuation. In contrast, a semi-professional scribe might have less consistent handwriting and make more errors in letter formation or spacing.

  2. Corrections: The presence of corrections within the text could indicate the skill level of the scribe. A professional scribe might make fewer errors, and when they did, the corrections would be carefully done, either by erasing the mistake and rewriting the text or by using a standard method for marking corrections. A semi-professional scribe might have more corrections, and their correction methods might be less consistent or precise.

  3. Use of abbreviations and specialized notation: Professional scribes might use abbreviations or specialized notation, such as the Nomina Sacra, which were shorthand symbols used for sacred names or words in Christian manuscripts. A higher degree of skill in using these abbreviations and notations could indicate a more professional scribe.

  4. Layout and formatting: A professional scribe would typically pay more attention to the layout and formatting of the manuscript. This could include consistent margins, columns, and spacing between lines, as well as the use of headings or other structural elements to organize the text. A semi-professional scribe might have less attention to detail in these aspects.

  5. Familiarity with the text: A professional scribe might show a greater familiarity with the content of the New Testament, which could be evident in fewer errors in copying, better understanding of the context, and more accurate handling of quotations or citations from other sources. A semi-professional scribe might be more prone to making errors due to a lack of familiarity with the text.

  1. Stichoi marks: Stichoi (singular: stichos) are an ancient method of organizing lines of text, often used to indicate poetic verses or standard units of text. The presence of stichoi marks in a manuscript could suggest that the scribe was more experienced and took care to ensure the text was organized and properly formatted. The correct use of stichoi marks and their consistency throughout the manuscript may indicate a more professional scribe, while the absence or inconsistent use of stichoi marks might suggest a semi-professional scribe.

  2. Line imprints: Line imprints are faint lines drawn on the writing surface (such as papyrus) to help scribes maintain straight and evenly spaced lines of text. The use of line imprints demonstrates that the scribe was attentive to the presentation and organization of the text, which could suggest a more professional approach to their work. The presence of line imprints and their consistent application throughout the manuscript might indicate a professional scribe, while the absence or inconsistent use of line imprints could be a sign of a semi-professional scribe.

It is important to note that these signs can provide some insight into the skill level of a scribe, but they are not definitive proof. Many factors could influence the quality of a manuscript, such as the scribe’s experience, working conditions, or available resources. Additionally, it is essential to remember that the line between professional and semi-professional scribes can be blurry, with varying skill levels and expertise even within each category.

Gospel Names P75 Luke and John [c. 175-225 C.E.]

P75 (P. Bodmer XIV and XV)

Contents: Luke 3:18–22; 3:33–4:2; 4:34–5:10; 5:37–6:4; 6:10–7:32, 35–39, 41–43; 7:46–9:2; 9:4–17:15; 17:19–18:18; 22:4–24:53; John 1:1–11:45, 48–57; 12:3–13:1, 8–10; 14:8–29; 15:7–8. The manuscript does not include 7:53–8:11, making it the second earliest witness (next to P66) not to include this spurious passage. Unpublished portions of John 13:1–10 have been reconstructed from the notes in NA27.

Papyrus 75 (P75), also known as P. Bodmer XIV and XV, is an important early Greek New Testament manuscript dated to around 175-225 CE. It contains portions of the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John. Several features of this manuscript suggest that its copyist was likely a professional scribe:

  1. Penmanship: The handwriting in P75 is generally consistent, with well-formed and evenly spaced letters. The scribe used a formal book hand, typical of professionally produced manuscripts in that period.

  2. Layout and formatting: The scribe paid close attention to the layout and formatting of the text, maintaining consistent margins, line spacing, and column widths. This attention to detail is indicative of a professional approach to manuscript production.

  3. Textual accuracy: P75 is regarded as a relatively accurate copy, with fewer errors and corrections than might be expected from a semi-professional scribe. This level of accuracy suggests that the scribe was skilled and familiar with the content of the text.

  4. Use of abbreviations: The scribe employed the Nomina Sacra, a set of shorthand symbols used for sacred names or words in early Christian manuscripts. This specialized notation is more likely to be found in professionally produced manuscripts.

  5. Line imprints: Although it is unclear if P75 specifically used line imprints, the manuscript’s lines are straight and evenly spaced, which is characteristic of a professional scribe’s work.

While these features point towards a professional scribe’s work, it is important to remember that we cannot be absolutely certain about the scribe’s level of professionalism. However, the high quality and accuracy of P75, along with the formal handwriting and attention to layout and formatting, strongly suggest that the copyist was professional.

How Many Second-Century [100 – 200 A.D.] New Testament Manuscripts Are There?


Textual Character and the Scribe of P75 (Papyrus 75)

PAPYRUS 75 (P75): The Manuscript that Changed the Thinking of Textual Scholars


  1. Aland, 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.” 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989. This book provides an excellent introduction to the study of New Testament textual criticism, including information on the different types of manuscripts and the work of scribes in preserving the text.

  2. Andrews, Edward D. “FROM SPOKEN WORDS TO SACRED TEXTS: Introduction- Intermediate New Testament Textual Studies” Cambridge, OH, Christian Publishing House, 2020.
  3. Andrews, Edward D. “THE SCRIBE AND THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Scribal Activities in the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament” Cambridge, OH, Christian Publishing House, 2023.
  4. Andrews, Edward D. “HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE: Introduction- Intermediate New Testament Textual Studies” Cambridge, OH, Christian Publishing House, 2023.
  5. Andrews, Edward D. THE BIBLE ON TRIAL: Examining the Evidence for Being Inspired, Inerrant, Authentic, and True” Cambridge, OH, Christian Publishing House, 2023.
  6. Hurtado, Larry W. “The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins.” Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006. Hurtado’s book focuses on the physical aspects of early Christian manuscripts, such as the materials used, the writing styles, and the various features of the texts (including stichoi marks and line imprints).

  7. Metzger, Bruce M., and Bart D. Ehrman. “The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.” 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. This is a comprehensive and authoritative resource on New Testament textual criticism, covering various aspects of the transmission of the text, the work of scribes, and the methods used to study and restore the text.

  8. Roberts, Colin H. “Manuscript, Society, and Belief in Early Christian Egypt.” London: Oxford University Press, 1979. This work provides valuable insights into the social and religious context of early Christian Egypt, including the roles of scribes and the production of manuscripts.

  9. Skeat, T. C. “The Collected Biblical Writings of T. C. Skeat.” Edited by J. K. Elliott. Leiden: Brill, 2004. This collection of essays by a noted papyrologist covers various aspects of the production and study of New Testament manuscripts, including the work of scribes, the use of abbreviations, and the organization of the text.

  10. Comfort, Philip W. “Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990. This book explores the relationship between the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament and modern English translations, discussing how advances in textual criticism have influenced contemporary Bible versions.

  11. Comfort, Philip W. “Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism.” Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005. This work serves as an introduction to the study of New Testament manuscripts, providing an overview of the field of textual criticism and discussing the importance of paleography (the study of ancient handwriting) in understanding the work of scribes.

  12. Comfort, Philip W. “New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations.” Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008. In this commentary, Comfort examines the variant readings of the New Testament manuscripts and analyzes how they have influenced major English translations of the Bible.

  13. Comfort, Philip W., and David P. Barrett. “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts.” (2 Volume set). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic; 3rd edition, 2019. This resource offers transcriptions and English translations of the earliest New Testament Greek manuscripts, along with a discussion of the significance of these manuscripts for textual criticism.


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