Recently Dr. James Leonard, an administrator of a discussion-group on Facebook that occasionally looks into questions about the text of the New Testament, asserted there that many or most readings from the Byzantine Text which differ from the Nestle-Aland compilation are often unattested by the
Greek manuscript tradition prior to the ninth century. That assertion was met with an invitation from
a member of the discussion-group: list
all of the Byzantine readings in Matthew and Mark that are unattested before
the ninth century.
Leonard’s response was twofold:first, he
quickly ejected the invitation-maker from the discussion-group.And second, responding to the invitation, he
presented a list of Byzantine readings from Philippians chapter 1.
Such a response is insufficient – not only because it restricts legitimate discussion, and does not involve the text of Matthew and Mark, but also, as it turns out, because Leonard’s data from Philippians 1 does not come remotely
close to vindicating the idea that many or most readings in the Byzantine
Text are unsupported before the 800’s.
As a convenient (but problematic) method of data-collection, Leonard consulted the Nestle-Aland
apparatus, and after finding 31 variant-units in that chapter, he promptly acknowledged
that in 19 of those 31 variant-units, the Byzantine Text and the Alexandrian
Text agree.That left him with only 12
variants capable of being examples of Byzantine readings that have no support before the year 800. Six of them, however, he admits to be attested before then.
To show the amount of text involved in this analysis, here are three pictures.The first one shows the Byzantine Text of Philippians chapter 1.The second one shows the six Byzantine readings which fit Leonard’s description; they differ from modern critical editions
of the Greek New Testament and are not attested in Greek manuscripts prior to the ninth century. (The
variant that is highlighted in yellow is a transposition-variant; the variant concerns the order in which the
verses appear.) The third picture shows the
Byzantine readings in Philippians 1 which a cursory investigation indicates are unattested in witnesses from
earlier than the 800’s.
Byzantine readings in Philippians 1 not supported in Greek MSS made before 800.
Here are the six non-Alexandrian Byzantine variants in Philippians 1 which Leonard affirmed to be supported in Greek manuscripts before the 800’s: [bold print added]
1:5 – Byz does not have της after απο.
Leonard: “The earliest
attestation for the Majority Reading comes from the 6th century
D-Text witness 06.”
1:8 – Byz has εστιν after μου.
Leonard: “The earliest
attestation for the Maj Reading comes from the 5th century B-Text
● (3) – Byz does not have οτι
after Πλην. Leonard: “The earliest attestation for the Majority
Reading is the 6th century D-Text witness 06.”
● (4) – Byz does not have γαρ
after πολλω. Leonard: “The earliest attestation for the Majority
Reading is the 4th century B-text witness 01.”
● (5) – Byz has εν after
επιμενειν. Leonard: “The earliest attestation for the Majority
Reading are from 4th and 5th century B-Text
witnesses.” However, Leonard is
mistaken. Papyrus 46 (from the late 100’s or early 200’s) also supports
the Byzantine reading here. The text of Philippians in Papyrus 46 agrees 100% with the Byzantine Text, while
disagreeing with Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. I have supplied here a picture of this part of Papyrus 46, with the words
of Philippians 1:24 individually underlined.
● (6) – Byz reads ακουσω instead of ακουω. Leonard:
“The earliest attestation for the Majority Reading are from 4th
and 5th century B-Text readings.”
after listing 12 readings as examples of Byzantine readings that show that Byzantine
readings do not have manuscript-support until the 800’s, Leonard acknowledged that half of his examples have manuscript-support
before the 800’s.
Philippians 1:24 in Papyrus 46.
let’s take a closer look at the six readings in Philippians 1 which, Leonard
maintained, have no manuscript-support before the 800’s:
(1) – Byz has καρπων δικαιοσύνης των (“fruits of righteousness”) instead of καρπον δικαιοσύνης τον
(fruit of righteousness).
(2) -17 – Byz has these two
verses in the opposite order.
(3) – Byz has επιφερειν instead of εγείρειν.
(4) – Byz has συμπαραμενω instead of παραμενω.
(5) – Byz has αυτοις μεν εστιν instead of εστιν αυτοις.
(6) – Byz has υμιν instead of υμων.
Byzantine readings in Philippians 1 not supported by any witnesses before 800.
Let’s look for pre-800
attestation of these readings from all sources, not only Greek manuscripts. Leonard himself, after all, has stated
that if all existing Greek manuscripts suddenly disappeared, “We could
reconstruct the New Testament from the early versions with considerable
confidence.” What do we see about the
text of Philippians 1 in the versional evidence, when we look? We see that the Peshitta supports the
Byzantine reading in 1:11; the Harklean Syriac supports the Byzantine order of verses 16 and 17 (and so does Chrysostom; see his Homily 2 on Philippians); the Peshitta supports επιφερειν in verse 17, and the Byzantine reading υμιν in verse 28 is supported by the Vulgate,
as well as by Coptic, Gothic, and Ethiopic witnesses, carrying its support back
to the 300’s.
idea that Byzantine readings in Philippians 1 typically lack attestation before
the 800’s dies a quick death in every case except two: the Byzantine readings συμπαραμενω in verse 25 and αυτοις μεν εστιν in Philippians 1:28 (where NA reads
εστιν αυτοις) appear to have no support from witnesses earlier than the
of this analysis shows that any of these Byzantine readings in Philippians 1
are original. Nor does it show that readings that lack early support should automatically be rejected. What this analysis shows is that the idea that Byzantine readings in
Philippians 1 have no support before the 800’s is opposed by 29 out of 31
And this was in a passage selected by Leonard! Will he continue to promote the idea that Byzantine readings typically or frequently lack
attestation from before the 800’s, after being shown that 93.5% of his own
Exhibit A refutes that assertion?
(P.S. My conclusion that the Byzantine readings συμπαραμενω in verse 25 and αυτοις μεν εστιν in Philippians 1:28 lack support before 800 is provisional; I did not investigate this further after it was clear that the evidence opposed Leonard’s claim so thoroughly. If anyone wishes to add more data about this, feel free to do so in the comments.)
A prominent evangelical
commentator has spread misinformation about an important text-critical
question. I wrote this post as a means of doing something about it, in the hope that the commentator himself, and his publishers, will gladly do more.
Dr. Craig A. Evans – a professor atHouston Baptist University– wrote some admiring comments about
Nicholas Lunn’s 2014 book,The
Original Ending of Mark – A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20:
“I have for my whole career held that Mark 16:9-20, the so-called ‘Long
Ending,’ was not original. But in his well-researched and carefully
argued book, Lunn succeeds in showing just how flimsy that position really
is. The evidence for the early existence of this ending, if not for its
originality, is extensive and quite credible. I will not be surprised if
Lunn reverses scholarly opinion on this important question.”
was 2014. Previously, Dr. Evans had indeed dismissed Mark 16:9-20 as non-original. In 2008, he asserted on page 30 of the bookFabricating
Jesus, “The last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark (Mk 16:9-20) are
not the original ending; they were added at least two centuries after Mark
first began to circulate.”
That is a remarkable claim, because it
assigns the production of Mark 16:9-20 to the 260’s (if Mark wrote his
Gospel-account in the 60’s) – well beyond the lifetimes of Justin Martyr,
Tatian, and Irenaeus, all of whom used the passage in the 100’s. We
shall take a close look at Dr. Evans’ treatment of the evidence from Irenaeus,
but first, let’s consider what he said about Mark 16:9-20 in 1988, on
page 543 of his commentary on Mark in theWord
ancientMSSthat contain the whole of Mark, we find four endings:
(1) in 16:8, “for they were afraid”; (2) at 16:20, the so-called Long
Ending; (3) at 16:8, plus the so-called Short Ending; and (4) at 16:20, plus
the Short Ending. Many of the olderMSShave asterisks and obeli marking off the Long or Short
Ending as spurious or at least doubtful.”
Codex Bobbiensis - the only manuscript in any language to have only the Shorter Ending after Mark 16:8.
That statement has three mistakes:
(1)Codex Bobbiensis (Old
Latink), the only extant
manuscript in any language that ends the text of Mark with only the Short Ending after 16:8, doesnot contain “the whole of Mark.” Mark 1:1-8:7 is missing in
Codex Bobbiensis, due to incidental damage. Smaller bits are also missing
in the extant portion.
(2) No Greek manuscripts have the Short Ending after. Evans’ fourth ending is
non-existent. Five manuscripts have the Short Ending between 16:8 and
16:9, and one has the Short Ending in the page-margin, but none have it after . Evidently, Evans depended on the error-plagued textual apparatus in the
United Bible Societies’Greek
New Testament, some editions of which spread this mistake.
be worthwhile to tangentially note that such parroting is all too
common in commentaries written by evangelicals after 1971, when Bruce Metzger’s Textual Commentary on the Greek New
published. Metzger’s claims have been so thoroughly and uncritically
absorbed and paraphrased by evangelical commentators that it is very difficult
to correct Metzger’s well-distributed mistakes and distortions. For example,
even after Metzger himself, in 1980, wrote a major essay retracting his earlier
claim that some Ethiopic manuscripts of Mark concluded at 16:8, one can still
find his false claim about Ethiopic manuscripts in commentaries written 30
years later – and even on page 322 of the fourth edition of Metzger’s ownThe Text of the New Testament,
now edited (not very carefully, it seems) by Bart Ehrman.
(3) Evans’ claim that “Many of the olderMSShave asterisks and obeli marking off the
Long or Short Ending as spurious or at least doubtful” is incorrect. Daniel
Wallace, in 2007 inPerspectives
on the Ending of Mark, stated that the number of manuscripts with an asterisk or obeli accompanying Mark 16:9-20 to indicate
doubt about those verses (out of over 1,600 Greek manuscripts of Mark) is “at least five.” So who is correct:
Evans, who says that there are many such manuscripts (and that they are among
“the older” ones), or Wallace, who manages to listfive (all of which are medieval copies)?
As it turns
out, both Evans and Wallace are wrong. The manuscripts listed by Wallace
are138,264,1221,2346, and2812. I have examined photographs or microfilm-images of the relevant
pages of all five. None of them has a column of asterisks or obeli alongside Mark 16:9-20, and the only ones that have a mark resembling an asterisk
near Mark 16:9 are 138 and 264 – not a column of asterisks, but a single
The reason for this mark in minuscule 138 is not difficult to discern: in the rest of the manuscript, in which
commentary-material is interspersed with the Gospels-text, the reader is
alerted to the resumption of the Gospels-text by the presence of Eusebian
Section-and-Canon-numbers in the outer margin, as well as by diple-marks
(“>”) accompanying each line of Scripture-text. For Mark 16:9-14, the diple-marks
are present, but not a Eusebian Section-number, because there wasn’t one.
The asterisk-like mark merely serves as a proxy, since there was no Eusebian
Section-number, to alert the reader that the Gospels-text resumes at this
138 includes in its commentary-materiala
commentwhich confirms the
legitimacy of Mark 16:9-20 and its attestation in a Palestinian exemplar.
It is not unusual for manuscripts in which commentary-material accompanies the
text to have symbols which accompany segments of the text (usually written in
red, either in the margin, or embedded in the text itself), to convey to the
readers where they can find the comment about that segment (by looking for the
same symbol in the margin). Anyone who can look at the symbol in a commentary-manuscript such as 2812 and call it an asterisk, and claim that it conveys
doubt, when in reality it does not remotely resemble an asterisk, and serves
the same purpose as a footnote-number, plainly does not understand the marginalia.
In minuscule 264, the asterisk-like symbol in the outer margin beside Mark 16:9 also occurs alongside Mark
19:29. Unless someone is prepared to explain the doubts that a
copyist had about those passages (I jest of course), it should be acknowledged
that these marks in 264 denote chapter-breaks and lection-breaks, and are not
expressions of scribal doubt at all.
Likewise, no one who has carefully examinedminuscule
1221would report that it has
a symbol at Mark 16:9 that was intended to convey scribal doubt, because the
same symbol (four dots arranged like the points of a lozenge or compass) is used in the
same manuscript at some other lection-breaks: atMatthew
and (moving along) in Mark at2:13,
about halfway through6:7,
3:1, and more. It would be an act of conscious deception if a writer
were to carefully examine this manuscript and then describe the symbol at 16:9 as if it conveyed scribal doubt, without mentioning the ones at the other locations. (I do not suspect Evans of doing
this, since I doubt that he consulted images of any of these manuscripts before
writing about them.)
Fifteen members of two small groups
of manuscripts – the family-1 group, and the “Jerusalem Colophon” group – have
special annotations about Mark 16:9-20, and in some cases the annotation is
accompanied by an asterisk or by a pair of asterisks, but such features are there to draw the reader’s eye to the note; in and of themselves,
such marks do not express doubt; it is not rare to see them accompanying the
Gospels’ titles and rubrics. (The annotations in these groups tend todefendthe genuineness of Mark 16:9-20,
stating that althoughsomecopies lack verses 9-20 and Eusebius
did not include the passage in his Canon-Tables,the verses are in the ancient
copies, or (in a different form of the annotation)in most copies. The later
form of the annotation omits the part about the Eusebian Canons.
These are not independent notes; they echo one or two ancestors of these two
In addition to those three errors,
what Evans doesnotsay is significant. He ensures
that his readers’ perception of the evidence is blurry: he could
have said that the Gospel of Mark ends in the following ways in the extant Greek
manuscripts: (1) intwo manuscriptsfrom the 300’s, the text ends at 16:8;(2)in
one thousand and six hundred manuscripts, 16:8 is followed by 16:9-20;(3)in
five manuscripts, the Short Ending is present between 16:8 and 16:9, and inonemanuscript,
16:9 follows 16:8 in the text but the Short Ending is written in the lower
margin of the page, and(4) fifteen manuscripts (among the manuscripts in which 16:8 is
followed by 16:9) perpetuate a note which states that although some copies lack verses 9-20, the majority of
copies, or the ancient copies, contain the passage.
This would have given readers a better picture of what Evans was really saying:
that at this point in the text, he prefers the testimony of two early
manuscripts over the testimony of 1,600 manuscripts (including other ancient
manuscripts such as Codices A, D, and W (which has an interpolation between and ).
It does not elicit much confidence in the “embarrassment of riches” when one conveys
that over 99% of the coins in the treasury are counterfeit – and this may be why so many
commentators resort to vague terms when discussing this
Now let’s take a closer look at what Dr. Evans has written about the evidence from Irenaeus. As recently as 2013, Evans claimed that the text of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies at this point is corrupt: in the Holman Apologetics Commentary (2013), after we again encounter the erroneous claims from 1988 that begin with, “In the ancient manuscripts that contain the whole of Mark,” and so forth, we read this:
“Mark 16:19 (“Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God”) is quoted in Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.10.5), but this is uncertain testimony. The original Greek text of this part of Against Heresies has not survived. It survives in a later Latin translation that may have incorporated this verse from much later manuscripts. Accordingly, it is far from certain that Irenaeus, writing c. 180, was acquainted with Mark’s so-called Longer Ending.”
That is historical revisionism of a pernicious and preposterous kind. Fortunately it can be easily refuted. Granting that in some patristic writings, copyists or translators substituted their own texts when presenting quotations made by the patristic author, Evans’ proposal involves more than a simple substitution of one form of a passage for another. He contends that the Latin translator inserted a quotation of Mark 16:19 where there was previously nothing. That is, Evans is not proposing an exchange of texts; he is proposing that the text of Against Heresies, Book 3, chapter 10, part 5, contains a large interpolation. His theory requires that this entire portion that consists of the quotation and the explanation of it, is all an interpolation:
“Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: ‘So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God,’ confirming what had been spoken by the prophet: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Thus God and the Father are truly one and the same; He who was announced by the prophets, and handed down by the true Gospel; whom we Christians worship and love with the whole heart, as the Maker of heaven and earth and all things therein.”
A note in minuscule 72 beside Mark 16:19: “Irenaeus, who lived near the time of the apostles, cites this from Mark in the third book of his work Against Heresies.”
Is there any evidence that the translator of Against Heresies tossed this into the text, out of the blue? No. Is there any evidence that this was part of the text of Against Heresies, Book Three, from the time it was written by Irenaeus? Yes. A Greek note in the margin of Greek minuscule 1582, next to Mark 16:19, confirms that Irenaeus quoted the verse, in Book Three of Against Heresies. (I have read the note in digital images of minuscule 1582, and have a picture of it, but I have not posted it here due to a restrictive copyright policy.) A Greek note in the margin of Greek manuscript 72, next to Mark 16:19, says the same thing. And according to Jeff Hargis in a report about the findings of a CSNTM-team in Romania, a Greek manuscript at the Museum of Oltenia, in Craiova, Romania, also has this note alongside Mark 16:19.
Does Dr. Evans imagine that the author of that Greek note was using a Latin translation of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies? Such a theory is highly unlikely, especially considering that 1582’s annotations echo the fifth-century ancestor of the family-1 group, of which 1582 is the strongest member. So I confidently categorize Evans’ entire theory about Irenaeus’ statement as arbitrary, baseless, and absurd.
Finally, further along in the Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Gospels and Acts(edited by Jeremy Royal Howard), Evans wrote: “Some manuscripts preserve the so-called Short Ending to Mark (L Y 099 0112). Almost all of those that do also contain the Long Ending.” He is mistaken in two ways: first, Codex Y does not contain the Short Ending. A typo has occurred, and the symbol Ψ should appear instead of Y. Secondly, as far as Greek manuscripts are concerned – and that is the only kind of manuscript that Evans lists here – only six Greek manuscripts have the Short Ending, and all six contain at least part of 16:9, showing that they all had verses 9-20 when in pristine condition.
None of this should be considered relevant to any of Dr. Evans’ work in other fields. But when it comes to his text-critical treatment of the ending of Mark, Craig Evans’ commentary contains numerous mistakes – so many and so bad that his commentary should be withdrawn from publication as soon as possible, so that he can correct it, in order to stop misleading his readers. (Some other books should also be withdrawn and corrected by their authors, because of worse mistakes. Looking at you, Stephen M. Miller.) If he and his publishers do not do that, then it is up to ordinary readers to make full use of the margins of his commentary to ensure that future readers are not led astray by such erroneous and irresponsible mistreatment of the evidence.
Occasionally the question comes up, “Why is there no clear evidence for the Byzantine
Text prior to the 300s?” Let’s take some time today to address that question.
Factor #1 is climate– as in, the humidity-level, which in Egypt specially favors
manuscript-preservation better than the humidity levels elsewhere (barring rare
cases such as a bog in Ireland). Before the use of parchment
codices, New Testament manuscripts were written on papyrus, and papyrus
naturally decomposes and rots away in pretty much all other locales where
Christians were located in the 100s and 200s – except in Egypt. So it should
be no surprise that when we focus on Egypt, we find, primarily, papyrus
manuscripts that contain the Alexandrian Text, i.e., a local text there.
Can evidence from Egypt tell us anything about the localized
text-forms used in other locales? Perhaps a little, if a
manuscript from elsewhere happened to find its way into a library in Egypt and
that library’s remains happened to be preserved. Consider, for example, Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 405, which I mentioned in my previous post. It shows that a copy of Book Three of Irenaeus’ Against
Heresies – written in the 180’s in France – found its way to Egypt just a few decades after the work itself was produced. However, the main current of the evidence
is against the idea. The manuscript-evidence from Egypt tells us very little about the text
that was being used outside the borders of Egypt in the 100s-200s.
Again: Reason Numero Uno for why we do not have strong evidence of the
Byzantine Text in the 100s and 200s is the weather. Everywhere but Egypt, we
do not have papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament from the 100s-200s for
the same reason that we do not have papyrus receipts, papyrus letters, papyrus
classical works, etc., from the 100s-200s anywhere else. It all rotted away.
This is why appeals to patristic evidence –the original appeal used by Hort,
who did not have the papyrus evidence to consider – are essentially appeals to
an absence of evidence, rather than to evidence of absence: we do not have
patristic writings the 100s and 200s, from vast swaths of territory, not
because nobody there knew how to write, but because of the papyrus-destroying
Factor #2: The Diocletian Persecution. When Roman persecution of Christians occurred (which it did in waves, so to speak, rather than as a
constant non-stop oppression; the Romans often had bigger fish to fry), it was
bad, but the Diocletian Persecution (303-311) was particularly bad. It was undertaken
with the intent not to just promote emperor-worship but to eliminate
Eusebius of Caesarea described the persecution: “An imperial decree was published everywhere, ordering that the churches were to be demolished to the ground, and that the Scriptures were to be destroyed by fire. And notice was given that those in places of honor would lose their positions, and those in ordinary vocations, if they did not give up their Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty.” So it is no wonder that in the area where the Diocletian Persecution was the most intense, copies of Scriptures from before that time are scarce.
Christian leaders and Christian Scriptures were especially
targeted. Embedded in a text from AD 320 called the Gesta Apud Zenophilum, there is an account of Roman persecution of Christians that occurred on May 19, 303, in Cirta, a city
in Numidia.(The History of Information website also has some data about it.)
How many manuscripts were seized by the Romans in Cirta, Numidia, in one day, in 303? Under Roman interrogation, Catullinus the Deacon initially handed over just one very large codex. But as the interrogation continued, more codices were surrendered: a man named Eugenius was confronted at his house, and he handed over four codices. Felix the Lector handed over five codices. Victorinus, another lector, was also confronted at his house, and he handed over eight codices. Next, Projectus the Lector handed over five large codices and two small codices. Victor the Grammarian was confronted at his house, and he handed over two codices, and four quinions (that is, loose book-sections consisting of five parchment sheets folded together). The Romans also confronted Euticius of Caesarea, who denied having any manuscripts. The Romans went on to the house of Coddeo, who, it seems, was not at home, but his wife was present, and she handed over six codices.
The total: 33 codices, and four segments of codices. Needless to say, if we had those manuscripts from 303, our textual
apparatuses would look very different. And that’s just one city
in Numidia. Nicomedia (an early target of the Diocletian persecution, in what is now Turkey) had many more manuscripts than that,
and so, I suspect, did the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Athens, Philippi, Berea, Smyrna, Pergamum, and throughout Turkey (Asia, Bithynia, Lydia, Galatia, Pamphylia, Cilicia, Cappadocia, etc.). My point here is not that
those 34 manuscripts (and the multitudes of other manuscripts destroyed during
the Diocletian Persecution) must have had the Byzantine Text written on their
pages, but simply that the repetition of similar scenes throughout the Roman
Empire explains, to a large extent, our lack of New Testament
manuscript-evidence from large swaths of Roman territory.
Factor #3: Overuse. Some of the papyri found in Egypt were
excavated from trash-heaps; i.e., at some point, they were thrown away, and we
only have them today because those particular trash-heaps decomposed very
slowly. Trash-heaps elsewhere decomposed more rapidly – taking us back to
factor #1. But why were manuscripts put in trash-heaps in the first place? One reason
is that manuscripts wore out. This would not be the case with manuscripts that
achieved status as relics; we see for example that the Saint
Augustine’s Gospels (at the Parker Library) has
survived because it is seldom used. But the manuscripts that received
day-to-day use in churches wore out, in a manner not unlike the way in which
much-used books wear out today. How is it that a person who graduated from high
school in 2001 can have, in the same library, a copy of “Devotions for
Graduates, 2001 edition” in pristine condition, while his college mathematics
textbook from 2003 is worn to bits? It is because one was used more than the
other. And likewise, the more often manuscripts were used, the sooner they
tended to need to be replaced. This is just a general tendency, of course: now
and then one might find a book-reader who treated his manuscripts with
meticulous reverence, but on the other hand there were book-readers who
reckoned that if one manuscript got damaged they could just get a new one.
the economy was booming, or where a bishop’s brother was a butcher, parchment
was plentiful and there was no lack of materials with which to make
manuscripts. But at other times and places, parchment could become scarce, and
then and there, it was tempting to recycle old manuscripts by gentle scraping
and washing the ink off the parchment, creating a fresh and usable page. There
are quite a few examples of this; 024 and 026, for example, consist of the scraped-off
Gospels-text on pages of a copy of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies. Codex Climaci Rescriptus (0250) also consists of recycled pages. (This kind of manuscript is called a palimpsest.) The danger
of ancient Greek copies being recycled in this way was particularly high when
and where Greek was no longer read or understood.
Recycling was not only done to intact pages. Damaged pages, or pages separated from the volumes in which they belonged, could also be recycled as binding-material for more recent manuscripts, and even some pages from Codex Sinaiticus were not exempt from this fate.
More factors could be listed as causes of the loss of manuscripts – plain neglect in some areas, by monks who no longer could read Greek, resulted in the loss of many manuscripts during the Middles Ages, and so did destructive Islamic conquests, which at different times reached not only northern Africa and Turkey but also Sicily and Austria. But the four factors listed here are probably the main ones, as far as manuscripts from the 100s-200s are concerned.
In addition, something
else must be said: to an extent, I deny the premise that there is no evidence of the use of the Byzantine Text before the 300s. Consider for example the
text of Matthew used by Clement of Alexandria. In a detailed study published in 2008, Carl Cosaert listed 15 readings
in Clement’s text of Matthew that agree with the Textus Receptus and disagree with B –
compared with 14 readings in Clement’s text of Matthew that agree with B and
disagree with the TR. And if the uncorrected first hand of Sinaiticus, rather
than Vaticanus, is made the flagship for the Alexandrian Text, then (if we
accept Cosaert’s data) Clement agrees with Sinaiticus while simultaneously
disagreeing with TR 15 times, but Clement agrees with the TR while
simultaneously disagreeing with Sinaiticus 36 times.
And that’s from a writer in Alexandria, where
one would expect the local Alexandrian Text to dominate. It should be noted that a form of the Byzantine Gospels-Text –
not “fully developed,” but considerably more Byzantine than anything else – is
observed in the Gothic Version, in the Peshitta, in Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil
of Caesarea. If it is valid to extrapolate (as Westcott and Hort did in 1881, and as some textual critics such as Daniel Wallace still do), from the agreements in Vaticanus
and Sinaiticus, a distant ancestor, then how much more ought the agreements of
these witnesses (and one could add more, such as the Byzantine sections of
Codex W, and the consensus-readings of the Purple Uncials) be regarded as
echoes of a very ancient, primarily Byzantine, ancestral text-form.
In the late 1800s, influential textual critics proposed that in the decades after the Diocletian Persecution, church-leaders suddenly stopped using the text-forms that had previously circulated in their locales, and started using a new edition of the New Testament text that contained many readings which up to that point had scarcely ever been encountered. A better, more plausible explanation of the sudden appearance of a predominantly Byzantine form of the text of the Gospels in multiple locales in the mid-late 300s is that the church-leaders there continued to use the same text-form that they had used prior to the Diocletian Persecution. The text in these locales was not what changed; what changed was the durability of the material that was used to make the manuscripts, and the friendliness of the government.
A recent movie called The Case for Christ depicted the testimony of Lee Strobel, an investigative reporter who starts out the movie as an atheist but
ends up convinced that Christianity is true after he conducts an
investigation into the evidence for the resurrection of Christ.
I enjoyed the movie and recommend it for adults; those interested may
benefit from David Wood’s review. Here,
I want to focus on one particular point in the movie that seems capable of
improvement: the treatment of New
Testament manuscript evidence.
More than once in the movie, the existence of 5,843 Greek
New Testament manuscripts is emphasized.
Since this is a much greater number of manuscripts than what we have for
any other ancient composition, Strobel accepts this (in the movie, and in the identically titled book) as evidence of
the reliability of the New Testament text.
There is a high risk that this is going to give many audience-members and readers a
false impression – one that is liable to be taken advantage of by aggressive
anti-Christian writers. To acquire a
more focused picture of the New Testament manuscript evidence, and its
implications, here are a few points to keep in mind.
● A manuscript of part of the New Testament is not the same
as a manuscript of the entire New Testament.
For example, the earliest New Testament manuscript is probably either
Papyrus 52 or Papyrus 104 – but they are both small fragments. They tell us nothing about the accuracy of
the transmission of the books of the New Testament that they do not represent. So, comparisons between “the New Testament” collectively, and single compositions from the ancient world, are sort of unfair; it
would be better to separate the individual New Testament books, and go from
there when making comparisons.
● The vast majority of Greek manuscripts supports the Byzantine
Text. Generally, 85% of the existing
Greek manuscripts of the New Testament agree at any given point. If we were to compile a Greek text by
adopting the reading with the most support, the resultant compilation would be
very stable, and even where a measure of instability would still exist (in some cases
where there are three or more rival variants) the options tend to yield trivial
differences in their meaning. The 2005
Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform is such a compilation.
● Most English translations of the New Testament are based
on minority-texts at points where the Byzantine and Alexandrian text-types disagree with one another. The New International
Version, the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and the New
Revised Standard Version are all based primarily on editions of the Nestle-Aland
compilation, which, despite being compiled via a method called “reasoned
eclecticism,” almost always rejects the majority-reading (that is, the
Byzantine reading) in favor of the reading in the flagship manuscripts of the
Alexandrian family of manuscripts.
Let me take a moment to zoom in on this point. The King James Version is
sometimes criticized because in a few passages, its base-text (the Textus
Receptus) has little or no Greek manuscript support. However, it is no exaggeration to say that if
one were to select 20 places at random in the Gospels, where the KJV and NIV
are based on different Greek readings that have an impact on translation, we
would find that in 9 out of 10 cases, the reading in the Textus Receptus is supported by at least 85% of the Greek
manuscripts. At some points that percentage rises above 99%.
Promoters of the NIV, ESV,
etc., have frequently pointed out that during the centuries after the King
James Version was made in 1611, many more manuscripts have been
discovered. What they tend not to say,
though, is that most of those manuscripts contain the Byzantine Text, and thus
agree with the KJV’s base-text much more than they agree with the compilation(s) upon which the NIV, ESV, etc., are
based. My point being that it is
inconsistent to argue for the reliability of the New Testament by an appeal to the existence of 5,843 manuscripts, and then turn around and reject 85% of those
manuscripts by consistently favoring minority-readings, which is precisely what one does
when using the NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.
In his book, Strobel states that the differences between New Testament manuscripts are “as minor as a few typos in a few insignificant words in an
entire Sunday newspaper.” That is simply not true. He also compares the transmission of the New Testament text to a game of telephone in which, at the end of the game, 29 out of 30 telephone-game players say the same thing. The problem is that the illustration does not hold, as far as the base-text of the NIV is concerned: in the base-text of the New International Version New Testament that Lee Strobel uses, 29 out of 30 manuscripts are routinely rejected in favor of Alexandrian minority-readings.
● The compilers of the New Testament base-text of the NIV, ESV,
etc., consistently rejected the Byzantine Text, favoring the Alexandrian Text
instead – especially when it is supported by Codex Vaticanus. The case for the Alexandrian Text was set
forth in 1881 by F. J. A. Hort – not on the basis of the greater number of the
Alexandrian manuscripts (because then, like now, they formed only a small
minority), and not because of the greater age of Codex Vaticanus (because Hort
granted that manuscripts with an essentially Byzantine Text were circulating at
the same time Codex Vaticanus was made), but on the basis of cumulative evidence drawn from the
intrinsic qualities of rival readings.
Much more could be said about this, but the thing to see today is that
ever since 1881, a working premise of New Testament textual criticism as
practiced by the compilers of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece has been that if one variant is supported
by a thousand manuscripts, and another variant is supported by ten manuscripts,
the variant supported by ten manuscripts is probably original if Codex
Vaticanus is among those ten.
● The relatively recent claim that the New Testament’s
manuscript-support is closer to its composition-date than any other literary work of
ancient times is probably not true. When
Papyrus 52 (also known as John Rylands Greek Papyrus 457) was identified by C. H. Roberts
as a fragment of the Gospel of John, some apologists began crowing about how
this new discovery confirms that there is only a 40-year gap between the
production of the New Testament, and its earliest extant manuscript – a gap far
less than there is for any other work of ancient times. However, this is not all that significant.
Papyrus 52 was assigned a production-date in the first half of the second
century due to palaeographical considerations – that is, via a comparison of
its script to the scripts used in other manuscripts in various eras. But if we reckon that a copyist’s
handwriting stayed relatively the same, and that we have no means to deduce how
old a copyist was when he made a particular manuscript, and if we also reckon
that a copyist might live another 50 years after the beginning of his career as
a copyist, then there is potentially a 100-year swing, 50 years each way, built
into palaeographically assessed estimates of when a manuscript was made. That is, when other factors are not in the
picture, a production-date deduced exclusively from palaeographic evidence
could be off by 100 years. So in the
case of Papyrus 52, saying that it was made “in about 125” could mean that it
was made 50 years earlier (although that is precluded by the point that the
Gospel of John itself is traditionally given a production-date around AD 90),
or 50 years later.
Papyrus 52 might have been made just
two or three decades after the Gospel of John was composed, it is also true
that Papyrus 52 might have been
produced in the 170’s. To ask for
greater precision in the estimate is like asking researchers to tell us the age
of the copyist.
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 412, which consists of a fragment from the composition Kestoi, by the Christian author Julius
Africanus. Julius Africanus died in 240, and probably
wrote Kestoi after 221. This fragment
was a scroll – and in its present condition, while it has part of Kestoi on one side, the other side has a
cursive text that includes its own composition-date, approximately: in the reign of the Emperor Tacitus, who
ruled in 275-276. This means that in
275-276, someone recycled pages from a copy of Kestoi – a composition which had only been composed about 50 years
when this text was first published in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Series, Volume 3,
Grenfell and Hunt affirmed that “it is separated by little more than a
generation at most” from the time when Africanus wrote it. They also observed that despite its close
chronological proximity to the autograph of Kestoi,
Oxyrhynchus Papyri 412, “The text is far from being a good one; several lines
of the incantation especially are corrupt, and one of them is incomplete.” (Similarly, in Papyrus 52, the copyist seems to have skipped two words in John 18:37, εις τουτο (“for this”). This illustrates a point that should be
taught and retaught: neither the
quantities of manuscripts that favor one variant over its rivals, nor the age
of the attestation of readings, should be considered a sufficient and decisive
factor by itself when comparing textual variants.
So, we have a copy of at least one ancient composition (Julius Africanus’Kestoi –) that is extant in a copy
extremely close to the composition’s production-date – probably closer than
Papyrus 52 is to the production-date of the Gospel of John. And this is not the only such case: Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 405 (published in the
same 1903 volume of Grenfell and Hunt’s series) was not initially recognized by
Grenfell and Hunt, who stated that its uncial script “is not later than the
first half of the third century, and might be as old as the latter part of the
second.” Before the year was over,
though, J. Armitage Robinson had not only identified it as a fragment of the
Greek text of Irenaeus’ composition Against
Heresies, Book Three – to be precise, 3:9:2-3, a passage in which Irenaeus
quotes Matthew 3:16-17 – but he also had his findings published in the journal Athenaeum (on page 548 of the October 24, 1903 issue).
the text of Matthew as cited in
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 405 does not say Ουτός ἐστιν (“This is” My beloved Son)
but, instead, Σὺ ει (“You are” My beloved Son).
One could, perhaps use this as evidence that the earliest manuscript of
Matthew 3:17 disagrees with the majority of manuscripts and with the
Alexandrian manuscripts, in favor of the Western text attested in Codex Bezae (although it agrees with the Byzantine and Alexandrian manuscripts, disagreeing with Codex Bezae, where it does not have Codex D’s phrase πρὸς αυτόν (“to Him”)).
Via a consideration of these points I hope that readers may see
that it is an oversimplification to treat either the quantities of manuscripts,
or the ages of specific manuscripts, as if that is automatic
vindication of either a particular reading, or a particular collection of
readings. Where our 5,843 Greek
manuscripts concur regarding the meaning of a particular passage, there is no
scientific impetus to seek some other sense, except in very rare cases where
conjectural emendation may be considered (and even then, I would decline to put
any conjectural emendation into the
text – unlike the current editors of the Nestle-Aland compilation). That is about all that should be extrapolated
from the existence of that multitude of manuscripts.