“We have an
embarrassment of riches when it comes to the evidence for the New
Testament.” Ever hear that one? Such a claim is routinely made by Christians
who fill, or appear to fill, two roles as apologists and researchers. And they are mostly right: the quantity of manuscripts of the Greek New
Testament is staggeringly superior to the evidence for any other literary work
of a comparable age. But they are partly
wrong, for at least three reasons.
relative poverty of textual support for specific readings in the works of Suetonius
(to pick one ancient author) does not make other authors (such as the authors
of the books of the New Testament) rich.
Second, the New Testament did not initially
circulate as a single book, but as 27 books - which were not copied and distributed evenly. (There are over 1,600 Greek Gospels-manuscripts; there are fewer than 400 Greek MSS of Revelation.)
quantity is not necessarily quality.
Kurt & Barbara Aland (as in "Nestle-Aland compilation of Novum Testamentum Graece," the primary
base-text of the New Testament in the ESV, NIV, CSB, NRSV, NLT, and NASB), after
listing numerous Greek manuscripts, candidly stated in their 1981 handbook The Text of the New Testament (translated into English by Erroll F. Rhodes), “All
of these minuscules exhibit a purely or predominantly Byzantine text. And this is not a peculiarity of the
minuscules, but a characteristic they share with a considerable number of uncials.
They are all irrelevant for textual criticism, at least for establishing
the original form of the text and its development in the early centuries.”
Greek manuscripts did Kurt and Barbara Aland consider “irrelevant” to the task
of reconstructing the original New Testament text? Looking over their list on pages 140-142
(“Table 7”), I count 887 manuscripts.
Aland & Aland, though, seem willing to put “more than 1,175 minuscules”
(p. 138) into the category which they dismiss as “irrelevant.”
of minuscules that they did not consider “irrelevant” is given on page 138: “a little more than 175.”
uncials, a.k.a. majuscule MSS? The total
number of majuscules is easy to calculate, since each is identified by a number
preceded by a zero, and we saw the addition of 0315 in 2015 – so the current
total number of majuscules is just a bit higher than 315, right? Wrong. Some majuscule manuscripts were obtained by
researchers, and were given identification numbers, after the manuscripts had been
torn up. Only later did researchers
discern that they had portions of the same manuscript, with a different identification-number
given to each portion.
029 is same
manuscript catalogued (in portions) as 0113, 0125, and 0139.
070 is the
same manuscript catalogued (in portions) as 0110, 0124, 0178, 0179, 0180, 0190,
0191, 0193, 0194, 0124, and 0202.
according to Aland & Aland, “belongs with 0117.”
064 is the
same manuscript (in portions) as 074 and 090.
(Part of this manuscript was found among the New Finds at St.
073 is the
same manuscript as 084.
083 is the
same manuscript (in portions) as 0112 and 0235.
(Take note NET-readers; this manuscript is erroneously double-counted in
the NET’s notes.)
087 is the
same manuscript as 092b.
089 is the
same manuscript as 092a and 0293.
0100 is the
same manuscript as 0195, and neither one merits an identification-number among
continuous-text uncial MSS, because each one is part of lectionary 963.
probably (according to Aland & Aland) the same manuscript as 0138.
0129 is the
same manuscript as 0203, and neither one merits an identification-number among
continuous-text uncial MSS, because each one is part of lectionary 1575.
0137 is the
same manuscript as 0138.
0152 is a
talisman, technically not a continuous-text uncial manuscript.
0153 is an
ostracon, technically not a continuous-text uncial manuscript.
0212 is not
a continuous-text uncial manuscript, and thus does not merit inclusion in the
(perhaps too simple) count brings the total number of continuous-text majuscule
(uncial) manuscripts down from 315 (in 2015) to 285.
manuscripts that display a Byzantine text (according to Aland & Aland), and
which are thus “irrelevant,” include 07, 09, 011, 013, 014, 017, 018, 021, 022,
023, 024, 026, 027, 028, 030, 031, 033, 034, 036, 039 (the same manuscript as 566
the text of Matthew and Mark is written in minuscule; Luke and John are written
in majuscule – but it is all a single manuscript), 041, 042, 043, 045, 046,
047, 049, 052, 056, 0104, 0116, 0133, 0135, 0197, 0211, 0248, 0253, 0255, and
0257. These forty majuscules are in the
same “irrelevant” category in which Aland & Aland placed about 1,175
maximum number of continuous-text majuscule parchments that were used
for the compilation of the Nestle-Aland NTG is . . . (let’s see: 285 – 40 . . . ) 245.
these are not complete. It should be
kept in mind than even a tiny fragment, if it is not part of another
manuscript, receives its own identification-number, and is counted as one
manuscript. A complete New Testament =
one manuscript, and a fragment of a single page = one manuscript. Without this factor constantly in mind,
people who hear about the “embarrassment of riches” might tend to imagine that
we have 245 relevant majuscule continuous-text copies of the New Testament. But in real life, as I mentioned, many of the
majuscules are fragmentary.
referring to “New Testament manuscripts,” majuscule or minuscule, it would be
more accurate to refer to “Gospels-manuscripts,” (about 1,800) and to
manuscripts of Acts and the Epistles, and to manuscripts of
Revelation, and to manuscripts that
contain the entire New Testament, whether majuscule or minuscule, are anomalies. (I think about 70 such copies exist.) (Manuscripts with other combinations also exist.)
are not immune from the same (or similar) kind of double-counting that slices
off the number of real continuous-text majuscule manuscripts by ten
percent. Georgi Parpulov, of the
Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, reported in 2022 in the open-access
journal Fragmentology that GA 674 and GA 1284 are portions of the
same manuscript. And one minuscule, GA 2427, which was featured prominently in the apparatus of the Nestle-Aland NTG, but was proven
to be a nineteenth-century forgery, has to go.
Another, GA 2795, is lectionary 2198.
come to lectionaries. Minuscule 2795 is
part of the same manuscript as lectionary 2198.
Parpulov also reported that lectionary 849 and lectionary 309 are
portions of the same lectionary. There
are over 2,300 lectionaries to consider (and here again one should
differentiate between Gospel-lectionaries, and lectionaries of the remaining
New Testament books). But although
lectionaries have been the focus of considerable research, one would think from
the apparatus in the Nestle-Aland NTG and the UBS GNT that hardly anyone is
considering them. Almost all of them
display (with expansions and modifications) the Byzantine Text that Aland &
Aland dismissed as irrelevant.
As Maurice Robinson has
observed – as
noticed by Peter Gurry in 2017 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog – “The resources of the
pre-fourth century era unfortunately remain meager, restricted to a limited body
of witnesses. Even if the text-critical evidence is extended through the eighth
century, there would be only 424 documents, mostly fragmentary.”
I disturbed by individuals who, in one breath, give soothing assurance about the “embarrassment of riches,” and in the next breath endorse the Nestle-Aland compilation that was made with the working premise that over
1,175 minuscule manuscripts, and 40 majuscule manuscripts, are irrelevant? Well, to answer that question, I must diverge
from today’s main topic.
disturbing that anyone would brag about our “embarrassment of riches” and then
proceed to dismiss 85% of the coins in the royal treasury as counterfeit. (Meaning:
Wallace & Co. talk about our “embarrassment of riches” but at the
same time habitually reject the reading found in the vast majority of
manuscripts (not just 85%, but sometimes 95% – keeping in mind that MSS should
be generally divided into Gospels/Acts-Epistles/Revelation categories) when
that reading disagrees with a favored reading in the Alexandrian Text.)
But this is
essentially a point against bad rhetoric, bad apologetics, and bloviations (or
combinations of all three), not a point against the evidence for the New
Testament text, about which I am not disturbed.
I disagree with the idea that the Byzantine text, and the manuscripts
supporting it, are irrelevant. Aland
& Aland’s anti-Byzantine bias is obsolete.
approach used to compile the New Testament base-text of the ESV, NIV, NLT, CSB,
and NRSV is basically the same obsolete, never-was-valid approach that was used
for the 1881 edition of Westcott & Hort.
(NA27 and WH1881 fully disagree in only 661 readings; I use “fully” to
modify “disagree” because the editors of NA27 made non-decisions at multiple
points and put some readings in brackets and double-brackets (a feature which I
guarantee was not in the original text). The number of tenuous disagreements is
higher: 1,372, as I have explained here.)
have to think about that long and hard to discern that the Nestle-Aland
compilation is unstable at 711
points – not counting the 34 readings introduced in NA28, which included a
conjectural emendation (based on zero Greek manuscripts). (Many of which are trivial as far as meaning is concerned.)
doesn’t make the Byzantine Text synonymous with the original text of the New
Testament. But it should make it a lot
more than “irrelevant.” English
translations that take the Byzantine Text seriously (not the similar Textus Receptus) are already on the
market. More are coming, and I hope some
major Bible-publishers will see this as an opportunity to amend the mistakes of
publishers in the past 142 years. So
should English Bible-readers who desire the text in their English Bibles (not
just the footnotes!) to reflect the text found in the rich manuscript-evidence
that is available.
not be interpreted to mean minority readings cannot be original. Sometimes they are original (as I have
repeatedly insisted), and in such cases the reading found in the majority of
MSS must give way, lest scribal inventions, no matter how popular, usurp the
original text. But today’s main point
should not be diminished: talk about the
“embarrassment of riches” by advocates of a New Testament compilation that is
99% Alexandrian (at points where the Alexandrian Text and Byzantine Text
disagree) should stop.