Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Few Notes on Textual Criticism

In my apologetics/worldview class that I am teaching we are using the book Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace.

The portion of the book specifically dealing with textual criticism was done by Daniel Wallace.  Using his material and other sources I put together the following handout for the class.


Textual Criticism

“One lesson we must learn from Misquoting Jesus [by Bart Ehrman] is that those in ministry need to close the gap between the church and the academy.  We have to educate believers.  Instead of trying to isolate laypeople from critical scholarship, we need to insulate them.  They need to be ready for the barrage, because it is coming.  The intentional dumbing down of the church for the sake of filling more pews will ultimately lead to defection from Christ.  Ehrman is to be thanked fro giving us a wake-up call.”[1]

1.     Manuscripts

a.     Greek manuscripts (as of Jan 2006)[2]: 5,745


                                               i.     These date from the 2-16 centuries

                                              ii.     Earliest fragment: P52 which is dated 100-150 AD[3]

                                            iii.     10-15 manuscripts as early as the 2nd century

b.     Versions (translations): 15-20,000

                                               i.     Latin: more than 10,000

1.     3-16 century

                                              ii.     Coptic (old Egyptian hieroglyphic language)

1.     Hundreds to 1,000

2.     Beginning of 3rd century

                                            iii.     Syriac

1.     Hundreds to 1,000

2.     Early 3rd century

c.      Church Fathers: over one million citations

Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.[4]

2.     Comparisons with Other Ancient Literature[5]

When Written
Earliest Copy
Time Span
Number of Copies
Caesar (Gallic Wars)
100-44 B.C.
900 A.D.
1,000 years
59 B.C. – A.D. 17
4th cent. Partial
mostly 10 cent.
400 years
1,000 years
1 partial copy
Plato (Tetralogies)
427-347 B.C.
900 A.D.
1,200 years
Tacitus (Annals)
100 A.D.
1100 A.D.
1,000 years
Pliny the Younger (History)
61-113 A.D.
850 A.D.
750 years
Thucydides (History)
460-400 B.C.
900 A.D.
1,300 years
Suetonius (De vita Caesarum)
75-160 A.D.
950 A.D.
800 years
Herodotus (History)
480-425 B.C.
900 A.D.
1,300 years
496-406 B.C.
1000 A.D.
1,400 years
54 B.C.
1550 A.D.
1,600 years
480-406 B.C.
1100 A.D.
1,500 years
383-322 B.C.
1100 A.D.
1,300 years
200 (all from one copy)
384-322 B.C.
1100 A.D.
1,400 years
5 (of any one work)
450-485 B.C.
900 A.D.
1,200 years
Homer (Illiad)
800 B.C.


New Testament
50-100 A.D.
100-150 (P52)
200 (book)
250 (most NT)
325 (full NT)
+/- 50 years
100 years
150 years
225 years

3.     Some facts

a.     No two copies of the Greek manuscripts agree completely.

b.     About 138,000 words in the NT.

c.      300,000-400,000 textual variants

                                               i.     Textual variant: Any place in the NT manuscripts where there is not uniformity of wording.

                                              ii.     How to count variants

d.     We must weigh the quality of the variants and not merely the quantity!

4.     Categories of textual variants

a.     Spelling differences and nonsense errors

                                               i.     Ioannes  vs  Ioanes (one “n” [nu] or two)

                                              ii.     Moveable nu (“n”): can appear at the end of words that precede a word that begins with a vowel (like or “a” or “an”)

                                            iii.     Nonsense: Codex W kai (“and”) instead of kurios (“lord”)

b.     Differences that do not affect translation or that involve synonyms

                                               i.     Use of article (“the”): Luke 2.16 “the Mary” “the Joseph”

                                              ii.     Word order changes: transposition

1.     Greek is an inflected language so word order does not determine meaning like in English (i.e., “Matt hit the ball.”  “The ball hit Matt.”)

                                            iii.     Synonyms

1.     Lectionaries: manuscripts that have assigned readings for various days

2.     Sometimes add clarification to the text

a.     Example: Mark 6.31-8.26 Jesus is not mentioned by name or title

b.     Lectionary readings add the name “Jesus” to help guide the daily readings

c.      Meaningful variants that are not viable

                                               i.     1 Thess 2.9 “the gospel of God”:  one late Medieval mss. has “the gospel of Christ”

This is meaningful, but it is not viable.  There is little chance that one late manuscript could contain the original wording when the textual tradition is uniformly on the other side of the reading.[6]

                                              ii.     Harmonization of parallel passages in Matt., Mark, and Luke

d.     Meaningful and viable variants à variants that change the meaning of the text to some degree

                                               i.     Romans 5.1: “We have peace”  vs.  “Let us have peace”

                                              ii.     1 Thess 2.17: “gentle”  vs.  “little children” à difference in Greek is one letter (epioi; nepioi)

                                            iii.     1 John 1.4 “so that our joy may be complete” vs. “so that your joy may be complete” à again, one letter difference in Greek

                                            iv.     Only about 1% of variants are “meaningful and viable” and none affect any foundational Christian beliefs!

5.     How to Count Textual Variants: Colossians 2.2 example (from

2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ [tou theou Christou]. (ESV)

2να παρακληθσιν α καρδίαι ατν συμβιβασθέντες ν γάπ κα ες πν πλοτος τς πληροφορίας τς συνέσεως, ες πίγνωσιν το μυστηρίου το θεο, Χριστο, (NA28)

MSS or Versions
of the God of Christ
Standard Text
of the God
10 MSS[4]
of the Christ
01 MS
of the God who is Christ
04 MSS
of the God who is concerning Christ
02 MSS
Of the God in the Christ
02 MSS
of the God in the Christ Jesus
01 MS
of the God and Christ
01 MS
Of God the father Christ
04 MSS
Of God the father of Christ
05 MSS
Of God and Father of Christ
02 MSS
Of God father and of Christ
04 MSS
Of God father and of Christ Jesus
03 MSS
Of God father and of Lord of us Christ Jesus
02 MSS
Of God and father and of Christ
38 MSS
Total 14
14 Variants in 79 MSS
79 MSS

Another hypothetical example:

“In the above diagram, there are 26 total "documents" - designated by solid lines.  The red documents contain variants.  In this illustration there would be a total of nine variants in 26 copies.  But, we can see that they are really one variant that has been copied.  This illustrates why the Bible is actually extremely well preserved since we are able reconstruct the document tree and see where variants are introduced and then document them.”[7]

6.     Text types and geographical distribution

a.      Alexandrian: produced in Egypt, began in 2nd century

b.     Western: produced in Rome and West, began in 2nd century

c.      Byzantine: produced in East, later development based on Western and Alexandrian

d.     Important for the following reasons:

                                               i.     More regions that the reading is in: earlier reading (esp. for first four centuries)

                                              ii.     No one could have gathered all the manuscripts and changed them

     [1] Daniel B. Wallace, “The Gospel According to Bart: A Review Article of Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman” JETS 49 (2006), 337. Online:
     [2] These figures in this section come from NT scholar and textual critic Dan Wallace in the book Reinventing Jesus by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace (Kregel, 2006), p. 77.
     [3] See the online blog post by New Testament textual critic Dirk Jongkind, “What is the Oldest Manuscript of the New Testament?” Evangelical Textual Criticism blog (Tuesday January 13, 2015). Online:
     [4] Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration 4th ed. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 126—quoted in Reinventing Jesus, p. 81.
     [5] Information in chart compiled from Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix A General Introduction to the Bible rev. and expanded (Moody Press, 1986), p. 408; J. P. Moreland Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Baker, 1987), p. 135.
     [6] Reinventing Jesus by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Walllace (Kregel, 2006), p. 59.
     [7] Online: