Of all the books of antiquity the Bible stands as the most attested. There are over five thousand ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament alone. Although the contents of these manuscripts mostly agree, there are some differences. Such variants are the subject of this book. Were these variants accidental or deliberate? Is it possible to know the original wording of the Scriptures? Or, despite the passage of time and inclusion of textual variants, have the very words of Scripture been preserved for all generations?
For a number of years there has been a controversy brewing among the Bible reading public. Some believe that the Bible, especially the New Testament, needs to be reconstructed in light of recent textual discoveries. The reconstruction of the New Testament is known as the science of textual criticism. Others believe the original text of the Bible has been preserved over time. This is known as the doctrine of biblical preservation. Neither side is without bias, nor is this book offered in an unbiased fashion. What it does seek to do is to inform those who are interested in this debate from both a scholastic and scriptural perspective.
Reconstruction And Biblical Preservation
The starting point of contemporary scholarship is the evidence of textual criticism. Through the ages several corrections in transmission (the copying of manuscripts over the generations) have crept into the various manuscripts. The place where one manuscript differs from another is called a textual variant. The vast majority of these textual variants came into existence before the beginning of the third century; [George D. Kilpatrick, The Principles And Practice Of New Testament Textual Criticism (Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1990), 34.] this is significant because the majority of existing manuscripts date after this period. Therefore, the age of a textual variant is not limited to the age of its parent manuscript. Whether these variants were deliberate or simply cases of copying the text incorrectly is open for debate. Most likely examples of both can be found in the numerous manuscripts.
The textual scholar’s job is one of sifting through these various manuscripts, comparing textual variants, and determining what is the most likely reading. This is a difficult process so naturally researchers differ as to the final consideration. Textual scholars often are certain they are right but uncertain as to the final product. From an evangelical and conservative perspective, it seems amazing that God gave his words without error (inspiration) and provided the knowledge as to which books are Scripture (canonicity), only to produce uncertainly in the final analysis or lose a portion of them in the process of transmission.
To offset this, conservative and evangelical scholars will incorporate the doctrine of preservation into the process of transmission. They will state that somewhere in the host of textual evidence the original reading remains. It is left to the scholar and student to discover the original reading. Unfortunately, biblical scholarship and biblical preservation are not easily compatible.
To begin with, many of the manuscripts currently known were unknown until the middle of the nineteenth century. Since these manuscripts are usually favored by modern scholarship (liberal or conservative) and considered the original reading, we must logically conclude that what is determined to be original was hidden from the church throughout the majority of its existence. Also, it is reasonable to assume that more manuscripts will be discovered with more variants, making it increasingly difficult to proclaim biblical preservation using this definition.
Additionally, modern scholarship suggests that some of the original readings have forever disappeared. In 1 Samuel 13:1, scholars believe the original reading of the verse has been lost in the process of transmission. [The Revised Standard Version reads: "Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign; and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel." The footnotes for these omissions informs us that, "The number is lacking in Heb[rew]" and "Two is not the entire number. Something has dropped out."] In the New Testament, we have the example of Mark 16:9-20. Most scholars believe the original ending to Mark’s gospel was lost and that the current longer and shorter endings were added in the second century. [Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 102-106.] Obviously, redefining preservation leaves us on shaky ground. If the Scriptures teach the preservation of God’s words, we must either accept the truth of preservation or reject the testimony of Scripture. The following passages are often used to support the doctrine of biblical preservation (1 Samuel 3:19; Psalm 12:6-7; 105:8; 119:89, 160; 138:2; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 4:4; 24:35; 1 Peter 1:23-25).
Rudiments Of Textual Criticism
Biblical preservation does not demand the rejection of textual criticism. It is just as essential for the student of biblical preservation to be aware of the textual evidence as it is for any student of textual criticism. The biblical preservationist, however, first approaches the subject theologically and then considers the existing textual evidence, usually in light of the promise of preservation.
Because there are variants within all the existing manuscripts, the science of textual criticism is conjectural. Different scholars examining the same manuscripts will produce differing Greek texts. This is why there are now three basic Greek texts of the New Testament in circulation: the Critical Text, the Majority Text, and the Textus Receptus.
The Critical Text is the basis for the majority of modern Bible translations today. It is currently reflected in the Greek New Testaments of the UBS-4 (United Bible Societies fourth edition) and the NA-27 (Nestle-Aland twenty-seventh edition). These two texts are now identical in regard to their Greek text, but differ in regard to their critical apparatus (the footnotes discussing the different textual variants). Generally, the Critical Text reflects a textual line called Alexandrian, a name that is explained later in this chapter.
The Majority Text is a work in progress. As the name suggests, it catalogs the majority of the existing Greek manuscripts and reflects a consensus of these manuscripts. However, it does not use all of the existing manuscripts; instead, it uses only a portion of those manuscripts that would reflect what is considered the majority. [There are currently two editions of the Majority Text: The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text (Nelson, 1985) by Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, and The New Testament in the Original Greek According to the Byzantine/Majority Textform (Original Word Publishers, 1991) by Maurice A. Robinson, William G. Pierpont, and William David McBrayer.]
The Textus Receptus was the standard Greek text for centuries. It was used by Protestant translators during the Reformation, and is responsible for the Authorized Version and its English forerunners. [The Textus Receptus used by the translators of the King James Version was that of Theodore de Beza (1589 and 1598). The basic text of this edition has been reproduced by The Trinitarian Bible Society (1976) and is entitled, The New Testament: The Greek Text Underlying the English Authorized Version of 1611. This was based on the work by F. H. A. Scrivener, The New Testament in the Original Greek according to the text followed in the Authorized Version (Cambridge University Press, 1894 and 1902).] The Majority Text and the Textus Receptus are very similar (except in the book of Revelation) because both reflect the majority of existing Greek manuscripts.
The history of New Testament manuscripts is divided, roughly, into three periods: papyrus, vellum, and paper. The manuscripts we have were usually written on one of these three and often reflect the date of the manuscript. Papyrus [There are about 100 Greek papyri manuscripts.] is made from papyrus plants that grew abundantly in Egypt. The inner bark of the plant was cut into thin strips, which were laid side by side and crossed with other strips. They were then pressed together and sun-dried. The papyrus was, for the most part, written only on one side and bound together in rolls. The custom was to write in very narrow columns that had no separation of words, accents marks, or punctuation. Paragraphs were marked with a line in the margin of the text. [The Greek word para means beside. The Greek word grafo means writing. Thus, paragraph.] The papyrus manuscripts are very fragile, and most of what we have are fragments. This period of manuscript production lasted until the seventh century. Philippians 1:1-2, in Greek, would read something like this:
Manuscripts written on paper date from about the fourteenth century to the present. Until this period, it was rare to have a complete Bible in one book. Most of the papyrus and vellum manuscripts are fragments, passages, or maybe a book of the New Testament. But, in the thirteenth century whole books containing all or most of the New Testament became common.
Sources For New Testament Texts
There are three classes of evidence used by textual critics in the reconstruction of the New Testament. First, the main sources for reconstructing the New Testament are the extant Greek manuscripts, which exist in papyrus, vellum, or paper and contain variants. These manuscripts are classified under one of four textual types.
The Byzantine Text. The name is derived from the Byzantine Empire, as it is the type of text copied by Byzantine monks. There are more manuscripts of this text-type than of the other three combined. This line of manuscripts would reflect the Greek Textus Receptus that was used to produce the King James Version. It is also known as the Traditional Text or the Syrian Text.
The Alexandrian Text. The name refers to Alexandria, Egypt where scribes prepared most of these texts. Most contemporary versions are derived from this textual line. The three most important manuscripts that reflect this text-type are Alexandrinus [Codex Alexandrinus is of the Alexandrian textual line except in the four Gospels. There it reflects the Byzantine textual line.] (also known as Codex A, fifth century), Sinaiticus (also known as Codex Alpha, fourth century), and Vaticanus (also known as Codex B, fourth century). [Most scholars today only recognize two text-types: The Alexandrian and the Byzantine.]
The Western Text. Some scholars debate whether this is a real text-type or not. Most believe it is, while others deny its existence as a text-type because of the vast diversity within its representative manuscripts. [Frederic Kenyon, Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1912), 356. E. C. Colwell, "The Greek New Testament with a Limited Critical Apparatus: its Nature and Uses," in Studies in New Testament and Early Christian Literature, ed. D. E. Aune (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), 33.] This line has several sub-groups of manuscripts or families within it. The text is longer than the Alexandrian, sometimes given to paraphrases, and is closer to the Byzantine Text. Some have considered this the oldest textual line. [Bruce Metzger, The Text Of The New Testament, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 213-214.] Codex Bezae (also known as Codex D05) in the Gospels and Acts and Codex Claromontanus (also known as Codex D06) in the Epistles reflect the Western Text. The majority of the Old Latin manuscripts are usually classified as Western.
The Caesarean Text. This text-type seems to be a mixture of the Western and Alexandrian line of manuscripts. It is represented in a few manuscripts (Q, 22, 28, 565, 700, family 1, and family 13). [A "family" is a cluster of manuscripts that reflect the same characteristics and therefore are grouped together.] Some believe it was derived in Egypt by Origen and brought to Caesarea. Because it is a mixture, some question if this should be classified as a separate text-type. [At the beginning of the twentieth century, Kirsopp Lake expounded the possible existence of the Caesarean textual line. Others, such as B. H. Streeter, suggested that this was a new text-type. However, the textual line lacks pure representatives, most demonstrating a significant mixture with the Byzantine text. Larry W. Hurtado has argued against the Caesarean text, Text-Critical Methodology and the Pre-Caesarean Text: Codex W in the Gospel of Mark (Studies and Documents 43, Eerdmans, 1981).]
The second source for making a Greek text is the testimony of ancient versions. These versions, usually translated from Greek, are used as a source for establishing a Greek text. Like the Greek manuscripts, there are a variety of ancient versions that do not agree. Among these are the Latin versions (including both the Old Latin and Jerome’s Latin Vulgate), Syrian (including the Old Syriac and the Peshitta), Coptic (Egyptian), Gothic (early German), Armenian, Ethiopic, and others. These are useful in demonstrating what the non-Greek reading world used.
The third source is the quotations of the early church fathers, called patristic citations. Again, we have differences in several of the quotations that demonstrate differences in New Testament texts. More will be given about some of the early church fathers in later chapters.
Other sources used in reconstruction include lectionaries [There are about 2,200 Greek lectionary manuscripts.] and extra biblical writings such as apocryphal works. Lectionaries were books used by the early church that contained lessons, hymns, and citations from passages of Scripture. These would show that certain Scriptures were in use at a given time and substantiate a questioned text. Apocryphal and extra biblical writings would be citations from books contemporary with the New Testament or works written within the first few hundred years of Christianity. Although not inspired, they often quote Scripture. The following are a few examples.
In Romans 14:10, the King James Version reads, "For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Modern versions tend to read, "judgment seat of God" instead of "judgment seat of Christ." The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians quotes the verse as saying:
The same is true of 1 John 4:3; "And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." The phrase "is come in the flesh" is not found in many of the ancient Greek texts and therefore is not contained in the Critical Text and many contemporary English versions. Once more, in Polycarp’s Philippians we read:
The Textus Receptus And Preservation
Until the early 1800’s, the Textus Receptus was the only Greek text used, at least where Protestant scholarship was concerned. Dr. Kurt Aland, who helped with the Critical Text, wrote: "Finally it is undisputed that from the 16th to the 18th century orthodoxy’s doctrine of verbal inspiration assumed this Textus Receptus. It was the only Greek text they knew, and they regarded it as the ‘original text’." [Kurt Aland, "The Text of the Church," Trinity Journal, Fall (1987): 131.]
Critics of the Textus Receptus believe that its readings are recent and not reflective of early manuscripts. However, there is early support favoring the Byzantine line and thus the Textus Receptus. The Chester Beatty Papyri (P45, P46, and P66) all have readings that reflect the Byzantine line, although they are mixed and have Alexandrian readings as well. These papyri date to the second century or before. The now famous P64 (also known as the Magdalen Papyrus) has been listed by some as the earliest known manuscript, dating to before 66 AD. [Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D’Ancona, Eyewitness to Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 125.] The textual variants within this manuscript support the Byzantine line with no textual support for the Alexandrian line.
Codex W dates from the fourth to early fifth century. It contains the Gospels, yet uses several of the various lines of manuscripts. While most of Mark and part of John reflect the Alexandrian and Western lines, all of Matthew and Luke 8:13-24:25 support the Textus Receptus. [Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 400.] Even Codex Alexandrinus, dating around 450 AD, reflects the Byzantine line and the Textus Receptus in the Gospels while the epistles reflect the Alexandrian line.
Likewise, early translations such as the Peshitta (second century) and the Gothic (approximately 350 AD) support the Traditional Text. Sir Fredric Kenyon, a noted textual scholar, has stated that the Gothic version represents the type of text found in the majority of Greek manuscripts, supporting the Byzantine textual line. [Kenyon, 240.]
Variances In Versions
Since there are differences in various Greek manuscripts, it is of no surprise that there are differences in various Greek texts and therefore differences in English translations based on those texts. When we compare the Greek Textus Receptus with the Critical Greek Text there are almost six thousand differences. Considering that there are 7,959 verses in the New Testament, we begin to see that the differences have a greater effect than what we might think. In the New Testament of the King James Version we have 181,253 words. [Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion To The Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 80.] When the American Standard Version was translated in 1901, it made 36,191 changes to the King James Version’s New Testament. [Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible From KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981) , 70.] This accounts for about one-fourth of the New Testament being changed in one form or another.
The vast majority of these differences, however, are minor. Most deal with spelling or points of grammar. Some are of a more serious nature and cause words, verses, or whole passages to be called into question. Below are a few of the differences that have caused a stir over the past few years. They are divided into several categories so the reader might have a grasp of the situation concerning textual and translational differences.
One notable distinction deals with the number of verses contained in the Textus Receptus that are not contained in the Critical Text, and therefore do not appear in most modern versions based on that text. This, of course, does not prove a certain translation correct and another incorrect. These verses are Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14; Mark 7:16; 9:44, 46; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 17:36; 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29; Romans 16:24; and 1 John 5:7. Additionally, Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 are contained in the majority of Byzantine manuscripts and the Traditional Text. However, most Alexandrian manuscripts do not contain these verses, and therefore are so noted in the Critical Text. This leaves the Christian who believes the commands of Scripture in a dilemma. Three times the Bible warns against adding to or taking from the word of God (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; and Revelation 22:18). Either the Greek texts that remove these passages are corrupt or the Greek texts that add them are corrupt; one cannot be biblical and believe that both textual lines are pure.
Here are a few examples of phrases that are contained in the Textus Receptus that are not contained in the Critical Text. "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen" (Matthew 6:13). "To repentance" (Matthew 9:13). "And be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (Matthew 20:23). "And Joseph" (Luke 2:33). "But by every word of God" (Luke 4:4). "The only begotten Son" (John 1:18). "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). "Through his blood" (Colossians 1:14). "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16). "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest" (Revelation 1:11).
In addition to the examples above, the following passages demonstrate textual differences. By comparing these passages with translations based on the Traditional Text and those based on the Critical Text, one should be able to note where the textual variant occurs.
Matthew 5:27, 44; 13:51; 15:6, 8; 19:9, 20; 20:7, 16, 22; 22:13; 23:4, 5; 25:13; 26:3, 60; 27:35; 28:2, 9
Mark 1:1, 14, 42; 3:5, 15; 6:11, 33, 36; 7:2, 8; 8:9, 26; 9:38, 45, 49; 10:7, 21, 24; 11:8, 10, 23; 12:23, 29, 30, 33; 13:11, 14; 14:19, 27, 68, 70; 15:3
Luke 1:28, 29; 2:42; 4:5, 8, 18; 5:38; 6:45; 7:31; 8:43, 45, 48, 54; 9:10, 54, 55, 56; 10:38; 11:2, 4, 11, 44, 54; 12:39; 17:9, 24; 18:24; 19:45; 20:13, 23, 30; 22:31, 64, 68; 23:23, 38; 24:1, 36, 42, 46, 51, 52
John 1:27; 3:13, 15; 5:3, 16; 6:11, 22, 47, 51; 7:46; 8:9, 10, 59; 9:6; 10:13, 26; 11:41; 12:1; 13:32; 16:16; 17:12; 19:16
Acts 2:30, 47; 3:11; 7:37; 9:5, 6; 10:6, 12, 21, 32; 13:42; 15:18, 24; 18:21; 20:15; 21:8, 22, 25; 22:9, 20; 23:9; 24:6, 8, 26; 26:30; 28:16
Romans 9:28; 10:15; 11:6; 13:9; 14:6, 21; 15:24, 29
1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:28; 11:24; 15:54
2 Corinthians 5:17; 12:9; 13:2
Galatians 3:1; 4:15; 5:19, 21
Ephesians 1:15; 3:14; 5:30
Philippians 3:16, 21; 4:23
Colossians 1:2; 2:18; 3:6
1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:15; 3:2
1 Timothy 1:17; 3:3; 5:4, 16; 6:5, 7
Hebrews 2:7; 3:6; 7:21; 8:12; 10:30, 34; 11:11, 13; 12:20
1 Peter 1:22; 4:3, 14; 5:2, 5, 11
2 Peter 1:21; 3:10
1 John 4:3; 5:13
Revelation 1:8; 5:14; 11:1, 17; 14:5; 15:2; 21:24; 22:14, 19
There are also places where names involving deity are either lengthened or shortened, or added or removed. Most on the surface seem minor, though some have enormous significance and may affect biblical doctrine or their historical setting.
Matthew 4:12, 18, 23; 6:33; 8:3, 5, 7, 29; 9:12; 12:25; 13:36, 51; 14:14, 22, 25; 15:16, 30; 16:20; 17:11, 20; 18:2, 11; 19:17; 21:12; 22:30, 32, 37; 23:8; 24:2; 25:13; 28:6
Mark 1:1, 41; 5:13, 19, 6:34; 7:27; 8:1, 17; 9:24; 10:6, 52; 11:10, 11, 14, 15, 26; 12:27, 32, 41; 14:22, 45
Luke 2:40; 4:4, 41; 7:22, 31; 8:38; 9:43, 56, 57, 59, 60; 10:21; 12:31; 13:2, 25; 21:4; 22:31, 63; 23:42, 43; 24:36
John 3:2, 34; 4:16, 42, 46; 5:17, 30; 6:14, 39, 69; 8:1, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 16, 20, 21, 29; 9:35; 11:45; 13:3, 32; 16:16; 18:5; 19:38, 39
Acts 2:30; 3:26; 4:24; 7:30, 32, 37, 46; 8:37; 9:5, 6, 29; 15:11, 18; 16:31; 19:4, 10; 20:21, 25; 22:16; 23:9
Romans 1:16; 6:11; 8:1; 14:6; 15:8, 19; 16:18, 20, 24
1 Corinthians 1:14; 5:4, 5; 6:20; 9:1, 18; 10:28; 11:29; 15:47; 16:22, 23
2 Corinthians 4:6, 10; 5:18; 10:7; 11:31
Galatians 1:15; 3:17; 4:7; 6:15, 17
Ephesians 3:9, 14; 5:9
Colossians 1:2, 28; 2:2
1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:19; 3:11, 13
2 Thessalonians 1:8, 12; 2:4
1 Timothy 1:1; 2:7; 3:16; 5:21
2 Timothy 4:1, 22
Hebrews 3:1; 10:9, 30
1 Peter 1:22; 5:10, 14
1 John 1:7; 3:16; 4:3; 5:7, 13
2 John 1:3, 9
Revelation 1:8, 9, 11; 12:17; 14:5; 16:5; 19:1; 20:9, 12; 21:3, 4; 22:21
Clearly textual evidence supports the scriptural teaching of biblical preservation. Such evidence plays a vital role in the biblical transmission process, and ultimately, in the culmination of God’s preserved word today.