Understanding The Bible
Part II - Introduction to MANUSCRIPTS and VERSIONS


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible


    1. Description of the New Testament text
      1. Manuscript materials
        1. Papyrus - a fragile material, soon ruined by handling, and preserved only under exceptional conditions in a dry climate like that of Egypt. Made from interwoven reeds which grew along the Nile (the "bulrushes" among which Moses was hidden!). Generally used for copies of Scripture up to the fourth century.
        2. Vellum - made from skins of animals. More durable, but more expensive. Did not come into general use for Scriptures until the fourth century AD, when a new method of preparing the skins made them less exorbitant in cost.
      2. Manuscript forms
        1. Scrolls - the writings were preserved in the scroll (or roll) form until about the fourth century AD. (Some scholars urge an earlier date for the introduction of the codex form.)
        2. Codices - from the fourth century or perhaps sooner it became the custom to cut the skins (or papyrus) like a sheet or page and bind these sheets together somewhat like a present-day photograph album by punching holes in one or two places along the left side and holding it together by a strip of raw hide. The book-like thing was called a codex (plural, codices)
      3. Manuscript lettering
        1. Uncial - there are over 150 uncial MSS of all or part of the New Testament. The script in these MSS is much like the Greek capitals. This is the form of writing used in the earlier New Testament MSS which range in date from the second to the ninth century.
        2. Cursive - these were written in small running-hand letters (as we write). There are over 3000 cursive MSS of all or part of the New Testament. They are usually later MSS, but may have been copied from very early MSS now lost. They range in date from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries.
      4. Papyri discoveries
        1. New Testament papyri - these finds have served to substantiate the text. Dating back before the time of Constantine and the earliest texts previously possessed, they shatter the skeptic's claim that Constantine tampered with the text, changing it to suit himself.
        2. Extra-Biblical papyri - they have shown that the NT is not full of grammatical errors as scholars formerly taught. The language used by the NT writers is not literary Greek or an attempt at it, but is the ordinary written and spoken Greek of the first century AD. It was the Bible for the common people! Compare newspaper English of today. Cobern, New Archaeological Discoveries, pp.3-119 and 166-174.
    2. Chief Greek MSS of the NT
      1. The Papyri MSS Ė 76 available
        The writing on papyri is chiefly in a course, flowing style, and sometimes in uncials. Punctuation, accents, and breathings are almost entirely lacking in these documents. Textual critics have designated them by an antique P and a raised number. Some of the more recent papyrus discoveries are of great significance for textual study.
        1. P1 contains eighteen verses of Matthew 1 (vv. 1-9, 12-20). Third century.
        2. P4 has parts of Luke 1 (w. 74-80), 5 (w. 3-8, 30-39), and 6 (vv.1-4). Fourth century.
        3. P5 has thirty-two verses of John (1:23-31,33-41; 20:11-17,19,25). Third century.
        4. P13 contains Hebrews 2:14-5:5; 10:8-22; 10:29-11:13; 11:28-12:17. Late third century.
        5. P38 contains Acts 18:27-19:6; 19:12-16. Early fourth century.

          The most important papyrus texts are the Chester Beatty Papyri. These papyrus leaves were purchased in Egypt in 1932. Eight OT portions in Greek and three Greek NT portions are in the collection. These papyri are all from the third century or earlier and are in codex form, indicating that this form may have been in use much earlier than previously thought.

        6. P45 Chester Beatty Papyrus I. Originally contained the four Gospels and Acts. Third century.
        7. P46 Chester Beatty Papyrus II. Includes Pauline Epistles. Early third century.
        8. P47 Chester Beatty Papyrus III. This MS contains Rev, 9:10-17:2. Third century.
        9. P52 Rylands Papyrus 457. This portion was discovered by Grenfell in Egypt in 1920 and is dated the first half of the 2nd century. Contains five verses of John 18 (w~31-33,37-38). This discovery has done much to confirm the traditional date of the Gospel of John (important due to Johnís stressing of the Diety of Christ).
      2. The Uncial MSS
        See chart on page 9/25 (opposite).
      3. The Cursive MSS
        Since the cursives are later than the uncials, as a class they are of less importance than the uncials. But there are exceptions to this rule. Some cursive codices bear testimony to an earlier text than the uncials. Their value depends, like that of all the other MSS, upon the approximation of their text^to that of the original. Around 3,000 cursive MSS from the 9th to the 16th century have been listed. Some of these cursives are listed in groups called families (their value is in their great numbers).
        1. Family 1 consists of cursives 1 (10th century), 118 (13th century), 131 (11 century), and 209 (12 century).
        2. Family 13 consists of cursives 13, 69, 124, 346, which are all of the 12th century, except 69, which is of the 14th or 15th century.
        3. Cursive 33, called the "queen of cursives, " 9th century.
        4. Cursive 565, 9th century.
        5. Cursive 81, AD 1044.
      4. The Lectionaries
        These were reading lessons that were used in the public services of the church; they do not have a continuous text. More than 1600 lectionaries are in existence which were written from the 6th century and onward. These selections are usually written in an uncial script and show use of a conservative type text.
    3. Ancient VSS of the NT
      1. The Syriac VSS
        1. Tatian's Diatessaron is a harmony of the Gospels made by interweaving the materials of the four Gospels into a continuous story, AD 170.
        2. Old Syriac VS from the 2nd century.
        3. The Peshitta VS probably originated around AD 425.
      2. The Latin VSS
        1. The Old Latin VSS includes the African Latin VS, which may be dated as early as AD 150, and the European Latin VS, which probably originated in the 3rd century.
        2. The Latin Vulgate was translated by Jerome late in the 4th century.
      3. Other VSS
        Some Coptic VSS originated late in the 2nd century and early in the 3rd century; Gothic VS, AD 350; Armenian VS, AD 400; Georgian, AD 570.
      4. Value of VSS
        Some of these may actually take us to an earlier Greek text than we have.
    4. Early quotations of the NT
      1. Value
        1. Quotations of the NT in the writings of the Church Fathers have definite value in determining the type of text in use in a given locality at a given time.
        2. These quotations sometimes serve as guides in determining the true text of the N.T.
      2. Disadvantages
        1. The Church Fathers often quote loosely from memory, not having the particular MS with them or finding it too difficult to turn it up in a cumbersome roll. They remind us of loose quotations from the pulpit today.
        2. b. Only copies of the writings of the Church Fathers remain today.
    5. Variations in NT MSS or estimate of purity of text
      Bishop Westcott: "It cannot be repeated too often that the text of the NT surpasses all other Greek texts in antiquity, variety, and fulness of evidence by which it is attested. About seven-eighths of the words are raised above all doubt by a unique combination of authorities: and of questions which affect the remaining one-eighth, a great part are simply questions of order and form, and such that serious doubt does not appear to touch more than one-sixtieth part of the whole text." Encyclopedic Handbook of Bible, p. 76.

      Dr. Hort: "... about Due word in every thousand Jias upon it substantial variation supported by such evidence as to call forth the efforts of scholars in deciding between the readings."

      Dr. Ezra Abbott: "About nineteen-twentieths of the variations have so little support that, although there are various readings, no one would think of them as rival readings, and nineteen-twentieths of the remaining one-twentieth are of so little importance that their adoption or rejection would cause no appreciable difference in the sense of the passages in which they occur." International \    Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 2955. (There are approximately 200, 000 variations l/20th equals 10, 000; l/20th of 10, 000 equals only 500 variations which would make an appreciable difference in sense.

      (Note: The rather astronomical number of variations should be explained. The number is obtained by this method. A MS is taken and all variations from it are counted; then the same thing is done with each of the other MSS--each treated as though it were the official MS with which all others are being compared. Hence, the rather fictitious number of variations which ignorant magazine writers and even liberal preachers like to quote with much head-shaking and an unctious tone. The actual number is relatively small.)

    6. Summary statements leading to assurance that the Church has essentially the autographs of the New Testament
      1. Wealth of MS material (e.g., Bishop Westcott above).
      2. Fidelity and ability of copyists.
        There is every indication that the copyists realized the seriousness of making mistakes and did everything in their power to avoid them.
      3. Absence of any motive for falsification.
        There is no valid or satisfactory motive, which can be suggested and proven, why the scribes should have deliberately falsified their copies. False theories, like that of Constantine's tampering with the text, explode before the facts.
      4. The minor character of the variations; often only order of the words is involved.
      5. The providence of God.
        God has graciously preserved the texts of both Old and New Testaments with a minimum of error, which is almost miraculous despite the fact that the texts have been in the care of fallible man.


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