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Early Textual Transmission of the Gospel of John

March 22, 2018

I’m pleased to learn of the publication of an important study of the earliest extant evidence for the textual transmission of the Gospel of John:  Lonnie D. Bell, The Early Textual Transmission of John:  Stability and Fluidity in its Second and Third Century Greek Manuscripts (Leiden:  Brill 2018).  The publisher’s online catalog entry is here.

We have more early manuscript evidence for the Gospel of John than any other NT writing, including remnants of manuscripts dated to the third century, and in some cases the second century.  I’ve referred to Bell’s study in earlier postings, e.g., here.  Using an innovative approach that allowed him to measure the extent and nature of textual variation among the earliest witnesses to GJohn, Bell demonstrates that they exhibit an impressive stability in the transmission of this text.

Indeed, in another innovative step, Bell also compares the extent and nature of textual variation in these early witnesses to GJohn with the manuscripts of the 4th century and later, and the result is that the earliest witnesses compare quite favorably with the later ones.

So, against the oft-repeated claims of a “wild” and “chaotic” state and transmission of the text of the Gospels in the second century, Bell’s study piles up a considerable body of data showing otherwise.  I think that it should now be noticed by anyone interested in the early textual transmission of NT writings.

The volume is a revised version of Bell’s PhD thesis completed here in Edinburgh.  It’s another of the many excellent PhD studies completed here over the last twenty years or so.  Congratulations, Lonnie!

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3 Comments
  1. Very interesting post: Unfortunately, this is way out of my price range. One of the questions relating to “fluidity” that is left lurking in my mind by Ehrman’s work on textual transmission in OCS and some of his and others’ more recent remarks is: do we have any or sufficient evidence for an *increasingly* stable transmission during the centuries examined by Bell? My believer bias would hope not; my inner-critic would be curious!
    John

    • JB: The answer to the question is “no”, we don’t have evidence . . . one way or the other. Our manuscripts from this period can be dated only palaeographically, i.e., within maybe 100 years or so. So, we can’t line up extant evidence with the chronological precision necessary to answer your question.

  2. Richard Willing permalink

    LET THE RECORD SHOW….. big thanks, prof larry and dr b ell!

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