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The Early Text of the New Testament

October 29, 2018

In some comments on a previous posting, the question of how the writings that came to form the NT were transmitted in the earliest centuries has arisen.   This prompted me to point again to what is probably the best single-volume treatment of the question:  Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, eds., The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

I gave a summary description of the contents of this excellent multi-author work several years ago, shortly after it appeared, here.  In another previous posting, I referred to my own contribution to this volume (here).  The volume is expensive to buy, but some things just can’t be handled adequately in a short YouTube video!  So, if you’re really interested in the relevant questions, you’ll just have to try to get access to this sort of serious work.

It is a particular value of the work that it is made up of contributions by individual scholars expert in the particular text or topic that they address.  It’s not simply the opinions of one scholar or school of thought.  So, you get a good idea of the “state of the question” in scholarly circles on each of the topics covered.

More recently still, I point again to the publication of the detailed study of earliest evidence for the transmission of the Gospel of John (for which we happen to have the most data among NT writings):  Lonnie D. Bell, The Early Textual Transmission of John: Stability and Fluidity in Its Second and Third Century Greek Manuscripts, NTTSD, 54 (Leiden: Brill, 2018).  Bell demonstrates that the extant manuscript evidence shows a remarkable stability, even at this early date, not a “wild” state of affairs.  This is noteworthy, given that at that point there was no effective authority structure (in churches or in state authorities) to control the copying of these writings.

I point finally to another previous posting in which I ask whether it is now time to consider a different paradigm or theory of the early (and later) textual transmission of NT writings (here).  Things were likely more complex than the model of “early wild” and “later controlled/stable” copying allows for.  To mention one thing, it’s clear that major textual variants (such as the “long ending” of Mark and the pericope of the adulterous woman) continued to make their way into the commonly-accepted text of NT writings well into the late Byzantine or early Medieval period.

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  1. focusonfocusblog permalink

    Grant Willson here: Matthew is a transmitter of Mark as he uses him verbatim at times and contains over 75% of Mark’s content. Matthew constitutes the earliest example of the “wild” fluidity of early transmission within Christian literature where changes and additions are wholesale.

    The evidence we can see when we have texts to compare is that the meaning was at times radically changed. Mark says that the women at the tomb told no one (Mk 16:8). Matthew transmitted the text but contradicts Mark by reporting that the women hurried away and told the disciples (Mt 28:8). Matthew not only improves Marks Greek but also neatens up Jesus and the disciples for example compare the response of the disciples to Jesus walking on the water in Mk 6:52 to Matthew’s depiction in 14:32.

    Your assertion of stability is based on later evidence and we just don’t have the manuscripts from the period in question. The earliest transmitters (Matthew and Luke for example) are the most creative but still have significant respect for their sources a lot of the time.

    I treat the scholarship in some of the chapters in “The Early Text of the New Testament” with a great deal of scepticism. For example the very relevant chapter 4 by Michael Kruger on the attitudes to textual reproduction. Do you really believe that this chapter is balanced scholarship or alternately reflects Kruger’s belief that “1. All Scripture is self-attesting and, being truth, requires the human mind wholeheartedly to subject itself in all its activities to the authority of Scripture complete as the Word of God, standing written in the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible, all therein being verbally inspired by Almighty God and therefore without error.” (

    Kruger cites 2 Peter 3:16 as evidence that the letters of Paul where regarded by early Christians on par with the OT? Is Kruger so naive to expect that the “people” who “distort” the letters of Paul would not have made changes to the text of Paul’s letters and distributed them (see 2 Thes 3:17 for further evidence on early Christian’s attitude to their texts)? How do we know that the versions we now have in our NT aren’t the copies that may have interpolations and deletions? It is obvious to scholars that a letter such as the canonical 2 Corinthians was made up of a composite of letters. What has been deleted or changed is just guesswork…..but we do know as you assert that 2 Cor was more faithfully/stably transmitted by later Christians in the third century.

    • Grant Wilson: You make the mistake of confusing authorial activities with copying activities. Matthew and Luke aren’t copies of Mark. They are new compositions, showing obvious authors, not copyists. Ancient authors often incorporated material from others. That’s not indicative of what copyists did. The only evidence of how copyists acted is manuscripts–the direct product of their activities. And all the evidence shows that copyists copied, sometimes carefully and sometimes less so.
      Also the complaints about “heretics” in ancient Christian authors isn’t that they change the text but that they twist its meaning. Your comment is thus ill-informed and your presumption erroneous.
      Your ad hominem response to Kruger’s essay is useless. Either show where his facts are wrong, or leave off.
      So, to repeat: copyists copy. Authors can incorporate other texts into their fresh compositions. REaders can make changes in their texts, which can then get copied into the text by copyists. Got it??

      • focusonfocusblog permalink

        Larry: These delineations are clear to you but where is your evidence for the practice of Christian copyists in the 1st and early part of the 2nd century as opposed to those you call “authors”. I am talking about transmission (rather than categories of late 2nd and 3rd century) and my argument is that Matthew gives us evidence that early Christians changed the meaning of their textual sources (see examples given). Other scholars also don’t see evidence for your clear delineation:

        “How are we defining “transmission” as opposed to “redaction”? Doesn’t the assumption of a sharp differentiation between the two require a notion of a “finished,” authored text that isn’t quite appropriate when talking about at least some ancient writings? At what point, exactly, does someone stop being a copyist and start to be an editor or an independent author? ……It would appear to be a matter of not only the number of differences and the types of differences between two manuscripts/texts but also the self presentation of the copyist/appropriator (that is to say, does the producer of the later text make a differentiation between itself and “source” material?). The preface to the Gospel According to Luke comes to mind as a good example of a work separating itself from its sources. The relationship between what we call the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark is less clear-cut to me. How long of an ending or an introduction would we have to add to the Gospel According to Mark to make it stop being the Gospel According to Mark and start being a new text? And how do these questions affect the traditional goals of textual criticism? On my reading of the discipline, such questions constitute a fresh way of approaching early Christian evidence and thinking in new and challenging ways about our methodologies. A new paradigm, one might say.”

        Given that we don’t know who Matthew was and we know he got 56% of his content from Mark, 24% from Q and we don’t know the source of the M material (that could just be copied) how can you call him an author? To me he might be a creative copyist unrestricted by the constraints of the pressures on the copyist within the 2nd century church. This scenario which is evidence by the synoptic relationship constitutes evidence for substantial fluidity in the extant texts (let alone those in those of the heretics that have all been destroyed).

        2 Thes 3:17 is evidence for my contention that the activities of Paul’s opponents incorporated texts. If they were forgers they undoubtedly practised the more subtle art of interpolation and deletion. Textual twisting can therefore be presumed from 2 Pet 3:16 indeed it was practised by Paul and Gospel writers….that’s how they often get Jesus to fulfil OT prophecy….by frequently taking the OT out of context and changing the wording. Are you saying that it was impossible for Paul’s opponents to do the same with Paul’s letters when there is clear evidence in the canon that early Christians “twisted” texts? Surely the heretics did the same.


      • Grant: Your stance requires us to think that some strong cultural change in early Christian practice took place in the second century. Thereafter copyists copied, but earlier they . . . pretty well did whatever they wanted, freely composing new texts etc. But why should we think that? We don’t have to rely on early Christian texts, for we have non-Christian evidence as well, and can see that all through the Hellenistic and Roman period copyists copied. They didn’t compose new texts. That’s what authors did. It’s not anachronistic to make the distinction, as it’s based on the observations one can make from hundreds of manuscripts.
        With due respect for Nongbri’s efforts to problematize matters, there is an obvious difference between the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, the former some 65% larger in contents! Really! Let’s keep some perspective here, and let’s go by hard data, not by speculations. Clearly, the ancient Christians didn’t confuse GMark and GMatthew (or GLuke), as is evident from the preservation of all three as discrete works.
        Copyists copy. Readers can modify texts, as the case in the various attempts to supply GMark with what some readers obviously regarded as a more “suitbale” ending. And authors draw upon previous works, as did Josephus, the authors of Matthew and Luke, and many others.
        As for 2 Thee 3:17, nothing there suggests modification of a genuine letter. Instead the more natural reading is that it alleges a forged letter.
        As for 2 Pet 3:16, I’m saying that the “twisting” alleged is quite obviously what the author regards as a wrong interpretation of Paul’s letters. It’s evident that Paul’s letters lent themselves to various interpretations, as e.g., shown in 1 Cor 5:9-13.

    • David Madison permalink

      “How do we know that the versions we now have in our NT aren’t the copies that may have interpolations and deletions?”

      I would say it’s like any case of wondering whether the appearance of something is genuine or a carefully-crafted illusion. If it’s just a matter of idle speculation, then there is no harm done. But if you start dreaming up theories that *require* certain passages to be interpolations and imagining what might have been in the “deleted” passages, then you probably need to find a new hobby.

      • focusonfocusblog permalink

        I would contend that the 99.9% of people would say anyone reading this blog needs a new hobby. I am not discussing the content of the changes but just observing that they are likely to exist based on the number of changes in extant manuscripts.

      • focusonfocusblog permalink

        Larry: “We don’t have to rely on early Christian texts, for we have non-Christian evidence as well, and can see that all through the Hellenistic and Roman period copyists copied. They didn’t compose new texts”

        But Koester cites his reading of the evidence and has an alternate view that seems more consistent with the way humans act: ‘critics of classical texts know that the first century of their transmission is the period in which the most serious corruptions occur’ further ‘a text not protected by canonical status, but used in liturgy, apologetics, homiletics, and instruction of catechumens is most likely to be copied frequently and is thus subject to frequent modifications and alterations.’ Helmut Koester, The text of the Synoptic Gospels in the 2nd century.

        Larry: ” [T]here is an obvious difference between the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, the former some 65% larger in contents!”

        But you have no evidence that this 65% isn’t just being transmitted from Q and the M material copied potentially from another source. Matthew could just as much a compiler/redactor as opposed to an author. We don’t know.

        Larry: “Copyists copy. Readers can modify texts, as the case in the various attempts to supply GMark with what some readers obviously regarded as a more “suitable” ending.”

        I don’t understand the change in terminology to “reader”. The transmitter of the text of Mark even in the 2nd century didn’t consider if sacred enough to warrant accurate copying..he just added a new ending. This shows a pattern of behaviour amongst at least some early Christians. Ehrman has catalogue the corruptions that occurred in the period when we do have evidence…so we can only extrapolate these patterns of behaviour back into the period when there were major controversies and a non-canonical status of the text. We don’t know for sure but the balance of probabilities is that the original has been altered.

        “As for 2 Thes 3:17, nothing there suggests modification of a genuine letter. Instead the more natural reading is that it alleges a forged letter. As for 2 Pet 3:16, I’m saying that the “twisting” alleged is quite obviously what the author regards as a wrong interpretation of Paul’s letters. It’s evident that Paul’s letters lent themselves to various interpretations, as e.g., shown in 1 Cor 5:9-13.” You claim not to be a fundamentalist but in my opinion you proof text like one to buttress your position. You need to consider human nature and the devious methods used in controversies more widely. If you can forge a letter you can most naturally insert an interpolation (Paul isn’t creating a catalogue of opponents methods) ….that’s just commonsense, especially when interpolations are seen in other ancient literature such as Homer, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, Euripedes and Thucydides….why would Christians be any different?

        “Your stance requires us to think that some strong cultural change in early Christian practice took place in the second century.” Yes that is correct the church was formulating its belief and texts over the 1st 100 years. I agree with Kruger that some texts had taken on scriptural status (although his appeal to early dates and apostolic influence of these writings fails to consider the evidence) and with that came the solidification (at least in certain circles) of the text. It’s the 100 years before that which my musing are considering.

      • Grant: I respond point by point.
        Koester was neither a textual critic nor a specialist in manuscripts. Instead, the key basis for his view (and his key fallacy) was to take the allusive and flexible *use* of Gospel texts in early writers such as Justin as evidence that the *texts* of the Gospels were transmitted with equivalent flexibility. I and others have repeatedly shown the fallacy of this. Ancient conventions for the use of texts differed considerably from the conventions for copying texts. The only valid evidence for the transmission of texts is manuscripts.
        As for his unsupported claim that texts underwent the greatest changes in the first century of their existence, again, this is not supported by evidence, but rests again on his misguided use of allusions in early Christian writers. By the first century CE we see a great concern in the wider Roman environment for accurate copies of texts, along with some sloppy copying of them. Christians were part of that world, and so were not likely immune to both unskilled copying and on the other hand also a concern for accuracy in copying. For a discussion of the evidence by a scholar who actually is a textual critic and worked closely with manuscripts, in the same volume as Koester’s essay: Frederik Wisse, “The Nature and Purpose of Redactional Changes in Early Christian Texts: The Canonical Gospels,” in Gospel Traditions in the Second Century: Origins, Recensions, Text and Transmission, ed. William L. Petersen (Notre Dame/London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 39-53.

        GMatthew and GLuke are clearly the work of *authors* and aren’t simply the results of pasting sources! Come on! Have you actually studied their texts? Arrangements, emphases, syntax, vocabulary, all indicate purposeful authors, not copyists.

        As for GMark, “readers” = those who used texts, as distinguished from “copyists” = those who copied them. It’s not my idiosyncratic term, but one increasingly recognized in the field. Ehrman’s list of “corruptions” is composed almost entirely of trivial things, and he himself admits that of the thousands of such variants only a few score at most amount to “theologically motivated” ones. And even these are not so clear as he proposes. It is *precisely* what I’m doing to take the evidence of 3rd century manuscripts as reflecting how texts were treated in the 2nd century, i.e., working from what we know to what we can thus infer.

        As for 2 Thess 3:17, or 1 Cor 5:9-13, please! To invoke “human nature” over against the evidence of a text? That only shows how desperate you are to cling to your view! The texts speak for themselves: What the authors regard as invalid interpretations of something written.

        As for your final comment, it only reflects your adherence to a simplistic paradigm that I’ve noted several times now. There is no evidence that church authorities sought to edit the texts of the Gospels, etc. It’s a rather desperate gambit to pose some major 2nd century recension of their texts! All through the 100 years before our extant manuscript evidence, these texts were being read in churches, copies, etc. These forces made it difficult to insert major changes without leaving evidence of it. Sorry, but your objections only reflect a lack of familiarity with the relevant evidence.

      • focusonfocusblog permalink

        Thanks for your detailed responses and the reference mentioned. I appreciate your willingness to interact on these topics. Grant

  2. archivesislam permalink

    “The developed doctrine of the “Trinity” came later, but was prompted by this earlier triadic shape to Christian discourse about God.”

    -so would you agree with the assertion that there is no explicit mention of the trinity in the OT or on the lips of Jesus? It is a derived idea relying on “connect-the-dot” ( a term I have coined) theology?

    • The developed doctrine of the “Trinity” arose through seeking to formulate a doctrine of “God” that (1) took account of the biblical texts, (2) could be expressed in terms of philosophical concepts of the time (3rd/4th century), and (3) affirmed a “monotheistic” stance. The doctrine is shaped by those concepts of that period. The NT writings, arguably, present the “problem” to be solved: In what way is Jesus “divine” and how can you reverence God and Jesus without being a polytheist? The doctrine of the Trinity was an attempt to address this question. For a serious study of this process: R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988).

  3. Donald Jacob permalink

    I have this book it’s very interesting indeed. Maybe I’ll sell my copy now it’s available online!

    But I was wondering, because I get the impression that this book, among others, seems to represent a reaction against the idea that the early text of the New Testament was fluid, chaotic, unstable, wold, or whatever description to indicate that the further you go back, the more the text was changed or corrupted. Daniel B Wallace has also defended the early text tradition and the reliability of the NewTestament text as it has come down to us. In particular he has the popular works of Bart Ehrman in his sights.

    But I was wondering, apart from Bart Ehrman, could you point us to the typical works on New Testament textual criticism that the new approach to the early text is intended to refute? Who were the scholars and what were the major works that were arguing the earliest phase of New Testament transmission was so unreliable?

    • Donald: Other scholars who posited a “wild” handling the NT writings in the early period include Helmut Koester and William L. Petersen. But the multi-author volume isn’t some cheap “reply”. It’s more of a serious state-of-the-matter compendium.

  4. Tom Hennell permalink

    Noting that this blog is not intended for discussion of the Qur’an, Larry; nevertheless might I suggest that the recent publication of the Sana’a Palimpsest by Asma Hillali (specifically her introductory discussion) could be relevant to this particular discussion

    Dr Hilali proposes that exact careful copying of religious texts was a very specific learned discipline – which involved extensive practice in a schoolroom context with successive trial written exercises; and she relies for this on an understanding of ‘reading circles’ as contexts for teaching the discipline of manuscript copying in late antique Egypt. Indeed, in her view, the undertext of the Sana’a Palimpsest is just such a schoolroom exercise created in a reading circle; then scraped and re-used to economise on parchment, Hence never intended as a full text of the Qur’an.

    So, returning to the main subject of this discussion, at what point did the reproduction of New Testament texts adopt the formal discipline of ‘exact careful copying’? Bearing in mind that some early Christian traditions appear never to have adopted such a discipline as general practice (Ethiopia as an example maybe).

    • As I have indicated previously, the extant early NT manusfcripts show rather clearly the aim of copying the text conscientiously. But the copyists, especially in the earliest centuries, varied in their skills to do so. We don’t have “scriptoria” (centres where texts were copied and overseen by correctors). Bear in mind (1) that the NT writings were never copied under state or ecclesiastical control. There was nothing equivalent to the Uthmanic recension of the Qur’an. Also (2) there is a different theology at work. In traditional Islam, the Qur’an is the literal words of Allah, and there is a focus on memorizing and reciting word-for-word (whether you understand it or not). But even traditional Christians grant that the various biblical writings were composed by human authors (albeit “inspired” by God to do so). So, the biblical text was treated more for the message that it contained, and the wording could be treated a bit more flexibly.

      • archivesislam permalink

        (I just found some of your books, I am in the process of reading them.)

        I have a question, was the common Christian literate enough to read their holy book? From what I have read literacy during the time of Jesus was at 3 percent, and that was AMONG THE JEWS. The pagans were worse off ! And even if they were literate, the Church forbade them to read. From what I recall the first person to translate the Bible in to English , was ; “rewarded” by being burned at the stake.

        And this forbiddance lasted even up till the 1970s in certain christian groups.

        This accessibility is one of the main differences between our two religious traditions. The Qur’an was being recited 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And being memorized by millions upon millions…..the same can not be said about the Bible. It was always restricted to the priest class:

        -“In medieval England, Latin was the language of literate people. Direct access to the Bible was restricted in practice to the clergy and monastic orders, and their Bible was the Latin Vulgate.”

        Title: The Challenge of Bible Translation
        Author(s): Glen G. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss, Steven M. Voth, Kenneth L. Barker, D. A. Carson, Charles H. Cosgrove, Kent Eaton, R. T. France, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Douglas J. Moo, Moises Silva, James D. Smith III, John H. Stek, Ronald Veenker, Larry L. Walker, Bruce K. Waltke, Walter W. Wessel, Herbert M. Wolf

        There is no surviving or ‘active’ oral tradition of the NT. Not in Aramaic, or Greek, or Latin, or EVEN THE ENGLISH YOU RECITE TODAY. Whether you believe that we have one or not, the Muslims can make a claim for an oral tradition. The Christian can not.

        Isaiah 40:8

        New International Version
        The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

        Who has a better claim to that verse? The Qur’an or the Bible?

      • Abu Rahman: You’re again ill-informed and confused. Actually, the reading of biblical texts was a regular feature of Jewish synagogues and early Christian assemblies from the first. At first, OT texts, and then as they were composed also what came to be part of the NT. Estimates of literacy are difficult to make, but more recent research suggests that the “functional literacy” rate was higher than some earlier estimates. In any case, all you needed was one literate person for the whole assembly/synagogue to hear and learn from the texts read. So, the literacy rate issue is a “red herring.”
        And as for translation and popular dissemination, this went on from the beginning. The NT, for example was quickly translated into Latin, Syriac, Coptic and other languages, and these translations treated fully as “scripture”. These go back as early as the late 2nd century or shortly thereafter.
        The (much later) attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to forbid the translation of the Bible into vernacular languages is. . . . much later, and was more about a struggle for power than anything to do with reading the biblical text.
        Yes, there isn’t the equivalent of what you call an “oral tradition” (more correctly, a recitation tradition) in Christian circles. That’s because of a different theology of the sacred text. For traditional Islam, the Qur’an in classical Arabic is the literal words of Allah, and so, for example, the Qur’an can’t really be translated. But Christian tradition freely translated their sacred texts and treated the translations “at par” with the Hebrew or Greek originals. And as for recitation of the Qur’an by millions of Muslims, many of them have no idea what the text means, can’t read classical Arabic, and this doesn’t matter because traditional Muslim piety says it’s enough just to recite the words. There are differences between the two traditions, and they arose from different histories and different ideas about their sacred texts. But one is not better than the other. . . just different. Why do you insist of making these ill-informed efforts to assert some superiority of Muslim practice? That’s apologetics, not historical scholarship.

  5. archivesislam permalink

    I have noticed you have closed comments for the other post, Would you like me to address any points that you have brought forth?

    Also what do you think of this quote:

    Taken from Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, page 10:

    “This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals—so saying they were inspired doesn’t help me much, unless I can reconstruct the originals. Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places. As we will see later in this book, these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.

    • This is Ehrman at his historionic peak! His argument only addresses Christian claims about the “verbal inerrancy” of the biblical text, which isn’t the position I take, or that scholars in NT studies tend to take. Everyone in scholarship knows that the NT writings (and all other ancient texts) have undergone copying by hand, which means variants. And given the many, many copies of the NT, there are bound to be many, many variants. But what Ehrman doesn’t say (but ought to) is that of all the thousands of variants (1) many are simply replicas, the same variants happening coincidentally, (2) the overwhelming number of variants are minor and don’t affect meaning in any substantial way, (3) the extant manuscripts include some which,though often fragmentary, show us a conscientious effort to copy these texts (though by copyists with varying skills, to be sure).
      As I say, Ehrman is really addressing only fundamentalist Christians, not the scholarly issues in the quote you cite. If you’re seriously interested in learning about NT textual criticism, you’ll have to read the scholarly works such as I’ve cited in recent postings.

      • archivesislam permalink

        I will endeavor to look up those works.. At the moment I am reading books by Ehrman and his mentor Metzger, I found some interesting stuff like:

        -“Of the approximately five thousand Greek manuscripts of all or parts of the New Testament that are known today, no two agree exactly in all particulars.”
        (Metzger, Bruce. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. New York: United Bible Societies, 1975, p.)
        – He also mentioned in another book, that only 60 MANUSCRIPTS contain the whole NT out of the 5800. I think that number 5800 is thrown around too liberally, gives the false impression of a vast and complete corpus. I can’t copy and paste the text as the writing is an image, but for your record here is the link to the image:

        Also what do you think of this table and this quote that I have read from an average layman(not me):

        ————This chart shows the number of Greek manuscript copies by century. (The data is from Wikipedia, with manuscripts categorized on the cusp of two centuries put into the earlier century.) We have zero manuscripts from the first century and eight from the second. The twelfth century has the most, with 1090 manuscripts. The printing press was invented in the middle of the fifteenth century, which explains much of the drop on the right of the chart.

        —————–The “best attested by far!” claim for the New Testament is true but irrelevant……we have 1090 manuscripts in the original Greek from the twelfth century is not much more helpful in recreating the originals tan that we have 100 million new copies printed each year. What matters are the earliest copies—perhaps the hundred from first four centuries. And the hundred dwindle down to just a relevant handful of copies that are larger than scraps.


        Oh yes, I forgot I would also like to ask about your statement that “the overwhelming number of variants are minor and don’t affect meaning in any substantial way”..Ehrman mentions something to the contrary:
        (I have posted the passage on my blog: (

        Taken from Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus Interrupted”:

        In response to the assertion, made by conservative evangelicals, that not a single important Christian doctrine is affected by any textual variant, I point out:

        a. It simply isn’t true that important doctrines are not involved. As a key example: the only place in the entire New Testament where the doctrine of the Trinity is explicitly taught is in a passage that made it into the King James translation (1 John 5:7–8) but is not found in the vast majority of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. I would suggest that the Trinity is a rather important Christian doctrine. A typical response to this rebuttal is that the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in Scripture without appealing to 1 John 5:7–8. My reply is that this is true of every single Christian doctrine. In my experience, theologians do not hold to a doctrine because it is found in just one verse; you can take away just about any verse and still find just about any Christian doctrine somewhere else if you look hard enough.

      • Yes, it is true that the greater number of manuscripts of NT texts are from the medieval period. We’ve always known that. And, yes, early manuscripts are generally thought to be more important. That’s been a standard practice in NT textual criticism since it first developed in the early 19th century. As to Ehrman’s comments about the variant at 1 John 5:7-8, this one has been known as a later variant for a long time. No news there. And 1 John 5:7-8 doesn’t teach “the doctrine of the Trinity”, but reflects a quasi-trinitarian or “triadic” pattern of belief. But this is simply the wider patter of discourse about “God” throughout the NT. See my book, “God in New Testament Theology” (Abingdon PRess, 2010). The shape of NT discourse about “God” involves “God the Father,” Jesus (“the Son of God”), and “the Holy Spirit.” That is, a “triadic” shape. The developed doctrine of the “Trinity” came later, but was prompted by this earlier triadic shape to Christian discourse about God.

  6. David Forrester permalink

    I think it’s now published in paperback.

    • Thanks for noting this. I’ve also just discovered that (someone?) has put up a PDF of the entire volume!

      • abu adel permalink

        Ok i think my comment didn’t post so here it is again

        I was going to address a few things you said in the comment section of a different post but the comments were disabled so i would like to address them here.

        With all due respect you were asked for evidence after you made this claim…“Further, the Qur’an text was stablized under the 3rd Califph, who then had destroyed all conflicing Qur’anic manuscripts. So, of course, the subsequent manuscript tradition is impressively stable. ”
        —- Conflicting? Please bring forth your evidence.

        But you never brought anything forward instead you simply reiterated your point and changed your wording….Second, Caliph Uthman is reported to have been worried about the divergence in Qur’anic manuscripts and recitations,

        Please show us your evidence where uthman was “worried” about “conflicting” quranic manuscripts

        I will deal with the claim about the recitations after you provide the evidence for uthman worrying about conflicting manuscripts as the claim about the recitations was an adittion to your initial point in your reiteration.

      • Abu Adel: First, this site isn’t one about the Qur’an. So I’m not devoting it to that topic. Second, my only references to the Qur’an have been to make the point that, although conscientiously transmitted so far as we can tell, it has been subject to historical forces, and there is evidence of variant readings, especially in the early period. You asked for evidence: The Sanaa palimpsest rather clearly shows an attempt to overwrite (and so “correct”) an earlier form of the text. Second, Califph Uthman wouldn’t have ordered the destruction of variant versions of the Qur’an unless there were variants that disturbed him. The action suffices to show the concern.
        Finally, I repeat, this site isn’t about the Qur’an. So, I’ve responded to speak to your comment. Let’s drop the topic. I’m not engaging Muslim apologists over the Qur’an.

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