The manuscripts of Scripture

The original language of the New Testament Except for a few phrases in Aramaic, the whole New Testament was written in the common vernacular of the Roman Empire of the first century, that is, Koine Greek. It was the lingua franca of the day, and the new covenant, being the expression of the wideness of God's mercy even to the Gentiles, was appropriately written in the language that most would understand.It was a rich language, employed by commoners and philosophers, which the Holy Spirit wisely used to record the sublime truths that emerge from the appearance of the Christ, his atonement and all its ramifications.

Many manuscripts of the Bible from antiquity have come down to us, a number of them being deposited in museums and universities. The more famous among them are:

Codex Sinaiticus

It is believed that this copy was made around 340 AD. It contains the Old Testament in Greek, the entire New Testament, and the epistle of Barnabas and part of the Shepherd of Hermas. It was discovered by Dr. Tischendorf in 1859 in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai.

Codex Vaticanus

Known alternatively as Codex B, this manuscript also dates from about 350 AD. It contains the Old Testament Septuagint translation with most of the Apocrypha, and the New Testament. Part of the epistle to the Hebrews, the Pastorals, Philemon, and Revelation are missing. The Codex is written on very fine vellum leaves, 10 by 10 and a half inches. It consists of 617 leaves in the OT and 142 in the New. Its early history is unknown; it was catalogued in the Vatican Library in 1481.

Codex Alexandrinus

This Codex, also called Codex A, is so named because it is supposed to have come from Alexandria around 450 AD. It contains the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament. It was the first Uncial to be used by biblical scholars. Though ancient, these 3 Codexes may not be supposed to be the most trustworthy. Actually there are significant variant readings between them.

Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus

This Codex is called a palimpsest, the name given to a parchment which as been written on twice by having the first writing erased or partially erased. Originally it was a manuscript of the Old and New Testaments, copied around 450 AD. In the 12th century the original was erased and the sermons of the Syrian Father Ephraem (around 300 AD) were written in its place. Through the application of chemicals the original writing was partially restored. Tischendorf edited and published it in 1845. It is also referred to as Codex C.

Codex Bezae

This manuscript is dated around 550 AD. It is written in both Latin and Greek. It was found in the monastery at Lyons, France, by the Genevan reformer, Beza in 1562. It is now in the library of the University of Cambridge.

The Washington Codex

Alternatively known as Codex W, or Codex Washingtoniensis, dating from the 5th century, it was purchased by C.L. Freer in 1906 and is now in the Freer Art Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. It is a complete codex of the Gospels, whose, order, as in Bezae, is Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. It contains Mark 16:9-20 with an interpolation found in no other MS.

Sources for New Testament Texts It must be established first of all that when we speak of textual criticism we do not at all mean to “correct” the Bible, which would be both preposterous and absurd. For fallible man cannot correct the infallible Word of God; and the Word of God, being what it is, cannot contain errors.

But since we are necessarily engaged both to proclaim the Word and to defend it against the attacks of unbelievers, in using the term reconstruction of the New Testament we are only borrowing a term much used by liberal scholars who imagine that the New Testament was lost and is only to be rediscovered by a long and labourious process.

This we deny, for many reasons can be adduced in defending the Textus Receptus as the New Testament text that was preserved throughout the centuries as the pure Word of God.

This text is also known as the Byzantine Text, or the Majority Text, since by far most of the extant ancient texts conform to this family of text. There are far more manuscripts of this type than of the other families combined. By itself this is a strong and irrefutable proof that it constitutes the preserved text. This traditional text, being known and widely spread since the death of the apostles, became so dominant - being the true text - that virtually all the fringe and corrupt texts became disused.

These texts are now divided into basically three other families, though this term is hardly appropriate for them, since their number is so meagre.

The Alexandrian text derives its name from the Egyptian city, where Gnosticism proliferated in the post-apostolic period. It was also the city which promoted the allegorical (and absurd) interpretation of Scripture. Modern versions, against all good reason and logic, are based on these few texts, simply because Westcott and Hort pronounced them to be neutral and unbiased. Actually they diminish important doctrines such as the deity of Christ. The Vaticanus, Alexandrinus and Sinaiticus are from this corrupt branch of texts.

Then there is the Western text, though debate still continues among scholars whether they form of distinct family from the TR or not. The differences are so minor that they do not desires a classification of their own.

The last family of texts, the Caesarean, seems to be a mixture of the above family of manuscripts.

For all intents and purposes, then, there are basically two families: the Majority and the “minority” text (some 5% only of all extant manuscripts).

The validity of the TR as the preserved text is seen when we compare it with ancient versions. Since these versions were translated from something, they are used as a source for establishing a Greek text.

Furthermore, the quotations used by the post-apostolic fathers also confirm the authenticity of the TR. Besides the Uncial and Cursive Manuscripts, Textual critics avail themselves of the Scriptural quotations in the writings of the early Church Father. It is calculated that in the extant writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Eusebius, there are 36,289 quotations from the New Testament. The writings of early champions of the truth (and heretics) contain copious references to the Bible and again testify concerning the Greek text as it was in the second century onwards - in a period earlier than our oldest copies. By and large the patristic citations favour the Majority Text! They establish the antiquity of this text and its superior acceptance in the earliest period.

To take an example from Polycarp: from him we have evidence in favour of “the judgement seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10) instead of “of God,” as we have it in modern Bible versions. The TR has “is come in the flesh” in 1 John 4:3, while the other families of texts delete it. But when the mentioned church Father quotes the text, he includes the full phrase, another confirmation of the genuineness of the TR. In 1 Timothy 6:10, should we have “a root” or “the root” of all evil? Polycarp agrees with the latter which is found in the Majority Text.

Other sources for textual criticism are the lectionaries and apocryphal writings. These show that certain Scriptures were in use at a given time, and substantiate a questioned text.

A great scholar of the 19th century wrote: “To cast away at least nineteen-twentieths of the evidence, and to draw conclusions from the petty remainder is not...consistent with conscientious exhaustiveness and logical method.”

Knowing the most reliable character of God, in His faithfulness and wisdom, we believe that under His singular care and providence more reliable MSS were multiplied and copied from generation to generation, and the great majority of existing MSS exhibit a faithful reproduction of the true text which was acknowledged by the entire Greek Church in the Byzantine period (AD 312-1453).

This text was also represented by the small group of documents available to Erasmus, Stephens, the compilers of the Complutensian edition and other sixteenth century editors.

This text is represented by the Authorised Version and other Protestant translations up to the latter part of the 19th century, when unbelief, under the subtle guise of scholarship, raised its ugly head.

Modern Textual Criticism

According to the critics Westcott and Hort, the New Testament critic must be a trained scholar having a general knowledge of what must be look for in order to make a choice of readings. This is true as far as it goes, but we must add that our approach to Scripture must be reverent and believing. Westcott and Hort are known to have said and wrote that the Bible is to be considered as an ancient manuscript, no better and no worse than other ancient profane manuscripts. Where does the providence of God come in here? Such a presupposition is humanistic; it denies the superintending control of God in the affairs of the world, and most especially where His written Word comes in.

The same critics also claimed that the sources of the text must be sifted and classified, and the authorities for the variants must be weighed rather than numbered. But weighed by whom, by bigoted men who are persuaded that the New Testament was lost during the Middle Ages, even up to the late nineteenth century? And why are the number of manuscripts in favour of one reading unimportant? It is both biblical and logical that the more the witnesses the more credible the thing.

Westcott and Hort asserted that one independent manuscript may be worth a score that were copied from the same original. But who is to judge whether this MS or the other were copies from the same source?

They also asserted that the ancestry of a manuscript must be traced as far back as possible. But they only insisted on this because their two favourite MSS, the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, were somewhat older than the majority of the others. Their prejudice shows.

Another Westcott and Hort dogma was that in general, the shorter reading is preferable to the longer, because insertions and additions are more probably than omissions. But...who says so? Were Wescott and Hort there in the second century or any other century except the 19th? How could they verify this dogma?

Furthermore they claimed that the more difficult and obscure reading is preferable to the one that is more simple and easy in construction. A difficult reading might trouble a scribe and lead to a change. Again, we retort, considering the seriousness and commitment of the scribe, being fully aware of what he was undertaking, it is exceedingly difficult to imagine him changing the text at will. And why should the more difficult reading be the genuine reading? This is subjective reasoning, to say the least.

They say that the reading which bears the earmarks of doctrinal controversy should be ruled out in favour of one to which no suspicion is attached. But by this reasoning, “Who was manifest in the flesh” is to be preferred to “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). Do Westcott and Hort want us to have a New Testament drained of its doctrine? How foolish!

Their prejudice shows forth in their dictum that the primary uncials, Sinaitic, Vatican, Ephraem, and Alexandrian, especially the first two, if sustained by ancient versions and ante-Nicene citations, outweigh all later authorities, and give us presumably the original text. But by what twisted logic have they, quite capriciously, selected just two MSS and make them judges over all the others? This is nothing else but textual nepotism!

Admittedly their favourite manuscripts are somewhat older than all the others. But age may not be the determining factor in the authenticity of a given manuscript. Manuscripts which were not used (because corrupt!) would naturally last longer than manuscripts where were in constant use.

Scholarship is to be promoted in every way and by all legitimate means, but when man arrogantly sits in judgment over God’s Word then scholarship betrays its devilish character (“Yea, hath God said...?”), Rather than proving to be of benefit, it will be the ruin of those who disregard the concrete evidence...which is in favour of the Textus Receptus!

Comparing Modern Textual Criticism with the Traditional Text

1. The main weakness of the eclectic Text is exactly this, that it is “modern.” It has no precedent in history. It was unknown in the past.

God works in history and has His testimony imprinted in history. It is undisputed that from the 16th (at the renaissance and Reformation times, when there was a return to the Greek sources) to the 18th century orthodoxy’s doctrine of verbal inspiration assumed the Textus Receptus. It was the only Greek text they knew and they rightly regarded it as the original text.

Are we then to throw away the past and say that the church, throughout the centuries had lost its Bible? This is the height of folly and most unlikely, even impossible, considering Christ’s promise to nourish His people by the Word and Spirit.

2. Critics of the TR say that this line of manuscripts is recent and not reflective of early manuscripts.

It is admitted that the majority of all Greek manuscripts date after 1000 AD but to insinuate that there is no textual support for this line before that date is both absurd and without informative substance. All these texts came from somewhere and had some other texts to support them (which obviously were lost). They did not originate in a vacuum.

But to the evidence! The Chester Beatty Papyri, one of the most ancient extant MS, has readings that reflect the TR against all other line of manuscripts!

3. Are the best manuscripts those that the catholic church has historically rejected and laid aside? This is what Westcott and Hort would have us believe.

But the authentic MSS are naturally and obviously the one which have been traditionally used by conservative Bible-believers throughout the centuries. The fact is that the vast majority of existing MSS reflect the TR type of MS.

These MSS were used to produce virtually all the Protestant Bibles in a good number of languages. God blessed them and increased His church through the use of the TR. Is this evidence to be brushed aside? God works in time and space; He works through His people, not from the liberal critic’s desk!

Why would God allow the majority of manuscripts to be of the TR line if it is incorrect? Would God want to deceive His own people? Away with the thought!

If the Traditional line of manuscripts is not the correct line, why has God so greatly blessed this line and the translations of the TR throughout church history? And why would He allow the few other MSS to remain hidden and unknown? And would He give the key of knowledge to Westcott and Hort whose moral conduct and beliefs are most suspect?

Wescott and Hort Until 1880 the Authorized Version was used by almost everyone. Since 1881 there has been doubt about 10 per cent of the New Testament in over 5000 different places, and in effect there have been in existence two different New Testament, one based on the Textus Receptus (Authorized) and the other based on the eclectic text of Westcott and Hort (all other versions).

Since 1881 practically all new translations of the bible have differed radically from the Authorized Version, following the text of the Revised Version more or less closely. The question comes to this, Had the church lost the true text of the New Testament by the third or fourth century AD (as Westcott and Hort claimed) or has it been preserved rightly through the centuries until today?

Everything depends on the faith and attitude of the person who comes to read the Bible. If the Bible is merely a human book the reader treats it like any other book. This is what has happened since 1881 with regard to the text of the Bible. The text has been altered to fit human theories of its origin.

But the Christian who believes in the doctrines of the divine inspiration of the Bible and the providential preservation of the Bible has a different attitude to the text of the Bible, radically opposite to that of Westcott and Hort.

In 1881 these Anglican scholars published their New Testament in the Original Greek, in which they used the different readings of manuscripts B and Aleph to change the New Testament. Their theory is that the New Testament has survived almost perfectly in these two manuscripts, especially in B. They nicknamed it the Neutral Text. They believed that Aleph and B were approximately the original text of the New Testament as written by the apostles.

Westcott and Hort disregarded the providential care of God over his inspired Scripture. "We dare not introduce considerations which could not reasonably be applied to other ancient texts, supposing them to have documentary attestation of equal amount, variety and antiquity" (The New Testament in the Original Greek, p.277.).

Westcott and Hort believed that orthodox Christian copyists of the NT text had altered the manuscripts to agree with orthodox Christian doctrine. As a result of this theory the text found in the majority of the NT manuscripts was condemned, while that of B and Aleph was favoured.

They constructed a supposed family tree of the 5000 or so surviving Greek manuscripts, and distinguished four main types of manuscripts, which they called Neutral, Alexandrine, Western and Syrian.

Thus they were in their view four main witnesses to the identity of the true text of the NT, and the 80 to 90 per cent majority of the Traditional Text of the AV is reduced to merely one witness, the Syrian Text.

The next step was to try to show that the majority of the manuscripts is an inferior witness. The first attempted proof was conflation, or a special kind of mixture, in which readings from two different manuscripts were combined.

The second attempted proof was the supposed lack of Syrian readings before the time of Chrysostom, who died in 407 AD. They said that he was the first Father to use the Syrian text. The third attempted proof was based on internal evidence in the Greek manuscripts.

They wrongly supposed that scribes would naturally add material to the text rather than omit material, and also that scribes would simplify the text when confronted with a difficulty. On this test the Syrian text appeared to them to be later than the other types.

There were still major questions to be tackled by Westcott and Hort. How did this Syrian text come into being? How did it come to supersede the other types of text from the fifth century onwards? Their answer was that ecclesiastical authorities organised a revision of the text and then imposed it upon the churches, although there is no historical evidence whatsoever of such a revision.

All in all, the contribution of Westcott and Hort is negative; in a subtle and devious way it discredits the integrity of the Bible; their work is based on speculation and bias against the Textus Receptus.