New Testament Manuscripts and Text TypesHere we will look at the extant New Testament manuscripts and the grouping of these into text-types. We will also look briefly into the history behind the first printed Greek New testament, the Textus Receptus.
Papyri refers to the material the text is written on, papyrus. Papyrus manuscripts are the earliest witness to the New Testament. extant papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament ranges from the second century CE to the eight century CE. Papyrus manuscripts are designated using the letter "P" followed by numerals in superscript (e.g. P1, P52 etc). There are about 96 papyrus manuscripts.
The other two categories, rather inconsistently with the first, refers to the handwriting style of the manuscripts. Uncials, refers to the formal capital letters used in the writing of the text. Uncial manuscripts are normally written on parchments (animal hides). extant New Testament uncial manuscripts ranges from the turn of the third century CE to the 11th century CE. The modern designation for uncials is with an initial 0 followed by further numbers. However for the first 45 manuscripts, the traditional designation of using capital letters is still used (thus is 01, codex A is 02, codex B is 03 etc)There are 299 extant uncial manuscripts.
Minuscules refer to the small letters written with a running hand. Minuscules form the bulk of the manuscripts (approx 2,800) but are also the latest and furthest removed from the original manuscripts. The earliest minuscule manuscripts date from 9th century. The latest, just before the advent of printing, in the 16th century. Minuscules are designated by simple numerals starting with 1. 
Numbering approximately 2,300, lectionaries are "non-continuous text" manuscripts. These are essentially used for church worships where separate pericopes are arranged according to the requirements of the annual church ritual. These are not in the sequence of the canonical gospels. The earliest fragment extant is dated to the fourth century. However the bulk dates from the ninth to the sixteenth century. Almost all of these lectionaries are not important for textual research and we will not be discussing them anymore below. Lectionaries are designated with the letter l followed by numerals (e.g. l1, l2 etc). 
Papyrus manuscripts, although being the earliest witness to the text, are almost always fragmentary. The earliest papyrus is P52, a small fragment containing only six verses from the gospel of John (John 18:31-34, 37-38). It is conventionally dated to 125 CE. [b] The bulk of these manuscripts date from the third and fourth centuries.
Two papyri finds that are of importance, as far as we are concerned, are the Chester Beatty Papyri and the Bodmer Papyri. The former, three manuscripts designated as P45 , P46 and P47, were named after the American millionaire, Alfred Chester Beatty who bought the fragments in 1931 in an Egyptian black market. P46, dated to the around 200 CE, contains the letters of Paul (but is missing some parts and is lacking completely in the pastorals, II Thessalonians and Philemon ). P45 and and P47, are both dated to the third century CE. The former consists of the gospels and Acts (beginning from Matthew 20:24 and ending at Acts 17:17 but with a lot of gaps) while the latter are fragments from the book of Revelation (Rev 9:10-17:2 with some gaps).
The Bodmer Papyri consist of three manuscript fragments, P66, P72 and P75. P66 dated to circa 200CE, is a codex of the gospel of John, with the first fourteen chapters complete and the remainder in fragmentary condition. P75, a third century fragment, contains the gospels of Luke (from Luke 3:10 with some gaps) and John (John 1:1-15:8 with a few gaps). Finally, P72, from around the turn of the third and fourth centuries, contains Jude and I & II Peter.
Three other papyri manuscripts are of importance for they provide early evidence for the "Western" text rendition of the Acts of the Apostles (see below):
Uncial manuscripts are, as a rule, more complete than the papyrus type. We will give a brief run down of the earliest and most important manuscripts.
Perhaps the most famous uncial manuscript is the Codex Sinaiticus [c] , designated as 01, which was discovered by the German New Testament scholar, Constantine Tischendorf (1815-1874). He found the manuscript in 1844 in the monastery of St. Catherine in Mount Sinai. Tischendorf took the manuscript from the monks as a loan but gave it to the Czar of Russia as a present! In 1933 the Codex was bought from the Soviet government by the British museum. The date of the manuscript has been dated from mid to late fourth century AD. The Codex Sinaiticus is the only extant complete copy of the Greek New Testament text in uncial script. 
The Codex Vaticanus, designated as B 03, is so named because it is now found in the Vatican Library. The codex has been in that place since 1481, although nobody knows how it got there in the first place! The Vaticanus is arguably the most important and probably the earliest (early fourth century) of all the New Testament manuscripts. The New Testament is not complete however, as everything after Hebrews 9:14 is lost. 
Apart from these two very important uncials, there are five others that the reader should know something about. The A 02, C 04, Dea 05, W 032 and Q 038.
Miniscule manuscripts are the most numerous: numbering more than 2,800. Of these, about 80% attest to the late full-blown Byzantine text type (see below) and are of little value in textual research. However about 10%, according to Kurt and Barbara Aland, offer evidence of earlier text. Some of these more important ones include: 
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Old Latin (OL) versions, called such to differentiate it from Jerome's Vulgate, first appeared probably around the end of the second century CE. Extant OL manuscripts date from the fourth to the thirteenth century. There are, extant, about 50 manuscript fragments of OL, none of which contains the complete New Testament. 
The famous Vulgate is a Latin translation of the Old and New Testament from the original languages by Jerome (c342-420). The Vulgate, undoubtedly an achievement of a high order, was the Bible for western Europe for a thousand years. Perhaps due to its popularity, many attempts were made to "correct" or "purify" Jerome's text. Today the more than 8,000 extant manuscripts of the Vulgate show numerous cross contamination of all textual types. Thus the Vulgate is not considered of much help in discovering the original text of the New testament. 
The Old Syriac is the term given to the two earliest manuscripts of Syriac translation. These are dated to fourth and fifth centuries. These two manuscripts are the Syrc, called the Curetonianus after it's discoverer William Cureton and the Syrs, the Sinaiticus called after its place of discovery. 
The standard Bible of the Syrian Church is the Peshitta. The Peshitta, of which there are 350 extant manuscripts, contains 22 books of the New Testament but lacks II & III John, II Peter, Jude and Revelation-which the Syrian Church does not accept as canonical. Like the Vulgate, the Peshitta betrays the work of many hands (attempted corrections and revisions) and is of limited significance textually. Other Syriac versions include the Harklensis/Philoxeniana (Syrh), which may have some textual significance, and the Palestinian Syriac. 
Coptic, an ancient Egyptian language, is written with Greek alphabets (with additional letters). There are seven known Coptic dialects: Sahidic, Bohairic, Fayyumic, Akhmimic, Subakhmimic, Middle Egyptian and Protobohairic. Versions in the first two dialects are normally considered the most important. The oldest Coptic manuscripts found are fragments that date from the fourth century consisting of texts from the gospels. 
Two other versions deserve mention; the Armenian and Georgian Versions. Both these are translations, not from the original Greek, but from other versions. The early Armenian versions (no earlier than the fifth century) were probably based on the old syriac versions. Later, around the eighth to the twelfth centuries, the Armenian version was revised based on a Greek text. With the exception of the Latin Vulgate, there are more manuscripts of the Armenian version (around 1,500 manuscripts) extant than any other versions.
The old Georgian version was a translation of the old Armenian version. Thus it was a translation of a translation of a translation of the original (Georgian-Armenian-Syriac-Greek). Among the oldest known Georgian manuscripts are the Adysh manuscript (897 CE) designated as Geo1, the Oppiza manuscript (913 CE) and the Tbet manuscript (995 CE). The last two are collectively designated as Geo2. 
Back to the topelsewhere, the early manuscripts of the New Testament are not error free. In fact the scribes make all types of errors imaginable, some unintentional and some intentional. The vast majority of these errors occur during the first four centuries CE. Thus the extant manuscripts today is a vast sea of confusion that needs to be sorted out for any sense to be made of them.
Johann A. Bengel (1687-1752) was the first textual critic to suggest that the ancient manuscripts could be group into text types; groupings of manuscripts with similar characteristic readings. Later Johann S. Semler (1725-1791) was to suggest three major groups of manuscripts which he termed the Alexandrian (derived from the citations of Origen (c185-254), and preserved in the Syriac and Bohairic versions), the Eastern (from the chruches in Antioch and Constantinople) and the Western (based on the Old Latin versions and citations from the western Church fathers).
Next came Johann J. Greishbach (1745-1812) who refined earlier ideas and suggested three textual families. The Alexandrian (represented by the uncials C, L and K), the Western (represented by the uncial D) and the later Byzantine text (represented by the uncial A and a great mass of the minuscules). 
In 1881, B.F. Wescott (1825-1901) and F.J.A. Hort (1828-1892), published their groundbreaking two volume The New Testament in the Original Greek. They divided the manuscripts into four basic groups. the Syrian, the Western, the Alexandrian and the Neutral. The Syrian is essentially what is today known as the Byzantine text. They considered the Syrian text, represented mainly by Codex Alexandrinus (A 02) in the gospels and the bulk of the later minuscules, to be a conflation of earlier textual families and are useful mainly for "recitation" and not for "diligent study"; in other words, of very little textual value. The Western Text, represented by Codex Bazae in the gospels and Acts (Dea) and the Old Latin versions, is of early origins, perhaps as early as just before mid second century CE. The Alexandrian Text, represented by codex Ephremi (C 04), minuscule 33 and the Coptic versions, is characterised by a greater degree of polish in its style. This, according to W&H, is due mainly to the influence of its affinity to the great centers of Greek learning. Finally, the Neutral Text, represented by the Codex Sinaiticus 01, and Codex Vaticanus (B 03), is, as the name implies, the textual group most likely to be the original readings from the autographs. To W&H, readings from the Neutral Text family are accepted as the original text and are only to be rejected when strong evidence exists to the contrary. 
The main development since the time of Wescott and Hort is the discovery of the numerous papyri manuscripts from Egypt. These discoveries have tended to confirm their basic position on the textual families (with some minor changes) and on the lateness (and low textual value) of the Byzantine text. 
The generally accepted position [d] on the textual families today can be represented by the diagram below:
Of course the manuscripts of a certain text type are not completely identical but they are similar to each other within a certain text type that grouping them into three (or four) types can be done quite easily. Below we will give a brief characteristic of each text types.
The Alexandrian / Egyptian text type is the new name for the "Neutral" text of Wescott and Hort. Gordon Fee explains the characteristics of this text type:
The name "Western" text is now almost invariably given with the inverted commas. This is due to the fact that its geographical range is wider than the original term suggests, for manuscripts and citations of Church Father from the East (e.g. Clement) are known. The "Western" text type:
The existence of a third early text type, the Caesarean, is disputed by some scholars. The reason for the dispute is simple, what is distinctive about the text type is that it contains a mix of "Western" and Alexandrian readings. 
The Byzantine text type, as can be seen from the table above, appears late in the history of NT manuscripts. Codex Alexandrinus, (c475), is the earliest manuscript witness of this text type, and even here, it is only a witness for the gospels. The earliest full witness are from two eight and ninth century uncial manuscripts. The Byzantine text type has very low value as a textual witness to the original autographs. Bruce Metzger summarized this thus:
The characteristics of Byzantine readings tend to confirm this secondary origin:
The value of this classification into text types is that it allows the textual critic to weigh the manuscripts rather than merely count them. This grouping of manuscripts allows one to consider the genealogy of the textual witnesses. Thus if ten manuscripts agree against one, but the former group is known to be derived from a common original, the numerical preponderance count for nothing. The grouping of manuscripts into text types also allows for their general characteristics to be used for evaluating various readings when the internal evidence of the texts is ambiguous.
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Erasmus published five editions from 1516 to 1535. Erasmus' Greek text was based on only about half a dozen minuscule manuscripts of the Byzantine text, indeed he relied mainly on two of these-both dating from the twelfth century. The oldest (and best) of the texts available to him, a tenth century manuscript, he rarely used because he was afraid of what seems to him like an erratic text! Indeed a look at the work he did on the first edition would be revealing.
Erasmus only had one manuscript for the book of Revelation. This manuscript was missing the last page and thus he had no access to the last six verses of the book. Erasmus then used the Latin Vulgate, translated these verses into Greek and included it in his Greek New Testament! Needless to say, the Greek readings of Erasmus on this six verses has no parallel anywhere among the Greek manuscripts. However these last six verses are still present in current editions of the Textus Receptus.
Erasmus used the Latin Vulgate in a way as a corrective text for his Greek edition. For instance, the question of Paul in Acts 9:6 (And he tremling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me do?) is found in no Greek manuscript. It is an addition made by Erasmus into his Greek New Testament imported from the Vulgate. Incidentally, this passage became a part of the Textus Receptus and was used in the translation of the King James Version.
Indeed the infamous Johanine Comma was included by Erasmus in the third edition of his Greek New Testament based purely on one Greek manuscript he found. It appears now that the manuscript was written in 1520 by a Franciscan monk who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate.
Thus Erasmus' text was undoubtedly faulty, but editors subsequent to him essentially kept to the same text.
Robert Stephanus (1503-1559) printed four editions from 1546 to 1551. Stephanus' third edition followed the text of Erasmus very closely. The fourth edition (1551)- is noteworthy for its division of the biblical books into chapters and verses, a system still in use today.
Theodore Beza (1519-1605) published nine editions from 1565-1604. The "importance" of Beza's work lies mainly in the fact that his editions differed very little from Erasmus' text. This is a bit surprising, considering the fact that Beza had in his possession the Codex Bezae, a fifth century manuscript! As a result, the text of Erasmus became even more entrenched.
The term Textus Receptus came from the second edition (in 1633) of a Greek New Testament published by brothers Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevir. In the preface to this edition, the editors wrote, Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum: in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus [What you have here, is the text which is now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted.].
The Textus Receptus also strengthened its reputation from the fact that it was used by major translations into the vernacular. The second edition of Erasmus' Greek NT bacame the basis for Martin Luther's German translation. The third edition of Stephanus (1550), which was based on Erasmus' third edition, became the basis for the translation of the King James Version. 
Erasmus' text was also blessed by Pope Leo X (1475-1521).
Partly because of the advertising boast by the Elzevir brothers, its use for translations into major European languages, and its blessing by the Pope, the Textus Receptus became for Protestants everywhere the inspired word of God which both scholars and laymen were not allowed to question. When the Swiss clergyman, Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693-1754) published a new edition of the Greek New Testament which deviated from Textus Receptus, he was duly deprived of his holy orders. 
Yet we have seen that the Textus Receptus is a text based on a small sample of the late and unreliable Byzantine text. Today most critical Bible translations (such as the RSV and the NRSV) no longer use it as the basis of their translations.
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