Refined Greek Texts

New Testament textual criticism goes back to Origen (185-254), in the third century of our common era. The historical roots of textual scholarship actually go back to the 3rd-century B.C.E. in the Library of Alexandria. We are going to the 18th-19th centuries for the purposes of this chapter.

From 1550, the New Testament Greek text was in bondage to the popularity of the Textus Receptus, as though it were inspired itself, and no textual scholar would dare make changes regardless the evidence found in older manuscripts that are more accurate that became known. The best they would offer was to publish these new finding in their introductions, margins, and footnotes of their editions. Just prior to Griesbach in 1734, Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) apologized for having once again to print the Textus Receptus (Received Text) “because he could not publish a text of his own. Neither the publisher nor the public would have stood for it.” (Robertson 1925, 25)

It was Griesbach himself, who became the first textual scholar to place his finding within his version of the Greek text. However, even Griesbach was not the first to break away completely from the influential Textus Receptus was Karl Lachmann (1793-1851), Professor of Classical and German Philology at Berlin. In 1831, he published at Berlin his edition of the Greek text overthrowing the Textus Receptus. Ezra Abbot says of Lachmann, “He was the first to found a text wholly on ancient evidence; and his editions, to which his eminent reputation as a critic gave wide currency, especially in Germany, did much toward breaking down the superstitious reverence for the textus receptus.” (Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament, 1883, 256-7)

Johann Jakob Griesbach

Johann Jakob Griesbach [1745-1812]

Griesbach obtained his master’s degree at the age of twenty-three. He was educated at Frankfurt, and at the universities of Tubingen, Leipzig, and Halle. Griesbach became one of Johann Salomo Semler’s most dedicated and passionate students. It was Semler (1725 – 1791), who persuaded him to focus his attention on New Testament textual criticism. Even though it was Semler, who introduced Griesbach to the theory of text-types, Griesbach is principally responsible for the text-types that we have today. Griesbach made the Alexandrian, Byzantine, and Western text-types appreciated by a wide range of textual scholars over two centuries.

After his master’s degree, Griesbach traveled throughout Europe examining Greek manuscripts: Germany, the Netherlands, France, and England. Griesbach would excel far beyond any textual scholar that had preceded him, publishing his Greek text first at Halle in 1775-77, followed by London in 1795-1806, and finally in Leipzig in 1803-07. It would be his latter editions that would be used by a number of Bible translators, such as Archbishop Newcome, Abner Kneeland, Samuel Sharpe, Edgar Taylor and Benjamin Wilson.

Griesbach was the first to include manuscript readings that were earlier than what Erasmus had used in his Greek text of 1516 C.E. The Society for New Testament Studies comments on the importance of his research, “Griesbach spent long hours in the attempt to find the best readings among the many variants in the New Testament. His work laid the foundations of modern text criticism, and he is, in no small measure, responsible for the secure New Testament text which we enjoy today. Many of his methodological principles continue to be useful in the process of determining the best readings from among the many variants which remain.” (B. Orchard 1776-1976, 2005, xi)

The Fifteen Rules of Griesbach

In the Introduction to his Second edition of the Greek New Testament (Halle, 1796) Griesbach set forth the following list of critical rules for weighing the internal evidence for variant readings within the manuscripts.

  1. The shorter reading is to be preferred over the more verbose, if not wholly lacking the support of old and weighty witnesses.

For scribes were much more prone to add than to omit. They hardly ever leave out anything on purpose, but they added much. It is true indeed that some things fell out by accident; but likewise not a few things, allowed in by the scribes through errors of the eye, ear, memory, imagination, and judgment, have been added to the text.

The shorter reading is especially preferable, (even if by the support of the witnesses it may be second best), –

(a) if at the same time it is harder, more obscure, ambiguous, involves an ellipsis, reflects Hebrew idiom, or is ungrammatical;

(b) if the same thing is read expressed with different phrases in different manuscripts;

(c) if the order of words is inconsistent and unstable;

(d) at the beginning of a section;

(e) if the fuller reading gives the impression of incorporating a definition or interpretation, or verbally conforms to parallel passages or seems to have come in from lectionaries.

But on the contrary, we should set the fuller reading before the shorter, (unless the latter is seen in many notable witnesses), –

(a) if a “similarity of ending” might have provided an opportunity for an omission;

(b) if that which was omitted could to the scribe have seemed obscure, harsh, superfluous, unusual, paradoxical, offensive to pious ears, erroneous, or opposed to parallel passages;

(c) if that which is absent could be absent without harm to the sense or structure of the words, as for example prepositions which may be called incidental, especially brief ones, and so forth, the lack of which would not easily be noticed by a scribe in reading again what he had written;

(d) if the shorter reading is by nature less characteristic of the style or outlook of the author;

(e) if it wholly lacks sense;

(f) if it is probable that it has crept in from parallel passages or from the lectionaries.

On Griesbach’s principle of preferring the shorter reading, James Royse offers us a word about appreciating the complexity and exceptions to the rule, “I would certainly accept Silva’s reminder that Griesbach’s formulation of the lectio brevior potior principle is far from a simple preference for the shorter reading, and that its correct application requires a sensitivity to the many exceptions and conditions that Griesbach notes.” (J. R. Royse 2007, 735) On this same principle, Kurt and Barbara Aland qualify it as well, “The venerable maxim lectio brevior lectio potior (“the shorter reading is, the more probable reading”) is certainly right in many instances. But here again, the principle cannot be applied mechanically. It is not valid for witnesses whose texts otherwise vary significantly from the characteristic patterns of the textual tradition, with frequent omissions or expansions reflecting editorial tendencies (e.g. D).” (Aland and Aland, The Text of the New Testament 1995, 281) On this, Harold Greenlee offers us a simplistic balance view of this principle,

(b) The shorter reading is generally preferable if an intentional change has been made. The reason is that scribes at times made intentional additions to clarify a passage but rarely made an intentional omission. Of course, this principle applies only to a difference in the number of words in the reading, not to the difference between a longer and a shorter word.

(c) The longer reading is often preferable if an unintentional change has been made. The reason is that scribes were more likely to omit a word or a phrase accidentally than to add accidentally. (Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism 1995, 112)

On Griesbach, Paul D. Wegner writes, “While Griesbach sometimes would rely too heavily on a mechanical adherence to his system of recensions, by and large he was a careful and cautious scholar. He was also the first German scholar to abandon the Textus Receptus in favor of what he believed to be, by means of his principles, superior readings.” (Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History Methods & Results 2006, 214)

His choosing the shorter reading of the Lord’s Prayer at Luke 11:3-4, evidence Griesbach’s ability as a textual scholar. He made this decision based on only a handful of minuscule and uncials, patristic and versional evidence. A few short years later, the Vaticanus would confirm that Griesbach’s choice was correct. Today we have one of the most valued manuscripts, P75 and it has the shorter reading as well. Many scribes from the fourth century onward harmonized Luke’s form of the prayer with Matthew’s Gospel.

Luke 11:3-4 New American Standard Bible (NASB / NU)

‘Give us each day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”


Luke 11:3-4 New King James Version (NKJV / TR)

Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.

Luke 11:3-4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation.

Karl Lachmann

Karl Lachmann [1793-1851]

After two and a half centuries, in 1831 a German classical philologist and critic, Karl Lachmann, had the courage to publish an edition of the New Testament text he prepared from his examination of the manuscripts and variants, determining on a case-by-case basis what he believed the original reading was, never beholding to the Textus Receptus. However, he did not include his textual rules and principles in his critical text. He simply stated that these principles could be found in a theological journal. “Karl Lachmann, a classical philologist, produced a fresh text (in 1831) that presented the Greek New Testament of the fourth century.”[1]

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible sums up Lachmann’s six textual criteria as follows:

  • Nothing is better attested than that in which all authorities agree.
  • The agreement has less weight if part of the authorities are silent or in any way defective.
  • The evidence for a reading, when it is that of witnesses of different regions, is greater than that of witnesses of some particular place, differing either from negligence or from set purpose.
  • The testimonies are to be regarded as doubtfully balanced when witnesses from widely separated regions stand opposed to others equally wide apart.
  • Readings are uncertain which occur habitually in different forms in different regions.
  • Readings are of weak authority which are not universally attested in the same region.[2]

It was not Lachmann’s intention to restore the text of the New Testament back to the original, as he believed this to be impossible. Rather, his intention was to offer a text based solely on documentary evidence, setting aside any text that had been published prior to his, producing a text from the fourth century. Lachmann used no miniscule manuscripts but instead, he based his text on the Alexandrian text-type, as well as the agreement of the Western authorities, namely, Old Latin and Greek Western Uncials if the oldest Alexandrian authorities differed. He also used the testimony of Irenaeus, Origen, Cyprian, Hilary, and Lucifer. As A. T. Robertson put it, Lachman wanted “to get away from the tyranny of the Textus Receptus.” Lachmann was correct in that he could not get back to the original, at least for the whole of the NT text, as he just did not have the textual evidence that we have today, or even, what Westcott and Hort had in 1881. The Codex Sinaiticus had yet to be discovered, and Codex Vaticanus had yet to be photographed and edited. Moreover, he did not have the papyri that we have today.

Samuel Prideaux Tregelles

Samuel Prideaux Tregelles [1813-1875]

Tregelles was an English Bible scholar, textual critic, and theologian. He was born to Quaker parents at Wodehouse Place, Falmouth on January 30, 1813. He was the son of Samuel Tregelles (1789–1828) and his wife Dorothy (1790–1873). He was at Falmouth Grammar School. He lost his father at the young age of fifteen, moving him to take a job the Neath Abbey iron works. However, he had a gift and love of language, which led him to his free time to the study of Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Latin, and Welsh. He began the study of the New Testament at the age of twenty-five, which would become his life’s work.

Tregelles Discovered that the Textus Receptus was not based on any ancient witnesses, he determined that he would publish the Greek text of the New Testament grounded in ancient manuscripts, as well as the citations of the early church fathers, exactly what Karl Lachmann was doing in Germany. In 1845, he spent five months in Rome, hoping to collate Codex Vaticanus in the Vatican Library. Philip W. Comfort writes, “Samuel Tregelles (self-taught in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek), devoted his entire life’s work to publishing one Greek text (which came out in six parts, from 1857 to 1872).[3] As is stated in the introduction to this work, Tregelles’s goal was ‘to exhibit the text of the New Testament in the very words in which it has been transmitted on the evidence of ancient authority.’[4] During this same era, Tischendorf was devoting a lifetime of labor to discovering manuscripts and producing accurate editions of the Greek New Testament.”[5]


Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf [1815-1874]

His name was Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf, a world leading biblical scholar who rejected higher criticism, which led to noteworthy success in defending the authenticity of Bible text. Tischendorf was born in Lengenfeld, Saxony, northern Europe, the son of a physician, in the year 1815 and educated in Greek at the University of Leipzig. During his university studies, he was troubled by higher criticism of the Bible, offered by famous German theologians, who sought to prove that the Greek New Testament was not authentic. Tischendorf became committed, however, that a thorough research of the early manuscripts would prove the trustworthiness of the Bible text.

We are indebted to Tischendorf for dedicating his life and abilities to searching through Europe’s finest libraries and the monasteries of the Middle East for ancient Bible manuscripts and especially for rescuing the great Codex Sinaiticus from being destroyed. However, our highest thanks go to our heavenly Father, who has used hundreds of men since the days of Desiderius Erasmus, who published the first printed Greek New Testament in 1516, so that the Word of God has been accurately preserved for us today. We can be grateful for the women of the twentieth and now the twenty-first century who have given their lives as well, like Barbara Aland.

This is the second principal recension of Tischendorf (as enumerated in Reuss 1872). The Introduction sets forth the following canons of criticism with examples of their application (see Tregelles 1854, pp. 119-21):

Basic Rule: “The text is only to be sought from ancient evidence, and especially from Greek manuscripts, but without neglecting the testimonies of versions and fathers.”

  1. “A reading altogether peculiar to one or another ancient document is suspicious; as also is any, even if supported by a class of documents, which seems to evince that it has originated in the revision of a learned man.”
  2. “Readings, however well supported by evidence, are to be rejected, when it is manifest (or very probable) that they have proceeded from the errors of copyists.”
  3. “In parallel passages, whether of the New or Old Testament, especially in the Synoptic Gospels, which ancient copyists continually brought into increased accordance, those testimonies are preferable, in which precise accordance of such parallel passages is not found; unless, indeed, there are important reasons to the contrary.”
  4. “In discrepant readings, that should be preferred which may have given occasion to the rest, or which appears to comprise the elements of the others.”
  5. “Those readings must be maintained which accord with New Testament Greek, or with the particular style of each individual writer.”[6]

Westcott and Hort

Westcott and Hort’s 1881 Master Text

The climax of this restored era goes to their immediate successors, the two English Bible scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, upon whose text the United Bible Society is based, which is the foundation for all modern-day translations of the Bible. Westcott and Hort began their work in 1853 and finished it in 1881, working for twenty-eight years independently of each other, yet frequently comparing notes. As the Scottish biblical scholar Alexander Souter expressed it, they “gathered up in themselves all that was most valuable in the work of their predecessors. The maxims which they enunciated on questions of the text are of such importance.” (Souter 1913, 118) They took all imaginable factors into consideration in laboring to resolve the difficulties that conflicting texts presented, and when two readings had equal weight, they indicated that in their text. They stressed “Knowledge of documents should precede final judgment upon readings” and “all trustworthy restoration of corrupted texts is founded on the study of their history.” They followed Griesbach in dividing manuscripts into families, stressing the significance of the manuscript genealogy. In addition, they gave due weight to internal evidence, “intrinsic probability” and “transcriptional probability,” that is, what the original author most likely wrote and wherein a copyist may most likely have made a mistake.

Westcott and Hort relied heavily on what they called the “neutral” family of texts, which involved the renowned fourth-century vellum Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts. They considered it quite decisive when these two manuscripts agreed, particularly when reinforced by other ancient uncial manuscripts. However, they were not thoughtlessly bound to the Vaticanus manuscript as some scholars have claimed, for by assessing all the elements they frequently concluded that certain minor interpolations had crept into the neutral text that was not found in the group more given to interpolations and paraphrasing, for instance, the Western manuscript family. Thus, Professor E. J. Goodspeed shows that Westcott and Hort departed from the Vaticanus manuscript seven hundred times in the Gospels alone.

AA_GTS_Bruce M. Metzger

According to Bruce M. Metzger, “the general validity of their critical principles and procedures is widely acknowledged by scholars today.”[10] In 1981 Metzger said,

The international committee that produced the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, not only adopted the Westcott and Hort edition as its basic text but followed their methodology in giving attention to both external and internal consideration.[7]

P W. Comfort

Philip Comfort gave this opinion:

The text produced by Westcott and Hort is still to this day, even with so many more manuscript discoveries, a very close reproduction of the primitive text of the New Testament. Of course, I think they gave too much weight to Codex Vaticanus alone, and this needs to be tempered. This criticism aside, the Westcott and Hort text is extremely reliable. (…) In many instances where I would disagree with the wording in the Nestle / UBS text in favor of a particular variant reading, I would later check with the Westcott and Hort text and realize that they had often come to the same decision. (…) Of course, the manuscript discoveries of the past one hundred years have changed things, but it is remarkable how often they have affirmed the decisions of Westcott and Hort.[8]

Critical Rules of Westcott & Hort

The following summary of principles is taken from the compilation in Epp and Fee, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (1993, pages 157-8). References in parentheses are to sections of Hort’s Introduction, from which the principles have been extracted.

  1. Older readings, manuscripts, or groups are to be preferred. (“The shorter the interval between the time of the autograph and the end of the period of transmission in question, the stronger the presumption that earlier date implies greater purity of text.”) (2.59; cf. 2.5-6, 31)
  2. Readings are approved or rejected by reason of the quality, and not the number, of their supporting witnesses. (“No available presumptions whatever as to text can be obtained from number alone, that is, from number not as yet interpreted by descent.”) (2.44)
  3. A reading combining two simple, alternative readings is later than the two readings comprising the conflation, and manuscripts rarely or never supporting conflate reading are text antecedent to mixture and are of special value. (2.49-50).
  4. The reading is to be preferred that makes the best sense, that is, that best conforms to the grammar and is most congruous with the purport of the rest of the sentence and of the larger context. (2.20)
  5. The reading is to be preferred that best conforms to the usual style of the author and to that author’s material in other passages. (2.20)
  6. The reading is to be preferred that most fitly explains the existence of the others. (2.22-23)
  7. The reading is less likely to be original that combines the appearance of an improvement in the sense with the absence of its reality; the scribal alteration will have an apparent excellence, while the original will have the highest real excellence. (2.27, 29)
  8. The reading is less likely to be original that shows a disposition to smooth away difficulties (another way of stating that the harder reading is preferable). (2.28)
  9. Readings are to be preferred that are found in a manuscript that habitually contains superior readings as determined by intrinsic and transcriptional probability. Certainty is increased if such a better manuscript is found also to be an older manuscript (2.32-33) and if such a manuscript habitually contains reading that prove themselves antecedent to mixture and independent of external contamination by other, inferior texts (2.150-51). The same principles apply to groups of manuscripts (2.260-61).[9]


J. W. Burgon

J. W. Burgon

Setting Straight the Indefensible Defenders of the Textus Receptus

While Karl Lachmann was the one to overthrow the Textus Receptus, it would be B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in 1881, which would put the nail in the coffin of the Textus Receptus. The 1881 British Revised Version (RV) also known as the English Revised Version (ERV) of the King James Version and the 1881 New Testament Greek text of Westcott and Hort did not set well with the King James Version Only[10] John William Burgon (1813–1888), E. H. A. Scrivener (1813–1891), and Edward Miller (1825–1901), the latter penning A Guide to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1886). We do not have the space nor the time to offer a full-scale argument against the King James Version Only and the Textus Receptus Only groups. However, we will address what boils down to their main arguments. They alone will help the reader to see how desperate and weak their arguments are.

Bible scholar David Fuller brings us the first argument in his book, Which Bible, writes, “Burgon regarded the good state of preservation of B (Codex Vaticanus) and ALEPH (Codex Sinaiticus) in spite of their exceptional age as proof not of their goodness but of their badness. If they had been good manuscripts, they would have been read to pieces long ago. We suspect that these two manuscripts are indebted for their preservation, solely to their ascertained evil character … Had B (Vaticanus) and ALEPH (Sinaiticus) been copies of average purity, they must long since have shared the inevitable fate of books which are freely used and highly prized; namely, they would have fallen into decadence and disappeared from sight. Thus, the fact that B and ALEPH are so old is a point against them, not something in their favour. It shows that the Church rejected them and did not read them. Otherwise, they would have worn out and disappeared through much reading.”

This argument is that the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus Alexandrian type of manuscripts is in such great shape because they were full of errors, alterations, additions and deletions so they would have had little chance of wear and tear, never having been used by true believers. This argument is simply the weakest and most desperate that this author has ever heard. First, many of the papyrus Alexandrian types of manuscripts are in terrible shape, some being 200-years older than Codex Vatican and Codex Sinaiticus, which would mean they must have really been read quite often by true believers. Second, a number of old Byzantine (TR) and Western manuscripts are in good shape as well, which would suggest they would be guilty of never being read because they were full of errors, alterations, additions and deletions so they would have had little chance of wear and tear. Third, the size of Sinaiticus with the Old Testament, the New Testament, and apocryphal books, among others books would have weighed about 50+lbs. This book was not read in the same manner that Christians would read their Bibles today. The same would be true of Codex Vaticanus as well. Fourth, both were written on extremely expensive and durable calfskin. Fifth, the period of copying the Byzantine text type was c. 330 – 1453 C.E. and it progressed into the most corrupt period for the Church (priests to the popes: stealing, sexual sins, torture, and murder); so much so, it ends with the Reformation. Thus, the idea of true believers wearing out manuscripts is ludicrous. Sixth, the Bible was locked up in Latin. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, produced in the 5th century to make the Bible accessible to all, became a means of keeping God’s Word hidden. Almost all Catholic priests were biblically illiterate, so who were these so-called true believers and how were they reading God’s Word to the point of wearing it out. For centuries, manuscripts were preserved, even when the Catholic priests could no longer understand them.

Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener in their second argument maintained that the Byzantine text was used by the church for far more centuries, which proved its integrity, as God would never allow the church to use a corrupt text. B. F. Westcott wrote, “A corrupted bible is a sign of a corrupt church, a Bible mutilated or imperfect, a sign of a church not yet raised to complete perfection of the truth.” (The Bible in the Church, 1864, 1875) The reader can determine for himself or herself, if it is mere coincidence, that as the church grew corrupt, the most corrupt manuscript of all grew right along with it for a thousand years.

As was stated earlier, Lucian produced the Syrian text, renamed Byzantine text. About 290 C.E., some of his associates, made various subsequent alterations, which deliberately combined elements from earlier types of text, and this text was adopted about 380 C.E. At Constantinople, it became the predominant form of the New Testament throughout the Greek-speaking world. The text was also edited, harmonizing parallel accounts, grammar corrections, modifying abrupt transitions, to produce a smooth text. Nevertheless, this was not a faithfully accurate copy. As we had just learned under the corruption period a few pages back, after Constantine legalized Christianity, giving it equal status with the pagan religions, it was much easier for those having manuscripts copied. In fact, Constantine had ordered 50 copies of the whole of the Bible for the church in Constantinople. Over the next four centuries or so, the Byzantine Empire and the Greek-speaking church were the dominant factors as to why this area saw their text becoming the standard. It had nothing to do with it being the better text, i.e., the text that more accurately reflected the original. From the eighth century forward, the corrupt Byzantine text was the standard text and had displaced all others; it makes up about 95 percent of all manuscripts that we have of the Christian Greek Scriptures.

Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener in their third argument continued with the belief that it would be foolish to set aside thousands of manuscript witnesses (the Byzantine text-type) for a few supposedly early manuscript witnesses (the Alexandrian text-type). First, the majority of anything does not automatically mean it is the best or correct. If this were true, everyone would be a Muslim today. “There were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010, roughly 23% of the global population, according to a Pew Research Center estimate. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion.”[11] Alternatively, if this logic were true, all Protestant Christians should be Catholic. “There are an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, according to Vatican figures. More than 40% of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America – but Africa has seen the biggest growth in Catholic congregations in recent years,”[12] outnumbering the 900 million Protestants worldwide. A textual criticism principle is that manuscripts should be weighed, not counted.

Burgon, Miller, and Scrivener in their fourth argument maintained that the Byzantine text-type was actually older and superior to the Alexandrian text-type. On this, we can go back to our patristic quotations, which support the Alexandrian text-type being earlier than the Byzantine text-type. On this Green writes, “The fallacy in this argument was that the antiquity of a ‘Syrian’ (i.e., Byzantine) reading could be shown only when the Byzantine text was supported by one of the pre-Byzantine texts, which proved nothing in favor of the Byzantine, since WH maintained that Syrian readings were largely derived from the pre-Syrian texts. That the traditional text was intrinsically superior was more nearly a matter of subjective opinion; but an extensive comparison of text-types has left most scholars convinced that they late text [Byzantine] is in general inferior, not superior.”[13]

Metzger writes, “The Alexandrian text, which Westcott and Hort called the Neutral text (a question-begging title), is usually considered to be the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original. Characteristics of the Alexandrian text are brevity and austerity. That is, it is generally shorter than the text of other forms, and it does not exhibit the degree of grammatical and stylistic polishing that is characteristic of the Byzantine type of text. Until recently the two chief witnesses to the Alexandrian text were Codex Vaticanus (B) and Codex Sinaiticus (א), parchment manuscripts dating from about the middle of the fourth century. With the acquisition, however, of the Bodmer Papyri, particularly P66 and P75, both copied about the end of the second or the beginning of the third century, evidence is now available that the Alexandrian type of text goes back to an archetype that must be dated early in the second century. The Sahidic and Bohairic versions frequently contain typically Alexandrian readings … It was the corrupt Byzantine form of text that provided the basis for almost all translations of the New Testament into modern languages down to the nineteenth century. During the eighteenth century, scholars assembled a great amount of information from many Greek manuscripts, as well as from versional and patristic witnesses. But, except for three or four editors who timidly corrected some of the more blatant errors of the Textus Receptus, this debased form of the New Testament text was reprinted in edition after edition. It was only in the first part of the nineteenth century (1831) that a German classical scholar, Karl Lachmann, ventured to apply to the New Testament the criteria that he had used in editing texts of the classics. Subsequently, other critical editions appeared, including those prepared by Constantin von Tischendorf, whose eighth edition (1869–72) remains a monumental thesaurus of variant readings, and the influential edition prepared by two Cambridge scholars, B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort (1881). It is the latter edition that was taken as the basis for the present United Bible Societies’ edition. During the twentieth century, with the discovery of several New Testament manuscripts much older than any that had hitherto been available, it has become possible to produce editions of the New Testament that approximate ever more closely to what is regarded as the wording of the original documents.”[14]

Eberhard Nestle

History of the Nestle-Aland Edition

It seems best to allow the German Bible Society and the Institute for New Testament Textual Research to tell their own history:

In 1898, Eberhard Nestle published the first edition of his Novum Testamentum Graece. Based on a simple yet ingenious idea it disseminated the insights of the textual criticism of that time through a hand edition designed for university and school studies and for church purposes. Nestle took the three leading scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament at that time by Tischendorf, Westcott/Hort and Weymouth as a basis. (After 1901 he replaced the latter with Bernhard Weiß’s 1894/1900 edition.) Where their textual decisions differed from each other Nestle chose for his own text the variant which was preferred by two of the editions included, while the variant of the third was put into the apparatus.

The text-critical apparatus remained rudimentary in all the editions published by Eberhard Nestle. It was Eberhard Nestle’s son Erwin who provided the 13th edition of 1927 with a consistent critical apparatus showing evidence from manuscripts, early translations, and patristic citations. However, these notes did not derive from the primary sources, but only from editions.

AA_GTS_Kurt Aland

This changed in the nineteen-fifties when Kurt Aland started working for the edition by checking the apparatus entries against Greek manuscripts and editions of the Church Fathers. This phase came to a close in 1963 when the 25th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece appeared; later printings of this edition already carried the brand name “Nestle-Aland” on their covers.

The 26th edition, which appeared in 1979, featured a fundamentally new approach. Until then the guiding principle had been to adopt the text supported by a majority of the critical editions referred to. Now the text was established on the basis of source material that had been assembled and evaluated in the intervening period. It included early papyri and other manuscript discoveries so that the 26th edition represented the situation of textual criticism in the 20th century. Its text was identical with that of the 3rd edition of the UBS Greek New Testament (GNT) published in 1975, as a consequence of the parallel work done on both editions. Already in 1955, Kurt Aland was invited to participate in an editorial committee with Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, Alan Wikgren, and at first Arthur Vööbus, later Carlo Martini (and, from 1982, Barbara Aland and Johannes Karavidopoulos) to produce a reliable hand edition of the Greek New Testament.

The first edition of the GNT appeared in 1966. Its text was established along the lines of Westcott and Hort and differed considerably from Nestle’s 25th edition. This holds true for the second edition of the GNT as well. When the third edition was prepared, Kurt Aland was able to contribute the textual proposals coming from his preliminary work on the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland. Hence the process of establishing the text for both editions continued to converge so that eventually they could share an identical text. However, their external appearance and the design of their apparatus remains different, because they serve different purposes. The GNT is primarily intended for translators, providing a reliable Greek initial text and a text-critical apparatus showing variants that are relevant for translation. In the case of the passages selected for this purpose, the evidence is displayed as completely as possible. The Novum Testamentum Graece is produced primarily for research, academic education, and pastoral practice. It seeks to provide an apparatus that enables the reader to make a critical assessment of the reconstruction of the Greek initial text.

The text of the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland was adopted for the 27th edition also, while the apparatus underwent an extensive revision. The text remained the same because the 27th edition was not “deemed an appropriate occasion for introducing textual changes”. Since then the situation has changed, because the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) of the Catholic Letters is now available. Its text was established on the basis of all the relevant material from manuscripts and other sources. The ECM text was adopted for the present edition following approval by the editorial committee of the Nestle-Aland and the GNT.[15]

This makes more certain for us the Apostle Peter’s words: “But the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:25, NASB) We can have the same confidence that the One who inspired the Holy Scriptures, giving us His inerrant Word, has also used his servants to preserve them throughout the last two thousand years, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4, NASB) The beloved Bruce Manning Metzger was right; the text of the New Testament was transmitted; then, it entered a 1,400-year period of corruption, and has been enjoying a 500-year period of restoration.


[1] (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 294)

[2] Biographies of Textual Critics – SkyPoint, (accessed June 10, 2016).

[3] Because he was very poor, Tregelles had to ask sponsors to help him with the cost of publishing. The text came out in six volumes over a fifteen-year period—the last being completed just prior to his death. I consider myself fortunate to own a copy of Tregelles’s Greek New Testament with his signature.

[4] See Prolegomena to Tregelles’s Greek New Testament.

[5] (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 100)

[6] Bibliography of Textual Criticism “T”, (accessed June 12, 2016).

[7] Bruce M. Metzger (1992). The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 129–136.

[8] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, (Nashville, 2005), p. 100.

[9] Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual .., (accessed June 12, 2016).

[10] A connected group of Christians promotes the King James Only movement. It is their position that the King James Version of the Bible is superior to all other English translations, and that all English translations based on the Westcott and Hort text of 1881 (foundation text of UBS5 and NA28), are corrupt based on the Alexandrian Greek manuscripts.

[11] Pew: Muslims ‘fastest-growing religious group in the world .., (accessed June 12, 2016).

[12] How many Roman Catholics are there in the world … – BBC .., (accessed June 12, 2016).

[13] (Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism 1995, 76-7)

[14] Bruce Manning Metzger, United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), xx, xxv.

[15] Nestle Aland Novum Testamentum Graece: History, (accessed June 12, 2016).