THE BATTLE FOR THE BIBLE: The Struggle for a More Accurate Text of the New Testament

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 100 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

When you open your Bible today, are you able to be confident that the words you are reading are in fact the very corresponding English words that were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, James, and Jude nearly 2,000 years ago?

A world-renowned textual scholar of the 19th century, Dr. F. J. A. Hort believed this to be the case. Concerning the Greek New Testament, he wrote, “The amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction … and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text.”[1] The good news is, since the publication of his book in 1882, we have had manuscript discoveries that have far exceeded the value of any manuscripts that Hort had at that time. Continual research since then has confirmed that are New Testament Greek critical text today is a mirror-like reflection of what the authors at penned some 2000 years ago.

However, many Christians who hold their bibles in their hand each Sunday at church have no idea of the long battle that took place an order to obtain such an accurate critical text that we possess today in the form of the Nestle-Aland (28th ed.) Greek New Testament and the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (5th ed.). One textual scholar who was involved in this long battle for the Bible was Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693-1754). Let us take but a moment to consider how he played his part in our struggle to have a more accurate text to the New Testament.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Wetstein was born in Basel, Switzerland. He was a Protestant Swiss New Testament theologian. A relative, Johann Wettstein, who was the university librarian, gave him permission to examine the manuscripts. He spent many long hours in the University library, as he was extremely fascinated by the Bible manuscripts. However, immediately it caught his attention that the manuscripts contained different readings. Therefore, Hey decided that he was going to base his theses for appointment as a minister on the subject of textual criticism.

Let’s jump back a couple centuries before to Basel, Switzerland, Erasmus was about to be hassled by the printer Johannes Froben. Froben was alerted that Cardinal Ximenes of Toledo, Spain, had been putting together a Greek and Latin Testament in 1514. However, he was delaying publication until he had the whole Bible completed. The first printed Greek critical text would have set the standard, with the other being all but ignored. Erasmus published his first edition in 1516, while the Complutensian Polyglot (many languages) was not issued until 1522

The fact that Erasmus was rushed to no end resulted in a Greek text that contained hundreds of typographical errors alone.[2] Textual scholar Scrivener once stated: ‘[It] is in that respect the most faulty book I know,’ (Scrivener 1894, 185) This comment does not even take into consideration the blatant interpolations (insert readings) into the text that were not part of the original. Erasmus was not lost to the typographical errors, which corrected a good many in later editions. This did not include the textual errors. It was his second edition of 1519 that was used by Martin Luther in his German translation and William Tyndale’s English translation. This is exactly what Erasmus wanted, writing the following in that edition’s preface: “I would have these words translated into all languages. . . . I long for the ploughboy to sing them to himself as he follows his plough.”

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

Sadly, the continuous reproduction of this debased Greek New Testament, gave rise to it becoming the standard, being called the Textus Receptus (Received Text), taking over 400 years before it was dethroned by the critical Text of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in 1881. Regardless of its imperfection, the Erasmus critical edition began the all-important work of textual criticism, which has only brought about a better critical text, as well as more accurate Bible translations. The Textus Receptus had been venerated by the church as the received text for a couple centuries up until the days of Wettstein. On this Metzger writes, “The preface to the second edition [of Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevir (Erasmus’ text)], which appearing in 1633, which appeared in 1633 makes the boast that ‘the reader has the] text now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted.’  Thus, from what was from a more or less casual phrase advertising the edition …, there arose the designation the ‘Textus Receptus,’ or commonly received text. Partly because of this catchword, the form of the Greek text incorporated in the editions of Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevirs published exceeding in establishing itself as ‘the only true text’ of the New Testament and was slavishly reprinted in hundreds of subsequent editions. It lies as the basis of the King James Version and all the principal Protestant translations in the languages of Europe prior to 1881. So superstitious has been the reverence accorded the Textus Receptus that in some cases attempts to criticize it or amended it Have been regarded akin to sacrilege. Yet, its textual basis is essentially a handful of late haphazardly collected minuscule manuscripts, and in a dozen passages It’s renderings are supported by no known Greek witnesses.” (Metzger & Ehrman, 1964, 1968, 1992, 2005, p. p. 152) Metzger adds more insight,

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

So much in demand was Erasmus’s Greek Testament that the first edition was soon exhausted and a second was called for. It was this second edition of 1519, in which some (but not nearly all) of the many typographical blunders of the first edition had been corrected, that Martin Luther and William Tyndale used as the basis of their translations of the New Testament into German (1522) and into English (1525).

In the years following many other editors and printers issued a variety of editions of the Greek Testament, all of which reproduced more or less the same type of text, namely that preserved in the later Byzantine manuscripts. Even when it happened that an editor had access to older manuscripts—as when Theodore Beza, the friend and successor of Calvin at Geneva, acquired the fifth-century manuscript that goes under his name today, as well as the sixth-century codex Claromontanus—he made relatively little use of them, for they deviated too far from the form of text that had become standard in the later copies.

Noteworthy early editions of the Greek New Testament include two issued by Robert Etienne (commonly known under the Latin form of his name, Stephanus), the famous Parisian printer who later moved to Geneva and threw in his lot with the Protestants of that city. In 1550 Stephanus published at Paris his third edition, the editio Regia, a magnificent folio edition. It is the first printed Greek Testament to contain a critical apparatus; on the inner margins of its pages Stephanus entered variant readings from fourteen Greek manuscripts, as well as readings from another printed edition, the Complutensian Polyglot. Stephanus’s fourth edition (Geneva, 1551), which contains two Latin versions (the Vulgate and that of Erasmus), is noteworthy because in it for the first time the text of the New Testament was divided into numbered verses.

Theodore Beza published no fewer than nine editions of the Greek Testament between 1565 and 1604, and a tenth edition appeared posthumously in 1611. The importance of Beza’s work lies in the extent to which his editions tended to popularize and stereotype what came to be called the Textus Receptus. The translators of the Authorized or King James Bible of 1611 made large use of Beza’s editions of 1588–89 and 1598.

The term Textus Receptus, as applied to the text of the New Testament, originated in an expression used by Bonaventura and Abraham Elzevir (Elzevier), who were printers in Leiden. The preface to their second edition of the Greek Testament (1633) contains the sentence: Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum, in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus (“Therefore you [dear reader] have the text now received by all, in which we give nothing changed or corrupted”). In one sense this proud claim of the Elzevirs on behalf of their edition seemed to be justified, for their edition was, in most respects, not different from the approximately 160 other editions of the printed Greek Testament that had been issued since Erasmus’s first published edition of 1516. In a more precise sense, however, the Byzantine form of the Greek text, reproduced in all early printed editions, was disfigured, as was mentioned above, by the accumulation over the centuries of myriads of scribal alterations, many of minor significance but some of considerable consequence.

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.[3]

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Returning to Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693-1754), we find him spending long hours in the University library. His being aware that the man U scripts contain different readings was an act of bravery on his part when he spoke out in the thesis, attacking those who made the claim that any textual scholar attempting to alter the existing text of the Greek New Testament (i.e., the Textus Receptus, that is, the Received Text) was tampering with the Word of God.

Before taking up his appointment as a minister, Wettstein asked for time to travel. He had the idea and the hope of examining as many Bible manuscripts as he possibly could. So, in 1714 he set out on his journey, visiting Zurich, Geneva, Paris, London, Oxford, Cambridge, Leiden, and Heidelberg. Wettstein made complete collations (namely, a critical comparison, recording the differences), frequently for the first time, of the most outstanding Greek and Latin manuscripts of his day of the Bible. Richard Bentley of the University of Cambridge made his acquaintance in 1716; where he took a great interest and his work, at which point he persuaded Wettstein to return to Paris so they could carefully collate the Codex Ephraemi, as Bentley at this time had in mind a critical edition of the Greek New Testament.

In 1751, textual scholar Johann Jakob Wettstein was aware of only twenty-three uncial codices of the Greek New Testament. A little over 100 years later, in 1859, renowned textual scholar Constantin von Tischendorf (1815-1874) had brought the number of uncial codices to sixty-four. Some sixty years later, in 1909, Caspar René Gregory (1846-1917) identified 161 uncial codices. Some 210 years from Wettstein, in 1963, Kurt Aland (1915-1994) increased the count to 250 uncial codices. In the 1989, second edition of Kurt and Barbara Alands publication The Text of the New Testament, the authors listed 299 uncial codices.

Wettstein gave us one of the modern methods of classifying these uncial codices. He used the Latin capital letters to identify the uncials. For example, Codex Alexandrinus was given the letter “A,” Codex Vaticanus was designated “B,” with Codex Ephraemi being given the designation “C,” and Codex Bezae was classified with “D.” The last letter to be used by Wettstein in the classification uncial codices was “O.” As time passed, the number of uncial manuscripts became larger than the Latin alphabet, so future textual scholars exhausted the Greek and Hebrew alphabets. It was Caspar René Gregory who moved on to assign manuscripts numerals that began with an initial 0. Codex Sinaiticus received the number 01, Alexandrinus received 02; Vaticanus was given 03, Ephraemi was designated with 04, and Bezae received the number 05, to mention just a few. By the time of Gregory’s death in 1917, the number had reached 0161, with Ernst von Dobschütz increasing the number of uncials codices to 0208 by 1993. As of June 1, 2010, the number of codices had reached 0323 in the Gregory-Aland system, a forgotten 4th– or 5th-century Greek fragment of the Gospel of John in the Syrus Sinaiticus,[4] dating paleographically to 300-499 C.E., cataloged by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) in Münster, Germany.[5]

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Wettstein Research Causes Problems

Wettstein was examining the Alexandrine Manuscript in London. Codex Alexandrinus (02, A) contains a complete text of the New Testament, minus Matthew 1:1-25:6; John 6:50 -8:52; and 2 Corinthians 4:13-12:6, dating to about 400-440 C.E.[6] Alexandrinus is one of the four Great uncial codices. It is one of the earliest and most complete uncial manuscripts, along with Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. It has a Byzantine text-type in Gospels, Alexandrian in the rest of the New Testament.[7]  In his examination of examination the Alexandrine Manuscript. Wettstein made a shocking discovery. Up until that time, according to the Textus Receptus in the King James version of 1611 com first Timothy 316 was rendered “God was manifested (θεος εφανερωθη) in the flesh.” And, of course, this rendering was reflected in most other Bible translations in use. However, to Wettstein surprise, he noticed that the Greek word translated God, which was abbreviated too ΘC, in Codex Alexandrinus (400-440 C.E.) had originally looked like the Greek word OC, which means “who.” However, there was a horizontal stroke ΘC showing through slightly from the other side of the vellum page. Moreover, a later hand had added a line across the top, which had, in essence, turned the word OC (“who”) into the nomen sacrum (sacred name) contraction ΘC (“God”).

Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3.16

ΠΡΟΣ ΤΙΜΟΘΕΟΝ Α΄ 3:16 (WH NU) [BRD] All modern-day translations

16 καὶand ὁμολογουμένωςconfessedly μέγαgreat ἐστὶνis τὸthe τῆςof the εὐσεβείαςreverence well μυστήριον·mystery; ὋςWho ἐφανερώθηwas manifested ἐνin σαρκί,flesh, ἐδικαιώθηwas vindicated ἐνin πνεύματι,Spirit, ὤφθηwas seen ἀγγέλοις,to angels, ἐκηρύχθηwas preached ἐνin ἔθνεσιν,nations, ἐπιστεύθηwas believed ἐνin κόσμῳ,world, ἀνελήμφθηwas taken up ἐνin δόξῃ.glory.

א* A* C* F G 33 Didymus

variant 1 ὃ εφανερωθη
“which was manifested”
D*

variant 2/TR θεος εφανερωθη
“God was manifested”
אc Ac C2 DΨ 1739 Maj

1 Timothy 3:16 King James Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Updated American Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 English Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Christian Standard Bible
16 … God was manifest in the flesh, … 16 … He was manifested in the flesh, … 16 … He was manifested in the flesh, … 16 … He was manifested in the flesh, …
Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS BIBLICAL CRITICISM gift of prophecy

“who [or he who] was manifested in the flesh” was the original reading based on the earliest and best manuscripts (א* A* C*), as well as F G 33 Didymus. There are two other variant readings, “which” (D*) and “God” (אc Ac C2 DΨ 1739 Maj). Using Comfort’s system, “A superscript c or numbers designate corrections made in the manuscript. An asterisk designates the original, pre-corrected reading.” The witnesses (manuscripts) that support “who” or “he who”is very weighty. We can see from the above that there were many manuscripts that made what they perceived to be a correction in their manuscript, which clearly comes across as a scribal emendation. Certainly, the pronoun “who” is a reference to Jesus Christ.

Nomina Sacra

This simply solved textual issue caused many problems in the nineteenth century and really with the King James Version Onlyists, it still does today. The Bible scholars entered the fray because they thought the textual scholars were undermining their doctrinal position that God became man. The early argument by some textual scholars as to how the variant 2/TR came about was that the Greek word translated “God,” which was abbreviated to the nomen sacrum (sacred name) ΘC, had initially looked like the Greek word OC, which means “who”  or “he who.” They argued that a horizontal stroke showing faintly through from the other side of the vellum manuscript page, and a later hand added a line across the top, which turned the word OC (“who”) into the nomen sacrum contraction ΘC (“God”). However, it seems highly unlikely as comforted commented: “how several fourth- and fifth-century scribes, who had seen thousands of nomina sacra, would have made this mistake.” We would agree with Comfort that it was clearly a doctrinal motivation, wanting it to read, “God was manifest in the flesh.”

alexandrinus4 Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3.16
Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3:16-4:3 theos

Metzger rates “He was manifested in the flesh” as certain, saying,

The reading which, on the basis of external evidence and transcriptional probability, best explains the rise of the others is ὅς. It is supported by the earliest and best uncials (א* A*vid C* Ggr) as well as by 33 365 442 2127 syrhmg,  goth ethpp Origenlat Epiphanius Jerome Theodore Eutherius Cyril Cyrilacc. to Ps-Oecumenius Liberatus. Furthermore, since the neuter relative pronoun ὅ must have arisen as a scribal correction of ὅς (to bring the relative into concord with μυστήριον), the witnesses that read ὅ (D* itd, , ,  vg Ambrosiaster Marius Victorinus Hilary Pelagius Augustine) also indirectly presuppose ὅς as the earlier reading. The Textus Receptus reads θεός, with אe (this corrector is of the twelfth century) A2 C2 Dc K L P Ψ 81 330 614 1739 Byz Lect Gregory-Nyssa Didymus Chrysostom Theodoret Euthalius and later Fathers. Thus, no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century (Ψ) supports θεός; all ancient versions presuppose ὅς or ὅ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading θεός. The reading θεός arose either (a) accidentally, through the misreading of ος as ΘΣ, or (b) deliberately, either to supply a substantive for the following six verbs, or, with less probability, to provide greater dogmatic precision.

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

Wettstein took notice of another interpolation that had entered into the text of the New Testament, 1 John 5:7-8. The King James Version reads, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” The words that are bold here, Wettstein had noticed they have been added to later manuscripts, or they were not found and any of the early Greek manuscripts that he had examined. With many other manuscripts now confirming Wettstein’s readings, we now have far more accurate modern translations.

1 John 5:7-8 (KJV)

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one

1 John 5:7-8 (UASV)

For there are three that testify:[16] the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

 

 

 

 

1 John 5:7-8 (ESV)

For there are three that testify:the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

 

 

 

 

1 John 5:7-8 (CSB)

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and these three are in agreement.

 

 

 

A New Testament textual scholar is one who goes through the process of comparing all of the manuscripts of the New Testament in order to determine the original wording of the original text. Without the work of hundreds of textual scholars, including Johann Jakob Wettstein (1693-1754), we could not have an accurate text of the New Testament, which means that would not have accurate translations. Wettstein’s work as a textual scholar has long been surpassed, overtaken by continual progress of hundreds of other textual scholars in the past 260 years, from Johann Jacob Griesbach (1745-1812), to Karl Lackmann (1793-1851), to Friedrich Constantin Von Tischendorf (1815-1974), to Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), to Eberhard Nestle (1851-1913), to Erwin Nestle (1883-1972) to Kurt Aland (1915-1994) and Barbara Aland (1937- ), and Bruce Manning Metzger (1914-2007). Trust me when I say this list could run for pages and many of those named here gave their entire lives to their work in textual criticism. Thus, Wettstein had a dream of one day of having an accurate text of the New Testament, which is now a reality. This text is not shaped by theological bias but rather, it has been constructed on sound textual principles. So, today when you pick up any literal translation except for the New American Standard Bible (NASB), which has retained the interpolations of the Textus Receptus for fear of losing sales to the King James Version readers, you can be confident that it has as its basis a text (NA 28th and UBS 5th) that truly presents us with the wording of the original text (99.99%) from which our Christian teachings can be derived. But only by studying the history of how the Greek text came down to us will you come to have the same respect for it that Wetstein had and be thoroughly convinced that it is the final authority, the inspired by, fully inerrant Word of God.

Why?

It is only reasonable to assume that the original 27 books written first-hand by the New Testament authors have not survived. Instead, we only have what we must consider being imperfect copies. Why the Holy Spirit would miraculously inspire 27 fully inerrant texts, and then allow human imperfection into the copies, is not explained for us in Scripture. We do know that imperfect humans have tended to worship relics that traditions hold to have been touched by the miraculous powers of God or to have been in direct contact with one of his special servants of old. Ultimately, though, all we know is that God had his reasons for allowing the New Testament autographs to be worn out by repeated use. From time to time we hear of the discovery of a fragment possibly dated to the first century, but even if such a fragment is eventually verified, the dating alone can never serve as proof of an autograph; it will still be a copy in all likelihood.

As for errors in all the copies, we have, however, we can say is that the vast majority of the Greek text is not affected by errors at all. The errors occur in the form of variant readings, i.e., portions of the text where different manuscripts disagree. Of the small amount of the text that is affected by variant readings, the vast majority of these are minor slips of the pen, misspelled words, etc., or intentional but quickly analyzed changes, and we are certain what the original reading is in these places. A far smaller number of changes present challenges to establishing the original reading. It has always been said and remains true that no major doctrine is affected by a textual problem. Only rarely does a textual issue change the meaning of a verse.[*] Still, establishing the original text wherever there are variant readings is vitally important. Every word matters!

[*] Leading textual scholar Daniel Wallace tells us, after looking at all of the evidence, that the percentage of instances where the reading is uncertain and a well-attested alternative reading could change the meaning of the verse is a quarter of one percent, i.e., 0.0025%

SOURCES

Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 662–663.

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), 573–574.

Edward D. Andrews, FROM SPOKEN WORDS TO SACRED TEXTS: Introduction-Intermediate New Testament Textual Studies (Cambridge; Ohio: Christian Publishing House, 2017)

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[1] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882), 2.

[2] In fact, his copy of Revelation being incomplete, Erasmus simply retranslated the missing verses from the Latin Vulgate back into Greek.

[3] 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), xxii–xxiv.

[4][4][4] “That the famous Syrus Sinaiticus contains not only the Old Syriac Gospels, but also other palimpsest leaves, among them four leaves of a Greek codex of John’s Gospel, is not a secret. Nevertheless, for 120 years, this Greek fragment, though probably contemporary with the great uncials, was not registered in any list of NT manuscripts and, as a result, completely neglected.” – https://bibil.unil.ch/bibil/public/indexSimpleSearch.action

[5] http://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/liste/

[6] B.C.E. means “before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”

[7] Codex Alexandrinus resided in Alexandria for a number of years, the city from which it received its name. Thereafter, in 1621, Patriarch Cyril Lucar took it to Constantinople. It would later be given to Charles I of England in 1627, which was too late for it to be used in the 1611 King James Version. In 1757, George II presented it to the National Library of the British Museum. Alexandrinus was the best manuscript in Britain until 1933, when the British government purchased א for the British Museum for £100,000. Of possibly 820 original leaves of Alexandrinus, 773 have been preserved, 639 of the Old Testament and 134 of the New.

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