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The papyri are documents written on papyrus, material prepared in ancient Egypt from the pithy stem of a water plant, used in sheets throughout the ancient Mediterranean world for writing. The early papyri of about 100+ manuscripts that date from 110-390 C.E. are said to be of the most important for establishing the original. Are they?
Stanley E. Porter writes,
Robinson has estimated that the current Nestle-Aland edition is 99.5 percent the same as Westcott and Hort’s edition. There are three major considerations to weigh here. The first is the minimal role that the papyri have played in the development of the modern critical Greek New Testament. At the time that Tischendorf published his eighth edition in 1869– 1872, and Westcott and Hort published their New Testament in 1881, there was only one Greek New Testament papyrus known and published, and it only in part. Nestle used Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, along with Weymouth, and then Weiss. Weymouth was also a compilation text of previous editions. By the time Weiss published his edition in 1900, only about seven papyri had been published. To date, 127 [now 147] papyri numbers have been assigned, but 41 of these after NA26; however, at least 20 of these 127 numbers probably should be excluded because the papyrus is not a continuous text of the New Testament (and instead is a lectionary, talisman, commentary, or the like) or duplicates another number. Of those 107 or so remaining, as many as 63 were inscribed before the copying of the major codexes (although as many as seven of these may not qualify as continuous text manuscripts). However, even if all of the possible papyri had been taken into account, there is some question of how that would have influenced the resulting text, as the papyri tend to be highly fragmentary (there are only a few relatively complete New Testament books) and do not so much represent a text as support readings and push back in time readings found in the major codexes. As a result, according to Petersen, there is no single place indicated in the critical apparatus for the Gospels in the NA27/ UBS4 text where a textual reading is supported on the basis of papyri or papyri and patristic evidence alone.
The second consideration is that the major codexes are the basis of our eclectic critical texts, both in their origins as critical texts and so far as their further development indicates. As noted above, the basis of the Westcott and Hort critical text was their so-called Neutral text of Codex Vaticanus (03 B) and Codex Sinaiticus (01 ℵ). Nestle used Westcott and Hort’s text along with Tischendorf’s eighth edition, which was heavily influenced by his discovery and the publication of Codex Sinaiticus (01 ℵ) in 1862, an event that had occurred since his publication of his seventh edition in 1859. Thus, when Nestle made decisions by comparing editions, the two primary sources of information and the basis of his edition were the major codexes, in particular Codex Vaticanus (03 B) and Codex Sinaiticus (01 ℵ). The influence of the papyri since then has been negligible.
The third consideration is to reinforce that the major critical editions are eclectic texts, and therefore they do not conform to any extant ancient manuscript. Ever since Tischendorf, including Westcott and Hort, Nestle, and the rest, the resulting critical text is one formulated on the principles of reasoned or rational eclecticism. This means that a range of both external and internal evidence is weighed, and text-critical decisions are made, with the result that no single early manuscript conforms to the reconstructed eclectic text. In that sense, the critical text of the New Testament today is only as old as nineteenth-century scholarship. END OF QUOTE
The information that Porter presents is true. However, his conclusion is somewhat mistaken. From the Westcott and Hort Greek text of 1881 to the 25th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament Text of 1963 was essentially based on the accumulated evidence from the days of Desiderius Erasmus in 1516, 1522 up unto the 19th/early 20th century, that is, the codices manuscripts, with Codex Vaticanus (c. 300–325 C.E.) and Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330–360) leading the way. This is all true. However, to say that “the influence of the papyri since then has been negligible” is very mistaken and shortsighted. You see, he is saying that based on the fact that there were no major changes from 1881 to the 2012 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Text. However, that is, in fact, what makes the early papyri majorly important, extremely significant, very consequential, considerable evidence for establishing the original Greek New Testament.
Porter also writes,
The basis of the Westcott and Hort critical text was their so-called Neutral text of Codex Vaticanus (03 B) and Codex Sinaiticus (01 ℵ). Nestle used Westcott and Hort’s text along with Tischendorf’s eighth edition, which was heavily influenced by his discovery and the publication of Codex Sinaiticus (01 ℵ) in 1862, an event that had occurred since his publication of his seventh edition in 1859. Thus, when Nestle made decisions by comparing editions, the two primary sources of information and the basis of his edition were the major codexes, in particular Codex Vaticanus (03 B) and Codex Sinaiticus (01 ℵ). The influence of the papyri since then has been negligible. – Porter, Stanley E.. How We Got the New Testament (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) (p. 74).
Jacob W. Peterson writes that the discovery of 42 papyri since 1993 are “interesting but text-critically unimportant manuscripts.” (Myths and Mistakes, p. 60) First and foremost, to find manuscripts that date within 100-250 years after the death of the apostle John in 100 C.E. that reinforces the readings that have been established as the original readings since 1881 is certainly not negligible or text-critically unimportant. Say a juror has given the death penalty to a murderer that he knew was guilty beyond all reasonable doubt with a mountain of evidence. Then, a video comes to light that actually shows every detail of that murder. It is just as the juror knew it was based on his mountain of evidence he had seen during the trial, and it changes nothing. However, for peace of mind, no juror that handed out the death penalty would refer to it as negligible or critically unimportant.
Second, the argument used to be before the discovery of the early papyri was that the copyists Byzantine family of manuscripts added material to the Greek New Testament and the Byzantine, Textus Receptus, King James Version advocates argue that it was the Alexandrian family of manuscripts that removed material from the Greek New Testament. Therefore, with the discovery of the 100+ New Testament papyri in the 20th century that dated from 110-350 C.E., which essentially changed nothing, we now know it was the Byzantine copyists who altered and added material so that we now know what to fix and remove. With manuscripts dating to decades of the originals and reading essentially the same as Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, how could the Byzantine, Textus Receptus, King James Version advocates argue that it was the Alexandrian family of manuscripts that removed material from the Greek New Testament? Where did the later Byzantine copyists find the material to add it back when the earliest texts show it has never there? So, what these very important Papyri have done is reinforce what we already knew.
See Also CATEGORY: PAPYRUS MANUSCRIPTS
Bomb Squad Analogy
Imagine you are sitting there as an employee for the bomb squad and you believe you know which wire to cut (the blue one) and you have a booklet with you that says what wire to cut (the blue one) and it is what you were thinking. Then, over the radio comes your team leader that says we found the notes that were used to make the bomb. It also says which wire to cut (the blue one) and again it is what you were thinking. Would you say that the notes were negligible, that they added nothing, so they were meaningless? Hardly, they reinforced what you, the bomb technician believed to be true, helped you to appreciate the booklet that you had was correct and brought you comfort that you had the truth and when you cut the blue wire, you were 99.5% certain that you were not going to be blown up.
History of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament Text
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 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.
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 remain 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.
The 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament
The 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland had to accomplish two different tasks. First, the apparatus had to be revised thoroughly to give it more clarity and make it easier to use. Secondly, the text-critical insights and decisions resulting from work on the Editio Critica Maior of the Greek New Testament had to be incorporated. As a consequence of these alterations, which so far concern only the Catholic Letters, the Nestle-Aland has for the first time in its history a different presentation for different parts of the text. The Catholic Letters were revised according to a fundamentally new concept which in the long run will be adopted for the entire edition. The revision of the remaining texts was confined to a thorough inspection and rearrangement of the apparatus, while the basic structure was left untouched. Another important innovation is that from now on the Nestle-Aland will not appear only as a printed book, but also in digital form.
Changes in NA28
- Revision and Correction of the Whole Edition
- Newly discovered Papyri listed
- Distinction between consistently cited witnesses of the first and second order abandoned
- Apparatus notes systematically checked
- Imprecise notes abandoned
- Previously concatenated notes now cited separately
- Inserted Latin texts reduced and translated
- References thoroughly revised
- Revision of the Catholic Letters
- New reconstruction of the text
- Defining the Consistently Cited Witnesses for the Catholic Letters
 Stanley E. Porter. How We Got the New Testament (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) (pp. 72-74). Baker Publishing Group.
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