NT Textual Studies

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

Before defining exactly what Textual Criticism is, please see the image below, so you can see that if you hold your mouse over the OT Textual Studies tab, there will be a drop-down box. You can select the area you are looking for and then click on it, where you will find articles.

NOTE: The first five terms of our Glossary of Technical Terms are by Christian Publishing House, and the others are by Dr. Philip W. Comfort.

Textual Critic: a scholar whose goal is to reconstruct from extant manuscripts either the autograph or the initial text of the NT from which all existing copies originated. The methodology is the same in either case. The critic uses mental and computer-based tool sets to decide between variant readings among the manuscripts. There are different schools of thought, which tend to prefer either the early manuscripts with more difficult readings or the later manuscripts exhibiting what has been called the Majority Text.

Textual Criticism: the art and science (some would say only art) of determining the original text from variant readings exhibited by extant manuscripts. At present, a good deal of scientific methodology seems to be used as statistics, and computer processing is heavily employed. At the same time, however, TC is also faith-based (at least among conservative theologians), and the results are arguably impossible to verify. Faith plays a role in the belief by many that God has preserved His word somewhere among extant Greek manuscripts, which makes conjectural emendation unnecessary and unacceptable. As to verification, logic and the genealogical relationships between texts than can be constructed are often very convincing, but sometimes a decision is somewhat tenuous. Some critics would claim that no decision can really be verified, but many theories are accepted today without physical verification on the strength of reasonable probability.

Variant Reading(s): differing versions of a word or phrase found in two or more manuscripts within a variation unit (see below). Variant readings are also called alternate readings.

Variation Unit: any portion of text that exhibits variations in its reading between two or more different manuscripts. It is important to distinguish variation units from variant readings. Variation units are the places in the text where manuscripts disagree, and each variation unit has at least two variant readings. Setting the limits and range of a variation unit is sometimes difficult or even controversial because some variant readings affect others nearby. Such variations may be considered individually or as elements of a single reading. One should also note that the terms “manuscript” and “witness” may appear to be used interchangeably in this context. Strictly speaking, “witness” (see below) will only refer to the content of a given manuscript or fragment, which it predates to a greater or lesser extent. However, the only way to reference the “witness” is by referring to the manuscript or fragment that contains it. In this book, we have sometimes used the terminology “witness of x or y manuscript” to distinguish the content in this way.

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Glossary of Terms

The following is an annotated glossary of terms used for textual studies of the New Testament.

Amanuensis. A scribe or secretary. In ancient times a written document was first produced by an author who usually dictated the material to an amanuensis. The author would then read the text and make the final editorial adjustments before the document was sent or published. Paul used the writing services of Tertius to write the epistle to the Romans (Rom. 16:22), and Peter was assisted by Silvanus in writing his first Epistle (see 1 Pet. 5:12).

Amulet. Small object worn by an individual, usually around the neck, as a charm or means of protection against evil, witchcraft, disease, or other physical and spiritual threats. The word is probably derived from either a Latin or Arabic term meaning “to carry.” Amulets have been made of various substances and in many forms. Pieces of metal or strips of parchment with portions of sacred writings, even herbs and animal preparations, have been used. Semiprecious gems were often inscribed with a magical formula.

Many amulets uncovered in Palestine have been Egyptian in style. They were in forms of Egyptian gods (e.g., Osiris and Isis), animals (cats and apes), fruits (lotus and pomegranates), human legs and arms, lunar discs, pierced shells, and signet rings. Amulets were often colored red because blood was vital to life, or they were blue to ward off the evil eye.

A few extant New Testament papyrus manuscripts were probably amulets or talismans (see below)—namely, P50 and P78.

Anacoluthon. Grammatically incomplete or inconsistent construction—often begging scribal alteration. For example, in Revelation 3:20 the text literally reads, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door—and I will come to him.” To fix this, some scribes (A 2053 MajA it syrh cop) dropped the word and [Greek kai]: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him.”

Apograph. A manuscript copy, as opposed to the original—the autograph.

Archetype. The copy of a text in a scriptorium or library used to make other copies. The archetype may or may not be the autograph—depending on whether the autograph had been redacted.

Assimilation. The process whereby one text is made to read like another text. This has been done by scribes and translators alike under the influence of similar wording in the same context. For example, at the end of Mark 13:2, a few witnesses (D W it Cyprian) add, “And in three days another will be raised without hands.” This interpolation (drawing upon Mark 14:58 and John 2:19) was made by scribes who, knowing the accusation made against Jesus in 14:58 (we heard Jesus say, “I will destroy this temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another not made with hands.”), felt it was their editorial obligation to have Jesus actually say what he is later accused of, because there would otherwise be no record of this in the Gospel of Mark.

Atticism. The process of making grammar or wording in Koine Greek appear to be like classical (Attic) Greek.

Authorities. Global term used especially by Bible translators (see RSV and NRSV—“ancient authorities”) for Bible manuscripts, ancient versions, and citations of church fathers. The term should not be misconstrued to signify “authoritative testimony.”

Autograph. The authored manuscript, whether penned by the author, dictated by him, or endorsed by him. By comparison, the “original manuscript” is the archetypal exemplar from which other manuscripts were made for publication and distribution. This could be one-in-the-same with the autograph but not necessarily so, especially if editing occurred between the time of the author’s composition and publication. None of the original manuscripts of any book of the Bible are extant.

Biblical Uncial. Large letters (from the Latin meaning “one-inch” tall) commonly used in biblical manuscripts. Another name for the Biblical Uncial is the “Biblical Majuscule,” which refers to large uncial letters, each stroked separately so as not to connect with other letters (as occurs with a running hand producing cursives). This name does not mean that all manuscripts written with such lettering were biblical, but that a great number of biblical manuscripts display this type of lettering. The Biblical Uncial is noted for retaining a bilinear appearance—that is, there is a conscious effort to keep a line of text within an imaginary upper and lower line. In Biblical Uncial there is a deliberate alternation of thick vertical strokes and thin horizontal strokes with sloping strokes coming in between. In this style, rectangular strokes display right-angled shapes, and circular letters are truly circular, not oval. There are no ligatures (connecting letters) and no ornamentation at the end of strokes (such as serifs and blobs). This style of writing began sometime in the second century AD.

Book. A set of written sheets—whether composed of wood, parchment, papyrus, or paper—containing records or a literary composition. With respect to the Bible, each individual composition is called a “book” because that was what the document was before it became part of the biblical collection. As such, the Bible has sixty-six books—such as Genesis, Isaiah, Matthew, and Revelation.

Canon. Those sets of books in the Jewish and Christian Bible considered to be Scripture and therefore authoritative in matters of faith and doctrine. The term translates both a Greek and a Hebrew word that mean “a rule,” or “measuring rod.” It is a “yardstick” by which other books are compared and by which they are measured. After the fourth century AD the Christian church found itself with only sixty-six books that constituted its Scripture; twenty-seven of these were the New Testament and thirty-nine were the Old Testament. Just as Plato, Aristotle, and Homer form a canon of Greek literature, so the New Testament books became the canon of Christian literature. The criteria for selecting the books in the Jewish canon (the Old Testament) are not known, but clearly had to do with their worth in the ongoing life and religion of the worshipping nation. The criteria for the selection of New Testament books revolved around their apostolicity, according to early church writers. Like those of the Old Testament, these books were collected and preserved by local churches in the continuing process of their worship and need for authoritative guidance for Christian living. The formation of the canon was a process (rather than an event) which took several hundred years to reach finality in all parts of the Roman empire. Local canons were the basis for comparison, and out of them eventually emerged the general canon which exists in Christendom today, though some of the Eastern churches have a New Testament that is slightly smaller than that accepted in the West. Judaism, as well as Christianity as a whole, believes that the Spirit of God was operative in some providential way in the production and preservation of his Word.

Codex. Earliest form of the book, consisting of sheets of papyrus or vellum folded and bound together and enclosed between two wooden leaves or tablets. This was a revolutionary development, not only because it eliminated the use of cumbersome scrolls but also because it enabled the writer to use both sides of a page.

Collation. Comparison of one manuscript against a known printed text for the sake of producing a list of the differences.

Colophon. Scribe’s comments at the end of a manuscript. One scribe’s comments at the end of manuscript 461 indicate that the work was written in the year 835, making it the earliest manuscript to have an actual date.

Conflation. The joining together of two variant readings in the creation of a third. Take, for example, Colossians 1:12. Some manuscripts (P46 P61vid א A C D1 syr) read, “The one who qualifies you to participate in the inheritance of the saints.” Other manuscripts (D* F G 33 it) read, “The one who calls you to participate in the inheritance of the saints.” Codex Vaticanus conflates these two readings: “The one who calls and qualifies you to participate in the inheritance of the saints.”

Conjectural emendations. Corrections made to the text on the basis of scholarly conjecture without having any actual manuscript support. For example, 1 Peter 3:18 reads, “He [Christ] was made alive in spirit—in which spirit he also went to make a proclamation to the spirits in prison.” Because of die difficulty of interpreting “in which spirit,” a few scholars have conjectured that the text read: “He was made alive in spirit—in Enoch he also went to make a proclamation to the spirits in prison” or (2) “he was made alive in spirit—by which spirit Enoch also went to make a proclamation to the spirits in prison.” These are ingenious conjectures (which call for only a few minor adjustments in Greek) but could not be considered as reconstructions of the original. In fact, the present thought among New Testament scholars is that conjectural emendations should be eliminated from the textual apparatus of the Greek New Testament because they do not have any manuscript support.

Critical apparatus. A listing of variant readings, with accompanying manuscript support, printed in critical editions of the Greek New Testament. The United Bible Societies prepared an edition of the Greek New Testament in which a full citation is given in the critical apparatus for select, significant variants. After the United Bible Societies had published two editions of the Greek New Testament, they decided to unite with the work being done on a new edition (the twenty-sixth) of the Nestle-Aland text—and so produce two volumes containing the same text. Thus, the United Bible Societies’ third edition of the Greek New Testament and the Nestle-Aland twenty-sixth edition of Novum Testamentum Graece have the same text. Each, however, has different punctuation and a different critical apparatus. The United Bible Societies’ text has a plenary listing of witnesses for select variation units; the Nestle-Aland text has a condensed listing of the manuscript evidence for almost all the variation units. Both editions have since gone into another edition (the fourth and twenty-seventh, respectively), manifesting changes to the critical apparatus but not to the wording of the text itself.

Critical edition or critical text. A printed edition of the Greek New Testament that has been produced by critical analysis of textual variants. Such editions will usually have a critical apparatus (see above).

Copy. A handwritten manuscript. The Bible is an ancient document—one that existed before the time of the printing press—it exists in many handwritten manuscripts or copies. Many of these copies have been preserved.

Copyist. Another term for a scribe, which focuses on his task of copying.

Corpus. A collection of individual books. In the New Testament age, Christians and churches collected three different corpuses: (1) the four Gospels; (2) Paul’s Epistles; (3) Acts and the General Epistles.

Corrector and corrections. One who made corrections to a manuscript. Corrections were made by the scribe himself, by an official corrector in a scriptorium (called a diothortes—see below), or by the purchaser of the newly made copy. Corrections were often made by comparing the newly made copy against a different exemplar than was used for making the copy.

Cursive manuscripts. Manuscripts written with a running hand, as opposed to manuscripts written in separate capital letters. Nearly all Greek New Testament manuscripts after the eighth century are cursives.

Diglot. A text that contains two languages—either side by side or one beneath the other (an interlinear). Diglots are helpful for students learning a new language and useful for language populations who have primary knowledge in one language and limited understanding in another. As such, Greek-Latin diglots were very popular in the early centuries of the church, as were Greek-Coptic diglots. Codex Bezae is a good example of a Greek-Latin diglot, and P6 of a Greek-Coptic diglot.

Diothortes. A corrector of manuscripts. This was an actual position in a scriptorium; those who had this task performed much like the copyeditor or proofreader working in modern publishing houses.

Dittography. A scribal mistake of repeating the same word or letters from the preceding word or line. (Examples are given in chap. 7.)

Documentary Evidence. Actual manuscript support for any particular variant reading. Fenton Hort emphasized this as being the primary source of evidence for making decisions about textual variants; hence, his famous line, “knowledge of documents must precede judgments on readings” (Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, 17).

Eclecticism. The process of doing textual criticism by selecting what is best from a number of different criteria and/or what appears to be the best reading from a number of different manuscripts. Thus, eclecticism in textual studies is two-tiered: it refers to an amalgamation of methods and of manuscripts. Almost all textual critics perform their task by some sort of eclecticism, without giving undo favor to one method or manuscript over against another. This is called “reasoned eclecticism.” (See discussion in chap. 6.)

Editio princeps. The first printed edition of a book. In textual studies, this is usually used with respect to the book containing the first-printed transcription of a Greek manuscript.

Emendation. A correction of what is perceived to be an error. Emendations are the work of scribes or editors making what they think are justifiable adjustments to the text. An emended text, therefore, is a redaction.

Exemplar. The authoritative manuscript from which copies are made. In a scriptorium this would be the archetype; in a church or an individual’s home, this would be the master-copy.

Extant. A term that describes surviving manuscripts and/or surviving portions of manuscripts.

External criticism or external evidence. An expression used in textual criticism (of variant readings) to refer to the analysis of actual manuscripts, as opposed to the analysis of what factors in the text might have prompted the variant reading(s) (which is internal criticism). External criticism makes judgment on variant readings on the basis of which manuscripts support which variant reading. This is the external evidence textual critics use in making decisions on readings.

Folio. A leaf of a codex manuscript that, when folded in half, provided for four pages (front and back).

Fragments. Portions of once-complete manuscript pages. Many of the Dead Sea Scrolls (especially those from Cave 7) are nothing but fragments. So also for several New Testament papyrus manuscripts; only small fragments of one page (both sides) are extant in such noteworthy manuscripts as P52, P64, P67, and P77.

Gap-filling. The filling in of perceived gaps in the literary text. Each reader uses his or her imagination to fill in the unwritten portions of the text, its gaps or areas of indeterminacy. In other words, as the reader adopts the perspectives thrust on him or her by the text, experiences it sequentially, has expectations frustrated or modified, relates one part of the text to the other, imagines and fills in all that the text leaves blank, its meaning is gradually actualized. The reader’s reflection on the thwarting of his or her expectations, the negations of familiar values, the causes of their failure, and whatever potential solutions the text offers require the reader to take an active part in formulating the meaning of the narrative. Whereas readers do this gap-filling in their imaginations only, scribes sometimes took the liberty to fill the unwritten gaps with written words. In other words, some scribes went beyond just imagining how the gaps should be filled and actually filled them.

Gloss. A brief explanation of a difficult word or expression in the text; these explanations were usually written in the margin or between the lines. On occasion, such glosses were incorporated into the text by the next copyist, who may have thought the marginal or interlinear comment belonged in the text. For example, in 2 Corinthians 8:4, a few late manuscripts (6 945—so TR) have the added gloss “that we would receive,” which is a scribal attempt to improve the grammar and sense of the sentence, which literally reads “begging us earnestly [for] the favor and the contribution of the ministry to the saints.” One scribe inserted the gloss on the justification that “it was thus found in many copies”—as was written in a marginal note. Another scribe carelessly copied this marginal note right into the text, as if it were part of Paul’s epistle.

Handwriting. Writing done by hand, especially the particular form of writing done by an individual scribe.

Haplography. Skipping over entire semantic units. The scribe’s eyes would shift to the same word he had just finished copying on one line to the same word one or two lines later, where he would begin again. (Examples are given in chap. 7.)

Harmonization. The editorial process of making one text like another, whether it be a sentence, paragraph, or entire chapter. Some of the most noteworthy changes in the text of the New Testament involved Gospel harmonization. This kind of change began to occur in the second century and was fully manifest in the fourth. In the early period of textual transmission, each Gospel was usually treated as an individual work. Beginning in the third century the Gospels were sometimes placed together in one volume by themselves (as in P45). Beginning in the fourth century, the Gospels, together with the other books of the New Testament, were placed in volumes containing the entire Greek Bible (Old Testament and New Testament). This repositioning changed the horizon of expectations of fourth-century and fifth-century scribes, who felt more and more compelled to harmonize Gospel accounts.

Homoeoarchton. The skipping over of semantic units because of similar beginnings in two words or two lines. (Examples are given in chap. 7.)

Homoeoteleuton. The skipping over of semantic units because of similar endings in two words or two lines. (Examples are given in chap. 7.)

Horizon of expectations. The preceptions, experiences, and prejudices readers bring with them to a text; the vista of the text in its own historical setting. The goal of reading is for the two horizons to connect.

Ink. Usually a black carbon (charcoal) mixed with gum or oil for use on parchment or mixed with a metallic substance for papyrus (cf. 2 John 12). It was kept in an inkhorn as a dried substance on which the scribe would dip or rub his moistened pen. It could be erased by washing (Num. 5:23) or with a pen-knife. This knife was also used for sharpening pens and trimming or cutting scrolls (Jer. 36:23).

Inscription. See Superscription.

Interlinear. Translation of one language by another in between the lines.

Internal criticism or internal evidence. Judgment of variant readings on the basis of internal factors such as grammar, style, scribal habits, and immediate context, as opposed to judgment based on manuscript support (external criticism).

Interpolation. A inserted new word or words that results in changing the original text.

Intrinsic probability. What an author would most likely have written, as judged by internal criticism.

Itacism. Similar sounding Greek vowels, usually involving the Greek letter eta. This was responsible for many scribal errors in spelling.

Kakiagraphy. General term for transcriptional errors.

Lacuna(e). Gap(s), blank space(s), tear(s), or missing page(s) in a manuscript. Most ancient manuscripts have lacunae, which are filled in by editors when they publish the editio princeps of the document. The siglum vid attached to a manuscript (such as P4vid) often indicates that the editor has filled in a lacunae with the most likely letters or words. Of course, not all scholars will agree on exactly how the lacunae should be filled in.

Leather, Parchment, and Vellum. Writing material made from animal skins.

Leather (tanned skins), the forerunner of parchment, was in use about as long as papyrus, but it was rarely used because papyrus was so abundant. The ancient Hebrews probably used leather and papyrus for writing materials. The Dead Sea Scrolls were sheets of leather sewed together with linen thread. Metal scrolls 384 (copper) also existed. See also Parchment, Vellum.

Parchment, made in the beginning from sheep and goat skins, began to replace leather as early as the third century BC, though actual parchment codices date from the second century AD. To prepare parchment or refined leather, the hair was removed from the skins and the latter rubbed smooth. The most common form of book for Old Testament and New Testament documents was evidently a roll or scroll of papyrus, leather, or parchment. The average length of a scroll was about 30 feet, though the famous Harris Papyrus was 133 feet long. Scrolls were often stored in pottery jars (Jer. 32:14) and were frequently sealed (Rev. 5:1).

Vellum had a finer quality than parchment and was prepared from the skins of calves or lambs. In the fourth century AD and thereafter, most Christian codices were made of vellum or parchment.

Leaves. Sheets of a manuscript, whether papyrus or parchment. For a codex, one sheet (or folio) would have two leaves.

Lectio brevior. The shortest variant reading, generally regarded by textual critics (especially Westcott and Hort) to be more likely original than a longer reading. However, recent studies have shown that many of the earliest New Testament manuscripts display a tendency for scribes to purposely shorten a text. Therefore, a shorter reading cannot automatically be judged as being more likely original.

Lectio difficilior. A difficult variant reading, generally regarded by textual critics as being more likely original than an easier variant reading. This canon is a development of Bengel’s maxim proclivi scriptoni praestat ardua (the harder reading is to be preferred), a maxim he formulated in responding to his own question as to which variant reading is likely to have arisen out of the others.

Lectionaries. A collection of Scripture readings for use in synagogues and in church meetings. The Jews designated readings from the Law and the Prophets for each sabbath. In like manner, Christians selected reading from the Gospels and the Epistles for reading on Sunday in church meetings. Lectionaries have been used to some extent in New Testament textual criticism.

Lector (reader). Reader of Scripture in a church gathering.

Liturgical influence. Variant readings affected by liturgical influences. This is manifest in the frequent addition of amen to the end of the epistles, the introduction of baptismal formulas into the text (as in Acts 8:37), and the appendage to the Lord’s Prayer: “For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13). (Examples are given in chap. 7.)

Majuscule. Large uncial letters, each stroked separately, so as not to connect with other letters (as occurs with a running hand producing cursives). See Biblical Uncial.

Manuscript (MS), manuscripts (MSS). Handwritten copies of texts. Prior to the fifteenth century when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type for the printing press, all copies of any work of literature were made by hand (hence, the name “manuscript”). In the centuries prior to the simultaneous multiple production of copies via dictation (wherein many scribes in a scriptorium transcribed a text dictated to them by one reader), all manuscript copies were made singly—each scribe producing a copy from an exemplar.

Marginal note. Note appearing in the margin of a manuscript or translation. In manuscripts, such notes usually pertain to corrections but sometimes display interpretations or glosses. On occasion, such marginal glosses have been inserted in the text of a manuscript copy. In translations, a marginal note gives information about textual variants, alternative renderings, and related Scripture references.

Metathesis. A scribal error involving the transposition of two letters, words, or phrases. See Transposition below.

nomen sacrum, nomina sacra. Divine titles (such as Jesus, Lord, Christ, God) and sacred words (such as cross) written in contracted form in Christian biblical manuscripts. (For a full discussion, see chap. 4.)

Numerical notations. The system of using letters of the alphabet to signify numbers. Almost everyone is familiar with Roman numerals to indicate chapters, outlines, or (sometimes) clock numbers. In that system, I=1, V=5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500, and M=1000, etc. Both Greek and Hebrew alphabets were similarly used. The first 10 letters stood for the corresponding numerals, the 11th for 20, the 12th for 30, and so on. Some of the older letters of the Greek alphabet, which had dropped out before New Testament times, were still retained as numerals, such as digamma, koppa, sampi, and stau. (See chap. 7, note on Rev. 13:18, for an example.)

Obelius, obeli. Symbol used in manuscripts to designate a questionable or spurious passage. The symbol used was ***** or ÷. Such obeli can be seen in many manuscripts pertaining to the passage of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11), a passage not written by John but inserted later. The modern equivalent of such markings is found in modern English versions setting off John 7:53–8:11 with a line above it and below it (see NIV and NLT for examples). (See chap. 7, for note on John 7:53–8:11.)

Octavo. A book printed on octavo pages, that is, the pages were cut eight from a sheet. Such books are usually small-size (as compared to the larger quarto).

Omission. Deletion of a word, words, or phrases in the process of a scribe copying a text, whether done intentionally or unintentionally. Intentional omission, for example, is seen in the work of the scribe of D, who omitted nearly every mention of the ascension of Christ in the books of Luke and Acts (see Luke 24:52; Acts 1:2, 9, 11; see discussion in chap. 7).

Opisthograph. Scroll with writing on both sides. Though it was far more common for scrolls to have writing only on the inside, some scrolls had writing on both sides. Opisthographs were usually private, nonsaleable documents, whereas scrolls with writing on the inside were more official and valuable.

Oral reading. The process of reading texts aloud—whether in public or in private. In ancient times almost all reading was done out loud. The oral/aural environment for reading was pervasive in ancient times.

Oral tradition. Traditions passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, as opposed to being transmitted by writing. Some Christian oral traditions were added to the written text, even though they were not part of the original written documents of Scripture. Prime examples are the “bloody sweat” passage (Luke 22:44) and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11). (See discussion on these in chap. 7.)

Original(s). The original manuscript is the archetypal exemplar from which other manuscripts were made for publication and distribution. This could be one-and-the-same with the autograph but not necessarily so, especially if editing occurred between the time of original writing and publication. For some books of the New Testament, there is little difference between the autograph and the original text. But other books seem to have gone through two stages: the book was first written, edited, and then published; afterwards, the book was reedited (redacted) and published afresh.

Orthography. The correct way to write letters according to standard usage.

Paleography. The study of ancient writing. Paleographers aid textual critics by identifying biblical texts among thousands of manuscripts (sometimes nothing more than scraps), dating manuscripts, and producing transcriptions of manuscripts. Textual critics can then use these transcriptions to analyze the textual characteristics of a particular manuscript.

Palimpset. A manuscript in which the original writing has been erased and then written over. Through the use of chemicals and painstaking effort, a scholar can read the original writing underneath the overprinted text. Tischendorf did this with a manuscript called Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C), which had the sermons of Ephraem written over a New Testament text.

Paper. Paper, made from wood, rags, and certain grasses, began to replace vellum and parchment as early as the tenth century AD in the Western world, though it was used considerably earlier in China and Japan. By the fifteenth century, paper manuscripts were common.

Papyrus, papyri. Tall, aquatic reed, the pith of which is cut into strips, laid in a cross-work pattern, and glued together to make a page for writing. The papyrus rolls of Egypt have been used as a writing surface since the early third millennium BC. The Greeks adopted papyrus around 900 BC and later the Romans adopted its use. However, the oldest extant Greek rolls of papyrus date from the fourth century BC. The inner pith of the papyrus plant was called byblos. From this comes the Greek word biblion (book) and the English word Bible. The word paper is derived from papyrus.

Papyrus is perishable, requiring a dry climate for its preservation. That is why so many papyri have been discovered in the desert sands of Egypt. Some papyrus fragments have also been found in the caves near the Dead Sea, where the climate is likewise sufficiently dry.

Parablepsis. The skipping over of words in the transcription process. The scribe’s eyes would shift to the same word he had just finished copying on one line to two or three lines later to the same word, where he would begin again. The resultant haplography would create an omission. (Examples are given in chap. 7.)

Paraphrase. The restatement of a written work in the same language—usually in expanded form—for the sake of providing clarity or commentary on the written work.

Parchment. Writing material made from the skins of sheep and goats. This material was far more expensive than papyrus. Parchment was used for many Hebrew scrolls and for Christian codices after the fourth century. The expense of such manuscripts suggests that they were prepared for use in the synagogue and/or in the church. See also Leather, Vellum.

Pericope. A passage, story, or small section of the Bible.

Pleonasm. Using more words than are necessary to convey a message. Alexandrian scribes often trimmed unnecessary words.

Polyglot. A book presenting a text in two or more languages. Two languages comprise a diglot; three languages a triglot; and so on.

Punctuation. The insertion of standardized marks or signs in written material to clarify meaning and/or separate structural units. A common misunderstanding is that ancient Greek manuscripts had no marks of punctuation. To the contrary, most New Testament manuscripts of the second and third centuries have punctuation marks, including the midstop (a high period) and a full stop (indicated by a noticeable space between words). With time, Greek writings accumulated more punctuation marks: a comma, a period, and a question mark.

Quarto. A book printed on quarto pages, i.e., pages cut four from a sheet. Such books are usually midsize (as compared to the smaller octavo).

Quire. Four sheets of paper (or papyrus or parchment) folded once and stitched at the fold. Scribes would use several quires to make up an entire codex. After the fifteenth century, a quire denoted a collection of 24 sheets of paper of the same size, constituting one 20th of a ream.

Recension. A critical, thoroughgoing revision of a text.

Recto. The side of a leaf in a manuscript that is to be read first and/or the side of a leaf with the best surface for writing. The recto in ancient documents does not always coincide with the modern definition of recto, which denotes the right hand page.

Redaction. The process of selecting and editing oral material for a written work, as well as the process of editing written material for a specific publishing purpose.

Revision. A book (or translation) that has been reviewed and then corrected.

Scholium, scholia. Marginal comments or annotations in a manuscript.

Scribal error. Any kind of accidental mistake made by a scribe during the process of making a copy of a text.

Scribal leap. Another term for parablepsis (see above).

Scribe(s). One who served as a copyist, amanuensis, or secretary. Scribes were employed in Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Greco-Roman empire.

Scriptio continua. The writing of words with no spatial break between the words. Greek manuscripts were written in this format. The reading process was unquestionably slower than it is for modern readers who have the advantage of reading individually printed words. Of course, ancient readers were accustomed to their format, so they could read it more quickly than moderns can.

Scriptorium. A place where scribes worked to produce copies of books.

Scroll. A roll of papyrus, parchment, or leather used for writing a document or literary work. The papyrus scroll of Egypt can be traced as far back as 2500 BC. One of the most famous literary productions of ancient Egypt is the Book of the Dead.

Jews used leather scrolls for writing the books of the Old Testament. Most of the scrolls discovered from the Dead Sea area were written on leather, though a few were written on papyrus. The first-generation Christians read the Old Testament from scrolls. Jesus read from “a scroll” (Luke 4:17), and Paul may have used “scrolls” to read the Old Testament (see 2 Tim. 2:13). It is possible that the earliest Christians used scrolls when producing the books of the New Testament. A few early manuscripts of the New Testament were written on scrolls (P13 P18 P98), but all these papyri were written on the back of other existing writings. Thus, none of these works were originally composed in the scroll format. As far as we know, first-century Christians and those thereafter predominantly used the codex.

Sigla. Special signs used in critical editions of the Greek New Testament text (such as insertion signs and omission signs), accompanied by corresponding textual information in the critical apparatus at the foot of the page.

Significant reading. A variant that substantially changes the meaning of the text; this usually excludes variations of word order and spelling, grammatical aberrations, and variant readings supported only by a few and/or very late manuscripts. The United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament was especially designed to display a full critical apparatus for all significant variant readings. The Introduction to this volume says, “The variant readings cited in the textual apparatus are primarily those which are significant for translators or necessary for establishing the text” (xii). There are approximately 1,700 such variations cited.

Singular reading. A variant reading that is found in only one manuscript. As such, textual critics can be quite certain that the variant was the creation of the scribe who produced that manuscript.

Solecism. An ungrammatical combination of words in a sentence or some spelling of a word deviating from the normal (see John 5:36).

Subscription. Comments made at the end of a written work that are not part of the body of the work itself. Subscriptions, therefore, are the writings of scribes providing circumstantial information concerning author, place of writing, recipients, etc. Most epistles of the New Testament have subscriptions. For example, at the end of Romans there are four extant subscription forms—each expanding on the other: (1) to the Romans, (2) to the Romans written from Corinth, (3) to the Romans written from Corinth [sent] through Phoebe the servant, (4) to the Romans written from Corinth [sent] through Phoebe the servant of the church in Cenchrea.

Superscription. A title attached to the beginning of a written work. Superscriptions (or inscriptions) were not the work of the author of the work; rather, they were scribal creations. The four Gospels have these superscriptions (or inscriptions). For example, at the beginning of Matthew there are three extant forms among various manuscripts: (1) According to Matthew, (2) Gospel According to Matthew, and (3)The Holy Gospel according to Matthew. Some manuscripts, reflecting the original form, do not have titles. English versions (for the sake of identification) have traditionally added titles to the beginning of all the books of the New Testament.

Talisman. An object thought to bring good luck and to shun evil. Some talismans had Scripture verses written on them. See Amulet.

Text. The original words of a written text (usually referred to as “the original text”), or a copy of the original words (usually referred to as “the text” of a particular manuscript).

Text-type. A term describing a close textual relationship among certain manuscripts. Each such group is called a “family” (such as family 1 and family 13 in New Testament manuscripts) or “text-type” (such as Alexandrian, Caesarean, Western, and Byzantine).

Textual criticism. Examination of variant readings in various ancient manuscripts in the effort to reconstruct the original wording of a written text. This kind of study is needed for texts whose autographs are not extant, including all the books of the New Testament.

Textual variation unit. Any portion of an ancient text where there is textual variation supported by at least two Greek manuscripts. When there is a variant reading supported by only one Greek New Testament manuscript, this is called a “singular reading” (see above).

Transcription. A copy of a text produced by a scribe.

Transcriptional error. Mistakes that scribes made in the process of producing copies. The most common transcriptional error was haplography—the skipping over of entire semantic units. The scribe’s eyes would shift to the same word he had just finished copying on one line to two or three lines later to the same word, where he would begin again.

Translation. Rendering one language into another. With respect to the Bible, the Hebrew language (Old Testament) and Greek language (New Testament) are translated into a receptor language—such as Syriac, Coptic, and Latin.

Transmission. The process by which a text has been copied and recopied throughout the ages. This is known as textual transmission.

Transposition. Another term for metathesis; a scribal error or adjustment of changing letter order or word order.

Variant readings. Different readings in the extant manuscripts for any given portion of a text.

Vellum. Fine-grained lambskin or calfskin prepared for a writing surface or for a bookbinder. See also Leather.

Version. A translation of the Bible in a particular language. There is only one Bible, but there are hundreds—if not thousands—of Bible versions.

Verso. In ancient books, the side of the leaf that is less smooth and that was usually written on second (after the recto). In modern books, the verso is the left hand page when a book is folded open.

Vid. An abbreviation for videtur, meaning “it seems so.” It is used by textual critics and paleographers to signal probable readings where there are gaps (lacunae) in certain manuscripts.

Vorlage. A German term for the manuscript from which another copy or other copies are made.

Witness, witnesses. Any written documents that bear testimony to the wording of the original text. These include original language manuscripts (in Greek), ancient versions (such as Coptic, Syriac, Latin), or the writings of church fathers.

Wood tablets. Wooden tablets, covered with stucco or wax, used as a writing surface. Such a tablet is referred to in Luke 1:63. At some point, a few such wooden tablets were bound together and became the precursor to the codex.

Writer. In biblical studies, this usually refers to the author of a book of the Bible. On occasion, it is used to speak of an amanuensis (see above).

Writing utensils. Different kinds of writing implements were used, depending on the writing surfaces in use at various periods of history. Metal chisels and gravers were used for inscribing stone and metal. A stylus was used for writing cuneiform (wedge-shaped characters) on clay tablets. For writing on ostraca (potsherds), papyrus, and parchment, a reed was split or cut to act as a brush. In Egypt, rushes were used to form a brush. Later, reeds were cut to a point and split like a quill pen. Apparently, this was the type of pen or “calamus” used in New Testament times (3 John 13).[1]

[1] Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 379–393.


The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2
The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02
English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

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