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Bible Contradictions Bible Textual Integrity Polemical Rebuttals The Bible

Resolving The Christian “I-Know-Nothing” Multi-Problem In Textual Criticism

Occasionally we come across Christians who, when informed that the text of the gospels underwent corruption during their transmission, often react with the following type of questions: “When? Who did the corruption? In what country? Before or after Muhammad? Why was it done? How come no one noticed it?” These type of seemingly “innocent” questions merely reveal the incalculably colossal ignorance of the person in question. Christians who pose such questions do not seem to realize how utterly foolish they come across to anyone who are familiar with at least the very basics of textual criticism. Thus, the poor questioner only succeeds in on humiliating no one else but himself. Christian apologists and missionaries need to stop posing such outdated, absurd questions since it reflects quite badly upon their intelligence and gives others a very bad impression of them.

Therefore it was not surprising to come across an anonymously-written “paper” containing precisely these type of questions on the Christian missionaries’ cesspool, Answering Islam, entitled The Muslim Multi-Problem. This will be a reply to this short “paper” where the argument is that we are, in fact, faced with a Christian who-when-where-how-what-why-I know nothing-multi-problem. Since this article is a response to Christian missionaries, most of the attention will be focused upon the integrity of the New Testament and will only occasionally make mention of the Jewish Bible where necessary.

Bible Tamperation and Textual Corruption Issues

The anonymous writer begins:

Many Muslims claim that the Bible has been tampered with and corrupted.

Yes, because it is true; the Biblical text was indeed corrupted. Moreover, Biblical scholars are also in full agreement that the text of the Bible (in this instance, by “Bible” it is referred to both the Jewish Bible and the Christian New Testament) underwent changes during the course of its transmission.

Any event in real life reality with human agents has certain characteristics and conditions attached to it. Any such act is done by one or more particular persons, at one or more specific times, in a certain fashion, in certain places, and for a reason. I hope everybody can agree with that. So, to make your claim of tampering credible you will have to answer these questions:

Sure, let us now answer the questions by using the answers provided by Biblical textual critics.

When Did The Bible Tampering Happen?

The missionary asks:

When happened this tampering? [Before or after Muhammad]?

Answer: Mostly before Muhammad(P). Beginning with the New Testament, scholars of textual criticism generally agree that the text of the New Testament underwent the most drastic and frequent types of changes/corruptions in the first three centuries of its transmission. The New Testament text of these periods is often described as a “living” text, a “fluid” text, and a text in “flux.” For instance, one of the leading scholars in the field of New Testament textual criticism of our times, Bart D. Ehrman describes the transmission of the New Testament text in the earliest period as follows:

The majority of textual variants that are preserved in the surviving documents, even the documents produced in a later age, originated during the first three Christian centuries.

This conviction is not based on idle speculation. In contrast to the relative stability of the New Testament text in later times, our oldest witnesses display a remarkable degree of variation. The evidence suggests that during the earliest period of its transmission the New Testament text was in a state of flux, that it came to be more or less standardized in some regions by the fourth century, and subject to fairly rigid control (by comparison) only in the Byzantine period1

Similarly, in the latest revision of Bruce Metzger’s classic, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, co-authored with Bart Ehrman, we read:

We have good evidence to indicate that in the early decades of transmission numerous changes were made to the texts in circulation: as words or entire lines came to be left out inadvertently or inadvertently copied twice, stylistic changes were made, words were substituted for one another, evident infelicities or outright mistakes were corrected, and so on…It is a striking feature of our textual record that the earliest copies we have of the various books that became the New Testament vary from one another far more widely than do the later copies, which were made under more controlled circumstances in the Middle Ages. Moreover, the quotations of the New Testament by early church fathers evidence a wide array of textual variation dating from these earliest stages in the history of transmission.2

Likewise, the Alands describe the state of transmission of the text of the New Testament of the earliest period as follows:

Until the beginning of the fourth century the text of the New Testament developed freely. It was the “living text” in the Greek literary tradition, unlike the text of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was subject to strict controls because (in the oriental tradition) the consonantal text was holy. And the New Testament text continued to be a “living text” as long as it remained a manuscript tradition, even when the Byzantine church moulded it to the Procrustean bed of the standard and officially prescribed text. Even for later scribes, for example, the parallel passages of the Gospels were so familiar that they would adopt the text of one Gospel to that of another. They also felt themselves free to make corrections in the text, improving it by their own standard of correctness, whether grammatically, stylistically, or more substantively. This was all the more true of the early period when the text had not been attained canonical status, especially in the earliest period when Christians considered themselves to be filled with the Spirit. As a consequence the text of the early period was many-faceted, and each manuscript had its own peculiar character.3

Similar statements acknowledging the fluid state of the New Testament text in the first three centuries are found in many other sources. Thus, we can say with reasonable certainty that the vast majority of changes and corruptions were made to the New Testament text much before the time of Prophet Muhammad(P).

Moving on to the Jewish Bible, scholars again agree that most changes were made to its text much before the time of Prophet Muhammad(P). For example, Waltke explains:

the further back we go in the textual lineage, the greater the textual differences. Before the text was fixed as ca. 100 CE it was copied and recopied through many centuries by scribes of varying capabilities and of different philosophies, giving rise to varying readings and recensions (i.e., distinct text-types).4

Thus, far more variations are to be encountered in our earliest witnesses. It should be noted that we do not encounter the “original text” of any book of the Jewish Bible in the Qumran scrolls – the oldest witnesses of the Jewish Bible. Eugene Ulrich, one of the leading authorities on the Qumran scrolls — being the chief editor of the Qumran scrolls — and the text of the Jewish Bible, explains:

Although in the traditions, pious, and popular imagination, the books of Scripture were composed by individual holy men from earliest times (Moses and Isaiah, for example), critical study of the text of Scripture demonstrates that the books are the result of a long literary development, whereby traditional material was faithfully retold and handed on from generation to generation, but also creatively expanded and reshaped to fit the new circumstances and new needs that the successive communities experienced through the vicissitudes of history. So the composition of the Scriptures was organic, developmental, with successive layers of tradition. Ezekiel was commanded to eat a scroll and found that it was sweet as honey (Ezek 3:1-3), so perhaps I can be allowed to use the image of baklava for the composition of scriptural texts: many layers laid on top of one another by successive generations over the centuries, as the traditions were handed on faithfully but creatively adapted, and formed into a unity by the honey – sometimes heated – of the lived experience of the community over time.5

The Qumran scrolls reveal that the text of the Jewish Bible was not copied without changes. Instead, the text was growing organically, being adapted and changed. Naturally, this alters our understanding of the so-called “original text.” After summarising the state of the text of the individual books of the Jewish Bible in the Qumran scrolls, Ulrich concludes:

The process of composition of the Scriptures was layered; some of the latter stages of that process – multiple literary editions of the books of Scripture – are demonstrated by our new extant evidence.

3. Because the text of each book was produced organically, in multiple layers, determining “the original text” is a difficult, complex task; and theologically it may not even be the correct goal. How do we decide which of the many layers that could claim to be the “original reading” to select? Often the richer religious meaning in a text are those which entered the text as a relatively late or developed stage; do we choose the earlier, less rich reading or the later, more profound reading? In contrast, if a profound religious insight in an early stage of the text is toned down later by a standard formula or even a vapid platitude, which do we select? And must we not be consistent in choosing the early or the later edition or reading?

[…]

5. The Masoretic Text, like the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint, is not a uni-vocal term or entity, but a collection of disparate texts, from different periods, of different nature, of different textual value. There is no reason to think of the Masoretic collection as a unit (a codex, a “Bible”), or as a unity. The collection is like the Septuagint, a collection of varied forms of the various books.

6. Thus, finally, the situation has changed concerning translations of “The Holy Bible.” The New Revised Standard Version now contains a number of improved readings based on the biblical manuscripts from Qumran. It can even claim to be the first Bible to contain a paragraph missing from all Bibles for 2,000 years! It contains between chapters 10 and 11 in 1 Samuel a paragraph found at Qumran and attested by Josephus, but absent from all other Bibles over the past two millennia.6

And therefore it should be obvious that the vast majority of changes and corruption of the text of the Jewish Bible and the New Testament happened many centuries before the time of Muhammad(P).

Who Tampered With The Bible?

The missionary asks:

2. Who did the tampering?

Answer: The New Testament text was corrupted by Christians who were involved in the copying of its text whereas the text of the Jewish Bible was corrupted by the Jews responsible for the copying of the text.

Where Was The Bible Tampered?

The missionary asks:

3. Where was it done? [city, country, …?]

Answer: It was done where ever Christians were located and required New Testament texts — such as Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, etc. In the case of the Jewish Bible, we would say the Palestinian region.

What Parts Of The Bible Were Changed?

The missionary asks:

4. What parts of the text were changed?

Answer: A list of some specific changes is produced here.

D. C. Parker, the leading British scholar of textual criticism, in The Living Text of the Gospels, discusses some of the important parts of the text of the gospels which were changed – such as for instance the words of Jesus(P) on divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 5:27-32; 19:3-12; Luke 16:18); the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4); the addition of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; the ending of Mark; and a bunch of textual problems in the last 167 verses of Luke. After analysing a number of textual problems in Luke, Parker concludes:

In our investigations we have uncovered evidence in rather more than 40 verses out of the last 167 of Luke’s Gospel, about a quarter of them. Some of the readings might be best described as quaint. In several others we can see, as in so many other places, a difficulty or an unfortunate phrasing being removed…But the sum total provides incontrovertible evidence that the text of these chapters was not fixed, and indeed continued to grow for centuries after its composition.7

Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, on the other hand, make mention of several other changed parts of the New Testament text which are of immense theological and exegetical significance:

Just within the Gospels, reference can be made to the Prologue of John (e.g., 1.18), the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke (e.g., Matt. 1.16, 18; Luke 1.35), the baptism accounts of the New Testament (e.g., Mark 15.34; Luke 3.22; John 1.34), and the various passion narratives (e.g., Mark 15.34; Luke 22.43-44; John 19.36). Moreover, a number of variants affect a range of issues that continue to interest historians and exegetes of the New Testament, including such questions as whether the Gospels could have been used to support “adoptionistic” Christology (e.g., Mark 1.1; Luke 3.22; John 1.34) or one that was “anti-docetic” (e.g., the Western non-interpolations), whether Luke has a doctrine of the atonement (e.g., Luke 22.19-20), whether members of the Johannine community embraced a gnostic Christology (e.g., 1 John 4.3), and whether any of the authors of the New Testament characterizes Jesus as God (e.g., Heb. 1.8).8

How Was The Bible Tampered With?

The missionary asks:

5. How was it done [i.e. without leaving traces of it]?

Answer: We know that the texts were changed and corrupted precisely due to the numerous traces left of it in the manuscript tradition! Traces of changes and corruptions are most prominent in the earliest New Testament fragments and manuscripts. Quoting Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman again:

It is a striking feature of our textual record that the earliest copies we have of the various books that became the New Testament vary from one another far more widely than do the later copies….9

Gabel, Wheeler and York summarise the types of traces of changes and corruptions to be found in our earliest witnesses:

One study of three of the most extensive papyri (Chester Beatty I, Bodmer II, and Bodmer XIV-XV), covering passages from the Gospels and Acts, has discovered more than a thousand “singular readings” – words or groups of words not found in any other known manuscript – and this does not include different spellings! None of the papyri has a text wholly like that of the later, reconstructed families surveyed earlier. To the extent that they represent a consecutive text at all and are not fragmentary (as most of them are), they are witnesses to several textual families within the same book. For example, the Chester Beatty Papyrus II, from the third century, gives us a reading of Romans that exists nowhere else. It places the doxology that now ends chapter 16 at the end of chapter 15, lending support to those who have maintained on literary grounds that chapter 16 is really a separate letter that was later attached to Romans. Both Bodmer II and the Bodmer XIV-XV contain portions of the Gospel of John, but they often differ drastically from one another.

What can account for this wide variance among documents written so early in the history of the New Testament text? The answer, leaving aside errors of copying and writing, is that Christianity was evolving rapidly during its first several centuries and the New Testament evolved along with it to meet its needs. As the young religion spread across the ancient world, it created communities of believers in widely separated places, and each of these communities faced unique situations and had its own peculiar needs. The sacred texts were adjusted to meet local conditions. One scholar refers to such changes as “reverential alterations,” while another calls them “orthodox corruptions.”10

Similarly, it is due to the traces left in the manuscript tradition of the Jewish Bible that we know for sure that its text also underwent corruption:

Textual criticism is necessary because there is no error-free manuscript…Variants occur more frequently in the medieval manuscripts of the MT tradition, but they are minuscule compared to the variants found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). In fact, the further back we go in the textual lineage the greater the textual differences. Before the text was fixed as ca. 100 CE it was copied and recopied through many centuries by scribes of varying capabilities and of different philosophies, giving rise to varying readings and recensions (i.e., distinct text-types).

The restoration of the original OT text is foundational to the exegetical task and to theological reflection.11

As we have seen, the same observation also holds true for the New Testament text; the earliest manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament reveal far more differences and variations than all the later manuscripts.

What Was The Motive For Bible Tampering?

The missionary finally asks:

6.Why would anybody do this incredibly difficult thing?

Answer: It is not “incredibly difficult” to make certain changes to the text of a document, especially if that document is initially passing along in a non-uniform manner between different communities. The New Testament is not one book; it is a collection of different books produced by various authors at different times and locations. Not all of the four gospels were available to all the Christian communities from the start. For instance, one community might initially have read only Mark while lacking the other gospels; another community might have read Matthew but would not know anything about Mark, yet other communities might have possessed Luke and John while lacking Matthew and Mark and so on. Only later were the books collected together and widely known as such. As Frederic Kenyon explained:

…the anonymous Gospels and Acts were not regarded as the literary compositions of their authors, but as narratives of the life of our Lord and the work of His apostles, compiled with the purely practical object of disseminating the knowledge of their lives and teachings among the Christian community, and with no eye to a future which in any case would soon be curtailed by the Second Coming.

There was no need to be meticulous in verbal accuracy. The substance was what mattered, and if additions, believed to be authentic, could be made to it, why should they not? Then there were little means, even if it had been thought needful, to secure uniformity of transmission. Each book circulated originally as a separate roll, and there was no fixed Canon of Christian Scriptures. Not every Christian community could possess a complete set of Gospels or of Paul’s epistles, but each would supply itself as best it could from its neighbours. Many copies would be made by untrained provincial copyists, and there would be no opportunity of correcting them by comparison with other copies, except such as might be in the immediate neighbourhood. Such revision as there might be would be local and unmethodical.12

In such a scenario, different communities would make different types of changes to the specific books that they happened to possess as they copied and recopied their text. Then these copies would find their way to other communities and scribes, who would then further adjust and edit their texts to suit their own particular needs and this process would go on and on. Even later when Christians would have become aware of most of the writings now forming the New Testament, different changes would continue to be made to the text of these documents by different Christian scribes involved in the copying of the texts and in the recopying process more changes would undoubtedly come about. Thus, the text of the New Testament writings was changed in a haphazard and non-uniform manner. Hence, the text underwent different types of changes even though there was no outright grand “conspiracy” involving each and every Christian to alter the text of documents. Moreover, not all of the changes were deliberate. Many corruptions would be quite unintentional, such as spelling mistakes, missing words and lines, mistakenly copying lines twice, etc.

Besides the many unintentional changes, parts of the text of the New Testament were also altered occasionally for theological and doctrinal reasons – thus quite deliberately. Christians belonging to different rival sects altered the text of the various New Testament writings, particularly those of the gospels, to suit their theological and doctrinal agendas while accusing their rivals of changing passages. Then on other occasions, similar passages within the gospels were harmonised with each other in order to eliminate contradictions. Moreover, at times passages were also corrected to remove historical and other errors from the text.

The different reasons that led to the corruption of the New Testament text are listed by Bruce Metzger13 as follows:

1. Unintentional errors

  • Errors arising from faulty eyesight
  • Errors arising from faulty hearing
  • Errors of the mind
  • Errors of judgement

2. Intentional changes

  • Changes involving spelling and grammar
  • Harmonistic corruptions
  • Addition of natural complements and similar adjuncts
  • Clearing up historical and geographical difficulties
  • Conflation of readings
  • Alterations made because of doctrinal considerations
  • Addition of miscellaneous details

Conclusions

We are finally done answering all of Christian’s “I know nothing!” multiple questions. Yet the anonymous apologist is not quite finished. It seems he/she is intent on embarrassing him/herself further by making the following astounding claim:

No Muslim could ever answer these questions. I wonder why?? Maybe because it is such an incredible feat that would require more than a miracle do get done? Believing in the tampering needs a lot of faith. Blind faith, against the manuscript evidence we have.

It takes no faith whatsoever to believe and know for sure that the text of the Bible underwent corruption during the course of its transmission since it is solely due to manuscript evidence that we know with 100% certainty that the Biblical text was indeed corrupted — both intentionally as well as unintentionally. Refusing to look at the incontestable evidence and irrationally insisting otherwise is the actual blind faith, and is, in fact, self-deception — akin to a child screaming incoherently, “Santa Clause does exist!” multiple times upon realizing that he is but a myth. One may close their eyes, deny the truth a million times, insist that something is true while knowing it is false, but the truth will not alter despite these episodes of self-deception.

And only God knows best! Resolving The Christian "I-Know-Nothing" Multi-Problem In Textual Criticism 2

For a detailed refutation of popular Christian claims about the manuscripts, preservation and textual accuracy of the New Testament, see also: Textual Reliability / Accuracy Of The New Testament

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Resolving The Christian “I-Know-Nothing” Multi-Problem In Textual Criticism," in Bismika Allahuma, September 22, 2008, last accessed December 4, 2021, https://www.bismikaallahuma.org/bible/christian-multi-problem/
  1. Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption Of Scripture: The Effect Of Early Christological Controversies On The Text Of The New Testament, 1993, Oxford University Press: London & New York, pp. 28-29 []
  2. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 275-276 []
  3. Kurt & Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, 2nd edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 69 []
  4. Bruce K. Waltke, “How We Got the Hebrew Bible: The Text and Canon of the Old Testament”, in Peter W. Flint (ed.), The Bible at Qumran: Text, Shape, and Interpretation (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature), 2001, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 27 []
  5. Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature), 1999, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 23 []
  6. Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature), 1999, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 32 []
  7. D. C. Parker, The Living Text of the Gospels, 1997, Cambridge University Press, p. 172 []
  8. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, footnote 52, pp. 284-285 []
  9. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 275-276 []
  10. John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler and Anthony D. York, The Bible As Literature: An Introduction, 2000, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 262-263 []
  11. Bruce K. Waltke, “How We Got the Hebrew Bible: The Text and Canon of the Old Testament”, in Peter W. Flint (ed.), The Bible at Qumran: Text, Shape, and Interpretation (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature), 2001, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp. 27-28 []
  12. F. G. Kenyon, The Text of the Greek Bible, Studies in Theology, 3rd edition revised and augmented by A. W. Adams, 1976, Duckworth, pp. 249-250 []
  13. For more details see: Bruce M. Metzger, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 1992, Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 186-206 []
Categories
The Bible Bible Textual Integrity

The Usage And Significance Of The New Testament Versions For Text Critical Purposes

There are three sources of documentation for the history of the New Testament text — first, the Greek manuscripts; second, the versions and finally the patristic quotations.1 The plethora of problems associated with the Greek manuscripts and the patristic evidence have already been explored in-depth and it was shown why they do not help us in recovering the “original text” of the New Testament.

The only item now left to examine are the New Testament versions or translations.

According to the polemicist and missionary, Jay Smith:

    We have today in our possession 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. [For any given book, there are between 100 and 1000 manuscripts], another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today! (taken from McDowell’s Evidence That demands a Verdict, vol.1, 1972 pp. 40-48; and Time, January 23, 1995, p. 57).

Another Christian apologist writes:

    …there are thousands more New Testament Greek manuscripts than any other ancient writing. The internal consistency of the New Testament documents is about 99.5% textually pure. That is an amazing accuracy. In addition there are over 19,000 in copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages. The total supporting New Testament manuscript base is over 24,000.

The apologists John Ankerberg and John Weldon claim:

    For the New Testament we have 5,300 Greek manuscripts and manuscript portions, 10,000 Latin Vulgates, 9,300 other versions

Finally, a low-level Christian polemicist excitedly proclaims (copying pretty much from Joseph Smith’s propaganda tract):

    We have today in our possession 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions (MSS), giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today!

According to the above-referred polemicists and apologists, there are some 10,000 Latin Vulgates and 9,300 other “early” versions of the New Testament in existence. Presumably, this means that the “original” text of the New Testament can be reconstructed on the basis of these “early” versions. But how “early” are these versions? How do they assist scholars in the textual criticism of the New Testament? Can we really recover the “original text”2 on the basis of these versions?

The purpose of this paper is to investigate these questions.

Overview Of The Problems And Limitations With The Use Of Versions

“Versions” are simply the translations of the New Testament into other languages. The New Testament writers originally wrote their books and epistles in the Greek language whereas the versions are translations of their writings into other languages. Naturally, non-Greek speaking Christians wanted the text of the New Testament in their own local languages and so the New Testament began to be translated into other languages sometime in the mid to late second century. An important point to remember is that no matter how many thousands of translations exist, it remains that they are in a language that is different from the original language (Greek) of the New Testament writings. Thus, their use and value will always be limited. A number of issues need to be considered when dealing with versions/translations. The translator(s) may have had an imperfect command of the Greek and non-Greek languages. Moreover, certain features of the Greek syntax and vocabulary cannot be reproduced and conveyed in translations. This means that the translations need to be used with great caution and care. They may certainly assist scholars at times in ascertaining the general character of the underlying Greek and non-Greek manuscripts, but they cannot be used to reconstruct the “original” text of the Greek New Testament.

Kummel in his introduction to the New Testament says:

But even the older translations are only to be used with caution as a witness for the Greek text: No translation exactly corresponds to the original even if it is literal. Nuances and special features of the Greek language (imperfect, aorist, perfect; subjunctive, optative; middle voice; the multitude of prepositions, etc.) cannot be reproduced exactly in a translation. Often a translation variant is only the consequence of an interpretation of a difficult Greek text. Added to that, the textual history of the versions themselves is studded with problems.3

Metzger and Ehrman in their latest introduction to New Testament textual criticism add:

… certain features of Greek syntax and vocabulary cannot be conveyed in a translation. For example, Latin has no definite article; Syriac cannot distinguish between the Greek aorist and perfect tenses; Coptic lacks the passive voice and must use a circumlocution.4

Furthermore, as Kummel pointed out above, the textual history of the various New Testament versions is also quite problematic. The versions were composed at different times and locations with the use of different Greek and non-Greek manuscripts — of varying quality – by scribes with a varying degree of command of the languages and these translations were subsequently copied/recopied by scribes of varying competence on the basis of different Greek and non-Greek manuscripts — also of different quality. Thus, from an early time there existed differing copies of the various translations. Certain versions were corrected against one another by multiple translators who made use of different Greek and non-Greek manuscripts for their purposes. With the absence of the originals and relying solely upon later copies of translations — all of unequal quality — scholars have to first apply textual criticism upon the versions in order to restore their early forms before they can be used for the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament. Quite understandably, this process tends to be even more complicated than the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament itself. According to Prof. Bruce Metzger and Prof. Bart Ehrman:

The study of the early versions of the New Testament is complicated by the circumstance that various persons made various translations from various Greek manuscripts. Furthermore, copies of a translation in a certain language were sometimes corrected one against the other or against Greek manuscripts other than the ones from which the translation was originally made. Thus, the reconstruction of a critical edition of an ancient version is often more complicated than the editing of the original Greek text itself.5

In light of these and other problems, Koester notes:

Translations, however, are notoriously difficult evidence, because they provide only a relative certainty with respect to the text of their Greek original.6

Another problem with some of these versions, as we shall shortly see, is that they were produced on the basis of other versions and not the Greek manuscripts. Hence some of the versions are merely translations of translations and, therefore, barely used by textual scholars for the reconstruction of the New Testament text.

The difficulties of using the versions and their limitations are summarised by Christian scholars Lee Martin McDonald and Stanley Porter as follows:

Besides passing down the textual tradition in Greek, a number of churches early on engaged in the translation of the NT into their particular languages. For example, there are Syriac, Armenian, and Gothic versions, besides a wide range of Old Latin versions to consider, some of them in quite fragmentary form.46 Again, besides the problem that we do not possess the original of any of these versions and hence textual criticism must be done here as well, there is the serious question of translation. The complexity of the issue is that these texts are in languages different from the original text of the NT and require not only the understanding of these languages but knowledge of the various principles of translation that may have been used in the course of their development. There is the further problem, exacerbated by the difference in languages, of determining which text was before the translator. The problems with these translations necessarily introduce the question of whether they are good guides in establishing the original text of the NT. In some cases, however, they can help to clarify certain issues: for example, the Syriac Peshitta does not have John 21….7

Christian apologist David Stone writes:

…there are some 9,300 early manuscripts in other languages, notably Syriac, Coptic (Egyptian), Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic and Old Slavonic. Discovering the nature of the Greek text from which many of these were translated is not always easy. For a start, there may have been imperfections in the work of translation, especially if translators were not completely familiar with the languages they were dealing with. St. Augustine complains that ‘No sooner did anyone gain possession of a Greek manuscript, and imagine himself to have any facility in both languages (however slight that may be) that he made bold to translate it’ (On Christian Doctrine 2.11.16). In addition, there are certain features of Greek which simply cannot be translated directly into some other languages. It’s well known, for example, that, unlike Greek, Latin has no definite article, thus making the word ‘the’ impossible to translate.8

The most important translations of the New Testament are the Latin, Syriac and the Coptic translations.9 According to Koester these translations have “…had a complex history, including several recensions which show the influence of a Greek text that meanwhile had undergone its own further developments and editions.”10 The oldest stages of these translations belong to the late second century and at least the early third century for the Coptic translation.11 The other translations are generally of little value and used to the minimum by textual scholars.

So how are the versions useful when it comes to the textual criticism of the New Testament? As noted above, they can, however, be useful at times to judge the general character of the underlying texts and to ascertain what particular words or phrases might have been in place within the base texts. The earliest versions – the ones undoubtedly based upon Greek texts – which we will discuss below, may act as a window – albeit indirect – to study the early transmission (and interpretation) of the New Testament text in different localities. Moreover, agreements between versions and the citations of the Fathers from different regions may reflect an earlier text. Primarily, however, the early versions act as useful evidence in New Testament textual criticism when they add or lack certain elements or passages.12 Thus the versions are used on occasions, with caution, in a supplementary and corroborative capacity by textual critics.

In the words of the Alands:

5. The primary authority for a critical textual decision lies with the Greek manuscript tradition, with the versions and Fathers serving no more than a supplementary and corroborative function, particularly in passages where their underlying Greek text cannot be reconstructed with absolute certainty.13

A Brief Survey Of The Primary Versions: Manuscripts, Significance, And Limitations

We will briefly go through the popular versions one by one and note the dates of their earliest witnesses and the overall importance of some of these versions.

Latin Vulgate and Old Latin versions

A large number of Christians spoke Latin, the language of much of the western part of the Roman Empire, and so the New Testament writings were translated into Latin for these Christians. Most scholars believe that the Gospels were first rendered into Latin during the last quarter of the second century in North Africa.14 Soon many copies of the Latin translations were circulating among the Christians, however, they differed considerably from one another. Prof. Ehrman explains:

Problems emerged very soon, however, with the Latin translations of scripture, because there were so many of them and these translations differed broadly from one another.15

In his De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine complained that anyone obtaining a Greek manuscript of the New Testament would translate it into Latin no matter how little he knew the languages. Similarly, Jerome — a well-known scholar of the fourth-fifth century – also complained about the variety of Latin manuscript texts during his time, noting: “There are almost as many different translations as there are manuscripts.” The problem became so severe that near the end of the fourth century, Pope Damasus had to commission Jerome to produce an “official” translation of the New Testament in Latin so that it would be accepted by all the Latin-speaking Christians. Jerome went about with the task by selecting, what he believed was, a relatively good Latin translation as the basis and comparing its text with some Greek manuscripts at his disposal. This way, Jerome produced a new edition of the Gospels in Latin. Jerome’s Latin translation came to be known as the Vulgate (= Common) Bible of Latin-speaking Christians.16

Unfortunately, Jerome’s revision was itself soon corrupted by the scribes during the course of its transmission, both through carelessness and by deliberate conflation with copies of the Old Latin versions.17

It was inevitable that, in the transmission of the text of Jerome’s revision, scribes would corrupt his original work, sometimes by careless transcription and sometimes by deliberate conflation with copies of the Old Latin versions. In order to purify Jerome’s text, a number of recensions or editions were produced during the Middle Ages; notable among these were the successive efforts of Alcuin, Theodulf, Lanfranc, and Stephen Harding. Unfortunately, however, each of these attempts to restore Jerome’s original version resulted eventually in still further textual corruption through a mixture of the several types of Vulgate text that had come to be associated with various European centers of scholarship. As a result, the more than 8.000 Vulgate manuscripts that are extant today exhibit the greatest amount of cross-contamination of textual types.18

Koester adds:

Today there are more than eight thousand known manuscripts of the Vulgate which demonstrate that the lack of uniformity existing at the time of Jerome was by no means overcome by his edition.19

Jacobus H. Petzer concurs:

Although the Vg [Vulgate] was meant to bring an end to the diversity, the textual diversity obviously did not magically stop with the production of the Vg. Decay continued, with the new version creating even more mixture.4620

Likewise, Bruce Metzger writes:

It was inevitable that, in the course of transmission by recopying, scribal carelessness corrupted Jerome’s original work. In order to purify the text several medieval recensions were produced…21

Furthermore, most of the thousands of manuscripts of the Vulgate date from the medieval times, with the manuscript deemed “best” by most scholars – Codex Amiatinus – dating from the seventh or eighth century.22

Moving on, the Old Latin versions do not contain the entire New Testament23 and date from the fourth to the thirteenth century. Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman write:

No codex of the entire Old Latin Bible is extant. The Gospels are represented by about 32 mutilated manuscripts, besides a number of fragments. About a dozen manuscripts of Acts are extant. There are four manuscripts and several fragments of the Pauline Epistles but only one complete manuscript and several fragments of the Apocalypse. These witnesses date from the fourth to the thirteenth century24

In his classic survey of the New Testament versions, Metzger describes the state of the Old Latin manuscripts as follows:

…the manuscripts of the Old Latin versions are relatively few in a number and unpretentious in format.

No one manuscript contains the entire New Testament in the Old Latin version. Most of the copies are fragmentary and/or palimpsest.525

It was, after all, the notable differences and the lack of uniformity among these versions that prompted Pope Damascus to entrust Jerome with a new revision of the Latin Bible. Jacobus H. Petzer gives us an idea of the wide-ranging differences in the surviving Old Latin (and Vulgate) manuscripts:

The MSS [manuscripts], representing what is called the direct tradition, are not only often fragmentary but also often very late. This makes it difficult to decide where and how particular MSS relate to others. What makes the matter worse is that almost every MS [manuscript] is of a mixed nature. Most probably not one single “pure” Latin MS of the first millennium has survived. Every Vg [Vulgate] MS of the period contains OL [Old Latin] readings in a greater or lesser extent, and every OL MS seems to have been contaminated to some extent by Vg readings. Even in the MSS with a predominantly OL text, apparently few contain a text that represents one of the OL text-types “purely.” They are all mixed. This mixture takes on nearly every form possible. Some MSS contain block mixture, whereby the textual quality of the MS changes in specific parts, witnessing to different text-types in different parts. In some instances, the mixture takes the form of individual readings of a specific text-type incorporated into a MS that has a predominantly different text-type. In other instances, one finds a combination of these two kinds of mixture. Not only does the extant evidence, therefore, reflect only part of what once was, but it also does not represent any part of the mainstream of the history.26

Furthermore:

It seems that there was a kind of free handling of the Latin version early in its history, with new readings being created by almost everybody who worked with the text.27

Therefore, scholars do not use the Vulgate or the Old Latin versions for the reconstruction of the earliest form of the New Testament text, let alone the so-called “original text.”

…the Latin version does not have any direct bearing on the “original” text (autographs) of the NT. It is much too late for that. Its only value as a direct witness, therefore, is to the history of the Greek text, insofar as it had contact with that history.28

Furthermore, Metzger adds:

In general the type of NT text which is preserved in Old Latin witnesses belongs to the so-called ‘Western’ family…29

The importance of the Vulgate lies mainly to the degree to which it preserves the Old Latin portions or readings.30

Some of the limitations of translating Greek into Latin are as follows: The aorist and perfect tenses cannot be differentiated; lack of definite article; verbs lack the perfect active participle and the present passive participle; deponents lack the passive system and verbs lack the middle; certain Greek synonyms are not precisely differentiated in Latin.31

Coptic version

Palaeographically dating manuscripts of the Coptic versions is a tricky and complex business since there are almost no early dated Coptic documents. Thus caution is needed when assigning dates to Coptic biblical fragments.32 The main Coptic dialects are, Sahidic, Bohairic, Fayyumic, Memphitic, Achmimic and sub-Achmimic33, out of which the Sahidic and the Bohairic dialects are the most important. Their oldest manuscripts date from the late third, late fourth and fifth centuries.

The Sahidic (south or upper Egyptian) version (sa or sah) probably came into being bit by bit in the third century and preserves in fragments almost the whole of the NT. The oldest manuscript comes from the fourth century . . .

The age of the Bohairic (bo or boh) (northern or lower Egyptian) version is debated. But since we now know two manuscripts from the fourth/fifth century, the origin of this version before the end of the fourth century is certain.34

However, most of the Bohairic witnesses are relatively recent – ninth-sixteenth centuries35 and the earliest complete Gospel codex still extant remains the one copied in A.D. 1174.36

There is also a papyrus codex in the Fayyumic dialect containing John 6:11-15:11, which is believed to date from the early part of the fourth century.37 The Fayyumic is generally more closely related to the Sahidic.38

Frederik Wisse writes:

It is only for the late fourth and fifth century that Coptic MS attestation becomes substantial and representative of most of the NT writings. Even for this relatively late period, the witnesses represent a wide array of Coptic dialects and independent traditions. This suggests that the early history of the transmission of the Coptic text of the NT long remained fluid and haphazard.39

As noted above, the early transmission of the Coptic text was fluid and haphazard. The Sahidic texts are widely divergent and were translated by different independent translators at various times. Although the Sahidic version generally agrees with the Alexandrian text form, it also contains many Western readings.40 The Bohairic version, on the other hand, appears to be later than the Sahidic and although it survives in many manuscripts, as noted above, almost all of them are of a very late date.41

According to Plumley, while the Coptic (Sahidic) version may well be used in attempts to recover the original Greek New Testament text, its application in this regard would also be limited for a variety of reasons. Thus, there are many instances where the evidence of the Sahidic dialect would be unhelpful, limited, and ambiguous. A number of limitations associated with the Sahidic dialect are pointed out by Plumley, which include factors such as no case endings in Sahidic dialect; inability to distinguish between d and t; inability to truly represent the Greek passive; Sahidic uses definite and indefinite articles differently; inability to distinguish between the various Greek prepositions.42

Be that as it may, the Coptic versions, in general, are primarily helpful when it comes to understanding the way how the New Testament text developed in Egypt. In the case of the Sahidic dialect, these can be particularly helpful to scholars involved in textual criticism, as well as to scholars in general because certain passages in the Sahidic preserve very ancient traditions of interpretation, which will be of interest to scholars investigating the history and development of Christian doctrine.43

Syriac version

Under the rubric of “Syriac version” falls the Old Syriac version, the Diatessaron, the Peshitta (also known as the common version or the Syriac Vulgate), the Philoxenian, the Harclean, and the Palestinian Syriac versions.44 Limitations of the Syriac in representing the Greek are listed by Brock in his excuses, some of them being: lack of case endings in Syriac — thus its inability to “indulge in the great freedom of word order that is characteristic of Greek”; considerable differences in the Syriac and Greek tense systems; lack of correspondence between the Syriac’s use of the postpositive article and the Greek article; entire sentences have to be restructured, particularly in the Old Syriac version, due to the Syriac’s preference of parataxis to hypotaxis; inability to render literally the substantive and compound words; only rarely able to denote the presence of prepositional compound elements in verbs; Syriac lacks in adjectives; Syriac is poor in particles.45

Old Syriac version: This term is used to refer to the earliest Syriac translations of the New Testament.46 The two earliest manuscripts of the Syriac translation are dated to the fourth and fifth centuries. These are known as Syrc, called the Curetonianus, and the Syrs, Codex Syrus Sinaiticus, called after its place of discovery. These are fragmentary manuscripts in which only the text of the Gospels is preserved and both these manuscripts have large gaps.47 In general, the Old Syriac version is a representative of the Western text-type.48

Diatesseron: This was a gospel harmony produced by Tatian, either in Greek or in Syriac,49 in 170 A.D. In short, Tatian combined distinctive phrases preserved by only one Evangelist with those preserved by another and arranged sections of the gospels into a single narrative. He omitted a few sections such as the genealogies of Jesus (P) in Matthew and Luke. In this way, Tatian produced one gospel, or a harmony of the gospels — separate gospels woven into one. “Diatesseron”, after all, means “through [the] four [Gospels].”50

No complete copy of the Diatessaron exists. There is, however, a small fragment (0212) in Greek containing a portion of the Diatessaron which is placed around the mid-third century.

William Petersen, a leading expert and authority on the Diatessaron, writes:

No direct copy of Tatian’s Diatessaron exists. Instead, the scholar must be content with a wide array of sources and attempt to reconstruct the Diatessaron’s text from them. These sources, called “witnesses” to the Diatessaron, range in genre from poems to commentaries, in language from Middle Dutch to Middle Persian, in extent from fragments to codices, in date from 3d to 19th century, on provenance from England to China. Mastering these sources is the key to Diatessaronic scholarship.51

Since the original text of the Diatessaron is lost, a major challenge for scholars is to reconstruct its text as much and as best as possible. The reconstruction of the Diatessaron text would enable scholars to get a “snapshot” of the Gospels as Tatian knew them around the mid-second century.52 Since the Diatesseron pre-dates all New Testament manuscripts, except for the tiny fragment p52, it should provide us with a form of the text that goes back to the manuscripts of at least the mid-second century.53

Peshitta: The Peshitta (abbreviated Syrp) has over 350 extant manuscripts, the earliest being from the fifth and sixth centuries.54 Furthermore, it contains only 22 books of the New Testament, lacking II & III John, II Peter, Jude and Revelation – which the Syrian Church does not accept as canonical – and also lacks the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11), Luke 22:17-1855 as well as Matthew 27:35; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 28:29; 1 John 5:7-8 (these verses have later been added to certain manuscripts).56

Metzger and Ehrman write:

The textual complexion of the Peshitta version has not yet been satisfactorily investigated, but apparently, it represents the work of several hands in various sections. In the Gospels, it is closer to the Byzantine type of text than in Acts, where it presents many striking agreements with the Western text.57

David Parker writes:

It [the Peshitta] developed, by a gradual process of revision, out of far more ancient Syriac versions.58

Also:

The Peshitta New Testament seems to have come into existence more gradually, through revision of earlier Syriac translations.59

The importance of the Peshitta lies mainly in the fact that it helps shed light on the character of the underlying Syriac translations and it may also be useful to understand the development of the textual tradition behind the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament.60

The Philoxenian and/or Harclean Version(s): The unraveling of the Philoxenian (abbreviated Syrph) and/or the Harclean (abbreviated Syrh) version(s) constitutes one of the most confusing and complicated tangles in textual criticism.61 Eldon J. Epp in his essay in the Anchor Bible Dictionary explains:

Finally, the complex Syriac textual tradition continued to develop through an early-6th-century version made for Bishop Philoxenus by his chorepiscopus Polycarp in 507/8, which was either reissued by Thomas of Harkel in 616 with marginal notes or was revised by Thomas, again with marginal notes. On the former view, there is only one version involved (the Philoxenian); on the latter view, there are two separate versions, the Philoxenian (syph) and the Harclean (syh). Present evidence indicates that the latter view is correct and that Thomas of Harkel rather considerably revised the Philoxenian version — primarily to bring it into slavishly close conformity with Greek idiom — and also added marginal readings and a critical apparatus that marked off certain readings with obeli and asterisks. This apparatus and the marginalia are by no means fully understood, but at least some of the readings highlighted in these ways represent Greek variants known to Thomas. Whether any Philoxenian mss survive is uncertain; the only ones plausibly defended as Philoxenian contain the Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse, but these books were not part of the Syriac NT canon and therefore were never quoted by Philoxenus. The only certain remnants of the Philoxenian version would appear to be NT quotations in Philoxenus’ Commentary on the Prologue of John, recently published.62

According to the Alands, in the year 616 Thomas of Harkel, monk and sometime bishop of Mabbug, undertook a revision of the Philoxenian version on the basis of collations he made of Greek manuscripts (three for the Gospels, two for the Pauline epistles, and one for Acts and the Catholic epistles), at the Enaton monastery near Alexandria.63 In contrast to all Syriac versions, only with the Harclean version is it possible to reconstruct in detail the text of the underlying Greek exemplar used by the translator.64 However, the Alands add:

But unfortunately the result only demonstrates that the Harklean text, except for the Catholic letters, is an almost (though not absolutely) pure Koine type.65

The Harclean version is not used for the reconstruction of the “original” text of the Greek New Testament or even its early forms. Its importance lies primarily in the study of the Western text-type – the Harclean version is second only to Codex Bezae for the study of the variant readings of the Western text type for the book of Acts.66

The Palestinian Syriac versions Syrpal: “Palestinian Syriac” refers to the Aramaic dialect; this translation is known primarily from a lectionary of the Gospels, which is preserved in three manuscripts dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries and there also exist fragments of the Gospels in continuous text, scraps of Acts and of several Pauline epistles.67 The date of this version is disputed, although most scholars believe that it dates from the fifth century.68

About its significance, Helmut Koester writes:

Although this dialect is more closely related to the language of Jesus than the “Syriac” translations, this version from V CE has only minor text-critical significance.69

The versions we have discussed thus far — Latin, Syriac and Coptic — are the most important versions for text-critical purposes. The versions we will briefly discuss below are of secondary importance to scholars, mainly because their translation base is either disputed, or it is known that Greek manuscripts contributed only partially or influenced the translations at a later stage in a revision of their text.70

Ethiopic versions

Scholars differ when it comes to the date of origin of the Ethiopic version; some argue for a fourth-century date, others argue for the sixth century and still, others opine for a seventh-century date. Similarly, there is disagreement over the question of whether the translators translated from Greek or Syriac.71

Moreover, the manuscripts of the Ethiopic version are extremely late, with the earliest known manuscript, a codex of the four Gospels, dating from the thirteenth century.72 Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman write:

…none of the extant manuscripts of the version is older than perhaps the tenth century and most of them date from the fifteenth and later centuries.10873

Rochus Zuurmond says:

A version is a version and not a Greek MS. Like other versions, Eth should be used with much caution in reconstructing the underlying Greek. In addition, a gap of about half a millennium separates the actual translation(s) from the earliest MSS. No one knows what happened to the text during that period. From the twelfth century onward there is ever-increasing confusion, caused by the influence of Arabic texts.

For the Gospels we have a few MSS of the thirteenth century or earlier. In the rest of the NT the earliest MSS come from the fourteenth century.74

Analysis of the earlier form of the Ethiopic version reveals a mixed type of text, one that is predominantly Byzantine, although there are also occasional agreements with certain early Greek witnesses such as p46 and Codex Vaticanus (particularly in the epistles of Paul).75

Regarding the value of the Ethiopic versions:

Generally, however, they have proved to be disappointing, for most copies are very much more recent than their appearance suggests: virtually no Ethiopian book is older than the fourteenth century and most, indeed, are only eighteenth-or even nineteenth-century. If the text is early, which it may be, it was evidently so revised and contaminated in the late Middle Ages that its evidential value for the Bible text is slight.76

Therefore the Ethiopic versions are hardly used by textual scholars for the reconstruction of the Greek text of the New Testament. Their importance lies in the study of the development of the New Testament text at a much later date.

Armenian and Georgian versions

The Armenian Bible is often called the “Queen of the versions” due to its “quality, its idiomatic ease and graceful authority.”77 The Bible was translated into Armenian in the early fifth century78 and, according to the Alands, this version was probably based on a Syriac text of the Old Syriac type — thus a translation of a translation — and was subsequently revised in the eighth to the twelfth centuries on the basis of a Greek text. Koester, however, says that “It is an open question whether the Armenian version rests on a Greek text or was made on the basis of the Syriac translation, which was later compared with Greek texts and revised during VIII CE.”79 According to Phillip Comfort:

The first translations of the New Testament into Armenian were probably based on Old Syriac versions. Later translations, which have the reputation for being quite accurate, were based on Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine text type but also show affinity with Caesarean manuscripts.80

Some noteworthy features of the Armenian version should also be mentioned. The Old Testament included apocryphal books such as the History of Joseph and Asenath, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, whereas the New Testament included the Epistle of the Corinthians to Paul as well as a Third Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians – which was read at Mass by Christians as late as the thirteenth century. Moreover, of the 220 Armenian manuscripts examined by Colwell, only 88 included the longer ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) – 99 end at verse 8 without comment and in others there are indications that the scribes had doubts regarding the authenticity of the passage. The shorter ending (i.e., “But they reported briefly to Peter…”), however, occurs in a number of Armenian texts. In any case, it is most unlikely that the last twelve verses of Mark (the longer ending) were a part of the original Armenian version.81

In his excursus on the limitations of the Armenian in representing the Greek New Testament text, Rhodes says that while at times even the fine nuances of the Greek are reflected in astonishing detail in the Armenian due to its flexibility and sensitivity, yet “there are also instances where it is utterly useless for distinguishing between different Greek readings.”82 According to Metzger, the Armenian version of the book of Revelation is quite valuable since it alone may, in some cases, preserve “the original reading of a book whose textual history is notoriously obscure and difficult.”83 Due to the high ability of the Armenian language to represent the Greek Vorlage, scholars are in a position to make reasonable judgements about the nature of the text of the underlying exemplars. In particular, as noted above, the witness of the Armenian version is most useful when it comes to the text of the book of Revelation, the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and also because it tells us about the status of the biblical text in a remote corner such as Armenia.84 Moreover, the Armenian version also serves as an important witness for the Caesarean type of text.85

Coming to the Georgian version, probably in the fourth century the Bible was translated into Georgian from Armenian (Arm. 1) and this Georgian version is also deemed an important witness to the Caesarean type of text.86 Unfortunately, the earliest manuscripts of the Georgian version go back only to the eighth century, but behind them lay a Georgian translation with Syriac and Armenian traces.87 The first Georgian translation (known as geo1) was subsequently revised (geo2) based on a Greek text which was made after the separation of the Armenian Church in the early seventh century.88

Besides the above, there are other New Testament versions as well, but they are of even little use to scholars for textual criticism:

Other ancient translations have only little significance for textual criticism, or their use is burdened with too many difficulties. These include the Anglo-Saxon, the Nubian, and the Sogdian translations, as well as the translations into Persian and Arabic. Except for a small portion of the Arabic version, they were all made from other translations and not from Greek originals.89

The versions which are deemed useful are the ones which were made either directly from a Greek text or were subsequently thoroughly revised from a Greek base.

The Contribution Of Versions In The Making Of Novum Testamentum Graece 26th and 27th Editions

To summarise the discussion very briefly: the Latin, Syriac and the Coptic versions of the New Testament are the most important versions to textual scholars. After these come the Armenian, Ethiopic and the Georgian versions. Here we would like to know what role these versions play towards the preparation of a critical text of the New Testament. Let us take the widely used 27th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece (also known as Nestle-Aland27) as an example.

We will begin with the second batch of versions first. Regarding the contribution made by the Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic etc., versions towards the preparation of the Novum Testamentum Graece 27th edition, we are told:

The Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopic and Old Church Slavonic versions are rarely cited in the present edition, and then only if they are of special significance for a particular reading (cf. Mk 16,8) . . . While it is true that several important studies of the Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic and Old Church Slavonic versions have appeared in recent decades, research in these textual traditions has by no means yet achieved conclusive results. In particular, the origins and development of these versions and their relationship to the Greek textual tradition remains so controversial that no thoroughgoing use of their evidence is possible.90

Moving on to the first batch of versions (Latin, Coptic, and Syriac), the editors acknowledge that the principal emphasis is placed upon the Latin, Syriac and Coptic versions because they were “unquestionably” based directly on the Greek at an early time. Moreover, we are informed that they happen to be the most fully studied versions and because their “value as witnesses to the textual tradition of the Greek New Testament…has become increasingly clear through decades of debate.” However, they proceeded to add:

The versions are cited only where their underlying Greek text can be determined with confidence. They are generally cited only where their readings are also attested by some other Greek or independent versional evidence. Only in rare instances do they appear as the sole support for a Greek reading…91

Moreover, we are cautioned that:

Differences in linguistic structure between Greek and the languages of the versions must be carefully noted. Variant readings reflecting idiomatic or stylistic differences are ignored. One the whole, versions can only reveal with more or less precision the particular details of their Greek base.5 In instances where the witness of a version is doubtful, it is not noted.6

The versions still enjoy an important role in critical decisions because they represent Greek witnesses of an early period. But their value for scholarship today in comparison with earlier generations has been modified by the great number of Greek manuscripts on papyrus and parchment discovered in the twentieth century.92

Thus, to list the main points:

• Rather than revealing the original text of the New Testament, versions may only reveal with a degree of precision and approximation the text of their underlying manuscript.
• Versions are cited only when their underlying Greek text can be determined with confidence.
• Versions rarely appear as sole witnesses; they are cited only when there is support in a Greek or an independent version.
• Versions such as the Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopic, Slavonic etc., rarely appear in Nestle-Aland27.

It is also worth noting the role played by the versions in the preparation of the 26th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece. The Alands write:

It must be emphasized that the value of the early versions for establishing the original Greek text and for the history of the text has frequently been misconceived, i.e., they have been considerably overrated. An inadequate appreciation of how their linguistic structures differ from Greek has all too often permitted the early versions to be cited in critical apparatuses of Greek texts where their evidence is irrelevant. Nestle-Aland26 advisedly restricts citation of the versions in its apparatus to instances where their witness to a Greek exemplar is unequivocal.93

At this juncture, we must remind ourselves that the Greek manuscripts are the primary witnesses for the restoration of the New Testament text. The versions and the patristic citations are secondary lines of evidence, playing no more than a supportive and corroborative role as indirect witnesses to the New Testament text. To quote the Alands again:

5. The primary authority for a critical textual decision lies with the Greek manuscript tradition, with the versions and Fathers serving no more than a supplementary and corroborative function, particularly in passages where their underlying Greek text cannot be reconstructed with absolute certainty.94

Finally, it should be noted that Novum Testamentum Graece is a working text. It should not be looked upon and confused as representing the “original” text of the New Testament. This is how the editors of Novum Testamentum Graece describe the 27th edition:

It should naturally be understood that this text is a working text (in the sense of the century-long Nestle tradition): it is not to be considered as definitive, but as a stimulus to further efforts toward defining and verifying the text of the New Testament.95

The purpose of the 27th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece is to present the user with a working text “with the means of verifying it or alternatively of correcting it.”96 The procedure adopted to determine the best text for Nestle-Aland27 is briefly illuminated by Dr. Parker as follows:

This text was agreed by a committee. When they disagreed on the best reading to print, they voted. Evidently, they agreed either by a majority or unanimously that their text was the best available. But it does not follow that they believed their text to be ‘original’. On the whole, the textual critics have always been reluctant to claim so much. Other users of the Greek New Testament accord them too much honour in treating the text as definitive.97

The same cautionary remarks are made by Moises Silva regarding the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament:

…we can hardly afford to encourage the view that the work of New Testament textual criticism is for all practical purposes complete. If anything, papyrological discoveries and the research of the last several decades have made us more aware of the complexities of the textual history of the Greek New Testament. Nonetheless, the term may be used simply to indicate that the text in question has received widespread acceptance. In my opinion, this acceptance is well deserved, but one need not concur with this judgement to recognize the facts of the case. The UBS text reflects a broad consensus and it thus provides and convenient starting point for further work. Far from considering this text as definitive, therefore, we ought to do all we can to improve it.98

Hence none of the extant witnesses of the New Testament, be it the Greek manuscripts, the versions, and the patristic citations, give us access to the “original” text of the New Testament.

Conclusions

To assert that there are “24,000 manuscript copies of portions” of the New Testament or that the New Testament manuscript base is “over 24,000” is to give a misleading impression. It is misleading because such blanket assertions leave readers with the impression as if all manuscripts are of equal value and status. They conveniently ignore the fact that hardly a fraction of this base is deemed important by textual critics for the reconstruction of the New Testament text. The same misleading impression is conveyed when mention is made of the 10,000 LatinVulgates and the 9,300 “other early” versions as if the Greek New Testament text can be painlessly reconstructed in its entirety on their basis. The problems and limitations associated with the Latin Vulgates, the “other early” versions and, in fact, with versions in general, are quietly omitted as if they do not exist. The magical figure of “24,000” is thus arrived upon by overlooking the many problems through simplistically adding and piling up every tiniest bit of fragment, late medieval manuscripts, late versions and lectionaries (late non-continuous texts).

It should be clear by now that there can be no wholesale reproduction of the Greek New Testament text on the basis of the above-discussed versions. The different New Testament versions are of unequal value, importance, and use for text-critical purposes. Some are more/less important/useful than others. For example, some versions shed light and give insights on the transmission of the Greek text at an early period and location for which there are no extant Greek manuscripts; some may shed light on the transmission and development of specific documents and text types (i.e., book of Revelation, the Western text type); some versions play little or no role in the understanding of the Greek text; some versions are important when it comes to understanding the development of the Greek text at a later stage, though of little and/or no use when it comes to knowing about the early transmission of the Greek text. In short, the versions act as indirect witnesses of unequal quality and value to the different stages of the transmission and development of the Greek and non-Greek New Testament text, informing us, at most, about the nature of their underlying manuscript(s) rather than the very text of the Greek autographs.

Phillip Comfort says that the Old Latin, Coptic and the Syriac versions are used for “establishing the original text” of the New Testament. However, immediately thereafter he weakens his own assertion when he adds the following caveat:

However, readers should be aware that ancient translators, as well as modern, took liberties in the interest of style when they rendered the Greek text. In other words, there is no such thing as a literal, word-for-word rendering in any translation. Therefore, the witness of the various ancient versions is significant only when it pertains to significant verbal omissions and/or additions, as well as significant semantic differences. One should not look to the testimony of any ancient version for conclusive evidence concerning word transpositions, verb changes, articles, or other normal stylistic variations involving noun insertions, conjunction additions, and slight changes in prepositions. The citation of such versions for these kinds of variant readings in the apparatuses of critical editions of the Greek New Testament can be quite misleading.99

In other words, the idiosyncrasies associated with the different versions cannot allow the complete extraction of the underlying Greek text, let alone the “original” text of the New Testament. Their use and value will always be limited. Moreover, we have already seen that the Nestle-Aland27 is described by its editors as a working text; it should not be mistaken and confused as the “original” New Testament text.

Clearly, the text of the Greek New Testament would be of a much more precarious and uncertain nature if we were dependent solely upon the witness of the ancient versions. The Greek manuscripts remain the first and the primary evidence for the text of the New Testament, without which the New Testament text would be even more uncertain if reliance was placed solely upon the ancient versions and the patristic citations combined. The latter two sources act only in a secondary, collaborative and supportive capacity.

This is not to say that the witness of the versions is entirely worthless. According to Wisse, the importance of the Coptic, Latin and Syriac versions lies in the fact that they are “indirect witnesses” to an early state of the Greek New Testament text that is otherwise poorly attested by Greek witnesses and also because these versions “localize the form of the Greek text that they translated.”100 Briefly, it should be borne in mind that sizable portions of the Greek New Testament only begin to appear from c. 200 onwards. Before this period, there is nothing save the tiny credit card sized p52, which may be placed anywhere within the first half of the second century.101 Thus, we lack Greek manuscripts completely from the first century and for the major part of the second century. To make matters worse, the earliest Greek witnesses also happen to be quite fragmentary. Therefore, there is a rather poor attestation of the Greek New Testament in the earliest period.102 Since the New Testament writings began to be translated into other languages sometime in the second century, the earliest versions are naturally important to textual scholars because they can provide evidence for an early period of textual transmission from which no Greek manuscripts survive. For example, Tatian’s Diatessaron predates all Greek manuscripts, except for p52, and was based upon manuscripts dating to at least around the mid-second century. As such, if the text of the Diatesseron is restored, it would give us insights into the form of the text of the underlying manuscripts of the period.103 As pointed out earlier on, the earliest versions are useful for textual criticism when they omit or add some elements or passages and also when there are agreements between versions from different areas since that may reflect an earlier text.104 On other occasions some versions assist scholars in understanding how particular text types, the Western and Byzantine type of texts for instance, developed in various localities. Furthermore, versions based on other translations may help scholars, through textual criticism, in gaining insights into the contents of the underlying translation/s. Finally, the main benefit of the versions lie in the fact that they help us understand how Christians at different times and regions interpreted and viewed the various canonical and non-canonical writings. This also has immense importance for canonical studies as well. Thus, the versions are indeed an important tool for not only textual criticism, but even more in understanding the viewpoints/outlooks of different Christian communities and their use of the writings. But let us be clear about one thing: there can be no wholesale reproduction of the “original” Greek text of the New Testament on the basis of the above discussed versions. To reiterate, versions — primarily the Latin, Syriac and Coptic — are used, on occasions with much caution, simply as indirect witnesses and in a secondary and supportive capacity in the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament. The remainder of the versions play a much smaller role, or no role at all, for text critical purposes.

A number of factors need to be taken into account when dealing with the witness of the versions. Often we are faced with significant gaps between the date of origin of the versions and the dates of their earliest manuscript. Moreover, these versions present their own unique textual problems to scholars — over the centuries, many were corrected, revised and adapted at various stages by different scribes, of varying capacities, using different Greek and non-Greek manuscripts in the process. As a result, scholars have to first apply textual criticism upon the versions in order to restore their early forms before they can be used for any purpose. This process tends to be far more difficult and complicated than the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament itself. But most importantly, even if their early forms are restored, the fact remains that we are still left with nothing more than translations of particular Greek manuscripts. No translation is perfect. Translators always make a variety of mistakes and, more frequently, all of the nuances, features, feel, and the subtle characteristics of a language cannot be perfectly reproduced into another language. There is no method of “capturing” a language with exactness into another language. Every language brings with it unique set of problems which cannot be overcome by translators. The fact that these are translations, different from the original language, makes their use limited right from the outset.

And Allah knows best!The Usage and Significance of the New Testament Versions for Text Critical Purposes 3

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "The Usage And Significance Of The New Testament Versions For Text Critical Purposes," in Bismika Allahuma, March 9, 2007, last accessed December 4, 2021, https://www.bismikaallahuma.org/bible/new-testament-versions/

Bibliography

Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux (trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An introduction to the textual criticism of the New Testament, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press.

Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament Volume 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity, 1982, Walter De Gruyter.

Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, 1990, Trinity Press International.

Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Eldon J. Epp, “Textual Criticism: New Testament,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (electronic edition; Logos; (c) 1997).

E. Jay Epp, The Multivalence Of The Term “Original Text” In New Testament Textual Criticism

Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company.

Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press.

Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, 2005, HarperSanFrancisco.

Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament, 1997, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday.

Christopher DE Hamel, The Book. A History of The Bible, 2001, Phaidon Press Limited, New York.

Lee Martin McDonald and Stanley E. Porter, Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature, 2000, Hendrickson Publishers.

Everett Ferguson, Michael McHugh, Frederick W. Norris (Editors), Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, Vol. 1839) — One Volume, Second Edition, 1998, Garland Science.

W. G. Kummel, Introduction To The New Testament, 17th Revised edition, 1975, SCM Press Ltd.

David Stone, The New Testament (Teach Yourself Books), 1996, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, UK.

Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez, Dennis L. Okholm (ed.), Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, 2004, InterVarsity Press.

Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (eds.), Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Edition, 1993, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft

Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Hyeon Woo Shin, Textual Criticism And The Synoptic Problem In Historical Jesus Research: The Search For Valid Criteria, (Contributions To Biblical Exegesis & Theology, 36), 2004, Peeters-Leuven, Bondgenotenlaan.

Matthew Black (General Editor), Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, 2001, Routledge Co. Ltd.

D. C. Parker, The Living Text Of The Gospels, 1997, Cambridge University Press.

  1. Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux, (trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 5. []
  2. The definition of the term “original text” is actually quite problematic as well. According to some, the “original text” is the autograph — the words used by the original writer; others would regard the “original text” to be “as close as possible” to the “original” — hence acknowledging at least some differences between the “original” and the restored form of the text; still a few others would equate the “original text” with the latest critical edition of the Greek New Testament. The “original text” may also be conceived of as the form of the text in the first “published” edition of a New Testament writing, from which stem all later manuscripts. It gets more complicated. Is the original text the one altered by a proto-orthodox scribe — which was then read, believed and acted upon by the Christian masses — or the scribes altered text? Should we disregard the different forms of texts available to Christians at different times and places, which no doubt these Christians considered to be “originals”?

    Evangelical scholar John J. Brogan draws our attention to some of these questions: “Furthermore, textual critics have recently been examining the question as to what we mean by recovering the “original text” or whether there is even such a thing as a single autograph and whether it is recoverable. Building on the evidence produced by source and redaction critics, textual critics affirm that many New Testament writings were redacted and expanded at later times. In some cases, it is extremely difficult and problematic to define what exactly an autograph is. For example, according to most textual critics, the autograph of Mark did not contain the longer ending (Mk 16:9-20), and the autograph of John did not contain the story if the woman caught in adultery (Jn 7:53-8:11). With a doctrine of the “inerrancy of the autographs,” what should we do with such passages? Are these passages not inspired and therefore errant because they were not part of the autograph? In attempting to identify the inspired, inerrant word of God, do we excise these passages, or can a case be made for the inspiration and authority of the longer, canonical form of the text?” (John J. Brogan, “Can I Have Your Autograph? Uses and Abuses of Textual Criticism in Formulating an Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture”, in Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez, Dennis L. Okholm (eds.), Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, 2004, InterVarsity Press, pp. 103-104)

    All of these issues are studied in detail in the following essay: E. Jay Epp, The Multivalence Of The Term “Original Text” In New Testament Textual Criticism []

  3. W. G. Kummel, Introduction To The New Testament, 17th Revised edition, 1975, SCM Press Ltd, p. 526 []
  4. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 95 []
  5. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 95 []
  6. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 19 []
  7. Lee Martin McDonald and Stanley E. Porter, Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature, 2000, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 584 []
  8. David Stone, The New Testament (Teach Yourself Books), 1996, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd UK, p. 101 []
  9. Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux, (Trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 26. []
  10. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 31. []
  11. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 31. []
  12. See Hyeon Woo Shin, Textual Criticism And The Synoptic Problem In Historical Jesus Research: The Search For Valid Criteria (Contributions To Biblical Exegesis & Theology, 36), 2004, Peeters-Leuven, Bondgenotenlaan, p. 34 []
  13. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 280 []
  14. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 100-101. []
  15. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, 2005, HarperSanFrancisco, p. 74 []
  16. Summarised from Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, 2005, HarperSanFrancisco, pp. 74-75. For a comprehensive discussion of the Latin versions see Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 186-192; Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 100-109; Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 34. []
  17. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 34. []
  18. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 106 []
  19. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 34 []
  20. Jacobus H. Petzer, “The Latin Versions Of The New Testament”, in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, pp. 123-124 []
  21. Bruce M. Metzger, “The Early Versions Of The New Testament”, in Matthew Black (General Editor), Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, 2001, Routledge Co. Ltd., p. 671 []
  22. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 106. The Alands describe Codex Amiatinus as:

      …the oldest surviving complete Bible in Latin….

    [Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 192]

    The oldest manuscript of the Vulgate is Codex Sangallensis, written probably in Italy toward the close of the fifth century (ibid., p. 108). []

  23. Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux (trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 27; Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 92; Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 187. []
  24. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 101 []
  25. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 293 []
  26. Jacobus H. Petzer, “The Latin Versions Of The New Testament”, in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 119 []
  27. Jacobus H. Petzer, “The Latin Versions Of The New Testament”, in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, pp. 119-120 []
  28. Jacobus H. Petzer, “The Latin Versions Of The New Testament”, in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 124 []
  29. Bruce M. Metzger, “The Early Versions Of The New Testament,” in Matthew Black (General Editor), Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, 2001, Routledge Co. Ltd., p. 671 []
  30. Eldon J. Epp, “Textual Criticism: New Testament,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (electronic edition; Logos; (c) 1997). []
  31. See the discussion in Bonifatius Fischer, “Limitations Of Latin In Representing Greek,” in Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 362-374 []
  32. See Frederik Wisse, “The Coptic Versions of the New Testament,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 133. []
  33. The Alands also add to the list Protobohairic dialect. See Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 200. []
  34. W. G. Kummel, Introduction To The New Testament, 17th Revised edition, 1975, SCM Press Ltd, pp. 536-537 []
  35. Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux (trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 38. []
  36. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 112. []
  37. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 112. []
  38. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 34. []
  39. Frederik Wisse, “The Coptic Versions of the New Testament,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 133 []
  40. Summarised from Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 110. Also see Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, 1982, Vol. 2, Walter De Gruyter, p. 34. []
  41. Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman write:

    It [the Bohairic version] survives in many manuscripts, almost all of them of a very late date (the earliest complete Gospel codex still extant was copied A. D. 1174). [Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 112]

    []

  42. See the discussion in J. Martin Plumley, “Limitations Of Coptic (Sahidic) In Representing Greek,” in Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 141-152 []
  43. See J. Martin Plumley, “Limitations Of Coptic (Sahidic) In Representing Greek,” in Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 142 []
  44. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 193; Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux, (Trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 31; Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 96. []
  45. Summarised from: Sebastian P. Brock, “Limitations Of Syriac In Representing Greek,” in Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 83-88 []
  46. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 193. []
  47. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 32; Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 193; Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 96. []
  48. Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 92; Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 97. []
  49. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 193. Whatever the original language of composition, it was in the Syriac language that the Diatessaron was used for centuries in the east as the authoritative version of the Gospels. See Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 30. []
  50. William L. Petersen, “Tatian’s Diatessaron”, in Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, 1990, Trinity Press International, p. 403; Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament, 1997, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, p. 839; Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 131-133. []
  51. William L. Petersen, “Tatian’s Diatessaron”, in Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, 1990, Trinity Press International, p. 408 []
  52. See William L. Petersen, “The Diatessaron Of Tatian,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (eds.), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 77 []
  53. See William L. Petersen, “The Diatessaron Of Tatian,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (eds.), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 77 []
  54. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 194; Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux (trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 34; Bruce M. Metzger & Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 98. []
  55. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 194; Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 48; Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 32. []
  56. Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux (trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 34. []
  57. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 98 []
  58. David Parker, “The New Testament,” in John Rogerson (Editor), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible, 2001, Oxford University Press, p. 117 []
  59. Everett Ferguson, Michael McHugh, Frederick W. Norris (Editors), Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, Vol. 1839) – One Volume, Second Edition, 1998, Garland Science, p. 901 []
  60. Everett Ferguson, Michael McHugh, Frederick W. Norris (Editors), Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, Vol. 1839) – One Volume, Second Edition, 1998, Garland Science, p. 1101 []
  61. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 99. []
  62. Eldon J. Epp, “Textual Criticism: New Testament,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (electronic edition; Logos; (c) 1997) []
  63. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 197. []
  64. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 199. []
  65. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 199 []
  66. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 33; Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 199; Leon Vaganay, Christian-Bernard Amphoux (trans. Jenny Heimerdinger), An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, 1991, 2nd Revised & Updated Edition, Cambridge University Press, p. 35; Bruce M. Metzger & Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 99. []
  67. M. Metzger & Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 100. []
  68. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 199; Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 33; M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 100. []
  69. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 33 []
  70. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 204. []
  71. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 209; Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 35; M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 120. []
  72. M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 121. Also see Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers. Comfort says (p. 95): “None [of the manuscripts], however, is earlier than the thirteenth century, and these manuscripts seem to rest rather heavily on the Coptic and the Arabic.” See also the discussion in Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 223-228. []
  73. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 119-120 []
  74. Rochus Zuurmond, “The Ethiopic Version of the New Testament”, in Bart D Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 154 []
  75. Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 95; Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 35; M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 121. []
  76. Christopher DE Hamel, The Book. A History of The Bible, 2001, Phaidon Press Limited, New York, p. 308 []
  77. Erroll F. Rhodes, “Limitations Of Armenian In Representing Greek,” in “Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 180 []
  78. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 155 []
  79. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 205; Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 35. See also M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 117. Joseph M. Alexanian says:

    The Arm 1 NT [the initial translation of the Bible] was translated from an Old Syriac base text during A.D. 406-414. Following the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431, Greek copies of the Bible were brought from Constantinople and the Arm 2 [later revision — the Armenian majority text] revision was based on the Greek text. (Joseph M. Alexanian, “The Armenian Version Of The New Testament,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (eds.), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 157)

    See also the discussion in Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 164-165; Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers, pp. 93-94. []

  80. Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textural Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 94 []
  81. For details see Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 161, 163, 164 []
  82. See Erroll F. Rhodes, “Limitations Of Armenian In Representing Greek,” in “Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 171 []
  83. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations, 1977, Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 169 []
  84. Joseph M. Alexanian, “The Armenian Version Of The New Testament,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (Editors), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 158 []
  85. Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 117. []
  86. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 205. Koester describes Georgian as a “secondary translation.” See Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 35. Also M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 118. []
  87. Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 95. Metzger and Ehrman state (pp. 118-119) that the oldest known Gospel manuscripts are the Adysh manuscript of A.D. 897, the Opiza manuscript of 913 and the Tbet manuscript of 995. See M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press. Also Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 205. []
  88. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 205. []
  89. Helmut Koester, An Introduction To The New Testament: History And Literature Of Early Christianity, (Vol. 2), 1982, Walter De Gruyter, p. 35 []
  90. Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (eds.), Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Edition, 1993, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, pp. 70-71 []
  91. Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (eds.), Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Edition, 1993, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, pp. 63-64 []
  92. Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (eds.), Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Edition, 1993, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, p. 64 []
  93. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 186 []
  94. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 280 []
  95. Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (Editors), Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Edition, 1993, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, p. 45 []
  96. Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (eds.), Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Edition, 1993, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, p. 46 []
  97. D. C. Parker, The Living Text Of The Gospels, 1997, Cambridge University Press, p. 3 []
  98. Moises Silva, “Modern Critical Editions And Apparatuses Of The Greek New Testament,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (eds.), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 290 []
  99. Phillip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism, 2005, Broadman & Holman Publishers, p. 91 []
  100. See Frederik Wisse, “The Coptic Versions of the New Testament,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (eds.), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 131 []
  101. Ehrman writes:

    …the fact is that we can only approximate the date of this fragment’s production within fifty years at best (it could as easily have been transcribed in 160 as 110). Moreover, we do not know exactly where the fragment was discovered, let alone where it was written, or how it came to be discarded, or when it was. As a result, all extravagant claims notwithstanding, the papyrus in itself reveals nothing definite about the early history of Christianity in Egypt. One can only conclude that scholars have construed it as evidence because, in lieu of other evidence, they have chosen to. (Bart D. Ehrman, “The Text as Window: New Testament Manuscripts and the Social History of Early Christianity,” in The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, Bart D Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (eds.), 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 372)

    []

  102. For details and references on the earliest Greek manuscripts, their status, and the transmission of the New Testament, see the extensive essay: Textual Reliability / Accuracy Of The New Testament []
  103. See the discussion in See William L. Petersen, “The Distessaron Of Tatian,” in Bart D. Ehrman & Michael W. Holmes (eds.), The Text of the New Testament In Contemporary Research: Essays On The Status Quaestionis, 1995, William B. Eedermans Publishing Company, p. 77 []
  104. Hyeon Woo Shin, Textual Criticism And The Synoptic Problem In Historical Jesus Research: The Search For Valid Criteria, (Contributions To Biblical Exegesis & Theology, 36), 2004, Peeters-Leuven, Bondgenotenlaan, p. 34 []
Categories
Bible Contradictions External Contradictions Of The Bible The Bible

Geographical Errors Within The New Testament

It is well known that the Gospel of Mark contains numerous geographical errors. This is summed up in Kummel’s classic, Introduction to the New Testament:

[T]he considerations against this assumption [that John Mark, companion of Peter, wrote the gospel of Mark] carry weight. The author obviously has no personal knowledge of Palestinian geography, as the numerous geographical errors show. He writes for Gentile Christians, with sharp polemic against the unbelieving Jews. He does not know the account of the death of the Baptist (6:17 ff) contradicts Palestinian customs. Could a Jewish Christian from Jerusalem miss the fact that 6:35 ff and 8:1 ff are two variants of the same feeding story? The tradition that Mk was written by John Mark is therefore scarcely reliable. The reference to I Pet 5:13 (“The elect of Babylon and my son Mark also greets you”) does not account for the tradition, but only the subsequent linking up of the author of Mk with the preaching of Peter. Accordingly, the author of Mk is unknown to us.1

In fact, one of the reasons why many scholars doubt that the anonymous author of Mark was a Jewish individual and a native of Palestine is precisely due to the presence of a number of geographical errors, mistakes and confusions in this gospel. If the author was a native of Palestine and a Jew, then how was he so ignorant regarding the region’s geography?

Essentially, the arguments against John Mark, a Jewish resident of Jerusalem and later the companion of Paul and also of Peter, writing this Gospel are that he does not appear to be familiar with the geography of Palestine in the first century (Mark 7:31; 11:1) or with Jewish customs, overgeneralizes about the Jews (7:3-4), from whom he seems to distance himself, and does not reflect the theology of either Paul or Peter as a companion might (Phlm 23; cf. Col. 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11).2

To give an example, we read in the gospel according to Mark the following account:

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt there which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you,’Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The lord needs it and will send it back shortly.'” They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They answered that Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had out in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:1-11)

In Mark 10:46 however, we read that Jesus was in Jericho. The sentence above shows that Jesus and his group were travelling from Jericho to Jerusalem via Bethphage and then Bethany. This, however, is quite impossible. Bethany is further away from Jerusalem than Bethphage is. The Biblical theologian, D.E. Nineham, comments:

The geographical details make an impression of awkwardness, especially as Bethphage and Bethany are given in reverse order to that in which travellers from Jericho would reach them…and we must therefore assume that St Mark did not know the relative positions of the two villages on the Jericho road…3

The missionaries would obviously deny the above glaring error in Mark with their multiferous explanations. However the author of Matthew fully realised that Mark, who was supposedly “inspired”, had made a gross factual error. Matthew, who copied Mark changed this passage to remove the error:

“When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives…” (Matthew 21:1)

Note that Matthew had removed the reference to Bethany completely from Mark’s account. Again the most likely explanation is that Matthew noticed Mark’s error and tried to correct it. As Randel Helms informs us:

Mark writes on the basis of a vague knowledge of Judaean geography, not knowing that one approaching Jerusalem from the east on the road from Jericho would reach first Bethany and then Bethphage, not the reverse order he indicates. However, the important location is the Mount of Olives; typology, not history, is at work here. The typological fiction continues on the basis of Zech. 9:9 LXX:

‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the king is coming to thee, just and a Saviour [sozon, “saving”]; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal [polon neon, a “new (unridden) foal”].’

It is only with this passage that we can understand why Mark has Jesus specify that his diciples obtain a “colt [polon] which no one has yet ridden” (Mark 11:2). Mark ignores the danger and unlikelihood of riding on an unbroken, untrained animal, assuming its miraculous tractability; typology rather than history is operative here.4

Who is correct, Matthew or Mark? Was Mark “inspired” or was Matthew “inspired” as far as the above passage is concerned?

Bruce M. Metzger makes mention of several internal and geographical errors within the New Testament in which later scribes attempted to clear away:

A few scribes attempted to harmonize the Johannine account of the chronology of the Passion with that in Mark by changing ‘sixth hour’ of John xix. 14 to ‘third hour’ (which appears in Mark xv. 25). At John i. 28 Origen 1 altered in order to remove what he regarded as a geographical difficulty, and this reading is extant today in MSS. 33 69 and many others, including those which lie behind the King James version. The statement in Mark viii. 31, that ‘the Son of man must suffer many things…and be killed and aftee: three days rise again’, seems to involve a chronological difficulty, and some copyists changed the phrase to the more familiar expression, ‘on the third day’ . The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews places the golden altar of incense in the Holy of Holies (Heb. ix. 4), which is contrary to the Old Testament description of the Tabernacle (Exod. xxx. 1-6). The scribe of codex Vaticanus and the translator of the Ethiopic version correct the account by transferring the words to ix. 2, where the furniture of the Holy Place is itemized.5

Another Christian scholar, Raymond E. Brown, notes the inability of the author of Mark to identify the geographical places in ancient Palestine. He says:

That the author of this Greek Gospel was John Mark, a (presumably Aramaic-speaking) Jew of Jerusalem who had early become a Christian, is hard to reconcile with the impression that it does not seem to be a translation from Aramaic,82 that it seems to depend on traditions (and perhaps already shaped sources) receieved in Greek, and that it seems confused about Palestinian geography83 (The attempt to claim that Mark used geography theologically and therefore did not bother about accuracy seems strained).6

In footnote 83, Brown had in fact revealed another instance of the gospel author’s unfamiliarity with ancient Palestine geography. He states that:

83 Mark 5:1, 13 betrays confusion about the distance of Gerasa from the sea of Galilee (n. 17 above). Mark 7:31 describes a journey from Tyre through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis. In fact one goes SE from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee; Sidon is N for Tyre, and the description of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis is awkward. That a boat headed for Bethsaida (NE side of the Sea of Galilee) arrives at Gennesaret (NW side: 6:45,53) may also signal confusion. No one has been able to locate the Dalmanutha of 8:10, and it may be a corruption of Magdala.7

Though Brown attempts to explain away these geographical errors by stating that “one must admit that sometimes even natives of a place are not very clear about geography”8, he does not deny their presence in the text. In another footnote, he states that:

Many other examples of improbable reconciliations could be offered. Since Matt has a Sermon on the Mount and Luke has a similar Sermon on the Plain (Matt 5:1; Luke 6:7), there must have been a plain on the side of the mountain. Since Matt has the Lord’s Prayer taught in that sermon and Luke has it later on the road to Jerusalem (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4), the disciples must have forgotten it, causing Jesus to repeat it. Mark 10:46 places the healing of the blind man after Jesus left Jericho, while Luke 18:35; 19:1 places it before Jesus entered Jericho. Perhaps Jesus was leaving the site of the OT Jericho and entering the site of the NT Jericho!9

Furthermore, the Gospel according to Luke, another anonymous gospel, also contains a number of geographical errors that have led scholars to the conclusion that its author was not from Palestine. Brown comments:

What happens when Jesus goes to a deserted place (Luke 4:24-44) exhibits typical Lucan universalizing, since the people rather than Simon and his companions come to seek out Jesus. Compared to Mark 1:39, which has Jesus going through the synagogues of all Galilee, Luke 4:44 localizes the synagogues in Judea. That may illustrate the vagueness of Luke’s ideas of Palestinian geography, since in the next verse (5:1) Jesus is still in Galilee, at the Lake. Or does Luke’s Judea simply mean “the country of the Jews”?10

Brown presents another example of Luke’s confusion with Palestinian geography:

3. Last Stage of Journey till Arrival in Jerusalem (17:11-19:27). This begins with the uniquely Lucan cleansing of the ten lepers, including the thankful Samaritan (17:11-19). Jesus has been travelling toward Jerusalem since 9:51, and in 9:52 his messengers entered a Samaritan village. That at this point in the story he is still passing between Samaria and Galilee tells us that the journey is an artificual framework (and also that Luke may not have had a precise idea of Palestinian geography).11

G. A. Wells in his The Historical Evidence for Jesus makes mentions a number of geographical errors within the gospel according to Mark together with quoting other Biblical scholars admiting the presence of these errors and confusions in this gospel:

Mark makes serious mistakes in his geographical references to Palestine. He knows the Galilean place names and the general relative positions of the localities, but not specific details. Hence he “represents Jesus as travelling back and forth in Galilee and adjacent territories in a puzzling fashion” (Kee, 117, pp 102 – 3). To go (as Jesus is said to in Mk. 7:31) from the territory of Tyre by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee “is like travelling from Cornwall to London via Manchester” (Anderson, 2, p 192). Again, Mark’s “references to movements across the Sea of Galilee are impossible to trace sequentially. Mention of specific location near the sea are either unknown sites, such as Dalmanutha (8:10), or are patently inaccurate, as in the designation of the eastern shore of the lake as the country of the Gerasenes (5:1)” (Kee, loc cit). Gerasa is more than thirty miles souteast of the lake, too far away for the setting of the story which demands a city in its vincinity, with a precipitous slope down to the water. Probably all that concerned Mark, collecting and adapting pre-existing stories about Jesus, was that the lake and its surrounding territories, some Jewish and some mainly Gentile, was an ideal setting for journey’s of Jesus and his disciples, showing how both Jews and Gentiles responded to him with faith. That place names in Mark caused perplexity among early readers is shown by the wide range of variants in the textual tradition where names occur in the gospel. Perplexity is also evidenced by Matthew, who changed Mark’s Gerasenes to Gadarenes (Mt. 8:28), Gadara being a well-known spa only eight miles from the lake.12

Michael T. Griffith makes note of this confusion between Gerasenes and Gadarenes, and says that:

According to most modern versions of the Bible, Mark 5:1 refers to the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore as the country of the Gerasene:

“They [Christ and the disciples] came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes” (RSV; so also the NIV and the New American Bible).

This translation is based on the fact that the best and oldest manuscripts for this verse all read “the country of the Gerasenes.” However, the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore cannot qualify as the land of the Gerasenes because Gerasa (modern Jerash) is more than thirty miles to the southeast. In addition, the account which follows verse 1 requires a nearby city with a steep slope leading down to the Sea of Galilee. This could not possibly be Gerasa. Gerasa is simply too far away, and there is no slope running all the way from that site to the Sea of Galilee.

In the KJV, Mark 5:1 reads, “the country of the Gadarenes,” but this is based on inferior readings from the Greek texts. As mentioned above, the best and oldest manuscripts read “the country of the Gerasenes.” In any event, Gadara, though closer than Gerasa, is still too far away to fit, since it is located about six miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee.

According to the KJV rendering of Matthew 8:28, the region in question is named “the country of the Gergesenes.” This reading is based on inferior manuscript evidence and represents a scribal addition by later copyists (Metzger 1971:23-24). The best textual evidence for Matthew 8:28 reads “the country of the Gadarenes,” which is how it appears in the better modern translations of Matthew. Again, though, Gadara is too far away from the Sea of Galilee. To add to the confusion, Luke 8:26 follows the geography attributed to Mark. Although the KJV reads “the country of the Gadarenes,” this is another case of this version’s reliance on inferior textual evidence. The better modern translations read “Gerasenes.”

Lindsey Pherigo sums up the situation with regard to Mark 5:1:

The general location [of the events spoken of in Mark 5] is reported [in vs. 1] to be the E shore of the Sea of Galilee but the exact location is reported in different ways. The oldest and best manuscripts have Gerasa, but this is too far from the Sea of Galilee to fit well. Matt. changes this to Gadara (“the country of the Gadarenes,” 8:28), but this, though nearer, is still too far from the water. Later copyists change both to “Gergesa,” which may correspond to some ruins on the E side of the sea. It remains a problem.13

Conclusion

We have thus shown that the scribes of the New Testament were certainly aware of the presence of errors, in this case geographical errors, within the New Testament text. That is why they had proceeded to clear up whatever obvious errors that recur within their texts. Many of such errors were thus “corrected” over the passage of time whereas others that escape “correction” are vehemently defended by current-day missionaries with the preference to use a number of highly-imaginative mental gymnastics.

And only God knows best! Geographical Errors Within The New Testament 5

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Geographical Errors Within The New Testament," in Bismika Allahuma, October 15, 2005, last accessed December 4, 2021, https://www.bismikaallahuma.org/bible/geographical-errors-new-testament/
  1. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 97 []
  2. Lee Martin Mc Donald and Stanley E. Porter, Early Christianity and its Sacred Literature, (Nov 2000, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.), p. 286 []
  3. Nineham, Saint Mark (Westminster John Knox Press, 1978), pp. 294-295 []
  4. Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. 103 []
  5. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Third Enlarged Edition, 1992, Oxford University Press), pp. 199-200 []
  6. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., An Introduction To The New Testament, The Anchor Bible Reference Library (Doubleday, 1997) pp. 159-160 []
  7. ibid., p. 160 []
  8. ibid. []
  9. ibid., pp. 109-110 []
  10. ibid., pp. 238 []
  11. ibid., p. 251 []
  12. G. A. Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus (Prometheus Books, 1982), p. 230 []
  13. Michael T. Griffith, Is The Bible Inerrant And Complete? (1994) [Online Document] []