Friday, August 19, 2022

Nongbri Article on the Date of Sinaiticus


Brent Nongbri is back with another article redating a New Testament manuscript. This time, it’s Codex Sinaiticus and he suggests pushing the date range into the early fifth century. The article is in JTS and the pre-print version is open access here.

Abstract: Codex Sinaiticus is generally described as one of ‘the great fourth century majuscule Bibles’, and its construction is often assigned to a more precise date in the middle of the fourth century. This essay surveys the evidence for the date of production of the codex and concludes that it could have been produced at any point from the early fourth century to the early fifth century. This time span may seem uncomfortably wide, but this particular range of dates makes Codex Sinaiticus an ideal candidate for AMS radiocarbon analysis. The shape of the radiocarbon calibration curve during this period means that a well-executed radiocarbon analysis of the codex should have the potential to shed further light on the date the codex was produced.


Gainsford on “Can We Trust Medieaval Copies of Ancient Books?”


Stephen Carlson drew my attention to this interesting blogpost, “Can We Trust Medieaval Copies of Ancient Books?” by the classicist Peter Gainsford “Kiwi Hellenist.” First he makes five statements which I just list here:

1. Copying, by definition, is a faithful process.

2. Copying includes error-correction.

3. Modern editors have the explicit goals of gauging manuscripts’ reliability and amending errors, and they have a powerful arsenal of techniques for doing so.

4. Where there are doubts over a text, modern editions give full documentation of those doubts.

5. Where it is possible to check the accuracy of the manuscript tradition, its accuracy is high.

Then, in order to prove this last point, he works through three ancient texts from the satirist Lucian, the poet Meleager, and the geographer Strabo, respectively, where new evidence have come to light in the form of ancient papyri, so that he can compare an old edition (based on medieval manuscript) with the new evidence. After working through is examples, he concludes:

    1. Modern editors really know what they’re doing, and their expertise in sorting out the correct text deserves a huge amount of respect.
    2. Mediaeval copies are very accurate, with only minor discrepancies from their ancient counterparts.

Now, having said that, there are situations — or rather, literary genres — where we do expect much more discrepancies. Some ancient texts weren’t copied as such, but instead went through recensions and reworkings.

Note that Gainsford also added a postscript a day later with in which he expressed caution that his three examples were not representative of all ancient texts.

I do think his statements are applicable for the New Testament textual tradition and the first statement also made me associate to the basic assumption of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method that “a scribe wants to copy a manuscript with fidelity; primarily the scribe does not want to create new readings.”

Now, go read the full blogpost!

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Comma Johanneum in the Earliest English Bibles


Last week I published a list of historic English Bibles to complement Pete Head’s list. Today, I want to illustrate one way to use it. In this case, I am interested in how the earliest printed English Bibles handle the famous variant in 1 John 5:7–8. (My interest was originally sparked by Hixson’s post.)

One thing you learn from studying these Bibles is that their translators often used whatever other major editions or translations they could to produce their Bibles. As one example, Coverdale used five “sundry translations” for his 1535 Bible and these probably included Luther, the Zurich Bible, Pagninus’s Latin, the Vulgate, and Erasmus (per David Norton). It’s worth looking at how these early English Bibles navigated the lack of uniformity on the Comma among their sources. So, here is a whistle-stop tour of the main English Bibles up to the King James.

1. Tyndale (1526)

2. Tyndale (1534)

I can’t find the so-called “GH” edition of Tyndale (1534/35) online but I assume it also had the Comma in brackets since it was the basis for the Matthew Bible (see below).

3. Coverdale (1535)

4. Matthew Bible (1537)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

New Society and Conference on Bible Craftsmanship


Here’s a new development that looks really great. It’s a new organization called the Society of Bible Craftsmanship (SOBC) for the promotion of quality Bible production. From what I can tell, it’s being started by the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) and is maybe funded by it (it’s not clear). The announcement explains:

The Society of Bible Craftsmanship celebrates beauty, creativity, and innovation in the field of Bible publishing. The society’s mission is to nurture and highlight excellence in the industry and to help the general reader discover and appreciate all that goes into the finest examples of Bible craftsmanship—in all languages, in all media.

A central task of the society will be to periodically gather and exhibit new Bible publications from around the world. The society’s awards program will recognize the finest work in a broad range of categories, with winners exhibited at Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.

The Bible is one of the most important books ever to be published and also one of the most challenging in terms of design and production. Today, the innovation displayed in meeting these challenges is at an all-time high. In partnership with publishers and industry professionals, the society will host events and virtual seminars though Museum of the Bible to explore every aspect of craftsmanship, illuminating the work of translators and editors, designers and typographers, printers and bookbinders, and many other contributors to the production process. The society’s e-newsletter will also showcase the best writing on Bible craftsmanship. 

Museum of the Bible hopes, through the Society of Bible Craftsmanship, to promote the flourishing of contemporary Bible publishing and reading.

One of the people behind this is J. Mark Bertrand who we’ve had occasion to blog about in the past. For a long time he reviewed Bible design at the Bible Design blog (which now redirects to his new site He’s on the steering committee along with Jeff Kloha, chief curatorial officer at MOTB and Klaus Krogh, the CEO of the creative firm 2K/DENMARK that does a lot of Bible design.

J. Mark Bertrand

The Society is hosting a conference on August 27 in D.C. and online to kick off the new society. There is also a new book out from 2K/DENMARK about seven new typefaces they’ve designed just for Bibles.

One of the pleasures of studying the earliest printed English Bibles the last year or so has been appreciating just how many design decisions these early printers had to make. Yes, they had some precedents they could follow from manuscripts as well as Bibles in other languages. But, in other ways, they were inventing the wheel, so to speak, making decisions that would set the course of Bible production for the next 500 years. Everything from the names of books to chapter titles, marginal notes, maps, introductions to the reader, indices, cross-references—you get the idea. And beyond this there are the myriad questions of format: typefaces, layout, columns, spacing, book size, and more. 

I like what the new president of the society says about good design having a “gentle authority.” Whether we know it or not, the design of anything written is always communicating something additional to the words on the page. That design will either serve or hinder the meaning; it’s never neutral. Nowhere is that more important than the Bible.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Montoro: Preferring the Longer Reading at Matthew 5:21–22


The following is a guest post from Peter Montoro who is working on a PhD at the University of Birmingham on the NT text of Chrysostom.

Recently, as I was preaching through the Gospel of Matthew in our church, I came to Matthew 5:21–22, which reads as follows in the THGNT:  

Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρήθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις· οὐ φονεύσεις· ὃς δ’ ἂν φονεύσῃ, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει· ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ· ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ· μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.

This is not Peter Montoro
As is well known, a large number of Greek manuscripts read εἰκῆ, “without a cause” or “without true right,” before the second instance of ἔνοχος ἔσται. Based on the agreement of 01/03 (and most likely P64), most modern editors (including the THGNT and the NA28) have omitted εἰκῆ in 5:22. The presumed reasoning, explicit in many commentaries, is that the addition of εἰκῆ is a softening and theologically motivated addition to the text, an “orthodox corruption” as it were. Metzger, for example, has this to say in his textual commentary:  

Although the reading with εἰκῇ is widespread from the second century onwards, it is much more likely that the word was added by copyists in order to soften the rigor of the precept, than omitted as unnecessary.

However, based on patristic discussion of the variant in Origen and Jerome (as found in Amy Donaldson’s excellent dissertation), a motivated reading seems to have been far more likely in the other direction—it was the suggestion that some anger might be permissible that Origen and Jerome found to be problematic, not the reverse. See for example, this discussion by Origen: 

Since some think that anger sometimes occurs with good reason because they improperly add to the Gospel the word ‘without cause’ in the saying, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement’ (Matt. 5:22)—for some have read, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother without cause’—let us convince them of their error from the statement under discussion which says, ‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and blasphemy be removed from you.’ For the term ‘all’ here clearly applies to all the nouns in common, so that no bitterness is allowed, no wrath is permitted, and no anger occurs with good reason. It is said in the thirty-sixth Psalm, since all anger is sin (and likewise also wrath), ‘Cease from anger, and leave wrath’ (Ps. 36:8). It is never possible, therefore, to be angry with someone with good reason. [Donaldson, 352, citing from Heine’s edition 205–206] 

As can easily be seen in this discussion (and even more clearly in Jerome’s repeated discussions of this passage), while we moderns may assume that the early church would have wanted to soften Jesus’s teaching, the evidence points instead, in this and many other areas as well, rather toward a tendency to strengthen it, to remove exceptions, rather than to add them (this can be seen very clearly in the overall attitude toward remarriage, even after the death of a spouse). 

I therefore decided to take a fresh look at the available textual evidence. A consideration of the Text und Textwert (TuT) data suggests another explanation for this textual variation altogether. No less than 21 of the manuscripts classed as Koinehandschriften, including some that agree at the 97 and 98% (e.g., 045)  levels have exactly the same omission that is found in the early witnesses 01 and 03. Since there are 64 Teststellen in Matthew, a 98% agreement means that this is the only Teststelle where this manuscript differs from the majority. 

As Holger Strutwolf explained in his recent paper at the CSNTM conference (though of course he was dealing with examples from Mark, not Matthew), this sort of pattern rather strongly suggests that a particular variant emerged multiple times, and is therefore best explained, not as a theologically motivated reading, but rather as a simple scribal mistake. 

As it turns out, there is a rather simple explanation for the omission of εἰκῆ, one that fits perfectly with the sort of mistakes that scribes, early as well as late, are known to make. The sequence ἔνοχος ἔσται occurs no less than four times in Matt 5:21–22, both before and after the variation unit in question. Because this second instance (if εἰκῆ is indeed original) is the only one that breaks the pattern, it would have been a relatively simple mistake to unintentionally harmonize it to the repetitions of this same pattern found in the immediate context, the same sort of change we see over and over again in manuscripts from every period. 

On the other hand, there does not seem to be a straightforward way to explain the addition of this word as a scribal mistake. Since the TuT evidence makes it very clear that the omission did in fact occur in late Byzantine manuscripts that are extremely unlikely to have experienced theologically motivated change, it makes much more sense to see the omission of this word in early manuscripts as resulting from the same sort of scribal mistake that we know to have taken place later. 

Furthermore, as David Alan Black pointed out a number of years ago, this very same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel contains two other examples (ψευδόμενοι in 5:11 and παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας in 5:32) of very similar clarifying qualifiers. 

While this is only a brief preliminary investigation, it seems to be at this point to be likely that the omission of εἰκῆ should be seen as an early scribal mistake rather than as an example of an “obvious” orthodox corruption.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Historic Editions of the English Bible Online

Some years ago, Peter Head put together a lovely list of historic editions of the Greek NT that are available free online. I have used that list more times than I can count. It’s wonderful to have them all in one place like that. 

Many times over the last year, I have found myself wanting a similar list but for early English Bibles. So that’s what I have given you here. It should be self-explanatory. The Bibles are listed chronologically and I have usually only included the most important edition(s) of each. If you know of better sources for some of these or see a correction needed, let me know in the comments.

Wycliffite Bible (14th c.)

First complete Bible in (middle) English.

  • Christ Church MS. 145 (14th c.): images and details; OT, NT, Apocryrpha
  • Egerton MS 617 (c. 1390-1397): images and details; Proverbs-Maccabbees; “the earliest datable copy of the complete Bible in English”
  • Egerton MS 618 (c. 1390-1397): images and details; Matthew-Revelation
  • Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal books, in the earliest English version etc., ed. J. Forshall and F. Madden (1850), vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4
  • Searchable version.

Luther (1522, 1534)

Not an English Bible, but included because it was used by many of the early English translators like Tyndale.

Tyndale (1525–1536)

  • 1525 NT: select images – not finished and only 8 sheets survive
  • 1526 NT: Full PDFselect images; only three copies exist, one at St. Paul’s in London which is missing 70 leaves, the one at the British Library, and one rediscovered only in 1996 at the Württemberg State Library (the only copy with an extant title page).
  • 1534 NT: PDF (b/w)text
  • 1534/1535 NT: his last revision, sometimes known as the “GH” edition; the basis for the “Matthew Bible”
  • Pentateuch (1530), Jonah (1536): text; b/w images
  • Searchable version

Coverdale (1535)

The first complete printed Bible in English; basis for the Matthew Bible where Tyndale wasn’t extant.

Matthew Bible (1537)

First complete English Bible licensed by the crown for sale in England; basis for the Great Bible and Taverner.

Great Bible (1539)

It was a BIG; basis for the Bishops’ Bible.
  • 1539: haven’t found one online
  • 1540: b/w PDF

Taverner’s Bible (1539)

Often neglected thanks, in part, to Westcott giving it short shrift.

Geneva (1557, 1560, etc.)

First English Bible with verse numbers, first to use italics to mark words not in the original, etc.
  • 1557 NT: 1 photo (only one I can find); Reprint
  • 1560 OT+NT: PDF (missing the note to the reader) color version on Google Books
  • 1570: A few color images
  • 1599: this has updated marginal notes which took a sharper Calvinist and anti-Catholic turn

Bishops’ (1568, 1602)

1602 was the basis for the KJV.

Douai-Rheims (1582, 1609/1610)

The first Roman Catholic translation in English, intended as a response to Protestant translations.

KJV (1611)

To quote Hixson (probably), “If it ain’t the King James, it ain’t the Bible.”

  • 1611: color images; “He Bible” (thought to be the earlier of the 1611 printings); slightly larger pictures here
  • 1611: “She Bible” (thought to be the later of the 1611 printings)
  • 1767 Blayney: PDF – Thorough update behind most modern printings
Two other sources you may want to check, if you have access, are the English Short Title Catalogue (or STC) and Early English Books Online.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Textual Confidence


The day before the CSNTM conference in Dallas back in May, I sat down with some good friends and we filmed seven videos on why we think we can have confidence in the Scriptures without having to fall into textual skepticism (Bart Ehrman being one of its more well-known voices) or what we call textual absolutism (which these days most often manifests itself as a strong rejection of modern textual criticism and advocacy for the King James Version or the Textus Receptus, though there are some nuances there).

The first of seven videos is now up. Watch/read more here.