Monday, October 03, 2022

SBL Blog Dinner Denver 2022


The leadership of Trinity Church Denver have graciously agreed to host our annual SBL Blog dinner in their basement meeting space. $20 covers pizza, salad and drinks, which will be catered from Fat Sully's NY Pizza and Walmart delivery. Many of our attendees will walk to the dinner from the NTTC "Methods and Criteria" section, which ends at 6:30pm. The walk takes less than twenty minutes.

Peter Head will provide humor and a brief devotion.  Peter Williams will play the piano as we sing a couple of hymns. Attendance is open to anyone interested in the languages and transmission of the biblical texts regardless of your faith.

RSVP through Eventbrite and pay through PayPal.

FOMO, Missing Verses, and Helping Laypeople Think about Textual Criticism


In this post, I want to talk about another observation from my time at the conference last week. It concerns the way people think about the “missing verses” (e.g., John 5.4) in modern translations. I noticed, for instance, that Dave Black often turned to readings that aren’t in translations like the ESV to illustrate his own text-critical view. Later, at the end of the conference, I had a chance to talk to a couple people who seemed surprised when I pointed out that the Byzantine text (and hence the KJV) is also missing some important clauses relative to the ESV. 

The Anxiety of Missing Verses

It was a fresh reminder of just how much psychological weight “missing verses” carry for some people new to the subject. I have never, for instance, had a concerned person ask me about the added verses in the KJV. Some of that is due to historical precedent, no doubt. Because the KJV reigned for so long as the only Bible of the English speaking world, it naturally serves as the reference point. 

But it also seems to be something deeper at work because, in my experience, even non-KJV Bible readers are far more concerned about missing words in the Bible than they are about added ones. Again, this was on display at the conference. Dave Black put many at ease by explaining the problem of textual criticism as one of having too much of the NT text not too little. He said something to the effect that we don’t have 97% of the text, we have 104% and the question is whether the original is above or below the line. I’ve made the same point myself and I always find people receptive to it. Too much is okay. Too little is not.

But why do we find it more reassuring to think that our Bibles might have too many uninspired words than too few inspired ones? A text like Rev. 22.18–19 certainly gives us no reason to prefer one over the other. Instead, it puts both adding and removing words on equal par. Neither is presented as more acceptable than the other; both are bad. From that text, we ought to be just as anxious about having 104% of the NT text as we are of having 97%. What gives?

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Where the Priority Lies in Byzantine Priority


Last Saturday was the textual criticism conference at Clearview Church with myself, Maurice Robinson, Dave Black, and Abidan Shah. You can read Dave’s recap here. I can add my thanks to our hosts for taking such good care of us and to my fellow speakers for sharing with us. 

I was grateful for the opportunity to explain why I’m a reasoned eclectic in a forum like this. I haven’t ever done that and it was a good exercise. What made it especially fun is that none of the other presenters agreed with my position! (Although, by my definition, Dave Black’s Sturzian approach is still a form of reasoned eclecticism; he just has a different approach to external evidence than mine but that’s for another day.) This meant that I not only got to hear how others perceived my view, but I also got to hear their reaction to my perception of their view. That is always a helpful diagnostic and, in this case, I learned something from Maurice that I want to explain here.

The speakers. Photo from Dave Black

In my talk, I argued that the Byzantine Priority view could accurately be called Byzantine Exclusivism since there is never a place where the Byzantine prioritist thinks that the clear majority of manuscripts is flat wrong and the minority is right (e.g.). Even where the majority is split, their choice will always be within the split, never outside it. It is this consistent preference for one group of manuscripts over all others (where they disagree, of course) that sets it apart from all forms of eclecticism—reasoned or thoroughgoing or even Sturzian. This is where the clarification came in.

In his presentation, which followed mine, Maurice pointed out that the priority in “Byzantine Priority” does not mean the Byzantine reading gets priority at each point of variation, but rather that the Byzantine textform existed prior to the other textforms. This may seem like a trivial distinction, but I think it is important for two reasons.

First, it is a reminder that the Byzantine Priority position, as held by Maurice, is based fundamentally on a view of the text’s history not on some preconceived preference for pet readings. What that means is that, if the method is right, it’s right because of its view of history. If it’s wrong—as I think it is—it’s wrong for the same reason. I happen to think this is what all methods share in common, actually. But it was helpful to see it afresh.

Second, I think this should mean that there is no reason, in principle, why a Byzantine prioritist should be unwilling to reject Byzantine readings. The fact that this textform is earliest does not logically entail that it is always right anymore than thinking the Alexandrian text is earliest requires one to think it is always right. Now, I say it should mean this because in practice, as I noted, Byzantine prioritists are unwilling to accept any reading that is in the clear minority against the Byzantine majority. So, we are back to the question of whether or not it is really a method of prioritization or of exclusivism. I would be happy to be educated further on this and would love to hear from any Byzantine prioritists who think think the Byzantine textform is sometimes wrong even when it’s unified (in which case they would be akin to James Snapps view).

One final observation, this experience was a fresh reminder of the danger of misinterpreting other people’s views because we have unwittingly filtered them in some way through our own starting assumptions. In my case, I was hearing the term “priority” through the lenses of my own reasoned eclecticism. What I heard was something like “the Byzantine reading is always prior at every place of variation” when what is meant is “the Byzantine textform is historically prior to the other text forms.” The first does follow from the second, but the order is important. I should have been more careful.

And for anyone wondering, Maurice and I had a grand time together. We have sparred many times over these things at various conferences, over meals, and even at his Smokey Mountain chalet. I always appreciate our conversations and leave them thankful for his sharp mind and his careful work.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Church Conference on Textual Criticism Near Raleigh


This Saturday, Abidan Shah is hosting a conference at his church in Henderson, NC on the text of the New Testament. Abidan is a former PhD student of Maurice Robinson and wrote on the quest for the original text. He will be speaking along with myself, Maurice Robinson, and David Alan Black. John Meade and I spoke at Abidan’s church a few years ago and had a great time. I’m looking forward to being back. Come by if you’re in the area.


Date: Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022
Time: 9:00am–5:00pm
Location: Clearview Church in Henderson, NC (about an hour from downtown Raleigh)

Join us on Saturday, September 24, for this year’s apologetics conference at Clearview Church! This year will focus on New Testament Textual Criticism and will be led by Dr. Abidan Shah of Clearview Church, Dr. David Alan Black of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Maurice Robinson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Peter Gurry of Phoenix Seminary.

You can learn more and get tickets here.

Update: Schedule

8:30–9:00 am, Coffee/Meet and Greet
9:00–10:00 am, Dr. Shah - The Current State of the Original Text of the New Testament
10:15–11:15 am,  Dr. Gurry - Reasoned Eclecticism and the Original Text
11:30–12:30 pm,  Dr. Robinson - A Byzantine-Priority Perspective Regarding the Recognition of Autograph Originality
12:20–1:30 pm, Lunch
1:30–2:30 pm, Dr. Black - Matthew 5:22 as a Possible Model of Recovering the Original Text
2:45–3:45 pm, Q&A
3:45–4:00 pm, Dr. Shah - Closing Remarks

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Comparing New Testament Manuscripts


Recently I had some reason to compare a number of manuscripts in Acts and was happy to be able to use the CBGM tools for this, in particular the ‘Comparison of Witnesses’. The reason for this post is to point out some issues that are perhaps at first sight less intuitive. This is not criticism of the way the data set is constructed, as the actual manuscripts are always messier than what can be captured in a database.

1. Beware of comparing manuscripts to ‘A’, the reconstructed initial text. Why? Because at every place where ‘A’ has a ‘split reading’ it does not show up in the actual comparison; ‘A’ is treated as if it presents no reading here. Since the number of split readings equals around 2% of the total variant readings, there are some potential issues.

For example in Acts 1:6, we have ‘A’ and ‘01’ compared with ‘Show Agreements’ activated, and we see that the split reading at Acts 1:6/10 is simply not there.

2.    Equal does not always mean that things are the same. This caught me out when I was comparing P50 – arguably a difficult manuscript to encode – and 01. At three places differences between these two are given as ‘equal’ (‘=’) in the list (see below) despite a difference between the two: at Acts 10:28/22 (P50: ανδρι ιουδαιου; 01 ανδρι ιουδαιω), Acts 10:29/17 (P50: ουν; 01: -), and Acts 10:30/50 (P50: μου; 01: εμου).

In the actual apparatus of the ECM it becomes clear why these three differences are treated as being the same. At the first two places the original hand of P50 is deemed to have made an obvious scribal error which was corrected by the original hand, at the third place 01 is deemed to give a mere orthographic variant. This is all perfectly justifiable, but it is good to be aware of this when relying on the ‘Comparison of Witnesses’ to give you all differences. You would not get this extra information from simply relying on the list of Agreements/Differences.

Not equal does not always mean that you will see the difference. The example to illustrate this comes actually from the ECM apparatus, which gives here more detailed information than the comparison of witnesses does. Nothing comes up in the comparison at Acts 10:30/10, yet the ECM tells us that P50 has a scribal error in the word απο (recorded as P50f) namely οπο. Again, I can see the rationale why such difference does not show up in the Comparison of Witnesses. However, there is some inconsistency in recording corrections by the original hand on itself in P50 (as the first two examples in 2. above). At Acts 10:30/18 the first hand corrects τη to ταυτη, which – in analogy to 10:28/20 and 10:29/17 – should probably be recorded or show up somewhere. But this time it is not found as a 'difference that is equal' or as a remark in the apparatus of the ECM.

4. Despite best intentions, the apparatus at ECM can still beat me. Again this has to do P50, and in particular how P50 is treated at the place of the split reading at Acts 10:28/34-38 in the ECM. The top line of the split reading has the support of P50C*V (so the probable reading of the original hand correcting itself). But then for the complete absence of this passage (absence, so not an omission) we find P50(C)*, and what this might mean beats me, though I trust there is a perfectly logical explanation.

As so often in scholarship, it is only by using a tool that we learn about its strengths and limitations. I am still impressed how much the data gathering and sharing by the INTF has enabled progress and deeper understanding of the textual tradition of the New Testament, yet data are never as hard as we want them to be. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Trouble Commenting on the Blog


If you’ve been having trouble commenting on the blog using your Google account, as I have, it may be because of your cookie settings. From Blogger’s help files:

Blogger uses third-party cookies so you can comment from your Google Account. If third-party cookies are disabled on your browser, you may not be able to comment on blog posts while you’re signed in. You can still comment anonymously, or with a name and URL.

In Chrome, which stats say most of you are using to read this, you can enable third-party cookies by going to Settings > Privacy and security and then select either Allow all cookies or Block third-party cookies in Incognito. 

If you don’t want to allow any third-party cookies, you should still be able to comment by choosing Comment as Name/URL in the commenting dropdown. 

If this works for you, could you leave a comment and let me know?

As a final word, please keep your comments on topic

Friday, August 26, 2022

Richard Brash on Preservation (again)


Over at the TCI website, Richard Brash has a short argument about providence and textual preservation. Along with his careful distinctions between two methods and two modes of providence, I appreciated this part:

In the New Testament era, the picture is more complicated. The church is called to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) and part of this calling is surely to take care of the text of the Bible. God’s providential preservation of his people is still tied closely to the providential preservation of his written word. It is therefore reasonable to identify the process of canonization as an instance of special providence. But just as it can be spiritually dangerous to attempt to define the precise contours of special providence in our own lives, or even with respect to the preservation of the church, it is unwise to tether our doctrine of providential preservation to a particular “approved” manuscript or manuscript tradition. The Bible does not give the church today the authority to do this.

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

50% Off Scribes & Scripture Book


My new book with John Meade comes out in October and should interest ETC readers. The subject—how we got the Bible—is intentionally broad and so is the audience. The goal is to introduce the subject to new readers. I’m not 100% sure, but it may be one of the only books in this category written by those with training in each testament.

Another feature I hope serves readers well is that we wrote the book following several years of field testing the material in churches through our conference of the same name. That taught us what works and what doesn’t in terms of examples, anecdotes, key figures, etc. While we tried to make the material accessible, I don’t think you’ll find it dumbed down. We also included lots of charts, sidebars, and pictures to make it more engaging to the youngins (and our parents). Until it releases, you can get it for 50% off + free US shipping via TCI. 

Publisher info

Scribes and Scripture: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible

By John D. Meade, Peter J. Gurry

Answers to Common Questions about the Writing, Copying, Canonizing, and Translating of the Bible

There are many common questions and misconceptions surrounding the formation and history of the Bible: Why is the Bible composed of the current 66 books instead of others? Why are there so many translations? How are we to understand both the human and divine elements of the Bible? In Scribes and Scripture, scholars John D. Meade and Peter J. Gurry answer these questions and give readers tools to interpret the evidence about God’s word. 

Beginning with the history of the Bible—from the invention of the alphabet to the most recent English translations—the book focuses on three main areas: the writing and copying of the Bible, the canonization of the Bible, and the translation of the Bible. Using Old and New Testament scholarship, Meade and Gurry help God’s people better appreciate the story of the Bible as a way to better appreciate the stories in the Bible.

Table of Contents


Part 1: Text
Chapter 1: Writing the Bible
Chapter 2: Copying the Old Testament
Chapter 3: Copying the New Testament

Part 2: Canon
Chapter 4: Canonizing the Old Testament to the Reformation
Chapter 5: The Old Testament in the Reformation Period
Chapter 6: Canonizing the New Testament

Part 3: Translation
Chapter 7: Early and Medieval Bible Translation
Chapter 8: English Bible Translation to the King James
Chapter 9: The English Bible after the King James

Appendix 1: Modern Canons
Appendix 2: Early Christian Canon Lists


“One of the striking features of the book is its fairness and its reasonableness. No book, of course, is written without a perspective, but Meade and Gurry aren’t trying to win a debate or to demonize opponents. They carefully present and analyze the evidence so that readers can make their own judgments. I can’t think of another book that introduces in such a brief and illuminating way matters of text, canon, and translation.”
—Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“I don’t have time to read this.”
—Elijah Hixson, Research Fellow, Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, Forger of Sinaiticus (probably)

“The history of the Bible is complex: it involves multiple languages (ancient and modern), and it divides into two very much distinct (but also overlapping) branches we call the Old and New Testaments. Christians need trusted guides to lead us through that history. This is why I am so grateful for the work of Old Testament specialist John Meade, New Testament specialist Peter Gurry, and their Text & Canon Institute. They represent the newest generation of evangelical historians of the Bible, and they are both able and eager to keep a foot in the academy and a foot in the church. There are many threats to the orthodox viewpoint on text, canon, and translation. Scribes and Scripture is their attempt to serve the church by guiding Christians toward an accurate and faith-filled grasp of the Bible’s history.”
—Mark Ward, Editor, Bible Study Magazine; author, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible

“Is your book finally done??”
—My Kids, Kindergarten through 6th grade

“Misconceptions and myths about the Bible’s origins lead many to reject it and continue to confuse sincere believers. Now, at last, we have a book that shatters these misconceptions. This impressively informative book is based on solid scholarship, yet it is accessible, easy to read, and profitable for any reader at any level. Not for a generation have we seen such a helpful book on this topic! I heartily recommend it to everyone.”
—Peter J. Gentry, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Old Testament and Senior Research Fellow of the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary

“Please tell me this book gets royalties.”
—John’s Wife

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Pierpont: Dean Burgon and the Received Text


Pierpont sent the first page of this short essay to Maurice Robinson on June 8th, 1990. The first page appears to have been written originally on April 14th, 1990. Later, on July 13th, Pierpont sent Robinson the second page. He writes: "The part page goes with and follows what I sent previously on "Dean Burgon and the TR". It is part of a further section, but Wilbur [Pickering] rightly suggested it be added here." I have added in links to the transcription to make checking the quotes easier.


[By William G. Pierpont, 14 April–13 July 1990]

Dean Burgon has all too often been (deliberately?) misinterpreted by both friend and foe. This is still true today a century later. For example, "The Dean Burgon Society" consistently denies that Burgon would allow changes to the Textus Receptus until all MSS, Versions and Patristic evidence is in hand. Let us allow Burgon to speak for himself. (TT = "The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels", CC = "The Causes of Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels", RR = "The Revision Revised")

First of all we must observe that he carefully distinguished between the Traditional Text and the Textus Receptus. He defended the former, not the latter, although he said that they do not greatly differ.

"Once for all, we request it may be clearly understood that we do not, by any means, claim perfection for the Received Text. We entertain no extravagant notions on this subject. Again and again we shall have occasion to point out (e.g. at page 107) that the Textus Receptus needs correction." RR-21 note 2.

"Yielding to no one in my desire to see the Greek of the New Testament judi­ciously revised...” (whereupon he goes on to say that it would be far better to let the TR stand than to go to the kind of text advocated and published by Westcott and Hort in 1881 -- though without naming them). CC-10,11.

His co-worker and editor reaffirms this: (Edward Miller)
"First, be it understood, that we do not advocate perfection in the Textus Receptus. We allow that here and there it requires revision. In the Text left behind by Dean Burgon, about 150 corrections have been suggested by him in St. Matthew’s Gospel alone. What we maintain is the TRADITIONAL TEXT." "I have kept before me a copy of Dr. Scrivener’s Cambridge Greek Testament, A.D. 1887, in which the disputed passages are printed in black type, although the Text there presented is the Textus Receptus from which the Traditional Text as revised by Dean Burgon and hereafter to be published differs in many passages." TT-5 and TT-95. (Only Burgon’s notes for changes recommended for Mt. Chapters 1-14 were published: in "A Textual Commentary upon the Holy Gospels, Part I. St. Matthew; Division I: i.-xiv." Edward Miller. 1899.)

"The Traditional Text must be found, not in a mere transcript, but in a laborious revision of the Received Text... which has been generally received during the last two and a half centuries." CC-1

There are many places in these volumes of Burgon which spell out the needed changes in certain passages, as well as further remarks similar to the above.

What is the problem? -- It is the radically revised-- almost rewritten "new" text which "the revisers" have thrust upon the world of Christianity in 1881. So unacceptable is it in every respect that to show it up for what it is takes preference over the much lesser task of revising the commonly Received Text.

As for the Received Text by comparison, "We do but insist, (1) That it is an incomparably better text than that which either Lachmann, or Tischendorf, or Tregelles has produced; infinitely preferable to the 'New Greek Text' of the Revisionists. And (2) That to be improved, the Textus Receptus will have to be revised on entirely different 'principles' from those which are just now in fashion. Men must begin by unlearning the German prejudices of the last fifty years; and address themselves, instead, to the stern logic of facts." RR-21 note 2. "...for, in not a few particulars, the 'Textus Receptus' does call for Revision certainly..." RR-107.

Specifically Dean Burgon called for correction, a revision of the Received Text, and he himself had done so for the Gospels, though most of it has been lost. He does not want to be misunderstood by friend or opponent: the Received Text must be revised. That is precisely what the Majority Text attempts to do.

[p. 2]

The question some have asked is whether the materials at hand to Burgon were adequate to make this necessary revision of the Received Text. Burgon answers this in 1864: "...the accumulated evidence of the last two centuries has enabled us to correct it with confidence in hundreds of places..." and "it is not to be supposed, (I humbly think, ) that we shall ever know much more about the sacred text than we know at present. But it is unquestionably to be believed that as the years roll on, and calm, judicious, conscientious criticism, (represented by such men as Mr. Scrivener,) extends its investigati[on] over the mighty field which lies before it, we shall attain to a greater and ye[t] greater amount of certainty as to the true readings of Scripture; approach nearer and yet nearer to the inspired autographs of the Evangelists and Apostle[s] of CHRIST." ("A Treatise on the Pastoral Office" pp. 69, 72, italics his.)

From what Burgon has said and done it is clear that he intended that correction. should be made now (in his lifetime) to the Received Text, based upon the plen[ty] of solid evidence, and further, that as more and more evidence is gathered and studiously and honestly examined some further changes must be made. It is ob­vious that he envisioned what every true textual critic aims for: a current edi[tion] of the Traditional Textform which is as accurate as the evidence in hand permi[ts]. Burgon had himself provided that first stage of correction in the notes he had developed himself and firmly intended should be published at that time.

He envisioned a progressively improved published text which conformed to the consensus of the multitude of MSS, and had provided the first step in that direction. But unfortunately it was never published in its entirity [sic], and the portion which was published (as noted above) seems almost unknown today.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Pierpont: Requisites and Basics for Textual Criticism of the Greek New Testament


Here is another installment in the series of unpublished papers by Williams G. Pierpont, scanned from the Maurice Robinson Collection. This two-page essay is undated. I don't know when we'll be able to put it on CSNTM, so I am making it available here.


[By William G. Pierpont, undated]

1. NECESSITY. Scarcely any two of the many hundreds of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament agree exactly with each other-- even after ignoring the obvious and easily corrected simple scribal errors. Nor is there any divinely established or humanly agreed-upon standard against which all others may be corrected. Therefore textual criticism is necessary to establish, where there are sig­nificant differences, which readings are to be considered those of the autographs.

2. REVERENCE. The New Testament is no ordinary book: it is part of the Holy Word of God, and dare not be approached without a spirit of reverence and the utmost of respect. It is the Word of the Omnipotent Creator and Sovereign Lord of all. He Himself does not view it lightly: "for Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy Name." (Ps. 138:2) It partakes of His Divine Nature, of His holi­ness and perfection. We recognize that it was Divinely inspired-- that holy men of God were led along and guided in their writing by its Holy Author. We must tremble to tamper with it in any way. How we "handle" it is vital. We may well recognize that God is Himself most intimately concerned with what we do with it. We ought to approach it, as it were, on our knees. Anything less dishonors its Author.

Who are those who would dare to go hunting for "discrepancies" in a gleeful mood? Who are those who would presume to tell God what He has caused to have written? How do men dare to choose among alternate readings on the basis of what they "prefer"? Where is their sense of reverence for the Holy? Do such men indeed hold to the God-given apostolic faith, or are they merely toying with what is inherently holy?

For some, whatever is "interesting" or novel attracts them-- and unless it is strange they have no concern or interest. For others the "various readings" merely serve as opportunities to exercise their ingenuity, to see if they can puzzle out an answer to their own satisfaction. Often this merely serves as fodder for the grist mill of their desire to lecture or write.

Such a spirit of levity, "game playing", ill befits God’s Holy Word. The man of God is grieved and distressed when he finds seriously competing alternate readings, knowing that only one of them can be from the autograph. He earnestly and reverently seeks an answer.

Snapp on the Distigmai in Vaticanus


Over on his blog, James Snapp has a new post on the double dots in Vaticanus. These dots have been of significant interest ever since Phil Payne first noticed them. 

Following Niccum and Head, Snapp makes a good case, with some new suggestions, that the dots are from the 16th century. In particular, he suggests that Sepulveda’s letter to Erasmus, where he says he noted 365 variations in Vaticanus, should be reread as 765, changing just one roman numeral (CCCLXV → DCCLXV). In that case, the number matches exactly Payne’s estimate. I wonder if we have the original letter anywhere.

There’s more to the argument, but I won’t spoil it. Go read it and see what you think. I was already pretty convinced the dots were from Sepulveda, but this convinced me further. But I’d love to hear from others who have written or presented on this (Peter Head 👀).

Examples of dots in Vaticanus

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.

Saturday, July 09, 2022

Video Interviews with Text Critics


Dwayne Green is a pastor up in Canada who’s been putting out a steady stream of video interviews on textual criticism and Bible translation lately. As a pastor, he’s especially interested in theology and methodology and likes the KJV himself but isn’t KJV-only. He seems genuinely open to views he doesn’t hold and has a lighthearted style about his videos. He’s been nothing but a nice chap in all my interactions with him. So far he’s interviewed Hixson and myself, Dirk Jongkind, Maurice Robinson, Mark Ward, Timothy Berg, Jeff Riddle, James Snapp, and several others. Go check out his YouTube channel. I especially recommend the most recent one with Maurice Robinson if you’ve ever wondered who the Pierpont in Robinson-Pierpont was.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Colwell on Archaic Mark


For a while now I have been casually on the lookout for an article in the Emory University Quarterly, and so far I haven’t had access. I searched this morning and found it online: Ernest Cadman Colwell, “An Ancient Text of the Gospel of Mark,” (Emory University Quarterly 1.2 [1945]: 65–75).

E.C. Colwell
Credit: University of Chicago Photographic
Archive, [
apf1-01777] Hanna Holborn
Gray Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library.

It’s an interesting article—there is definitely a popular-level tone to it, and the way Colwell describes some aspects of textual criticism definitely reflects that. Of course we know now that Archaic Mark (which was once numbered 2427 on the k-Liste) is a forgery, but it had been my understanding that Colwell was always suspicious of it. I had been wanting to find this article to see if he voiced any such suspicions here. He does not do so explicitly, but he does talk about several unique aspects of Archaic Mark that are unlike any other manuscripts, and at one point he does make a statement that seems to hint that something was up:
The script of the manuscript is more than unusual; it is unique, The scribe of the Chicago Mark had several habits to which we cannot find parallels anywhere, and others to which no parallel exists in Greek manuscripts. He divides his text into words and even puts periods after abbreviations. These actions seem entirely normal to the twentieth-century American, but were unknown in the Greek manuscript tradition. Out of seventy-seven manuscripts photographed by W. H. P. Hatch on Mount Sinai, only one has word division, and it has other elements which suggest that it may be copied from the Greek text of a bilingual. In the large collection at Jerusalem, two manuscripts have word division, and both were written in the eighteenth century. [p. 68; emphasis mine]

That being said, do enjoy the article if you have a few minutes and haven’t seen it before.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Recent Writings on Textual Criticism

Various things have come across my screen in the last few weeks on textual criticism and I haven’t had time to read them all. So I’m collecting them here both to remind myself later and for anyone who might otherwise miss them.
  • “The Ways that Parted in the Library: The Gospels according to Matthew and according to the Hebrews in Late Ancient Heresiology” by Jeremiah Coogan
    Coogan argues that Matthew and the Gospel according to the Hebrews are just two versions of Matthew but with differentiated titles. This one I did read and it’s good. Go read it. I did wonder about the comparison between Matthew and GHebrews and Acts in the Alexandrian text and the “Western” text (is there some point at which we can drop the scare quotes?). The fact that the “Western” text never got a distinct title whereas the GHebrews did may be the evidence we need that the latter two were conceived of differently by more than just the heresiologists. (The comparison with Marcion’s Gospel is also helpful.) Either way, it got me thinking afresh about when one text is changed so much that it becomes a different work. And congrats to Jeremiah on the Eusebius Prize!
  • “A Note on GA 2311” by David Lincicum
    GA 2311 has moved to Notre Dame from private ownership. That’s as far as I could read.
  • “The Construction and Contents of the Beatty-Michigan Pauline Epistles Codex (𝔓⁴⁶)” by Brent Nongbri
    Brent has done further work on the contents of single-quire codices and has concluded that P46 could have contained the Pastorals. I haven’t been able to read the article, but his blog summary says, “The upshot of this is the possibility that there were more missing pages at the end of P46 than we have generally thought, which opens up the possibility that the quire did originally contain all of the fourteen letters of Paul that we find in later Greek manuscripts of Paul’s letters.” I especially like that he says, “I did not at all expect to reach this conclusion, but I suppose that is why we do the research!” Indeed.
  • Kelsie Rodenbiker and Garrick Allen have edited a special issue of Religions on paratextual issues. It includes seven essays on “Titles, Paratexts, and Manuscript Communication: Jewish and Christian Literature in Material Context.” The range from Coptic titles to iconography. Especially interesting—from what I was able to read so far—is Mina Monier on the endings of Mark and paratextual features. The articles are all open access.
  • Speaking of Markan endings, the Text & Canon Institute posted two new articles this month on the Longer Ending. The first, by James Snapp, gives a condensed version of his argument in favor of authenticity and the second, by our own Peter Head, gives a rejoinder. These are intended for a fairly wide audience, so keep that in mind.
  • The CSNTM conference last month was a great time. Thanks to the whole CSNTM crew for their work putting it together. James Snapp has been posting summaries of some of the papers at his blog here, here, here, and here.
That’s all I’ve got. If you know something I missed, drop it in the comments.

Hixson reading Burgon as a youth. Credit

Friday, June 17, 2022

“Guest Post” from the Grave: William G. Pierpont on E.F. Hills


With the permission of Maurice Robinson, I am making available one of Pierpont’s unpublished papers, an evaluation of E.F. Hills’ defense of the textus receptus. Some formatting may have changed a bit, but I include here both text (to make it searchable) and images of the paper itself (for transparency).

Edward F. Hills’ Views on the N.T. Text

[by William G. Pierpont]

Dr. Hills’ agenda is openly and clearly expressed in the title of the four editions of his book “THE KING JAMES VERSION DEFENDED,” of which this reviewer used the first (1956) and the second (1973), together with several items of personal correspondence (the last dated 10 June 1981, shortly before his death). During this period his basic premises and conclusions remained resolutely unaltered, although expressed in somewhat different ways.

His reverence, sincerity, integrity and scholarship are unquestioned. His presentation of facts is balanced, fair and precise, and often interestingly made. It is his interpretation and use of the facts, as well as certain presuppositions which we must examine.

Starting from the confidence that God is the God of truth, he lays out his two primary principles as:

a) the autographs of the NT were Divinely inspired, and therefore in­fallible, and that
b) because of this God must see that they were providentially preser­ved. (The logic for this step rests on Mt. 5:17+, 24:35, etc.)

Therefore, textual criticism of the Scriptures is different from that of other books. Its principles must be drawn from Scripture itself—and from creeds and other Church writings which are in agreement with Scripture—and used in constructing theories for criticism itself.

Providential Preservation (PP) forms the center about which his further presentation revolves. Summarizing his "axioms", he declares that:-

1) The purpose of PP is to preserve the infallibility of the autograph­ic text, and that God must have done so in a public way, i.e., so that all may know where and what it is-- not hidden somewhere among the MSS and requiring to be searched out.
2) It is the Greek text which is thus preserved, not a translated ver­sion of it. (God never promised that a translation would be kept free of errors, great or small.) Further, there may not be competing authorities.
3) During the long centuries of hand copying, PP operated through the Greek-speaking Christian community, who understood and used the language.
4) PP operated through the testimony of the Holy Spirit: only through Bible-believing universal Christian preiesthood [sic], those who have taken a supernatural view of the text, applying to it standards of judgment di­rected by the Holy Spirit, and were thus enabled to distinguish the true from the false. This was not only through the Spirit’s testimony to the individual’s soul, but also in the collective priesthood of believers through the ages (continuing onward into the Protestant period). Thus errors entering were weeded out by Divine Providence and guidance.
5) From the very first, PP supplied a multitude of trustworthy copies which were read and recopied, while faulty and untrustworthy ones fell out of use and passed into oblivion. Thus the genuine text was kept safe in the vast majority of MSS.
6) Thus the consensus agreement of this vast majority of copies forms the Traditional Text (TT), which accurately represents the originals and is the Standard Text.

This vast majority of MSS thus contains an essentially uniform text, al­though hardly any two MSS agree exactly throughout by reason of little individual variations and errors. Their differences are often hard to detect, being rare and small. This verifies that each descended indepen­dently from its own ancient ancestor, and therefore the text itself is ancient and not medieval in origin.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

A Fourth-Century Witness Excluded from NA28


The other day I was looking at the textual variation in 1 Peter 5:7 between ἐπιρίψαντες an ἐπιρίψατε: “... casting/cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Now if one compares the apparatus of NA28 to NA27, the likely attestation of επιριψατε – (the imperative like in 1175 and Augustine) in 0206 has been removed from the apparatus. Apparently, in the ECM of 1 Peter, 0206 is cited for either επιριψατε/επιρριψατε. 


I was very surprised to learn that 0206, a fourth-century uncial (which may be dated even earlier, as proposed by Don Barker who thinks that it may be as early as the late second century) is not included in NA28. As the apparatus stands now, minuscule 1175 is the only attesting Greek witness. In my opinion, it is significant that 0206 almost certainly support this reading (seventh line in the image below where you see -ΨΑΤΕΕΠΑΥ). I hope it will be reinstated in NA29!